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!

What I am posting about lately

Just to fill you in…

I thought I would just give you an update about how the blog is working of late.

I have been following a guide for daily devotional reading: A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants (Job & Shawchuck). This great resource was recommended to me by Jack de Vries, the Mission Training Coordinator of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia. There are readings for each day, following the basic form of

Prayer

Psalm for the week

Silence

Daily Bible Readings

Reading for reflection

Prayers for myself, the world, and others

Reflection: silent and written

Hymn or song for the week

Benediction

A few week’s ago I set myself the goal of regularly working through ‘A Guide to Prayer…’. I started recording my thoughts in a devotional journal, and after a few days I thought that I would share them with you. Perhaps the daily readings and the comment I make might also encourage you to be more regular in reading your bible and focusing your mind on the things of God.

This sort of discipline is not always easy to sustain. Well, I don’t always find it easy.

So I hope these posts help you deepen your understanding of the goodness of God and of his call on your life. As always, I encourage you to comment regularly, and engage with the subject matter.

Grace and peace,

Dave

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?

Your biological clock is ticking, and what are you doing about it?


I have never really owned up to the fact that I am getting older. It’s like I am in some sort of denial. Every year the birthday celebration comes and goes, and you get the dorky cards from your older sister, people have a dig at you for gaining another year (as if you had any choice), and the only comfort is that a few of your mates are a few years older than you are.

My mother’s move into high care has challenged my own persistent denial. Here I was visiting my mother at Lovely Banks. When she stood up, she had to be assisted. When she walked, she was assisted. When she showered, when she brushed her teeth, when she got dressed, when she went to the toilet. She needs assistance with it all. And yet, just a few days before I had been looking at a photo of her dressed as a bride with her husband, Cor. I had seen the vibrant smile of a young mother sitting on the front step of their cottage in Commonwealth Rd, Portland. I has seen her as a graduate of Bathurst High School. And now, about the only thing she can do by herself is fall asleep, or change the channel on the TV. Young once. Now old.

And I realised, it’s the same with me. No, not as old. But at one time I too was a high school graduate, a young groom – not knowing whether to be more proud or excited. I, too, was a young father. Now all my children are adults, and my Mum is in a nursing home. So I need to face the facts: I am 52 years old, and I am not getting any younger.

So I am going to make a few commitments:

Exercise more. I have let my riding program go for much of this year. Yesterday, I went out for the first time since early August. It was good, but my average was way off. I want to work hard to get my level of fitness up again. I will never be Lance Armstrong, I know. But I have been told that he cannot preach his way out of a wet paper bag, either, so that’s OK.

Discipline my eating. I am going to trim what I eat through the middle of the day. I have a generally sedentary job, and I don’t need a man sized meal at lunch time. Coupled with riding, this should see me drop a few kilos. We’ll see.

On a more long term note: I really want to make the second half of my life more productive. I want to add value to my ministry. I want to be a better preacher, a better leader, a better coach, a better husband, a better man (if you’ll pardon the cliche). I want my second half to count and to have impact way more than my first half.

So, now, today, I want to make a difference.

God reminds us that we get about ‘three score years and ten’. The best estimates of life expectancy have only added about a decade to that, even in the 21st century. Even then, don’t make too many assumptions. For all of us, life hangs by a slender thread. Free radicals, and crazy people driving little red cars mess with the mix on a regular basis.

So, now, today, I want to make a difference. Today, I want to do things that matter. Today, I want to strive for the sort of world God delights in. I want to keep learning. I want whatever I do tomorrow to be better than whatever I did today.

Q: what have you changed to make more of a difference in the second half of your life? …and you’re not there already what does this idea get you thinking about?

Great reading: Bob Buford: Beyond Half Time: practical wisdom for your second half

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

The View

There’s a story that at the start of WWII, Australian military strategists were worried about the rapid advance of the Japanese Army. The Clarence River Wilderness Lodge’s Camp Kitchen has a photograph of some concrete tank traps that at one time were arranged across the Clarence River at Paddy’s Flat. The idea was that these concrete structures would halt the advance of the Japanese invaders. The story is that the Australian Forces believed the northern part of the continent was impossible to defend. So the claim was that the ‘Brisbane Line’ had been drawn from north of Brisbane, with the idea that everything above that line could be sacrificed to protect the south eastern population areas. Now I am not sure about the historicity of all that, but we wanted to see the tank traps, and we were told on good authority that they were still there.

