I know that my life does have a purpose and that often in the times I am least able to find the words to describe my calling,  it is seen most clearly.

I know that my life does have a purpose and that often in the times I am least able to find the words to describe my calling,  it is seen most clearly.

Leeanne and I recently were atop Mt Wellington which was the place that really started my journey.

It has been a while since I wrote a Faith Reflection. It is not that I haven’t wanted to… I have just felt unable to find the words to explain to myself or anyone else what I have been experiencing.

I went through a similar, but longer, period of wordlessness after arriving in Canada. I was changing. My world had dramatically changed. And it was all happening in a way that was beyond my ability to describe.

I don’t feel like this is what should be happening for a leader. I feel like a leader should be operating from a plan that leads towards a clearly articulated goal.

Over the last 26 years, I have read dozens of business and Christian leadership books in an attempt to find my bearings.

All of them talk about the importance of a clearly articulated vision.

I know some people are able to do that… and I have tried. I have spent hours staring at blank pieces of paper or computer screens with half a sentence at the top.

Somehow I have never been able to find a form of words that truly captured my heart… even in the moments when I felt like I knew who I was and where I was going.

It is not that I don’t have a sense of direction. I do. It’s just that every time I try to express it comes out differently, and never in a way that feels complete.

It is only in the last few years that I am starting to accept my wordlessness as potentially not a bad thing.

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Apprentice Toolbox Episode 3: Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen

Apprentice Toolbox Episode 3: Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen

One book really started me on the journey of apprenticeship with Jesus at the age of 20 and continues to challenge me today. Let me tell you about it:

The Apprentice Toolbox episode 2: YouVersion

The Apprentice Toolbox episode 2: YouVersion

This is the second episode, and the second look at an app… but next week it will be a book… I promise…

The Apprentice Toolbox episode 1: Scripture Typer

The Apprentice Toolbox episode 1: Scripture Typer

I am starting a new series of videos that talk about a new tool each week for the journey of faith. I hope you find it useful. I’ve started with a very helpful app that enables even people with as bad a memory as I have to memorize bits of the bible.

#MeToo might make a difference but nothing will change unless our the way we manage our sexuality changes.

#MeToo might make a difference but nothing will change unless our the way we manage our sexuality changes.

Are things going to be different for my daughters?

It seems like something might actually be shifting in the relationship between men and women.

In a world where the moral compass has felt like it was spinning out of control, the hashtag #metoo has become a vehicle of protest that seems actually to be heard…

It is almost like each story of men using women as objects to gratify themselves hit a little bit harder and Harvey Weinstein was the tipping point where women around the world began to speak up.

I was fascinated to see CNN host Jake Tapper blurt out his shock at what he saw on social media.  With a stunned tone,  he told the latest victim of abuse he was interviewing that it felt like every woman he knew was sharing a #MeToo story.

Initially, commentators were saying it couldn’t last and nothing would change. Too often we have seen public outrage dissipate within a week no matter how outrageous the story seemed to be.This time, however, it seems that just as one story began to fade, another took its place. A single wave has seemingly turned into a tide… at least I hope it has.

I have two beautiful daughters who are getting ready to make their way in the world.  I hope and pray for their sakes that things actually are changing.

There is one major concern for me as I watch these stories unfold.  It seems that we are rewarding those who cover up and deny their historic actions and punish those who come clean.

Senator Al Franken and Louis CK both declared their own guilt and remorse in response to allegations. Both have been hammered by commentators and CK has already paid a stiff penalty in lost career opportunities.

An Alabama Senate Candidate and the current President responded quite differently. When presented with charges that seem significantly more serious than Franken and CK, both Roy Moore and Donald Trump have issued denials in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Louis C.K. had a movie cancelled. Donald Trump became President.

There is a real danger that men all around the world will be learning the wrong lesson. Rather than facing their own tendency to objectify women, men will be seeing that they can get away with horrible abuse as long as they are not honest.

