Confessions: A 3 Month License Suspension

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Confession time ...
 
Right now I am in the middle of serving a 3 month driving license suspension.
 
Where I live in Australia, there is a demerit point system for driving offences such as speeding, driving through a red light, etc. If you accumulate 12 points or more in a 3 year period of time you lose your license for 3 months. 
 
I have been on 9 demerit points for a few years now and I have been driving exceptionally carefully, usually right on the speed limit using cruise control pretty much all of that time. Unfortunately, I received a red light ticket coming home from speaking to our Manningham congregation late December 2015 (doing the work of the Lord!). [To me a yellow light means "Hurry up, you still have time!" but obviously the traffic gods have a different definition] I even ordered the photo but sadly, the camera never lies (see above). That put me at 12 points. I could have taken a 'grace period' extension of 12 months but if I received only 1 demerit point in that period of time I would receive a 6 month license suspension. Too risky, from my perspective. 
 
So, I am arranging the help of some friends to drive me to and from work at the church office, as well as weekend church meetings. Once this 3 month period is over, I go back to 0 demerit points. All my driving sins will be washed away. Yay! 
 
I shared this story with the church in this year's Mother's Day message. As I mentioned at the time, no doubt some people are shocked to hear this, as they expected me to be more angelic in my behaviour. A pastor should be an exemplary driver! Other people have showed more empathy, many of whom have their own accumulated demerit points :) 
 
Life provides us with many lessons, from both our successes and failures.
 
No doubt, I need to learn to SLOW down. This is not easy ... especially for busy, adrenaline-addicted junkies.
 
I am more dependent on others now but I am enjoying spending some extra time with family and friends, who are helping me by driving me around. 
 
Also, I am not in control now. As a leader, this is not easy, because I am used to influencing things all the time. Right now, I am out of the driver's seat and into the passenger seat. In my Bible reading the other day I read this in Luke 9:23 in the Message Bible: "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat — I am." That's me. I have to trust and be a patient passenger. Someone else (God in his providence) is driving and leading the way in my life. This is a vital lesson for me, especially at this time in my life with some big decisions and changes ahead.
 
Thanks for your prayers.
 
James 5:16. Confess your sins (faults, mistakes) to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. NLT

Our 30th Wedding Anniversary

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30 years ago today, Nicole and I were married. She was 20 and I was 24. You never know where the road of life may lead but I couldn't imagine a better traveling companion. Nicole is a person of deep compassion, courage and conviction. She is also heap of fun to do life together with and she is the best mother in the world to our amazing family. Most of all, Nicole is my best and dearest friend. 

As we come to the last chapter of this first book of our life, I am truly grateful to God and his grace.

Now, I can't wait for the sequel.

Here's to the next 30 years of life … together.


Living a Life of Gratitude

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Prayer and Praise

When our kids were little, we used to drive the whole family north from Melbourne up to Queensland in the summer holidays to visit their grandparents. It was a multiple day trip and one of the things I hated to do was stop for petrol. After all, all those trucks, caravans and slow pokes I had been passing throughout the day, would now be passing me. My wife, Nicole always fills up for petrol with about 1/4 tank remaining. I tend to see how far I can go on a tank of petrol. I’ll never forget one night, as it was getting dark, looking at the red ‘empty’ fuel night wondering if we would make it to the next petrol station (while Nicole was saying, “I told you so!”). I remember telling all the kids in the back seat, “Pray!” Yes, we all prayed for what seemed like an eternity. Thankfully, God had mercy and a petrol station appeared just in time and I said out loud, “Thank you, God!”. After filling up, we headed off again and as we drove on in the silence of the night, I was challenged. I realised that the intensity of our praise did not match the intensity of our prayer! Have you ever experienced something similar? Ingratitude is not that uncommon.

Ten Lepers Healed

In Luke 17:11-19, we have the story of Jesus healing 10 lepers. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, travelling along the border between Samaria and Galilee, two places where the people had strong hatred and animosity towards each other. Ten lepers stood at a distance from Jesus as he entered into a village. Biblical leprosy differed somewhat from today’s various skin conditions, but it was a highly contagious disease that required the person to be isolated from other people. Jews viewed leprosy as a punishment for sin or a mark of God’s displeasure. These lepers must have heard of Jesus healing one of the worst lepers in Galilee a few months earlier (see Luke 5:12-16). In desperation, they cried out for mercy. Without a miracle, their situation would remain hopeless.

They knew that Jesus was approachable and when Jesus saw them he did so through eyes of mercy and compassion. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, as the law required (See Leviticus 14-15). The priest would examine them and then issue a certificate of clearance if they were healed. This was a test of their faith and obedience (much like Naaman of old – see 2 Kings 5). As they went they were healed. Dry scales fell from them, white spots disappeared, a healthy colour returned to their flesh, their disfigured members were restored, and the thrill of new life filled their whole being with incredible joy. They could now return to normal life with their families and friends. Each one of them must have been ecstatic with excitement and gratitude to Jesus.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan (vs.15-16). When this man saw that he was healed, instead of going on to see the priest (to be declared clean), he turned back towards Jesus to express his thanks and praise. He lifted his voice in praise as he had done in prayer (vs.13) before going on his way to enjoy his healing. He was the least likely person to come back but he had an attitude of gratitude.

Jesus responded by asking, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner (vs.17-18)?” Feel Jesus’ surprise, disappointment and possibly sadness. Ten had received a blessing but only one took time to stop, break from the group, and return to give thanks to Jesus. The other nine hurried on to be with their families and friends. Jesus said to this one man, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well (or “saved you” - vs.19)." While all ten were “healed”, only one was “saved”, experiencing spiritual healing and wholeness. Nine were healed in their bodies, restored to society but not cleansed of the sin of ingratitude. Only one was cleansed completely.

Lessons for Today

There are so many different and unique applications of this story for us today. Here are a few:

  1. Take time daily to express thanks to God. A ‘quiet time’ of some sort is a terrific way to start each day. Read God’s Word, talk to God and share your requests, but be sure to take time to praise and thank God for his goodness. Make this your pattern for prayer. This is especially important during times of pressure and difficulty when we so easily forget what God has done for us in the past.
  2. Have your guard up against negativity. It is so easy to focus on what is not going well rather than what is. Before long, we can find ourselves grumbling, complaining and whinging. Our words and attitudes affect the atmosphere around us and push away our joy and peace. Stick a thermometer in your mouth and catch yourself when negativity settles in.
  3. Approach gathering together with others to worship God as a priority. Church services are a meeting with God. The singing and worship times aren’t for us. They are an opportunity for us to express our thanks and praise to God as a church family.
  4. Never limit who God might use you to bless. This Samaritan leper was a person living on the margins, away from the general public. Yet Jesus reached out to him in love and compassion. Remember no one is too far from the grace of God. Faith can show up in surprising places, including across common social and racial boundaries.
  5. Keep an attitude of gratitude in all your relationships. Express appreciation to people regularly, say “thank you” and choose not to take anything for granted. Each day is a gift. Any success we may attain is always aided by the help and support of others. Humility acknowledges that God and others contribute to the achievements of our life.

Reflection Questions

  1. Consider the aspects of prayer (asking God for assistance) and praise (thanking God for his help). Which do you think we are better at or do more of?
  2. What two specific things they are most thankful to God for?
  3. In what ways does gratitude affect the atmosphere our our mind and our world?
  4. What could lack of punctuality to church services say about our attitude to the times we have of praise and worship together? Have we made the preaching more valuable to us?
  5. Jesus healed these ten lepers out of compassion. He is still able and willing to heal today. Take time to pray for someone in your world who is unwell.
  6. Jesus also ‘saved’ this man, bringing spiritual wholeness to his life. Take time to pray for friends and family members, that they will experience Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

Getting Ready to Vote - Australian Federal Election 2016

Election-australia-2016The 2016 Australian Federal Election season is well upon us and in just 2 weeks time from today (2nd July) we will be going to the polls to vote. Voting is an important privilege and responsibility for every Australian citizen. As people of faith, it is especially important that we prepare to vote in a prayerful and educated manner.

I have a personal conviction that it is not my role to tell people how I think they should vote. Neither does our church take a stand with one particular political party or individual politician. However, we do encourage people to do all that they can to make an informed vote, for the common good of our nation.

What factors will influence your vote? What are the key issues in this particular election? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each political party and each individual candidate, all of whom are vying for your vote? Which voices will influence our vote?

There are many opinions out there and multitudes of groups telling you how to vote. Look through them carfefully, or attend your local 'meet the candidate' forum, and then evaluate the parties and candidates with wisdom and prayer.

I suggest you read How to Vote Christianly by John Dickson and also check out YourVote, which is an assessment of the policies of the various political parties based on your answers to 30 questions related to your values and what is important to you (more details on this online tool). You can even do a practice vote.

Please join with me in praying for the outcome of the coming election so that Australia will continue to be a great place to live, raise a family and share our faith. 

Matthew 6:7-13. When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. NLT

 

 


How to Connect with God (re-post)

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Jesus told his disciples to “abide” in him (John 15:5). They were to stay “connected” at all times. The apostle Paul’s one goal in life was to “know God” (Phil.3:7-11). His prayer for the church at Ephesus was that they might “know Him better” (Eph.1:15-17). But how do we get closer to God? How can we experience God in a more intimate and meaningful way?

Different people give different answers: “Get up early and spend hours in prayer”, “Stay up late and write in a journal for hours”, “Fast regularly”, “Go on spiritual retreats all by yourself”, “Memorise lots of Scripture” or “Speak in tongues for an hour each day”. Well-intentioned people often tell us that their way is the “right way” and the proof of spirituality. Often we try these things that may work for others, yet for some reason they may not work for us, so we end up frustrated and wrongly believe that maybe being close to God is just for a few special people.

You’re Unique 

As humans, we have a lot in common – a lot of similarities. However, we are also each very different and very unique in the way God has made us (personality, spiritual gifts, etc). We also experience God differently. We each have a unique relationship with God that is different than anyone else. We need to discover how God has “wired us” to best “abide”. The activity or means is not as important as the fact that you do “abide”. When do you feel closest to God? What is your “abiding style”? How do you best experience God?

Ways of Connecting with God (“Abiding Styles”) 

There are different ways that we each experience God. Each style represents different traditions of the Christian faith. We will have a natural bent to one or more styles and may find some others more difficult.

1. Contemplative Style

* People with this style enjoy silence and solitude, possibly out in creation. They like isolation and therefore guard their alone times. They don’t fill their diaries up. They like to walk, visit a forest, journal or go for drives out in the country (environment is important).

* Too much time with people and activities drain them. They prefer to be “un-busy”.

* They have enormous capacity for extended prayer and worship times. They enjoy being quiet – meditating, reflecting and thinking deeply. Sometimes they may appear “in the clouds” and forget stuff.

* They march to a different drumbeat and at times seem to be out of step with other people. They are very sensitive spiritually. They can be the church’s spiritual “conscience”. Often great songwriters and authors are contemplative.

If you’re not this style, then this kind of stuff drives you crazy. Historically we can think of people such as the Apostle John, John of the Cross, Brother Lawrence, Madame Guyon and Henri Nouwen.

2. Intellectual Style

* Their mind has to be fully challenged before spiritual growth occurs. They enjoy reading and studying God’s Word to gain deeper understanding. They enjoy reading intellectually stimulating material.

* They struggle with just testimonial or experiential activities or church events. They want “substance” and “theology” not froth and bubble. Where’s the “meat”?

* When they are convinced about something, watch out! There’s no stopping them. Once the mind is convinced, passion and decision follows.

* They’re passionate about “renewing” people’s minds (Rom.12:1).

Historically we can think of people such as Paul, Martin Luther, Francis Schaeffer, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias and N.T. Wright.

3. Serving Style

* Some people feel closest to God (most joyful, exited and alive in Christ) when helping others and using your gifts. Even more than when doing prayer or Bible study.

* They thrive spiritually when they are labouring in the kingdom. They enjoy being an instrument in God’s hands.

