Category Archives: Stuff I don’t know much about but rave on about anyway

Coffee Shop thoughts

I was sitting at home in relative comfort eating some spicy breakfast beans and reading the West wondering what I should do for an hour or so before my meeting this morning.

It was the weirdest sense I had from God that if I was going to write a blog post I should leave my warm kitchen and go to a coffee shop and percolate. The coffee is certainly better here, especially since my coffee machine has clogged itself up beyond repair. But it was a unusual feeling of trepidation walking into a coffee shop I have never frequented before here on Beaufort St Inglewood. I found a little table I could plonk my Macbook on and sat down.

It is a smallish place and the coffee is good, as you expect for my area. What is surprising me is the real sense of community and fun here. The crowd is diverse. The bloke next to me is typing away and chatting in a Eurpoean accent to the little boy next to him sipping on his babycino. There are three Mums in sporting gear, no doubt returned from the gym, ‘insert facepalm emoji’. There are two high vis tradies desperate for their morning hit, and the obligatory hipster asking for a single blend.

I notice that there are two people behind the counter. One of them is focused on the small Synesso coffee machine. The other has dyed pink and green hair and seems to know everyones name, except mine of course. In fact she knows more than their names, she knows them and they know her. Its pretty obvious this coffee shop has the formula right.

Know the people, and know your coffee. Be genuinely happy to see someone, beyond the fact they are tapping their credit card on your little machine.

Will Koorong sell the new Kanye West Album?

I must admit the first time I have taken notice of Kanye West is when I mispronounced his name during a sermon. I also like his sneakers.

His new album, “Jesus is King” doesn’t fit into any category neatly. The music ranges from gospel to pop to hip pop, soul and of course rap. What is interesting about it musically is the diversity and range of influences Kanye crams into the playlist. West is a incredibly creative and innovative artist.

In my house it has been on high repeat, particularly as I have been cooking which is always a good sign. I am enjoying it a lot.

As a pastor, father to teenagers, and someone who likes to keep up with contemporary spirituality I am really encouraged by the lyrical content and heart of the album. Kanye touches on various themes ranging from pure worship to prophetic utterance on church, society and life in general.

Is his conversion real? I hope so. How would anyone but Jesus know. Is what he is producing good and uplifting? I think so. I hope he gets some mature and wise leaders and mentors around him. It is scary how quick the contemporary church seeks to use those who have fame rather than develop them. It is clear that with all new disciples they need time for the maturity to catch up with the influence. I am going to pray for him, for his ministry and for our world. We need more positive influence and I choose to hope this is what Kanye is becoming.

The pain of personal growth

When I have been confronted by my own personal failures, mistakes and points of growth….these have been some of my most painful moments.

Isn’t it better to live in denial land where everyone likes you and you like yourself?

There have been moments this year where I have been confronted by my own failings. Moments where I have realised of my own lack of self awareness. I have experienced the pain of seeing something in my own life which I don’t like, something I wish wasn’t there.

The natural inclination in these moments is to run. But how do you run from yourself? Maybe you run from those people who show a mirror to yourself. Maybe you run from moments of sitting and reflecting and allowing God to speak into your life.

I am so aware there is no fast track to personal growth. But I do know it involves pain. All growth does.

Stating the truth about Bill

I have written before about Bill Hybels. In brief he was a very significant leader and someone I looked up to. Unfortunately it is without doubt that he has been guilty of abuse of power and position in various ways which you can read about if you so desire.

What is on my mind at present though is how we as churches and leaders deal with allegations that happen within our community, and beyond that, explanations of what has happened. Once something had been determined to have happened how do we deal with the aftermath? How do we deal with leaders in Church who have failed, sinned, been abusive.

In the Willow Creeks Church case some of the people who have been victims have been very disappointed that the elders have not named what has happened. Initially there was denial. Many of the victims were named and spoken of in a disparaging way. Now that it has been determined than in fact the balance of probability clearly points to the abuse accusations being accurate. The Church recently held a healing service about the whole issue to try and move on. However many of the victims think that the actions of Bill was glossed over, not dealt with or confessed properly. (Here)

I do not envy the Elders at the Willow Creek Church. They are the ones having to carry the burden of leadership at that Church. In many ways they have taken huge steps to resolving this. And great people such as Pastor Heather Larson and Pastor Steve Carter have taken responsibility and left the church. They have met with many of the victims and heard their stories.

However it is also obvious that a significant amount of hurt and pain remain. And remains unresolved in any significant way.

I cannot make a judgment on Willow Creek and how they have dealt with the victims of Bill’s abuse. It is so complex, for me to voice a view would seem involving a higher level of responsibility and authority than I have.

However in general terms it seems to me that as Churches we have this mistaken notion that to be Christian and loving is to sometimes protect people from the truth. One of the most provocative things Jesus ever said was that the truth will set you free. He meant this in a multi-faceted way. The gospel is the truth, and sets us free from sin and death. The truth sets us free in a wide range of life experiences.

Did the Apostle Paul hold back from the truth? I don’t believe so. He wrote letters which would be read aloud and in public at not only the church he was addressing, but also at various other churches as well. In these letters he named names. He publicly rebuked and chastised members who were sinning, had theological issues, who needed to resolve differences. He made it clear that the church should deal with the church as far as possible.

