Which Road Are You On?

Last weekend I attended ‘The Road Event’, a tremendously stimulating conference organized by Über, a Christian church in Melbourne Eastern suburbs.

The conference charted the development of cultural trends and ideas that have worked together to influence how we see life and how we view ourselves and our world. It all sounds a bit philosophical when you put it like that, but in actual fact is was down to earth, accessible, and incredibly insightful.

Much revolved around the use of the ‘story’ metaphor. The basic idea is that not only can your life be seen as a story, but that culture, too, is formed by one or a number of ‘stories’. Think of it this way: There is an overarching story or worldview that dominates our world. This ‘story’ may not be uniformly held or believed, and there might be different and competing stories. Even so, the influence of this ‘story’ is unmistakable.

There is an overarching story or worldview that dominates our world

Thinking about how ‘stories’ impact on our culture is much the same as thinking about the dominant world and life view around us. I don’t see too much difference between the different terms. What I do sense, though, is that the idea of a ‘story’ is a little easier for people to understand than the often philosophically overweight, jargon laden discussions about ‘world and life view’.

So what is the dominant ‘story’ in Australian culture? I can’t confess any real expertise, but it’s not hard to observe a few dominant themes:

• We have evolved from lesser life forms, there really is no God, we are a mass of carbon based atoms. Consequently the older ‘stories’ of faith, religion, and even traditional morality are irrelevant

• Consequently, there is no overarching ‘story’ to give life coherence and meaning. So the best way to live is to just be yourself and do no harm to others. Have as much fun doing this as you can, but don’t be surprised if you feel a yawning disconnect with everything.

• We have done terrible things in polluting our planet, so now we have to address them by reducing greenhouse gases and developing in sustainable industry

• All people should get a fair go, we should all have the same opportunities, and we should do what we can to help those who are disadvantaged

There are lots of others, but you get the drift. By ‘story’ we mean the major life views or world view that influences how we live. ‘The Road Event’ helped us see how we have been influenced by the culture of ‘the road’, an in this story where life has no ultimate destination all that matters is how we travel. All that matters is the journey. It sounds innocuous, but this view has influenced the church, Australian Christianity, social institutions, family life, our sense of self.

So my next posts are thoughts that flow on from this. I am indebted to the speakers at ‘The Road Event’: Mark Sayers, Andrew Shamy, Sarah Deutscher, and Tim Hein for their insightful critique, their warmhearted challenge, and their inspiring biblical vision.

Q: what ‘stories’ do you think dominate our culture? Leave a comment, and start a discussion!

Why you (still) need the church…

(Apologies that my posts have been a little irregular these last weeks. Leonie and I have visited a few churches, as well as ReCharge – The CRCA pastor’s conference, we have considered a few calls from churches, we’ve decided to accept a call to Gateway CRC, and this last week we’ve out our house on the market, and it appears to have sold. I am hoping that I can now maintain a little more regularity…)

It’s tough being church these days. You have to wonder how even hi-tech and well managed church ‘productions’ compete with easily accessible forms of entertainment. Or why people attend a local community when they can access Driscoll, or Piper, or Ortberg on their smartphone or computer. How can local church ‘Pastor Bob’ compete with all of that? With these choices so readily available, it seems more people are staying away from church, and managing their own spiritual development.

Do we still need the local church?

Ephesians 3:14-20 says we do. If we’re mapping out our own DIY spiritual growth, we are selling ourselves short, as well as dishonouring the community that Jesus gave his life for.

Your local church community can teach you things that the world’s best preachers and writers never can

Paul prays that we may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. He prays that we might know the full dimensions of Christ’s love. All its texture, every nuance, every subtlety and variation. The surprising thing is that this does not come from the world’s best preachers, or the Christian book of the year, or even the work of the world’s most erudite Christian scholars. Instead, it comes ‘together with all the Lord’s people’. It comes as the Christian community does new life together. That doesn’t mean preaching or scholarship is not required. It just means that when it comes to you growing into the full dimensions of Jesus’ love preaching, scholarship, and books have considerable limitations.

Your local church community can teach you things that the world’s best preachers and writers never can. Yes. Your church. That failed and fallen group of people, with all of their quirky and irritating aspects. These people are the very means by which God draws you into the full dimensions of his love.

How does that work? Here are a few suggestions:

• Only your church can love you with all of your faults and failings

• Only your church can express the forgiving grace of God when you fail

• Only your church can draw you into reconciliation and bring the grace of a receiving and welcoming God to full expression

• Only your church gives you a context to use your gifts and to serve others. Stay at home Christianity is basically self worship

• Only your church can express the hope of the New Heavens and the New Earth to the people of your neighbourhood

• Only your church can bring healing and restoration to the broken lives and the troubled families that live in your local community

All of this comes as a loving and sovereign God does his work in his people, through the power of his Spirit, to the glory of Jesus. Without him, we can do nothing, but as he works in us, his people express the truth that Jesus is the hope of our world.