* This could be within the church, through social action (feeding the poor, etc) or social justice.

* People with this style enjoy making things happen. They love to see the church or their ministry advance and grow. They revel in a challenge-intensive environment. They are most enthusiastic when fully challenged. They feel best when going all out for God.

* They are at their spiritual best when at top speed. They live at full speed, to the point that others fear for them. They are action orientated and love to live on the edge. They thrive on being active and motivating others.

* They pray more and live in more dependence when spending and being completely spent for the kingdom of God. They are kingdom maniacs. They choose to live like this. Try to slow them down and they’ll find a way to do something. I’m not suggesting that “insanity” or “out of control” is right.

Historically we can think of people such as John Wesley, George Whitefield, D.L. Moody, William Booth (the Salvation Army) and Mother Theresa.

4. Relational Style

* Isolation doesn’t work. Praying alone, doing Bible study alone, serving alone or worshipping alone is hard.

* When they get together with other Christians, their spiritual experience of God comes alive.

* A community component is essential. “Together” is the key. Groups are essential. Their favourite Scripture is “Where two or three are gathered together in my name …” (Mt.18:20)

5. Charismatic Style

The focus is on what the power of God can do. It thrives on the manifest presence of God among His people.

* Experiencing supernatural things like prophecy, visions and dreams, spiritual warfare (including deliverance), speaking in tongues (or “spiritual language”) or ministry time (“falling down”) brings them closest to God.

* They flourish when they can “feel” or “see” something.

* They enjoy praying for people (for physical, emotional or spiritual needs), waiting on God for “words” or direction.

* They thrive when they can sense or see evidence of God’s power.

* Their heart is opened to God through music and a worship atmosphere. King David was like this. Worship brought him close to God (Psalms). “Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your heart (Eph.5:18-19).”

Historically we can think of people such as Evan Roberts, Aimee Semple McPherson (the Pentecostal movement and charismatic renewal), Kathryn Kuhlman and John Wimber.

Which is the ‘right way’? All of them!

Cultivating Your Style

1. Identify your primary abiding style(s). You may have more than one. Don’t pick the one you think that you should have or want to have. Accept the way God has made you.

2. Arrange your life so you have ample opportunity for doing what connects you most to God. Invest lots of time into doing what draws you closer to God and helps you “abide” better. Create a spiritual formation plan around your style.

3. Understand and accept how other people are different. Help others discover the way God has made them and give them permission to “abide” that way. In marriage, understand each other. On your team, understand each other.

4. Learn other ways to connect with God. Develop an appreciation for all the styles. Jesus modeled all of these styles in perfect balance during his life on earth. We are to imitate him and walk “in his steps” (1 Pet.2:21). Avoid the imbalance that can come with attention to only one style.

5. Consider the implications of this model for leaders – of teams, small groups and churches. Create an environment that encourages expression of all of these styles, not just the one you are most comfortable with.

Recommended Resources

* Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of the Christian Faith by Richard Foster (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998).

* Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), chapter 11, “The Leader’s Pathway”.


Stories of Jesus Transforming People’s Lives

Jesus the Transformer

Jesus, THE Transformer

This year our theme is ‘Jesus, the Transformer’. In a world of upheaval and uncertainty, Jesus is our hope. Only he can change a human heart and transform a community and a nation. While on earth, Jesus sought to bring positive change to his world – one life at a time and one story at a time. He is still doing the same today in our time. That’s why our vision as a church over this last 3-year period has been “to see over 10,000 stories of transformation by 2016.” As each one of us engages with our world (through focusing on 1 person to be a blessing to) and connects in community and service, this vision can become a reality.

Gospel Stories

So far this year, we have been working through the Gospels, gleaning insights and inspiration from the stories of Jesus changing people’s lives. [Visit the church web site or phone app to access audio and video podcasts of these messages from our teaching team]

  • Jesus and the Supper (Mark 14:12-26). Jesus calls each of us to the table, where he shares a meal with us, displaying his great love to be demonstrated through his death on the cross.
  • Jesus and Judas (Mark 14:10-11, 43-52). Like Jesus, we may experience betrayal even from those close to us. Through God’s grace we can still offer forgiveness, even if reconciliation isn’t always possible.
  • Jesus and Peter (Mark 14:27-31, 66-72). The story of the denial shows us that we all fall and fail at some time, yet Jesus reaches out to us in forgiving love to free us from guilt and shame, restoring us and commissioning us for kingdom contribution.
  • Jesus and the Outsiders. Jesus was always reaching out to people outside of the racial and social confines and boundaries established by the Jewish religion. This reminds us that no one is too far from the love and grace of God.
  • Jesus and his Mother (John 1:25-27). Jesus’ love and care for his mother, even from the pain of the cross, gives us an example of the importance of honouring our own parents.
  • Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18-30). Often there is one thing that stops us from full surrender to Jesus. For this man, it was his wealth.
  • Jesus and the Demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). No one is too far from the freedom that is available to them through Jesus. Jesus is more powerful than any demon, stronghold or destructive habit.
  • Jesus and the Prostitute (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus’ grace is shown to all of us, even those caught in a life of sin.
  • Jesus and the Little Boy‘s Lunch (Luke 9:9-17). When we bring what we have to Jesus, even if it does not seem like much, Jesus is able to use it and multiply it for the benefit of others.
  • Jesus and the Prophet (Luke 7:18-28). Jesus doesn't always do things the way we expect him to. His ways and his thoughts are much higher than our ways and thoughts. This can lead to disappointment if we are not careful. But we must never doubt the faithfulness of God to fulfil his promises - in his way and his time.

Reflection Questions

  1. Which Gospel story so far this year has had the greatest impact on you? Why?
  2. This year we are encouraging everyone to Focus on 1 person who they are praying to come to know Jesus. We can do this practically by seeking to BLESS that person. Review the BLESS acronym and reflect on how this is working in your own relationships. How can your Life Group further apply the Focus 1 strategy for reaching people for Jesus?
  3. The rich young ruler’s wealth kept him from following Jesus. What other ‘one thing’ can hold us back from full surrender to following Christ?
  4. Review the keys to being a great Life Group member. How do you think your group is going so far this year?
  5. Take time to share a story of what God has been doing in your life this year with someone else.
  6. What is your greatest challenge right now? Pray that Jesus will intervene, bringing change and transformation.
  7. Reflect on the six dimensions of the sacred meal and then celebrate communion together with family and friends.

Pareto in Practice

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As you think about the power of priorities, just for fun, think about these principles:

  • 20% of our time produces 80% of our results.

  • 20% of our relationships produce 80% of our happiness and meaning.

  • 20% the customers make up 80% of the sales.

  • 20% of the people take up 80% of our time.

  • 20% of our products produces 80% of the profit.

  • 20% of the book contains 80% of the content.

  • 20% of the presentation produces 80% of the impact.

  • 20% of the people donate 80% of the money.

  • 20% of the people do 80% of the work.

  • 20% of the volunteers do 80% of the work.

  • 20% of the leaders have 80% of the influence.

  • 20% of the people eat 80% of the food.

What could this mean for how you think about your life and work today?


The Power of Priorities

“Most major goals are not achieved because we spend time doing second things first.” Robert J McKain

 “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” John Maxwell

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” William James.

ParetoKnowing what is important (our priorities) and focusing our time and efforts on these things is a key to greater productivity and effective leadership. Yet these are two of the most difficult things to get people to do. Conventional thinking is linear and assumes that all activities and tasks are equally important. But research reveals that not all work produces the same level of results. In fact, there is a universal imbalance between effort (input) and reward (output. Only a minority of activities produce a great impact while a majority of tasks have only a small impact.

This is referred to as The Pareto Principle (named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population) or The 80/20 Principle. It says that 80% of our results come from 20% of our activities.

Greater productivity can often be achieved by doing less rather than doing more. Effective people redirect their efforts away from tasks that only have a small impact towards those that have the largest impact. By aiming for quality rather quantity you will see your impact increase exponentially. This doesn't mean that we write off everything else but this principle helps us tap into the power of simplicity and of the impact of focus.

This simple concept can be applied to any sphere of life, ranging from business to friends and quality of life.

Applications

  1. Identity the 20% of your activities or tasks that produce 80% of your results.
  1. Focus (concentrate) your time here.
  1. As a result, you will decrease the time you spend on less meaningful matters. It’s about maximum result from minimum amount of effort. By dedicating yourself to work harder for a shorter period of time, you’ll find you work improved and your free time expanded.

P21

 

 

 

 

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you believe that this principle is true?
  1. Do you think Jesus practiced this?
  1. How does this principle apply to you in your work or vocational role?
  1. How does this principle apply to the efforts of your team?
  1. How does this apply to your personal life?

Also, check out Pareto in Practice.


National Reconciliation Week 2016

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National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is celebrated across Australia each year between 27 May and 3 June.

The week is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures and achievements and to explore how each of us can join the national reconciliation effort. Reconciliation is at the heart of our nation's future. Make it apart of your future too.

Watch 1 minute video

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that this video may contain images and voices of people who have since passed away.


Transforming Your Church

Cover Pic (small)I became the Senior Minister of CityLife Church in 1995. Back then, I invested extensive time in prayer, study, research and reflection about principles for building a healthy and effective church. As a result, I was prompted to lead our church through seven "strategic shifts" over the next few years. This has resulted in much positive change and impact. 

Over the years, I have taught this material to many pastors and church leaders. Eventually, these principles were put into a book called Help Your Church Change and eventually an international version titled Transforming Your Church: Seven Strategic Shifts to Help Your Church Navigate the 21st Century. This was released in the year 2000 and then a completely updated and revised edition was published in 2010, with much additional matieral, including five new appendices covering topics such as church governance, the role of the senior minister, women in leadership, and self care for church leaders. This book has also been translated into Swedish, Indonesian and Russian.

You can purchase a paperback copy of this book from WORD Australia or City Christian Publishing in the USA (under the title Seven Strategic Changes Every Church Must Make). An eBook format version is also now available for Kindle at Amazion.

I pray that this book will continue to be a blessing to many churches and Christian leaders.


Mark and Nicole

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Nicole and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniverary this June. Nicole is my best friend and my life's climbing companion. I can't wait to see the joy that is around the next corner for both of us. 

To keep track of our whereabouts, check out our web site, which has been recently updated.

[Photo taken while we were in Moscow last year where I was speaking at a pastor's conference for church leaders from all over Russia, hosted by the Word of Life Church, Moscow]


Stages of the Life of Faith

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God’s kingdom is often described in an organic way and is seen as growing larger and stronger (Mark 4:26-29. Luke 13:18-19). The church is also seen as growing and maturing (Ephesians 4:15-16). Individual followers of Christ are also called to grow in their relationship to God (Colossians 1:9-10; 2:6-7). Personal and spiritual growth occurs over a period of time and always involves a process that is very much like a journey. Many people find it helpful to have a roadmap or at least a loose guide for their journey of faith. In their insightful book, The Critical Journey, authors Robert Guelich and Janet Hagberg, propose the following six stages:

Stages in the Life of Faith

1. Recognition of God. This is where we all begin our journey of faith. The experience of faith at this stage is the discovery and recognition of God. It is accepting the fact of the reality of God in our lives. Someone bigger than us really exists and He truly loves us. This may occur in childhood or later in life as adults. For some people this is a very identifiable experience, like a moment in time where everything changes. For others, there is a gradual realisation, with no certainty as to just where or when the experience began. Either way, we simply ‘know’ that God is there. Factors contributing to this experience can be either a sense of awe or a sense of need in our lives.

2. Life of Discipleship. This stage is about learning and belonging. We begin to learn, explore, absorb and put into place our set of beliefs or faith principles. In this stage we learn the most about God by association with others we respect and trust. We are apprentices. We need others because we are relatively unsure and insecure at first in our growth and what we believe. The group also provides a sense of belonging, which helps to alleviate some of our feelings of fear and even inadequacy that accompany the excitement of new learning. The group begins to give us a sense of identity and security. We start to feel at home, with family. We are loved and accepted, despite our struggles. It’s not always easy but we are with our kind of people. We have a sense of security and comfort in our faith.

