Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Is our overwhelming busyness our own fault?

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:38-42
An overwhelming thing I keep hearing from people these days is about their overwhelming busyness.  Unable to commit to anything, because their life is so busy, unable to help with even minor ministry tasks, let alone coming onto a ministry team, or just not even able to consistently attend services or prayer meetings.

I am aware the church asks a lot of people, I look at my week and see how many night I am out doing different ministry groups or events, and I think it's a little overwhelming, and people who aren't in ministry full time would probably find it even more insane.  However, I'm not talking about the church making people too busy, but people making themselves too busy to the point that they neglect their relationship with Jesus... that they don't take time to sit and listen to Jesus... and that is what drives the lack of commitment we are seeing in our churches today.

Running around with things we think are important... and a lot of those things being almost worthless  - there is worth in things like social media for friendship connections, entertainment for rest and relaxation, and work for financial stability, but when they become over emphasised and make us too busy for other more important things they create a worthlessness as they overshadow the Gospel.

Just as Jesus tells Martha that her running around is making her anxious, but there is one thing that is necessary... He wants to tell us the same thing. There is one thing that is necessary, and that is sitting at Jesus' feet and hearing from Him.  That might be in a church service, a prayer meeting, a personal devotion time... but whatever it is, it needs to be prioritised, and it needs to be consistent. If it is prioritised then everything else will fall into place.

The very solution for our busyness is not to try and time manage and cut things from our schedule, but it is to cut everything but sitting at Jesus' feet and then seeing what He says should be our priority.  I truly believe that if we do that He'll guide us into more Gospel ministries, even around our commitments and we won't feel busy or over pressured about it.

Because we start sitting at His feet.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Church Family

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19-21 ESV)

I was humbly presented with the care and unity of the church family yesterday.  Just as I was pulling into the church my car broke down.  The water pump failed, causing the cooling belt to come off, which shut down pretty much everything - the engine overheated, the power steering failed, the alternator stopped charging the battery - I just managed to man-handle the thing into an easy spot for a tow truck to come pick it up.

But then I was blessed by the church family, these fellow citizens of saints, who together are members of Christ's household who care for one another in exceptional ways.  My student pastor gave me the phone number of a mobile mechanic who goes to another church but who is always willing to help out when needed.  No tow truck necessary this guy would come and repair the car on the church property.

When he got here and we figured it was the water pump and not just the belt, he admitted it was too big a job for him to do right then, but he would come back early the next morning (before work hours) to get it done before he had other appointments to go to. What mechanic opens up early just to complete a  unbooked job?  Hugely blessed!

Then as soon as one of the administrators heard I wouldn't be getting my car fixed till the next day, she hands me her keys. She knew there were things I'd needed to do that day which had meant driving around to see people, but she didn't just lend me her car for that, she told me to take it home, and just leave it back at the church the next day when I came to get my car. WOW!

It was incredibly humbling to have people do such big and selfless things for me. I wasn't looking for any special treatment and had already planned on walking home and cycling in the next day.  But the church family cares for each other... not just because it's family - but because "Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord."  We are a family built on Jesus, and Jesus is completely compassionate and generous.  Who just gives someone else their car? I remember doing it for my sister, my mother and my father in the past... because we were living together and it was just natural that when they needed it I could lend it.  Yesterday has opened my eyes a little more to this idea that that is how we should be with members of our Christian family as well!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The significant change of the Gospel

This just highlights the deeper root of sin doesn't it... not just how we act but who we are. That's what makes the Gospel so life changing... it doesn't just change how we act, it changes who we are!

Monday, 15 August 2016

Celebrating Every Victory

My team, the Essendon Bombers, have had just about the roughest year an AFL team can experience.  Twelve players suspended for the entire season before the season even begins - players who were let down by the club and in most common senses were treated unjustly. With the loss of pretty much their entire senior list of players the Bomber's weren't expected to win a single game in 2016.

