26 May 2017


Yesterday was National Sorry Day. Did you miss it? Such was the lack of publicity, I almost did. May 26th has for almost 20 years been the day when we remember and acknowledge the mistreatment of Australia’s first peoples since colonization.

I love that there are over 30 nationalities represented at Georges River Life Church – each bringing unique perspectives and stories. But I feel especially honoured to have at least three indigenous Australians in the mix. They to me represent something more than one more culture in the church because for some time I've wanted to personally connect with the people and the story of our land in a meaningful way. Now I can.

Let me give you three unflattering reasons why I’m thinking this way.

Firstly, I’m uninformed. When I went to school, Australian history began in the year 1788. I'm sure the school curriculum has changed now but back in the 80’s, ‘indigenous history’ was an oxymoron. Perhaps our first response is just to listen and learn and possibly, unlearn.

Secondly, I’m clueless. I realise that there is a massive chasm between my experience of the ‘lucky country’ and so many other people's experience. I am white, male, affluent, educated, employed, resourced and connected. What’s more I come from a relatively healthy and proud family unit that has been successful across several generations. 

In other words, I don’t have a clue what it is like to be black, poor, uneducated, unemployed, under resourced and disconnected. What’s more I don’t have generations of shame, dislocation, communal disintegration, stigma and social stereotyping hanging over me. Perhaps our next response is to acknowledge the massive power differential, our natural biases and our ignorance.

Lastly, I’m implicated. Some people get hung up about saying ‘sorry’ for the sins of others. And to some extent fair enough. I wasn’t personally involved in the forced removal of children nor the inhumane assimilation practices. But in spite of all of its good work, the church in Australia was clearly involved. And I’m a part of that church today so I think I have a responsibility to not only acknowledge the past but ensure it’s not repeated.

But more so, I conclude that in some meaningful way,  I (we) need to engage our hearts and energies in bringing a greater reconciliation and healing. ‘Agents of reconciliation’ is after all the job description of Jesus’ followers, so it seems appropriate to me that we should at least not be silent or ignorant, and ideally be leading the way in healing…. somehow. 

If sorry can build bridges to a better future for all Australians - then I am sorry.

22 May 2017

A Brief History of Continual Change

The ground looks fixed, but it's actually moving. Sitting in the doctor's waiting room other week, I read an article in a well-thumbed science magazine. It was about the outer crust of the earth being comprised of 7 or 8 huge tectonic plates which move toward or away from each other by around 100mm a year. That's pretty slow, but nonetheless, we are all on shifting ground and sometimes it feels like an earthquake...because it is.

For a few thousand years Christianity has been moving too. Our understanding of God as revealed in the Bible has been, for centuries, hammered out on the anvil of people believing in Jesus, yet thinking differently. It is easy to take their hard fought battles for granted.

From the beginning, Christianity was a movement discovering how to hold in tension its tectonic Judaic foundation with the radical teaching of its founder Jesus and the Apostles. Early in Acts we see the first great shift, with the followers of Jesus forming a community that challenged the social norms of gender, race and slavery within Jewish society. Then Peter receives that unimaginable revelation of the gospel being open to Gentiles. And by the mid first century, the Council of Jerusalem endorsed Paul to take the gospel to Gentiles - mostly detached from Jewish custom and ceremony. These were not minor tremors, they were a 9 on the Richter scale!

For the next few hundred years the church endured turbulent councils and conflicts around core dogma. The church of the East split from Rome, and for the next thousand years, both shifted slowly away from their origins. Europe became a dark place, exemplified by the inquisitions of Spain and Rome established to enforce its version orthodoxy by exterminating dissenters.

But an earthquake on a fault line is just a matter of time.

500 years ago in 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg sparking a theological revolution. From the selling of indulgences, insisting that the Pope had no authority over purgatory and the Catholic doctrine of the merits of the saints, Luther demanded many beliefs had no biblical foundation.

The reformation was a return to the foundations of Scripture as sole authority (sola scriptura) and faith as sole basis for righteousness (sola fide). After the reformation, the rate of change accelerated with the expansion of Protestant thought and its denominational expressions.