3. The Productive Life. This stage is best described as the ‘doing’ stage as it is the period of time where we find ourselves most consciously working in service for God. It’s now time to give in return for all we have received. This is usually a very active stage of our journey. It is positive and dynamic, centred on being productive in the area of our faith. This stage nourishes us because it is so personally rewarding. It operates on goals and achievement, building and creating, which can be exciting, fulfilling, inspiring and fruitful. We start to feel unique within our community. We are taking on extra responsibility. We feel a degree of confidence because of our experience. Leadership may be part of this stage.

4. The Journey Inward. This stage is a deep and very personal inward journey. It almost always comes as an unsettling experience yet results in healing for those who continue through it. Until now, our journey has had a very external dimension to it - the community of faith, serving with our gifts, leading others, and productivity. Upon entering this stage, many people experience a period of questioning, exploring, doubting, and even uncertainty. This can be caused by a life or faith crisis. For the first time our faith does not seem to work the same as it has before and our answers seem inadequate, leaving us feeling quite vulnerable. Some people refuse to engage fully with this stage. Therefore they become inadequate guides for others who enter this stage.

The Wall. Somewhere near the end of Stage 4, we experience the Wall – a face to face experience with God and with our own will. This is a critical experience. It represents another layer of transformation and a potentially renewed layer of faith – for those who have the courage to move into it. We decide anew whether we are willing to surrender and let God direct our lives. This is a time of mystery and not something we can do through our own strength or wisdom. This is a pivotal moment. We are afraid, yet drawn to surrender, knowing it will not be easy, but that it will be worthwhile. We are dying to self and letting God be God. [Click here for some thoughts on "Growing in the Dark"]

5. The Journey Outward. This is the next step after rediscovering God and accepting his love. We surrender afresh to God’s will to fully direct our lives. This outward journey may seem similar to earlier stages, but our focus is different. We have changed. We endure suffering gracefully, because of our confidence in God. Our primary motivation in life becomes the desire to love honestly and live according to God’s purposes. There is a fresh sense of calling, vocation or ministry. We start to focus more on other people’s best interests. We start to experience a deep calm and stillness. We allow for a new certainty in God while being comfortable with ambiguity.

6. The Life of Love. At this stage we reflect God to others in the world more clearly and consistently than we ever thought possible. We let our light shine in such a way that God is given the credit and the thanks. We have lost ourselves yet truly found ourselves. We are selfless. We are at peace with ourselves, fully conscious of being the person God created us to be. Obedience comes naturally. We give our all without feeling that it means surrender or sacrifice. We are at one with the Spirit of God. God becomes everything to us.

There is a mystery to our journey of faith. Everyone is unique and will experience variations in their individual journey but we are all headed in the same direction – closer to God. It is helpful to view this journey as a circle rather than as a linear progression. God is at the centre. He is at work in each stage and our goal is not to try to control our growth experience but to draw closer to Him in each season. There are no set formulas for spiritual growth nor can we always know exactly where we are in our spiritual journey. Stages may overlap and we may re-visit stages at times.

Reflection Questions

  1. Where do you think you are now in your own journey of faith and why?
  2. Where have you been in the past? What stages do you recognise or identify with?
  3. Select two Bible characters and see if you can see this pattern in their faith journey.
  4. What are some insights for relating well to others who may be at a different stage than you?
  5. What sort of activities or experiences might be most helpful at each stage - and especially the stage you are at right now?
  6. Click here for a list of additional reflection questions for each stage of faith.

The Value of Time

Time

To realize the value of ONE YEAR, ask a student who failed a grade.
To realize the value of ONE MONTH, ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.
To realize the value of ONE WEEK, ask the editor of a weekly newspaper.
To realize the value of ONE HOUR, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
To realize the value of ONE MINUTE, ask a person who just missed a train.
To realize the value of ONE SECOND, ask someone who just avoided an accident.
To realize the value of ONE MILLISECOND, ask the person who won a silver medal at the Olympics.

Treasure every moment that you have ... and treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time with. Remember, time waits for no one.

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why its called the present.

[Unknown]


First Things First

Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you (Jesus).

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Good is the enemy of best.

Establishing priorities is essential to life and ministry effectiveness. Not every task or project is created equal. The challenge is to put “first things first”. Basically, all of us spend our time in one of four ways, as illustrated in the Time Management Matrix. This matrix defines activities as “urgent” or “not urgent”, and “important or “not important”. Most people discover that they spend far too much time responding to the urgent crises of Quadrants I and III, escaping occasionally for survival to the not urgent, unimportant time wasters of Quadrant IV.

7h-matrix

The ideal is to work toward eliminating time spent in Quadrants III and IV, and increasing time spent in Quadrant II. As you invest more time om planning, prevention and relationship-building activities of Quadrant II, you’ll find that you spend far less time picking up the broken pieces in Quadrant I or reacting to the urgent demands of other people in Quadrant III.

Applications:

  1. What one thing could you do (that you aren’t doing now), that if you did on a regular basis, would make a significant positive difference in your personal life? What one thing in your ministry life would bring similar results? Schedule both of these things weekly.
  2. Draw a Time Management Matrix and estimate how much time you (and/or your team) spend in each quadrant. Then log your time for 3 days in 15 minute intervals. How accurate was your estimate? Make needed changes by concentrating on Quadrant II.
  3. Start organising your life on a weekly basis. Write down your roles and goals. Then incorporate your goals into a specific action plan.

Prison Break: Finding Personal Freedom

Prison Break by Mark Conner (Book Cover)Quite a few years ago now, we conducted a survey in our church. One of the open-ended questions was: "I wish someone would preach about ..." We collated the answers and I have enough to preach on until Jesus comes back!

Actually, what surprised me the most at the time was the fact that people wanted to hear messages about dealing with common challenges such as worry, fear, anger, depression and rejection. These weren't subjects we were speaking on very often and as a result we were not "scratching where people were itching!"

After this survey, we crafted a series of messages around the theme of "Prison Break". In Jesus' first sermon, he declared that he had come to set the prisoners free - to lead a prison break! We shared messages on freedom from worry, freedom from fear, freedom from anger, etc, etc. It was one of the most impacting teaching series we have ever done. Eventually, these messages were compiled into a book and it's been a best-seller ever since.

You can purchase Prison Break: Finding Personal Freedom from WORD Books in paperback format or from Amazon in downloadable format for Kindle. If you enjoy it, thanks for leaving a recommendation. 

Here's the full description and a recommendation from Dr. Arch Hart.

Living in our broken world creates the possibility of becoming trapped by various negative emotions and habits that can easily become like a prison around us. In this helpful book, Mark Conner shares practical principles for finding freedom from common problems such as anger, fear, worry, rejection, depression, addictions, and spiritual bondages. With God's help you can make a prison break- beginning today.

"To some extent we all have our personal prisons, in these hectic and stress-filled days. This is why Mark Conner's book Prison Break is so timely and helpful. Whether your personal prison is one of anger or fear, worry or some destructive habit, addictions or whatever, Mark offers help that can free you from your prison. The book is practical yet sound, both psychologically and biblically and easy to read. I am sure no reader will be disappointed." 

Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., FPPR. 
Senior Professor of Psychology and Dean Emeritus 
Graduate School of Psychology 
Fuller Theological Seminary 
Pasasena, California


Jesus and His Mother

MaryAs Jesus was dying on the cross, he was not completely alone. There were a small group of people who loved him dearly, right there until his last breath (John 19:25-27). They demonstrated great courage just to even be there. One of them was Mary - Jesus’ mother. I am sure Mary did not always understand her Son, Jesus (what he was up to and why he did what he did) but she always loved him. Her presence there was the most natural thing in the world for a mother. Jesus might be a criminal in the eyes of the Roman government, but he was her son. Imagine the anguish of watching your own son die. The undying love of a mother was on full display at the cross - through the heart of Mary.

Despite the agony he was experiencing with the entire salvation of the world hanging in the balance, Jesus saw his mother Mary and thought of her well-being in the days ahead. He could not entrust her to his brothers, as they did not yet believe in him (John 7:5) and Joseph had most likely passed away. Here was his mother, a widow, alone. He was her eldest son. Would she be okay? Who would look after her? There was John - his beloved disciple but also his cousin (Salome’s, Mary’s sister’s, son). So Jesus committed Mary to the care of John and John to the care of Mary, that these two would comfort each other’s loneliness when He was gone.

Notice Jesus’ care and respect for his mother. It was not uncommon for a crucified person to make a pronouncement or distribute their estate from the cross. Jesus had nothing - no home or possessions … but he had a mother - Mary. The Gospels record important words of Jesus from the cross, such as “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”, “It is finished!” and “Into your hands I commit my spirit” - all sacred and treasured. But I think these are some of the most moving words Jesus spoke from that cross - demonstrating the love and care of a Son for his mother. Jesus, in his own pain, said, “Please, look after my mother!” One of the last things Jesus did was to ensure that the woman who birthed him, who taught him, and who loved him would have no lack.

Mary herself is an example of a devoted disciple and an exemplary mother. She was favoured by God (Luke 1:26-38), she had a responsive heart to God’s unexpected intentions for her life, she endured great hardship (Luke 2:34-35), and yet she treasured deeply all of the events of her life (Luke 2:19, 51). Not only was she at the cross when Jesus died, she saw him risen from the dead and she was in the upper room praying on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14), when they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).

No wonder Mary was called “blessed among all women.”

See also: Mother's Day 2016


Happy Mother's Day (2016)

Happy-Mothers-Day-Flowers

[Watch this message]

It’s Mother’s Day: a century-old tradition of taking time to thank and honour our amazing mums. Mums are special people we owe so much to - in addition to our very existence! Most mums are faithful, loyal, hard-working, loving and caring people. We honour and applaud them today. Of course, Mother’s Day brings a variety of emotion with it – gratitude, if you had a great mum, some sadness and pain if you had a difficult or absent mum, and grief if you have lost your mum or wanted to be a mum but haven’t yet been able to have children.

Our Mothers

What was your mother like? Mothers are highly influential people but no mother is perfect. Ideally, they provide care, love, nurture and protection for their children, but that isn’t always the case. In their recent book, Our Mothers, Ourselves: How Understanding Your Mother’s Influence Can Set You on a Path of a Better Life, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (best-selling authors of Boundaries) unpack how our mothers shape us – for better or worse, including describing different types of mothers and styles of mothering. These include the Phantom Mum, the China Doll Mum, the Controlling Mother, the Trophy Mum, the Still-the-Boss Mum, and the American Express Mum. It is easy to dismiss the past, but even as adults we need to understand our mother’s pervasive influence on our life.

No matter what our mother was like, we need to give them love and respect, gratitude, and forgiveness. In addition, we need to “leave” appropriately and be who God has called us to be, severing that umbilical cord of dependence, as it were. Then we return, hopefully as friends.

The Art of Mothering

All mothers should seek to be the best mothers that they can be. This includes making a choice to:

  1. Love unconditionally. True love is not just an emotion but is an act of will to do what is best for another person, regardless of what they are like. Kids aren’t perfect yet they need to know they are loved … no matter what.
  2. Affirm frequently. Words are powerful (Proverbs 18:21). Use them for good – to build up your children (Ephesians 4:29). Children thrive under encouragement, affirmation and praise.
  3. Instruct clearly. Establish clear expectations and consequences, then follow through consistently. Teach desired behaviour (what) and the values behind it (why). Example is essential (kids do what they see), as is a loving relationship.
  4. Discipline lovingly. Loving discipline is about giving appropriate consequences for disobedience, not abuse or harsh, angry punishment.
  5. Empower fully. As children grow and mature, empower them more to make their own decisions and be responsible for their own lives. Our kids are really not ours. We don't own or possess them. They are gifts …. loaned for a time. Help them become who God has designed them to be. Don’t project your own wishes on them. Then trust God and let go of any unnecessary guilt or condemnation for the choices they may choose to make.