Round two came as a surprise then as the Bombers put it all together to beat Melbourne.  As a fan (and club member) a ray of sunshine shone over 2016 - maybe the young guys could pull it together... was this 1993 again and the Baby Bombers doing the impossible?

No... no it wasn't.

Loss after depressing loss was to follow - in round 8 I sat in the members section at Etihad Stadium as North Melbourne walked the Bombers over the park for the first half of the game (the score at half time was 54-4).  There was a comradery among us members sitting in the top row of the stadium... united in our support for a team that had no hope.  But the second half was so much better, the Bombers played well, they pulled the margin all the way back to almost winning, only to lose by 14.  It felt like a win though and I even got a hug from some guy I'd never met just in that moment of celebration.

Then yesterday, round 21 - after 19 straight losses - Essendon beat the Gold Coast Suns. It wasn't a decisive win, it wasn't pretty even... but there was resolve, there was passion, and when the win came there was intense celebration.

The season is still a right off - we'll be the wooden spooners for sure, but even in the small victories, there must be celebration, it wouldn't be worth it if you didn't.  Even back in round 8, we lost by 14 but the way the team played was a victory, and as fans we celebrated what we could - and it felt great!

Celebrating the victories is so important.  Especially when the tide is against you, and you're not in a place to even compete most of the time - like my team in 2016 - then enjoying the wins (even if technically on the scoreboard it may not look like a win) is key to pushing through to a better tomorrow.

In so many cases of ministries in church we are hard up against the world... how can small youth groups compete with the entertainment industry of a consumeristic world?  How can your average church music band compare against the music and pop culture pretty much everyone is influenced by?  Simply the challenge of calling people to something uncommon creates an environment in our world today that makes the tide feel very much against us.

But celebrating any victory is vital - because there is an element for the Church that is not found in the sporting world, and that is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.  The victory is Jesus' - it always has been and always will be - and He puts the playing field in our favour, no matter how hard pressed we feel.

And so to celebrate the wins is to give Jesus the glory for his victory - and that lifts us.  Sometimes we are so focused on our planning, on the next event, or simply on continuing Gospel work that we don't stop to celebrate when Jesus works.  We need to stop, sing the team song, praise the One who is actually at work, and enjoy the moment where we see His hand acting in victory.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Who is Jesus to you?

Another good reminder that it is Jesus, and who He is as Lord and God and Saviour that gives us the foundation for our faith.

Our salvation is not secured in what we do, what we have, or even the amount of faith we have.  It is secured in who Jesus is.

Theology is important to our faith, because it gives us knowledge about who it is we worship, submit to and serve.

And that security allows the deepest roots of our joy to be pure.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Culture Change is Tough... but Worth It.

I watched "Remember the Titans" last week - a movie I've seen many times, a movie I really enjoy (if you haven't seen it I highly recommend it - but I may just ruin a little of the story line for you as you keep reading).

Coach Boon (Denzel Washington) is placed in a pretty rough spot... in 1971 the desegregation of schools in a town in Virginia creates a boiling pot of emotion... someone high up has decided race is no longer a boundary (which we all know is the right thing), but it hasn't been realised in the practical workings of society yet where ignorance continues to feed horrid racism. And here is Boon, a black man, given the role of head coach over the school's new mixed football team.

The whole scenario is complete chaos. yet Boon approaches the whole situation with a clear vision of what the team will be - and a unwavering resolve on what he expects his football team to be. No matter black or white... no matter the chaos race and racism has created... his team will reach the goal he has set from the vision he has of what his team can be. But in the middle of the chaos what does he need to do? Lay down his standard. It's no longer black and white... it's defence and offence (I love that scene where he makes them get off the bus and reorganise themselves). He makes them bunk with someone from the other race and get to know their all their teammates, not just those they want to hang out with. What he does is put them in uncomfortable positions to break the current culture and set the tide for the new better culture (and what we know today as the proper and right culture).

