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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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Heaven on Earth, we need it now. I’m sick of all of this, hanging around.

Heaven on Earth, we need it now. I’m sick of all of this, hanging around.

It’s interesting to search for “Ephesians 4” on this site and very quickly you discover just how much God has brought me back to this book, and this particular chapter since I started writing. This coming Sunday I will be launching the series by doing an overview of the profound vision that Paul paints in the first three chapters.

I was privileged to share a sermon series both in Canada and at my church in Hobart that explored this one chapter.

The central idea of the whole sermon series was that Paul’s vision of the church is radical in the proper sense of the word.

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The baby born in Bethlehem invites us to reconsider our whole lives and re-orientate around who (not what) truly matters.

The baby born in Bethlehem invites us to reconsider our whole lives and re-orientate around who (not what) truly matters.

I love Christmas.

I know its commercialized. I know that the reason for the season is going missing for many, but I still love this time of year.

I love the promise and the idealism of Christmas. I love that for a few days people hum tunes about peace on earth, joy to the world and snow (even in countries where there is no snow).

Most of all I love that for a few days, life priorities get rearranged. For a few days, it is our relationships that get the most attention. Family gets visited or skyped, meals are savoured and gifts are given.

Even  pain associated with this time of year is the right kind of pain, the kind of pain that should be felt and not avoided: the pain of loved ones no longer with us, or the pain of broken or absent relationships.

This year too, there is another kind of pain that I have been conscious of: the pain of the gap between the Christmas promise of peace on earth and the truth of the ugly reality that has unfolded over the last twelve months.

I find myself humming some of the lyrics to U2’s song, Peace on Earth. Its a sad song that asks the question that many people find themselves wrestling with at this time of year, why is there so much pain in the world when the baby born in Bethlehem was meant to be the Prince of Peace?

Why does God let a little boy like Aylan Kurdi  wash up on a beach? Why does God let ISIS do what it does? Why does God let a policeman shoot a teenager sixteen times? Why does God let a married couple shoot so many innocent people in San Bernadino?

Why doesn’t God fix the pain? Why doesn’t he take away the suffering?

I’m seeing in a new way that while these are profound questions, they reveal a misunderstanding about what Christmas is actually about.

Something clicked for me this week as I read Skye Jethani’s book With. In the book Jethani points out that before the world existed relationship was at “the core of the cosmos” in the form of the “one but not the same” love that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit have for one another.

For God the most important organizing principle in the world is love.

For us the most important organizing principle is us.

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It is as we reflect on ISIS that we can see just how confronting, and in fact disturbing, Jesus was.

It is as we reflect on ISIS that we can see just how confronting, and in fact disturbing, Jesus was.

Every week there seems to be a new example of a world descending into new levels of craziness.

I have avoided videos and pictures of the extreme violence of ISIS because it revolts and bewilders me. How can one person do that to another?

At the moment the news media is picking over the events surrounding a mass shooting in San Bernardino, which seems to have been inspired by ISIS. Whether it was the line of men slaughtered on a beach, the Paris shootings and bombings or this most recent attack, thing like this are so hard to understand, there is nothing in my current worldview that can make sense of violence like this.

I felt the same way when Maddi and I walked through Auschwitz with a couple of friends. Nothing in me could comprehend the horrific nature of what had happened in that place. The piles of gas canisters, suitcases and other personal items were overwhelming. Nothing was as chilling, though, as the roll of cloth made from human hair.

How could one person do this to another?

They can’t: and that’s the problem.

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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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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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Peace on Earth

Peace on Earth

Merry Christmas?

I do love this time of year.. there is a sense of anticipation in the air at our house as the kids try not to speculate too publicly about what presents they might get.

There is also that sense of pre-Christmas madness as we host the Christmas lunch for the first time and somehow the house needs to move towards some semblance of order.

The more I connect with others, and the more I am aware of my friends in other countries however there is a stark reminder that Christmas isn’t the same for everyone.

In fact, the idealism of Christmas sentiment seems out of place in the context of the challenges so many people will be facing tomorrow.

One of the best doses of Christmas reality comes in the form of U2’s Peace on Earth.

The song begins:

Heaven on Earth, we need it now

I’m sick of all of this hanging around

Sick of sorrow, sick of the pain

I’m sick of hearing again and again

That there’s gonna be peace on Earth

Can you identify with those words?

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