In the modern era we've witnessed shifts in the church on many matters - the abolition of slavery; apartheid; women in leadership; creation and evolution; Sabbath keeping; contraception; divorce and remarriage; consuming alcohol; medical ethics; worship; dress codes and yes, even dancing! All of which were biblically justified and biblically contested by intelligent, scholarly Christians.

My point today is that our beliefs are not always as immovable as we would like to believe. If history is any guide, constant change is inevitable and we won’t all see eye to eye. From the beginning the church has been wrestling with its thinking and every generation has theological and moral earthquakes to respond to.

What are the earthquakes of our time?
Would you say you are fixed in your thinking on most issues?
Do you tend to shut down or become agitated when something you believe is challenged? 
Is it all just too hard and not worth thinking about at all?

Our lives and behaviors are formed from thousands of beliefs, some conscious, and many unconscious. So if you are an echo of your beliefs I wonder how important it is then to know what you believe and why you believe it. Let’s explore that further next time.

15 May 2017

Life in Transit and The End

Airports are strange places. Everyone is waiting to go somewhere and there is an air of excitement and hope as they await their destination. And in the waiting, people eat or go shopping for overpriced designer stuff. Duty free - yeah right!

A 7 hour stop over alone in one of the world's most boring airports last year got me thinking about the second coming of Jesus. Actually it was top of mind because this had been the subject of several recent conversations. So while I contemplated a day in transit I decided to gather a few thoughts of my own on this often confusing subject. And in writing this I'm aware that this is perhaps a topic that for you, may seem way outside the grid of how you think about the future. So if you are just exploring Christianity, I hope this may be a helpful piece of the puzzle.

In my experience, Christians generally fall into one of two categories on the subject of the return of Jesus and the end of this age. Some people just love it and really want you to be equally as passionate. And other people unfortunately don't ever give it a thought. Personally, I think this topic needs to sit somewhere between ignorance and obsessive. Both extremes concern me a bit. For those who ignore it they are missing a major biblical theme. So let's be clear here - the return of Jesus is a foundational promise in scripture. The New Testament is unambiguous that Jesus will return, we are in the last days and that we need to live ready.

Just where we are in the 'last days' is the part that is open to much opinion and the place where my moderating tendencies seem to always kick in. For those who are passionate about the topic, they have a heightened sensitivity to patterns, developments and "signs" of the times. They may view many things presently happening in our world and conclude it is clearly very soon. I really value the way these people have an alertness to the current events of our world and deeply value the scriptures. I want to celebrate these people for their attitude and engagement.

However, some of my hesitancy is in the thinking that 'things are getting worse, therefore it must be any time now because could it really get any worse than it is?'  I know that's a big generalisation. But so too is the view that things are getting worse. I'm really not convinced that the 21st century is more evil than the 20th century. And while the scale might be less in the preceding centuries before the 20th century, evil has been rampant since the beginning. We just hear about it a lot more thanks to the media. In fact, the ability we have to Google and YouTube every theory and unconfirmed news story perhaps feeds our awareness in ways no generation before ever could. And yet, evil is always evil and sin is always sin.

I personally have not drawn many definitive conclusions in this area of theology though I choose to remain open and listen to others' viewpoints. I do however have some interpretive principles that guide me in my thinking, which I submit to you for consideration:
  • I think a healthy view of the end times will produce expectation not apathy, social engagement not disengagement and energise hope in people, not fear.
  • I think a healthy view of end times will never dishonour or demonise people, nor would it allow us to assume the role of judge, something not delegated to us.
  • Lastly, a healthy view of end times will not make the darkness more powerful than the light. The Kingdom of God is an unshakable kingdom that can always bring transformation and light, overcoming anything hell can throw at it. As Lee Ripken put it, 'evil has never stopped doing what evil does, but God has never stopped doing what God does.' 
I'm not anti 'end times.' I think that, just like those in transit at the airport, there should be a general sense of anticipation and hope in the people of God concerning what (who) is coming. The imminent return of Jesus awakens us to live with a sense of alertness, urgency, expectancy and hope.

08 May 2017

Our Struggle with Trouble

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Jesus was emphatic, 'In this world you will have trouble.' He spoke these words in the context of believers being persecuted on account of him. However, trouble takes all sorts of forms — from that nagging ache that turns into something serious, to that relational struggle with a colleague or family member, to that court summons, or the remodelling of the rear of your car. And so trouble is both the stuff of life and the outcome of aligning our life and vision with Jesus Christ.