The first part of the movie depicts really well how tough culture change is - how chaos turns into unrest as order is forced upon it. How some people can't take the pressure of that unrest and walk away - both boys on the team and even some of Coach's own staff decide that they can't change to fit the new culture... and Boon let's them go - even when he's hurt that they are going and doesn't want them too. Some of the boys need to be benched and rested - taught to support the team and not be in the spot light for their own glory. Some need to learn that they need to sacrifice for the good of others... All of them need to learn that there is authority and order in the world and are the better for learning to come under Coach's authority as it teaches them something about the real world too.

And when it clicks... when that new culture takes shape and Boon's vision for the team comes to fruition then they are a mighty force to behold, and produce the perfect season.

At different times in our ministries culture needs to change. I'm dealing with that at multiple different levels over different ministries at the moment, some of them just growing and changing and some of them sitting in a space of chaos that needs to find order and restitution.  Not that our ministries reflect the aims and goals of football - but if we consider that we are on a mission, that Jesus set us to, about going into the world and making disciples of all nations, and all that entails, then we have a distinct goal to reach - and that creates a vision of what we see God has planned for our ministries.

So when the culture of the ministry doesn't fit the vision of what it could be, then it needs to change.  And change only happens if the leader holds unswervingly to the vision of what it can be.  They lay down the structure and standard of what is needed, and they take their team along with them, guiding them to catch that vision too.  Like in the movie, this can cause unrest - order to chaos always does - and it can even mean some people who can't catch the vision moving on...

But when it clicks... when the vision is grabbed and it surges forward to work in the way it is meant to, then it's a great place to be, it's effective, and in our circumstance... it is when God will be most glorified.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Going deeper - a Pastor's responsibility.

After my late night pondering on the surface level nature of our culture and even interactions in the church, today I have been starting to delve a little into some books that may help me develop some ideas on breaking that surface and going deeper.

In his book Brothers We are not Professionals, John Piper has reminded me that, as always, the change needs to start in me.  As pastor and shepherd if I am not willing to break my surface and let people see my deep emotions and passions then how can I expect to see others'? Piper uses Jeremiah's lament over the fall of Jerusalem as a brilliant example of this.
Lamentations is a deeply emotional book. Jeremiah writes about what means most to him, and he writes in agony. He feels all the upheaval of Jerusalem in ruins. There is weeping (1:2), desolation (1:4), mockery (1:7), groaning (1:8), hunger (1:11), grief (2:11), and the horrid loss of compassion as mothers boil their own children to eat them (2:20; 4:10).  If there ever was intensity and fervor int the expression of passion from the heart, this is it... 
After reading Lamentations, we can no longer believe that unpondered prayers are more powerful or real or passionate or heartfelt or genuine or alive than prayers that are thoughtfully and earnestly (and painfully?) poured out through a carefully crafted form.  The anger of formalism is real.  Prayers and sermons that are read from a manuscript are usually stiff and unnatural and artificial. But the danger of spontaneity is also great.  If the heart is without passion, it will produce lifeless, jargon-laden spontaneity. And if the heart is aflame, no form will quench it... 
Emotions are like a river flowing out of one's heart.  Form is like the riverbanks. Without them the river runs shallow and dissipates on the plain.  But banks make the river run deep.  Why else have humans for centuries reached for poetry when we have deep affections to express? The creation of a form happens because someone feels a passion.  How ironic, then, that we often fault form when the real evil is a dry spring... Many pastors are not known for expressing deep emotions. This seems to me especially true in relation to the profoundest theological realities. This is not good, because we ought to experience the deepest emotions about the deepest things. And we ought to speak often, and publically, about what means most to us, in a way that shows its value.
~John Piper - Brothers we are not Professionals - p146-149
And so it's not just about spontaneous, in the moment, passionate reactions... it is about diligently forming my emotions, passions and feelings into my sermons and prayers.  Actively planning to share my personal life and reactions publically as part of what God has said to me about what God is wanting to say to the church through the preaching of His Word.  This creates an environment where people will expect me to go deeper when they ask for help, because I have been going deeper publically already.
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