If I was going to give an analogy I remember when first starting out in ministry I opened up the old Baptismal which had been unused for years. When I opened up the old covers to the light, the cockroaches scattered. I cleaned and scrubbed that dirty old concrete until it shone and smelt hospital clean. We then celebrated new life as young people declared their commitment to Jesus.

Until you name something you cannot be free from it. And I suspect as Christians we are far too polite to name it. But it needs to be named. I understand the need to only share information as far as is appropriate. But here is the thing about the Willow situation. Bill’s original rebuttal of the accusations was streamed online, to literally anyone who wanted to see it. The original statements from the church, which have since been retracted, were released online, to anyone who wanted to read them. Now. At a church service for the members and adherents of Willow Creek, suddenly the elders will not name what has so obviously happened? That is probably as far as I would go in stating what I think needs to happen.

The truth will set you free.

Fear

Is there anything more debilitating than fear?

This week I was reading an amazing sermon from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that he wrote and preached prior to the Second World War. A number of things were fascinating. He was a preacher. Not a teacher, although I am sure he could teach. This message was not some dry exegesis. It was forged in the crucible of a country undergoing severe change. He was preaching with the Bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other.

In Germany change was being driven by fear and false control. Those who knew how to manipulate the peoples hearts were doing what they could to get control. To convince people that there was a genuine reason to fear, and then using that fear to get what they wanted.

Its a stark contrast with how Jesus led. He led with love. He had no position, no control. In fact He demonstrated this when He allowed Himself to be led to the cross. Those who can peak behind the curtain knew He could have called down the armies of heaven to destroy His enemies. But He chose not to.

How do we allow fear to rule our hearts, our minds, our decisions? Its a terrible way to live.
This week I have taken some inspiration from Deitrich and am speaking at my church on how Jesus led. Without the need to stir up fear and manipulate, people gave him authority. They allowed Him to lead them. Because He never forced Himself on anyone.

I know….Jesus wants everyone to live their lives free from fear. The only true way to do that is to accept His love for us. That He wants the best….for you.

Its a temple

This post is going to be a little self indulgent perhaps, or a little confronting perhaps….but maybe helpful as well.

I love food. I love cooking it, preparing it, I love flavour. I love preparing nice tasty spicy food for family and friends. There are a number of dishes I do really well, and some others I am working on and thinking about.

However there is a problem with food. If you indulge in too much of it you get fat. I got very close to being 100 kilos.

About 18 months ago I decided that enough was enough and I wanted to be able to fit into a decent pair of jeans. I decided that 99 kilos was far too much for a man my size and height. I hid weight pretty well as I have fairly broad shoulders. But I was certainly comfortable. The reality is I was concerned about how I looked and was perceived. You may rightly say that vanity was driving my desire to lose weight, and you would be right. However in this case the benefits of losing weight go far beyond just looking better.

We all know that being overweight is unhealthy for your body, your heart, your sustainability, your effectiveness, your general sense of well being. But knowing that doesn’t change you or your habits.

I was due to be travelling to Chicago in November of 2017 and I wanted to try their deep pan pizza, smoked meats, Chicago hot dogs and whatever else they are famous for. Ironic isn’t it that one motivation in losing weight was so I could enjoy terribly unhealthy food. So I went on a modified Keto diet. Now there are people far better than me at the discipline needed for this diet. But essentially I cut out most pasta, rice and bread. Bread was the hardest. I love bread. Pana de Casa, Ciabatta….fresh white crusty bread with ham and hot English mustard is one of lifes great pleasures.

Incredibly it started to work.

I did indulge in Chicago and Christmas came along and it was two steps forward, one step back.

My weight loss started again in semi-ernest in late January of 2018. Those in the office will tell you my lunch consists of an orange and two cans of tuna. I don’t know whether the smell is always great for staff morale but I started to drop the weight. I also play squash most weeks and when the weather allows I walk to work. Which is a 40 minute round trip.

What really helped was an incredible session at GLS. The takeway moment was simply this. You change what you measure. Some say you should weigh yourself once a week. I break the rules and weigh myself every day. But here is the thing. There are minor fluctuations, and minimal daily weight loss. But a daily weighing keeps me accountable and motivated.

I have reached my goal weight and this morning for the first time the scales went under 85 and I measured 84.7. I am really happy to have reached that. I never thought I would. I have dropped from a 42 inch jean size to a 32/33. And again, I’m pretty happy about that.

I want to be able to be in ministry for years to come. I want to be able to continue to jump up on stage. I want to be able to continue to beat the 30 year olds at squash! I don’t want to look like a old man before my time.

This post is not meant to be a huge pat on my head, nor a slap for anyone else. And I am not the example of great fitness. But I would say this. If you know yourself you are overweight, find the motivation you need, and the method that works, to get healthy.

I believe our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. I know a lack of discipline has caused me to let the upkeep of that temple slide at times. I am feeling so much better spiritually, emotionally and as I consider the future.

