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Yesterday afternoon I went to Sydney to attend a special meeting of the “Australian Friends of Iranian Democracy.” The occasion was to highlight the looming crisis for the residents of Ashraf City in Iraq. The Iraqi Government under President Maliki is a drover’s dog to the Iranian Regime and the cur of the Iranian Regime is the MEK/PMOI – a democratically elected peace and justice loving but persecuted Iranian opposition in exile. Maliki has promised his Iranian provocateurs that Ashraf will be vacated by the end of the year.
Mohammed asked me to be one of the speakers – the others being Laurie Ferguson (Labor member for Werriwa), Meredith Bergmann (Labor member of the Sydney Council and former MLC President for NSW) and Peter Murphy (President of the Australian Friends of Iranian Democracy). I so love hanging out with these people. Juehak came with me and took all the photos – and shared the driving. We met up with lots of the Iranians we have come to know and there is always ample opportunity to continue disciple-making. It is hard to believe for some, that this environment is one of the easiest to be fully a disciple of Jesus and to have that respected and honoured. I am able to speak freely and openly about Jesus. I find the opportunity to be among people from a vastly different end of the political spectrum than I commonly experience invigorating and a very pleasant challenge.
I must admit I was a bit surprised to be asked to speak. All of the others were either politicians or office
bearers of the organisation. I said this to Mohammed when I spoke to him in the morning. I said I wasn’t sure I had a worthy position or status. He said the status I held was the fact that I was in their hearts. So I told everyone how I had been so greatly honoured to be a friend who was inside their hearts. They kept on referring to this through the meeting and it was very touching.
While I was there I lined up some visits for when I go down next month. Instead of speaking at a meeting I will be spending time with small groups in their homes. This will enable much more relationship – which will be a blessing.
I greatly appreciated Juehak’s companionship for the journey and he enjoyed very much being a part of the gathering.
Tuesday August 09, 2011
WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO BE LIKE JANA
I’ve been in Townsville this past weekend. Home today (Tuesday 090811). Had some great meetings with individuals, small groups of people and larger groups. On Sunday morning I was with the Grace Crowd church. I love hanging with them. Reality and passion without hype.
While I was sitting waiting for the meeting to start and while people were doing the pathetic Aussie thing of showing up right on the dot or up to fifteen minutes late (what is the statement that is being made here?) worship songs were being played through the sound system. In the front of the church this young girl was dancing. She has some measure of disability but that was not nearly as obvious as the disability she exposed in me. She was just dancing freely to the music. Her name is Jana. I saw her Mum sitting across from me and asked how long she had been dancing like this. She told me Jana had always loved to dance and that she looked forward to Sundays when she would be able to dance to the worship music in church.
I just kept on watching her and thought how great it would be if I wasn’t so self-conscious. That was the main reason I didn’t think about dancing. I have some dance inside of me. I have a celebration of God’s worth and his greatness inside of me that would find expression through dance movement – but I am not good at it at all. Well, Jana wasn’t good at it either. Her movements in professional terms were not graceful or polished. But they were free expressions of something inside of her that demanded to be expressed and belonged to the worship of God as legitimately as the singing and arms raising and other things that we all participated in a bit later.
I was in Africa a few times some years back and was told that it is a sin for an African man to be told he cannot dance. It is also in them. I was jealous of the way they were able to move and asked them to lay hands on me and pray – even to cast out the sprit fear and the imposition of my set of cultural values. I’m a little better at it than I used to be. When I read that God has made me to love him with all of my heart and all of my soul and all of my mind and all of my strength it is obvious that Jana has much more happening in the “strength” department than me. So I told people that I was jealous of her freedom and wanted to become like her in worship. If I started doing what she did people would notice that I can’t do it well – I might be able to do it as well as Jana but I would ONLY think about the fact that people would see that I couldn’t do it very well. I would also be thinking about all of the things they might say when they saw me doing that and I would become afraid of what they might say or even think. I would only be thinking about that. I wouldn’t be free.
She didn’t think about any of the things I would think about. That’s because she is free and I am not. Shame about that. Shame on me.
Good one Jana!
