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#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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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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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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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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is the church the moral compass for the world? I hope not.

is the church the moral compass for the world? I hope not.

Last week I wrote about pornography and received a lot of feedback, some of which focussed the question of whether the church should be trying to be a moral compass.

In a world where we see different wings of the Christian church lining up against each other on  almost every issue you can name, it is an obvious question.

That question though, leads to another… what is “the church”?

I think what most people mean by “the church” is the organizational structures that are represented by personalities we see on the television or at events in out local communities. When we get most frustrated with the church, my guess is, it is that structure we are getting frustrated with… and often with good reason because the people we see representing that structure often seem to be out of touch with the reality that most of us experience on a day to day basis.

Would you trust someone who doesn’t seem to understand the reality of your life to be a moral compass?

This weekend I am preaching from the last couple of chapters of a pretty confronting book of the bible called Galatians. The author, Paul, was writing out of deep frustration because the little bunch of Jesus followers had started to focus on rules and regulations, and on systems and structures, rather than on the heart what he tried to teach them which was to live their life only in and through faith in Jesus. In fact he says “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.” (Galatians 4:6)

My guess is that part of the reason people have pushed back against the organized expression of the church is that they have hit the kind of things Paul was hitting with that little church. Rather than experiencing a radical kind of faith expressed in real love, they experience systems and structures, rules and regulations.

One of the regulations that the religious people were trying to put in place was that followers of Jesus should have a painful operation where they cut off the foreskin of the penis off (called circumcision).  Out of complete exasperation he finishes his tirade by saying “I wish they would go the whole way and cut the whole lot off….” (Galatians 5:12) Who says there isn’t humour in the bible?

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9 things you need to know about Jesus’ vision for the church. Hybels and Eldredge got it wrong. Bono got it right.

9 things you need to know about Jesus’ vision for the church. Hybels and Eldredge got it wrong. Bono got it right.

Bono and Bill
Bono and Bill

Mega church pastor Bill Hybels claims that:

“The hope of the world is not government, academia, business, but the church because it is to the church that God has entrusted the message of salvation, which truly changes people’s lives and hearts.”

Bill believes the most important thing about the church is our message.

Bill is wrong.

The message is important… but it is not the most important thing about the church, or the most important gift the church has for the world.

Bill is not alone though… Most of us have an inadequate picture of the profound nature of what the church is meant to be. I certainly did.

For 20 years I led a mission organisation, and not having a clear and strong understanding of the purpose of the church was a problem, because I often found more hope and life in the fellowship and faith I found in Fusion than in my local church.

I am very grateful to the different churches that have supported Leeanne and I on our journey

I am not saying that my experience of church has been all negative. As my faith became my own,  a series of local churches were foundational in my own life. I would not be the same person had it not been for the Broken Hill Church of Christ, Gormandale Gospel Chapel, Lindisfarne Gospel chapel, Margate Christian Church,  New Peninsula Baptist church,  Poatina community church, Calvary church , who all cared for my family and I in profound ways.

Although each of these churches has been important in my own journey, I need to confess that I had very limited understanding of why the church is  important.

It has only been since I have been reading, studying and working as a Pastor at St. Albert Alliance church that I can see the gap between what the church is meant to be and the picture most of us have.

For 60 years we have thought that the job of the church was to communicate a message. The job of the church is so much bigger and more exciting than that.

To catch a glimpse of why the church is important, we need to turn to the Bible and let ourselves hear the multi-faceted and profound picture it paints.

There are 9 things in particular that I think anyone who goes to church needs to know about the vision and mission that they are part of.

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A healthy church doesn’t fit into business as usual… it sets an agenda that changes every aspect of life.

A healthy church doesn’t fit into business as usual… it sets an agenda that changes every aspect of life.

Introducing Erion at Taylor Seminary
Introducing Erion at Taylor Seminary

I like to read. I’ve read lots of books about church history and moments when it seemed like God was working in a special way. It often seems that these moments all happened long ago. This week I was reminded that is not always the case.