[More BLOG posts on parenting: Wisdom for ParentsParenting TeenagersDamaging Parenting Styles and Some Thoughts on Parenting. There are many good books on parenting but I especially encourage you to check out The Parenting Book by Nicky and Sila Lee]

God as Mother?

Sometimes mums can find it difficult to see themselves as a reflection of the image of God. This may be because of the number of male references to God in the Bible, such as king or Father. But God is not male! [God created woman so if he was a man this would be impossible because we all know that men know nothing about women!] God is Spirit. He transcends gender yet includes what we know as male and female. Men and women were both created in God’s image. God has both masculine and feminine qualities (see Isaiah 42:14; 49:14-16; 66:13. Hosea 13:8. Matthew 23:37). He has motherly traits of caretaker, comforter and nurturer. That's why it takes both men and women to reflect God accurately. Mums - you are made in the image of God. You reflect his nature and his characteristics … even in your mothering of your children. Walk with a sense of dignity and honour. You matter … just because of who you are!

Reflection Questions

  1. Reflect on the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. What can we learn from her?
  2. What does Mother’s Day mean to you?
  3. Think about your own mother. What are you thankful for? What was difficult?
  4. Review the five suggested tasks in the “art of mothering”. Reflect on how God is the model of the perfect parent.
  5. Consider some of the feminine aspects of God’s nature – such as love, care, nurture, and protection. Why do we sometimes struggle with seeing God this way? What do we miss out by thinking of God only in male images?
  6. Finish by praying for all of our family relationships.

See also: Jesus and His Mother.


Showdown in the Desert (pt.2)

Desert

Lessons from Jesus’ Temptation

Yesterday, we looked at Jesus' showdown in the dessert. Today, let's glean a few lessons for our own lives from this story.  

1. We are in a spiritual war.

We live in a spiritual battle zone between God and Satan, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. There is no neutral ground. We will either overcome or be overcome. The battle will intensify as history proceeds from this time until the return of Jesus. 

Before the world was created, a number of theologians believe that one of God's archangels was cast out of heaven and thrown to earth because of rebellion. This being became 'Satan' or the devil. In the Garden of Eden, Satan in the form of a serpent, deceived Adam and Eve, leading them to sin and forfeit their inheritance of dominion over the earth (Genesis 3:15-16). All through the Old Testament we see conflict between the “seed of the woman” (the godly line) and the “seed of the serpent” (the ungodly line). 

At the time of Jesus’ birth, King Herod attacked the new-born babies. When Jesus’ ministry begins, he is led into the wilderness where Satan tempts him personally. Throughout Jesus ministry Satan tries to trick him, even through one of his disciples, Peter. On the cross we have the ultimate battle against darkness.

Jesus was revealed to destroy the works of the evil one (1 John 3:8. Acts 10:38). On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Jesus prayed that the Father would “keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15) and told his disciples to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13).”

The early church portrays a community of people advancing into the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Satan attacks and persecutes but does not overcome (Matthew 16:18-19. Romans 16:20).

In Ephesians 6:12, Paul speaks of the struggle (literally a wrestling match) we experience in life against the “schemes (methods or tricks) of the devil” in the spiritual realm. We enter God’s kingdom through much tribulation - pressure and hardships (Acts 14:22).

Revelation 12:1-20 gives us a prophetic picture of a pregnant woman about to give birth to new life - a son who will rule the nations. There is also an enormous dragon representing the devil or Satan. He is standing in front of the woman about to give birth so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. Then there is war in heaven as Michael and his angels fight against the Dragon and his angels. On earth again, we see the dragon pursuing the woman who is taken into the desert ... out of the serpent’s reach. Satan is enraged ... waged war against the rest of the woman’s offspring.

God has a plan and the devil has a plan. We are in the midst of this cosmic battle.

God is always seen as “birthing” something into the world. He is the creator. He is moving forward, taking ground for the kingdom and freeing those oppressed by the devil. God’s kingdom is forcefully advancing - offensive activity (Matthew 11:12). Satan is always seen as seeking to deceive or destroy and to hinder God’s work. Like a thief, he comes to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

2. Satan will attack us.

Because we are in a spiritual warfare, we will know what it is to be tempted, tested and come under the attack of the devil. Satan is real and he hates God’s work in our lives. Again, it’s important to realise that not everything bad that happens to us is the devil at work. Sometimes our own sin or foolishness is the cause of our pain. At others times other people can cause us difficulty. Don’t blame everything on the devil! 

Luke 22:31-32. "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." NIV

2 Corinthians 2:10-11. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven - if there was anything to forgive - I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

Ephesians 4:26-27. "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. NIV

Ephesians 6:11. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. NIV

James 4:7. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

1 Peter 5:8-9. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. NIV 

We are in a spiritual war and we will be attacked, so we need to be alert and on guard. Satan may not tempt us in exactly the same way as he did Jesus, because as we are not the unique Son of God. However, he tries to trip us up and offer us shortcuts that hinder our walk with God.

Tests or temptations are not bad. In fact, they may be sent by God (James 1:2-4). If we are to grow spiritually, we can expect trials. The main issue is our response to the test. Do we look to God to guide us through? Do we trust him or do we reassert our control?  Sometimes opting for comfort means selling our soul to the prince of this world. Our work, our status, our possessions, our family or even our ministry can stand in the way of knowing God. Satan always offers us an easy path without suffering or difficulty. When we lack trust in God, we try to force him to act on our behalf. At times we can attempt to control God rather than follow his leading.

Satan attacks all believers and especially leaders, seeking to destroy them. We must defend ourselves and conquer him in order to be effective ministers. We know that Satan seeks to blind the minds of unbelievers to keep them from hearing or understanding the gospel. He binds them in fear and hopelessness. Satan seeks to attack individual Christians through temptation, doubts, fear, deceit, sin habits and other strongholds. He seeks to hinder them from living in victory and especially from becoming active ambassadors for God’s kingdom. He will use anything from attacks on the mind to demonic spirits, sickness, curses (generational) or emotional wounds (bitterness, inferiority, fear, etc). This is a spiritual war, not fought with physical weapons or in the material plane. The battleground is within us. He is subtle and deceptive.

3. Our enemy targets our weakness.

Our spiritual enemy knows where we are vulnerable and targets his attack there. Satan has “schemes” which he uses to try to outwit us. He prowls around looking for a foothold or for an opportunity to take advantage of us.

Pray about your vulnerable or weak areas. It’s easy to gradually drift and Satan often uses subtle shifts or distractions to trap us. Imagine you’re the devil (just for a moment) or a head demon. Devise a strategy to defeat you! When are you most vulnerable? Build defences in these areas. Strengthen what is weak. Who’s praying for your weakness?

Deception is Satan’s only power over us. He comes as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He uses the philosophies of the world, sin, riches, pride, idolatry, wrong desires or whatever he can. His plan is to deceive the whole world. He is a liar and the father of all lies and falsehood (gives birth to, sustains, source, author, begins). The lie began in heaven with Satan - he deceived himself (Isaiah 14:12-15). He is the Deceiver (Revelation 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20; 20:3,8,10. 2 John 7). He is the enemy of the truth. He hates it and there is no truth in him (2 Thessalonians 2:9. 1 John 2:21,22. Acts 5:3,4).

4. We can overcome!

Jesus has already defeated Satan at the cross. We have His authority and His power so we can defeat all the works of the enemy. Jesus Christ in us is greater than he who is in the world. The Second Adam did what the First Adam failed to do. He conquered temptation. He now lives in us and gives us the power to overcome, to escape and to resist the devil.

Jesus overcame the world, Satan and sin even though he was tempted just like us. We overcome by faith - trust and dependence upon Jesus, not our own strength. Christ in you. Let Him live (overcome) through you. As we watch and pray we can overcome temptation.

Mark 14:38. Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." (NIV)

Luke 21:36. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." (NIV)

Use your weapons and your authority (2 Corinthians 10:3-5. Ephesians 6. Romans 12:1-2) – prayer, the Word, forgiveness and the name of Jesus.

Resist the devil! Flee, stand and fight.

5. Personal victory precedes public victory.

Jesus faces his temptation alone and we only know about it because he must have told his disciples what happened. In order to plunder Satan’s kingdom, Jesus would have to defeat him (Mark 3:22-27) and resisting temptation was the first of Satan’s defeats.

Jesus’ ministry was described like this. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and … he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (Acts 10:38 NIV).” Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). 

Like David, we must defeat the “lions” and “bears” in our own lives (personal problems and bad habits) before we can take on the Goliath’s on behalf of a whole nation (1 Samuel 17:32- ). He learned to use his weapons. Jesus overcame Satan then the world.

As we deal with our own personal battles, we gain confidence and strength to help others overcome. By faith we must enter into this victory and storm the gates of hell. People need to be set free from the power of Satan.

Paul’s ministry was much like that of Jesus. God said to him, “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:17-18 NIV).”

Jesus wants to help us overcome and be part of his army of warriors who, despite the overwhelming odds, will free many from the clutches of the enemy through the power of the Holy Spirit.

What are your private giants? Are you conquering them? Or do you need help (counsel, accountability, etc)? Have you given in to the lie that you will never overcome?

Conclusion

  1. Are you awake and alert to the spiritual battle we are engaged in?
  1. Are you aware of your weak or vulnerable areas? 
  1. Are you taking steps to guard yourself against the devil so that you can overcome him? 
  1. Do you see the importance of overcoming the enemy? You need it and so do others.

Prayer Points

  1. Pray that followers of Christ will have a fresh awareness and understanding of the spiritual battle that we are in as believers so that we are more awake and alert spiritually. 
  1. Pray that we will have our eyes open to the ways the devil attacks us personally. 
  1. Pray that we will become aware of their own weak and vulnerable areas. 
  1. Pray that we will take practical steps to guard ourselves against the devil in those areas. 
  1. Pray that we will see and believe that we can overcome every attack, temptation and test of the devil. 
  1. Pray that we will see the importance of personal victory so that God can use them to help set others free.

Showdown in the Desert (Pt.1)

Desert

Jesus has prepared well for impacting his world through total surrender, a strong relationship with his Father and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

The final aspect of his preparation is a showdown with the devil himself.

Immediately after the “mountain-top” experience at his water baptism, Luke describes Jesus as “full of the Spirit”. The Spirit then “led” Jesus into the desert or wilderness (in comparison to the garden paradise where Adam and Eve were tempted). Jesus fasted (ate no food) for 40 days. During these 40 days he was also tempted or tested by the devil. The three specific temptations recounted by Matthew and Luke seem to have occurred at the close of this period - when Jesus hunger was the greatest and his resistance the lowest.

As Christians, we sometimes face our greatest struggles right after conversion or some act of recommitment, rather than before. This should not surprise us.

God in his sovereignty initiates this time of testing. However, he allows no temptation except which furthers his ultimate purposes. Yet he never directly tempts anyone (James 1:13) and is wholly disassociated from evil. Because the Holy Spirit initiated these temptations, they should be understood not as a defensive struggle but as an offensive attack on the rule of Satan. The kingdom of God had come and the rule of this evil age was now challenged.

This test is similar to the 40 years period that God led Israel through the wilderness to humble them and test them in order to know what was in their heart, whether or not they would keep his commands (Deuteronomy 8:1-5). Also, 40 days and nights recalls the experiences of Moses (Exodus 24:18; 34:18) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).

Whereas Adam failed the great test and plunged the whole race into rebellion against God (Genesis 3), Jesus was faithful and demonstrated his qualification to become the Saviour. Jesus shows his moral qualifications as messiah by relying on God and his word, rather than like Adam, reaching for the power that Satan tempts him to take. What Adam as son of God was not, Jesus is. He is ready to minister on behalf of all humanity.

