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Prioritising your happiness

Or any other such statement which seems good on the surface. So often it flows out of a desire to remove from yourself people who take advantage of you, stop yourself from always being worried about what other people think, and allow yourself to be your own person.

There is an element of truth, but there is also a serious shadow side.

Friends have responsibility to each other. Husbands and wives have responsibilities towards each other. Human beings have responsibilities towards each other!

If we take prioritising our own happiness to its logical conclusion, we become the selfish person who we say that we set boundaries on. We become a friend who doesn’t turn up when they are needed. Who makes promises they don’t keep .

Being selfish is not the path to true joy. Finding ways to give to others, and dare I say, give to our Creator is.

None of us wants to be used, nor do we want to be people pleasers. But neither do we want to prioritise our own happiness over where true joy is found. In loving others, in giving to others. As the Great Man said, it is better to give than to receive.

Grief

It is rare that anyone gets through this life without some serious grief and pain. The longer you have the privilege of being alive, the greater the possibility for pain.

Having children opens you to the enormous possibility of joy, love and validation. It also opens you up to the possibility of immense pain in various ways.

Real serious grief can be like a constant presence in your heart and your life. So much so that while it may be compartmentalised, in those moments when you are not distracted it can actually be debilitating. It comes back to the fore and you might be surprised by its ferocity. It can also affect your behaviour in ways that surprise you. You observe yourself behaving in uncharacteristic ways. Unchecked anger, frustration, withdrawal from the normal joys of life.

Practicing silence, solitude, prayer and gratefulness helps.

Enjoying quiet moments of pleasure, reflection, song and food helps as well.

“Prosper” So many thoughts

(Be aware there are some plot spoilers ahead)

So I decided to watch the new series ‘Prosper’ released on Stan streaming service with Richard Roxburgh and Rebecca Gibney in the lead roles as Australian Mega-Church Pastors launching a new Campus into Los Angeles.

If it sounds more like a documentary than a drama series that is because the intent is to shadow the story of Hillsong Australia. As a Baptist Pastor who has enjoyed and been enriched by Hillsong’s ministry over the past few decades I do not come into this without my own bias and thoughts. Of course the past few years have not been kind to Hillsong. I have many good friends who are part of that church and ministry. Indeed I have been up close and personal with some key leaders. They have shared my disappointment at the demise of their former Senior Pastor Brian Houston who in my view has made some serious mistakes, and presently does not appear to have reflected on them sufficiently and has instead retreated into denial.

I was trawling back through some old Hillsong United videos and felt quite sad. That was a pivotal time in my life where much of the music, worship and heart of Hillsong was deeply helpful. I can’t help but grieve. So that’s my bias.

Prosper gets quite a lot right, but not all right. My struggle with it is that so many will closely identify it with Hillsong that the facts about Brian and others will get muddled in the story they are presenting. In other words, it feels like a true narrative, but isn’t. When Pastor Richard Quinn is seen jubilant at the new screen working with his face in high quality the delight is palpable. Many Pastors can relate. Technology, having a good look for your church, communicating well is something many strive for. Of course the double meaning is that he is a bit of a narcissist and perhaps thinks more of his own importance than he should. Seeing his face up on a large crystal clear screen makes him happy. This struggle with something that you can clearly justify as being good, but you can also critique for being inauthentic, is at the heart of many of the plotlines. There is a moment when an incident occurs on stage that is presented as a healing miracle. The viewer is left to make up their own mind whether it is actually miraculous. Of course the show then makes it obvious the intent of showing the miracle as congregants use the strategically placed QR codes to make donations in response. The amounts are even shown, from small amounts to large donations. Most churches use QR codes these days, most Australian churches rely on their own people financially supporting the ministry of the church. That’s reality and Christians generally believe that is a good thing. Once again the hidden meaning is the oft spoken thought that Churches are just after your money.

The producers and researchers have done their homework but a keen church attendee will notice some obvious misinterpretations, even on a basic level. Any church with the building the size of the one presented would have had their screens sorted well before this. It is missteps like that which portray deeper problems. The narrative surrounding Pastor Quinn’s major moral failure echoes that of Brian Houstons. But are the facts the same? Certainly Brian would dispute them. Others would say Prosper embellishes them but they hold basically true. My concern is, as I stated previously, that Prosper feels like a docudrama, but they changed all the names. It might hold more integrity if they just made it as a docudrama and had a lawyer on retainer. The viewer is left confused or their preconceived notions reinforced. You can’t fact check Prosper because they would say, it is just a story.

How should a Christian respond?