We finally got to sleep in our new house this week. The “northern” reference is due to the fact that Casey is Canberra’s northern-most suburb. Some people call it “South Murrumbateman” but I am sure they are the same people who won’t admit to the fact that Banks is actually “North Cooma.”
We had the handover bit on the Friday I left for Queensland – the removalist truck came and unloaded all of our stored stuff and I had carted the rest of it from Rachel and Chris’s place in Scott Kelly’s fantastic trailer. But the heater wasn’t firing up. It was the coldest night for seventeen years the previous night so Nola’s plan to shift was put on hold.
So I got back on Wednesday and everything was working so we parked ourselves at 29 Ronald Walker St. Casey for the first time that evening. Amazing. Ben did a great job supervising all of the work and Nola I amazing when it comes to interior decorating and the like. There are still a few things to happen, but all minor. What is major is the need to build my shed. Nola thinks its more important to hang pictures on the wall and get the yard in order – but I am sure there is a verse somewhere in the Bible that talks about the shed being the most important thing to fix up when you move into a new house. I am combing the chapters of Exodus looking for the references about Moses being told to erect a shed. And there it is: “Moses built a shed outside the camp and called it the ‘shed of meeting.’” (Exodus 33:7)
Nothing wrong with my capacity to correctly interpret the Bible.
By the way, come out and see us. You won’t need a packed lunch unless you are coming from Banks
Last Friday was a big day. We took possession of our new home in Casey. It started with some preparatory unpacking and clearing by me a bit after 6:30 am. It was Canberra’s coldest day in seventeen years: minus 8. Ben (our son and supervisor for the building company that built our home) had been working there till late the night before and had turned on the heating unit to test it all out. The unit hadn’t fired up so when I got inside not only was it minus infinity but cold air was blowing in through the vents in the ceiling and I didn’t really know how to turn it off.
Then I was unpacking some lounge chairs form the boxes they came in and they were heavy and awkward and had steel bits a the bottom and I accidentally put a scratch in the beautiful timber floor (not a huge one, but noticeable to the discerning eye of the removalist guy and then the equally good eye of Nola when she came and Ben when he came).
The removalists who had stored our gear from Cook arrived at 8:00 and we began to be reunited with our stuff nine months later. The guys did a great job and before an hour was gone a whole sea container of stuff was either in various rooms or stacked in our garage. There is a common phenomenon about new suburbs when people are just moving in. You see all the cars parked outside of the garage. That’s because everyone’s garage had boxes of stuff inside waiting to be given a place in the new house.
Ben and the building company owner came at about 10:30 am and we had the handover thing. A bag full of little bits and pieces including a bottle of wine and two nice wine glasses. Very nice touch. Nola had to go off to work, so I was left to do a few jobs and before long half the day was gone and I had to get out of the place and get packed to leave for Brisbane. It was a bit funny having the house thing happen and then leaving town. It has been a long time coming and ended up being a short stop on a journey rather than a destination.
A short flight to Sydney and a bit longer one to Brisbane and I was met at the airport by Newton Festus, the pastor of one of the newer Crosslink-associated churches in Strathpine, a suburb in the northern part of Brisbane. I had met him and a few of his leaders a year ago when I was here with Simon Smith and Marj Lucas from Impact Church here in the same suburb.
You just can’t believe the way God has been speaking to people these days about a number of the values that are emerging as primary to churches. He is a young Kenyan man almost exactly half my age to the day (32). The story of how God led him to this nation is just amazing and the calibre and quality of the bloke is just wonderful. We shared flat out from the airport to my accommodation place and you would think we had gone to the same spiritual school – in fact we had – the school of the Word of God taught by the Holy Spirit. It is the school of the kingdom of God over the school of the kingdom of a theological system, denomination or tribal group. It is a school of the heart before it is a school of the mind. It produces graduates who love Jesus, who want to see the kingdom extended and who don’t care about status or title. These are the people who are being drawn together in our Network. I am so grateful to God for what he is doing. Everyone I have been speaking to is coming to the Gathering in Canberra in September and there are a lot of new people so it should be a truly wonderful hang out time.
