At a time when politics is incredibly polarised, I witnessed a moment of hope.

At a time when politics is incredibly polarised, I witnessed a moment of hope.

For the last few years I don’t think anyone would disagree that we have seen the fabric of democracy fraying in a way that seems very serious.

The core of the damage seems to be that we have lost trust in the people who are supposed to lead us, and in particular we have lost trust that those people will tell us the truth.  Our politicians are operating in an environment of profound mistrust… and no matter what they do they seem unable to break through the dark veil of skepticism.

On Wednesday I attended a remarkable breakfast. At a time when politics is incredibly polarised, I witnessed a moment of hope.

Premier Will Hodgeman addresses the breakfast

The 2017 Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast saw 461 people, largely from Christian churches, join with more than half of Tasmania’s Members of Parliament including the Premier, Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Greens.

It is hard to imagine a more highly charged time for political leaders to be in the same room as Christian leaders. There is about to be a national postal plebiscite about Same-Sex Marriage and at the state level, there was a bill calling for the removal of the Lord’s Prayer from the opening of Parliament. Feelings are running high on Social Media and also the National “Mainstream” Media.

It was into this context on Wednesday morning that Stephen Baxter stood up to introduce the morning’s events. He said something like “this breakfast has been happening for 12 years. This is a safe place where we come together in the name of Jesus Christ to pray for our leaders and hear from one civic leader how their faith has informed their own journey.” Stephen said a lot of other things, but in laying down the ground rules it was clear that this was not a moment for political activists to fight about issues.

There was a beautiful moment when Stephen asked everyone who wasn’t a politican to stand and express their thanks to those who had given their lives to serve. The applause was long and heartfelt.

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Social issues really do matter, however they are not the main challenge for the church.

Social issues really do matter, however they are not the main challenge for the church.

It is interesting coming home into what feels like a highly charged political environment.

There is a strange sense of foreboding at the moment as it looks like America and North Korea are, day by day, inching closer to a cliff and at the same time, a vitriolic debate about same-sex marriage is dominating talk radio and social media.

Things feel very polarised both globally and nationally.”

Polarisation is not new, but it does feel like this is different.  It feels like the whole nature and question of democracy is at stake at the moment.

One of the big differences between Australia and the U.S. is that the fragmentation here seems to be less about “Conservatives” vs. “Liberals” and more about an overall lack of trust in any institutions at all.

In America there is at least the illusion that things can be fixed when we defeat the enemy. In Australia the enemy is much less defined and so the societal fragmentation is much more obvious.

I was impressed by former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson who seemed to be a voice of reason in the midst of the highly charged debate. He clearly articulated that the big concern at the moment isn’t same sex marriage but whether the country itself will hold together.

All of this the context in which I now find myself leading a church and needing to equip our people to live their faith.

What would you aim for if you were in my place?

I know that one of the things I will need to keep remembering myself is that whatever the immediate battle seems to be, it isn’t actually the main game.

Jesus didn’t come and teach an ideology, he came and demonstrated a completely new way of doing life and invited his followers to step into that life.

The Christian church is never at its best when we are fighting the battle of ideas. We are always at our best when we are living our faith in the nitty gritty details of ordinary life.

That doesn’t meant that we should avoid social issues. Issues of Justice matter, but when we debate issues without seeing or respecting people, we do exactly the opposite of Jesus’s direct command to love our enemies, and we also misunderstand how the church is meant to work.

One of my heroes is William Wilberforce. He and his friends, the Clapham Sect, transformed England and ended slavery through persistent and clever political action. I doubt though that even William Wilberforce would be very effective in the current political climate.

William Wilberforce was able to draw together a national consensus because an Anglican preacher had stepped into a very fragmented country and pointed to a different way of life for the fifty years before the young politician began his career.

England was falling apart. There were very few trusted leaders and it seemed that corruption was rife. In 1738, Bishop Berkeley declared that religion and morality in Britain had collapsed “to a degree that was never before known in any Christian country.”

Five years ago my son Dan and I visited John Wesley’s house. He is one of the leaders I most admire.

It was also in 1738 that a young preacher by the name of John Wesley attended a church service on May 24, that changed his life and ultimately would result in England changing to the point that Wilberforce could do what he did.

