Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Gospel-Centred Leadership???

My mate Darren Dakers over at Malyon Leadership asked me to write an article on the concept of Gospel-Centred Leadership. It is a concept that has been on my mind for a while because I have seen the terminology embraced right across the spectrum of churches but often with no real change of intent.  It has made me wonder if we really know what we are talking about or if we have just latched onto a buzz-word for the perceived "edginess" it brings.  The following is an exert taken from the article:

"However, the problem of uncritically embracing the latest buzz-word is that often we re-badge everything but just keep doing what we were always doing… all that changes is the buzz-word.... I guess my goal in this article is to investigate one question: What difference should being truly gospel-centred make to our leadership?

If it is anything, surely gospel-centredness needs to facilitate God’s purposes for the gospel rather than just rubber-stamping ours."

Check out the whole article here.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A streak of biased reporting

(John Dickson has done something similar to this with a soccer game but it works with a streaker as well)

People often say that the gospels can't be trusted because the disciples who wrote them were biased; that their bias caused them to present Jesus' life in a fantastical way.

But a certain event in last night's origin game has been reported very differently in each state based on the particular allegiance of their newspapers.  QLD papers ask whether the streaker was "a NSW plot to deny them a try", while NSW papers suggest the streaker wasted time and "cost them a chance at getting down the other end to score".  Both have reported the impact of the streaker based on their bias (or the bias of their readership), in fact one might say their is no more passionate bias in Australia than a State of Origin bias. But the reality is that despite their strong biases both reported true facts about the streaker, such as the time it happened, what he was (or wasn't) wearing, his name, the score at the time, the fact QLD crossed the line when it happened, that QLD were denied that try, etc...

We all have our biases, and we can't help but let them influence the way we see this world.  But just because we are biased doesn't mean that we report falsely... we generally report events accurately even if we colour the impact of the events according to our bias.  The gospel writers had their bias just like us, but their bias doesn't mean that what they reported about about Jesus was a lie.  They still reported truths that can be historically verified irrespective of biases.

You cannot reject Christianity because you don't believe Jesus existed (because historically you can't question that), but rather you can only reject it based on what you believe ABOUT Jesus - He is either Lord and Saviour as the gospel writers suggest or He is not.  There is no doubt that the gospel writers wrote with a bias and with a definite purpose to call people to believe in Jesus as Lord.  But I would argue that this bias should not cause you to disregard Jesus as a fanciful creation of their deluded minds, because their bias doesn't rule out the truth in what they reported.  Instead maybe it is time for you to put your own preconceived ideas aside and investigate Jesus, all that He said and did, and make your mind up about Him.

Friday, April 5, 2013

When you play the game of thrones...

So there was a fair bit of excitement across the internet this week about the re-commencement of HBO’s immensely popular TV series Game of Thrones.  I must admit I hadn't really heard too much about the show until about 6 months ago when it appeared in an article I read claiming that it was “the most popular TV series among men”!  This sparked my interest because I was interested in what captivated men in today’s society.  So I read a good number of reviews and articles about the show and even watched a few episodes to see what all the hype was about.  I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when my research uncovered that it was full of blood-thirsty battles, betrayal, powerful rulers and of course sex.

After I got over my initial sadness that we men are so easily enticed by the stereotypical blood and flesh, I came to understand what I am led to believe is one of the key themes of the story. Based on a series of books by George R. R. Martin, Game of Thrones is set in a mythical land in times gone by when numerous ruling families and their kingdoms are all struggling against one another for the right to rule on the throne that rules all thrones.  Each family has their own strengths and weaknesses expressed mainly through their family motto; a governing principle by which they stand and fall.  So through deceit, manipulation, allegiances and the military they each make a play for ultimate power.  “Nothing new here” I hear you say, but from all accounts the plot is compelling, the twists are intriguing and viewers are emotionally drawn into the “game”.