Jesus was also tempted as we are so that he could become our “merciful and faithful high priest” (Hebrews 2:17) and therefore be “able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:15; 4:15-16). He becomes a model for us. These were real temptations. Jesus was tempted in every way just like us, yet without sin. Satan tempts Jesus. Jesus resists Satan.

The three temptations are somewhat unusual, in that they don’t appear to be a temptation to real “evil”. In each case, Satan uses a selfish tactic in justifying the action he wants Jesus to take. It was a temptation toward independence.

There are fascinating parallels between these three temptations of Jesus, the three temptations in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:6) and the three kinds of temptation 1 John 2:16 lists to summarise “everything in the world.”

“Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17).

1. First Temptation (Luke 4:3-4)

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” “Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Man does not live on bread alone’”. 

Satan questioned Jesus’ identity by saying, “If you are the Son of God …”

The devil tempts the Son of God to use his supernatural powers for his own ends. This seemed attractive, as Jesus was very hungry. He tried to get Jesus to use his power and authority to fulfil his own natural desires or appetites. However, Jesus didn’t use his miraculous power for personal benefit. Satan questions God’s provision and care and lures Jesus to act independently of the Father.

“Surely you should feed yourself, Jesus.”

It was not a temptation to a crime or sin in the traditional sense. It is a test as to what kind of Messiah will Jesus be – one who uses his power for his own ends or one who lives in dependence and trust in the Father to provide his needs.

On the cross, Jesus would have the same temptation to use his own powers to “save himself”. A criminal scoffed, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Spectators took up the cry: “Let him come down from the cross and we will believe in him .” But even with 12 legions of angels at his disposal, he would not call on them (Matthew 26:53). He would trust instead on the providential care of the Father. For Jesus to save others, he could not save himself. There was no easy, painless path.

This was the “lust of the flesh” and compares to “the tree was good for food.”

Yes, there is nothing wrong with feeding yourself, but when it conflicts with what God has ordained, it is sin.

Jesus conquered Satan’s attack with the “sword of the spirit”, which is the Word of God. Jesus knew the Word of God. It was in His heart and mind. “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Ps.119:11). He didn’t discuss, contemplate or reason with the tempter. He gave a decisive “No!”

Jesus relied on his Father for food, not his own miraculous power. Jesus understands that life is more than food and is to be lived in obedience to God. For Jesus, the spirit ruled. His spirit was strong through feeding on God’s Word even though His body was weak through lack of food.

2. Second Temptation (Luke 4:5-8)

The devil led Jesus up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. He said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’”.

The kingdoms of the world and their splendour were offered to Jesus if He would bow down and worship the tempter. This was a temptation to power, prominence, fame, fortune, and glory. Satan, as the “prince of this world” and the “ruler of this present age”, had the power to do this. Jesus did not challenge his ability to make such an offer. This is not an attempted deception by Satan to give what he could not.

This was the “lust of the eyes” (appealing to the ego or self) and compared to the fruit being “pleasing to the eye”.

The devil was tempting Jesus to avoid the sufferings of the cross. The temptation offered an easy shortcut to world dominion. It was a “cross-less solution” to the world’s problems. However, Jesus rejected all political concepts of messiahship. The world needed a saviour that would provide forgiveness, reconciliation with God and salvation from future judgement.

“Surely the Father wants you to have authority, so just give me your allegiance.”

Jesus answered emphatically: “Away from me, Satan! (Matthew 4:10)” Resist the devil and he will flee from you! (James 4:7). 

God must be first and only. Love God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Let Him be your treasure, your desire and your focus in life. Jesus’ entire focus was on pleasing His Father through worship (relationship) and service (ministry).  His eyes were not on material rewards whatsoever. Jesus’ drive was to do the will of God - obedience to the Father’s commands. His priorities were to worship (love) and to serve (obey) God.

3. Third Temptation (Luke 4:9-12)

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God”, he said, “Throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’”.

This may have been a vision-like experience. The temple in Jerusalem had a Royal Porch on the Southeast corner, which loomed over a cliff and the Kidron Valley some 450 feet below. Josephus mentions that just looking over the edge made people dizzy. To cast oneself down from such a height and survive would take divine intervention.

Satan was testing Jesus to test God’s faithfulness. This time Satan quoted Scripture, those he misused or misapplied Psalm 91:11-12. He twists its meaning and uses it for his own purpose. This was a test of presumption - putting God to the “test” (Deuteronomy 6:16). Surely God would care for his own and not let Jesus suffer pain.

“Surely God will protect his Son, so why not try him out?” It is a dare on Jesus’ part to make God rescue him.

This was the “pride of life” and is similar to Satan saying that the fruit was “desirable for gaining wisdom (so as not to die).”

Jesus answered with Scripture as he had on the other two temptations, quoting Deuteronomy. We should marvel at Jesus’ restraint. Why didn’t he just blast Satan away!?

Jesus overcame all three temptations. He was totally dedicated to God’s will and call. He will take only the road God asks him to follow and refuses to take any shortcuts.

Result:

  • The devil left Jesus until an “opportune time”. Satan continues with his testing throughout Jesus’ ministry (see Mark 8:33), culminating in the supreme test at Gethsemane. Jesus is also about to confront demons very shortly (Luke 4:31-44).
  • Angels came and ministered to Him (Matthew 4:11).
  • Jesus then returned to Galilee in the “power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14) and his public ministry began.

Tomorrow: Lessons from Jesus' Temptation 


Pass the Baton: Successful Leadership Transition

Screenshot.jpgCityLife Church, located in Melbourne Australia, has had three Senior Ministers so far in it's 49 year history. Richard Holland was our founding pastor and led the church for 20 years, followed by my dad, Kevin Conner, who led the church for the next 8 years. I have been the Senior Minister for the last 21 years and have recently begun succession planning conversations with our Board of Elders.

Like any relay race, passing the baton effectively is vital for any organisation, including a local church. I wrote about this a few years ago, in response to many people wanting to know what lessons we had learned from our leadership successions at CityLife. The book is called Pass the Baton: Principles of Successful Leadership Transition.

This book outlines the story of the two successful senior leadership transitions that have taken place at CityLife Church - from Richard Holland to Kevin Conner and from my dad  to myself. Also included are many practical principles for any leadership transition - in a church, a ministry, an organisation or a business. We have had very good feedback from many churches and leaders who have used the lessons from our journey to help them in their own transitions.

I pray that this book continues to be a help and a blessing to many churches and ministries in Australia and around the world. The revised edition has a number of edits and updates, including the fact that our founding pastor, Richard Holland went home to be with the Lord in 2008.

Recommendation for Mark's previous book Transforming Your Church:

  • "Mark Conner is one of the finest leaders I know. He is that rare combination of a bright mind and a fully yielded heart. His observations concerning the shifts that must take place in order for a church to reach its redemptive potential are profound. And Mark’s insights are far more than theory. One visit to his church is all it will take to turn cynics into believers. The Church for the 21st Century will require a higher level of leadership than any other era in human history. Books like this one will contribute a great deal to the development of such leadership. I am deeply grateful to Mark for his friendship and the impact that he is having on churches and leaders in Australia, and increasingly all over the world." Bill Hybels [Senior Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church]

A Call to COURAGE

Courage

ANZAC Day

Tomorrow is ANZAC Day, a day when Australians and New Zealanders remember the beginning of World War I. This was Australia’s first major military encounter as a nation with the wider world as we joined Britain’s fight against Germany. Last year was the 100th anniversary of the ANZACs landing at the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. This was supposed to be a quick knock-out battle but the wildness of the terrain and the fierce resistance of the Turkish defenders led to a stalemate campaign that dragged on for 8 months. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships.

ANZAC Day evokes mixed and strong emotions. Some people feel it glorifies war. Our last ANZAC, Alec Campbell, pleaded on his deathbed: “For God’s sake, don’t glorify Gallipoli - it was a terrible fiasco, a total failure and best forgotten.” War is not a noble enterprise, nor a great source for national identity, or an ideal proof of a person’s coming of age. Only those who have been to war can understand its horror and the trauma it leaves in its wake. Others say it is a fitting tribute to remember those who gave their lives and made such a sacrifice. We should honour the dead not glorify war. Regardless of our personal views of the annual ANZAC Day celebrations, we can find common ground in commending the spirit of the soldiers who went to war. Their commitment, sacrifice, friendship (‘mateship’), endurance and courage in the face of great adversity is admirable. Courage is the attribute we want to focus on today.

Courage

Courage is strength in the face of fear, grief and pain. Afro-American author Maya Angelou once said, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.” Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” JRR Tolkien noted, “Courage is often found in unlikely places.”

The Bible has a lot to say about courage and how important it is in our daily lives:

  • “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
  • “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart.” Psalm 27:14.
  • “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
  • “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Acts 4:31
  • “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7.
  • “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” Eph.6:10

As followers of Jesus, we are called to stand strong in the face of adversity – to be courageous! Thankfully, God is with us even in the midst of challenge, suffering and pain. We can draw on God’s strength.

Our Mission

John ‘Jack’ Simpson is one of our ANZAC heroes, as he rescued 300 injured soldiers from the heat of the battle over a period of 24 days, with the help of a donkey he found at ANZAC Cove. Sadly, he was hit in the back with a bullet from a machine gun. He died saving others. This reminds us of the words of Jesus Christ who said, “Greater love has no one than this than to lay down their life for a friend” (John 15:13). Jesus modeled this by leaving the comforts of heaven to risk and eventually lay down his life to rescue us from sin and death. That’s great courage!

It also takes courage for us to pursue our God-given mission today. Many of our World Impact workers and partners are working in some of the poorest, most persecuted and least evangelised parts of our world today. For many, there is a high price tag that includes their lives being endangered. We admire and commend their courage in planting churches, raising up leaders, growing congregations and transforming communities.

A Call to Courage

Here are three ways we can respond to this call to courage, as we draw inspiration from our ANZACs and our mission workers:

  1. Pray … for our mission workers. Adopt a mission work or project and consider joining a support group. Jesus’ desire was for his Father’s house to be a “house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17). Clear the clutter and move out anything that is hindering your heart from being a place of prayer and worship.
  2. Go … to another nation. Consider being part of a short-term team or taking up a medium or long term placement in another nation. You will be a blessing to the people there, an encouragement to our mission workers, and travel enriches you too. Augustine once said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
  3. Give … financially to the work of World Impact. Yes, there are local church ministry needs and we have building and community projects that need funds, but we never want to lose our heart for global mission. Make a financial donation to your church's mission program. Compared to the rest of the world, we are ‘rich’. As our generosity grows, our capacity as a church does also.

Your Life 

What are you facing right now that is calling forth courage within you? Are you overwhelmed by fear or discouragement? Has criticism or adversity taken its toll? God’s Word to you today is, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go!” God is with you and he will give you the strength to go through whatever you may be facing.

Reflection Questions

  1. What does ANZAC Day mean to you?
  2. Reflect on a time in your personal life when you had to be courageous.
  3. How does courage relate to us engaging in our mission to reach our neighbours and friends with the good news of Jesus?
  4. What story have you heard so far from our mission workers that inspired you the most when it comes to courage?
  5. Spend some time praying for a specific mission worker or project.
  6. Ask someone who has been on a short-term team to share about their experience.
  7. Ask a friend what challenge they facing right now that is requiring courage for them. Pray for them. 

Floss Regularly

Floss

As a kid, I hated going to the dentist! The very smell of the dentist's office caused panic and nausea for me. Thankfully, I didn't need too many fillings growing up but I still dread the 'scale and clean' experience even as an adult. I'm so glad when it's over.

We all know that flossing our teeth helps prevent tooth decay and makes those 'scale and clean' experiences much more bearable. I try to floss every few days but sometimes I drift and let it go for a few weeks. It's much harder then to clear those gaps between your teeth.

I think flossing has spiritual and relational lessons for us. Imagine how much better life would be if we stopped and engaged in a spiritual examen every night before going to sleep and ensured that our conscience is clear before we finish each day. Now that's as good as a thorough floss of the teeth!