This past week I had the opportunity to reconnect with my friend Erion for the first time since we spoke together at Palm Beach Atlantic university.

Erion is one of my heroes. Together with his wife Melodie and his two partners in leadership, Lorena and Lucy, Erion has been at the forefront of what can only be described as a remarkable movement of young people in Albania.

According to the 2011 census, Albania has a population of 0.14% Christians who are not Catholic or Orthodox. Erion believes that in total there might be 30 healthy protestant churches in the whole country. By far the majority (over 56%) religion is Islam.

As I sat down with Erion this week, I was challenged by the reality he was describing.

In this country where by far the majority of people have no Christian history, God is at work in a way that sounds a lot like the early church.  A movement that has primarily started amongst young people is seeing hundreds of people come to faith and impacting whole cities and towns.

Erion estimates that over 500 young people have come to faith over the last 8 years, and most of them have become members of a team who are serving their city in lots of different ways. Each summer they run numbers of camps and day trips for local young people. They spend hours cleaning streets. They put on highly professional musicals that tour the country. They run festivals that build bridges in highly divided communities.  Over the last 12 months 100 of them have been taking turns to travel the 2 1/2 hours to the massive refugee camp on the Greek/Macedonian border and simply serving there. They do so much more than turn up at a church on a Sunday morning.

Since I last met with him, Erion had left his hometown because the size and competence of the team had grown to a point where life was just too easy. He wanted to plant a church in a neighbouring town where the team had been running festivals and day trips for a few years. His church started 12 months ago with four young men. Now that church averages between 90 and 120 people each Sunday.

Leeanne and I sat down with Erion for a couple of hours on Monday night. Catching up with him this time was different, because I am now a pastor and I am continually wrestling with how to build a church that is healthy and growing.

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The six sick practises we have developed to avoid conflict, which eat away at the church like cancer.

The six sick practises we have developed to avoid conflict, which eat away at the church like cancer.

Yesterday I sat in a room with a bunch of pastors as we tried to work out what it meant to genuinely be in fellowship. For a number of years we had met and been warm and polite, but yesterday something shifted, just a little bit, and we were starting to be more real than we had ever been.

Later in the afternoon I sat with another pastor as we reflected on the Christian church, and together we agreed that one of the biggest challenges we faces is that we are generally isolated as individuals. We agreed  that this was largely because we avoid the potential for the pain that conflict might bring.

I am increasingly convinced that the big challenge facing the church is not theological so much as relational.

Jesus said that the relationships between the members of his church would be so different to the norm, that people would believe just on the basis of what they were seeing:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
(John 13:35 NIV)

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
(John 17:20-21 NIV)

The corporate life of the Christian church was to be the main argument for the truth of the gospel.

Our problem is that we don’t know how to cope with difference and still be one. We don’t know how to allow room for individuality because we don’t know how to have the right kinds of conflict.

I believe there are six sick practises we have developed specifically to avoid conflict, that are like cancers eating away at the very life that is meant to sustain us.

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You think you make your own decisions, but actually that is very rarely true.

You think you make your own decisions, but actually that is very rarely true.

Last week I posted a reflection that came from my wrestle with what I was seeing ISIS doing. Last weeks posting was one of the most read ones since I started Faith Reflections in 2010, so I guess that I’m not the only one who has been disoriented by the constant wave of violence we are seeing played out around the world.

This disorientation is similar to what people felt after the second world war as the nature of the atrocities committed by Germany started to come to light. One Psychologist, Stanley Milgram, established an experiment to discover what kinds of people would commit those kind of horrific acts against others.

Basically the experiment asked ordinary people to make choices to give a person increasing levels of electric shock, up to a point where they believed they were killing the person. The shocks were given whenever the person answered a question wrongly, and were given under the direction of somebody who told the subject what to do. You can read more about it and actually watch videos of the experiment here.

Milligram asked a sample group of social psychologist to predict the results of the study. They believed that only about 1.2 percent of the population were capable of such a horrible act. Turns out they were wrong. 65% of ordinary people were willing to torture and kill another person simply because someone who looked like an authority figure told them to do so.

