The B.I.B.L.E edition

In this podcast Dean and I look at the Bible. We all know that we should be reading the Bible, but many of us don’t and feel guilty about it. SO we look at how you can “spice” it up, why we struggle to connect to the Bible and how we can change some of these perspectives. Please comment below, we want this to be more than just a conversation between two guys.

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Resting in the “Yes” of resurrection

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Much of my christianity was spend doing stuff for God, especially doing things to try and build my relationship with him. I would exert every effort to try and get closer to God. However I couldn’t sustain it. Eventually I had to be honest with myself because no spiritual discipline really gave me what I wanted, a deeper relationship with him.

Then one day I said yes to God (if you want to read the whole story check out my about page). I had become frustrated with how shallow the worship was in my congregation and in the ones around me. Sure there were times of connection, times where the Spirit would really move, dancing, laughing, crying. However there was so little change and growth compared to the “height” of these encounters. So when God told me I couldn’t transition into the new thing, that he would unplug me from it and plug me into the new thing I said a “Yes” that would change everything.

Surrender is such a big word, and yes it is so important in our christian tradition. We know that it is one of those words, like “Grace” or “Jesus”, it’s always the answer. However it is a word that doesn’t come naturally to me at least, but I am sure that I’m not alone, and it’s a word I would trip over all the time. How can I surrender everything when I don’t even know everything about myself? How can I surrender all of my future when that is such a long time, I know I will take back my surrender in the future sometime, especially when it get’s inconvenient.

So I found the word “Yes”. It’s a simpler word, an easier word, a more humble word, at least that’s what I think. Now the real reason I love the word “Yes” and the big difference for me between it and the word “Surrender” is that it goes perfectly with a gift. That’s what my problem was. I wasn’t able to receive all that God had given me by using the word surrender. However I have been by using the word “Yes”, it has made it so simple to receive God’s work and his Gift in my life.

After Easter, we live in days that should be full of Resurrection, the ultimate gift of life, the gift of a new life, from a new source. When I think about Lazarus, Jesus and others that have been raised from the dead they were helpless to do anything while in that state. Resurrection is the greatest gift of all, it is given to someone who is in a completely helpless state to change themselves. That was me. I realised that if I was to live this new creation life, from a different source than me, I had to acknowledge my own helplessness, and my own need for resurrection. I had to be willing to purely receive, instead of my old surrender mindset of “What can I give to God, so I can get from God”.

The fear is that we become passive. “Yes” has allowed me to remain engaged with God and yet in a posture that allows me to receive. “Yes” doesn’t cause me to try and make it happen, it helps create a space big enough for God to move, it helps me be more aware of what he’s doing, and then I am free to respond to him the best way I know how. When I tried to “surrender” the focus was all on me and what I was giving up, but with “Yes” it remains more naturally on God.

“Surrender” seemed to me to require that I make the ultimate sacrifice, sort of like the spiritual equivalent of climbing onto the altar myself, and plunging the dagger into my chest and with my last breath setting everything on fire, hoping I would be changed. “Yes” has been to me like agreeing to go into surgery, not liking the idea, but knowing the surgeon is trustworthy and knowing that even when I can’t care for myself I will have him and his staff giving me the best care possible. Then once he has done his deep work in my heart he resurrects me, awaking me to this new life, this new creation.

Check out Hebrews 4 and let me know what you think:

The Beautiful Letdown

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That just by the way is the title to one of my favourite albums by Switchfoot. Anyway I thought it describes quite nicely the way I feel about the issue of salvation as we draw closer to Easter. I am just being honest here but sometimes I find salvation just a little disappointing. Not the salvation we are promised from the front of the church, no that salvation is quite literally out-of-this-world, it even has a line of fashionable coffee mugs to boot.

What I mean is that is that our experience of salvation seems to often fall well below what is promised – a life full of promise, direction, satisfaction, purpose, world changing power, miracles, blessing, prosperity, victory and intimacy with God so tangible you can almost touch him. This is often what is meant or understood by the Abundant Life*, but it seems to me like terms and conditions apply because for most of my christian life it felt like I was fighting just to get to the starting line (you know like in those famous ultra-marathons where it takes 10-15 minutes for everyone to get past the starting line.)

Now I don’t want to sound all depressed, I just want to be honest.

In the past I believed that pretty much all of God’s activity in the world was around the issue of getting people “saved”. However in the last few years I have realised that what God is doing is so much more than this. Yes salvation is important but as N.T. Wright says:

“salvation is like the steering wheel in a car, a very important part, but certainly not the whole car and yet this is what we have done, we have tried to tell people that the steering wheel is the car.”