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We actually need a reformation of Christianity so our institutions better reflect the intention that was always meant to define them

We actually need a reformation of Christianity so our institutions better reflect the intention that was always meant to define them

So much has happened for us as a family, and for me as an individual since we left Melbourne in 2010. This photo is almost surreal.

As I write I am sitting aboard the Spirit of Tasmania II after a whirlwind visit to Victoria to celebrate my daughter’s 22nd birthday.

We came across on Tuesday evening and spent much of Wednesday driving as we visited the Mornington Fusion centre where we had lived for five years before travelling up to Bendigo to be with Maddi.

Seeing my little girl now all grown up and returning to Victoria, where I led the Fusion team for five years put me in a reflective mode, particularly in light of what I have been thinking about as I prepare for Sunday.

There has been a lot written about the church and what it is, or what it isn’t and mostly people are responding to the institutions they have encountered.

One of the features of institutions is that they are built for permanence. They were initially established in response to an idea or vision someone had, and then they take on a life of their own, and sometimes the idea or vision can go missing but the institution trundles on.

In order to lead we need to take a look at the original visions or ideas that built our institutions. This is definitely true of the institutions of church.

It was fascinating and a little disturbing for me to uncover the original idea behind what many of us call church while I was in Canada. In the 1950’s Donald McGavran blended sociology and marketing principles with simple theology in a way that made sense to a lot of people. While very few people know his name, almost every modern church has been influenced by his “Church Growth” paradigm.

Bono sang, in the song “Cedars of Lebanon”:

Choose your enemies carefully ’cause they will define you
Make them interesting ’cause in some ways they will mind you
They’re not there in the beginning but when your story ends
Gonna last with you longer than your friend

While Donald McGavran is not exactly my enemy, the paradigm he proposed definitely is because it produced institutions shaped by quite a different vision than I understand what the church is meant to be focussing on.

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The politicians who failed to take action in America, actually made a choice to allow mass shooting events to happen.

The politicians who failed to take action in America, actually made a choice to allow mass shooting events to happen.

We had only been in Canada a matter of weeks when a deranged gunman massacred innocent children at Sandy Hook elementary school.

Our family stayed transfixed and bewildered by what we were seeing. We were sure that now, finally, Americans would take action on gun control.  We were wrong.

As an Australian, and particularly a Tasmanian, the repeated suggestion that introducing tighter gun control would have no impact on tragedies like this seems wilfully, and perhaps culpably ignorant.

We had a sickening tragedy here. Our then Prime Minister bravely stood in the face of opposition and changed the law.

I distinctly remember his decision to stand in front of an angry crowd to answer for his decision with the outline of a bullet proof vest filling out his jacket in a way that signaled the risk he believed he was taking.  There were lots of things I disagreed with John Howard about, but I will be forever grateful that in a moment of tragedy he demonstrated what leadership looks like.

The reason an American leader hasn’t taken the same path (although clearly Obama wanted to), is that the United States is slightly less aware of a fact that most of us forget most of the time: we are shaped by our environments much more than any of us want to acknowledge.

Guns don’t kill people, politicians who don’t lead kill people.

We want to believe that success or failure, winning or losing, good or evil behaviour is always a product of our free choice. It’s not. And the fact it’s not is a huge problem for a country that prizes free choice above everything.

It is the prizing of free choice that produces the unique kind of politics we see in the States . It is also this prizing of free choice that produces the gun culture in the U.S.A.  There is nothing that says “I’m free” more than my ability to kill anyone who wants to compel me to do something I don’t want to do. In America guns equal freedom. That freedom though, is an illusion.

As I pointed out in a previous reflection, one of the biggest risk factors for death by shooting is gun ownership. The tools that are meant to bring freedom, bring the opposite. Why is that? Our lives are profoundly shaped by our environments.

