Moving Forward

desert_hikingSometimes the next steps after a major victory, or change in season can be the most treacherous. They’re the times when we often let our guards down

This little story about the Israelites, after passing through the Red Sea, has some simple little instructions for how to keep moving forward when you’ve just gone through a change in season, or just enjoyed a big victory in life.

22 So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 So he cried out to the Lord, and theLord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet.

There He made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there He tested them, 26 and said, “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.”

27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there by the waters.

Here’s my take on what to do after the Victory, or change, in order to keep moving forward:

v.22 – After the Obvious victory, don’t settle. Keep moving forward. Even if it looks like the next part will be tough.

v.23 – Don’t be so quick to name/label a situation or a season. It’s not always as it seems.

v.24 – The people were driven by their thirst to complaining and fighting, but Moses was driven to seek God. Don’t forget to keep seeking God, despite having just had a big win – remember that it was He who caused it, not You.

v.25 – The Tree = Jesus. Allow Jesus to act as a filter – a purifier - He will always turn a bitter situation into a sweet victory.

v.26 – Listen, then Do. Listen then, Do. The instruction is repeated because it’s important. It’s not actions that sustain us but the very voice of God. He IS speaking, but are we always listening. The temptation after a positive win in life is to stop listening for the voice of God as much as we did when things were hard, and the victory was not yet had.

v.27 – Look for the established waters. 12 speaks of government and established systems. 70 (or 7 x 10) is perfection and completion. Drink from established systems of spiritual nourishment and you will find yourself in the shadow of (His wing) perfect complete covering. In other words, we’re not meant to do this journey alone.

No matter where you lead from in life, always look for those who have gone before you on this journey, they are like established wells, and shady palms. It isn’t weakness to learn from others – it’s wisdom.

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Fear of the explained

20120726-132517.jpg I just sat with a doctor and a bible college student and had the most interesting conversation about science, medicine, evolution, the universe and miracles. I love these types of conversations, they get my mind racing in a million different directions and activate thought processes that so often lie dormant.

In the midst of our discussion – which so reminded me of Rabbis debating/discussing life and God – I asked the question; are Christians actually afraid of explanations, because we fear that to explain something might take away from God?

Hypothetically, we were discussing what it would mean if we prayed that God would levitate our Café Latté (from Blackboard Coffee of course) off the table and it actually happened. And then, what it would mean if we could come up with a completely scientific and “rational” explanation of how that could have happened. Does the fact that we can explain it – as well as the belief that God orchestrated it – take away from the miracle of it actually happening? Ultimately does it take away from God.

Or what about an actual event. Jesus calms the wind and the waves right? We believe that. We also know that he knew that moment was going to happen. So when did he orchestrate it? There in the boat? Or from the very foundation of the earth? Could it have been that because He is all knowing and knew what the disciples would need at that very minute that He orchestrated a storm to stop raging, and everything that needed to happen for that event to take place was set in motion from the creation of the earth? What if it was just a matter of timing? Does knowing that make it seem like a cheap trick, or does it make Him seem even more awesome that he planned that event from the beginning of time?

See what blows my mind is, what if we’re doing that today. What if we’re so afraid that if we have the answers to something, or can explain it scientifically, that we’ll take away from the awesomeness of God?Because the problem is, we’ve seen this before.

“The earth is Round”

“No it’s not, it’s flat, and if you believe that, it’s of the devil, and you’re against God”

Uh-oh, guess what. Turns out those whacky (demonic?) scientists were right about that one.

But did finding out that the earth was a ball and not a pancake take away from God, or did it make us marvel at Him more and More?

Because what I’ve observed in my very short amount of time on this ball, is that the more we discover (and can explain) the bigger God gets.

So next time you look up at the stars and marvel at how big the universe is, or how amazing and intricate the human body is. Don’t worry, some day it’s likely that someone will be able to explain to you exactly how that works.

And knowing it..

Explaining it..

Won’t take away from God, it will only cause you to stand in awe of Him even more. And then the real question becomes, not “God, how did you do this?”, but “God, why. And why me?”

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Intercessory Prayer

20120726-132517.jpgLast week we got to sit with our intercessory prayer team and interview them, Late Show style. It’s one of those ministries that often cops a lot of flak for being out there on the Spiritual Edge, but that our senior pastors felt it important enough to highlight to our key team, means that we as a church are placing intercessory prayer exactly where it’s supposed to be – in the midst of it all.

I think the team did a brilliant job of bringing attention to what is such a necessary part of church life, without over-dramatising what can often be a very misunderstood ministry. Here’s a few of their responses I jotted down.

What’s the difference between praying for your pastors with your agenda vs God’s agenda

When we pray we don’t have an agenda because we genuinely want what God wants for them. You can come with with your own agenda, or what you think you should be praying for – and it might even be a good thing, but usually it’s not what God wants us to pray for. So we come with an open heart ready to allow God to show us what to pray for. It’s in that place that revelation happens.

How do you know what to pray for?
God places a burden in my heart. If I truly have the heart of the senior pastors, and Honour them, God will trust me to carry burdens for them. It’s as simple as that, and it means I can pray that “effective” prayer that gets straight to the heart of the matter.

