Prophets

Ok before you go any further this post has some very bad language in it. If that’s a problem to you then back out now…

You’re sure you want to keep going?…

Because I don’t want to get comments telling me that it was offensive… If nothing else I’d get annoyed because you missed the point!

Ok, I came across these two pieces this week and I’d suggest they are brilliant prophetic statements. They aren’t Christians (as far as I know) and in fact they are quite confronting in their content, but if you have ears to hear then you will feel what is said.

The first is a bloke in England on a bit of a ‘social experiment’, and the second is Aussie comedian Tim Minchin at the Melbourne Comedy Festival (a fundraiser for Oxfam) really calling people out on their true convictions.

Unpleasant, but then that’s why we need prophets – because they will say the stuff that the rest of us feel offended by or can’t see.

For those who have ears to hear…

Thanks to my bro in law David who pointed me to Minchin. Unfortunately its a catchy song and kinda gets stuck in your head… like it or not…

 

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Finding My Voice

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Its been over 10 years of writing this blog and in that time I have developed my own ‘voice’ in writing. I sit down to ‘blog’ and it comes easily and naturally – its like I’m sitting in my lounge room with a friend and I enjoy it each time I open the keyboard.

But as I started writing some fiction this year I have found myself feeling quite awkward at times, a bit like ‘its not my voice’ coming thru. I don’t think I’ve been trying to imitate anyone, but I do notice I find it more difficult to write a story than I do a blog. I am also a bit of a snob when it comes to writing so I sometimes read it and think ‘oh dear… this is excrement’ and that can be a little discouraging!

I guess this form of writing comes easily because there is no obligation or intention to say anything creatively. If it flows out well then good – if not then so be it – and its only a short post. If you don’t like it there will be another to read some time soon. But because I’ve ‘found my voice’ here chances are most posts will read ok.

However the process of telling a story, of developing character and trying to draw people in is a more focused task and in that I am feeling like I have been labouring because it hasn’t started to come naturally yet. Some mornings I sit down to write and feel like I am writing boring ‘wooden’ information and then other days I sit to write and I like what I’m writing – I’d read it myself!

Not having much experience in fiction writing I’m guessing it takes a while to find your stride and to develop your own style/voice. On that note one of the things I had to get past was that my characters use pretty bad language at times. Such is real life…

If you’ve read this blog for long enough then you’d know I’m not easily offended by naughty words, but I do try to limit my use of expletives (no really…) so to liberally splash ‘f’ words throughout was a challenge because it isn’t a part of my own vocabulary. But not to use the ‘f’ word would have been really odd too… because its how people talk… Its a part of life and it would sound jolly strange to use words like ‘jolly’ instead.

If my book ever gets finished and is good enough to publish I doubt Koorong will want to stock it…

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Stop Ya Bastard

I love that Aussie car product you can buy called ‘Start Ya Bastard’ for cars that won’t start when they should, but today I had the opposite problem – the Cruiser wouldn’t shut down… So if you also happen to have an HJ61 Landcruiser and you can’t get it to stop then this may be the post you are looking for.

I was a little confused because I took it in yesterday for a new radiator and the problem only occurred after that. I drove it home, turned it off, took the key out and she just kept running. It began by just running on for a few seconds before shutting down so fortunately I was aware of it and didn’t get stuck out and about with a car that I couldn’t stop. But tonight it just decided to keep running and running and running…

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I discovered how to shut it down manually by activating the diaphragm – just push the rod towards the front the of the car (see the arrow on the diagram) and it stops. But this is supposed to be activated by a vacuum and clearly that wasn’t happening. I could do it mechanically but it wasn’t working as it should have been – and all hoses were intact…

I tracked the hose back to the device that has the red square around it but then got stuck. I didn’t know what it was and didn’t want to bugger something up.

But don’t you love google and forums?! When my dad wanted to teach me about cars at 17 I just wanted to go surfing, so I didn’t take anything in and now I am playing catch up. But fortunately a google search revealed others had encountered this problem too. I began reading at 8 o’clock and at 9 I was out there in the shed with a spotlight trying to get it back up and running.

So the vacuum switch valve (vsv) is the one in the square that activates the vacuum that shuts the car down. It is held on by one small 12ml bolt. I pulled it off cleaned it and blew it out, put it back on and all worked well in several tests. I am guessing some crap in the valve may have been the issue.

