Monday, September 29, 2014

International Coffee Day

In celebration of International Coffee Day I have created a collage with a selection of my Instagram photos

"Coffee is a language in itself"
Jackie Chan

"I am a coffee fanatic.  Once you go to proper coffee, you can't go back.  You cannot go back."
Hugh Laurie

"I was taken by the power that savoring a simple cup of coffee can have to connect people and create community."
Howard Schultz

"I love coming home to Melbourne.  The first thing I do is have a coffee.  It's just so much better here than anywhere else.  It's better than in Italy and I travel a lot."
Curtis Stone

"When I visited coffee farms in Ethiopia, the farmers could not believe we spend a week's wages in their country on a cup of coffee in ours, because they see so little of the profits. 
Oxfam's fair trade campaign helps right this wrong."
Colin Firth

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Engaging With Other Religions

Over the past three years, I have been on an extraordinary journey of discovery as I have dared to entertain the idea that God is at work through other religions.  Even now, writing such a realisation still feels a little strange as I have grown up in an evangelical culture that says, 'you are either of God (as Christians understand Him) or of the devil,' and there was no grey area to allow for the possibility of divine revelation occurring in an interfaith context.

Scripture unmistakeably records God declaring, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 5:6-7); Jesus affirming, "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No-one comes to the Father except through me"  (John 14:6); and the Spirit's relationship in the Godhead, "When the Counsellor [Holy Spirit] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me [Jesus]" (John 15:26).

As a Christian, I hold firmly to these Biblical truths and an uncompromising belief "that there is only one God, who is infinitely perfect, the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things, and who is the only proper object of religious worship" (The Salvation Army, Doctrine 2).

However, I also recognise that "since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Romans 1:20).  I understand that faith comes from God:  "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no-one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8); "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..." (Hebrews 12:2).  And I affirm that Holy Spirit is already at work in the world - "in the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people" (Acts 2:17) - revealing Jesus Christ - "He [Holy Spirit] will bring glory to me [Jesus] by taking what is mine and making it known to you" (John 15:14).

Therefore, I have come to believe that Holy Spirit has planted a seed of faith in all people, and religion is a human response to a partial revelation of God, forming a framework of understanding around what has been revealed.  This means that my interaction with other faiths is not to bring God where He is already present, but to discover where God is already at work and join in a conversation that has already begun.  From this posture I can share a fuller revelation of God by pointing people to Jesus Christ, because "in Christ all the fulness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9) and "the Son [Jesus] is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word" (Hebrews 1:3).

For me, this has radically changed my view of and approach to evangelism!   Evangelism is not so much a proclamation of truth, but an interactive relationship that gives witness to the incarnational truth that "the Word [Jesus] became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14) so that "whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).  Clark Pinnock describes the nature of such a relationship: 
“We should watch for whatever Spirit may be teaching and doing among them. This posture creates the possibility of a dialogical relationship. We can enter into the faith of others and acknowledge truths and values found there. These are our fellow human beings, seeking truth as we are. God is reaching out, and people are responding. So let us watch for points of contact and bridges of communication” (Pinnock 1996, The Flame of Love, p. 205).
From this vantage point I now find certain "evangelical" language an affront to the Spirit's presence and activity in other faiths.  To suggest that people are 'heathen' or 'godless' is to deny God's sovereignty.  To renounce the 'god' of any religion or to pray against the 'demonic spirit' of a religion, dishonours other people's spiritual journey, dismisses the work of the Spirit, disregards a partial revelation of God, and does little to foster a dialogical relationship where Christ can be revealed.

  • What if the 'god' of a Muslim is a partial understanding of the Creator of the universe?
  • What if the 'faith' of a Buddhist is a genuine response to prevenient grace?
  • What if the 'religion' of a Hindu is an attempt to live out a divine consciousness?

Let me be very clear at this point!  I am not suggesting for a moment that other religions are an equal or alternative pathway to God.  I am not denying the reality of a spiritual battle between the God of heaven and "the god of this age [who] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4).  Nor am I suggesting that all aspects of religious practice are Spirit-led or God-honouring.  Every religion, including Christianity, has embraced false or incomplete beliefs about the Creator and have demonstrated behaviour that is contradictory to a holy and just God!  Pinnock expresses well what I am suggesting:  “We have to say yes and no to other religions.  On the one hand, we should accept any spiritual depth and truth in them.  On the other hand, we must reject darkness and error…The key is to hold fast to two truths: the universal operations of grace and the uniqueness of its manifestation in Jesus Christ” (Pinnock 1996, p. 202).