How would you describe the ministry of being a watchman?
A watchman is a person that God trusts with a special revelation. It means being a friend of God. Because often it comes through the whispers and little hints that you can only get through closeness. It’s a real protection ministry that carries a heart to keep our pastors and our church safe. It carries a responsibility to expose the enemy’s plans.

What is the power of prayer and fasting?
It’s never about “God if I do this, then you will do that”
It’s about humbling yourself at the foot of the cross.
It allows more of him and less of me.
If you feel that God is bringing you to a point of breakthrough, a fast is often the tool that breaks through that final barrier because a greater authority and anointing comes at those times.
The higher the calling, the deeper the foundation needs to go.

Nia: And, Fasting is food. Every time the bible talks about fasting it’s about food.

Who can come to an intercessory prayer meeting?
If you carry the heart and the vision of the house then this ministry might be for you. But unity is SO important to what we do that if your vision is for something else, or some other ministry, then it won’t work. It might not be that the vision you have is a bad thing, it might be exactly what God has called you to – but what we’re praying for is in support of the vision of this house, which has been entrusted to the hearts of our Senior Pastors, and so everything we do and say must be in alignment with that, because if it’s not, even if it’s some other ‘good’ thing, then the enemy will use whatever he can to get in and cause confusion and disunity.

What part of your role is about holding up our leaders’ arms?
we’re moving into a season where we need Aarons and Hurs at every level. What we do is vital to supporting our Senior Pastors, but the truth is that the full on ministry we do has a reality of weariness that we must be ready for. As a team we can all adopt a position where we hold up the arms of those who stand for us, and praying for them is one of the best ways we can do that.

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Hero

A While ago I cut together some shots from The Passion of the Christ to Abandon’s song, Hero. Just remembered I had it and had to share. Enjoy…

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Leadership Mentors

20120726-132517.jpgThis morning one of our team pastors asked me a brilliant question. He asked if I could share with him the 5 leaders that have inspired me most and the 3 resources from each that I would recommend. I love this question for two reasons; firstly it tells me that here is a young man who recognises that in order to develop as a leader he doesn’t just need more leadership opportunities, he needs leadership wisdom & input, and secondly he recognises that leaders get their inspiration from other leaders too.I don’t know of any leader that stands alone, uninspired by the many great leaders around them. Even the most influential leaders of our day will gladly share the source of their inspiration.

So here they are (and can I just say, narrowing it down to 15 resources was really hard … so I cheated, along with those I’ve included some “honourable mentions” that I’d also highly recommend for any aspiring leader). And do yourself a favour, subscribe to every one of them on twitter too.

John Maxwell – (@JohnCMaxwell) – it’s not just cliché to have John Maxwell on your shelf, it’s critical.

Andy Stanley (@AndyStanley) – is the man when it comes to communicating leadership principles in plain language. His leadership strategies and principles are brilliant.

Perry Noble (@perrynoble) – perhaps not as well known (yet!) as Stanley or Maxwell, but Perry pulls no punches when it comes to communicating leadership truths. plus, he has a cool name.

  • Leadership Podcast – subscribe on iTunes – Listen to all of these … then listen to them again!
  • Leadership Blog – he writes about once a week and it’s all worth reading.
  • New book coming out Sept: Unleash (will be freaking awesome)

Bill Hybels (@BillHybels) – Hybels is just solid when it comes to leadership principles – a great source of inspiration for personal leadership development

  • Book – Axiom – such an easy read, Leadership ‘proverbs’
  • Book – Courageous Leadership
  • any of Hybels books are worth getting, e.g., Volunteer Revolution, The Power of a Whisper

Seth Godin (@sethgodin) – Entrepeneur and marketplace strategist. A Christian, but doesn’t write for Christians only. His marketplace insight translates directly into principles for church leadership.

  • Book – Tribes – this book changed the way I think about leadership
  • Book – Linchpin -
  • Blog – Short and Frequent, the way a good leadership blog should be.

Other resources, leaders and sources of inspiration.

Ok, this was everything else that should be on that list. All in all, these books podcasts and blogs have inspired me over the past 5 years to pursue leadership as something that I must constantly, and consistently develop. I don’t have time to include all the links for these, just google them, read what others have said about them, and then put them on your “to read” list

Jim Collins – Good to Great
Catalyst Podcast
Rick Warren – Purpose Driven Church
Steven Furtick – New Book – Greater
Craig Groeschel – It
Geoff Manion – The land between
Wayne Cordiero – Leading on Empty
J. Oswald Chambers – Spiritual Leadership
Tony Morgan – tonymorganlive.com – blog
Andy Stanley – Making Vision Stick, & Next Generation Leader
John Maxwell – Developing the Leader Within You, & The Complete 101 Collection

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Workers & Owners

harvester

1 Corinthians 4:1
Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

John 15:15-16 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.


There’s a big difference between workers and owners.

The worker sees things outside of his profile and says, “not my job”

The owner sees the unexpected as a challenge or an opportunity.

The worker says “what will I get?”

The owner says “what can WE do?”

The worker sees the world as against him.

The owner sees the world as an untamed opportunity for leadership and growth.

But the amazing thing is that in the kingdom we’ve been called to be a kind of hybrid worker-owner. Neither above nor below, yet accessing the benefits of both. But in the kingdom the terms Workers & Owners don’t really fit. They’re the world’s lame terms. In the Kingdom there’s a deeper level – there always is.
Paul says we are servants & stewards.
Servants are almost like workers but there are key differences. Jesus refines the role and attitudes of a servant throughout His teachings. And a steward is actually a harder role than an owner, because you have all of the authority and responsibility – and yet you are only managing this life, this resource, this group of people that you lead.