Sure, it can be tough, and not church is perfect. But don’t give up n your local church: it’s God’s means, God’s personally selected context to bring you into the full dimensions of his love.

Q: How is God calling you to renew your love for the local church today?

John Piper interviews Rick Warren – a definite ‘must watch’

I have just taken 90 mins to watch this excellent interview between John Piper and Rick Warren. It is definitely worth your time to do the same. Here’s why…

Piper  Warren

You can view the interview here:

My interest was piqued because Warren’s Purpose Driven Life was incredibly influential some years ago, having become one of the biggest selling books of all time (after the Bible). PDL was also a great resource for the development of the small group ministry at Redlands Christian Reformed Church in 2003. That we could have sermons, small group studies, and reading materials all themed together was a terrific way to launch into our small group ministry. We have never looked back.

Beyond any organisational aspects, the subject matter of the Purpose Driven Life was also a great encouragement and stimulation to us. That’s why we could not understand some of the negative criticism levelled at the book. Rick Warren was denounced from some quarters as a mean centred theologian, light on theology, as one who played fast and loose with the text of the Bible, as well as a raft of other criticisms.

So when Rick Warren recently published the interview between John Piper and himself, I thought that was not to be missed. John Piper is of course one of the more popular reformed evangelical voices in the USA. His views are widely received and respected in circles where I serve amongst the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia.

If you’re a person who loves the reformed heritage, I would encourage you to watch the interview in its entirety. As you do, you may just

* Be challenged: that there is good reason to be respectful of Rick Warren’s ‘Purpose Driven Life’ and thankful for the contribution his work has made to Jesus’ Kingdom and glory

* Be surprised: that there is not so much separating Rick Warren and John Piper. Well, that’s how I saw it. You draw your own conclusions

* Be reminded: that we need to be balanced and gracious in the way we deal with what other Christian leaders say and do. Australian Christian leaders are sometimes a little too quick to engage in the tall poppy syndrome. We are not immune to this weakness, friends.

* Be encouraged: Piper and Warren are so gracious to one another and so warm in their interaction. I found myself saying ‘I wish I would interact a little more like that’. They made me desire to honour Jesus more in my work

Q: Leave a comment and let us know what you think about this interview

The Surprise of Grace

Read Romans 5:-11

“We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his doors to us … we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God graciously pours into our lives through his Holy Spirit.”

Grace surprises us. Sometimes this comes with the realisation that even though we thought we had chosen for God – and in our experience that is often what happens – he has always been at work in us first. It seems that things are not always as they seem.

Why do we hang on to this notion that it is us who have made the difference? Is it because we desperately want to believe that we are still in control? That we can influence God? Is it because we are horrified by the thought that our rebellion and the fall have warped us at our core? Is it because we want to make some contribution to our eternal security? I am not sure. It could be a lot of things.

Our utter inability finds is glorious resolution in God’s love through Jesus

Truth is: we were sinners. We were God’s enemies. We were weak (too weak to make a difference). We were ungodly.

An yet God acted in Christ to change all that. Christ gave his life for us. God loved us. We were saved from God’s wrath. We were reconciled. God loved us. We were rescued. Our utter inability finds is glorious resolution in God’s love through Jesus.

You may not like this truth, but it is your reality. Good thing, too. Because being a rebel, a sinner, an enemy of God, it could not have happened without God initiating your rescue through Jesus.

But it has happened – how good is that? Through Jesus we have peace with God, and we rejoice in the truth that while we may not understand, we gladly accept that he has opened his door to us. First.

The Audacity of Grace

Read Ezekiel 34:11-16

I am struck by the contrast between the abusive shepherds of Israel and the Lord, who is the good shepherd. A context of the shepherd’s self interest and abuse we are drawn to the breathtaking faithfulness of the Sovereign Lord. He knows all, and decides to do all to change this ugly pastoral picture into a one of peace, tranquility, protection and blessing.

More amazing is that God does this despite the terrible situation before him. He could have sold the farm, written off the loss, and done one huge cull. His lavish grace draws him to do something else: he took on the shepherds job himself and got to work changing the situation.

What he promises here: to search to restore, to care for, to rescue, to bring to pasture, he has done in Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10), and Jesus continues this work through his church (Matt 28:16-20; John 21:15-19).