Why not try it out: 


Jesus' Empowerment by the Spirit

During Jesus' baptism in water, the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove (Luke 3:22). This implies a sort of “anointing” for ministry. Jesus was “filled with the Spirit” (Luke 4:1) and was then “led by the Spirit” (Luke 4:1) into the wilderness where he overcame the devil and returned in the “power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).

Jesus lived his life by the Spirit’s power. We too need the power of the Spirit to help us live a life of purpose and impact, an abundant joyful and victorious life.

The disciples separated themselves to God, developed a relationship with the father and also received the power of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The evidence of this empowering was “spiritual language” (speaking in tongues) and a boldness to witness for Jesus (Acts 2).

Spirit-Powered Living

We have all experienced the frustration of trying to live a good life in our own strength. After all, we all have weaknesses, sinful tendencies, bad habits, wrong desires and good intentions we don’t follow through on. We desperately need the help of the Holy Spirit.

The foundations of the Christian life are seen in Peter's first sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-39).

1. Repentance – a decision to make. This is about new life (conversion) through faith and a relationship with the Father God.

2. Water Baptism – a command to obey.

3. The Holy Spirit – a gift to receive.

The Christian life begins with repentance and faith that results in an inner transformation (salvation, eternal life, being 'born again'). The next step is to be baptised in water, an outward declaration of our allegiance to Jesus Christ. We are also to be filled with the Holy Spirit. These three steps are just the beginning and form a firm foundation for a strong Christian life.

There is now a new life to be lived “in the Spirit”. We are to be filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit. We are to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit - God's nature and character. We are to be empowered by the Spirit both to overcome the enemy and be witnesses to the life that is in Jesus Christ. So there is much to learn as we begin to grow from “babies” to become mature “sons and daughters of God.”

In the first century, at times people experienced all these things simultaneously. In other cases, these things happened at different times. God deals with each of us in different ways and we all respond differently to His work in our lives.

How are your spiritual foundations?

Further Reading:


Jesus' Relationship with His Father

As Jesus was being baptised, Luke notes that he was praying or talking to his heavenly Father (Luke 3:21). Throughout his gospel, Luke makes a special emphasis on Jesus’ life of prayer – one of close relationship with his Father (Luke 6:12; 9:18, 29; 11:1; 22:41).

After being baptised, the Father spoke to him Jesus and said, “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

This is probably a private and personal experience between Jesus and the Father. The voice speaks directly to Jesus. Luke does not record any reaction or response from the crowd, as in other cases when such events occur more publicly (e.g. Acts 9).

Jesus has developed a close relationship with his heavenly Father beginning as a child (age 12).  Jesus was obedient and he did those things that pleased his Father.

This statement by the Father indicated that Jesus had:

  1. Identity - “my Son”.
  2. Acceptance - “whom I love”.
  3. Approval - “well pleased”.

This endorsement of the Father is like a personal commissioning of Jesus, not making him something he wasn’t before but recognising that the much loved Son will launch out into actively exercising the authority he possesses.

Jesus’ relationship with his Father was the source of his strength and the foundation of his life. This enabled him to stand firm even when his identity was attacked by others (“If you are the Son of God ...”) and or when others did not accept or approve of him. Jesus was not shaken because he was not dependent on nor did he base his life on the opinions of other people. Jesus' relationship with his Father is the source of his confidence and direction for his ministry.

The relationship that Jesus had with the Father is not for him alone. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called into the same intimacy and security of the Father’s love.

1. Identity – we are the children of God, his sons and daughters. He is our Father and that makes us special, important and significant ... simply because we are his. We are not slaves or simply servants of God. We are sons, daughters and heirs of the promises.

2. Acceptance – God’s love for us is not based on our goodness or our performance. It is a love given as a free gift, even though it is undeserved. This is the power of grace.

3. Approval – as we obey God and follow his ways, we can also know his pleasure and approval. Obedience pleases God. However, obedience isn’t to be done out of self-effort to try earn God’s love but rather as a response to the grace he already has shown us.

Following Jesus Christ and living God’s way will put us in situations where people may not accept us or give us their approval. They may laugh and even mock us. Unless our roots are deep and strong in the Father’s love, we will falter at those times, compromise our faith and lose our potential impact. May your life be rooted and grounded in the Father’s love (Ephesians 3:14-19), not rejection, insecurity, inferiority or fear.

How?

  • See who you are – a son/daughter not a slave.
  • Believe what God says about you.
  • Take captive every contrary thought and bring it under submission to Christ.
  • Live with this truth as your daily foundation.

Get Outside of the Box!

Box

In most neighbourhoods today, there is a daily pattern: a garage door opens, a car drives out, and the occupants head to work. Later that day, the car returns, the garage door opens, and the car disappears. Nancy Whitney-Reiter notes that if an alien were to visit our planet, he or she might observe: "You know, these people are all living in boxes. Then they get in their box on wheels, drive to another box (their office), probably spend all day working in front of a box (their computer), then drive home again, disappear back into their box, and sit and watch a box (their televisions) all night." 

There are many benefits of getting outside. It clears our heads, the fresh air is good for us, and we get in touch with God's world.

George Washington Carver once said, "I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting system, through which God speaks to us every hour, if only we the in." 

Here are a few ideas for getting outside:

  1. Plan a BBQ or eat al fresco in your own backyard.
  2. Take a walk around your neighbourhood.
  3. Sit outside and write in a journal. 
  4. Go outside at night and do some star gazing. 
  5. Spend you next lunch hour in a nearby park. 
  6. Pack a picnic and head to a lake or forrest somewhere.

Is it time to get out of your box... literally?


Jesus' Preparation for Ministry

Bap

At the age of 30 (Luke 3:23), Jesus began turning his attention towards his ministry to the people His Father had sent him to. Jesus’ preparation for ministry included his baptism in water (Luke 3:21-23), his relationship with his Father, the empowerment of the Spirit (Luke 4:1-2), and his defeat of the devil and his temptations (Luke 4:3-13).

Jesus prepared for 30 years for 3½ years of significant ministry. It has been said, that people today go to Bible College for 3½ years to prepare for 30 years of ministry.

Proper preparation is essential.

Anything significant is preceded by intensive and thorough preparation (often behind the scenes). Things just don't happen. In fact, the quality of the preparation determines the quality and success of events.

  • A delicious meal requires hours in the kitchen when no one else is around.
  • An enjoyable musical performance requires hours of practice and preparation.
  • A superb sports performance demands hours of training and preparation.
  • A doctor spends years studying before he or she ever take the tools and begins to operate (aren’t you glad!).
  • A significant ministry of high impact also requires the same intensity of preparation. God often takes his time.

The better the preparation, the more significant and lasting the impact. So in the spiritual. God prepares by His Spirit and we also must prepare. 

God sent John the Baptist to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Luke 1:11-17, 76-80; 3:1-6) He was God's prophetic messenger sent before the coming of Messiah “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:27).”

Every significant event in the purposes of God is preceded by a time of intense preparation.

Common Misunderstandings about Ministry:

1. “Ministry is only for people who work on staff at the church”.

This viewpoint misses the fact that every believer is in “full time ministry” wherever they may be – in church, in the marketplace, at school, in the neighbourhood or at home.

2. “Significant ministry just happens.”

This perspective misses the process that God uses to develop us over time and through many life experiences.

3. “You can’t minister until you’re perfect.”

This attitude causes you to keep putting things off until “one day” and this can lead to you missing the opportunities for God to use you today. God doesn’t want you in “school” forever. Yes, we keep learning and growing, but we have to get out there and begin “doing” what we’ve been taught.

What has God been preparing you for?


Jesus as a Child

Jesus

Our church is currently reading through the Gospel of Luke.

Luke gives us some interesting insight into Jesus' self-perception ... as a 12 year old.

Luke 2:41-52. Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. NIV

We don’t know a lot about Jesus’ childhood or his life before the age of 30 when he began his ministry. We do know that he grew up in a family with other brothers and sisters and he became a carpenter, a trade he learned from Joseph. It appears that sometime between the age of 12 and the beginning of his ministry, Joseph died, as he is never again mentioned with the other members of Jesus’ family. Jesus’ childhood appears to have been very normal like any other Jewish boy of the time.

Jesus at twelve years of age is one year away from accountability as a Jewish boy. At the age of twelve, the instruction of boys became more intensive in preparation for the recognition of adulthood. The Bar Mitzvah of modern times, however, post-dates the time of Jesus by 500 years.

What can we learn from this narrative about Jesus?

1. Children can know God personally.

Jesus at the age of twelve already had a relationship with God to the depth of knowing that God was his Father. This reference to his Father infers an close, personal relationship to God that is foundational to his life (c.f. Luke 10:21-22). This also implies a sense of personal intimacy, identify and significance for Jesus, even as a child.

2. Children can understand spiritual things.

Jesus is among the teachers of the temple – listening, asking questions and giving replies. Even at a young age, he has an amazing knowledge of and ability to engage in spiritual things. Already, he values the pursuit of knowing God and his ways in the world. Children love to laugh, play and have fun but don’t under-estimate their capacity to know and experience God also.

3. Children can know their life purpose.

At the age of twelve, Jesus knew that his life was to be about “his Father’s business”, that he would one day give his whole time and energy to the Father’s work on earth. Yes, he would have to wait for God’s timing and prepare for 18 more years, but this sense of destiny was already there. 

Early on, Jesus understands that he is called to do his Father’s work. Jesus explains his call in his own words and it reflects his self-understanding. He is always about the things of the Father, then and now. In his humanity, he resisted the urge to selfishness and focused on carrying out God’s will for his life.

However, Jesus' ministry has its proper timing and Jesus will wait to launch what he is destined to do. He is not impatient about starting his ministry and will wait until the time is right. He must, of course, wait until the forerunner comes, John the Baptist, before beginning his own task. 

The above description of Jesus didn’t just happen but was a result of his childhood years, which would have included input from family and friends, along with his own personal development.

May we as a community (comprised of parents, churches, community organisations and schools) seek to help kids come to know God personally, to understand spiritual things (God’s perspective on life), and to know their life purpose.


Time to Jump?

Jumppp

As the age of 19, I left America with my family to relocate back to Melbourne, Australia where I was born. I had been living in the USA for 10 years. I had friends, memories, and great opportunities for the future there. But my family was coming home and so I agreed to come with them for one year and give it a try. I had prayed bold prayers of surrendering everything to God. Now was the time to put those words into action. I was leaving everything, letting it all go, with no promise or guarantee of what was ahead. I had many more questions than answers: "Could I trust God? Would it work out? Would I regret leaving?" The great unknown.

Time to jump.

Scary, yet exhilarating.

As a 54 year old, I now re-visit this same space ... but in new ways. We have begun succession planning talks at CityLife where I have been the Senior Minister for the last 21 years and part of the staff team for 31 years. Once a successor has been chosen and is in place, I will take 6 months off then see what is next. I am letting it all go - a ministry role I have enjoyed for many years, a position of respect, a platform of influence, financial security, comfort, and a life of predictability … with no promise or guarantee of what is ahead. Once again, I have far more questions than answers: "Can I still trust God? What will people think? Am I too young for this big of a change? Will it work out? What will I do next? Will I regret leaving?" The great unknown.

Time to jump.

Scary, yet exhilarating.

Is it time for you to jump?

Maybe not.

The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence (it's usually greener where we water it!). Sometimes we need to stay put, to let our roots go down deep, to be faithful in season and out of season, and to stay the course even in the midst of a scary storm. 

Is it time for you to jump?

Maybe so.

What would you love to be or do … but are afraid to? We love to talk about adventure, faith and risk ... but there comes a time when we must choose to live it. Like Abraham, sometimes God calls us to leave our place of comfort and familiarity ... and go to a new place.

Have you silently been whispering to yourself, “I’ve always wanted to …”

If so, you are not alone.

Take a moment to read Mike Lewis’ story, then check out his new web site www.whentojump.com and follow the stories. You'll be inspired ... and maybe you too will decide it's time to jump.