Servants

  • Don’t treat the job is their enemy, but see it as the opportunity to refresh others
  • Feel better at the end of the day because of what they’ve done for others, not what others have done for them
  • Are faithful, they don’t turn up because of a paycheck, they understand loyalty

Stewards

  • Understand that ‘He chose you’ – you’ve been endorsed by the Master
  • See themselves as co-stewards with others. Competition may make sense in economics, but the Kingdom works in a different way
  • Take personal responsibility and an interest in the servants that have decided to partner with them – people aren’t commodities.

When it comes to ‘thinking generationally’

Workers & Owners

  • Focuss on the immediate
  • See themselves as the benefactors of this task

Servants & Stewards

  • Understand they are building for the generations to come
  • Proverbs says “a wise man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children”

When it comes to Vision

Workers & Owners

  • Only see the immediate circumstances
  • Are “Working for the Weekend”
  • Limit their Capacity by their Sight

Servants & Stewards

  • See beyond what they can “see”
  • Have a plan; Prov 21:5 “The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty,
    But those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty”
  • Know what they’ll be doing in 6 months, 2 years, 10 years. And yet are flexible enough to re-evaluate these goals.

When it comes to your Calling

Workers & Owners

  • See the task before them as a job
  • As something they HAVE to do
  • May be doing something that they don’t want to

Servants & Stewards

  • Understand that the task before him is a call
  • Understand that their purpose in life is to fulfill a call
  • Have found the thing they love to do, and are doing it.

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Fools at Court

7953aProverbs 29:9 If a wise man goes to court with a fool,
the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace.

There are some things that are just ‘a waste of time’. No matter how noble the pursuit or how righteous the wronged, the fool will always steal the floor.
be aware of this principle at every level.

The wise man (Leader) goes to the courts to seek an audience with the King. The wise man needs the King’s insight, support or permission.

But..

Fools will try to ride your coat-tails.
Fools will try to impose their agendas
Fools will ’stumble’ into your way unwittingly

So, be aware of what “courts” you allow the people at different levels of your life into.

The court of the King is where the wise man goes above himself for help.
Be very careful who you take into this court. If they’re not ready for it, or have their own agenda you may soon find yourself voiceless in front of your King.

If you take the people you are leading into THIS court they will often feel like it is an admission of ineptitude and a free pass to go over your head. Then they will steal the floor and rant to the king – both about their issues (agendas) and about you.

As much as you NEED people at every level in your life, both to support you, and to minister to, you need to be aware of their burden-capacity.

So why would a wise man take a fool to the courts (with him)?

1. Because he feels he needs to make a stronger case to the king
2. Because he feels obliged to be inclusive – even to the fool who demands his own way
3. Because he believes that exposing his followers to the ‘court’ will be beneficial to them (experience)

Why these three reasons aren’t good enough:

1. If you can’t present your needs to the King (God, your leaders, etc) without a big stick, you may need to re-evaluate your needs based on their own merit.

2. All inclusiveness is the fastest way to exclude yourself. Followers are attracted to you because of you. If you begin to change you to suit your followers, they’ll soon find someone else to follow. Be all inclusive, but not at the expense of who your REALLY are.

3. remember – People are at LEVELS. If you take them too high too fast they will get ‘the bends’. But If you don’t take them quick enough, they will get bored.

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More Questions than Answers

Today I was seeking God on a further understanding of the role of the FiveFold Teacher within the leadership of the church. Interestingly, and for no (initial) apparent reason, I felt complled to read the story of Balaam and the donkey. Perhaps this was because I’d just heard a teaching on it by Joseph Prince, but in it I found a key truth that links to the outcomes of a fivefold leadership as well as a story about Jesus in Matthew 8. First off, here’s what happens to Balaam, after the angel causes the donkey to speak…

Numbers 22:30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?” “No,” he said. 31 THEN the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes

Because I had this open alongside of, and had been just reading, Ephesians 4 (the fivefold passage) I connected the two “then”s in these passages and wondered if perhaps God was trying to teach me something.

Ephesians 4:14 THEN [after we reach maturity in the faith, and because of the fivefold offices vv.12,13] we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

Here I was reminded of the story of Jesus calming the storm after the disciples wake Him on the boat

Matthew 8:27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

And to complete the links, I immediately saw that this story ends with a question – linking it back to the story of Balaam. Now at first all these ideas may just seem random and arbitrary. And you might even be right to accuse me of drawing conclusions where there are no legitimate cross-references to deal with. However, these three passages to me answered some very important questions about what it means to be a FiveFold Teacher, or ‘Teaching Pastor’ if you prefer. So whether they’re legitimately linked in scripture, were randomly selected, or were divinely inspired this day to illuminate a truth is not really the point – the point is what I found in all three that helped me understand my role as a Teacher.

1. The immature are tossed back and forth on the waves like infants. Maturity in Faith is key to not conforming to the patterns of this world (Rom 12:2). Infants can’t actually swim, so not only are they simply going wherever they waves take them – they’re in danger of drowning!