That is a very loose quote but I got it from his book called Justification. The problem I encounter with salvation and justification (often they are even used inter-changeably) is that we have made it all about ourselves and so when life happens to us and it doesn’t treat us with the same favour as our ideas on God and his perfect plans for our lives, we get horribly disorientated, discouraged, disillusioned and disappointed.

The truth of the matter is that Jesus didn’t just die on the cross for your personal sins and my personal sins. He died to defeat evil, sin and death. He wasn’t running a covert snatch and grab operation. He has done it properly by defeating all the powers of darkness. What this does is start with the issue on a macro level and on a communal level, not personal one.

The issue of justification then is not simply “just as if I’d never sinned” which keeps the universe and God revolving around us, but rather that God said to Abraham that He would bless all nations through his family. Notice you have a community around Abraham which is supposed to bless the great greater community of all nations. However we know that instead of this happening Israel, using the law to define and protect it’s identity, kept the blessing of relationship with God to themselves and became an exclusive community.

What Paul explains in Galatians and Romans is that where Israel had been unfaithful to the covenant with Abraham, Jesus was raised up to represent Israel and become that faithful Israelite. He would finally fulfil the law and the covenant and by so doing he would fling the doors wide open for all the peoples/communities of the world to be included.

The reason why Jesus brings an end to the temple (the Temple became the representation of Israel’s identity with all other nations excluded from it), why the curtain is torn in two at his death, is that Jesus is opening access to God for all the communities of the earth. Not only did he do this but he gave God a new name, “Abba” and on the flipside what he is giving his Abba is a new family, Jew, Gentile, Slave, Free, Male, Female. This is also why circumcision was such a big issue for Paul because that one act separated not only Jew from Gentile, but male from female.

So this easter as I think about Jesus dying on the cross, I am not just thinking about my sins being cleaned. I am thinking about the new family that he died to bring about, those lines of distinctions, those walls and curtains that he died to tear down, the unity and fellowship he died to give us, and how by participating in this new community, this new family, this new creation, I might be saved from myself and my small individualist world.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this…

A God you can satisfy

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So do you ever feel like you can never make God happy. Sure we are told that you do make God happy and that he loves you, and we know this is the “right” answer but is that how we really feel deep down inside? Not for me it wasn’t.

I work in a christian business and we have a devotional time every morning. Almost every devotional falls into the following structure: 1) There is something you are not doing that you should be doing, 2) Today we are going to re-commit ourselves to working on this area and doing better at it. 3) Tomorrow we will repeat the cycle again with another aspect you are failing at.

I don’t know about you but I find that super de-motivating. Not only that but I see it causing so much destruction in people’s lives. What happens is some people believe this and blame themselves for their failure (because it couldn’t be God, he is good all the time, and all the time he is good). This makes truly believing that God is happy with you impossible no matter what you “say” you believe.

The other type of person gives up and best case scenario believes in a kind of “grace” where they can do anything they want and God is always happy with them (despite what they say this always feels hollow and unreal and so many drift away from God), or they simply walk away.

However I have found another way, it isn’t a way where you can just add something to your current belief system. It has been a radical giving up of all I’ve know and believed about myself, God and the bible and in true Abrahamic fashion leaving what is known behind to follow Jesus into the unknown.  ( I am saying this not to invalidate anyone’s current experience, but rather to share that moment that for me transformed everything.)

One of the things I have had to work the hardest at is changing the way I read my bible. I used to read it to find answers, to learn timeless principles that could be applied to life. However now I read the bible to allow the Word of God to read me. I read it to find Jesus and in doing so the Father. I am learning to read it like art, allowing it to speak to me of the many colours of Christ.

By reading this way I have found a God who doesn’t let me just do anything I want to but rather loves me just as I am. I have found a God who’s love has begun to melt my hard heart because he always calls me son, even on my worst day. I have found a God who is more interested in me than he is in my sin and is in fact my harbour in the storms of my worst sin and shame.

To make my point I don’t want to go to the easy grace passages in the New Testament but rather to the least favourite book in the Bible, Leviticus (don’t worry I won’t quote long portions).

No matter what early civilisation you belonged to each culture had at it’s core a sacrificial ritual. The idea being that when trouble strike you sacrifice till the “gods” are satisfied and fix your problem. Think about Cain and Abel and how the first murder was committed over this issue. Cultures could never know that God was satisfied unless he fixed their problem, and the longer the fix was delayed, the more intense the sacrifice, until they were willing to sacrifice children to their “gods”.