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The only kind of church that will actually work here is a Fair Dinkum one.

The only kind of church that will actually work here is a Fair Dinkum one.

Our family is orienting to church in Australia

We’ve been back in Australia for one month.

We’ve been surprised at how big the adjustment has been, however it does feel like we are starting to find our bearings.

Part of the adjustment has been the different place that the Christian church has in Australian society. The Aussie church is much more on the fringes here than it is in Canada.

Our church has a “men’s shed” program, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a shed in someone’s backyard that blokes get together in. In some places guys get together and build stuff or fix stuff… fortunately in our church the guys get together to eat, drink and watch footy.  (I’m not the most practical person in the world.)

It was at my first visit to the men’s shed and while I was there I had a conversation I have been thinking about ever since. One of the guys opened up with me about why he didn’t like going to church. He has shown up occasionally,  but found that the words people spoke were very different from the way they acted.

He spoke about his own personal experience of trusting a church leader who he invited into his home and spend hours with on the golf course, only to find out that all the while this guy was having an affair. He also spoke about the ongoing revelations of abuse that seem to get back to into the headlines every couple of weeks. There is no excuse for either of these things, and the fact that he was so disturbed by them are actually sign of his integrity.

Australians don’t have an issue with Jesus, they do have an issue with His church.

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Too many of us live in a two dimensional, colourless world of our own making.

Too many of us live in a two dimensional, colourless world of our own making.

A black and white world isn’t actually the world

I vividly remember my first Sunday as a Pastor.

I was on the platform being introduced to a sea of faces who were completely unfamiliar, and feeling more than a little overwhelmed.

The closest analogy I could find to explain the experience was a brand new colouring book, where you can see the outlines but none of the shades or shadows that bring those outlines to life.

Four and a half years later, the outlines had been filled in by experiences, conversations and stories. The faces had become people and the people had entered my heart.

Throughout the first three weeks of our new adventure with Citywide Baptist Church, I have remembered the early days at St. Albert, knowing that there is no shortcut to relationship building, and that gradually the outlines will be filled in here too. Already there have been a number of people I have come to see quite differently after spending a little time hearing their stories.

I wonder though, whether one of the real challenges facing the Christian church is that many of us live in world where the outlines remain just outlines and we live in a two dimensional world of our own making because we never take the time to get to know people beyond a superficial level.

There is little doubt that we live in a world that is increasingly polarised and where people have lots of online, but few real, friends. These are symptoms of living in a world of outlines rather than colours. 

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If we are not continually seeking and learning and changing, we are not actually followers of Jesus, and we are certainly not seeking first the Kingdom of God.

If we are not continually seeking and learning and changing, we are not actually followers of Jesus, and we are certainly not seeking first the Kingdom of God.

Last week’s induction service was very encouraging, but now the real work starts…

It is Saturday morning and I am preparing for my first “normal” Sunday as the Senior Pastor of Citywide Baptist church.

As I was reflecting on what my first sermon should be about, I realised that it needed to come back to what has been the central question of my life since Leeanne and I were married: What does it mean to seek first the Kingdom of God?

Regular readers of Faith Reflections will know that Leeanne and I had Matthew 6:33 engraved on our wedding rings after deciding that we wanted that truth of that verse to be our point of orientation for the rest of our lives.

Only 11 months ago, as I was ordained in Canada, Leeanne gave me a plaque with the verse on it, kind of as a re-affirmation that we are still on the same journey we started in 1994. As I sit here on our bed tapping away on the keyboard, the plaque adorns the wall opposite our bed, as a daily reminder.

Eugene Peterson (the author of The Message and a bunch of other books I appreciate) believes that every preacher who has been at the task of preaching for a while, really has only one sermon. He believes that each Sunday they just find a different way of delivering the same message, because that message is the core story of their lives.

I think I understand what he means. The wrestle for faith, the wrestle to seek God’s will above my own, the wrestle to seek first the Kingdom of God, has been the defining question of my life. I started Faith Reflections as a way of expressing the wrestle, and every time I get up to preach I am basically covering the same ground.

My dream for Citywide Baptist church is that we would be a bunch of people on the journey to put Jesus first in every area of our lives, and because we are doing that, we are learning to love each other, love our neighbours and change the world.