2. The immature don’t ask the right questions. Balaam was just doing his own thing, even though God had told him not to. And when his donkey began misbehaving he didn’t seek to understand why. How often does God put a barrier in our paths and we just keep smacking that donkey with a stick.

3. When they learn to do this THEN God will open their eyes. Only when Balaam asked the right question (or in actual fact the donkey had to ask it for him) was he able to see the whole picture – the Angel standing right there! What is God trying to show us that our lack of – or fear of – questioning is blinding us to?

4. That’s why Jesus called them “of little faith” The question they should have asked is… Is this even a man? Or even, who is this guy that he can sleep through this? The obvious question stands out BEFORE the miracle.

5. How embarrassing if we get to the point where God sends a donkey to get us to think about the obvious questions.

6. Questions are far more powerful than answers. I’m reminded of a story where a Christian pastor was studying under a Jewish Rabbi in Israel and his homework was to read a chapter of Genesis and write down as many questions as he could about it. The next week he brings in about half a dozen well thought out questions and when he began to show them to the Rabbi, the Rabbi slammed his fist on the table and said – “how dare you presume to know so much and have so little respect for the Torah!” The Rabbi then pulls out a stack of papers and says to the students, “These are my questions on that chapter.” In Hebrew culture, the right way to wrestle-with (Israel) the text is to create more questions than answers. Never to definitively arrive at an answer that essentially cuts the conversation short.

7. Learn to teach people to ask questions – the right questions. That’s where real maturity comes from. Religion is afraid of this, and so only provides answers and refuses to allow you to question those answers. A culture and an environment that is Question-Rich is not, as some might out of fear suppose, an unstable set of Jenga blocks, in which each question represents the final move that may topple the whole system over. No, in fact it’s quite the opposite. A Question-Rich church culture will inevitably create intelligent ‘questioners’ of its people. The key is never in the answers (although that shouldn’t dissuade our pursuit of them), but if you look at the way Jesus taught, it was almost always with just as many questions as answers. We’re not strengthened as a body by our collective agreement upon this creed, or that doctrine – But by our joint efforts to wrestle with the text, join in the conversation, and pursue Jesus within the questions themselves.

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Church Leadership – What’s your Focus?

focus?1 Peter 5:1-2
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed:
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you..

Lately I’ve been asking God; “If I know that I’m a leader, I know what my giftings are, & I know my calling – then how do I distill all of those things down into a single focus?”
You see, having a teaching gift, and operating at a leadership level – the danger for me is that I become detached from the people that I’m actually preaching to. Especially being an INTJ (google it). Here’s what I believe Peter is teaching these Church Leaders, regardless of their gifts, callings or leadership level:

1. Even the Apostle considered himself an elder and therefore subject to the tasks/responsibilities of an elder – at no point in your leadership journey do you ever shed the responsibilities of an Elder. His focus was on people – perhaps not as “pastorally” as a ‘Pastor’ but certainly not detached from that primary focus.
Key point: The Leader’s focus must be motivated and driven by the responsibilities of an Elder.

2. A Witness. Not just clarifying his ‘apostleship’ but an exhortation to be likewise grounded. Otherwise Paul is not an Apostle by this definition. If then our motivation is people, our grounding or anchor for that motivation is Christ – not just the person, but the sufferings – the story – the gospel.
Key point: As a Leader my hands then must reach for people, but my feet must be firmly planted in the Gospel and person of Jesus Christ.

3. Partaker of the Glory that will be revealed.
How can you partake in something that will come?
By understanding it’s present and future realities are intersected at the Cross. The Glory that will be revealed has been handed over at the cross, is being revealed on earth through His Church and Will be revealed at the end of this age.
What is the Glory? The present power of the Holy Spirit.
How do I partake? By allowing Him access to every area of my life, empowering those areas, even the ones I don’t yet know exist. By getting to know the Holy Spirit as a person not a magic trick.
Key Point: The Leader must be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

4. Shepherd the flock.
Whether you teach, pray, lay hands, lead or encourage – your ultimate role is shepherding. Different leadership gifts and callings are all facets of this job. The Pastor is not ‘the’ shepherd. Otherwise if we let him be, then only one facet of our leadership team focuses exclusively and directly on the people.
So what is a Shepherd?
A shepherd takes responsibility for the sheep. Simple. But there are usually multiple shepherds. All who know that their job is ABOUT sheep, but all with different ways of looking out for them.
Some meet their physical needs, some protect them from danger, some shear (prune) them, some teach them to hear the masters voice.
The shepherd, no matter what their focus, cannot perform these functions detached from the sheep.
Key point: The Leader is to look out for the sheep through their specific gifts and within their calling.

5. The Flock of God
You may be a shepherd, you may be a leader of shepherds, you may even be a rancher – managing multiple shepherds and/or sheep stations. But you will never be the owner of the sheep.
Remember who signs the cheques.
Remember who makes the decisions.
Remember who ultimately loves the sheep more than you do.
Let the owner bear this burden. Don’t try to be an owner. However don’t confuse the burden of ownership with the responsibility of leadership.
Key point: The Leader knows where the boundary lines lie and is empowered to operate fully within them.

So there it is, if you’re a leader in your church or ministry, Peter is saying you can’t do this detached from the Primary Focus … what it’s always been about – PEOPLE.

