Good God, why do I pray so timidly, offering hesitant requests when I’m your loved child? I’ve been commanded – almost dared – by Jesus to trust your generosity in my prayers. Give me the expectation of a child that through Jesus Christ I will receive all I ask from you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
As I celebrate this Australia Day, I recognise that I live on the lands of the Nyungar people, and I pay respect to their elders past, present and future. When James Cook landed in Botany Bay, there were some 250 nations of first Australians already here. They had been here for tens of thousands of years, and there could have been anywhere to a couple of million in number.
Europeans did not discover this land, but their arrival started to change it forever, as the first Australians had also changed it. The European colony brought many good things, but it also eventually led to removal of the first Australians from many areas, and without due recompense. History is woefully overladen with accounts of their suffering and debasement at the hands of European colonists. Indigenous peoples still carry much of this pain. Many European Australians deny it in equal measure.
My prayer for Australia now is that we own this history, or it will continue to own us. We need to acknowledge our first Australians in our constitution. We need to listen to their voice, we need to hear their cry, and we need to act in equity and justice. This is what God would want from us. One day we sill stand before him and render account for how we have addressed this situation.
Let our shared love for this country and our awareness of God’s grace gloriously received move us forward into reconciliation, gracious embrace, and a future where all can thrive.
I’m celebrating today because the move toward reconciliation will always outlive the voice of hate and cowering fear. I love my country, and in it everything God has given to me, my children and grandchildren. I doubt there is a better place to live on earth. And I know this great land will only get better as we walk, with our First Australians, into God’s good future.
In Australia people are giving up on religion, so the ABS says. Personally, I doubt it. There may be less people attending church, and a reduction in the number of those who have nominal attachment. But really, everyone is religious. Even the ‘no religion’ response is a religious response.
Those who do not believe in God still offer a response to God – one of unbelief. As those who are agnostic say ‘we don’t know if there is a God.’
Maybe there are just different religious responses.
Those who ignore God, and live as though he doesn’t exist.
Those who avoid God. Who know he’s probably there, who tip toe around his fingerprints, and do their best to think about other things.
Those who manipulate God. Or at least try to. If I
- work on my broken relationship
- pray harder
- get to church more
- stop that terrible behaviour
- give to that charity
- fill in the blank
…then God will do what I ask, bless me, accept me.
Then there’s following God. Receiving his gift of grace, forgiveness and life, and living a life that shows his true intent for life and humanity. This is the life Jesus has come to give.
‘No religion’ is not an option, so which one are you? And how is that working?
Every follower of Jesus wants to be a person of prayer. That’s what Eugene Peterson suggests in the introduction to Seeking God’s Face. I think he’s right. Trouble is, few of us know where to start or what to say.
This is where Seeking God’s Face is brilliant. It encourages a daily practice of prayer and reading by providing a structured program throughout the year.
Each daily reading has several sections:
Invitation: A brief passage of Scripture drawing the reader into a mindfulness of God’s presence.
Quiet: The reader is encouraged to be still before the Lord. Turn off. Slow down. Be quiet. “Cultivating a stilled, attentive heart before God and quieting down actual noise and internal noise is a vital step in preparing to hear God’s voice.” (p.19)
Bible Song: Each day has a Psalm to be used a prayer. These Psalms guide the reader to respond to God. It might be confession of sin, praise for His goodness, or magnifying his power. Following these Psalms will take the reader through the entire Psalter twice in the year.
Bible Reading: The readings follow the celebrations of the church year: Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost etc. The readings are for meditation: to hear the voice of God. Since we believe the best place to hear God’s voice is Scripture, this is a welcome alternative to reading what someone else has written, and to hear God’s word directly.
Quiet: The second period of quiet presents an opportunity to move to a more contemplative frame, opening ourselves to what God will say to us in his word.
Dwelling: The reader is encouraged to slowly re-read the Bible passage, listening for words and concepts that stand out as they read. This is lectio divina – listening for God’s voice and seeking to grow in our walk with him. The author acknowledges this may be new for some, but in a world where we are so used to interpreting, studying and analysing the word it is good to train ourselves simply to listen deeply.