Someone very special died last Friday (the day of my birthday as it turned out) having lost a battle with cancer. She was over seventy years of age and so there is an idea that she was more fortunate than a lot of people who get taken a whole lot earlier. Her name was Gabriella Andreatta. She was a passionate follower of Jesus Christ. To the sometimes mild or greater resentment of those who knew her she was totally uninhibited in the expression of her faith and her call on others to take up the invitation of Jesus Christ. Her walk with Jesus began in the Catholic Church but was unable to be contained within a denomination. She was one of the most evangelistic people I know.
Her funeral was one of the most beautiful I have been involved with as members of her family and her friends paid tribute to her. All of them were touched by the integrity of her own faith and even if they were not willing to share it they testified to the impact she had had on their lives. I found myself in the midst of conducting her funeral calling out to God and asking him to allow me to be bold and fulsome enough to have the same things said about me. I found myself hoping that when my funeral is held there will be people there who are not simply those who love me and are close to me but those who may not share my faith but are still impacted by it. I thought how wonderful it would be if the testimony of my life continued, even bore fruit after I died. It reminds me of that great epitaph in the Bible written on the grave of Abel: “Through faith, though he died he still speaks.” (Hebrews 11:4).
I was reminded again, as I sometimes am in these situations of the amazing experience that was common among the Moravians (Count Zinzendorf and Co.). They were able to bring together the experience and victory of the future and the pain of human grief. They did it so profoundly that they were criticised by outsiders for lacking love for the people they were burying. The reasons was that people outside of the experience of heaven in this life couldn’t get it. They were programmed only to recognise grief but not grief accompanied by the joy of hope.
Let’s make sure we have both. Nola often used to tell me about people she cared for as an Aged Care Manager who were believers but still feared death. She said there were non-believers who seemed to fear death less than some who were supposedly Christian leaders. The clue is to experience heaven now….in growing measure. When the time comes we will not lose the experience of heaven but it will become more significant as we approach our death.
If you can’t tell the story, don’t teach the principle.
I am constantly amazed at the way our culture operates. Most aspects and values represented by twenty-first century culture are not covert in their expression; quite the opposite in fact. What is covert is the way they steal the presence of heaven from the hearts and lives of people who follow Jesus. They pull the plug on heaven’s power and incarcerate heaven’s love.
Just the other day I was hanging out with an old mate. He is a very sharp thinker and has been looking for different ways to approach the idea of “church.” I guess you might tag him as an emerging church bloke – usually quick to point out the failures of traditional and institutional church systems. He would subscribe to much of what Frank Viola, George Barna [Pagan Christianity} and others write about when they point out the many things that have been long accepted as orthodox in the church that clearly have their roots in pagan thinking and practice. In other words, their entry into mainstream church practice happened when a certain contemporary culture was adopted rather than something emerging from genuine New Testament renewal.
I have to say that I subscribe to the need for renewal and reformation; especially in the churches in western nations like Australia. The problem for people like my friend and myself as well, is the need to be ruthlessly thorough and conscientiously consistent. What often happens with people like us is that we unwittingly select some issues and overlook others. The overlooking often has to do with personal preference rather than spiritual significance. Personal preference is mostly linked to hidden but potent cultural compromise not Biblical integrity.
So here’s one that I noticed in our discussion and it has bothered me since that time. I raise it not to be blandly critical of a brother but to alert all of us to the phenomenon.
I was holding forth on the Primary Purpose issue. I was talking about some of the things we were trying to do in order to learn how to respond to the command of Jesus and fulfill his desire to see the gospel being preached to “every person.” He responded to my obvious measure of personal disappointment and frustration by asserting that he was “not a practitioner.” Even though I didn’t respond to this statement at the time it has bothered me every since. The inconsistency that seems apparent to me is where the idea comes from that a follower of Jesus can either choose or think that they are called (or both depending on your theology) to think and talk about Christian issues but not to implement them. The assumption is that in Christian life and ministry there are a group of people who are called to be theorists and another group who are called to be practitioners. My question here is whether this distinction is a genuine New Testament idea or whether it comes directly out of the “pagan” possibly Greek world of the academy.
The idea that some are theorists and others are practitioners does have some natural force. It sounds logical and seems to be supported from our observation of people we know. Our society has certainly developed along these lines. The presence and power of academic study and the recognition given to universities makes the point handsomely.