The Leader is focussed on People, grounded in Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit to look out for the sheep through their giftings according to their calling and within the boundary lines of Leadership.

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Is the gospel for all, or should some be excluded?

Is Christianity a call to arms? So this week a friend of mine told me he felt called to missionary work in the middle east, however he was struggling as he’d recently heard a preacher use Galatians 4 to explain why Christians should not only refuse to take the Gospel to the Arab nations we should be openly antagonistic towards them. After all, it’s in the Bible…isn’t it?

These are the verses (NKJV):

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar– 25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children– 26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. 27 For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband.” 28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. 29 But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. 30 Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

And the following was my reply:

I was concerned that a pastor would use such a tactic, and wonder at what his own personal hang-ups, upbringing or experiences have been to lead him to such an UNgracious position. It’s difficult to make this point of view resonate with John’s writing in Revelation about “every tribe and tongue”. And I wonder what theological gymnastics are required to be able to exclude ANY people at all from the open invitation of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Unfortunately, this type of elitist religiosity is still prevalent today, and is in direct contradiction to the Gospel – which by definition is ‘Good News’ … to ALL. The message is one of Grace – an inclusive Grace.

OK, enough of my rant :-) . On to an exegesis …

My take on Galatians is that the central theme of the letter is the “how and why” we are accepted by God and how we continue to maintain that acceptance. I think the verses in question are a great example of this theme, especially in dealing with a specific problem of Jewish-Christians (those who were Jews, but have now accepted Jesus) trying to influence the Gentile-Christians into first becoming Jewish before becoming Christian.

In verses 21 to 31 Paul is helping the Galatians realize that Prophesy has been fulfilled in Jesus in perhaps a different way to what they believed it would be. They knew, from prophesy, that the Gentiles would one day turn in multitudes to God. But what has tripped up the Jewish-Christians in Galatia is that they have never conceived of the Gentiles coming to God without first becoming Jews.

Paul refers to Ishmael as “according to the flesh” which simply means he was conceived, and born in the natural way, requiring no miracle or supernatural promise. And so the Jewish people until the time of Jesus are known as being the people of Promise because that is how Isaac came to be.

But Paul is pointing out in verses 24-25 that the Jews now, having not received Jesus, have traded places with the natural and have become like children of Ishmael.

In verse 26 He goes on to point out that there is a new Jerusalem – a free Jerusalem. The Jews that remain in the old Jerusalem, which is tied to Sinai, by their not accepting Jesus have now become like Ishmael – outside of the promise. But to those Jews who do, AND now to the Gentiles, there is a new Jerusalem.

verses 28-29 therefore are Paul showing the new Gentile Christians that although easy to now see how they have become rightful spiritual heirs (v28) they will also experience the mocking of Ishmael which is a reference to Genesis 29:8-9. In other words, “yes, you are now children of promise, but expect the persecution that comes with that”.

The casting out in v.30 is Paul reaffirming that God has not suddenly become more liberal in his acceptance of the Gentiles but that Natural Religiosity cannot co-habit with Supernatural Faith. Christianity is intended to be narrow-minded just as the path it follows is also narrow. There is no nice and civil middle ground. So he is reassuring the Gentiles to stick to their guns and warning the Jewish-Christians that they cannot inject the old into the new somehow. In the end, if they try, Christianity would just become diluted (perhaps we are seeing some of that in these days with such things as inter-faith organizations).

So not only is this passage NOT AT ALL about the right of Christians to persecute or exclude ANY other people group, it is in fact a warning that in becoming Christian we ourselves will be persecuted. And here’s the irony, Paul is especially talking about the Religious and Pharisaical persecuting the new people of Promise – the Spiritual … which is exactly what this preacher has done. In his message of exclusivity he has become just like the Jews who hang tenuously on to Sinai wielding their circumcision blades and decreeing that only the Law can save.

OK, so that’s pretty heavy I know. But having witnessed in recent months people from all walks of life, and some especially dark and dreary backgrounds, come to know Jesus and completely turn their lives around, I cannot accept a message of Grace tied to a fear-based religion that would drive more people away from the cross than it invites to it. That’s not Grace. That’s not even true salvation. And so I passionately preach a message of true grace and violently defend against those who would exclude ANYONE from it.

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Finding the Will of God

What exactly is God’s Will? It’s one of the hardest questions you will ever ask yourself and yet it should be one of the most frequent. We’re often hesitant to trust our lives completely to God for fear that He may want to change our plans. The reality: He will change your plans…if you let Him. Experience should tell us that His plans are infinitely better than ours anyway. And yet we frequently set ourselves as the architects of our destiny.

But here’s an interesting question about the will of God: If it’s God’s will to do X, then how come Y. You hear this all the time: “If it’s God’s will that none should perish, why do some perish?” Or, here’s a tricky question: was it God’s will for Judas to betray Jesus? If we answer “no” we find ourselves trying to explain then how Jesus could be betrayed (which had to happen) without anyone committing that particular sin. But if we answer “yes” we have to admit that God wanted Judas to commit a sin! The reality is that we cannot easily answer this question with our english word ‘will’. The New Testament Greek actually uses two words for the will of God. The first is Boulema, which speaks of God’s unchangeable, immutable will (His Plans). The second word is Thelema, which speaks about God’s desires and what he wishes for us (His Character). So the answer to the question; ‘was it God’s will for Judas to betray Jesus?’ – Boulema: yes; Thelema: no.