Enter Leviticus, what many call the most boring and legalistic book in the bible, but have you noticed? There is one incredible difference between the sacrificial system in Leviticus and every other, it is the declaration that if you follow these guidelines God will be satisfied! It is the first time a sacrificial system provided a way for us to know God was satisfied. That is the great news of Leviticus and it only gets better from there. (Check out Rob Bell’s “The God’s aren’t angry” he says it way better than me.)

As we draw closer to Easter may we remember that God has already declared himself satisfied and indeed happy with Jesus and with you. He has done this so that we can engage him in a healthy, authentic, safe and transforming relationship.

As always your comments are always appreciated

A Gospel bigger than salvation

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It’s so hard to be honest, especially with ourselves. As soon as any truth starts to peel back the masks that hide our vulnerability, we slam it as heresy and grab our masks back. Why is this? We hate being vulnerable and we have invested too much in our masks to let truth strip it away. Added to that our masks are our projection of our desires for ourselves. We so badly want those things to be true of ourselves, but they are not and so we feel damned by the distance and yet we strive for the nobility of the goal, of becoming one with our masks.

Sorry to drop a heavy on you, but that describes what I once was and describes most christians I know. (The good news is that this post should keep getting better, so the worst is behind us.)

“When you realise that the antidote to being bad is not just being good, you are on the brink of understanding the Gospel.” Tim Keller

That beautifully sums up what I was trying to say in my last post. In the past I thought the antidote to being bad, or sinful was being good, and because I couldn’t be good I made a mask that I could hide behind till I got things sorted and my life resembled the mask. My focus was on sin (the bad) and I thought I needed salvation (the good), but I wasn’t experiencing the kind of life I saw in Jesus, I wasn’t experiencing the Gospel.

What I am learning is that the sin/salvation narrative is really a sub-narrative of the Gospel. It is how evil tried to derail the original good news. We were sidelined by sin, but salvation just gets us into the game again. However what is the game, what is the purpose? (Spoiler: it is not about us finding our purpose, it’s about joining Jesus in his purpose.)

I know I am generalising here, but I think that by us christians focusing on salvation so much we have continued to live in a pre-Copernican world believing God revolves around us. As Peter Rollins says

“Our belief in an innate God-shaped hole perpetuates our desire for a hole-shaped God.”

I believe the Gospel is that a good God, made a good world, where creation, man and God were together in relationship. We were offered not goodness, because we already had that, we were offered LIFE, but evil and sin entered this good world and a great separation entered in it’s place. I think that on that day not only were Adam and Eve banished from the garden, but God was banished from the earth. Not because he couldn’t look on sin, but because we could no longer look on Him.

I see Jesus as the one who is fully human, fully ALIVE. He is fully human and fully divine, the second Eden. As he hung on that cross he was as Jason Upton says “Between Earth and Sky”. He was stitching together the melody of earth to the harmony of heaven. In his body he carried both. On the cross he offered us the place between earth and sky and at his resurrection he set the banquet table for the new creation, no longer sinner/saint, jew/gentile, slave/free, male/female but brother and sister, one flesh.

Once again, I would love to interact with your comments and if you liked this post please subscribe.

Good news if you don’t have enough faith

got-faith_tProbably the biggest thing God did in my life this last year, and one of the most important in my life, was this: Doubt is an essential element in faith. This is going to be a common theme in my blogs in the future but I thought I would give it an introduction here.

For most of us the common reaction is “What?”. That was my reaction too, it seemed so counter-intuitive to everything that I had taught, but tantalisingly it offered some sweet medicine to my tired soul, tired of trusting for breakthrough’s that never came and then analysing what went wrong, the stock answer being “Well buddy you didn’t have enough faith..”

I had stubbornly white-knuckled it because I desperately needed that breakthrough, but it always led to nothing, which led to me blaming myself. I knew I couldn’t blame God because “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” So I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Some people grow tired of blaming themselves and eventually get round to blaming God and writing him off, this wasn’t an option for me because I actually like him, but I didn’t have any answers (though I said I did).

One of my favourite authors put’s it this way “Having faith enough to doubt”.  Now much of what I was taught was that faith is about certainty, in fact I believed that to be a Christian was to be certain, maybe not of everything but definitely certain of the most important things. In fact that was one of my tools I would use in witnessing, telling people that they could have more certainty in life by accepting Jesus into their lives. However one day I came across a phrase by Greg Boyd “we have made an idol of certainty”. That was like a depth charge in my life.

Obviously we have been shown what the Father is like in the face, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. However the cancer of certainty is that you never know if you have enough faith and when things don’t transpire the way you had envisioned, you get the confirmation of what you had feared. Your heart sinks.