Free Prayer: Several prayer points are noted, which are excellent prompts to broaden our prayer focus well beyond our immediate needs and personal gaze. For example: the first time I used this book it was suggested I pray for the continent of Australia. I thought that was pretty good!
Prayer: Each day has a set prayer where the living theology of the reformed confessions is enfolded into the Christian activity of prayer. One of the true benefits of this volume is that it works the faith heritage we know and love into our devotion and praise.
“If we can begin to weave these core Christian beliefs into our prayers, most likely we’ll find them trickling into our minds, embedded in our hearts, and lived out in our lives [.22]
Blessing: a final blessing closes the session, reminding us of God’s good intentions and his gracious provision.
Each day is conveniently arranged on a page opening, with a helpful table pointing the reader to the correct reading for each respective date.
I love the way Seeking God’s Face opens my mind to God’s voice in his word. I love the way it slows me down. I love its depth of content. I love the way it draws me into the reformation heartbeat.
Whether you’re busy and your schedule is overgrown, or whether you’re looking for renewed opportunity to deepen your sense of God’s presence, Seeking God’s Face is just what you’re after.
As a Pastor, I can only dream about how my local church would grow and mature if every person used Seeking God’s Face for a year!
…and I should point out it’s way cheaper to buy this title through Book Depository.
- Find one block of 30 minutes per week for the next two weeks
- As you enter into that 30 min period, simply pray “Lord, reveal yourself to me anew, let me feel my own soul’s thirst for you. Open my heart, my eyes, my ears to you. Let me love you for who you are.”
- Do nothing else during that time: no reading, no prayer, no phone (turn it off!!), no writing, no speaking. Just wait and listen to your soul.
- After 30 mins, write down your thoughts in a journal or a notes app
- Sometime during these next two weeks , share your experiences with a friend
The full text of my message can be found at SermonandStudy.com and audio is available from our iTunes feed and from our webpage
I just read an excellent article from Ryan Anderson about how the church can respond to the issue of marriage equality. Anderson frames his response by speaking about the role of ‘the church’. I get this, although I see the response in terms of the task of all Christians as the church, not some church hierarchy. Even so, Anderson makes a couple of great points:
- we need to present a case for Christian sexuality which is attractive, appealing and engaging. We need to capture the moral imagination of this and the next generation
- we need to develop sensitive ministries for same sex attracted people and those with questions around gender identity
- we must learn ways to defend religious liberty in an age when one social agenda becomes non negotiable public policy
- we must live out the truth of marriage and human sexuality
You can read the article at ABC Religion
[Jesus’] message, and the message about him that the early Christians
called good news, was not about how to escape that world.
It was about how the one true God
was changing it,
and for ever.
Tom Wright, Simply Good News
It got me thinking about all those discussions around ‘change’ about 20 years ago. How it was something to be resisted. Seen as negative.
I think we got the whole change thing the wrong way around. People were worried about changing the church, how we did things, and traditions long held and valued. Sure, some things about church need to change. Semper reformanda and all that.
What we missed is that Jesus is all about change. Changing people. Changing his world. Doing this through the power of his death, rising and rule. Living in people. As he changes people, they bring his change into his world.
…just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too me live a new life (Romans 6:4)
I am too slow to bring this change in my life. No wonder my impact is minimal. And as a pastor, I don’t see to much change in others. They struggle to see their faith bite into life reality, except for a few hours on Sunday and some quiet time every other day.
You’re a follower of Jesus? Then he’s living in you through his spirit. He intends to empower you and enable you to live the values of his Kingdom today, in whatever you’re doing. How you drive. How to treat people. How you love your kids. How you treat your body. How you stand up for the friendless and the forsaken.
What change are you living today? How will people get an idea about Jesus and heaven by how you behave, and speak, live and love?
The cliche is ‘be the change you want to see.’ That’s a bit self centred and short sighted.
I would rather say ‘be the change God wants people around you to see.’
If God would change your context, where you are right now, how would he do that? What would need to happen?
Why are relationships so hard?
We have two people, a man and a woman, who have feelings for each other. While they are on cloud nine, life is good. For a while. The closer they get, the easier it is to misunderstand each other.
It’s probably true that no two people always see eye to eye. Open communication means times of laughter and joy, but also times of honesty and accountability. These are times of growth and challenge.