It is evident that some people have a natural bent for thinking, researching, analyzing and theorizing. I have just been re-reading CS Lewis’ “The Four Loves.” I am amazed at the observations he makes and the way he can simplify otherwise complex issues. I have also been impressed by the profound thoughts and ideas of many Christian writers and Biblical expositors over the years. Even so, I have been surprised when I discovered that a certain author has written an amazing book about a profound spiritual issue BUT HAS NEVER TRIED TO PUT IT INTO PRACTICE!
I can remember reading a book recommended to me that followed the idea of the house of the Lord through the Scriptures. There was a profound Biblical analysis of the theme. These ideas were synthesized into a set of principles or proposals that urged the church to work in a way that would attract the blessing of God. I decided to contact the author who lived in a city in the United States. When we finally got connected I found out that he was a pew warmer in a local Baptist church and had done nothing other than some research and then writing. I was astounded. What would be the point of gaining such insight if it were not to take the exciting plunge and attempt to put it into practice? It would be like building a car and leaving it in the garage.
The author in this case was a lecturer at a Christian university. It was the product of a course he had presented. The fact that he would do the research and present the course but not attempt to put it into practice examples the issue at hand. The idea of an academy for thinking and talking without any sense of compulsion to implement those ideas is acceptable in our culture but I don’t think it is anywhere supported in Scripture.
Jesus was a teacher but not this kind of teacher. He expounded ideas but not in academic isolation. His classrooms were the roads and hillsides of Galilee as well as the synagogues and temple precinct. Theory was defined by practice and practice was the fulfillment of theory. There was no division or separation. Neither was there a separation between what he said and the life he lived. No matter how his life might be dissected, what would be seen there was no different from the things he said.
This is yet another example of what happens when we discover Jesus as the final reference point. He must be our hermeneutic. If we allow the revelation that is represented in Jesus Christ to comment on the question of whether people are called to think and talk (theory) without allowing their lives to be consistent with their thinking and talking we will see how foreign it is. Paul was the same. He was an amazing thinker and had an amazing revelation of the gospel. But he was a practitioner. He spent his life preaching the gospel to the Gentiles and forging new frontiers of advancement. His classrooms were the same as those of Jesus.
I suspect that there is no distinction in the culture of the kingdom of God. The idea comes from various sources but is not consistent with Biblical testimony. That’s why it is a shock to me to listen to one of my mates be so sharp about what is pagan and what is not when it comes to some of the aspects of doing church but so easily make a statement about being “called” to a life of thinking and speaking rather than a life of implementing revelation in the hard core world of every day life.
I also suspect that there is no such thing as theory when it comes to revelation. Revelation is experience. We are the ones who have isolated the idea of knowledge to possessing information, not God. As Paul so clearly says, that kind of knowledge just puffs up but can’t build anything of value. Our culture is full of this garbage. It is consistent with the kingdom of God to only genuinely know when we experience that knowledge through practice. We will only really be able to teach when we do so from the experience of implementing what we have received from God. The qualification for teachers and leaders in general must be their capacity to equip and their capacity to equip must come from having implemented what knowledge, wisdom or insight they have gained. In short, if you can’t tell a story about it go out and put into practice what you think you know. When you can share the testimony you are qualified to teach the theory.
 Frank Viola and George Barna have co-authored a book that provides evidence to show that huge portions of the following church practices have their origin in pagan or non-Christian practices rather than in the New Testament: church buildings, orders of worship, the single sermon, pastor centrism, vestments, tithing and staff salaries; sacramentalism, worship teams.
 Some time ago I published a booklet entitled, “Primary Purpose, Re-discovering the Biblical Reason for Church.” It seeks to point out that the church as a whole has set aside the task of preaching the gospel to every person and pre-occupied itself with everything else except the thing that Jesus commissioned it to accomplish. [copies from Grace Canberra –www.gracecanberra.com.au ].
STOP WONDERING – ITS ALL HAPPENING?
When Paul McCartney wrong the song he was sixteen years of age playing in places around Liverpool like “The Cavern.” I guess he found the answers to all of his questions. He turned 69 in June of 2011. Today I am turning 64 and I, too don’t have to wonder what it will be like.
