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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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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, I thought I would post the remarkable words of Father Boules George, a Coptic priest, speaking the day after a bomb killed 49 worshippers in his church in Alexandria.

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

A MESSAGE TO THOSE WHO KILL US

Father Boules George

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

What will we say to them?

  1. THANK YOU

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

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

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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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Lets stop settling for desires far below what we were created for.

Lets stop settling for desires far below what we were created for.

Recently I spoke about the fact that words like Peace, Love, Hope and Joy express deep longings we all have, but that we end up settling for “stuff” that promises to deliver these longings but never does.

Over the last couple of nights I have been reading a book that has given me new language to understand just how profound that settling for less actually is.

Regular readers of Faith Reflections will know how much the books of N.T. (Tom) Wright have had on my heart and mind. There has been a deep relief as I encountered his writing because I found him expressing the truth of the bible in a way that made sense intellectually but also challenged my heart and helped me understand Jesus and myself a whole lot more.

His most recent book is called “The day the revolution began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion,” and while I haven’t yet finished, the parts I have already read are helping me understand the dilemma of what it means to be a human being much more clearly.

When I was speaking on Christmas eve about our longings for Peace, Hope, Love and Joy, I knew that I was speaking about the human spirit that is common to everyone. In the book of Job, the courageous young man Elihu asserts that:

But it is the spirit in a person,
the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding.
Job 32:8

I knew that whether the people who were hearing me would call themselves Christians or not, there was a spirit in them that that longed for hope, peace, love and Joy. I also knew that no words I could say would accurately capture that reality, because as the writer of Ecclesiastes points out, God has made everything beautiful in its time, however:

He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Part of all of us is beyond our capacity to understand. Our hearts long for true love, true hope, true peace and true joy and those longings drive us, and as I wrote a few weeks ago, these are the longings that clever marketers try to tap in to when they sell their products.

What N.T. Wright helped me give words to in a new way is what happens when we settle for less than who we are created to be.

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When I saw the Toyota commercial I had to write something. This Christmas, lets not settle for the imitation.

When I saw the Toyota commercial I had to write something. This Christmas, lets not settle for the imitation.

Many of the words that we use around Christmas time are actually placeholders, attempts to name experiences that no word can adequately capture.

Words like hope, peace, love and joy that sound simple, are actually anything but.

Our church has been journeying through the advent season and week by week looking at these words. This past weekend I was speaking about love and on Christmas eve I will be speaking about Joy.

As I reflect on my own life, and as I talk to others,  one of the constants is that all of us have different moments we can point out where we have experienced things we would call real hope, real peace, real love and real joy, but for most of us those moments are fleeting.

I think John Elderedge hit the nail on the head when he said, about Joy in particular:

“Joy seems more elusive than winning the lottery. We don’t like to think about it much, because it hurts to allow ourselves to feel how much we long for joy, and how seldom it drops by.”

Love, Hope, Peace and Joy are not just fleeting experiences, they are things we deeply long for.

I think that is why, long after the real meaning of Christmas has gone missing for many, our culture hangs on to this one holiday. We might have all kinds of intellectual arguments against God, but part of us knows there is much more to life than our intellect can make sense of.

In 1985 Canadian singer Bryan Adams had a worldwide seasonal hit with the song ” Christmas time”. Some of the lyrics are:

There’s something about Christmas time
Something about Christmas time
That makes you wish it was Christmas everyday

To see the joy in the children’s eyes
The way that the old folks smile
Says that Christmas will never go away

We’re all as one tonight
Makes no difference if you’re black or white
‘Cause we can sing together in harmony

I know it’s not too late
The world would be a better place
If we can keep the spirit
More than one day in the year
Send a message loud and clear

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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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Marriage isn’t easy, but true love is so much richer than the anaemic imitation that we see on the silver screen.

Marriage isn’t easy, but true love is so much richer than the anaemic imitation that we see on the silver screen.

IMG_5036I love teaching about love and sexuality, both because it is such a huge issue that is largely avoided in the Christian church and also because l have spent the last 21 on a journey trying to learn what it means to be married.

I have written before about how I love Leeanne.  Loving someone though doesn’t mean that the relationship will be simple. I haven’t yet met a person married for more than 6 weeks who would say their relationship was simple.

Marriage is complicated and marriage is a commitment.

One of the big ideas I am always keen to communicate in a discussion about relationships is the difference between what the movies call love and what love actually is. Movie love can kill a marriage.

Movie love is primarily a feeling, which is not necessarily a bad thing… in fact at the time it feels wonderful: the air smells fresher, the grass is greener and everything is wonderful. Movie love, though, comes and goes and is primarily based on your own unfinished psychological issues.

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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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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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It is always right to strive to love in the midst of the messiness, even when it hurts.

It is always right to strive to love in the midst of the messiness, even when it hurts.

As part of Arrow I have been making my way progressively through the New and Old Testaments simultaneously.

As I come toward the end of the New Testamant, I keep being struck at how the bible clearly exhorts us to a communal experience of faith, and how it attempts to prepare us for the fallibility of that community.

It is clear that we are called to live in a way that changes the world, but it is also clear that we can’t do this on our own. We are called to give grace to each other, and to lean into that grace administered by others in the face of our own humanity.

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George teaches me what actually matters

George teaches me what actually matters

20111112-184404.jpg I was reminded today of a lesson I first learned in my first six months of ministry with Fusion.

Have you ever met someone fresh out of bible college? They are usually full of right ideas and full of themselves.

As I look back, thats certainly what I was like in 1992. A fellow graduate and I stood on the bow of the boat taking us down to our placements in Tasmania and engaged in a serious discussion about what we would do in three years time, after we had transformed Tasmania. Needless to say we both quickly discovered that life is more complicated that you can ever fully grasp in a classroom.

A few days after arriving in Hobart I met George.

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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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Whats love got to do with it?

Whats love got to do with it?

Love hurts

I am continuing my series of posts about Paul’s charge to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12.

After speech and life, Paul exhorts Timothy to set an example in love.

Its been a while since I last wrote.  Since then I have been to Canberra and South Australia. All the while I have had in the back of my head that I had to write my next blog about love.

For me love is a bit of a daunting subject.

It feels like so much has been written about love, and yet there is so much confusion.

Something Mother Theresa said about love in her 1979 Nobel Prize acceptance speech stands out:

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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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Anyway

Anyway

A charter for a paradoxical life

I have noticed how so many of the deep truths in life are actually a paradox.

In preparing for our Advanced Diploma students to arrive this week I came again across the following list of “paradoxical commandments”, which basically give a template for effective leadership.

Each one spoke to me, I hope they also speak to you.

The Paradoxical Commandments

by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

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