With a new wave of religious extremism emerging in our world today, we must be very careful not to reject the work of the Spirit in fear of the work of Satan.  We must not assume that people seeking God through another faith perspective are the enemy.  We must be careful not to shut down the dialogue with people from other religions or cultures.  We must seek to strengthen relationships with people on a faith journey rather than segregate ourselves from them.  We must not exchange a spirit of humility for a spirit of superiority.  We must keep a posture of learning and openness to wherever and with whomever the Spirit is moving.  We must "in [our] relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:5-11).

With eyes wide open to the ministry of the Spirit within other religions I am better positioned to “seek [and] discern the Spirit’s presence and activity in other faiths” (Amos Yong 2005, The Spirit Poured Out On All Flesh, p. 247) and recognise that “The Spirit’s mission is to bring history to completion and fulfilment in Christ" (Pinnock 1996, p. 194).  Then, like Paul who dialogued with the men of Athens about their altar "to an unknown god" (Acts 17:22-27), we might evoke a similar response from our interfaith dialogue, "We want to hear you again on this subject" (Acts 17:32).

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

LifeLines #4

Feeling depressed, anxious or stressed?  

LifeLines offers biblical wisdom as a source of HOPE for today and tomorrow.



Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6

There is ancient wisdom that says, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"  Like worry, anxiety does nothing to lessen your concerns but only serves to magnify them by distorting your sense of reality.  Left alone with this distorted reality, without a source of help, will inevitably highten your anxiety and literally rob 'hours' from your life. Whereas, sharing your reality with another invites a different perspective and reminds us that we don't have to struggle alone.  From a faith perspective, when we present our concerns to God in prayer, we are inviting the Creator of the Universe to handle what is beyond our control and to help us with what is within our control.  Through prayer and petition we affirm God's power while acknowledging our powerlessness.  Author Philip Yancey writes, "Prayer is a declaration of dependence upon God."  From this posture, we need not be anxious about anything!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

International Day of Peace

Today is designated as the International Day of Peace and the following prayers are supplied by Act for Peace 
as a worship resource for churches to unite in prayer for peace in our troubled world...

Let us pray for peace in Gaza. 

God of peace,
have mercy on all your children in the Middle East:
Palestinians, Israelis,
Jews, Muslims, Christians,
both those who pursue violence
and those who long for peace
with justice and kindness for all.
Show your face to all who are suffering.
Share your tears with all who are mourning the dead.
Gather into the arms of your love all who have been killed.
Shake the certainty of those who give orders to kill.
Scatter the proud
who would rather die, and see others die,
than change their policies and practices.
Build up the courage of those who work for peace.
Person by person,
household by household,
nation by nation,
break the habits of hatred.
Lead everyone towards the new horizons of hope
which we have seen in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,
in whose name we pray. Amen.

Let us pray for peace in Syria.

God of peace,
turn back the tide of civil war in Syria.
Have pity on the six hundred thousand refugees
who have fled to Jordan and neighbouring countries.
Have pity on the countries that receive them,
and on international agencies working to protect and care for them.
Have pity on the devastated cities, towns and villages of Syria,
without safe shelter, food and medical care.
Have pity on the Christians of Syria,
displaced, threatened, almost forgotten
in the war between rival Muslim groups.
Speak peace to the Government and rebel forces.
Speak peace to the foreign soldiers
who want to come and fight in Syria.
Defuse the violence in angry hearts
with your gentle wisdom.
Dazzle those who live by the darkness of war
with the light of your truth and grace.
Bring an end to the shattering violence
and stir up the will for reconciliation and rebuilding.
We pray in the name of the one who came
to make peace by the blood of his cross,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray for the persecuted Christians of Iraq.

God of peace,
we cry out to you for the lives of our brothers and sisters,
the Christians of Iraq.
When they are urged to convert to Islam,
strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ,
whose Body they are, in their suffering.
When religious taxes are demanded of them,
provide for them from the abundance of your mercy.
When they are forced to flee for their lives,surround them with your strong presence
so that nothing in life or death
can separate them from your love.
Fill with your Holy Spirit
the churches, monasteries and homes
where they have prayed for so many generations,
as a witness for peace in midst of violent destruction.
Raise up advocates for Iraqi Christians,
both in Iraq and in the wider community of nations.
Find a path towards reconciliation for all the people of Iraq,
so that people of peace from every religious tradition
can work together in trust and respect
for the future of their country.
We make this prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Top 5 Book List - Church Culture

"If you're a serious minded leader, you will read.  You will read all you can.  You will read when you feel like it, and you will read when you don't.  You will do whatever you have to do to increase your leadership input, because you know as well as I do that it will make you better." 
Bill Hybels, Axiom:  Powerful Leadership Proverbs

Here are my Top 5 books on Church Culture (in no particular order)...