The forums showed that these valves are expensive – about $170 to buy from Toyota – if you can get them… but if you can’t you can get the same valve on Corollas manufactured in the early 80s and they are a dime a dozen around wreckers.

So there you have it. She stops now which is good because come Friday next week we are off to Karajini for a week and out of internet range.

Thanks to those who took the time to put it on the forums – just thought I’d return the favour to anyone searching for this problem.

If you need to access a manual for the 12HT then Tim has kindly uploaded one here and it is section EM34 you need to refer to.

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They Listen…

Today I began the teaching at church with the question ‘If I were a Muslim evangelist and my mission was to convert you to Islam what would I need to do to get some traction?’

My intention was simply to show that it is a huge ask to shift someone from one deeply entrenched world view to another completely different one. The answers were interesting, but what was of more interest to me than the answers themselves was who was giving them.

Of the 6 or 7 responses we had, 3 came from our 12-13 year olds, the crew just out of Sunday School and with no option but to sit in church and listen to us. (I think that’s a good thing by the way.) What I liked was firstly that they felt confident enough to engage and like they had permission, but also that they offered some excellent observations. They were thinking.

I have been very aware over the last 6 weeks that my 13 year old daughter Ellie has been in for the teaching and she has made a few comments about what I have been teaching, comments that show she is engaging with at least some of what I am saying.

What today has prompted me to consider is how to intentionally engage with these guys more – how to communicate in such a way that adults learn, but the younger ones follow and are able to learn also. I think it was Billy Graham who said he preached his messages to an imaginary 12 year old as if they could comprehend then anyone could. So I am thinking that in the next few months when preparing teaching I will be running it thru the grid of ‘how does this connect with a 13 year old?’

As a kid who sat thru church at that age it didn’t kill me, but I remember regularly counting the number of boards in the roof at Maylands Baptist. I was often bored to tears but with no way of escape. Sunday morning teaching is typically pitched at adults – often thinking adults – but what if it was pitched at ‘thinking kids’? I wonder if we wouldn’t pick up all the adults as well?

Its just an observation, but its one that has sparked my thinking as to how we engage the young ones rather than just expecting them to sit quietly until the boring bit is over. What today showed me is that they are willing – if we are willing…

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How to reduce Your Titheable Income

The last two weeks at QBC have focused on the issue of giving and I thought it would be helpful for people to be able to work out how much to actually give.

So here’s how to work out your titheable income…

How much do you earn?  Let’s say $150k to get an average household income.

But… You only take home $100k of that…
Then you pay gst on everything you buy so technically not income either… Reduce by another 10%
And if you can salary sacrifice then you can reduce it even further!
Then there’s housing which you have to have so not really titheable..
Clothes…  A result of the fall so really not something we should be responsible for…
Education in a Christian school to keep your kids pure…  God would want that right?
And so the list goes on of things that aren’t technically titheable and that’s before I even get to my expenses!

Yes – expenses – because it costs me to go to church, take kids to youth group, and all those meetings. Surely I am not supposed to bear that cost myself?
Then we have people from church around for dinner and they eat my food and drink my wine…  That costs me.. So I pass it on to God because he needs to know the real cost of this Christian life.
There’s trips to Bali to visit the orphanages, church camps… It’s not cheap following Jesus.

By the time I had finished I worked out that God owed me

He owed me $5630.95 so I figured that if ‘God is no man’s debtor’ I should send the church an invoice…

Such is the problem with tithing as a practice. It is a rubbery concept at best and for those with short arms and deep pockets it can be easily evaded.

If the law was our teacher to prepare us for faith in Christ as Galatians 3 says then perhaps we can see tithing as trainer wheels that prepare us for actual bike riding?

I know many churches preach tithing because pragmatically it works to make ends meet, but what if in doing that we are actually keeping people in spiritual infancy, with the illusion of having matured?  It would look silly for me to ride a bike with training wheels once I know how to ride, but this is what happens often in church.

John Ortberg says a tithe is a good floor but a very poor ceiling.  The NT expectation is that we will reflect the generosity of God rather than be restricted to a set amount. It also allows space for those in dire poverty to be supported by others while they find their feet again.

Research shows that Christians give away around 3% of their income on average (which is a disturbing statistic ) so the challenge is not to get people tithing but rather to have them know God in such a way as to desire to reflect his heart.

