‘Doing a Tony Abbott’













‘Doing a Tony Abbott’…

I wonder if a phrase of this ilk is going to enter our Christian parlance?

This week Abbott spoke at the annual Margaret Thatcher lecture and announced that the Bible and the ‘golden rule’ was good and all that, but not to be taken too seriously – certainly not to be adhered to if you are likely to put yourself or your country in danger. It makes good sense except when it doesn’t work to your advantage…

His exact words were:

“Implicitly or explicitly, the imperative to ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’ is at the heart of every western polity. It expresses itself in laws protecting workers, in strong social security safety nets, and in the readiness to take in refugees. It’s what makes us decent and humane countries, as well as prosperous ones.

“But right now, this wholesome instinct is leading much of Europe into catastrophic error,”

“Our moral obligation is to receive people fleeing for their lives. It’s not to provide permanent residency to anyone and everyone who would rather live in a prosperous western country than their own.

“It will require some force, it will require massive logistics and expense, [and] it will gnaw at our consciences. Yet it is the only way to prevent a tide of humanity surging through Europe, and quite possible changing it forever,”

There’s no doubting his simple take on this is, ‘The Bible says X – X is good – really good even – and it has ‘worked’ – but if X means your life is affected negatively then X is bad’

I’m no Abbott fan and I disagree with him on this policy, but I think we need to exercise a bit of care with our critique because as Christians we’ve done exactly this for years. When we get to a place where we can finish the equation above with ‘but if X means your life is affected negatively then X is still good’ then we will have got the log out.

But while we read the Bible and consciously, knowingly say ‘what the hell – I’ll do what I like anyway’ then we can’t be taken seriously.

If we’re honest we are pretty good at ‘pulling a Tony Abbott’ … but then that honesty doesn’t always come easily…

Just a thought…




Finding Light on the Dark Side

On Friday I took the day off work and headed to the Willow Creek Leadership Summit to spend some time being challenged, inspired and refreshed. One of the things I have come to realise is that if I’m going to stay energised then I need to do the things to make that happen. I’ve found it difficult over the last 5 years to carve out the time and have often run on the smell of an oily rag. That eventually takes its toll. If you don’t keep yourself energised its hard to keep rolling.

I realise that to some the ‘Leadership Summit’ is the ‘dark side’, because it leans towards working with business principles and of course the church is not a business… So – yeah – I know that, but it’d be foolish to think we couldn’t learn or receive challenge from some of the best minds in the world.

So I went with the intention of savouring everything I could and spitting out any ‘bones’ as appropriate. These days I tend to think that if you can leave a conference with just one significant question, learning, or moment of inspiration then that’s enough. Let’s face it, there isn’t much that’s new in Christian leadership after 27 years, so its more about listening for the nudge of the spirit rather than picking up brand new ideas. (Are there any even?…)

The conference began with Hybels in full swing teaching about the ‘intangibles of leadership’. His basic idea was that for many years he has been teaching that there are 8 or 9 critical components to good leadership (vision casting, strategic planning, problem solving etc – all the usual stuff) but he had observed that there were plenty of people with these skills highly developed who were actually not doing well as leaders. What was the problem?… He stumbled on a book titled ‘The Intangibles of Leadership‘ that gave him a fresh perspective on the ‘below the surface’ stuff that makes a good leader. To be fair none of it is rocket science, but that isn’t the point.

He spoke about:

  • Grit – passion and perseverance over the long haul
  • Self Awareness – becoming aware of our blind spots by walking with people who are willing to tell us the truth
  • Resourcefulness – which he defines as ‘learning agility’
  • Self sacrificing love – the willingness to give of ourselves to those we lead at whatever cost.
  • Creating a sense of meaning – Referring to Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, Hybels spoke of knowing clearly what your ‘white hot why’ is and letting that shape your life.

The two points that I found myself pondering were the idea of ‘grit’ (tenacity / resolve and the refusal to quit) and that of ‘meaning’. During the Forge/Upstream years I had a super clear sense of calling and had no trouble articulating my ‘white hot why’. As a result I was able to grind on thru some pretty difficult times.

