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I am glimpsing both the kind of family and kind of church I want to be part of

I am glimpsing both the kind of family and kind of church I want to be part of

Dinner on our first night
Dinner on our first night

I loved the week I spent with my two eldest children, driving 2,500 km from Edmonton to Vancouver and back in 5 days. My daughter Maddi needed to renew her passport, which must be done in person and at the consulate.

24 hours in a car gives a lot of time for incidental conversation. It also gives a lot of time to listen to music any anything else we happened to have on our phones. I felt old.

We caught up with friends in Vancouver. Sam and Danni both worked with Fusion in Australia and are closer in age to Josh and Maddi than me. It was helpful for me to see the way that Sam and Josh chatted about the podcasts they listened to.

Maddi and I listened to a couple of Josh’s podcasts on the way home and it dawned on me that there is a whole other digital world that is largely invisible to me.

The podcasts were basically groups of people seemingly talking about nothing for a couple of hours at a time, and yet enjoying audiences of millions of people. It is a whole new form of media that doesn’t really make sense to me.

It struck me that groups like Rooster Teeth and people like Pewdiepie are the Beatles and Elvis Presley of this generation… and most of us have never heard of them.

If I am to be honest I have thought that these people were simply a distraction that Josh would grow out of, and maybe they are, but they are part of his world at the moment and to know him I need to know the things that shape him.

In my last reflection I wrote about creating a culture of honour in my family. It’s an idea that has continued to frame my thinking. As one of my readers commented last week, creating a culture of honour is not only the key to a healthy family, it is the key to any healthy group. It is also much easier said than done.

The phrase “a culture of honour” was coined by Danny Silk, one of the pastors from Bethel church. His book “Creating a culture of Honour” has challenged me and provided a vision of the difference between how people normally relate to each other and how a group of people shaped by the truth of the gospel would relate to each other. His book has given me a vision both for my family and also for what the church should be.

The fundamental difference between a culture of honour and what is normal is that in a culture of honour people are trusted and people are different.

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We need to learn to live from grace, despite the dots.

We need to learn to live from grace, despite the dots.

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The Mullet, the Goatee, The flannel shirt and the coke t-shirt. Those were the days….

Leeanne and I spent last Saturday at a Marriage seminar.

A year and a half ago we watched a video series called “Marriage on the Rock”, which we found extremely helpful (despite the fact that the guy looked like a used-car salesman). But Saturday was the first specific input on marriage we have received from anyone in real life since we did our pre-marriage counselling.

Back then we felt extremely confident about just how uniquely qualified for the business of marriage we were.

I remember clearly going for a walk with my bride-to-be and having a very serious conversation about how long we should wait before we started dispensing all of our wisdom about relationships on other people.

Suffice to say we are still waiting.

While the conference was helpful, it was actually a simple illustration that Dr. Dave Currie gave as the guest speaker at our church service the next morning that has stayed with me all week and had me reflecting even further on what it means to love my wife and parent teenagers.

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A confronting Punk Rocker challenges me to trust and ask for help

A confronting Punk Rocker challenges me to trust and ask for help

I have been wrestling with what it means to not have a predictable wage lately. A big part of me would like not to have to rely on the generosity of others to support the ministry that I believe God has called me to. In our capitalist society, living without a wage doesn’t make sense and means that I, and my family, are continually in a place of vulnerability.

In my quiet time this morning, I was struck by Jesus’s command to his disciples as he sent them out for their training run in Matthew chapter 10 verses 8-13

“The message was free when you got it; make sure it’s free when you give it. Don’t take any gold or silver or copper in your belts; not bag for the road, no second cloak, no sandals, no stick. Workers deserve their pay. When you go into a town or village, make careful enquiry for someone who is good and trustworthy, and trustworthy, and stay there until you leave. When you go into the house give a solemn greeting. If the house is trustworthy, let your blessing of peace rest upon it, but if not, let it return to you” (N.T. Wright’s translation)

The Message puts it this way:

“Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light. “When you enter a town or village, don’t insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people, and be content there until you leave. “When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”

It is clear that Jesus was inviting people to trust themselves to the hospitality of the people they met. Jesus’s followers were not to be distant from the people they stayed with, they were to be deeply engaged with them. They were to share life with them, and share their food. They were to put themselves in a place of vulnerability, where, if the people didn’t feed them, they would not get fed.

In his translation Wright focusses the issue of trust, pointing out the defining characteristic that people were to look for in those they stayed with was that they were trust-worthy.