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Perspective

1_19ihv67-19ihv69I’ve been following the unfolding drama of Flight MH370 as it has happened over the last two weeks – a massive tragedy for those with loved ones on board – but at this point I find myself wondering how much more money will be invested in searching for the dead?

I began thinking this a few days after it had disappeared. The prognosis was that it was unlikely for the plane to be found with people alive on it, but as the search has gone on and taken on epic proportions I have become disturbed at how much of our resources have gone into finding ‘dead people’ while millions who are still alive go hungry etc.

Its an ongoing conundrum – I get that – but maybe its past time to say ‘tragic/sad/devastating’ but from here on the money that would have gone into locating the dead will be rerouted into helping those who are close to death, but still have hope.

So maybe that’s not a popular thought, but if I think we sometimes lose perspective.

 

 

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Train Wreck

trainAnd the big lesson from this week is make sure you are committed to your decision before going public with it…

Sadly the folks at World Vision have egg on their face and a major mess to clean up after their announcement that they would now hire people in gay relationships, only to retract the statement and revert to their original position just 48 hours later.

The problem is that the damage is done now. They have smashed a heap of trust and its going to be hard to rebuild it. Whatever you think of World Vision the issue here is the flip flop.

Now rather than just having alienated one group of constituents they have angered two. The first decision clearly made the right wing mad, while the left were happy WV had ‘seen the light’, but clearly the right have many more $$ because the reversion was for their benefit. Now the right won’t be sure if WV have genuinely recanted and the left will hate them for their back down. Lose – lose

I didn’t know WV were still an overtly Christian organisation and I figured they hired staff who had no faith affiliation. So the original decision surprised me as I thought that was the lie of the land anyway. While the original decision obviously was a political hand grenade, it would be interesting to know what genuinely motivated both decisions. It would seem the first may have been a response to culture (and I think many theological shifts are a result of cultural change, moreso than new ‘learning ‘) but the reversal is confusing – it presents as theological but I wonder to what extent it is driven by the need for the organisation to keep running, for people’s jobs, leader’s reputations etc. Yeah – I’m a bit cynical there.

Maybe it was motivated by the fact that the decision will hurt the poor – the reason for WVs existence , but my guess is that it’s a combination of all of the above to a greater or lesser degree depending on who you ask.

And which decision was the correct one?… I’m not sure at the moment.

If we are arguing that sexual orientation is central to the gospel then you’ve lost me there. If WV are as keen to take a hardline on other sin then perhaps that would seem fair. But we all know that nothing riles a conservative more than being kind or fair to gay people. For some reason they belong in a different category of ‘nasty’ to adulterers, pornographers and hetero-sexual-sinners.

Unfortunately what presents as a decision based on theological conviction seems to be more likely driven by bottom lines, people’s jobs and maybe even the folks at the end of the line who end up suffering because people won’t allow their funds to channel through a ‘sinful’ organisation.

I wonder if those same folks who boycotted WV are willing to allow WV to take money from gay folks? Or are they allowed to give money to sponsor kids who are gay. If you are gay should you starve?

Complex?…

Yeah I think it can be…

Or maybe its not complex and we’re just bloody stupid sometimes.

 

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Noah Scmoah

Last night was looking like a night at home until the phone rang at 5.00pm and someone wanted a retic control box installed in Currambine. I didn’t need to do it on the spot, but as it was my job to take the kids to their youth groups I figured I’d drop them off, do the control box, grab some dinner, see the Noah movie, pick the kids up and head home. It’d save driving back to Yanchep… I thought I was on my own until Danelle decided she didn’t want to miss out so came too.

So we managed to cram in drop off, dinner and control box before the 6.30 movie and then sunk back into the chairs to enjoy a movie – first one in a long time and at $19.00/ticket its hardly surprising…

So – Noah… Honestly it was a bit ho hum. I found myself a bit bored with it and while not offended or disturbed by its content it just didn’t strike a chord for me. Plenty of others have written analytical reviews of its biblical truth and error, but I didn’t go there to see someone try to match it word for word. What I did see was a mix of Mad Max, Lord of the Rings and the Bible with Noah as the first nut job fundamentalist, willing to kill his own granddaughters in the name of the cause. There was enough Bible for it to be recognisable as the story, but enough interpretation and adaption to fill it out and make it into a movie length drama. If you’re thinking of going to see it, then I’d say ‘go ahead, but don’t expect it to be either completely biblically accurate or riveting as a story.