Spirituality, Knowledge and Understanding

When I first started at my present church, around 24 years ago, there was a real sense that you never quite knew what was going to happen on a Sunday. If you just take this phrase on its own you might think its a positive. It isn’t. One Sunday you might find yourself singing a four hymn sandwich from ‘Sankeys’ Hymn Book. The next week the ‘Brown Book’ would come out. For those who don’t know the ‘Brown Book’ refers to the first of three ‘chorus’ books that David and Dale Garret produced. These were charismatic flavoured books full of songs which almost universally Churches across Australia embraced.

As our church transitioned to a blended and then fully contemporary flavour of service I remarked to people that while McDonalds food was not particularly of good quality it was successful due to its consistency.  There is a knowledge and understanding of what human beings respond to and appreciate that McDonalds uses for its own purposes. That basic principle, of having church as something which is at least consistent is a value I have worked hard at to instil in my local church community. Of course music style is but one aspect of church life.

There is an aspect of even the Sunday experience which needs to go beyond consistency. What are the most precious moments of Church life? Where God shows up with conviction, power, encouragement. These are not moments you can plan or schedule. Perhaps they are moments where the most important aspect of church leadership comes into play. Moments of repentance, prayer, solitude, fasting, spiritual discipline. Unbridled praise and exuberance. These are moments of real joy.

Having had a son who worked at McDonalds I have first hand insight into their training and recruitment methods. How is it that they can get a group of teenagers to produce a consistent product across not just a nation, but the world? Cultural differences swept aside a Big Mac tastes like a Big Mac in Perth, Bunbury and Launceston. Some may say this is unfortunate, but it has worked for them. The reason McDonalds has training like this is because it wants customers to have the same experience wherever they go. If your organisation wants to serve increasing numbers of people you need good systems in place. What you are delivering needs to be regular. God created us to live in cycles and seasons. Sunday comes around ever week.

At my church we have implemented a number of systems around welcoming people to church, Life Group integration, Baptism, Youth Group and of course children’s ministries. We understand that as an organisation grows you need systems. In a Church context you might say we have grown beyond one person. It is because we care about people we need a business like system.

There are moments when God has worked in someones life that you just cant explain. Recently at my church we have had 12 baptisms in a month. I couldn’t plan this, I couldn’t make this happen. God has worked supernaturally in peoples lives. In ways I could not orchestrate. You sit back in wonder as you see the Spirit of God at work. People receiving words that have little to do with well crafted sermons or well performed music.

Is the church meant to operate like a business system? Is it a business? These are two different questions.  A business has as its intent the desire for profit. To make money. A church has as its intent a desire to fulfil the Great Commission. To see people say yes to Jesus, to believe in Him and be baptised and discipled. Those in Church organisations would say this purpose is higher than business. So a Church is not a business. Yet it has purpose. I don’t believe we should be careless about this purpose but strategic, business like. Its too important.

In Church we are in the people business, what matters most to us is people. In Acts 4 we read that 5000 men were now part of the church. Someone had counted those people because they counted what mattered.  My own belief is that the gospel, seeing people say yes to Jesus, is more important than any other human endeavour. In Churches we should use human knowledge and understanding combined with the power of the Holy Spirit, the love of God and Christian community, to see as many people say yes to Jesus as possible. In fact the church should be at the forefront of how to run an organisation well. This includes welcome, integration, discipleship and community.  A Church also leaves space for God to work, moments when He speaks and you have the flexibility to listen and change your plans.

There is evidence that Jesus Himself directly argues for children of the light to be shrewd, to use good money principles to help advance the kingdom. Consider this section of scripture from Luke 16.8-9, ““The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.”

There are a number of metaphors for the church in the New Testament. Body, family, temple. Some may suggest that these imply little organisation. I suppose it depends on how big your family, body and temple is going to be. I imagine the structure of the early church with its explosive growth, not just in Jerusalem, but throughout much of the known world, needed structure and indeed good organisational principles to thrive.  Members, were added (Acts 2:41), job descriptions were present (1 Tim. 3), votes were conducted to expel immoral members (1 Cor. 5:4), and votes were taken to elect church officers (Acts 6:5; 14:23). We also read that he church organized a missionary team and sent them out (Acts 13:27).  Paul advised, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). To accomplish this task, the Holy Spirit empowered people with supernatural gifting that went beyond what could be expected in a normal organisation.  Government, leadership and stewardship.(Rom. 12:8; 1 Cor 12:28). The church is organized and ~ equipped to carry out its purpose, which is the Great Commission.

Are we in the hamburger business? No. Our operation is of far more eternal consequence than that. Is our primary identity that of a business? No of course not. But we should not dismiss human wisdom in growing and organising church. The book of Proverbs is full of it! What thrills me is seeing many churches become all they can be as the Spirit of God works, and human creativity and knowledge is used. What a potent force.

Is it possible we dismiss good business principles because we don’t understand them, or they might cause us to be confronted with truths about our churches effectiveness? At my Church in the last two years we have implemented rigorous feedback procedures. We has also started to measure those things that are important to the Kingdom. Just as we see the early church do.

(For another discussion on this topic and what prompted my contribution to this discussion please see my friend Andrew Hamiltons Blog)