In that period the missionary calling was burning deeply in me – the ‘why’ was as white hot as I have ever known. But for the last few years my ‘why’ has been less ‘laser focused’ and I sense it has impacted on my passion and my ability to persevere. I reckon my ‘grittiness’ is pretty high when I have a cause to give my heart and soul to, but in the absence of this its hard to take hits and keep going. Disappointment and discouragement has definitely been a factor over the last few years and with a less gripping ‘why’ to sustain me I’ve found myself often pondering whether I should keep leading a church.

Add to that, I’ve also been travelling thru the ‘mid life tunnel’ and feeling a more general sense of demotivation and disorientation. It was really disturbing for a long time until I was able to accept that it was like a middle aged version of puberty – a change period and it was ok and normal, even if it made me feel awkward. Richard Rohr’s book ‘Falling Upwards‘ was really helpful for bringing clarity to my confusion even if it didn’t re-ignite my sense of purpose.

So how does this all relate?

I came back from holidays two months ago still somewhat ambivalent about my role as a pastor. I could keep going and ‘doing the job’ but I wasn’t feeling the deep burn that I know is needed to sustain you and give focus to ministry. James words in Chapter 1 about the ‘double minded man’ were resonating with me and not in a good way. I was aware that I was looking simultaneously down two different paths and that I wasn’t going to do anything well in that state.

A good friend challenged me early on after we had returned to just get on with it, lead and enjoy it. I don’t think she meant it to have the quite the catalytic effect on me that it did, but in one short sharp moment I sensed the spirit poke me in the chest and say ‘This is it. Do it!’

I’ve had 2 or 3 similar landmark moments before where the only response possible is ‘ok… I’m in!’ So I made that commitment – to give this next season of church leadership absolutely everything I’ve got and to make sure that I am faithful with what talent I’ve been given. I told Danelle. I told our leaders. I told my friends. Because when you tell people you can’t weasel out. I was intentionally shutting down one of the roads my mind had been venturing down (the one of running a business full time)

That was the first step.

I have been doing some work over the last month to give better leadership to the church in the coming years and I know part of that involves operating with a greater sense of intentionality and purpose. That stuff flows from the ‘white hot why’. (I like Hybels way of articulating that). We aren’t motivated simply by information and facts, but instead by the things that captivate our hearts and that stir our deepest emotions. The missional purpose that gave such strong shape to my identity 10 years ago has faded. That’s not a bad thing. I still see its importance, but I think God had burned that message in my heart for a time and now it has mellowed – maybe come back into better balance with the other priorities of the church.

In the last few days as I have reflected on this ‘white hot why’, and what it is now, I have come to a different place. I left the conference on Friday disturbed because I couldn’t articulate it and I know that if I can’t give words to it then I don’t know what it is clearly enough. I began talking around it, writing, reflecting and puzzling. I knew something was there, but with so many distractions and competing agendas in life at the moment I was struggling to simply focus. But I pushed on because I sensed I was near – I was having a ‘tip of the tongue’ experience.

Then it struck me – like a sledgehammer out of the blue. Over the last two years the idea that has been inspiring, disturbing and captivating me is Paul’s statement in Philippians ‘For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ I’ve preached on this, blogged on it here and here, done a talk for Sonshine radio around this exact idea and it still bubbles away in me as a significant centring statement.

Its the place I find myself coming back to when I want to sum up the life of faith in a nutshell. Its my lens for viewing life. I dunno how it speaks to you, but for me its a strong statement – a call to a very different kind of life both here and now and also with a vision for beyond this world.

I think you see things differently at different points in life and for me this has taken centre stage in my understanding of discipleship – and because of that I see that this will give rise to how I lead a church community and how we organise what we do. Last week I did some work on ‘vision’ and priorities for the coming year and I couldn’t generate the kind of energy I know is needed to lead and engage others. You can write all the right words on a page, but if it doesn’t start a fire in you then its just leadership-babble and worse than no direction at all.

But… ‘to live is Christ… to die is gain…’

I can start from there. I can lead with that… because it evokes something deep and visceral in me. It is a raw and untrammelled description of life under Jesus. You might say ‘Hamo – that’s just discipleship in different words…’ and yes… you’d be right… but those words matter because they create a mental picture in my mind – they spark my imagination and inspire me. They burn me.