What it did, was compel me to re-read the story to see what was actually there originally and what was added in and I am guessing it will be food for conversation around the place. I agree with those who say our job isn’t to defend the bible and its accuracy but rather to engage with the culture as it reads the story. From there we can have a conversation rather than a lecture in correction.

So – Noah – its not the duck’s nuts, nor is it the antichrist… Enjoy it for what its worth, but if I were you I’d wait for the DVD…

 

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Just Not For Me

Man Walking Down the Line in the RoadIf I consider what it is that has taken the heaviest toll on me over 24 years of pastoral leadership it might well be those who walk away from faith.

Each one who has given it away is probably not that significant on their own – and I reckon that’d be how they feel about it – but the combined weight of each person’s ‘failed journey’ or whatever you choose to call it can eventually become quite a load.

Maybe you say ‘its not my load to carry’ and that’d be true. And I don’t think I do carry it these days. But I feel it. I feel it in my heart as someone else says ‘I dunno… I just can’t keep going with it…I’m not sure I believe any more… I’m not sure I ever believed…’

And I wonder, ‘what do you say to that?…’ I’m not sure…

In my youth ministry days I think I felt an inappropriate sense of responsibility for the faith journey of those who were in our churches. When they gave it away I felt like I had failed them, or maybe just that I had failed. Maybe I had sometimes.

But young people are known for going thru phases and it appeared that some went thru their ‘church phase’ under our leadership. I never liked to see young people get baptised and then 6 months later say ‘ah, I’m over that now…’, but what’s harder is watching adults lose faith, give faith away or simply choose to let it go.

Usually for adults it starts as ‘giving up on church’ (and sometimes the reasons are even valid) and then moves to disillusionment with God and eventually to disinterest. The convenience of a life removed from God can be pretty attractive if your journey following Jesus has been particularly hard.

I see people give faith up for a whole host of reasons. Boredom with church is a biggie. The struggle to ‘attend’ a service or meet weekly with people with whom there is often little in common can get old quickly. When we make following Jesus primarily about church attendance we are in trouble, but this is the dominant paradigm in our culture so we have to work with it.

For some, life can turn to poo and God is an easy target for the blame. Depending on your theology God may even be the source of your pain. That presents some real theological conundrums. If God isn’t the cause then he is the person who could have done something but didn’t… not the world’s most loving father after all. A broken heart is a danger for some and an impetus for others. Some run from God when the world falls apart and others run to him. My hunch is that more immature Christians run away.

For some a non-Christian partner is like an anchor, a huge weight that means faith is constantly being dragged around and never enjoyed. Sometimes it may be easier to just quietly slip out of a church and not return. What makes that strategy even worse is that many single Christians who have made a huge effort to connect in church may go MIA and no one may notice. The absence of any follow up is a nail in the coffin of a sick faith. The hurt from that experience can leave a person ‘believing in God but not in church’.

Then there are those who just ‘never really got it’ in the first place. Good people who have been part of the church community, have shared the load in every way, but who in their quiet moments will admit to not being even sure if they believe. What do you do there?

I certainly don’t fight God’s battles for him any more. If you don’t want to believe then that’s ok. Go ahead. If you think God is actually evil and has done you wrong then I’m not sure I can change that either. I reckon he can stand up for himself if he needs to.  If you signed up for the wrong gig and just want to get off the squad then I’m not going to stop you.

Sometimes I feel like I am being called on to defend God – to make sense of him in some of life’s most difficult situations. And I can’t do that. I can’t make someone believe. I can’t convince a broken heart that God is good.

I can listen, ask questions, speak of my own experience. I can share what I read in scripture of how God has worked in the past, but what I can’t do is flick a switch in another person’s heart that says ‘ok – I believe,’ or ‘ok I want to believe.’

A couple of conversations lately have sat heavily on me as I have realised people are exiting – leaving faith – and I can’t stop them. Nor do I think it appropriate to try and stop them.

I have been reminded in these times that our clever arguments are not the answer to the wounded, disillusioned or the disbelieving, but that prayer is the hope. Somewhere in the spiritual realm a battle is going on for the heart and its a battle that is only going to be won in the spiritual realm.

But each one that goes leaves a mark – causes pain and grief. I sense what I experience some days is the cumulative weight of that disappointment and of my own inability to fix it, but rather just having to accept that this is the way life is.