I’ve been thinking recently that our culture does not make it easy for relationships to thrive. Here are some reasons:
* we have a skewed view of sex
* we have this idea that the ideal partner will just present herself, and it will be love at first sight, and the green grass will grow all around
* we believe this lover of our dreams will finally make us happy and meet all our needs
* people preparing for marriage face the financial Everest of their wedding day. With typical celebrations running into tens of thousands of dollars
* good communication skills do not come hard wired in our DNA. More often than not, god communication is a learned skill. If healthy communication has not been a feature of our parents, we’re already starting behind the eight ball
This is why my next teaching series is focussing on the things in our culture which make doing relationship harder than it needs to be.
My first instalment focuses on how our culture’s view of sex does not lead to freedom, but generally to significant complications with how we do relationship. You have to wonder: if our kids modelled their relationships on Hollywood, what sort of families we will have.
So, we’re focussing on these things in an effort to uncover what Scripture teachers. We want to hear God’s word and live God’s life. The prayer is that we ourselves, and the coming generation, will have healthier relationships and be better equipped to bring Jesus’ new life to expression.
Following each Sunday, each sermon will be published at Sermon & Study
Forgiveness, by its very nature, always involves people. It is people who get hurt. It is people who do the hurting. Forgiveness is always relational.
There are some terrible things that have happened to people, but they don’t need to be forgiven. In January 2011 an intense storm cell hovered over the Queensland city of Toowoomba. On any other day, Toowoomba hardly has a creek to its name, but that day it flooded so badly that cars were washed down the main street. The waters rushed down the range, and obliterated several small towns in the valley below. Lives were lost and livelihoods were dashed. Who was to blame? Who did this? No one did it. It was no one’s fault. No one was to blame. As Lewis Smedes reminds us, if there’s no one to blame, there’s nothing to forgive (The Art of Forgiving, p.77).
Forgiveness is only relevant when others are involved. In some ways this makes sense. It may be easy to remember hurts that others have done to us. At other times, who those ‘others’ are will sometimes catch us off guard. We’re not always ready to admit that sometimes the hurt has come from our own actions. So sometimes we have to forgive ourselves. On other occasions, hurt comes from a group of people. Truth is, forgiving is always messy. And you can be sure the more people are involved, the messier it gets.
people are always in the mix
So, when it comes to forgiveness, people are always in the mix. Real people. Real lives. Real pain and real grief. It’s easy to lose sight of this, and it’s often convenient to avoid it. It’s easier, if we have hurt someone, to just think about ‘issues’ and ‘events’ and ‘what went wrong’. When we avoid the people in the equation, though, we dehumanise the pain. This is sin on three counts:
We sin against them, because we are not willing to see their hurt, or recognise our part in it.
We sin against ourselves: when we refuse to see the pain we have brought to others we deny ourselves the grace of being forgiven.
And we sin against God. It’s not just that he wants us to forgive. It’s more that his plan in Jesus is to raise us to a new life and a better way. God wants our lives, through Jesus, to express his better grace. He deeply wants his ‘giveness‘ to come to expression in our lives. Paul says as much when he writes “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 4:32ff)
We have to be honest about the impact of our actions on people, and their impact on us. If we fail to see the people in the equation, sin, wrongdoing, and guilt will have its way with us. And guilt is such a tireless tormentor.
Which is easier, to just focus on the issues, or to recognise the people involved and the pain they are going through? Which is better?
1 John 2:9 (NIV)
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.
Hate is a strong word. I hate what I see going on in Syria. I hate the deception that breaks relationships. I hate gossip, and malicious whispering. I hate whatever is in warfare with God and his gospel in Jesus.
Sometimes, though, I find myself wondering whether we should hate as much as we do. I wonder whether many of the things we hate are things that we should really be grieving over.
Hate, you see, keeps it all out there. You can hate stuff on the other side of the world, and not be particularly affected by it. But if you grieve over something, it’s like you have to let it have you a little, let it enter your life. When you grieve you feel something of the heaviness, the brokenness, and the grit of it between your teeth.
We all know God hates sin and wrongdoing. But I wonder whether sometimes God grieves more than he hates.
What do you think? Does God grieve about us and our world more than he hates what he sees going on?