The first step in seeking God’s will for any situation in life, great or small, is to check your relationship with Him. If you want to know what God would think about a particular situation then you have to get on the same page as His thinking, His Character, His Thelema. But maybe your question is on a grander scale. Perhaps you’re thinking about your destiny or ‘your calling’. “Do you want to find God’s call on your life? Then pay attention to how God has gifted you” (T&C Sine, Living on Purpose). It should be no surprise that God’s ultimate will for our lives, His Boulema for us, is in complete alignment with our gifts, abilities and even desires. Perhaps this doesn’t make logical sense for us at the moment. Maybe you’re saying, ‘that’s all well and good, but there’s no money to be made from my ability to xyz’. But here’s the deal, and you can only ever find this out completely by fully trusting that God is for you – if He has purposed you for a task, hasn’t He also equipped AND PROVIDED for you to complete it? Maybe it doesn’t look like it on the surface, but my experience and the testimony of many who have taken this leap tells me that he DOES care for you more than the grass, the lilly and the birds and he WILL provide.

Joy Dawson says in her book ‘Forever Ruined for the Ordinary’: “We will never experience intimate friendship with God until we have learned to be obedient to the constraints and restraints of the Holy Spirit in matters small and large”. Wow! Never? Oh, you can be in relationship with him, and you can be (mostly) in obedience to Him. But I want to be on the same page as Him. I want to be fulfilling the amazing call that He has placed on my life and in order for me to find that I have to KNOW his boulema and EXPERIENCE his thelema. You cannot ever divorce the reality of needing to know God’s ultimate plans for you from needing to experience his character, nature and love towards you.

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Change for the sake of Change

Have you heard the saying “don’t just change for the sake of change”? I disagree, sometimes the reason for change should be change itself.

I sat down with one of our pastors yesterday morning as we pondered a new layout for our auditorium and cafe. We got to talking about how people would perceive and react to a visible change in the building, especially something so obvious as seating. We both came to the conclusion that change was a good thing, and here’s why:

1. Change keeps your eyes focussed
It’s amazing how many things in life become routine and habit and (dare I say it) tradition. Without becoming consciously aware of those things they invariably become things we get ‘precious’ about. Funny how so many disagreements in churches started over something like the colour of the carpet, or the order of service. Changing those things every once in a while, for the sake of change, helps us to pick up on those aspects that were becoming ingrained into our culture and allows us to evaluate their purpose and priority.

2. Change keeps your ears attuned
Did you ever just move your bedroom around for the sake of it and then when you lay down on your bed things sounded different to how they used to. Sometimes I think God is trying to say a new thing to us for a new season and if we don’t allow ‘change for the sake of change’ to become a part of our culture then we often let things in life that were, at one time positioned for a good purpose, become sound-proof barriers to what God is trying to speak to us about today.

3. Change keeps your mouth (speech) fresh
Whenever I visit my favorite cafe, or shop or park I find I notice less and less about it. Especially the specific details that I noticed on my first and second visits, like ‘what was the view like’, or ‘what decor did they use’. The less I notice, the less I talk to my friends about those places. Now, those things aren’t important in themselves, but funny how when they change the layout of my favorite cafe, I’m inspired once again to talk about the place with my friends and family. A ‘change for the sake of change’ can often be the catalyst for a renewed sense of inspiration and a desire to share those places/things with others.

4. Change keeps your feet moving.
Do you remember how you drove here, what roads you took, what the weather was like while you were driving, how many red lights you stopped at? Habit and routine, although helpful at times often numb us to the details of the journey. When a system, a place or an organization makes a change you have to re-engage all your faculties to be able to navigate your way though it once again. The act of doing this awakens you to many of the aspects that have dulled over time and yet, were at one stage, the things you noticed most.
Drive a different way to work. Leave at a different time. Make a different meal. Visit a different shopping centre. Sing a different song. Read a different translation (ooh..). Study a different book. Say hello to someone at church you’ve seen before, but never had a conversation with.

God is never stale. Jesus constantly surprised his followers. One of the hardest things the pharisees found about Jesus was that he was so unpredictable, at least according to their established systems. Maybe he wasn’t so unpredictable, maybe he just knew that changing for the sake of change would open people’s eyes, unblock their ears, get them speaking about something new and get their feet moving….to follow him.

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Forgiveness and Mercy

A friend of mine asked me to give her some thoughts about the death penalty from a pastor’s point of view for a paper she was writing. It asked me to specifically consider Old Testament law. So here we go…

Using passages from the Old Testament to determine how we should make law under the new covenant is difficult, because the old covenant was so different and only ever pointed the way to how we should live as children of God. The laws from the time of Moses existed to show us how much we need God, and how, because of sin, we aren’t fully able to make good decisions on our own and therefore need God to step in and help us out.

When Jesus came he offered a way of life that was freedom from the law but was actually more work. He said if a person asks for your cloak, give them your tunic too. If a person slaps one of your cheeks, turn the other way and let them slap the other. The Christian life is not just about following a set of laws anymore, it’s about following an example of a Man who was God – Jesus. Now we don’t follow a law set in stone, but the law of grace.

Grace tells us that we live lives that are poured out for others. Everything about our lives is given to others and is focussed on others.