Some mud sticks. As churches and pastors we must humbly admit sometimes we have made it about ourselves and not about Jesus and others. Hillsong have done so much right and so much good. Even in this latest season for them there was some attempt at reflection and lament. Some might say not nearly enough but I see and hear their heart. I would encourage us to not let us not let Brian’s unfortunate response to his discipline from Hillsong take away from what God did and is doing through that church and its many faithful and passionate members. In the end I am continually amazed at who God uses and how He works, despite my sin and the sin of others. That is my starting point, if God can use a sinner like me, who am I to say He can’t work powerfully through other sinners? God works in the most complicated scenarios and does not fit into my paradigm of how He should work, all glory to Him, His ways are indeed higher.

Did we really expect a streaming service chasing eyeballs to tell a realistic and fair tale? Should we be discouraged by their portrayal of the church? Well I don’t think it helps our cause. I wouldn’t recommend watching it, but neither would I say you shouldn’t.

Pray for your church, pray for your pastor. We need to be wise, strategic, authentic, passionate, humble, focused and even at times business like. Not everyone likes that, but it is true, indeed I see it in Jesus’ ministry. It is no easier leading a church now that what it was in Roman Empire times. But I am privileged and overjoyed I get to lead a church. What an incredible privilege.

In all things, Jesus will win and He doesn’t need me to defend Him or His Bride.

Thank God for that.

Stepping in time

I have this overwhelming sense of joy in ministry that needs doing this year. People, programs, mentoring, discipleship and events that are significant and wonderful to be a part of. So much so that I am excited at the thought of looking back on 2024 and prayerfully thanking God for what He has done. Some people say the anticipation of a holiday is almost as good as the holiday itself. My anticipation of this year feels a little like that.

There are so many good things I wish to busy myself with it can almost be debilitating. I am speaking to my own heart today. Peace Lord. Don’t let me run ahead of You, let me step in time with you, at Your pace. Let me take what each day brings as a precious gift. Let me not be presumptuous. At the same time, as I compare myself to a farmer, let me know the seasons and what needs to happen in them to maximise the harvest.

It has been quite the year

I have started reading Eugene Petersons book, ‘A long obedience in the same direction”. Do you know when you find a book and love it, and become an evangelist for it, and then discover its actually been around for a long time and loads of people enjoyed it years ago. But for me it is fresh and new because I have never read it before!

As I reflect on the year just gone it has helped me, even the title. There has been so much change, some of it gut wrenching and difficult. Other change has been exhilarating as we see why God has led us to this place. What remains constant is the mission. Obeying God, and encouraging others to say yes to Jesus. Peterson has gone to heaven to hear those words we all desire, and I have no doubt he heard them. Life marches on and it waits for no one. At some point in history I will be gone. But for the moment I am focused on the same direction.

Having Jesus as the constant theme and energy in our lives gives us a deep sense that despite the change, some things are more important than our comfort.

Owning the pain and loss in the midst of a superb church and wonderful opportunity takes some getting used to.

The earnest prayers of a righteous person avails much. Dealing with difficult things forces us back to prayer and faith….and hope.

Jesus is real, and the Holy Spirit is in the life changing and miraculous business still.

It really is not how you start, anyone can start well

I am continuing my reading one chapter a time this year. At the moment I am plowing my way through 1 Samuel.

The thing that strikes me in the early chapters is how well Saul is doing. He is humble, gracious, kind and indeed he even prophesies! He is showing character exactly what you would want in a king. The problem dear reader is that we all know how it ends up for Saul. Jealous. Murderous threats. A soiled legacy. But we are not there yet in my plowing.

Then we come to 1 Samuel 12 where Samuel the prophet stands before the people at his retirement speech. I don’t think he gets a gold watch but he wants some feedback on his legacy. Did I do okay, did I ever rob you, did I perform my duties as your prophet and priest well?

The people reply with yes, you never robbed us, you cared for us, you did well mate.

I will continue my devotions in 1 Samuel. I know at some point I am going to sigh as Saul devolves into the king we never wanted. But it is a salient reminder. Anyone can start well. No one remembers that. It is how you finish that matters.

The verse most often taken out of context…and that is okay

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18)

There is no scripture more taken out of context than this one. We often hear it as an encouragement to pray, to meet together, to gather. And there is truth in that. The idea that God is especially with us when we gather to pray is one I assent to and would want propagated.

However in context this verse is about speaking the truth to one another, even up to and including church discipline. I think Jesus understands that speaking the truth to one another is not easy. Correcting a brother or sister is not easy. Speaking up when someone has offended you is not easy.

But how else will growth come if we do not? How easy it is to store up offence if we never can pluck up the courage to say something. This is really the true power of this scripture.

When you need to speak the truth in love with the view to reconciliation, Jesus will be with you. Because He cares about church unity. He cares about growth, He cares about forgiveness. It may very well be the most sacred and holiest of ground when we care enough about each other to confront the offence.