After the second World War, it was normal to want to think that German soldiers were somehow inhuman, and that something like the concentration camps could never happen in our more civilized societies. It is not surprising that Milgram’s research was heavily criticized for a number of years because none of us want to countenance the possibility that we might act in such a way.

The disturbing truth is that a good number of us would.

What happened in Germany and what is happening with ISIS is not the result of abnormal genetics, it is the result of a basic human tendency to place more trust in people we see as authorities than in our own moral compasses.

Migram said:

“I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ [participants’] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ [participants’] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.”

So how can we make sense of this?

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To walk alone is possible, but the good walker knows that the trip is life and it requires companions.

To walk alone is possible, but the good walker knows that the trip is life and it requires companions.

I’ve been a pastor for a couple of weeks, and I’m slowly getting used to the idea. One of the things I am appreciating about our church is the way in which we are committed to wrestling with what God is saying to us. Part of that is a current commitment to explore a range of bible passages to see what they might be saying to us as a church.

This week we were looking at Acts 2, and as I engaged with the chapter something hit me.MActs 2 chronicles the establishment of the Christian church, and as it does one thing is obvious: the church is a fellowship.

From the start, the church was birthed when the disciples “were all together in one place.” (Acts 2:1) and the first act, inspired by the Spirit, was that peoples national differences were respected as each person heard the gospel in their own language. This was despite the fact that by far the majority in Jerusalem would have spoken Latin or Greek or both: God chose to respect difference.

When Peter got up to speak, the bible says “Peter stood up with the Eleven”. I was talking to a denominational leader in Australia who thinks the way this is phrased is quite important. We are used to leaders who lead from the front, visionaries who drag others along in their wake. This was a different kind of leadership, a kind of first among equals. Leadership happened in the context of fellowship.

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Discipleship is about continually disciplining yourself to let someone else have the steering wheel.

Discipleship is about continually disciplining yourself to let someone else have the steering wheel.

Orford is a special place for our family. It seems as though each time we come here we can unwind an relax in a way that only happens here. At the same time, I find myself reflecting here in a way that I don’t seem to manage to do when I’m home or elsewhere.

Since being here, I have been doing a series of reflections on what I have been learning in this phase of my life. Last night and this morning, I was reminded of another theme.

I have been enjoying reading N.T. Wright’s new book How God became King, and have been reminded that one of my major wrestles in the last 12 months has been the tension between organisation and faith.

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Talking ’bout a reformation

Talking ’bout a reformation

One of the things that I have enjoyed about doing the Arrow Leadership program are the number of ideas that bubble around in the back of my head in the weeks and months following one of the week long residential conferences.

Last week Senior Pastor from Barrabool Hills Baptist church, Graham Clarke, made the assertion, that we are on the edge of a second reformation.

This kind of talk is not new. In the late nineties a German church-growth researcher, Christian Schwarz, put forward the idea that we are in the era of a third reformation. He asserted that the first reformation took place in the 16th century when Martin Luther fought for the rediscovery of salvation by faith, the centrality of grace and of Scripture. He said the second reformation was around the 18th century when personal intimacy with God was rediscovered. In his view the third reformation is a reformation of structure, or how we actually do church.

I believe Schwarz got it wrong.

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One beautiful, colorful, challenging and confronting picture…..

One beautiful, colorful, challenging and confronting picture…..

I’m sitting in the Virgin Australia lounge at Melbourne airport watching planes come in and out and waiting for my turn to board one of them.

I have seen again today how important it is to step out of your normal world and engage with others.

Missiologist Ralph Winter identified two structures within the body of Christ, the mission group and the local church. Mission groups come in all shapes and sizes. In many ways a mums group is a mission group, and so is a business breakfast and so is an artists colony and so is an organisation like Fusion.

Most of us find our way into a mission group of some sort or other and the fellowship in them is great, and so is the sense that we are doing something important. They have a drawback though: people think like us.

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