Mike talks about a “jump curve”. This is not a strict blueprint but there are some common points that most people experience:

1. First, listen closely to the little voice in your head that won’t go away. 
2. Second, make a plan. In reality, for the vast majority of people, their jump is a lot of little steps.
3. Then jump. You can only plan, analyse and hypothesise so far. You will only get certainty to some degree. Just do it. The unknown delivers the best experience. Set the pieces right as best you can, then jump. 
4. Once you jump, don’t look back! Will it work? What does ‘work’ mean? Work just means you did it. That was the success. Trust God and his providence to carry you forward into the next season and chapter of your life. 

Quotes

"You can't always wait for the perfect time, sometimes you have to dare to jump". [Unknown]

"Face It: Career Jumps Are the Future of Work." [Forbes. February 26, 2016]

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." [Mark Twain] 

"A ship is safe in harbour, but that's not what ships are for." [William Shedd]

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” [Helen Keller]

"The most dangerous risk of all - the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later." [Randy Kombar]

"I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it's very difficult to find anyone ... I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!" [J.R.R. Tolkein in The Hobbit]

See also:


Insights from the Eagle

Wedge_tailed_eagle_in_flight04

I love eagles.

We live in a semi-rural area on the outskirts of Melbourne. When I took my first sabbatical back in 2012, on the very first day, Nicole and I were walking on a gravel road nearby and a huge wedge tailed eagle flew over our head and then up throught the trees. It was breathtaking. In the last few weeks, we have seen a pair of eagles soaring above our area a number of times. 

There are many lessons we can learn from the eagle. God likens us to eagles (Isaiah 40:28-31) and Solomon gained a lot of wisdom and insight from studying God's creation (1 Kings 4:29-34). Here are my main points:

Embrace adversity. An eagle never runs from a storm. In fact, they thrive when the wind gets really strong. Eagles have been seen soaring in the midst of even a hurricane. It does not panic but merely rides the wind until the storm is over.

Every life experiences some stormy weather. Don’t panic; don’t be afraid; don’t run. Be still and know that God is with you in the storm. He will bring you through. Be patient – this too will pass.  

Accept discomfort. A mother eagle makes a nest first with a layer of thorns, broken branches and sharp stones. She then covers this with fur, wool and feathers to make a comfortable bed in which to lay her eggs. Once the eaglets are born and ready to fly, they can easily become too comfortable - with a nice warm bed and 3 free meals a day! The only way to move them and get them flying is to make the nest uncomfortable, so the mother starts pulling out all of the soft lining so that the sharp objects start to cause some pain for her babies. Before long they are out of the nest and soaring the skies. 

In the same way, God can use discomfort to disturb us and help us to mature and grow to our potential. After all, God loves to comfort the disturbed ... and disturb the comfortable.

Go high! The eagle flies higher than any other bird, having been seen at heights of up to 2000 metres above the ground.

God does not want us to see ourselves as above or aloof from people or so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good … BUT it helps to view our lives from God’s perspective, to see the big picture … and not get so caught up in the details of our lives that we miss what God is up to. Take a long walk outside into nature (go treeside or seaside) and you'll be surprised by how quickly your life gains fresh focus.

Look carefully. The eagle has incredible vision and keen eyesight. It can see up to distances of 5 kilometers.

God has called us to have great vision – to see the needs of other people around us and to see the opportunities for us to make a difference.

Experience Renewal. Each year, an eagle’s feathers are replaced over a period of months. Amazingly, no two adjacent feathers fall out at the same time, so that an eagle is able to continue hunting and is not disadvantaged in any way.

We too, as God’s servants need constant renewal – we need a sense of freshness and newness in our hearts and lives. By waiting on God we can experience this – without having to drop out of life or ministry. Our youth can be ‘renewed’ just like the eagles ... as we continue to engage in our God-given assignments.

Let's continue to soar like eagles!

P.S. For more insights from the eagle, see The Eagle Story.


Easter Sunday

Easter-sunday

Can you believe it – it’s Easter Sunday! I know - it seems like we just finished celebrating Christmas. I heard one little boy once say, “Jesus was just born, are you telling me he’s died already?”

In many ways Easter is the second half of God’s Christmas gift.

Jesus came into the world as a baby who grew up to show us how to live. We learn so much from his teachings and we are inspired by the amazing things he did. But the pinnacle of his life was his death and resurrection on that first Easter over 2,000 years ago.

On the cross, Jesus took all of our sin, sickness, pain and suffering. Most importantly, death didn't hold him down. He rose again on the third day - with many witnesses seeing him alive.

I believe he is alive by His Spirit today – still transforming human lives.

May you experience His life in your life today – a life full of love, joy and peace.

Happy Easter!

[See also Jesus is Alive!]

John 10:10. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. MB


Good Friday Reflection

Good-friday

Today is Good Friday, a day where people all around the world remember and reflect on the death of Jesus Christ that took place over 2,000 years ago.

Jesus’ death wasn’t an accident nor was he a martyr. His death was an atoning death by which he started to put the world back together again. On the cross, Jesus took all of our sin, sickness, pain and suffering. He died in our place … so that we may truly live.

The good news is that God is not a distant God. Good Friday shows us a God who suffers with and for us.

Whatever you may be going through today or whatever challenges you may be facing, know that God understands and he cares.

My prayer is that you will know his presence and his power in your life today.

[See also Why Did Jesus Die?]


Life is Not Fair, But God is Good (Pt.6)

Fair

God will create a better future.

The future will be different than the past. Our ultimate hope lies in the future return of Christ and the promise that, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more mourning, crying and pain will be no more” (Revelation 21:4). Good will triumph over evil. Until then, like Job, we must persevere in the face of suffering, placing our hope in the goodness of God that promises us that, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).”

Jesus said he would return and that he would wipe all tears from our eyes. God will create a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more crying, pain or suffering (Revelation 20-21) 

We need to believe in the sovereignty of God. God is in control of our lives and nothing happens to us by chance. Our lives are not subject to fate or accident. All aspects of our life, both the good and the bad, are in the hand of God, not the devil or circumstances.

We need to believe in the justice of God. If we walk in integrity, we can be sure that justice will ultimately be done in our life. Life may not be fair, but God sees everything and he is a just judge who will give to each one according to their works. 

We need to teach about the goodness of God. In the midst of suffering and pain, God is at work in our lives. He is near, providing comfort, strength and hope in times of adversity. 

Back to Jesus

Go back to that cross and read those words, “LIFE ISN’T FAIR … “ But wait, finish the sentence, “… BUT GOD IS GOOD!”

Amazingly, the seal was broken, the stone was rolled away and the body disappeared! Frightened disciples saw Jesus alive from the dead. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God made a way for us to be redeemed from sin and death, giving us the gift of eternal life based on repentance and faith (John 3:16. Acts 2:38. Ephesians 2:8-9). 

Where is God?

He is right there with you!

Psalms 23

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. NIV

God is a God of love.

Romans 8:35-39. Who then can ever keep Christ's love from us? When we have trouble or calamity, when we are hunted down or destroyed, is it because he doesn't love us anymore? And if we are hungry or penniless or in danger or threatened with death, has God deserted us? No, for the Scriptures tell us that for his sake we must be ready to face death at every moment of the day-we are like sheep awaiting slaughter; but despite all this, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ who loved us enough to die for us. For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can't, and life can't. The angels won't, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God's love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are-high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean-nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us. TLB

Every good thing comes from God. One bad thing happens and we blame God. We forget all the good things and think we deserve them. Stop blaming God. You push yourself away from the source of good and his blessings. Don’t run from him or curse him. Reach out to him and receive his care and strength.

Circumstances change (like shadows) but God doesn’t (he is light). Turn towards him and every step is in the light. Walk away and every step is in the shadows (fake, undependable and unreal). Jesus is the light (in him there is no darkness).

You may be very disappointed and very discouraged but don’t be defeated. Ask God to comfort and strengthen you during your time of difficulty. Then focus on what you do have and on what’s going well. Move from being a victim to be a victor over your circumstances. Believe in God, ask for his help, thank him for being there for you then allow God to use you to help others. 

In your pain, God is there. Reach out and receive his love and strength today. He suffers with us. God suffered for you too. Jesus died so that you might have life – here and for eternity. 

Recommended Reading


Life is Not Fair, But God is Good (Pt.5)

Fair

God can bring good out of our pain.

God can use it for a positive purpose. Adversity can bring out untapped depths of character and faith. 

Beethoven was at his zenith, a well-known, respected, loved composer in Vienna. Then, tragedy of tragedies, his hearing began to go. A degenerative disease destroyed his hearing until he was totally deaf. He could not hear a sound. Unfair? Of course! Of all people to be denied hearing, Beethoven should have been the last. It was a loss for humanity. He left the music world of Vienna and it seemed as if he would never again be able to produce or create glorious music. He retreated to a monastery where he could be alone with his private pain.

But while he was there, God spoke to him. He gave him music that Beethoven alone could hear in is mind. The music was glorious. Writing furiously, Beethoven’s brilliant talent translated silent sounds to marks on paper that could be read and performed by musicians. The results were phenomenal. His Ninth Symphony finally emerged and he stood silently next to the conductor in the beautiful hall of Vienna with the audience seated behind him.

The audience leaped to its feet in thunderous applause. Because Beethoven could not hear the applause, the conductor turned him to face the adulation of the audience. It was a spectacular moment in music history. Even today we still sing, “Joyful, joyful …” Who would of thought that anyone was capable of creating his best music after losing his hearing?

Victor Frankl was a world renowned psychiatrist. He was living in Vienna when Hitler began his persecution of the Jews. He was a young doctor at the time. His parents – fearful and anguished – were thrilled to see their son received an invitation to go to America to work. This was his chance to escape the horror on the horizon.

“I was ecstatic,” Victor said. “I was already in danger. I was forced to wear the Jewish star exposed like a name tag on a chain- on my chest – for all to see at all times – that I was a Jew. And Jews could not leave the country unless they had a very good reason to emigrate. Armed with my American letter, I walked into the emigration office. As I approached the window, I held my briefcase over my chest – covering my stigmatic sign. I handed the letter to the official and walked out of there with official documents allowing me to leave the country for the freedom and safety of America.

“As I walked back to my office I began to have mixed feelings. Should I abandon my father and mother? Could I – should I – leave them behind? My heart prayed for guidance. When I reached my office, I sat, troubled, behind my desk. ‘What’s this?’ I said noticing a broken piece of marble someone had placed in the middle of my desk.

“Just then a colleague came in. ‘Look what I found, Dr. Frankl.’ He pointed to the marble in my hand. ‘I thought you’d like it’, he said, explaining, ‘I was past the bombed out synagogue and saw this piece. It’s the complete capital letter from one of the Ten Commandments! A sign of hope!

“I asked him which commandment it was from. I’ll never forget his reply. His answer was God’s answer to my prayer for guidance. He said, ‘Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the lord your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12).’

“I knew then that whatever the cost, I would not go to America. I tore up my ticket to freedom. I would stay. Yes, I was captured and sent to a concentration camp. But there I found meaning! And I have survived and lived long!” He was approaching his eightieth birthday. Who knows what would have happened if he had gone to America.

Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for good to those who love God …”

Joseph said, “… You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20).” His jealous brothers sold him as a slave into Egypt. But in Egypt, a prisoner in a foreign and hostile land, he the won the favour of the Pharoah and rose to the most powerful position in that nation. Years later his brothers came to Egypt from their famine-ridden country hopefully to buy grain from this unfriendly, but prosperous government. Imagine their shock when the person they had to deal with was their long-lost brother who they had tried to destroy!

Joseph looked into their eyes and said those powerful words, “You meant it for evil – But God meant it for good.” He was really saying, “I’ve leaned through all these years, Life’s not fair. My brothers didn’t treat me fairly, but God is good!”

Not all stories of pain and suffering have such a happy ending. Sometimes in this life, we never see the purpose. Sometimes death itself is a relief from pain.