But while each family lives by their motto, there is an overarching principle which governs the behaviour of virtually all the main players.  It is expressed best by something that one of the characters says: “When you play the game of thrones you win… or you die!”  It doesn't matter whether their means and motives are seemingly pure or obviously evil; everyone is sold out on a quest for power and glory.  This thirst rears its head in their heartless disregard for life, their sinister schemes and manipulations and the way they treat women as objects of conquest.  The main players will give everything, befriend anyone and compromise anything to sit on the iron throne.  For them victory is the ultimate.  They are happy to face the prospect of death because if they do not have the throne they might as well be dead.

I think part of the reason Game of Thrones is so compelling for us is because it plumbs the depth of human character and shows us glimpses of ourselves.  Albeit in an extreme and concentrated version the “game” is a heck of a lot like the world we live in.  We might not be all fighting each other for the one throne, but we all long to have our own personal seat of authority.  We want to reign over our own lives and take the spoils of victory whatever that might look like to each of us.  Money, sex and power are just the beginning, we all have something that if we fail to achieve or attain we feel as though we might as well be dead.

Two of Jesus’ disciples once showed what was really in their hearts when they asked for thrones of power and authority. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”  They showed that they were not following Jesus for who He was but because of what He was able to give them, namely power and glory.  They showed themselves to be no better than a player in the game of thrones; sucking up to the one they thought was the surest bet for victory and trying to ride His coattails to glory.

Jesus’ response to them not only turned their world upside down but completely blows apart the governing principle of the game of thrones.  He said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  Jesus speaks here of His imminent suffering and death and asks the would-be rulers if they were prepared to take on shame, mockery and crucifixion.  Jesus basically says that life is not a case of “you win or you die” but rather “in order to win you have to die”.

Jesus did not gain His seat on the throne that rules all thrones through military might, manipulation, treachery or deceit.  Jesus was crowned King of kings because He laid down His life and paid the price for all of our manipulation, treachery and deceit; for all the times we ignored His rightful reign and made a play for the “thrones” of this world.  And then He calls His disciples to do the same.  To lay down their lives and denounce any claim to the throne… to cast aside our heartless pursuit of money, sex and power… and to display selfless love to the world rather than treachery.

So for all the fans out there who have been frantically downloading torrents to keep up with the latest installment, please remember something.  The beauty of the “game” for followers of Jesus is that it has already been won.  His banner flies high above the throne of thrones and He is the undisputed King.  This world will tell you that if you don't win the game you might as well die… but Jesus claim is stunning in contrast: “The game of thrones was won BY the one who died!”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Why Easterfest made me weep for the local church

I want to start by saying that I love the musicians at my church.  As one who has about as much musical ability as that Shane Lee guy who sings 5 octaves of a piano on YouTube, I deeply value the fact that God has gifted people with musical ability.  Furthermore I love to see people using these gifts to glorify God, encourage the church and even draw unbelievers to a place where they can hear the gospel.  So the last thing I want to do is deny the hard working musicians at church one weekend a year to go and perform on a bigger stage, hear other quality Christian musicians and mix with thousands of other like-minded people.  However, for some reason I struggle when Easterfest rolls around each year.

Easterfest is most definitely a magnificent event that draws people from all over the country and attracts artists from all over the world.  It is also a triumph for the churches of Toowoomba – their unity and common heart for the gospel is impressive.  So my struggle is not with the event itself, but with the fallout of the event back in Brisbane.

Anyone in local church ministry will tell you that if random people from the community are going to ever walk through the doors of a church, they are going to come at Easter and/or Christmas.  So as a local church pastor I want the Easter services at my church to be the most welcoming, passionate and vibrant presentation of what the gospel, and the community that it creates, is all about.  However, year after year local churches are forced to do this without a huge percentage of their keen, gospel-loving people and without pretty much all of their musicians.  Just this year I was involved in 3 services across the weekend and the same guy had to worship lead at all 3; we planned a significant outreach event in our local community and could have done with the extra help; and I know of a major combined churches evangelistic event that attracts 12 000 people that was seriously undermanned when it came to volunteers.