This is the complete opposite of the relationship Jesus came to give us with the Father. As long as we make certainty the goal of our faith, we will never have a healthy relationship with God, it will always be sick and a little twisted. Rather Jesus invites us into the intimate relationship of Father to child and vice versa.It is in the gracious love and acceptance of a Father that we find some sense of security. It is only from that place that we can dare, dream, live and struggle while maintaining a healthy relationship with God that is based in reality and not wishful thinking.

Faith as certainty cannot give you this, it will actually erode your relationship, not allowing you to grow, the only way to cope with it is to deny reality or to reject him. However the security that a gracious and accepting love relationship gives, makes room for doubts as we face the reality of reality with all it’s questions, trials, victories and disappointments.

So I know that is not a very Christmasy message, but as we celebrate the God of faith and reality putting on skin and subversively entering our world as a baby all because he loves us, I wanted to give you a little gift of good news based on past reflection of this yea and also as way for things to be different, better as we look to the future.

May you have a blessed time with friends, family and our beautiful Messiah. Till next year

P.S.  am more than happy to flesh out some of this stuff in the comments section or just chat about whatever.

Leading by refusing to lead…

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In this blog I want to look at leadership and ways we exercise it, to either build unity, or to break down unity. Today leadership plays a huge part in what is called the church. In many ways the “church” even proclaims a Leadership Gospel (the picture above could have been the cover for my discipleship/leadership process I used to put people through), let me outline the process quickly:

  1. get saved
  2. learn the basics of Christianity
  3. submit to the vision of the senior pastor
  4. God has a plan for you life and it involves leadership in some capacity
  5. become an apprentice leader in a small group
  6. lead a small group
  7. multiply your small group as you help the senior pastor achieve his vision and grow the infrastructure
  8. this will mean you get elevated to greater levels of leadership, but you’ll never be senior pastor (due to his investment in the structure he isn’t going anywhere. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but when last did you see a senior pastor give his successful church away to someone he raised up from within the congregation that wasn’t his son?)
  9. Sometimes genuine but sometimes because of a glass ceiling, people feel called to “plant” out from their current congregation
  10. Repeat

My only problem with that structure/system is that it isn’t the Gospel (the story of how Jesus became King) and it actually breeds disunity. One of the passages that is often used for leadership structures is Ephesians 4:1-16. It has become very popular as people aspire to be Apostles, Prophets, Pastor/Teachers and Evangelists. However is this passage actually giving us a structure or is the focus on unity?

Almost every time I have heard this passage talked about it focuses the gifts, but we miss something so very vital. This passage starts with the Head of the Body, Jesus and ends with him as the Head. Paul calls himself a prisoner of the Lord, which speaks more of the extend of his submission to Jesus, than how Jesus treats him. Then we see Jesus calling us, but not to leadership but to being humble, patient, gentle, bearing with one another in love, maintaining unity through practising peace towards each other. The focus then returns to the oneness we have in Jesus who is the head of this community.

Only then do we get these equipping gifts, which is what they are. Equipping the community of believers, not to build a big congregation/movement, but rather so that they can do the ministry. People want to be lead, and people want to have someone to blame if it goes wrong, or for their own problems. I think what Paul is saying here is that it is the leaders job not to lead but equip regular people to care for each other, mature as they take responsibility for themselves and to nuture these people into living by the life of Christ, so that they will treat each other with humility, gentleness, patience and love. This is the way that leads to peace and unity.

Here are the problems as I see them. This can’t be called servant leadership, but just servanthood. There won’t be some clearly define infrastructure to make a leader famous, or boost book sales, there may be very little recognition at all. Also Jesus will have to be the leader, the Senior Pastor, we can’t just pay his leadership lip service, we either believe he can practically lead his body through the Holy Spirit or we don’t. However the plus side is that these leaders, under Jesus, will see people maturing, growing up into Jesus, being set free and being part of a community that is marked by unity and deep, satisfying relationships. I find that prospect very attractive

I am not bashing leadership, I do think we have over-emphasised leadership. Notice the word wasn’t used once in this passage. Also I see this “leading by refusing to lead” almost to be the same way that grandparents interact with their grandchildren. They are far more gentle than than parents, being a source of wisdom to the child instead of just barking orders. Parents often take too much responsibility for the child, or at least until the child starts to become more responsible. Grandparents however never take responsibility, except maybe for the kids safety, often my kids run wild and grannies house, and yet they are learning to be responsible there.

Anyway those are some thoughts, would love to hear yours…