When people fail, God will find other ways to bring his purposes to fulfilment

God takes our failing and rebellion upon himself. God steps in and brings restoration and hope to our brokenness. This is the audacity of grace. And we have to learn from his undying commitment to his own saving purpose. When people fail, God will find other ways to bring his purposes to fulfilment. Jesus’ death and rising is all the proof we need.

Q: What do these verses say about your own style of leadership, or about the challenges faced by your own church?

Present

Read: Romans 8:1-11

This morning I am struck by the simplicity of this week’s prayer:

Lord, you have promised to meet those who seek your face. Come now and reveal your presence to me as I make myself present to you. In the name of Jesus Christ, my Lord, Amen

We invest so much energy in ‘coming into God’s presence’. We seek to do this through prayer, worship, singing, ‘going to church’ and much more. It is as if we think God will not be present unless we are doing something holy.

This prayer reveals a better reality. We simply to pray ‘Lord, reveal your presence to me’. That is, show me how things really are. Show me what is true. Open my eyes to who you are irrespective of who I am, or what I do.

It is as if we think God will not be present unless we are doing something holy

The truth is God is simply present. And we are too often oblivious to this profound truth. Most of the time we are ignorant, preoccupied, proud, blind, deep in self. Is it any wonder we can trawl through our days feeling as though God is absent?

Romans 8 declares the glorious world changing fact, ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’. Because of Jesus, God is as close to us as he can be. Christ’s death has removed every barrier, every sin filled chasm, and brought us into the presence of the God who is. This is the God who is present with us by his own gracious doing.

This is why we pray for God to reveal his presence ‘as I make myself present to you.’ If God is as present to us as he can get, it’s clear that we are the ones who need to do some moving, and draw near to him. We do this not to enable or establish relationship, but as the grateful response of thanks of a fallen son or daughter to a Father who is lavish with grace, and who longs for us to thrive in his presence.

Q: What one thing will you do differently today to practise the presence of this gracious God?

It’s tough, but…

Read: Acts 18:5-11

Paul encounters great opposition as he preaches the Gospel in Corinth (18:5-6). In the context of this abuse, the Lord spoke to Paul and said “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (18:9-10).

It is such an encouragement to know that despite opposition, God still has work for us to do. This is good reason to keep our eyes firmly fixed on God’s mission and his priorities. I need to remember this, because it is too easy to become distracted, restricted and constricted by my circumstances. It is just too easy to engage in self pity, to brood on my problems, lick the sores of my discontent, and continue to feed my pain. You know what? Jesus is worth more than that. And His Kingdom and mission are worth more than that. I must make a commitment to focus on His grace, and to carry my gripes lightly.

despite opposition, God still has work for us to do

Lord Jesus, let my vision be defined by your calling and your mission. May your grace and power define my circumstances and how I respond to the challenges around me.

I love Psalm 121, and how The Message communicates the shalom that comes to those whom the Lord surrounds…


I look to the mountains Does my strength come from mountains?

No, my strength comes comes form God, who made heaven and earth, and mountains.

He won’t let your foot slip, he won’t let you stumble,

Your Guardian God won’t fall asleep. Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep.


Q: What makes it so hard for us to really trust God when the going is so tough?

Building a Community of Men

Tonight was the first get together for The Meating – a new men’s community at Redlands CRC. There were three basic elements to what we did:

1. Great food: We ordered prime Rib Fillet, 25mm thick from Fitzsimmons in Carindale, and it was delicious, melt in the mouth beef. With some salads as sides we ate really well

Food

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Great company: 50 men from all age groups and walks of life. Some have followed Jesus for a long time. Others were still wondering what it was all about. Across the board the blokes loved the night. Great community, wrestling with real issues, and some time to break it down in groups of three or so.

3. A Great speaker: Peter Janetzki local counsellor and host of Brisbane’s 96.5 FM’s Talking Life opened up the issues of (amongst other things) authentic masculinity, passivity, cultural change and its impact on how boys and men develop, and what this means for men who follow Jesus.

PJ

 

It was amazing that after 30 mins there still wasn’t a sound in the room. Every man was locked on, thinking through what it would mean for them to build a community where men and boys were encouraged into strength and action with character. We knew that we needed this.

So many models of masculinity today have little to do with strength and action with character. We see plenty of strength and action from our sporting heros, but so very little good character. Character cannot be legislated or mechanically applied. It’s interesting how when you look at Jesus, we see strength, action and character in perfect balance. Jesus presents an incredibly attractive picture of restored masculinity.

One of the things ‘The Meating’ will seek to do is create some something of the ‘village’ or ‘community’. It we can do that in a way that shows the Kingdom, it might just end up being a village that raises better children.