Just to be clear I am not blaming Easterfest for this.  In fact if anyone is to blame it is the local churches.  I fear that local churches dropped the ball in terms of local evangelism at Easter many years ago.  This left a huge void in the hearts of people passionate about the gospel and they sought to fill that void with Easter conventions and, over the last decade or so, Easterfest.  The snowball effect is hard to ignore: the church became less active in evangelism at Easter, passionate gospel-lovers looked elsewhere for stimulation, which then made the local church less inclined to think creatively about local evangelism at Easter.  It is now a huge effort to put on something intentionally evangelistic when you know you are going to be struggling to get the critical number of energetic people needed to make the event happen.  In fact it has reached the point where it is almost pointless having a service on Easter Sunday night because so many people are away.

I know Easterfest has an evangelistic edge to it and I am totally supportive of the gospel being proclaimed faithfully at such events.  But I think it is clear from the New Testament that God’s plan A for the gospelisation of the world is the local church.  Planting local churches was at the very core of Paul’s ministry and when the Apostles wanted to pass on something to the general population of Christians they would write to the local churches or at the very least the leadership of local churches.  Even in Revelation Jesus personally addresses local churches to communicate rebuke, encouragement and challenge.   Local churches are supposed to be communities that visibly represent Christ on earth and bear witness to His gospel to all who they come in contact with.

Unfortunately I think the local churches in Brisbane have failed to even captivate the hearts of their own people with intentional gospel ministry at Easter, let alone the hearts of unbelievers.  Why else are thousands of people getting out of Brisbane as early as Thursday night to drive for 2 hours in holiday traffic to go to a concert?  Surely if there was the promise of passionate gospel ministry around their local church they might consider sticking around.  But as it is they are packed and ready to go without even a second thought. So now the local churches feel awkward about asking their people to hang back from Easterfest to partner with them in the gospel.

So here is the point of this post: I would love to see local churches plan creative and intentional evangelism for Good Friday morning.  Good Friday is the day on the Easter weekend that still holds the most traditional significance in Australian society and it is ripe for the picking.  Then I would love to see people delay their trip to Toowoomba so that they can take part in the evangelism on Friday morning.  We had a small group of young ladies do this for our Good Friday outreach this year and it was hugely appreciated!

Maybe I am asking too much.  Maybe the snowball is too big and travelling too fast to stop.  Maybe the local churches in Brisbane have lost our chance for evangelism at Easter.  But one thing I do know is that Jesus is passionate about the local church and the people in whom He dwells are passionate about Him.  So if we are bold enough to call them to contribute to something that proclaims this Christ in their own backyard, then we have a good chance of gradually seeing His passion for the mission of the church become their passion as well.  Especially at Easter!

Monday, March 11, 2013

NEW: Bible Reading Guide

A new bible reading guide is available for download!

"Alive" will take you through the text of Ephesians in about 16 days and give you some food for thought along the way.  It is in pdf format and has been designed for smart phone or tablets so you can take it with you on the bus, train or wherever you normally do you bible reading.  However, because it is a pdf file it can also be printed for those that prefer a hard copy.

Click the link below to download the file:
Download: "Alive" Ephesians Bible Reading Guide
Depending on the pdf viewer you have on your smart device, you should be able to tap on any of the items on the contents page and it will quickly take you to the reading you are looking for.

I trust that you will enjoy diving deep into Ephesians!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mundine - The Man in all of us...

When I tuned in to Facebook last night I seriously thought Danny Geale had absolutely smashed Anthony Mundine in a 3rd round knockout... So many punters were rubbing salt into Mundine's wounds as their fingers did a victory dance on their keyboards that I has to quickly duck over to a news site to see the result... it turned out that Geale had only won on points and that up until the last round it was a pretty close fight.  Bemused I went back to Facebook only to see more and more "suck on that Mundine" type comments.