This Sunday I will quote Jaques Ellul who wrote:

Christians were never meant to be normal. We’ve always been holy troublemakers, we’ve always been creators of uncertainty, agents of a dimension that’s incompatible with the status quo; we do not accept the world as it is, but we insist on the world becoming the way that God wants it to be. And the Kingdom of God is different from the patterns of this world.

That’s the kind of church I want to be part of.

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Don’t let the dark side of consumerism rob you of your life. Life is for living now.

Don’t let the dark side of consumerism rob you of your life. Life is for living now.

Article in todays St. Albert Gazette
St. Albert is a beautiful city, but as with most Western cities,  it is very easy to focus on the wrong thing.

Next week we are heading back to Australia after being here for four years. We have loved our time in St. Albert. This is a very special place and you are served by some remarkably dedicated and gifted leaders both in the church and in the broader community.

The Good Neighbour Project is remarkable (goodniehgbourproject.org) and I don’t think there is any doubt that St. Albert is the Block Party capital of the world. I doubt that any other city on the planet could point to over 50% of streets having participated through the course of a decade. It has been so encouraging to see the way the churches, community groups and the city have been able to partner in such a productive way.

As i prepare to leave however, I do want to issue you with a challenge.

If you haven’t already noticed, there is a culture in this city of a continual striving for better houses, holidays, experiences and toys, that never reaches a point of fulfillment.

Many of us have fallen for the lie of the St. Albert’s dominant consumer culture that we are going to buy our way to a life that brings satisfaction. We never will.

William T. Cavanaugh, in his book Being Consumed says:

“Our relationships with products tend to be short-lived: rather than hoarding treasured objects, consumers are characterized by a constant dissatisfaction with material goods. This dissatisfaction is wha produces the restless pursuit of satisfaction in the form of something new. Consumerism is not so much about having something else; that’s why its not simply buying but shopping that is at the heart of consumerism.”

Too many of us in St. Albert live our lives in a constant state of shopping, looking for the next thing and not having the space to appreciate what we already have. The tragedy of St. Albert is that we are living in a place and at a standard that 98% of the world can only dream about, but our dreams about what we don’t have stop us from enjoying the people around us and the very special place God has us in.

Jesus told his followers not to worry about tomorrow because it has enough worries of its own, and not to worry about stuff, but simply to be in the moment with Him (Matthew 6:33-34). I think that principle is why Jesus continually told his followers that they needed to become like little kids, who live their lives in the wonder of the present moment and trust that the future will look after itself.

In my opinion this is the greatest challenge facing the residents of St. Albert. We are so busy that we simply don’t have the emotional space to be present in the moment with God, others or even ourselves.

Don’t let the dark side of St. Albert’s culture of consumerism rob you of your life.

Can I suggest that you create the space to just hang out with your family and neighbours with no agenda? Go for a walk along our network of neighbourhood paths and take time to stop and enjoy your surroundings. Get to church on Sunday morning and rediscover the power of a life lived with something else rather than your own desires at the centre.

Life is for living now.

The moments when you decide your core vales are actually the biggest turning points of your life.

The moments when you decide your core vales are actually the biggest turning points of your life.

Sharing some of what I have learned on the journey last Sunday, with a photo of the day Leeanne and I were engaged

Every now and then life takes a major turning point. Something changes that means every other aspect of your life is affected.

From an external perspective, my family and I are in a moment like that right now.

In eight days time we will be boarding a Qantas flight to head back to Australia. I will begin my new job as Senior Pastor of Citywide Baptist church, Hobart, a week later.

On the surface it looks and feels like a very big thing. It feels like a life turning point. At a deeper level though, I think real life turning points look much less dramatic.

Last Sunday I gave my last sermon at St. Albert Alliance church. It was challenging to try to capture what the journey of the last four years had meant.

In my sermon I talked about three moments in my life that were  life changing.

The first was the point at which Leeanne and I agreed that we wanted our marriage to be about seeking first the Kingdom of God. I showed a picture of the day we got engaged, and as I did I, and everyone else, realized how young we were at the time.