So the question is should we have the death penalty for murderers. Actually the real question should be, how should we treat people if they let us down. You see people make mistakes all the time, but the law of grace says we can ‘cover over’ those mistakes because we don’t focus any more on how you let us down, but on how much we can give to you DESPITE the fact that you let us down and probably will again. Then the next questions is, Well how much is too much? Surely there is a line that people can cross when the grace-life can’t cover it anymore. Actually the Bible tells us that Grace is “sufficient” – in every circumstance. It also tells us in Romans 8 that NOTHING can separate you from the love (grace) of God.

OK then, so if we are to live lives that are focussed on others and defined by grace then what should we do about murderers? Well, is grace enough in every situation? Yes. Can any sin (e.g. murder) be too much for grace? No. And if we are truly focussed on others, would we ‘want’ that person to be killed to satisfy our own selfish need for revenge, or our own sense of justice? No.

What makes it difficult of course is that we still all have to live together in society in a fallen world. Of course there must be penalties to discourage people from doing wrong. But when we focus first on them, we realise that if we are truly wanting them to repent (which means turn their life around) then killing them too isn’t going to help us do that.

It’s really hard to live this life. Like I said – the law was hard, but the way of grace is harder. Especially if you’re the family of the person who was killed. The truth is, our sin nature wants us to be the judge, but God says that only he can truly judge. Where does that leave us then? Only to love, and show grace. It’s not easy – but God empowers and enables us to do it.

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A change of Season

Funny how they call this “the Christmas Season”.  The word season comes from the Latin – Sationem.  Meaning “to plant, or to sow”.  In an agricultural society the time of year when you sowed seed was the major event of the year.  Everything lead up to and was focussed around that time of year.  Not, tending to crops, not reaping harvest – but sowing.  Why would your primary focus be on the end result when those things could only happen if you first sowed seed anyway.

And so today we mark four different “seasons” of the year, and we have the ‘Christmas season’, ‘football season’, ‘hunting season’ and so on.  But what we’ve lost, etymologically speaking anyway,  is a way of viewing life based on beginnings.  You see, for the farmer, every time he sows – it’s a new beginning.  And without that “Season” there is no continuation.  Once he’s tended to, and harvested the crops from the last season he needs to focus his attentions on preparing for the next one.  Now maybe that’s just a repeat or replica of the last one – but more often than not circumstances have changed and the way you sowed last season might not be appropriate now.

Maybe that’s why we get so hung up on change, differences and uncomfortable shifts.  We’re used to this idea that summer is summer, and winter is winter and why can’t last year be like this one.  But if we don’t learn to recognise the changes that are needed and we “sow” in the same way we did last year our crops may not grow in the most effective way, if at all.

When Jesus spoke to people about the best way to do life he often spoke from the perspective of an agricultural society – after all that was their reality.  In fact there was this one time when He came across a fig tree that was acting “out of season”.

Mark 11:13
Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.

And then in a seemingly random act of divine arboricide he curses the tree and it ends up withering and dying.  What’s going on here?  Well two things you need to know; 1. When a fig tree is in full leaf it also contains figs.  Leaves = fruit, simple.  2. Mark records it himself, and based on the time of year, it’s true – it wasn’t fig season.  So Jesus sees this fig tree in full leaf in the distance and being hungry decides to pick it’s fruit, which should, on account of it’s appearance, be there.  However, because of the season this tree has no fruit.  But why the anger towards this innocent tree.

On a kingdom scale I believe Jesus is talking about the way His church needs to be.  No more just a show (the law) that produces no real fruit.  Jesus is so much more concerned about what fruit we produce than the way we look.  After all, if people come to us hungry because it looks like we have the answer to their hunger problem but all they find is ’showy’ leaves.  Pretty soon they’ll leave dissatisfied.  Even of we manage to convince them of all the benefits of the leaves; shade, shelter, appearance – they’ll eventually die of starvation.  Isn’t that what religion does?  It’s preens in it’s self proclaimed glory, but when the people come hungry it offers no real food.

On a personal level, Jesus is talking to us about not only being what we appear to be, but also acting out of season.  I imagine that when the last fig had fallen from this tree that tree was sad that this ’season’ was over.  When it was time to let go of the leaves that were meant for that specific purpose it couldn’t because of all of the fond memories it had of the amazing fruit it had been able to give out.  And so it clung to those past times in a vain hope that it could resurrect them one day if only it could convince enough people that “those were the days”.

What this fig tree failed to realise was that we cannot be defined by last season.  As much as we may try to hang on to it, seasons are, by definition, new beginnings.  Even if they appear the same, you have to start again.  You have to work out what it means for you to “sow” this time around.  What’s changed about the landscape you’re on?  What environmental factors will change the type of seed you sow this year.  Who do you have working in your fields now that might determine the way you tend to your crops?

Don’t just make This Christmas “Season” the same as last year’s.  Find out what makes it unique.  And when you pursue that, God can work with you.

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Why did Jesus teach us to pray in the first person plural?

Did you ever wonder why Jesus taught us to pray using phrases like; “Give us…”, “Lead us”, “Forgive us”?  Doesn’t it seem strange that, in what we would consider to be an intimate one-on-one moment with God, He would have us use words that quite clearly bring others into the moment.