I don't know whether I can remember a time in Australian sport where so much hate-filled vitriol has been poured out on an Australian sports person.  I mean sure every now and then we have all got angry at an under performing sports star or quibbled about a poor selection in the Australian cricket team... I personally remember having not-so-kind-a-word with Greg Norman through my TV screen a couple of times... But this was different... For some reason Anthony Mundine has attracted malicious and scathing venom from the Australian public before, during and after this fight!

The reason for this hatred is Mundine's ego!  Anyone who calls themself "The Man" and claims to be Australia's greatest sporting star has a seriously deluded picture of himself.  There probably hasn't been a man who publicly over-inflates his self-image more than Anthony Mundine; and in a culture where we don't just cut down tall poppies but we get out the whipper-snipper and make sure we do a decent job of it, anyone who sticks their head up as high as Mundine is going to be a prime target.  The hatred Australia has felt towards "The Man" is due mainly to his own pride... We just can't stand the arrogance and self-absorbed delusion that Anthony Mundine has become infamous for.

However, we must ask ourselves the question: if it is so easy for us to spot, name and shame pride when it manifests itself in a guy like Anthony, how come we are so inept at spotting it in our own lives?  We are so quick to jump down the throat of overt self-promotion yet when we exhibit exactly the same self-absorbed behaviour, albeit in a much more subtle and socially acceptable manner, it doesn't even raise an eyebrow.

Augustine, a super old school teacher of the early church, called pride something like the mother of all sins.  What he meant by this was that an over-inflated  view of ourselves was the root cause of pretty much all our sinful behaviour... sin is selfishness and self-promotion... we use sin to elevate our reputations, influence, attractiveness and bank balances.  Think about it:

  • Why do we lie - generally because we value our own reputation (or whatever is at stake) more than the person we are lying to
  • Why do we envy - because deep down inside we feel that we are better than someone else and deserve to have whatever it is they have more than they do
  • Why do we fail to speak-up when we see oppression or bullying - because we believe that our sense of peace and comfort are more important than helping the oppressed
  • Why are we gluttonous, greedy and immoral - because we think they are they only things that will satisfy our cravings
  • Why are we self-righteous - because we are too proud to admit weaknesses and our desperate need for Jesus

There is no doubt that no matter how sin manifests itself in our lives that it is merely our pride screaming out trying to convince us and the world around us that "We are the greatest!"  We may not hire publicists to promote us, make bold claims about our greatness or come up with punchy catch phrases to cement our superiority, but there is a little bit of "The Man" in all of us.  A part of us that will always respond to preserve, protect and promote... well me!  If we were to be consistent we would be praying on all of our mistakes, misfortunes and failures so we can jump down our own throats with a sharp and sarcastic tone.  We have to face the harsh reality that our pride is every bit as ugly as that of Anthony Mundine.  

But the gospel is the least proud message in the universe.  It tells the story of the real "Man"... the One who could rightfully claim greatness without equal... and yet He did not hold onto His greatness or lord it over some bunch of minions.  Rather Jesus laid down His greatness and embrace weakness and nothingness in order that we might receive all the benefits of His awesomeness.  If anything typified the life of the only one who has any real claim to greatness it would be humility not pride, sacrifice not self-service.  And through this perfect humility He offers us forgiveness for sins and peace with God.  But you can't get it through pride!  In fact the only way to receive what the humble Jesus offers is through  humble acknowledgement of our desperate need for Jesus.

You may not think of yourself as proud and boastful like "The Man" Mundine, but left to our own devices our pride will grow into an abhorred beast of burden.  Lay it aside and repent of your pride-filled sin and receive the humble Jesus today!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lance Armstrong & the greatest tragedy of all

There are too many tragedies to be told in the sad story that is Lance Armstrong!  The betrayal of fans, sponsors, fellow competitors, his family… The fact he profited financially from his deception… The outright lies he told everyone… The charity he started now being on shaky ground… It doesn't matter which way you look at this story, there is pain, turmoil and tragedy! But perhaps one of the greatest tragedies won’t even rate a mention on the nightly news, Internet coverage or even the Oprah interview.