I want to look back in 10 years time and see a church of people for whom those words have become the guiding motif to their lives. If that happens – if we can create that kind of a community then it will have been worthwhile.

We v Me


Lately my thoughts are that the greatest challenge to the church reaching its potential and being the visible evidence of the kingdom of God on earth is our often unconscious but tenacious commitment to individualism – to our personal autonomy.

A statement I have been repeating to our crew at QBC, almost in the form of a mantra is ‘we always takes precedence over me in the kingdom of God’.

In the life of faith our communal identity is always of greater priority than who we are individually. It’s one of those truths we ‘know’ from scripture but that sits completed at odds with our western way of life, which of course means we don’t know it at all. We are just aware of the theory and even the theory sounds odd.


If ‘we matters more me’ then we actually choose to surrender our own wants to the needs of the community. We choose to forgo what may ‘suit me’ to ensure the community is better placed… And seriously – who does that?

Even just to say it sounds weird. No one does that… And maybe that’s why we lack distinctiveness. Maybe that’s why we so often look like s religious version of middle class suburban life… If ‘we matters more than me’ then it rips apart our whole world view and takes away our autonomy.

I don’t like anyone messing with my autonomy.

What would it look like though if we gave it a shot?

We would seek the good of the community before we seek our own good. We would put our own desires in the context of what is happening beyond us and we would be willing to let go of our preferences and desires to enhance the life of those around us. Its a serious commitment to unselfish living.











We would make sacrifices of time and money for others. Rather than seeing church as a religious meeting to attend on a certain preferred frequency we see it as a community we need to engage with, both because we are called to do so, but also because it’s in this space that our life is more complete.

The biggest obstacles we face to living more communally and less individualistically are most likely busy lives. Somehow in the west we have managed to live in a state of perpetual manic busyness which means we don’t have the time to slow down and be with others in meaningful ways. Community is impossible when we are too busy to be with others. As a result the chances of our world seeing a depiction of the kingdom as an alternate reality is significantly limited.

It’s almost an unsolvable puzzle unless we are willing to forgo some of those hours at work, some of the $$ that come from those hours and reinvest the time in building a community that speaks of the distinctiveness of the kingdom of God. And having been here before I know that one of the accompanying challenges is that someone may make the choice to realign their life, but if no one else does then they will find themselves with time to spend and no one to spend it with…

I’m not holding myself up as any model of living in community. I find this stuff really hard and I’m naturally very individualistic. But if we are to have a hope of giving our world an inspiring depiction of life in an alternate reality then we can’t let this beat us.








Expel the Immoral Brother







So reads the chapter title in my 1984 version of the NIV bible over 1 Corinthians 5. When I look the same chapter up on Bible Gateway it has been ‘re-titled’ as ‘Dealing with a case of incest.’ A subtle change, but perhaps one that reflects a bit of how we treat things these days.

It ain’t cool to ‘expel’ people from church… It sounds like the kind of thing cults do and chances are you could even leave yourself open to litigation… In these days when numbers are already in decline who wants to willingly lose another person or family?

But what do you do with Paul’s words in 1 Cor 5:13? Is there ever a time for showing someone the door? Or do we always in every situation seek to keep them in the fellowship? Paul seems pretty clear on the fact that there is a time to exclude someone from the community and he speaks of it more than once. In 1 Timothy we hear him speak this way of Alexander and Hymenaues and in Titus he says similar of divisive people.

If we just take Paul’s words at face value then it seems very strong, but somewhat understandable. Where it gets a little complicated is when we read Jesus’ words in Matthew 18, where the final stage in the ‘conflict resolution’ process is to treat the person as if they were a pagan or a tax collector. What does that look like?

If we’re looking at how Jesus treated tax collectors and pagans then we see him eating with them and showing them love and acceptance, yet at the same time calling them to repentance. So some would suggest that ‘treating as a pagan’ is this kind of relationship. Normally I’m a fan of reading difficult passages thru the ‘lens of Jesus’ and concluding that his insights are given priority, but my take on this issue is that there is a time to show someone the door and let them feel the absence of Christian community.