Life has a knack of creating new stresses and troubles that can leave us feeling overwhelmed. I regularly experience this both as a parent and also a leader in a giant family (our church) which is full of complex people and situations. This can feel like what I call, a 'stormtrooper life.'

What is a stormtrooper life? Well did you ever see a stormtrooper (in Star Wars) kicking back relaxing with a few stormtrooper buddies watching the game? No. Stormtroopers seem to just live in the battle. They live in the struggle.

Does your life feel like that sometimes?

If you read through the book of Acts — that earliest account of the church — you see that following Jesus is not an invitation to a peaceful or pleasurable life. Especially if you choose to live in a purposefully Jesus-shaped way. Jesus is not a lucky charm or a get out of jail card. You will have trouble on all sides. You will feel like you live in a battle. That might sound depressing, but it is not meant to be — because Jesus has a plan. His plan and promise is the intensification of His presence in our struggle — not the absence of the struggle.

Anticipating this, Jesus reminds his disciples, and us, that he offers lasting, authentic peace that enables us to navigate any trouble we face. This is illustrated in Acts 7, when Stephen is stoned to death by an angry mob. We read that his eyes were fixed on a glorious vision of Jesus while they snatched away his life.

How do you struggle with your trouble? God is always good and He never orchestrates evil, but he is not a divine puppeteer pulling all the right strings so that our lives never intersect with trouble. Life just doesn't work that way.

So, the question is not ‘Will you have trouble?’ but rather ‘Does trouble have you?’

If it does — if you are feeling overcome, paralysed, or defeated — be encouraged! Jesus is there, in the midst of it, wanting to intensify His presence in your life. He is mediating for you. Jesus promises that in him we can know peace, and that in him we can overcome. I pray that you experience this truth in every part of your life. May Jesus truly be your peace in the storm. We are the stormtroopers!

With everything I face today, Jesus be my peace.
When I don’t know what to do or say, Jesus be my peace.
Anchor my heart to the truth of your love and hold me in the storms.
Lift my gaze above the strife, remind me I am yours.

01 May 2017

A Hope Filled Reputation

Having a reputation in our culture is generally an unflattering phrase. Popstars and sportspeople come to mind for their flamboyant lifestyles, unruly behaviour and self-destructive tendencies. If you slip up once, people are generally forgiving, but keep it up and soon a reputation is born.

If a reputation describes what you are known for, have you ever asked yourself ‘What am I known for?’ Have you thought about how people might describe you or how they may experience you? And if you are a part of a church, how do you think the wider community would describe you and your church?

At the start of his letter to the Colossians, Paul has a real sense of elation at this young church’s growing reputation. He writes:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people — the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. Colossians 1.3-6

These Colossians were known for great faith and sincere love. What a report card!

Notice also that those three eternals; faith, hope and love, are present in their reputation. And lastly notice that faith and love actually spring from hope.

Now hope isn’t wishful thinking, rather, hope is a confident anticipation of the future. Without hope, today can feel painful and tomorrow almost pointless. From the bible's perspective, hope originates in someone outside ourselves or our circumstances. Our hope as Paul says, is in the gospel, the beautiful news of Jesus. Of God with us and for us, now and forever. Our hope then confidently anticipates that no matter what we may face, we see someone greater before us making sense of our circumstances. That is, life with Jesus now and into eternity.

And thankfully, that hope is not stored in your brain, where it can be lost in your next crisis. No, that hope Paul says is held in the vault of His uncontested domain, beyond our wins and losses, beyond our trials and disappointments. So this kind of hope can’t be snatched away from you. This hope is, as Hebrews 6.19 says, ‘an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.’

Bringing these two thoughts together, if Jesus is who he said he is, and if he truly is alive — and if I own that revelation personally; daily immersing myself in the implications of this truth — then I suspect the natural outcome of my life would be a growing reputation of hope, faith and love.

I’d like that to be my reputation, but honestly, I know there is still a way to go for me. Nevertheless, God is continually inviting us to see and experience the greatness of the hope we have in Jesus — and to let that hope be the anchor for our mental, emotional and relational health.

How hope filled are you?
What anchors your soul?
What are you known for?