I think I have wanted to spiritualise the way I live, saying that I am trusting God to provide my needs, but the truth is that the way God does that is through people. Living without a wage in the way that I have been is living in the hope that others will value enough what we are doing that they will house us, feed us and clothe us. It is certainly not a “safe” way to live, and as Jesus makes clear, there are times when you are not seen and cared for, but it is a way of living that means you are continually wrestling with, and learning about, trust.

My friend Andy sent me a link to this TED video (below) by a Cabaret Punk music star. I must warn you that she is most certainly not a “Christian” artist, and a couple of moments in the video are confronting, and a little awkward, but I think this morning I learned something from Amanda Palmer.

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Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

20130104-183942.jpg We went to see Les Miserables today.

I thought I was doing well in managing my emotions until Jean Val Jean died in the arms of his daughter, and then the final lyrics hit me:

Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
there is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
and the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom
in the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the ploughshare;
they will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
and all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
when tomorrow comes!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
when tomorrow comes…
Tomorrow comes!

There is something about the moment of letting go of life and taking hold of a dream that got me when I first saw the stage version, and got to me again as I sat in a darkened theatre with my family.

The storyline is rich and profound with the theme of grace running throughout, but for the first time I heard the lyrics of the song, “look down” and realised how the theme of the struggle for the humanisation of the underclass is such and important part of the musical.

I loved the moment when young Gavroche teased the posh aristocrats and the cast sang:

Look down, look down, and see the beggars at your feet
Look down and show some mercy if you can
Look down and see
The sweepings of the streets
Look down, look down,
Upon your fellow man!

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The Gospel according to Bono

The Gospel according to Bono

Regular readers of Faith Reflections will know that one of my heroes is the lead singer of the band U2, Bono.

On the weekend I came across an excerpt from the book Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas. It seems clear that he has both thought and read widely, and perhaps been particularly impacted by the work of C.S. Lewis and Philip Yancey in the way he unpacks what he believes. I found what he had to say helpful, so I edited out the voice of the interviewer and simply let Bono’s words speak for themselves. Have a read and see how you are affected:

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The Christianity that I don’t really like

The Christianity that I don’t really like

There is an aspect of Christian discipleship that I am slowly, and unwillingly, coming to grips with.

I have made the mistake of reading a lot of N.T. Wright, and have found that the way he frames the journey of Christianity is deeply and personally confronting – mainly because I know it is true, and I don’t like it!

Wright points out that some Christians focus on the cross and God’s grace. For them, what was important was that he was born, and then he died and was resurrected. His life was simply the interval between those two great events. For others, Wright asserts, the major focus is on Jesus’ life, he is a great moral teacher, but the claim of resurrection is suspicious. For them the major focus is on Jesus’s counter cultural teachings.

Wright points out the fundamental truth, that by focussing on the cross without focussing on Jesus’s counter-cultural life, leads to a pale grey, almost gnostic version of Christianity. He also points out that by avoiding the virgin birth, cross and resurrection, proponents of the Jesus as moral teacher, fundamentally miss out on who he was. One of Wright’s major themes is that the Kingdom of God, and the grace of the cross, cannot be separated.

The bit that I don’t like about that, is that Wright points out that the Kingdom of God actually comes through the cross. When Jesus exhorts us five times to take up our own crosses, he is outlining the method by which his Kingdom comes: death.

I don’t want to die. I don’t want to give up my life. I want to be in control. Jesus invites us to let go of security and control, a process which is never easy. Jesus himself begged in the Garden of Gethsemane for another way.

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Jesus showed up, even in the hell of the most evil place on earth

Jesus showed up, even in the hell of the most evil place on earth

Last year I travelled with my daughter to Poland where, after having an encouraging time with some very special believers who want to change their nation, we visited what is probably the site of the greatest evil this world has ever seen.

I don’t know how to describe the experience of Auschwitz. For the first time I could understand why people would want to deny the holocaust. As I looked at the mountain of gas canisters, the roll of material made from human hair and saw the site where experiments were carried out on children, a big part of me wanted to find a way not to face the reality of how disturbingly evil we can be to one another. It is hard for me to reconcile the idea that something like this could happen.

A moment at Auschwitz will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was a moment that sharply focussed the difference between a political Kingdom and the Kingdom of God. We were taken down into a dark, cold and musty smelling basement that served as the cells of prisoners waiting for execution. Inside one of them was a big candle, which seemed incongruous in such a horrible place. Our tour guide told us about Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest who died as prisoner 16770.

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Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that.

Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that.

20120207-205333.jpg Our week away came to an end yesterday and as we tidied the holiday house the kids sat down to watch the Super Bowl. I was fascinated as I came in and out of the room to see what a remarkable production it all was.

One one of the things that stood out to me was the adulation that the quarterbacks and senior coaches were afforded. Every move was dissected and past greats were referenced with hushed tones.