The issue Paul deals with in 1 Cor 5 is one where he says ‘even the pagans don’t tolerate it’, so for the church to allow and even boast about their practice of incest is bizarre and abhorrent. Clearly no one in Corinth has been able to sort the issue out, or has been able to exert authority over the people responsible so Paul has been called in to make a judgement.

And that he does… He doesn’t mince words.

His clear point is that we aren’t to be about the business of judging those who claim no faith alignment, but when people do, and are part of a faith community then there is an obligation on the church to call them to account. To allow unrestrained, wilful sin in any form (Paul mentions sexual immorality, greed, idolatry. lying and cheating) is to minimise the problem of sin and to sap the church of its distinctive character.

The point to make here is that this is repeated and unrepentant behaviour that is clearly out of line. It isn’t for an occasional moral failure, or for sin that is confessed and repented of. Its directed at a person who rejects Jesus’ authority and insists on doing their own thing to the detriment of the community. And that’s another key – we don’t seek first the welfare of the offending person – we seek the welfare of the community as a whole and if by their actions they they show that they don’t value the broader community then they will inevitably bring destruction to that community.

In that case then they need to be asked to leave or even sent away from the community to live as an unbeliever and to accept the consequences of that. My experience is that we rarely get to this point as most people who choose a path of wilful sin slowly ebb away from the community anyway, or those who need to be confronted often get ‘offended’ and feel ‘judged’ and then leave because they believe they have been badly treated. Maybe they have… We don’t always do confrontation well in church, but even where a perfect process has been followed, a person who doesn’t want correction can find a reason to baulk.

In these situations I think Paul would say ‘Yes. You have been judged. Your behaviour and character has been considered to be destructive to both you and the community and for that reason you aren’t allowed to stay.’

That’s pretty unPC and sure would cause a fair degree of angsty vibe within a church, but if we are going to be a distinctive and Christ flavoured community then there is a time to say ‘we have exhausted every avenue of seeking to help you see the light – now you’re on your own.’

Its a tragic place to get to, but if we never allow for it then we end up with a church where anything goes and there is no authority.

So that’s tomorrow’s sermon in a nutshell…

Saturday Morning in Nebraska


I don’t often watch movies on a Saturday morning, but today I stumbled across Nebraska on the iTunes weekly special list and thought it looked worth a gamble. For 99c what’s to lose?…

Its the story of a cantankerous and doddering elderly man in Billings, Montana receiving a scam letter in the mail telling him he’s won a million dollars and his subsequent journey to claim the ‘winnings’. The movie opens with Woody staggering up the highway, determined to walk the 1000ks to Lincoln Nebraska, because he can’t drive and has no other way of getting there. As a long time alcoholic and showing signs of dementia, he just can’t accept that the letter is a mail-scam and he is determined to go collect his winnings. He wants to be a millionaire. His equally gnarly wife (Kate) tells him  that if he had that in mind he should have started working on it a lot earlier in life and tried ‘hard work’.

Eventually his middle class, middle aged son relents, takes a few days off work and agrees to drive the irascible old man across the country, fully aware that all he is going to do is eventually bring him face to face with reality. The story takes shape on the father / son drive as they revisit Woody’s old home town of Hawthorne, where family and friends get wind of his ‘winnings’ and decide to try and cash in.

Shot in black and white, with a suitably melancholic musical score it is not a fast paced story, but that’s part of the point. Woody has all the time in the world and nothing to do – so why not chase the possibility of a big win? He’d like a new truck… even though he cant drive…

Woody’s wife Janet joins them along the way and adds a fair slice of comedy to the story. She has a bad word to say about everyone and doesn’t hold back. My favourite scene in the movie is her unloading on the redneck friends and relatives in Woody’s home town of Hawthorne who have been badgering him for ‘their share’ of he winnings.

Eventually Woody gets to Nebraska and discovers there is no pot of gold, although he does receive a free hat from the office girl who takes pity on him. ‘Does your dad do this often she asks?’

‘He just believes the stuff people tell him’ replies Woody’s son.

We always knew there was no million dollars, but the punch in the story is what happens next… however I won’t spoil it. Suffice to say it doesn’t change pace, or tone, but quietly takes a direction that offers a smile and some joy for Woody at the end of a long and dark road.

Spend the 99c – you won’t be disappointed.