Why great achievement inspires us to be better people

Last week we spent some time in Bath, Somerset. Best known for its Roman Baths, still operational after 2000 years, Bath boasts a rich architectural and social history.


Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey was founded in the 7th century, and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries. Like most Abbeys and ancient churches, the Abbey presents a visual history of piety, fame and achievement.


Crypts line the floors while the walls covered with memorials to saints, gentry, and people of note. Sir Isaac Pittman, who invented shorthand notation. Captain Arthur Phillip, leader of the First Fleet, Governor of Australia also features in a memorial.


Memorial to Arthur Phillip

I do not know how many memorials there are in the Abbey. Probably hundreds. As I was walking through the Abbey, something occurred to me. Why do we have memorials? Why do we have this idea of achievement? Why do we honour achievement? And perhaps most importantly, why does achievement inspire us? It’s true: If we listen to our heart, we find ourselves drawn to those who make outstanding achievement. A roman architect in the first century AD. Thomas ‘Beau’ Nash (1674 – 1762) who in the 18th century, the town’s celebrated ‘dandy’, made substantial advances in breaking down some of the class divisions in Bath society, even if he di do it through some interesting means. Bishop Oliver King who undertook the building of the current Abbey in the early 1500s.


The organ in Bath Abbey, fanned arches in background

There is something in us that yearns to achieve. Every one of us. We want to do whatever we do very well. We want to excel, and develop, and pioneer, and create.

There is something in us that yearns to achieve. Every one of us. We want to do whatever we do very well. We want to excel, and develop, and pioneer, and create. Even we we do something very well, we still want to do better. It is in is to strive for perfection.

This desire is from God. The Genesis account tells us that God has placed his image in us. More: We are his image. And this means we want to do what God does. The early chapters of the Bible tells us that God wanted to create. And he did. He excelled. He caused life to abound. He caused the universe and humanity to thrive. It was all very good. It is not surprise that we find our purpose in imitating him.

We also know about rebellion and the Fall. While these are the natural inclination of our being, it’s not how this life giving, glorious achieving God first made us. In fact, Jesus’ coming is to draws us back to God’s original purpose. That’s why we imitate him, reflect his glory, and direct all our achievement to his wonderful praise.

Who has inspired you to be more than what you once were? What would to really long to do, or be?

Grace and peace: Dave

How to tell people about Jesus (they are probably more interested than you think)

Before we get to the best things to talk about to help people see who Jesus is, I’d like to explore the hesitation many feel about doing that.

It is no secret that many people find it hard to share the good news about Jesus. Here are some of the reasons I hear from time to time…

They imagine people are not interested. Generally speaking however, this is not true. People are quite tolerant, and open to talking about spiritual things. If you’ve already built a bit of a relationship with them, you’ll be able to talk about a lot of things, including your faith. It’s just not true that people don’t want to listen. What they don’t appreciate is an overbearing or judgmental attitude. Come to think of it, God doesn’t want that, either!

They think they need to know all the answers. It’s good to know some key responses to the common questions people ask. There are some great resources here: Understand, though, that most of the time you will not be able to explain everything. This is OK. Sometimes we just have to admit that we’re not really sure, and that we’re hoping to understand more sometime in the future. Here’s a few additional suggestions:

Ask them to explore the question with you: work on the answers together. This helps people see that you’re really not interested in cliched answers. It also helps them see that Christians are people who are prepared to apply their mind and their intellect to the troubling questions of life

Remember to take people back to the core issue of Jesus. If, for example, you are dealing with the question of why evil exists in a world governed by a good God, It’s fine to say something like ‘I have also wrestled with the question of the presence of evil in the world. I know Jesus came to break to domination of evil in people’s hearts. His promise is to bring it to right somehow, and sometimes that will involve us being prepared to engage in the fight against evil. But for me the big deal today is that I can trust God to do the right thing by me, and I can trust him to work the right things through me as I seek to follow him.’