Since the song is written by a young man contemplating a long term relationship with a girl he loves I figured it was time to go through the check list. So here goes:
|When I get older losing my hair,Many years from now.||Yes definitely not as much there as before.|
|Will you still be sending me a valentineBirthday greetings bottle of wine.||Yes, still happening.|
|If I’d been out till quarter to threeWould you lock the door,||N/A I can’t get anywhere near 2:45 am. these days.|
|Will you still need me, will you still feed me,When I’m sixty-four.||Still being fed, very well indeed|
|You’ll be older too,And if you say the word, I could stay with you.||Yes you are; and yes, I still am.|
|I could be handy, mending a fuseWhen your lights have gone.||Fix-it requirements still current.|
|You can knit a sweater by the firesideSunday mornings go for a ride.||You do have a few unfinished projects that I have noticed|
|Doing the garden, digging the weeds,Who could ask for more.||Lots and lots of holes still to be dug I fear.|
|Will you still need me, will you still feed me,When I’m sixty-four.||I think I still have a job|
|Every summer we can rent a cottage,In the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear We shall scrimp and save||Not sure about the Isle of Wight, but Bateman’s Bay perhaps.|
|Grandchildren on your kneeVera, Chuck & Dave||Eight of them; some too big to sit on the knee. Others are still wonderfully qualify.|
|Send me a postcard, drop me a line,Stating point of view Indicate precisely what you mean to say Yours sincerely, wasting away||Wasting away – yes, I do need glasses to see with, aids to hear with – but there is still a faint spark (maybe a warm glow in the furnace).|
|Give me your answer, fill in a form,mine forever more||Endless forms have been filled in. Endless!|
|Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m sixty-four?||Signs are good that this could continue into the beyond world.|
I reckon I’ve fared pretty well, don’t you?
If the Bible says that Jesus, the Son of God, “could do no miracles there, except to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them,” [Mark 6:5] that is a big, big deal. This is the sinless Son of God we are being told about. I checked out the Greek just to make sure the word “could not” was the right one. I found that “could not” in the Greek means “could not” in English. We have to accept the fact that Jesus wanted to do miracles but was prevented. We are clearly told what prevented him from doing more than a few miracles – it was the amazing unbelief among the hometown residents.
By way of explanation, the literal translation of the Greek text regarding Jesus and miracles says, “he did not have the power [dunamai] to do any powerful work [dunamis] there.” As I said before, this is a very big call. If Jesus had the power to heal everyone in almost any other places around Galilee and even in Jerusalem, what was issue at Nazareth?
Its time we had a look at the rest of the information given to us in the text [Mark 6 in this case]. It may be possible for us to quantify their unbelief by simply describing it. Here are some observations that we can make about the Nazareth-ians. From this information we might be able to develop a dossier on the “Nazareth Syndrome.”
- When he arrived he was presumably with his family without fanfare, spectacle or controversy. No one rushing to him for healing and no one making accusations. Remember that this is the same family who earlier tried to take him out of the action because they believed he was mentally ill (cp. Mark 3)
- The fun started on the Sabbath when he got up to preach in the synagogue [he was qualified as a rabbi]. The people were blown away by it. They realized that the content and the wisdom were different from anything they had received. They wondered where he learned his stuff. All of this was added to their amazement from the stories they had heard about the miracles he had been doing in Capernaum and around Galilee and Judea.
- There is a phenomenon here that is hard to understand. It seems almost certain that the amazement was really shock, horror amazement not “wow” amazement. If it had been “wow,” they would have filled with pride regarding the hometown boy. The fact is the ‘shock-horror’ is precisely because he is a hometown boy. It seems that, from the collective view of Nazareth people Jesus shouldn’t be saying things like that or doing things like that.
- The source of their offense is clearly stated but not explained: he is the carpenter; he is Mary’s son; he is the brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon; he also has sisters here in this town.
- Jesus commented on their reaction by quoting a proverb that must have been commonly known in his time but not a quote from anywhere in the Scriptures: social familiarity seems to be a problem for prophets. People close to them don’t hear the message because all they can hear are the memories of shared personal history.