Question: What do you think are the biggest challenges to authentic masculinity today?

A New Experience in Bible Study

On Monday Feb 7 2011, at Redlands CRC we will start a new chapter in listening to and sharing God’s Word. Here’s what we’re doing:

Clinton and I will be starting a new preaching series Acts: An Outward Movement. We will be working our way through the book of Acts (Chapters 1-19). As we move through, we’ll examine how Jesus powerfully worked through his church in the New Testament, and how they engaged in His mission.

Each week, in the lead up to Sunday sermons, users will be able to journey through the book of Acts with some daily readings. We’ll be publishing these readings every day at RCRC Interactive. At this new blog, you’ll find the readings added every day, a few questions for each reading, and you’ll be able to interact with the questions and other users (via blog comments).

Then on Sundays, we’ll have sermons in the AM and PM that will unfold teaching from the book. If you’re part of RCRC, we would encourage attendance at both AM & PM services so you can follow the complete series. That’s not always going to be possible, we know, so all the sermons will be available for download from RCRC’s website. You can also grab the podcast through iTunes: just search for Redlands CRC.

In the week that follows the Sunday messages, we’ll be providing small group study guides for group work and personal study. You will also find these at RCRC Interactive, and yes, you’ll be able to put your thoughts onto the blog.

Our plan in all this is that we all deepen our understanding of God’s call into his mission. More than that: we want to be drawn into action and witness. Our prayer is that we’ll be better equipped to live His message, and that all glory and honour will be His.

What to do now: it would be great if you could visit RCRC Interactive, and let us know what you’re thinking and how you’re being challenged.

We’re particularly excited that potentially people all around the world can join us in this journey. What a wonderful expression of the unity of the Spirit and the church universal!

Please leave a comment and tell us what you think about all this!

Grace and peace

Dave

A Christmas Carol… with a difference

In early December, Redlands CRC had the privilege of leading some community carols in Wellington Point. Normally, this means setting up in the village green, providing a few singers and a spoken message, with the music being provided by the Redlands Brass Band. Councillor Wendy Boglary does a great job pulling the community together, and 2009 saw about 300 people attend the open air event.

This year was different. The weather was closing in, and storms threatened to turn the event into a wash out. Some quick thinking from Cr Boglary and the proprietor of Hogan’s Hotel in Wellington Point switched the event to inside the actual pub. It was a great gesture from Hogans, but it posed a problem for Cr Boglary: what would the people from the church think about having Carols in a place like a pub?

…what would people think about having Carols in a place like a pub?

Cr Boglary’s message on my phone had a tentative tone, as she wondered how I would react. Truth is: I thought it was a great idea. The Hotel patrons would be an instant crowd, and being indoors, it would be easier to hold everyone’s attention, not to mention the fact that if anyone got thirsty…

In the end: the venue change was a gift from God. As I spoke to the crowd that evening, I reminded them that when Jesus was born, it happened in the stable of an inn. These circumstances tell us that God came to everyday people, and that he did not wait for them to get their act together, or to become holy. Jesus’ birth tells us that God came to reconcile us to himself through his son.

God, himself, is missional. He sends himself into his rebellious world, enters people’s lives, meets them as and where they are, to bring those people back to him. This is missional grace par excellence.

This is not only an emphasis we see in the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. Jesus’ ministry and mission shows him going out to those on the fringe. Tax collectors. Sinners. Prostitutes. Foreigners. Outcasts. He did not wait for them to come to him. He went to them. They did not have to go to some religious place to ‘become holy’, rather as Jesus’ rule invaded their lives they expressed the holiness of his Kingdom. They we changed as they came under his rule.

I think this demands a rethink of typical outreach strategies today. Many strategies revolve around bringing people into the church: from ‘out there’ to ‘in here’. While event driven attractional mission is the strategy of choice for many today, it was not the strategy of choice in the New Testament.

It was a delightfully incarnational move.

So the carols were held in Hogans Hotel. It was a delightfully incarnational move. We connected with people who would not have met us in the village green, and most certainly would not have (and did not) meet at our Christmas Day service. Even so, it was a great night, the Gospel was spoken, the crowd were attentive, and they all loved it. It was a kingdom win.

The challenge for us is to perpetuate this outward movement, this move into the world. We need to find ways to undertake God’s mission today in a way that takes the Gospel to people and bring the Kingdom of Jesus into their lives.

Q: how do you think churches can enter their world with the good news of Jesus? Where would you start? How are you doing this at present? Please leave a comment and tell us.

Grace and peace: Dave