I think most people don’t realise how performance enhancing drugs actually work.  It is easy to get a picture in your head of some wonder drug, some magic pill that suddenly boosts performance and creates Tour de France champions!  However the reality is that they are not miracle drugs… they can't turn average hacks into champions... they only aid and boost the capacity of an athlete to train so that their eventual performance is enhanced…

So here  is the tragedy; Lance Armstrong still had to train ridiculously hard!  In fact it was widely publicised throughout his career that no one trained as hard as him.  Now in light of his recent confession I think we might be tempted into thinking that this was all a lie, that he wasn't really the super training machine that we came to believe he was.  But the reality is that it is more than likely that he was a super training machine... you don't take a few drugs then nek minnit get on a bike and ride up and down french mountains.  Lance Armstrong probably rode more miles on his bike in one year of training than all the commentators, bloggers and armchair critics have ever ridden in their combined lives.  

And then there is the Tour de France itself... only one, albeit the most famous, of the races in the cycling calendar... over 3000km in 20 stages... up and down mountains that are far bigger than anything we have here in Australia... it is one of the most grueling tests of endurance in the world of sport.  Lance Armstrong finished this race 13 times… 13 times he rode every single mile, through the pain of blisters, injuries and legs burning from the pain of climbing 2880m up the French Alps… It is not as if the drugs he took put a motor on his bike that meant he didn't have to put in the effort to ride those hills.

Now I am certainly not trying to drum up sympathy for Lance Armstrong, but I think we have to acknowledge that there are very few people on this planet who were more dedicated to their training and competing than him.  And hence this is the great tragedy of his life... the tragedy is that it was all for nothing… 

Lance Armstrong has given his whole life to training and competing in cycling races… sacrificed every ounce of energy he had and yet it was all for nothing… he has been disqualified, dethroned and  disgraced because he broke the rules… See no one cares about all his training now... No one gives a stuff about his monumental efforts now… And all his accomplishments have been stripped away... All because he cheated!  His whole life has been wasted, not one ounce of his energy and effort has amounted to anything... Lance Armstrong put ridiculous stress through his body, drained every last drop of energy from it and sacrificed hour upon hour upon hour of his life AND IT WAS ALL FOR NOTHING!

But an even greater tragedy would be for you to suffer a similar fate when it came to your salvation!  See there is a way in which you can attempt to live out your Christianity which will see you put in miles and miles of effort, hours and hours of time but come up completely empty handed in the end. 
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)
There are far too many people living out their Christianity through the lens of the Law.  Far too easily faith for us can become a matter of simple obedience to laws like, “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”  And we start to rate our level of faith and gain our assurance of salvation from our capacity to keep the laws that we make for ourselves…  When we are doing a good job of obeying our laws we feel happy and sure in our salvation, but if we go through a struggle then doubt, fear and guilt creep in and we do everything we can to beat ourselves back into shape.  There is no more grueling regime of religion than the legalistic one.

But here is the tragedy!  According to Paul in the text above legalistic adherence to human made regulations is destined to perish... Like Lance Armstrong you can give your life to the grueling and relentless pursuit of legalism and it will bleed you dry, take everything that you have and give you nothing but devastation in the end!  For a time you will look wise, look holy, look like you have it all together, look like you are on top of your game, but in the end you will be disqualified, dethroned and disgraced.  

You cannot win your salvation.. You cannot work or train for your salvation... Salvation does not go to the victors but the losers... The salvation offered in the gospel is the free gift of God!  Jesus Christ through His life, death, resurrection and glorification has alone won our salvation and graciously imparts it to all those who repent of their incapacity to please God and put their trust in Him.

Don't waste your life conforming it to legalistic regulations that you are never going to be able to keep and are actually powerless in the battle against sin.  Don't sacrifice hours and hours of your life and every ounce of energy you have on a regime that is only going to disqualify you in the end - that would be the greatest tragedy of all.