Maybe that’s the problem.  You see I’ve always been taught that you pray on your own, in your prayer closet, on your knees, or out away from others because the idea is that you first need to achieve some sort of transcendent moment where you become acutely aware of only your presence and God’s.  And the times where you pray corporately, well that’s just to help those who don’t pray so well on their own.  but maybe there’s more to it than that.

Don’t get me wrong, Jesus showed us the intimate prayer life we’re supposed to have as well.  Garden of Gethsemane – case in point.  So I’m not discounting that.  But you see for Jesus he understood prayer from within the culture that He was raised in.  A culture that taught, and still teaches today, that when you pray, you’re praying with others.  When you worship, you worship with others.  When you hurt, others hurt with you.  And when you rejoice others join in on your Joy.  From a Jewish perspective there is no real separation between your relationship with God and the impact it has on the community you are a part of.

But today we’ve lost a part of that Community Awareness.  I don’t just mean being aware that there is a community around you, but an awareness that understands that when you sin the community is affected by sin, when you forgive the community forgives along with you, when you are lead into temptation the community is lead with you, and when God provides your ‘daily bread’, He does so for the whole community.

Perhaps the idea is that we don’t just include our community/family/friends/church/etc at the end of our prayer closet time like a shopping list of others to pray for before I can sign off with God.  But maybe, when we pray, we should be perceptibly aware that our lives have been inextricably interwoven into the lives of others, and that is how God sees us.  As a community.

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The Year of Living Like Jesus

yearoflivinglikejesusThis week I started a new book by Pastor Ed Dobson from Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I first heard of Ed while listening to some podcasts from Mars Hill (Rob Bell) and he was a guest preacher.  Although he can sometimes appear dry & monotone he has a way of capturing amazingly difficult concepts and simplifying them for the church – a real modern day parable-izer!  And first impressions are usually wrong, the more I listened to Ed the more I liked his preaching style, his humour is slightly above the average IQ level so you’ll often hear the majority of the crowd go “Ohhh..” a few seconds after a funny remark – maybe owing to his Irish heritage.  I always preferred English/Irsih comedy – it requires a bit more brain activity than the usual sit-com drivel.

But on to the book.  Fortunately his writing style matches equally his spoken communication style (funny how some preachers just shouldn’t try writing!). It’s written in a daily-journal format and is essentially his journey for a year as he tries to capture the essence of Jesus-living by acting/speaking/thinking the way Jesus would have.  More interesting than reading about how he interprets certain ‘Jesus-Living’ customs and actions from scripture though, is his wrestling with how to apply those ideas in a modern, western society and the discovery of the principles that drive them.

This more than anything is what has appealed to me about this book.  I’ve always believed that it’s more important to discover the principles behind biblical narratives and ideas and learn how to apply those in every day living rather than taking at face value the words on the page and trying to wrestle your situation into that very contextual concept.  I wholeheartedly believe that is why most ‘faiths’ turn into ‘religions’, because they don’t understand this.

But, this is no new way of doing things.  In fact it’s a very Jewsih thing to do.  A Rabbi would sit his students down and quiz them on the Torah (life instruction book), he would do it by using everyday situations and asking them how they would apply Torah.  If he thought they had not understood the principle behind the law he would say “you have abolished (not fully understood) the Torah (Law)”, but if they were able to correctly apply a written concept to a modern situation he would say “you have fulfilled (understood the principle of) the Torah (Law).  And what did Jesus say?  ”I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it”.  In other words, “I have not arrived on the scene without a complete understanding of how to apply Godly living to everyday life, but in fact I understand the pricinple’s behind EVERY written concept and am able to not only talk about them but show you how to live them and how you have been created and empowered to be able to live them too.

For me, it’s that thought behind this book that is challenging and inspiring me the most.  So, onto a quote:

“I like your beard,” he said.  ”How long you been growing it?”
“I started January first of this year.  I’ll let it grow until December thirty-first, and then I’ll cut it.”
“Why you growing it?”
This was the opportunity I’d been looking for.
“I made a commitment on January first to spend the whole year trying to live like Jesus.  So the beard is part of the gig.”
“A year of living like Jesus? What does that mean?”
“Well, I’m a Jesus follower.  I decided to devote a year to focusing on Jesus and his teachings. So I’m eating kosher, observing the sabbath, growing a beard, and observing Jewish feasts and festivals. I’m reading the the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, every week. I’m trying to obey all of Jesus’ teachings.”
At this point you could see the shock come over the bartender’s face.  I suspect he’d served beer to thousands of people, but I doubt anyone had ever said, “I’m tring to live like Jesus.”
After staring at me for a few moments and gathering his thoughts, he continued: “Dude, that’s unbelievable. So what are you learning?”
We talked about Jesus and his teachings between his serving other people at the bar.  He kept coming back for more conversation.  Later, as I drove home, I thought, Who’s going to reach out and touch that bartender? Certainly not the most conservative Christians. They’d never walk into a bar.
Every time I went back, which I did often, the bartender would introduce me to others at the bar: “This guy with the beard is trying to follow Jesus this year.”  As a result I had many wonderful opportunities to talk about my journey with all sorts of people.  I discovered that most people at the bar were interested in Jesus, but they were not interested in the church or religion. Even though I’m a pastor, that didn’t seem to matter.  What mattered was my personal journey in trying to follow Jesus’ teachings.

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