I was left thinking how good Americans are at shaping myth.

The whole event reaffirmed what it meant to be American and much of the time was taken up telling and re-telling stories about mythical heroes.

Americans do heroes well. Their sporting stars, movie stars, political stars and even religious heroes are all larger than life, something more than human.

One of the things l loved about the television showThe West Wing, was the way the President was so deeply respected and almost revered. That really isn’t how we treat our Prime Minister.

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Family is a place of grace. The church is meant to be that too.

Family is a place of grace. The church is meant to be that too.

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Its Christmas evening and we are relaxing in front of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. it’s a very deep movie…. (not!)

Today has been a special day.

Last night we stayed up and watched the carols, and then did the obligatory late shift getting organised for the morning.

There was the normal moment of disorientation for me as I heard excited voices from the lounge room at about 6:30 then I remembered what day it was.

The kids loved their presents, although I’m noticing that each year the gifts decrease in physical size and increase in cost….

A highlight for me was being with four generations of my family.

My grandmother is 94. She grew up without electricity and can remember the events depicted in “the Kings Speech” movie.

Ollie is 2, he loves bubbles and wants to be a musketeer.

The rest of us fit between those two (apart from Bridie who was born this year in the U.K. and couldn’t be with us).

As I looked around the table, and remembered family members who couldn’t be with us, it struck me just how important family is.

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Gravity and Grace

Gravity and Grace

It looks like we will have a bit more space at this Arrow Residential which I really appreciate. In the midst of catching up with the people who are here, I’m also hoping to get more work done on my book which needs to be completed in a month.

Last night George Savvides came and spoke about leadership which I really appreciated. George is one of the people I admire because he is able to talk from personal experience about leading in the midst of very complex situations.

George spent a little bit of time talking about the gravitational field of self absorption or the vortex of vanity, two ways he has learned to talk about sin in the corporate world without using the religious language. He spoke about how the battle with self interest is a daily one and referenced the Lord of the Rings and the temptation to reach for power rather than the mission God has called you to.

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Trust and Truth

Trust and Truth

How do you go at putting yourself in the hands of others?

So much of what our culture teaches us is that we need to be self reliant, independent.

The opposite of that can look like weak dependance.

The bible talks about the need to trust each other… But its not a weak, wishy washy kind of thing.

Sometimes it feels that to trust someone I need to believe they wont hurt me or make mistakes. To do this I need to overlook all their flaws, or only trust someone whose flaws I can’t see.

It seems that the bible takes a different view.

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Structural Grace

Structural Grace

Happy New Year

I love this time of year.

It’s a time to stop and breathe, to reflect and to plan.

It’s a time to try to make sense of all that has been and all that will be.

New Year for me is a kind of structural grace. The promise that the past can be over and there is a whole year ahead without any major mistakes, crisis’ or blemishes.

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Grace Reflections

Grace Reflections

I’ve been thinking

You may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging as regularly. This is mainly because I haven’t had either the actual or emotional space to sit down at my  computer to write something remotely meaningful.

This blog, though is about reflections on my faith journey, and this period of busyness is part of my journey.

The past weeks have been both very stimulating and very challenging.

I think I am learning more about God and people almost every day.

I know that one of my challenges is that I like to try to work out “the answer” to the challenges of life, rather than live in the messiness of now.

I have found Eugene Peterson’s “The Jesus Way” very helpful in this regard and there is a bit of it that has been in my head for the last couple of weeks that I thought I would share with you. What he has to say is a radical wake-up call for those of us who live in a settled view of what our faith is actually about, for those of us who live a “comfortable” life.

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The super weapon

The super weapon

Grace finds beauty in ugly things

I have been reflecting a bit on spiritual battles and how real they are in the past few days.

In my quiet times I have a book of daily readings by Philip Yancey which I find very helpful. In today’s entry he points out:

“Elton Trueblood notes that the image Jesus used to describe the church’s destiny – “the gates of hell will not prevail against it” – is a metaphor of offense, not defense. Christians are storming the gates, and they will prevail. No matter how it looks at any given point in history, the gates guarding the powers of evil will not withstand an assault by grace.”

Yancey goes on to describe how some of the most powerful political forces in the 20th century were toppled by grace.

When we are hurt or fearful, it is so tempting to want to fight back the way the world does – with power. A fight where we grasp for power never ends well, but a fight where we grab for grace can change the world.

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I have weaknesses

I have weaknesses

When I am weak I am strong

Yesterday I was talking about sin and the tendency we all have to want to make ourselves look better than we are.

I am grateful that the writers of the Bible were much more honest than we tend to be.

In particular I take great comfort from some of Paul’s writing.

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