A third reason people are hesitant to share about Jesus is because they are uncertain about the level of their own Bible knowledge. Having a good working bible knowledge is a great thing, but it will never be enough, really. There will always be things we don’t fully understand. So, just say so. People are more impressed with someone who says ‘I’m not sure’ than someone who has an answer for everything. People just want to engage at the level of the heart, at what matters to you, and why Jesus still matters to you. Sure, sometimes you will get to talk with a person who knows a bit about the Bible, and they may have some questions, but from my experience, these instances are pretty rare. Discussions that turn into arguments about Bible texts are rarely productive.

People are more impressed with someone who says ‘I’m not sure’ than someone who has an answer for everything.

Remember: you have the good news! You know who Jesus is! You have a hope that does not disappoint! That is an incredibly positive standpoint, and even though you think your life might be pretty ordinary, when you start talking about why Jesus makes a difference to you, most people will be interested enough to listen. More about this in my next post.

Q: what is your biggest fear or uncertainty about telling people the good news of Jesus? Or, what have you found helpful in addressing your hesitation?

Feel free to leave your answer as a comment…o

Grace and peace: Dave

How to tell people about Jesus … and be taken seriously (1)

Jesus says he has come to give life, and give life to the full. If Christians really do believe this (and they should!) you have to wonder why they are not better at passing on this tremendous news.

This hesitation seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon, at least when viewed alongside church history since the time of Jesus and the early church. Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity has shown that early Christians were responsible for the incredibly rapid and effective spread the message of Jesus. Cultures then were very different form cultures now, but the Gospel broke new cultural and social ground on a regular basis.

If it’s true that we live in a more open and tolerant society, why do Christians today struggle to share the good news?

Maybe we’ve become too reliant on programs and packaged approaches. If we need to know the program, the outline, or the diagram, but we don’t know it very well, no one will jump when the opportunity arises. We’ve seen evangelism experts hold huge rallies, and the televangelists on the screen. We compare ourselves to these people, and we always pull up short.

Have you considered that grassroots Christianity is a much more powerful vehicle for sharing the good news about Jesus? Not only that: it is more likely to meet with a positive reception.

Here’s why: the message of Jesus needs to be observed in the context of friendship, relationship, and the realities of life. When this happens, people see what it means to follow Jesus in the context of their families. They see people doing what they can to live a Jesus honouring life at work. People showing the relevance of Jesus in the context of education or academic pursuit. People talking about the difference Jesus makes as they chat over the back fence to their neighbour.

In these environments there is so little pretence. There’s very little capacity for ‘saying one thing’ and ‘doing another. Here it is all about authenticity. It’s the sort of glass house that allows people to see what life with Jesus is really like.

This will take Jesus and his transforming grace into homes, families, workplaces, schools and any number of other social contexts. As such, it represents a tremendous opportunity to reinvigorate western Christianity. Risky, I know, but what an incredible opportunity to revitalise how a watching world sees a loving God!

In the posts to come, I want to look a little more about how we can do this better.

Q: Have you ever thought of asking your neighbours over for a meal with the intention of being open about your faith in Jesus? What would needs to change for you to do this?

Grace and peace: Dave

Location:Delancey St,Ormiston,Australia

Ministry to the unknown

A few years ago we visited Saddleback Church in Los Angeles. A lot of things impressed me. I remember the army of 60 volunteers who gave a few hours of their time every week to assemble thousands of newsletters for the next day. I was impressed with Saddleback’s commitment to see their vision, mission and values applied right across the board. I know some people find some of Rick Warren’s canned and contrived, but their alignment to their vision has really worked to make this huge church an effective community of mission and ministry.

One memory is particularly inspirational. As we walked from the car park to the worship centre we were met by one person after another whose ministry was to make us feel welcome. It was as if their passion was to minister to the unknown. We were unknown to them, but they greeted us like family. Like we were old friends. I remember one particular greeter, a young girl of about 11 or 12 years old. Newsletters in one hand, the other outstretched in a gesture of welcome, smiling warmly toward us, “so nice that you’re here today, welcome to Saddleback!” It was beautiful. I thought I might have seen something of heaven in that moment.

People who welcome others to worship or other gatherings of Jesus’ community have such a critical role. Theirs is a ministry of first impressions. This is always important. But the stakes are way higher when people who might be far from God are entering a place of worship for the first time.