Home Town Gossip in Nazareth
It is hard to deal with the fact that Jesus’ family didn’t believe in him. In John 7 Jesus brothers mock him about going up to Jerusalem and putting on a show. In Mark 3 we see that they thought he was mad. One can only assume that a view had developed about Jesus in his hometown. My own suspicion is that they were so disillusioned by the lack of fulfillment of any sign that Jesus was going to fulfill traditional expectations for a genuine Messiah. Instead he showed all the signs of a controversial heretic. The list of disappointments would fill another blog, but you can think of some. All forms of religious orthodoxy opposed him. He didn’t keep traditional rituals. He didn’t like the right people or hate the right people. He didn’t sponsor the right causes. His accomplices were nobodies and worse.
Without having opportunity to deliver the evidence that would support my conclusions in this I want to share them anyway.
I think familiarity is the most dangerous enemy of faith. It finds a unique expression in home and family circles. Jesus said that some of the most powerful opposition to the journey of faith would come from within one’s own household. There is a unique kind of contempt that is reserved for disaffected family relationships. What is meant to be loving and supportive becomes hurtful and destructive.
Here we see it in action. Read the ancillary reports of this incident from Luke 4 and Matthew 13. I need to point out in closing that this does not justify either separation or hatred. Neither of these is represented in the attitude of Jesus here or anywhere else.
It just means that we may have to do what Jesus did. We need to minister to the home crowd by what we do away from it. The powerful fact of this story is that in the end Jesus mother was at the cross when most of the disciples were elsewhere. James was rescued from his attitudes to Jesus and became his earthly brother’s “servant” (see James 1:1).
Sometimes you have to attack the unbelief the lies within your closest social perimeters by a singular simple confrontation – speaking the word – and then walking away and doing what God has called you to do. It has worked pretty well for me.
Two separate moments were connected for me today. The first was reading yet another advertisement for some Christian meetings inviting people to be informed about the advance of Islam in western nations and its “threat” to our way of life. The other was a TV news item where a Christian leader was pretty much beating the same drum warning people about the fact that Muslims were bent on taking over the nation.
These kinds of matters are not uncommon in our nation. The Christian news services are quick to pick up on the latest “threat.” It comes up on a web page somewhere and explodes around the email distribution lists like a wild fire.
I need to emphasise that most of what is said is likely to be based on fact. It may selective even, in some cases, extreme; but it is probably true. There clearly are all kinds of groups within Islam who are committed to all kinds of extreme actions. it is also true that Islam, as a religion, is growing in numbers in most western nations of the world. It is also true that pressure has been placed upon legislators in these nations and that tensions are rising over numbers of religious, social and legal issues.
Christians tend to see this as a threat. They see it as a threat to a way of life that has been built on the basis of a Judeo-Christian set of values. Trace elements are represented in various expressions of national religion – e.g. some parliaments begin the day with the Lord’s Prayer. Christians tend to see Islam as a threat in other ways. You can hear people bemoan the fact that in some places vacated church buildings have been converted into Mosques.
All of these are not signs of Christian vigilance but of the decay and compromise of Christian discipleship. Like the Israelites at Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 13) we are using factual information to stir fear rather than faith. The information sharing does not inspire followers of Jesus to go out and love Muslims in Jesus name but rather to withdraw further and further into our sub-cultural shells and feed each other with the latest fear-producing piece of information. It may well stir some believers to pray but it rarely stirs them to do what Jesus said: go and lay down our lives for them.
The whole matter slides to an even lower state when we think that the government should protect Christian faith and the church. If that idea had value we would have seen Jesus lobbying Pontius Pilate for support in passing laws to protect the integrity of the message of the kingdom of God. How can we seriously assert that the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1) and then run to the government to try and stop more Muslims being allowed to emigrate?
Islam has no power intrinsic power to stop the spread of the gospel. It only has power because Christian faith and discipleship has been so severely compromised; and that by the greed, materialism and self indulgence that came here with European settlement. Instead of going to conferences that tell us what the Muslims are planning we should be dealing with the toxic effects of cultural and moral compromise. If Islam has changed the social landscape of a nation like Great Britain it is only because the church has abdicated its responsibility to be salt and light.
Will anyone run a conference that will fan the flames of Calvary love for the people of many nations whom God is sending to us, including the Muslims. We must not fail them – as we must not fail those who have lived for generations in this place without being seriously intimidated by selfless redemptive love.