The second was the time I stood atop Mt. Wellington and declared that I was willing to do whatever Jesus asked of me in order to reach Hobart.

The third was the time I agreed with God that I was wiling to do whatever he asked me to do, even if that was sweeping the aisles of a supermarket.

None of these moments would have looked as consequential to an outsider as what it means to move your family to a different country, but each of them were profoundly life shaping. Each one of them contributed to the fact that we found ourselves in Canada in 2012, and each one of them has affected our understanding that it is right to once again board a plane next week.

The moments when you decide your core vales are actually the biggest turning points of your life.

Perhaps like me, you can point to points in your early adulthood that shaped your core values. The work doesn’t finish there, though. The job of working out who you are and what matters to you is an ongoing one. New circumstances will raise new questions and often demand a new level of reflection on your values.

An example of that for me has been my changing understanding of the importance of the local church, and how it really is the cornerstone of Jesus’s plan for changing the world.

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The reason that things won’t change is that the real problem is buying into simplistic labels rather than goals.

The reason that things won’t change is that the real problem is buying into simplistic labels rather than goals.

Watching the news channels in North America is like watching a slow motion car crash… everyone can see disaster coming and yet no-one seems able to do anything about it.

I make a point of subscribing both to CNN and Fox News. Switching between channels is like teleporting between alternate universes.

One of the things that stands out sharply on both the news channels and on my twitter feed is that the terms “conservative” and “liberal” have become emotionally charged, particularly on Fox. Simplistic commentators divide the world into a continuum between what are seen as  two polarities.

What I find bewildering is that people identify with those labels and as they do they seem to automatically define themselves against those people who they define with the other label, seeing them very much as “the enemy.”

This week we saw the outcome of this constantly worsening divide as a gunman walked up to a baseball field and opened fire on Republican congressman after previously ensuring that they weren’t Democrats.

The result of the shooting was another round of emotional calls for a de-escalation of the vitriolic dialogue and another much publicized symbolic act (this time a moment of collective prayer on second base before the game started).

We saw the same kind of response after the shooting of congresswoman Gabbi Gifford and after 9/11. Those two precedents don’t fill me with much hope that another violent act will produce any long term cultural change.

I believe that the reason that things won’t change is that people are talking about the wrong thing. The real problem is buying into, and living out of simplistic labels.

We are getting our identities from the wrong place. When we act out roles shaped by the labels we find ourselves living in a world of stereotypes that bear very little resemblance to reality.

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I know that God has a plan for my life, however I also know that my understanding of that plan is extremely limited

I know that God has a plan for my life, however I also know that my understanding of that plan is extremely limited

This Photo was taken a couple of weeks after I started this website… our family has changed so much

In a little over a week I will be giving my last sermon at St. Albert Alliance church.

When I started Faith Reflections in 2010 I knew I wanted to find a way to reflect in an ongoing way on the journey of faith. I remember sitting in the living room of my house in Poatina writing my very first reflection.

At the time I was feeling as though I had endured quite enough change, and in many ways Faith Reflections was an attempt to find my bearings.  I was still reeling and trying to process all the events that had resulted in my Dad finishing as the leader of the mission movement I served with.

As I wrote, I found myself working with three friends, trying  to hold the organization together across the world. I remember feeling overwhelmed but confident that we were going to be able to navigate all the complexity.

I really thought I knew what my future would be. I had a clear sense of calling and thought I had a clear sense of direction. Little did I know what lay ahead.

I had no clue that things would get so complicated in the mission organization I was working with that it would be right for us to pull back.

I had no clue that I would write a book that would be launched in the U.K.

I had no clue that 18 months later we would be sitting on a plane heading to Canada as a family.

I had no clue that I would start and graduate from a Master in Theological Studies course.

And I really had no clue that I would start work as a Pastor in Canada. At no point had I ever considered the possibility of serving in a church.

It was with this all in the background that I first stood on the podium at St. Albert Alliance church in August 2013, looking out at  sea of faces, feeling a little daunted at the thought of getting to know so many people, and having a minor identity crisis every time someone called me. “Pastor Matt.”

I’m not sure what I would have done if I knew what was ahead of me when I wrote my first reflection in 2010. 

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Our Dogs build our Neighbourhoods.