So the people in these roles should be the warmest and most relational people available. People who delight to minister to the unknown, and who will love people they do not know. Not only will these people give others a powerful reason to return and a positive first experience, they will also be revealing the character of a seeking God to those who may be seeking him.

Q: how can you draw those involved in greeting ministry at your church into a more Christlike expression of ‘ministry to the unknown’?

Grace and peace: Dave

Location:Sturgeon St,Ormiston,Australia

Come Once, Come Weekly

Did you make it to a Sunday Service yesterday?

At Redlands CRC in the AM we welcomed Redland City Mayor, Melva Hobson and Councillor Wendy Boglary, and we hosted representatives from Queensland Police, State Emergency Services, and Queensland Fire & Rescue Service. To celebrate our National Day of Thanksgiving, we wanted to specifically thank those who work in police and emergency services. So we issued special invitations, got in the commercial espresso machines, and treated them to some great Christian affirmation. We also made gestures of thanks to some in the church family who do so much behind the scenes and yet who are not often affirmed. It was great to honour God together for what he does through people! It was so encouraging to hear (and feel) the buzz in the room! It really is good to glorify God as we meet together. Thanks for being part it!

Truth is, not everyone makes it every Sunday. For some, this is unavoidable. Whether through career or other circumstance, from time to time we just cannot make it.

But did you know that a proportion of the Redlands CRC family attend only once every two or three weeks?

Is that you?

I know: no one needs a guilt trip. But having a good look at how we spend our time, and what we spend our time on, could be a timely thing to do. I’ll leave that exercise to you…

As you think about Sundays, though, it’s good to remember the metaphor Paul uses to describe the church in 1 Cor 12. He refers to it as ‘the body of Christ’. One of the key points he makes is this:

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. ” (1 Corinthians 12:27, TNIV)

God wants you to be active in the church. If your typical attendance pattern is to come every second week, or every third week, or less – have you ever thought about the impact that has on the body? You might think that it doesn’t matter too much whether you’re there or not. If you don’t think it matters, try this: take just one piece of your body out of the picture – just for a day. Let’s say, your left hand. You’re probably right handed – it shouldn’t matter that much, right? Or a toe – or even a section of a toe – ever tried walking with an ingrown toenail? See, if just one small part is out of action, the rest of the body knows all about it.

The reality is that God really loves it when the body is working well. Every part of it. He loves it when the body is healthy. He loves is when the body worships and serves and works the best that it possibly can. He loves it when the whole family meets and worships together!

It may even be that the body needs you more than you need the body. Either way, when the whole body works well together, God is honoured and is grace is more evident in the church and in the world.

So why not make a plan to come more regularly: come once, come weekly. Glorify God with His people, and together pray that the wonderful news of his son will be carried into his world just that little bit better as we do.

Dave

Members of Queensland Fire & Rescue, along with Cr Wendy Boglary
Dave Groenenboom, Tom Short (SES), and Mayor Melva Hobson

Another QF&R Officer with some of the more important people at Redlands CRC

Photos: Kev Hudson

See you Sunday…

Are you planning to go to your church this Sunday? Given that we are about glorifying God, I want to encourage you to place it on the top of your agenda.

The reason? Worship is about God. Who we are, or what we want, are not the most important questions when it comes to worship. The focus is that God is good. God is great. God is gracious. God loves our world. God gave us Jesus. Do we need any other reasons?

An old confession of the church says our chief purpose as men and women is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Gathering on Sunday is one of the best ways to express this.

Sure, we are all busy. Every day is another juggle of work, family, and everything else.

God, however, is not one of many. He is the centre of our life. He is our all.

And He created you to worship Him.

So, right now, can I encourage you to get out your diary and write “Glorify” on Sunday. Attend the 9am or 5pm gathering. Renew your commitment to worship. Honour the God who has given you life, and come, with all his people, to celebrate his goodness.

See you Sunday!

Of the World, But Not In It?