We all need to understand that nations are much more than a collection of individuals, and their choices. Nations are complex systems that are shaped both intentionally and unintentionally by the conscious and unconscious agreements their constituents make about how they live together. The same is true for families, churches and organisations. Those agreements then, in turn, shape the constituents.

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Don’t give up, but step up, into the wrestle for the future of the church

Don’t give up, but step up, into the wrestle for the future of the church

Today I shared some interesting findings about people who have left the church. The response I received indicates that the findings are right on the money.

Josh Packard’s book Church refugees focussed on the significant number of people who are done with church, but not done with Jesus.  Some of the key findings from the book were that:

  • “The Dones” say they left because of the judgmental posture of church people individually and collectively which assaulted the communal experience they longed for.

  •  “The Dones” say they left because they are tired of trying to serve Jesus through the bureaucratic methods of church organizations which stifled progress and often gave little attention to what they cared for most. Many wished to build the Kingdom but were only offered opportunities to build someone’s church empire.

  • “The Dones” say they left because they want to answer questions about God through dialogue and struggle, not though prepackaged lectures and the predetermined positions of their community.

  • And “the Dones” say they left because their church only understood “morality” in terms of substance abuse and sexual activity with a common disregard to systemic issues of equality, poverty and unjust economics

I am increasingly convinced that we are reaching a tipping point.

The majority of followers of Jesus I talk to inside the church are just as concerned with the kinds of things that those who Packard calls “the Dones” name as their big questions.

What we call “church” has been shaped by all kinds of cultural influences. I don’t know many people who disagree with Priscilla Shirer:

“In the first century in Palestine, Christianity was a community of believers. Then Christianity moved to Greece and became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome and became an institution. Then it moved to Europe and became a culture. And then it moved to America and became a business. We need to get back to being a healthy, vibrant community of true followers of Jesus.”

What we call church has been shaped by all kinds of influences… Dare we question our assumptions?

I don’t think it is just me, I truly do think that the majority of church leaders are conscious of the gap between where their church is and what they long for. It’s just that there are not many viable models of church done differently.

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These five practises that make Church harder are a good thing.

These five practises that make Church harder are a good thing.

We live in a culture where commitment is not normal. This is not news. The decline in commitment has been well documented.  Social researcher, Hugh Mackay, says that this current generation is…

“growing up in a world of ever-expanding choices, they have made a virtue of keeping their options open, and they have adopted “what else is there?” as their general catchcry. It’s a question that comes up whether the topic is a course of study, a job, a sexual partner, a musical genre, an outing, a set of religious or political beliefs, a fashion label, a food fad or a make of car.”

It is interesting that Mackay added religious beliefs to the list of things that people don’t want to commit to. One way we could respond to this trend would be to make it as easy as possible for people to say they are part of our churches.

There are five practises at my church, and many churches, that run directly counter to this temptation. Each one of these practises  demand a level of commitment that is increasingly counter-cultural.

The five practises are baptism, child dedication, communion, giving money and church membership. Other churches do some of these differently, but all churches have practises that demand commitment.

As a Pastor I often feel the temptation to make it easer for my people, but the more I am honest both about what the bible says and what my experience is, I know that reducing committment is not a path that ultimately makes life better.

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We need to rediscover the self-giving generosity that actually is love, and stop settling for cheap imitations.

We need to rediscover the self-giving generosity that actually is love, and stop settling for cheap imitations.

We received our postal ballot in the mail today.

For those overseas who might not be aware, Australians are being invited to express their opinion on the legalisation of same-sex marriage. While it is not really a referendum, the Government have declared that they will base their policy on the result of what is, in fact, a giant opinion poll.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the whole question and what it means to be a follower of Jesus in this moment in our countries history. More people have read that reflection than anything else I have written in the last seven years, which gives an idea how hot the topic is in Australia right now.

I’m not so much going to talk about Same-Sex marriage in this reflection, but rather the catchcry of the same-sex marriage campaign, which seems to have boiled down to “Love is Love.” This little slogan seems to be appearing everywhere. Even the power-poles near my house have been plastered with rainbow coloured posters that proudly proclaim it.