Our Dogs build our Neighbourhoods.

Josh took this photo of Chica.
Article in yesterdays St. Albert Gazette.

Two weeks ago we said goodbye to our dumb little dog.

We are preparing to head back to Australia to live, and the quarantine regulations Down Under make it almost impossible to justify bringing her with us.

We inherited Chica from my daughter’s friend. A mixture of Chihuahua and Pomeranian, the little fur-ball had no idea how small she actually was.

A trip to the local dog park would often see her try to tackle a German Shepherd or St. Bernard. Fortunately the bigger dogs never really saw her as a threat, so didn’t respond to her rather comical aggression.

Chica quickly became part of the family. I don’t think I realized how much she was part of us until we said goodbye.

Twenty minutes after she had driven away with her new family, I looked out my living room window to see both my girls being hugged by our neighbours, fighting back tears as they shared the story of her departure. A few minutes later our neighbour Rhonda said to me, “Matt, the next time you write in the Gazette I want to see you mention dogs, because dogs build communities.”

Rhonda is right. Even dumb balls of fur that try to attack German Shepherds build community.

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A message to those who Kill us: Thank You, We Love You and We are Praying for you

A message to those who Kill us: Thank You, We Love You and We are Praying for you

As the world struggles to come to terms with another senseless bombing in Manchester, I thought I would post the remarkable words of Father Boules George, a Coptic priest, speaking on April 10 this year, the day after a bomb killed 49 worshippers in Alexandria.

I spoke on Sunday about the paradoxical heart of the Gospel, and the words of this man are the clearest example I have seen for a long time of what it means to be an agent of God’s love in the face of violence and brokenness. Fr. George demonstrates with remarkable clarity how the love of God defeats the power of violence and hate.

A MESSAGE TO THOSE WHO KILL US

Father Boules George

(St. Mark’s Church, Cairo…Monday night of Holy Week, April 10,2017…the day after a total 49 people were killed outside St Mark’s Church in Alexandria and inside St George’s Church in Tanta by suicide bombers on Palm Sunday. This is an English translation)

What will we say to them?

  1. THANK YOU

The first thing we will say is “Thank you very, very much,” and you won’t believe us when we say it.

You know why we thank you? I’ll tell you. You won’t get it, but please believe us.

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Everyone needs an Auntie Anne, someone you know is always in your corner and doesn’t give up when things get tough.

Everyone needs an Auntie Anne, someone you know is always in your corner and doesn’t give up when things get tough.

Three mold breakers… Jenny, John and Anne.

Over the past month I have written about three women who have inspired and influenced me: Wendy Thomas, my wife Leeanne and my mum. Today I need to complete the set by talking about another woman who has shaped my life and continues to inspire and challenge me: My Auntie Anne.

Like mum, Auntie Anne grew up on the North West Coast of Tasmania in a middle class family headed up by an entrepreneurial father (Pa) and a mother (Mema) who knew 95% of the people in Tasmania (maybe I’m exaggerating… it could have only been 90%). I think it was probably Pa (a.k.a. Gordon Nanscawen) who shaped an understanding in his three kids that normal is not prescriptive. I think he often watched on in pride mixed with a little fear as Anne, Jenny (mum) and John all broke out of the mold in their own ways.

Auntie Anne spent time working as an English/History teacher and the government employment office before following mum to Sydney and coming to work with Fusion in the early 1980’s.

Auntie Anne never married which meant that in many ways the Fusion family became her own family in a very special way. It wasn’t long before she became the movement’s national secretary and in a very beautiful way became the heart of the organization. When people were hurting, she was hurting, when people were winning, she was winning, and every new baby was a new niece or nephew to be celebrated. This is why literally hundreds of people still call her “Auntie Anne.”

In an organization that was very mission focussed, Auntie Anne would often be speaking up for those who she felt were being overlooked or facing challenges. If Auntie Anne was fighting for you, you knew that people would pay attention to whatever it was that needed attention. 

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There are two things I wish everyone could say about their Mother.

There are two things I wish everyone could say about their Mother.

It is Mothers Day on Sunday, which seems like a great excuse to write about what I’ve learned from the  woman who profoundly shaped the person I have become: my mum.