I am writing a new sermon series (with Clinton) on the Sermon on the Mount. My first message is coming Sunday (Feb 07), and it comprises the whole Beatitudes passage – Matthew 5:1-12. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

I was reflecting about how Jesus calls his followers, broken as they are, to respond to the brokenness around them. One of the thoughts I had was that only a broken church can respond with blessing to the broken world they are in. This is how we reveal the kingdom of heaven, and show what it is really like.

Then I wondered about how does a church of reasonably comfortable suburban Christians start to enter into the brokenness in their community?

I was thinking we could email local MPs and local government people and ask them for guidance in where the greatest areas of need are. Then an uncomfortable realisation lodged itself in my mind, ‘why do I even need to do that? Why don’t I already know about brokenness in my own community? Why do we find it so hard to know what the greatest areas of need are? Why do we find it hard to see this?’

I think it’s because we get involved in our own lives, busy in our work, busy loving our families. We feel wronged when we don’t have any time to relax with our friends. Our churches are great, but there are so many things to do, so many programs, so many areas of ministry and service, that it’s just too easy to lose touch with the world around us. So we lose our connection with real people and their brokenness. We striving to get ahead financially, we want to make ends meet, become financially independent. We buy into the view that financial independence, comfortable living, owning the latest and greatest, brand-names-on-the-outside wardrobe, are the things that really matter. And as it turns out, we end up being of the world, but no longer in it.

Has the lifestyle of western suburban Christianity become a the new monasticism? Where Jesus’ people withdraw into their own virtual enclave and remove themselves form the world and its suffering? Is this why we do not perceive the brokenness around us?

Funerals: celebrating life

I have seen a lot of coffins, but I had never seen a coffin decorated with piano keys and music notes. Handles for the pall bearers were chrome cylinders attached with piano strings. I liked it. A lot. It was a tasteful expression of Eric’s love for music. While no professional musician, guests spoke of how he listened to, and drank in, and played music on a daily basis.

Before the casket was lowered, instead of throwing in soil, or laying a flower on the casket, people chose a piece of chocolate from a bowl, and placed it on top. I very deliberately placed by piece on B-flat. I don’t know that Eric was so into blues, but it suited my mood on the day.

Later, at the service of celebration, there was a tasteful mix of grief and laughter. Some of Eric’s children spoke, some performed musical pieces, his pastors spoke, guests spoke (more about that tomorrow), and once again, profound hope was expressed in music and song.

I have also seen funeral celebrations turn into a form of crass denial. Where it’s all made out to be a party, where banal humour and christo-pagan superstition permeates proceedings. “Yeah, I bet Bob’s up there now, beer in hand, looking at us all down here, wondering what all the fuss is about and when we’re all gonna get back to work…”

We can all do without that. And really, funerals do more harm than good when they trivialise life like that.

At Eric’s funeral we wrestled with life and its wending course. Together we sought to make sense of Jesus’ claim to be resurrection and life. We did that through our tears. And we celebrated everything Eric had brought into our lives, the talents he used to serve others, the expertise he brought to his workplace, and his quirky style of humour, we were celebrating the work of an extraordinary God in the life of an ordinary man.

But celebration? Seriously? How can you walk out of a funeral more in the lightness of hope than the heaviness of grief? This is the reality of Jesus’ life in us. His is a promise of hope, of life, that cannot be extinguished by death. This is what we have in the good news. When that deep celebration and profound joy resonates, even from a grieving community of followers, resurrection joy is palpable.

This is what we should celebrate at a funeral. How we have seen God’s life come to expression in this person. How we have seen beauty. How we have sensed a pursuit of justice and right. How they showed us a healthy spirituality. How we have learned about relationship, how others have been valued, honoured, and served.

Memories like anchor our affirmation in God’s work of grace in the life of another. We’re reminded that the Gospel is not just a religious idea or a doctrine to be intellectually accepted. It is an invigorating, transforming reality. When these transformational realities take root n a person’s life, they anticipate the new world Jesus will bring: God has already started his work of transformation in his people. Proof positive that Jesus is renewing minds, attitudes and values, and through them bringing change to his world. One life at a time.

Shalom,

Dave

Thoughts Occasioned by a Funeral

Last week we buried Eric. He was a fine person. A good man. A great follower of Jesus. And the first of my youth group generation to die. All that has got me thinking.