Leonie, Erin, James and I hopped into the Subaru, with first stop in Urbenville (50 mins away), where Erin hoped to get some phone reception. By tethering my phone to my Vaio notebook, we would have internet on the road. Alas, Urbenville’s phone reception turned out to be pretty poor. Poorer than we needed it to be. So we thought the best idea was to drive along, while Leonie watched the phone’s reception indicator. The moment we would get three bars, we’d stop, connect the phone to the computer, and Erin could enrol in her Uni classes. We drove into a small place called Mulli Mulli, a small settlement of indigenous people, and all of a sudden we had five bars! We drove into a side street and pulled over. What was really interesting was that my PC found someone’s wireless service, and connected – so there we were thanking the people of Mulli Mulli for their hospitality!

Back in Urbenville, we visited Glad’s shop again to find out about the condition of some local roads. The shop assistant told us how you could get a great view of the surrounding area from a fire tower, about 15km down the road. So we drive the 7 km to North Yabbra Road, and another 7km to the track to the Fire Tower. The walk to the top was a steep and strenuous 20min climb. A steady and persistent pace seemed to be the trick. It occurred to me that the ascent to the fire tower stretched my cardio vascular system better than the stress test I had undertaken a few weeks before. I have never had any heart problems, and have never felt any reason for concern. Even when recently I found out that my heartbeat was a little irregular, I was relaxed about it, and subsequent tests showed there were no issues. As we walked up the mountain, with my heart rate at around 190, I started to wonder what would happen if I started having serious chest pain. There was no anxiety, or fear. Just a thought. It’s funny how in an instant, your thoughts can take you to the deep recesses of your soul. The thought pressed deeper: “Well, what would happen? What would you do?” It caught me off guard a little. So I let it play out. I imagined having to sit down, with Leonie, Erin and James gathering round. Someone would have run to the top of the hill with my phone, and call for an ambulance. The thought dug in deeper, and I reminded myself that whether the phone works or not, or whether the ambulance arrives on time are not the really big questions. I went deeper, and said, simply, “Dave, you are mortal. One day you are going to die.” Whether it was this day or another day, it was OK, because the life God has given me in Jesus is life that cannot be taken away. I was comforted to feel real peace about that. I was just happy to live the life God has given me in the here and now. And with this I pushed on.

How long did it take to think all that through? It is amazing how quickly it can happen. It might have been ten seconds, not much longer. Even so, a deep sense of peace and a more textured life perspective has come out of it. I think it has helped me feel more resolute, more settled, and more confident of God’s assurance of life. It has deepened and renewed my commitment to live heaven’s life in the here and now. To see and seek God’s goodness more in the land of the living.

Arriving at the top was glorious (see pic, with Dome Mountain in the foreground, looking north toward Brisbane Ranges National Park), and all the more for the hard work of the walk. Climbing to the first level of the fire tower, we had a near 360° view across volcanic plugs like Dome Mountain and Edinburgh Castle, beyond Urbenville and Woodenbong, and to the southwest down along the valley toward Upper Tooloom.

Descending down the track to the car, we deflated the tyres to 24psi for a softer ride on the unsealed roads, and headed for Old Bonalbo, and 12km further, Bonalbo. I am not sure why one of these settlements is ‘old’ and one is not, but as you would expect, while Bonalbo was a larger town than its ‘older’ counterpart, it was still very small.

Bonalbo offered the best promise of a counter meal. We found the Dog ‘n’ Bull, and we were keenly aware that they had found us. The locals picked our car as being from out of town – the Qld licence plates a giveaway. It felt like all eyes we on us, and they probably were. This happens in country towns, but perhaps not to the same degree as it did in Bonalbo. We wondered about why this would be so. In the end we put it down to the Kingdom Hall a block away from the pub: perhaps people thought we were new JWs. We were quite sure all concerns evaporated when we entered the Dog ‘n’ Bull. We were pretty sure no Jehovah’s Witnesses would ever do that…

[more next time…]