A lot changes in 40 years…

It is interesting to look at this photo, in which I guess I am about eight, Liz is around 6, Danni 4 and Nat is probably 2. Mum is in her mid thirties, about ten years younger than I am now.

As I look back on the photo I glimpse in a fresh way what it must have meant for a young Tasmanian woman who grew up in the midst of a large extended family, church networks and family businesses to move to Sydney in search of adventure, find a man who wanted to change the world and begin a life that was far removed from what she was used to.

Into that foreign world came four blond haired, blue eyed bundles of energy, of whom I was the first. Growing up right on the edge of Sydney, with a house that fronted onto the bush was an idyllic setting for childhood.

It is only now that I realise that mum must have felt alone a lot of the time because there was no public transport that reached Wideview Road, Berowra and Dad often was away, mostly with the car. I have fond memories of regularly walking the 1.5 kilometres to Berowra Village shops, with mum pushing a pram packed with at least two children. I remember getting sick of walking, something that mum must have felt fairly regularly.

A trained early childhood teacher, mum threw herself into fostering a love of of reading and of creativity in her kids. One of the best places in the house was the “useful box” under the kitchen bench which was full of all kinds of cardboard and plastic containers and other materials that could be used, with glue and sticky tape, to make anything. The understanding of the power of words and the assumption that there is always an opportunity to create something new became foundational for all four of us.

Being the eldest, I was often pushing the boundaries. I remember having an extremely strong feeling world and a drive to explore and understand. Apparently the most common question I would ask in my first 5 years was ‘Why?”

I almost laughed out loud as I just reviewed the photo again and saw for the first time that mum is  firmly grasping my right arm which, for some reason, is raised in salute. I imagine that mum often had the sense that she needed to keep a close watch on me. I know it wasn’t simple.

Life has changed a lot since the Berowra days, but through all of my 46 years on earth I have known two things about my mum that have been vitally important for me as her son.

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I don’t know where the next 23 years will take us but I do know who I will be sharing the adventure with… the bravest person I know.

I don’t know where the next 23 years will take us but I do know who I will be sharing the adventure with… the bravest person I know.

As we come up to Mothers day in just over a week, I’m going to take the opportunity over the next little while, to reflect on the ways that three women in particular have shaped my life

 

Ready for the next chapter of the adventure together

I find myself at another point of transition.  Transition isn’t easy. I wasn’t expecting my life to be so full of change when I left home as a 17 year old.

When I was 21 I met someone who would become my partner on this crazy journey, and she has been the person, by far,  who has had the biggest influence on my life.

We started our journey together with long talks about what we wanted our marriage to be about. As I look back I know that we didn’t have a clue what we were talking about.

We did agree on one thing though, we wanted Matthew 6:33 to define our relationship, and ultimately our family. While we haven’t always got it right, that verse, which we had engraved on our wedding rings, has continued to be our foundation.

Holding the plaque

Last year I was ordained (that’s what they call it when you are recognized by a Christian denomination as someone who is called to ministry in the church). Before coming to Canada the thought of working in a church had never entered my head, so that ceremony was a big deal for me, and for us.

The morning of the ordination ceremony Leeanne gave me a present that I wasn’t expecting. It was a big wooden plaque with our verse on it. It meant a lot. We held on to that plaque while the elders of the church along with Marty Woods from Fusion and David Williams from Taylor Seminary prayed for us.

22 years earlier Leeanne had walked up the aisle, thinking to herself “Ok God, I’m up for the adventure.”  There is no way we had any clue what trying to live from that verse would mean, and Leeanne certainly didn’t have any idea what she was signing up for.

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Jesus was Un-Albertan

Jesus was Un-Albertan

St. Albert Gazette Article published on Saturday
Sophie was never impressed when I tried to multi-task

In Alberta we like to achieve.

We pride ourselves on our ability to push though, to power ahead, to “get ‘er done.”

Most of us are busy, and even our time outside of work is full.  We take pride in just how much we can cram into 24 hours.

Deep down we all know that living life at this frantic pace is not healthy… which is why we devote so much time an energy to planning our vacations and retirement. We tell ourselves that once we “make it”, everything will be better.

I’m fascinated by how un-Albertan Jesus was.

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