I met Eric in 1973 when I started attending his church in Blacktown. My parents had been solid in their faith for years, and had recently decided to switch churches. The church they chose was were Eric and his family attended. I was at a stage in life where I was making big decisions about life direction. I wasn’t being particularly principled about it. I was just in ‘default’ mode. When you are 15 years old, and your parents attend a church where there are no kids your age, there are always going to be more attractive options on a Sunday morning. I did not know it then, but I was at faith’s fork in the road. My parent’s decision to switch was a life saver. The life that was saved was mine.

Looking back now, I see how God used Eric, and a few others, to draw me into faith and followership. They helped me belong. They draw me into a small group who opened the Bible and sought to find its relevance for our lives. It was great. It was real. I came to see how following Jesus could be fun, exciting, and a rich broadening of what it meant to truly live.

At Eric’s funeral I remembered all this. I remarked how we shared a love for music, and great bass lines. He was into keys, I was getting into bass guitar. I remember now that he loved a good Monty Python line. And he loved his trail bike (he had a Kawasaki 250 or something). He let me ride his bike. He even let me ride his bike when I fell off it.

I don’t think Eric was my closest friend, and probably was not his closest friend either. Even so, it was the community, the friendship that Eric and others provided, that became the soil God used to nourish my faith. I am incredibly thankful for that. And I was blessed to have the opportunity to say so at Eric’s thanksgiving service.

Eric was the first of that generation of friends to die. Many of those present had made the same comment. It has given me reason, not only to reminisce, but also to consider life and death, and some of the important aspects of what it means to follow Jesus in such a time as this.

I hope my thoughts will be of value to you.

Shalom,

Dave

Where is God in all this?

Are you asking why? I am. I do regularly when things happen that that hurt and leave me a mangled.

My problem is that I don’t ever get too far past that question.

And I’m guessing that there are many people in Australia and the world over for whom the question ‘why’ is a regular and relentless visitor.

As a follower of Jesus I am not immune to pain and grief and doubt. The questions come

  • What have I done to deserve this?
  • Why did this happen?
  • Is this how God works?
  • Where is God in all of this?

Those questions were driven home with even more intensity this morning as I learned of a Melbourne Pastor who has announced his view that the fires in Victoria are a result of that state’s abortion laws. I am no supporter of abortion, but these words are ugly.

Reading them made me sick. Right in the gut. Angry. And very, very sad.

That voice sounds so arrogant, insensitive, and judgemental. It is devoid of all hope and grace. It reminds me of fingernails running down the blackboard: just stop it. It is callous and heartless. It perpetuates the pain of this tragedy.

And then I got thinking about the big question: ‘where is God in all of this?’

While I’m wary of platitudes, I think there’s something in the Bible’s picture of a seeking God, who risks his own comfort and safety to go after the lost and the broken.

So here is my portrait, for what it’s worth…

 

 

I saw Jesus this morning. You may disagree, and others may doubt. But I saw Jesus. I did.

He’s the fellow in the orange suit, the red goggles, the gloves, and the big hard hat.

He was standing there, leaning forward against the pressure of the water.

Beating back the flames.

Now, his face is blistered and burned from the heat.

He’s feeling spent.

But he’s there to save people, to fight fire. To turn back hell on itself.

He’s the bloke wiping the sweat from his brow. Staring. Cuppa in his hand, it’s tipping a little, like he has no strength left.

And you can see the tracks of his tears down the blackened, dirty cheeks.

 

See the pilot of the Ericson Aircrane dousing the flames with water?

Did you see the woman, weeping on the shoulder of another, because her husband had died?

Or the policewoman, with the mask to her face, looking into the shell of the burnt out car. What is she holding back?

Or the ambo, holding the mask to the guy with the badly burned arm.

Or in every one of the $15m currently pledged from one man to his mate.

This is where God is. At the rescue’s front line. Bringing hope. And a new beginning out of hell’s inferno. He’s been in this business a long time. And we shouldn’t be surprised to see him show up the way he does.

 

 

Shalom