An Unstoppable Force - Erwin Raphael McManus

Erwin McManus has an unusually perceptive grasp of the ethos of the church and inspires Christ followers to become the church God intended - a creative force that really can change the world!  He describes himself as a cultural architect, which captures well the role of church leaders to not just respond to the culture but to shape it according to God's pattern. 

Culture Shift - Robert Lewis & Wayne Cordeiro

Based on their experience at New Hope Church in O'ahu, Lewis and Cordeiro describes how to transform your church from the inside out by creating a values driven culture.  The authors help you to identify your current culture and provide practical tools to transform it by bringing it into alignment with your mission.

IT - Craig Groeshel

Have you ever noticed how some churches have that almost indefinable culture that makes them stand out from the rest?  It has little to do with structure or style, but a life-changing force or presence that can only be defined as "it".  Groeshel helps you to identify what "it" is, how to get "it" and how to keep "it".

Natural Church Development - Christian A. Schwarz

Christian Schwarz describes churches as organisms rather than organisations and identifies the eight quality characteristics that are essential for the culture of any healthy church.  He teaches the "all by itself" principle from Mark 4:26-29 that generates organic growth from a healthy environment by releasing the divine growth automatisms  by which God Himself grows His church.

No Perfect People Allowed - John Burke

This book shows you how to deconstruct the barriers that stand between emerging generations and your church by creating a 'come as you are' culture.  John Burke helps us to learn how to welcome and embrace spiritually curious 'imperfect people' by casting a powerful vision of the potential of the body of Christ to transform lives in a post-modern world.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Head v's Heart Knowledge

I never grow tired of reading about John Wesley's conversion experience.  He was a remarkable man from Christian history who had a profound influence on his contemporaries, which lead to the establishment of the Methodist Church and inspired emerging movements like The Salvation Army in the 19th century.  

As much as there is to learn from the success of Wesley's life and ministry, there is as much to learn from his 17 year struggle with the assurance of salvation.  Wesley believed in and preached all the right things when it came to the gospel, but his head knowledge did not translate into a heart knowledge until his dramatic conversion experience at Aldersgate Street on May 24th 1738.

Prior to this experience, we read of the following encounter in Wesley's journals with August Spangenberg, a Moravian leader, while engaging in an unsuccessful mission to Georgia, a new colony in North America.  While in Georgia, Spangenberg asked Wesley the following questions:
"Do you know Jesus Christ?"
I paused and said, "I know he is the Saviour of the world."
"True," he replied, "but do you know He has saved you?"
I answered, "I hope he has died to save me."
He only added, "Do you know yourself?"
I said, "I do."
But I fear they were vain words. (Wesley's Journal, 8)
Wesley clearly had a head knowledge of the salvation of Jesus Christ, but he was tormented by a lack of personal experience of what he knew to be true.  So much so, that when he returned to England after a failed mission to America, he wrote, "I went to America to convert the Indians, but Oh, who shall convert me?...I have a fair summer religion.  I can talk well...while no danger is near, but let death look me in the face and my spirit is troubled."

I sense that Wesley's struggle is not all that unique for many Christians today.  There are many who have a "fair summer religion" that offers little comfort when confronted by the storms of life and the brokenness of this world.  One could seek more knowledge of the faith they profess or alternatively knowledge from another faith tradition, but neither will suffice. 

Wesley was transformed by an experience that gave him assurance and peace while listening to someone preach from Martin Luther's commentary on Roman's, taking what Wesley knew in his head and integrating it into his heart.  This was his moving conversion experience at Aldersgate Street:
"About a quarter before nine, while he (Luther) was describing the change which God works in heart through faith in Christ, I felt my strangely warmed.  I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."
When head meets heart, knowledge becomes experience.  It becomes a life transforming 'aha' moment when what you know to be true in theory becomes a living reality within your life!  Christianity is not so much a religious expression of ideas, but a relational experience of the incarnation - that is, a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, who lived among us in the flesh and left His Spirit as a continued living presence in our lives.