That’s how I feel.

I can only imagine how God feels.

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So How’s Your Church Going?

So there’s an interesting question.

My mate Travis asked it today as we chatting. Its not a question that produces an easy answer because it begs the response – ‘what do you mean by that?’

Do you mean ‘how’s the numbers’, do you mean vibe, do you mean the strength of discipleship and mission? Do you mean the funkiness of the band?… the quality of the programs… etc

When I get asked that I tend to do a scan across the ‘flow of energy’ in the community – whether its on a trajectory towards Christlikeness and the kingdom of God or whether we are becoming increasingly selfish and inward focused. As a leader I feel like I have (and ought to have) a pretty good finger on the pulse in that regard.

There have been times when the ‘flow of energy’ in the church has been depressingly self focused and unChristlike, there have been times when I feel like we are are really getting places, but most days it looks something like the image below.

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These days when people ask me how church is going I find myself drawing an imaginary normal distribution curve in the air…

‘Well its like this – some folks are fired up, renewed in faith, powering ahead and inspiring the rest of us. Some are doing well – growing, moving and changing. Some are in the game but preoccupied, struggling to create space for God to work, while others are either disinterested, struggling or plain difficult and resistant.

I’d suggest that at any one time all of those people are likely to exist in our community, and they probably exist in ‘normal distribution’ form. Very few at the front end, very few at the back and the largest number in the middle.

I’d also suggest that we all move through different zones from time to time in our faith journey too. Sometimes I find myself further along the curve and other times further back (sometimes all in the same week) Perhaps the bottom axis needs to be entitled submission to Jesus with the left side being ‘all in’ and the right side being ‘not for me thanks’. The vertical axis would then be the number of people in each space at any given time.

Perhaps this is why in one shape or form, I find preaching and leading to be largely centred around moving people towards submission to Christ in whatever place they are in and the people who I find most difficult to work with are those Christians who are either disinterested or preoccupied. (Its a whole different ball game when we consider the folks in our communities who aren’t followers as our expectations of them need to change accordingly)

Using this paradigm its quite possible for the church to be led by people who are living at the right end of the axis – un-submitted to Jesus – but are capable managers. Its possible to get the mechanics functional while the heart is empty. In that case ‘church’ can look the goods but lack any real energy.

My hope for our own church is that we will increasingly see people move to the ‘submitted’ end of the spectrum whatever form that takes and whatever that looks like. I think the danger is in being over prescriptive on this one. It looks like more regular attendance, less swearing and better behaved children… really?…

So when you ask how my church is going don’t be surprised if I find it difficult to answer because its actually a very complex question. You could ask me how I’m going and I could probably locate myself somewhere along the X axis but it will vary at times too.

It also makes me consider that one of the significant functions of a church leadership team ought to be that of challenging, encouraging and supporting one another in our move towards living Christlike lives. If our leaders are not well up the front end of the curve when taken as a whole, then I’d suggest a church is in trouble.

It also gives me some sense of focus when it comes to who I seek to work with. I don’t think time spent with the resistant and difficult is ever time well invested. If you don’t want to move then that’s ok. Good luck with that… In the short time I have to invest discipling and spurring others on I want to spend it on people who are willing to rise to that. Maybe that sounds harsh, but maybe its why the title ‘pastor’ doesn’t fit me too well some days.

So how’s my church going?… Just like the curve suggests. Some are leading the charge, some are digging their heels in, most are somewhere in the middle either hoping for more or lost in their own busyness. But I get the impression that this is how its always going to be.

That’s not at all a defeatist position, but possibly a way of surviving the inevitable variance that will always be there in any community. On the day you ask me that question I may have just been hanging out with those at the front end of the curve and I will feel alive and hopeful. If you catch me when I have been stuck around negative, difficult people then I may well be about to toss it in because it feels like a waste of time. Truth is those realities always exist.

I know as pastors we often get plagued by the question ’why do we bother?…’ when church feels flat, people fight and squabble or just seem disinterested in anything that requires commitment. But in those moments there are always a few at the front end of the curve who say ‘whatever it takes…’ Whatever it takes to follow Jesus and see his kingdom come – count me in.

So long as those people exist there is great hope for the church.

Oh… and how are the numbers?…. In case you hadn’t guessed I really don’t care…

 

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