Moved Mountains

Banner - Mt Trio, Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia - (c) 2007

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dealing with Anonymity - A comment on commenting!

Imagine going to a party where everyone wore a paper bag on their head and all wore exactly the same clothing. You strike up a conversation with one person, are momentarily distracted and turn back to resume the conversation, only to realise after a second or two that you are not talking to the same person!

In the last few days this seems to be happening to me, right here on this blog! A number of comments have appeared on posts under the name of "Anonymous". While I get why Blogger have included this option in the commenting mechanics, it actually (from this blog writers POV) makes it difficult to easily participate in ongoing conversations. Simply put, I don't know if I am talking to the same person, or different people. The only thing I have to go on is the style in which the comment is written, but even this can be deceptive.

So ... please, if you are an anonymous poster to this blog, consider making up a nickname (you can still be anonymous) and using this when you post a comment. That way it will be clear, to me at least, who I am talking to, making it easier to continue ongoing conversations and discussions.

Keep the comments coming!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Why Men Hate Church

Fellow West Aussie and radio announcer Rodney Olsen, dropped me a line a day or two ago to tell me about an interesting post on his blog, The Journey. He's dipped his toes into the important topic of men and church, and in particular why so many men (real, manly men that is!) avoid church like the plague.

You can read the post and storm of comments here.

You can also check out a review I posted last year of the book, "Why men hate going to church" here.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Demon Drink - Part 1

One aspect of the emerging movement I have found particularly amusing (and a little disturbing at the same time), is the new-found freedom relating to alcohol expressed by many of its proponents. Quite a few 20-30something followers of Jesus are suddenly discovering for themselves that drinking alcohol actually isn't a sin. So in little acts of rebellion these guys and girls are flaunting their right to imbibe in increasing numbers. Nowadays it's not unheard of for Christians to hang out at pubs and clubs or for alcohol to take on an integral role in the act of worship itself.

I am even aware of an Anglican (Episcopalian) church in Sydney that has the "honour" of being Australia's first (and only as far as I am aware) church with a licence to operate a bar and sell liquor!

As I said I find this amusing - not the least because I am Australian. Everyone knows Aussie's are among the biggest drinkers in the world. At one time in my life I took pride in the fact that I could drink a bottle of whisky or a case of beer in an evening and still drive home (it took three arrests for drink driving to help me change my mind!). Drinking is something many of my fellow countrymen and women take pretty much for granted. I've even heard it said it is "un-Australian" not to drink!

But therein lies a problem. Particularly for Christian drinkers. Granted - consuming alcohol is not, in itself a sin. I think it should be pretty obvious to anyone who reads the Bible for themselves that Jesus and his contemporaries considered the consumption of wine a fairly normal part of daily life, however I want to ask the question; "how far have we come, particularly in Australia, from the culture of drinking that existed in Jesus time?".

Can we simply look at the way they did things then and use it to justify how we do things now, especially as it relates to drug use?

I'll throw a bit more out there in part 2 later on, but would like to leave you with some statistics on Australian drinking habits:

  • After tobacco, Alcohol is the second highest cause of all drug related deaths and hospitalisations in Australia costing the community $7.6 billion annually (Australian Dollars).
  • Alcohol is the number 1 contributor of deaths and permenant disablement in Australian young people under the age of 24.
  • Alcohol is the leading cause of road deaths in Australia.
  • In 2004 25% of teenagers aged 14-19 drank alcohol daily or weekly, and 50% of all Australians over the age of 14 drank daily or weekly.
  • 48% of adult males and 30% of adult females have binge drinked at least once in the past year.
  • 1 in 5 adult Australians (20% of the population) are likely to already have, or will go on to develop alcohol dependency.
(Australian Bureau of Statistics report; "Alcohol Consumption in Australia: A Snapshot, 2004-05".)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Kingdom over Empire

Kingdom thinking asks "to whom do I go and how do I reflect Christ when I arrive?".

Empire thinking asks "What must I do to get them to see us and how do I then make them come?".

Attractional thinking is empire thinking - it encourages us to think only in terms of certain regular rites or rituals such as a Sunday service, Bible study groups or sinners prayers. Empire thinking encourages professionalism in public worship, and a way of life that sees numbers as a hallmark of success. It is about showing the world Christ in the hope many will take notice and come to church.

Missional thinking is kingdom thinking - it encourages us to reassess our rites and our rituals, to desconstruct or do away with the uneccessary and to constantly and critically reassess our own lives in light of Christ and the mission he has left for us. Kingdom thinking encourages us to go into the world and to be human, living Christ in the hope some will take notice and want to follow Him wherever it is he wants to take them - and in the process, become the church.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Go and be ..."

You may have already seen this, even so I think it's worth repeating. From Blind Beggar - Thanks Rick!

We all know that Jesus told us to go into all the world and be his ambassadors, but the church today has distorted the “go and be” command with a “come and see” appeal. We have grown attached to buildings, programs, staff and a wide variety of goods and services designed to attract and entertain people.

