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 ( 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.


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?


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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There is no question that women have not been seen or valued by the church in the way that Jesus saw or valued them. #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear

There is no question that women have not been seen or valued by the church in the way that Jesus saw or valued them. #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear

Wendy Thomas is one of my heroes

Often in brain-dead moments I will scan my Facebook or Twitter news feed. This morning I came across a post from Michael Frost which linked to the twitter hashtag #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear, and intrigued, I clicked on the tag.

If you are not on social media you can look at this blog by Rachel Elizabeth Asproth  where 55 of the top tweets are collated. It is an interesting list, mostly of direct quotes that women report being said to them in the context of church.

Apart from the odd one (and some were very odd), the overall sentiments could be summarized as:

  • Women shouldn’t teach men (either because the Bible says so or because they are too emotional).
  • Women shouldn’t be in leadership
  • Women are responsible for the sexual behaviour of men
  • A Women’s identity should be defined by marriage and children

There is something confronting about hearing these messages put into verbatim quotes by real people. While I understand the theological position that some of these views come from,  as I hear the actual words I can only imagine how painful they would be to hear.

I work on a pastoral team with some remarkable women. One person in particular has been a mentor for me and has been a pioneer in the denomination I have been working with.

Wendy felt God calling her to pastoral ministry long before women could be pastors in my denomination, in fact its only been in the last decade where she has finally been recognized as a Pastor, and only a couple of years ago that she was officially ordained. Despite this Wendy has faithfully served the function of pastor both in local churches and also at the denominational bible school.

Wendy turns 60 this weekend and is getting ready to retire. She has spent her whole life in a system that didn’t have a way to officially recognise the obvious call of God on her life until her last few years of ministry. She doesn’t make a big deal about it, but it is obvious that it has not been a simple journey. In a culture where women were meant to be married with children, Wendy was single and exercising leadership in churches that didn’t know how to recognise what she was doing.

Wendy will tell you about the men along the way that encouraged her and made space for her, but she will also (if you ask enough of the right kinds of questions), give a little glimpse into the pain of trying to follow God’s call on her life in a world that didn’t really understand or appreciate what it meant for her.

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Good Friday is a reminder of a completely different approach to life… a life that actually produces life by being willing to die…

Good Friday is a reminder of a completely different approach to life… a life that actually produces life by being willing to die…

It’s Good Friday.

Today we celebrate the execution of a young Jewish man who made some startling claims.

Very few serious historians doubt the historicity of the death of Christ by crucifixion, and one of the peculiar things about this moment in history is that his followers came to claim that his execution was actually a victory, not only so but they also claimed that one of the most common things this young Jewish man said was that his followers were to follow his example and be ready to suffer in the same way he had.

The gospels record the 33 year old carpenter as saying we must take up our own crosses in Matthew 10:38, 16:24, Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23 and 14:27.

Not only had Jesus suffered horribly, he told his disciples that to follow him meant also being willing to suffer.

No-one wants to suffer, and yet Jesus claimed that suffering was actually the path to life. It is hard to imagine a more counter-cultural message.

N.T. Wright, in his latest book The Day the Revolution Began (which I wrote about here) said:

The victory was indeed won, the revolution was indeed launched, through the suffering of Jesus; it is now implemented, put into effective operation, by the suffering of his people.

This is the strange secret of the Christian faith that I (unsurprisingly) don’t hear lots of people talking about. Yet whenever the Christian church has been at its revolutionary best, it has been full of people who were willing to sacrifice their lives in the cause of love.

This kind of behaviour isn’t normal.

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The Awkward Truth about Churches in North America: lots of bonding, not so much bridging.

The Awkward Truth about Churches in North America: lots of bonding, not so much bridging.

Article published in today’s St. Albert Gazette 

As you have no doubt heard and also experienced for yourself, relationships matter. In fact the University of Minnesota published data to demonstrate that having a number of strong relationships significantly increase health, decrease crime and corruption and increase generosity and reciprocity.

Relationships are so beneficial that to almost every area of life that they are a real form of capital, in the economic sense of the word. The term “social capital” has been used for at least two decades to describe the number and strength of relationships people have.

As you would probably expect, going to church produces social capital. One study found that those who attend church on a weekly basis have 25% larger networks of relationship than those who rarely or never attend church. Those who go to church also trust about 20% more people than those who never go to church.

Robert Putnam was the social researcher who coined the term “social capital”, and he believes it takes at least two forms. The first, Bonding Social Capital, refers to the strength of your relationships and how likely people are to sacrifice themselves for you. The second, Bridging Social Capital, refers to the number of different kinds of relationships you have and the ease with which you make new connections.

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I might not love everything that Mike Pence stands for, but I’m impressed at his self awareness and choice to recognize his own limitations.

I might not love everything that Mike Pence stands for, but I’m impressed at his self awareness and choice to recognize his own limitations.

Vice President Mike Pence has been causing a stir with his strategy to maintain his committment to his wife.
Apparently Vice President Mike Pence has a policy to never eat alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her either.

Pence’s policy is very similar to one adopted by Billy Graham at the start of his ministry (which came to be known as the Billy Graham rule). The revelation of Pence’s strategy in a Washington Post story last week has caused quite a stir. The Post article was simply re-stating something that was printed 15 years ago however publications like Fortune and Newsday have slammed Pence, and, as the Atlantic pointed out some celebrities have responded very strongly.

What’s the big deal you might ask?

From time to time I listen to an Australian radio program called “The Minefield” in which two guys (usually with a guest) try to tackle some of the most complex moral issues. Waleed Aly is a Moslem and Scott Stephens obviously has some kind of Christian heritage, but they try to tackle the issues from a secular/philosophical framework.  This week they were talking about Mike Pence’s policy.

Something Waleed Aly said got me thinking. He suggested that Mike Pence’s strategy to manage risk in the area of his sexuality is so offensive because it challenges the myth that “sexual desire and even sexual behaviour is something that is entirely at the mercy of our own self control.”

Aly points out that we all know that “sex sells” and works at a level that is “pre-logical,” yet as a culture we have a deep economic interest in objectifying people and the belief that there is no moral effect in this approach to sexuality.  He suggested;

I wonder if what Pence is doing is articulating, just kind of, a radically different view of these things that doesn’t fit with the conceit of late capitalism and we don’t like it very much so we strike out against it in these kind of virulent ways.

I was fascinated by the dialogue and the insight into one of the big lies that seems to go unchallenged in our society…

What Mike Pence did in putting in a structure to avoid the possibility of temptation was actually an acknowledgement of the fact that all of us can be put in situations where we don’t make the choices we would ordinarily want to make.

The myth of self control is that a person is able to make fully rational choices at all times. We can’t, and we don’t. 

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My role in my kids lives is changing, and that’s not easy, but it is ok.

My role in my kids lives is changing, and that’s not easy, but it is ok.

Josh with my Dad, Mal, and Leeanne’s parents Robert and Martry

My son Josh will be waking up in Australia for the first time in four and a half years.

That is now two of my children living more than thirteen thousand kilometres away.

That reality certainly has had me reflecting.

I am realizing that there are two distinct phases of being a parent.

In the first phase you are completely responsible for the teaching, care and nurture of your child.

In the second phase your only responsibility is as a cheer squad, willing them to win the race of life that lies ahead of them. The problem is that there isn’t really a line you cross to say you have moved from one phase to another… its a day by day transition that happens so gradually that you don’t really notice.

As Josh waved goodbye and walked into airport security I remembered my own experience of waving goodbye to my family as I stepped onto a coach that would take me to the Australian outback town of Broken Hill.

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