The implicit logic of the statement is that if heterosexual relationships are founded on “love” and can lead to marriage, why shouldn’t homosexual relationships which are founded on the same thing also lead to marriage?

For those of us who have grown up in the Western World, the logic seems very sound. The idea that a relationship should be based on being “in love” seems so obvious that it almost goes without question.

When most of us talk about feeling in love, or falling out of love, what we mean by “love” is  intimately connected to our feeling worlds.

I enjoyed chatting to my friend Raj, who has been in Australia for four years and was discussing the difference between what he called “love marriages” and “arranged marriages.” Where he comes from, most marriages are arranged by families and are not based on the attraction we call “love” at all. A challenging fact is that arranged marriages are exponentially less likelly to end in divorce than “love” ones.

Could it be that what we call “love”, isn’t actually a good foundation for a lifelong commitment?

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Steve Jobs may have had a bigger impact on the spiritual formation of a generation than any other person in the last 50 years.

Steve Jobs may have had a bigger impact on the spiritual formation of a generation than any other person in the last 50 years.

The Smartphone Generation are growing up in a new normal

As we see the impact of the i-devices on our society I am starting to wonder whether Steve Jobs may have had a bigger impact on the spiritual formation of a generation than any other person in the last 50 years.

I used to joke that Jobs was the Anti-Christ, an image he did little to dispel by pricing the Apple 1 at $666.66 and shaping an apple logo with a bite out of it. Of course, I was never serious.

I fondly remember the day I saw the unveiling of the iPhone, and then the iPad. I was fascinated and excited by this new and seemingly magical technology.

While I am not really an “early adopter,” I do like to get in on new technology fairly quickly and it wasn’t too long before I had the first generation iPad and eventually traded my beloved Blackberry for an iPhone. At the same time, my kids started to get their own i-devices. First, it was little iPods, then touchscreen iPods and now, somehow, each of my kids actually has both an iPhone and an iPad.

I started to realise just how dependent I had become on my phone a few months ago when I was shopping with Leeanne in a large Canadian chemist. I don’t like shopping much, and I didn’t have my phone. I felt lost. I was surprised at how strong the frustration I felt was. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

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This is an important moment for the church to have a long hard look at itself and how it relates to same sex attracted people.

This is an important moment for the church to have a long hard look at itself and how it relates to same sex attracted people.

Up till now, I have been avoiding writing directly about the current same sex marriage and homophobia.

One glimpse at Facebook will tell you that this is an issue that divides friends and even divides families.

The reason this issue is so intense, is that on both sides people feel as though they are fighting a battle that goes to the very heart of their beliefs about themselves and the world.

For many Gay and Lesbian people, the question of whether they are able to marry seems like the final battle in the war to be accepted as full members of the society.

Things have come a long way in a short period of time. It is only 20 years ago that homosexuality was decriminalised in Tasmania. It is important for the whole community to acknowledge that same-sex attracted people have been treated in ways that have been blatantly dehumanizing.

We have heard a lot about “homophobia” in this debate. The word means “dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people.” While the term has been inappropriately extended to anyone who might want to vote “no” in the postal plebiscite, we need to acknowledge that there has been real homophobia in the Australian society and also in the Christian church.

For Christians particularly, who proclaim a gospel of love and grace, there simply is no excuse for dislike or prejudice against any category of people.

It is true though that questioning the nature of marriage goes to the heart of how Christians interpret the bible and understand their role in society.

The question of the Bible’s guidance for Christians who want to take their faith seriously is not a small thing, particularly for those of us who see the Bible as something more than a collection of historical manuscripts.

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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.

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

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 scepticism.

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 2017 Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast which 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.

Stephen 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 politician 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. Things feel very polarised both globally and nationally.

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.

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 mean 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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