Missional is a bit of Christian jargon used to describe what happens when you and I replace the “come to us” invitations with a “go to them” life. A life where “the way of Jesus” informs and radically transforms our existence to one wholly focused on sacrificially living for him and others.

The next time someone asks you "what's missional mean?" You'll now know what to tell them!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sheep Rustling

In the early days of colonial Australia the crime of livestock stealing - known colloquially as "rustling" was treated pretty seriously. Up until the early 1900s the standard punishment inflicted on a convicted rustler was hanging by the neck until dead.

Unfortunately the topic of sheep rustling still has some relevance in modern Australian life - and not just for those living and working the land. Most of it is taking place in the church where it's commonly referred to as "sheep stealing".

Recently our long term community focused ministry has been the unwitting victim of this heinous crime (yes - my tongue is, if barely, inserted in my cheek). Actually the perps have been at it for a couple of years but without much success - due mainly, I believe, to the emphasis we put on the relational process side of things rather than the evangelistic project approach.

Most of the people we have been developing friendships with have had no introduction to the seedier side of church politics, and so are blissfully (if only it could stay that way for all of us) unaware of how things "really" operate in the world of evangelical/pentecostal Christianity. They are unaware that some fellowship consider themselves to be better than others. These are the people who are prime for the picking.

So when it happens - when the jolly swagman creeps up on the unsuspecting jumbuck the jumbuck is all too willing to jump head first into the open mouth of the tuckerbag. And, a sheep is stolen (if you have no idea what I'm talking about Google "Waltzing Matilda").

Now I know the "good Christian" response to this. It's "God is in control and will sort it all out in the end". That "he is and has been at work and will continue to be at work in the situation and in the lives of all involved".

Please don't get me wrong - I know with all my heart this is true. But even with this knowledge my immediate human response is a little different.

When it happens I find myself experiencing all kinds of (mostly) negative emotions. Some of them are legitimate - legitimate concern for the ongoing discipleship of someone who has been in my care or the care of others close to me for several years and is still a baby in the faith. Concern based on experience, where the end results of other sheep rustling efforts by the same perps has ended in messy, stuffed up situations.

Some of the emotions aren't so legitimate - indignation that someone else would have the gall to knowingly step in and entice someone away from an active faith community with no comment or contact or warning. Anger over all the time and energy and work that has gone into growing a disciple only to have them snatched away at the very same time the work is starting to produce tangible fruit, and the hurt that comes with a realisation that now it feels as if we're competing against for a friendship that has for the longest time, been genuine and committed.

Unfortunately there seems to be an almost utilitarian justification for the act of sheep rustling itself. Even when it happens in an opportunistic fashion. The justification is based on the real right an individuals has to freely choose who they will and won't involve themselves with. This right undoubtedly exists, but there is also an ethic involved. The question is, is it ethical to knowingly encroach on the life of someone already involved in an existing faith community with the intent of transferring them into another community when that person may be naive to or unaware of the underlying political agendas in play?

Fortunately for modern-day church based sheep rustlers, the hangman's noose is outlawed - but there has to be something of a solution. The biggest issue as I see it comes down to the level of responsibility and more directly, who is going to take it - particularly when it involves new believers.

Who is responsible? When new believers are lured away from us I find that I still feel responsible for them, and this sense of responsibility never really goes away. It is the same sense of responsibility I feel for all who are a part of my life. I think I can understand, to some degree, how Paul felt when others encroached on his spiritual "children" and tried to lure them away. There is a definite duty of care involved that starts before and extends beyond any initial conversion experience.

While I don't have any direct solution I think there is at least one thing that can be done to alleviate some of the angst created by this issue. It exists in fellowship leaders taking responsibility for the actions of their members and ensuring, as much as is humanly possible, this kind of thing isn't happening on a continual basis.

I believe leaders have an ethical responsibility in every circumstance to at least endeavour to understand what has led to a person a leaving one fellowship and joining theirs. If, as has been the case with most of the recent attempts at rustling in my community (where we are the only fellowship which meets), the attempts are opportunistic then it is up to the leadership to ensure this kind of thing doesn't happen or is stymied when it becomes apparent.

I wanna know the godly way of dealing with this. If anyone has any advice I am sure we will all benefit from it as I know this isn't an isolated issue and I am not going to be the only one experiencing it.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Ministry of Presence

The following is an article by a new aquaintance of mine, Pastor Edward Simiyu of Kenya. Edward is involved in the Amahoro Africa gathering in Uganda in May and in his article speaks of a concept in mission that I think is difficult for western Christians to understand.

I have taken this same approach with the partnership I am involved with (the link is at the top of the sidebar, to the right) but I have found that those wanting to come on the short term trips I lead to Rwanda struggle with this idea. Most people want to go and do, rather than go and be. I find it difficult to communicate the significance of this - that we don't want to build or erect or fix when to do so would take a wage from a capable local, but we do want to go, to encourage, fellowship and to experience God at work in a different culture in a different part of the world.

I hope you enjoy Edward's article as much as I did.

The Ministry of Presence- Say nothing, do nothing; Just show up!

Recently I heard an American pastor friend lament that his African pastor friend had not replied to his e- mails for a long time. He said “why can’t he check the browser to make sure his inbox is working well?” You can bet that this happens only in American! The rest of the world’s ¾ hardly know what a browser is! They don’t read or write they just know one way of communication: Talking and as simple as it may sound, it is loaded. The cellular telecommunication industry is now the most profitable and fastest growing business in Africa because it is giving Africa a treat to what she does best-Talk! However, talking among the oral cultured people now carries more than mere words.

We are an oral culture in Africa. This calls for face to face contact. We talk much, not write. People cannot still read or write. Less than 2 % of people aged 60 and above can read or write. Our generation received teachings and moral lessons at the fireplace with parents and then grandparents telling us stories that carried moral teachings. In fact we would look forward with excitement when visits to grandparents would be announced! I sense the same craving in my nine year old daughter when she pleads that I tell her stories while on her bed waiting to sleep. The values of our cultures and society were passed on that way. In the final analysis, our formative years were not so much shaped by what we read or acquired in the well staked libraries full journals, books and magazines but by what we heard from our elders. That is why we say in Africa that when an elder dies, a whole library is buried with him! We passed on and still do pass on things from one generation to another by Word of mouth. Understandably the physical presence of one in order to communicate face to face quickly took a new dimension. It was not long before we all understood that ones attendance to a funeral for example, without even saying a word signalled an expression or show of sympathy and solidarity with the bereaved. This spread to all spheres of the African social and spiritual life. Now, presence has acquired such a great value so much that when one doesn’t show up in gatherings like weddings, funerals, and Sunday services people get very worried or even offended!

The church around the world would benefit immensely if she realised that while it is good and very important to send the much needed gifts and donations to support their brothers and sisters in Africa; that is only one side of the story, their physical presence through visits will minister even more powerfully! The visits don’t have to be the high sounding mass crusade type events, just show up and “hang out” on low key visits! You may say well that is pretty expensive to do, but guess what? That’s what I call the ministry of Presence!

Monday, February 05, 2007

From Small Things ...

Our first Alternate[Or] meeting was held on Friday evening. We had two people from a different town come along and join Alyssa, the kids and me and we had enough food to sink a cruise ship.

My initial disappointment over numbers (did you hear that - numbers!) subsided after we got talking about our faith and understanding of "church". These were, for the most part, like-minded people and it was refreshing to sit and talk face to face about these things with people who understood our POV.

I think there are others who will come to future gatherings, we are generally having 3 a month, and I am sure that this will grow into something worthwhile in time.

What is really interesting is both of our visitors where ladies in their late 50s to mid 60s. This surprised me as everything I have read about the move toward the missional seems to be confining it to the younger generations. I read a post on Hamo's Backyard Missionary blog where he said that he was unable to entice any older people along to their missional fellowship.

I really hope that we can get some of the local followers of Jesus involved in this too as I believe it is important for the future of the kingdom as it exists in this town that this happens. I think we will be missing something if all those who attend are from other communities. We also have a number of church fringe dwellers from Binningup that I hope will stick their heads in from time to time.

Friday, February 02, 2007

This is Holy Ground

My Family in Boranup Forest

I stand on holy ground when ...
  • I am staring at the night sky, soaking up the immensity and beauty of the Milky Way, or the rings of Saturn, or the folds and fine detail in the Great Orion Nebula, or the cratered surface of the Moon, or the motion of the Galilean Satellites as they dance around Jupiter.
  • When I am on the summit of Bluff Knoll (the mountain in this blog's title image) looking out over the other peaks and the farm land and the bush, watching the wedge-tail eagles soar higher and higher on thermals.
  • When I'm walking along the beach absorbed in the sound of the crashing waves, watching dolphins playing in the surf and terns dive for bait fish.
  • When I'm walking through Boranup forest, surrounded by the tall, white trunks of 100 year old karri trees, and immersed in the cool shadows of the undergrowth, watching a male fairy wren dance for his mate.
  • While watching my children play, using their amazing imaginations to create entire worlds and then to feel the soft touch of a small hand slipping gently into mine and to look down and see two soft, blue eyes looking lovingly back at me.
  • When watching the sun set over the ocean with my beloved, feeling her closeness, knowing together we share more in memories and emotions and experiences than any words can express and that she is my gift from my creator.
At these times I know I am standing on holy ground.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of making one particular place more holy than another. I am thinking specifically of our churches or sanctuaries. How often have you heard the church building called "the house of God"?

The truth is the house of God is not made of bricks and mortar, it is a living temple. In Old Testament times God dwelt in the Tabernacle, but now he dwells in his people. We - the living, called out assembly of believers - Christ's physical presence in the world, are the temple of the living God and the universe is our cathedral.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Eph. 19-22

Thanks to Holly for inspiring me!