God uses suffering for our good (Rom.8:28. Phil.1:29; 3:10. 1 Peter 2:21, Acts 14:22. 1 Peter 1:6-11; 4:12-13; 5:10. Hebrews 6:15, 12:2-3, James 5:10-11, Job 23:10-14, 42:5). 

God is more interested in the “inner” person.  He wants to transform us.

When we suffer, how will we respond?

  • With fear and retreat, running from it?
  • With despair and defeat?
  • With hardness and unfeeling?
  • With brave belief that somehow there will be some sense to it in time?

[Part 6]


Stories Around the Cross - The Denial

Rembrandt-01

The Denial (Mark 14:27-31, 66-72)

The theme of abandonment overshadows many of the Stories Around the Cross. Jesus was abandoned by betrayal (Judas), by indifference (the disciples sleeping three times in Gethsemane), and by denial and desertion (Peter and the Twelve). When Jesus needed them the most, his friends left him alone. They all participated in the supper (Mark 14:23), they all confessed their allegiance (Mark 14:31), and yet they all deserted Jesus (Mark 14:50).

Peter is as impetuous as ever – opening his mouth first and thinking afterwards. But he is hard to condemn and impossible to dislike. He has demonstrated nothing but reckless courage to this point - drawing his sword in the garden prepared to take on the whole mob and staying near the courtyard in a quiet boldness. We should be amazed at his courage not just shocked at his fall. Every person has their breaking point.

Peter is not surprised by the thought of the defection of the other disciples. Perhaps he even expects it of them. He does not defend their cause but strongly defends his own cause, “I will not! (vs.29)” He sees himself as the exception to the rule; where others fall, he will stand. There’s more than a little self-confidence and pride here. Jesus interrupts his bravado and says, “Today … yes tonight … before the rooster crows twice, you will disown me three times (vs.30).” Peter does not back down. He insists emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you (vs.31).” Notice that “all the others said the same.”

Peter follows Jesus “at a distance” (vs.54) and eventually there is an escalation of three charges and three denials (vs.66-72). After the rooster crowed the second time, suddenly Jesus’ words flooded through Peter’s mind … and “He broke down and wept.” Humiliated, Peter is overwhelmed with guilt and shame, most likely morphing into sorrow and repentance (unlike Judas who was remorseful but not repentant).

Failure

Have you ever fallen flat on your face? Have you ever disappointed yourself, others or God? Maybe it was a sin, a mistake or a personal failure. Like Peter, you didn't live up to your own expectations or promises. We have all experienced this, at one time or another. Sometimes, over-confidence, arrogance and pride are catalysts. At others times, they are not.

When personal failure occurs, we experience guilt, embarrassment and at times shame. Guilt is the result of a convicted conscience. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts us and it is always specific and aimed at response – remorse (genuine sorrow) and repentance (change – turning away from sin). Shame is from the enemy and moves us from “I did something wrong” to “I am a bad person”. It involves an ongoing feeling of condemnation and self-loathing, with a general sense of not being good enough. Shame is very harmful and engenders a feeling of unworthiness. This often leads to destructive and negative behaviours.

The Restoration of Peter

In John’s Gospel, we learn some more details about how Jesus took time to restore Peter (John 21:1-19). By a charcoal fire on the beach, bringing back memories of Peter’s denial by a charcoal fire in the courtyard (John 18:18), like a good shepherd, Jesus’ heals the wound of Peter’s denial and failure. Gently, Jesus brings this memory to the surface and heals it with love and forgiveness. Jesus gives Peter a chance to profess his love for Jesus, to affirm everything he has denied – three times. Old failings, old sores, old wounds are healed. Jesus not only forgives Peter but commissions him. It's time for him to be a shepherd, to feed lambs and sheep, to look after them. Jesus is trusting Peter to get back to fruitful work. Jesus is sharing his own ministry with Peter. Jesus is after all the “good shepherd” (John 10).

This is the foundation of all ministry – despite our faults and failures, Jesus forgives us and gives us an opportunity to join him in his work on earth. These are not things we do to earn our forgiveness. It’s all grace from start to finish. They are things we do out of the joy of being forgiven.

The Power of Vulnerability

It speaks volumes both for the accuracy of the Gospels and the humility of the leaders of the early church that Peter’s story of denying Jesus three times, in all its graphic detail, remains there starkly in all four gospels - the same man who confessed Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8:29). Peter himself is most likely the source of this story. It served as a warning to other Christians who themselves would face persecution that even if the prince of the apostles denied Jesus they might do so also if they were not prepared. Even the best of us can slip and fall, as our human weakness falls prey to strong temptations. Not even the best leader is immune to failure. Nor beyond the promise of grace! We can be honest about our sin … because God’s grace is even greater.

Jesus did not give up on Peter … and he does not give up on us. Who would have thought that Peter’s negative example would have given courage to young and innocent Christians for years afterwards to stand up to questioning, persecution, torture and death rather than deny Jesus. Some even faced lions in the amphitheatre and did not deny their Lord.

Authenticity takes courage and compassion. Everyone around you has the same issues and struggles you do. Perfectionism is often driven by a fear of shame. All this is emotionally unhealthy. It makes your self-worth dependent on the approval or acceptance of others. Vulnerability is the cure for shame. It is the willingness to openly admit failures and weaknesses. It helps you build up resilience to shame and to feel happier about who you are in Christ and what you do have. In fact, the moments we feel most connected to others are usually those in which we have opened up to someone and experienced their empathy. We've all experienced the relief of opening up to others, our problems melting away as we begin to feel understood. This is a truly powerful weapon against shame.

Like Peter, may you know the joy of forgiveness from all sin and failure, of standing unashamed, and of being commissioned to join Jesus in his work on earth. 

Reflection Questions

  1. Think of a a time when you failed or did something that humiliated or embarrassed you. What did it feel like and what have been the affects since that incident?
  2. Compare the difference between guilt and shame. How do we know the difference?
  3. Why are qualities such as openness and authenticity so difficult for us as humans?
  4. What’s the impact of vulnerability? Why is it so powerful? Why do some see it as weakness?
  5. How does being vulnerable help us overcome feelings of shame?
  6. Listen to Brene Brown's TED talks on The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame. What did you learn?
  7. What can leaders (whether parents, teachers, pastors or managers) learn from Jesus in how to create an environment where people can be open and honest about themselves, rather than building a toxic, shame-based culture?
  8. What are some indicators that we have made God's grace the foundation of our life and ministry?
  9. Pray and ask God for complete freedom … from guilt and shame.

[Picture - Rembrandt's Peter Denying Christ]


Life is Not Fair, But God is Good (Pt.4)

Fair

God is also just.

Belief in God’s sovereignty alone is not enough to get Job through his terrible suffering. Job also believes that God is just. God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked.

This is the belief of double retribution, which according to Harley, declares that “the righteous are always blessed and the wicked experience untold hardship, leading to premature death”. However, daily experience is often not in harmony with this belief. The wicked may seem to prosper and the righteous may seem to be cursed. Job’s current situation is definitely a vivid example of this kind of contradiction. This is the cause of his lament.

Job struggles with the unfairness of his situation and the seeming lack of justice that life brings (Job 21:19-34; 24:1-12). Job acknowledges that God’s justice is enacted in His own good time (Job 24:1, 21-24), but he wishes it would be sooner for him. He believes that if he walks in integrity (Job 27:5-6; 31:6), ultimately, justice will be done and he will be vindicated. Life may not be fair and evil may seem to triumph momentarily, but in the long term, justice will prevail.

When life brings along contradictions or injustices, we can rely on the justice of God. God is just and he will vindicate the righteous and punish the wicked. Serving God and walking in integrity is not only right, it guarantees the ultimate blessing of God.

God cares about our pain.

God identifies with our pain, He delivers from pain and He strengthens us during pain. What we do know is that God has suffered with us and for us in Christ. He entered our world of sin and pain and in doing so, identified with us.

Suffering and pain continue to be part of this life and impact the very core of our being. However, God is active in our lives, providing comfort, strength and hope in our times of distress.

Isaiah 49:13. Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. NIV 

2 Corinthians 1:3-7. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. NIV 

Hebrews 4:14-16. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. NIV

We can call to him, knowing that he will sustain us through every valley experience (Ps 23:4). Like Job, if we put our faith in the sovereignty, justice and goodness of God, we will find that God’s grace is more than enough to carry us through (2 Cor.12:9).

[Part 5]


Life is Not Fair, But God is Good (Pt.3)

Fair

God did not create the world “bad”.

God did not create the world the way it is today. When the world was created it was “good” (Gen.1-2). There was no pain or suffering. It was a paradise. But man rebelled against God’s commands and sin came into the world. We now live in a damaged, fallen and sinful world where things are not as they should be. Evil, injustice and wickedness are very much alive. This is a fact of life and not to be confused with the acts of God. 

Can we blame God for all the evil in the world? Did He create it? Is He the cause of it? And if not, why does He allow it to happen? Why doesn’t He stop it? God created us with a free will – the ability to choose to do good or evil. Unfortunately, sometimes people do make bad choices and the result is unfair to us, but in spite of this unfairness, God is still good. Much pain and suffering is caused by the bad choices that people make.

Yes, God is sovereign and ultimately able to overrule anything. Job saw that ultimately it was God who had “taken away” (Job.1:21) and he simply placed his trust in God. He saw his human enemies and the forces of nature as secondary and subordinate to the sovereign God who was ultimately responsible.

Job believed that his life was under the sovereign rule of God and that nothing happened to him by accident, fate or chance. His controlled response exemplifies a strong faith in the midst of crisis. 

Job’s surrender to God’s will is exemplary, especially considering he has done nothing wrong or at least bad enough to deserve what is happening to him. Instead of cursing God, Job praised Him! Job sees that God is to be blessed, not just for giving blessings, but for who He is as God. He praised God’s name in sorrow as well as blessing and looked to Him as the source of his help and strength. In all this, Job did not charge God with wrong – any unseemly or vengeful act; an action contrary to his holy name (Job 1:22).

Such a mature response requires a belief system that has allowed for the possibility of tragedy, well before it actually happened. Job lived a life of total surrender to the sovereignty of God, not in passive fatalism, but in active trust.

Job believes that it is equally right for God to send “good” or “evil”. The Hebrew meaning of the word “evil” is anything “bad”, not “wicked”. Job’s faith is strong enough to accept the good and the bad from the hand of God. He knows that he must express his trust in God, regardless of the circumstances he experiences.

Job’s response is not just some “passionless rationality”. Job made a decision to co-operate with God rather than just passively submit to what had happened. The verb “accept” describes a positive participation in what God decrees, not just passive reception. Anderson says, this is “active word, implying co-operation with Providence, not mere submission”. Job is totally submitted to God for good or bad.

There is no doubt that, through this entire series of events, Job sees what has happened to him as the sovereign work of God (Job 3:23; 6:4,8-9; 9:12-13; 10:2; 12:9-25; 16:11; 19:6, 21-22; 23:13-16; 27:2). Job’s beliefs, as in monotheism, see God as ultimately responsible for all that happens in life. The Old Testament confirms that both good and evil can come from the same hand of God (Isaiah 45:7; 41:23. Zephaniah 1:12. Jeremiah 18:7-10).

Job realizes that at times the wicked prosper and the righteous are not blessed (Job 21:7-34). Unlike Job, his friends have no theology for bad things happening to good people. They have a simple formula of sowing and immediate reaping, with no allowance for delay or momentary contradictions.

From the story of Job, we learn that trouble and punishment are not merely punishment for sin; for God’s people they may serve as a trial or as a discipline that culminates in spiritual gain (Job 5:17; Deuteronomy 8:5; 2 Sam7:14; Ps 94:12; Proverbs 3:11-12. 1 Corinthians 11:32. Hebrews 12:5-11).

Ultimately, God is in control of our lives. Nothing happens to us by accident or chance. Nothing happens to us without God being aware of it and allowing it to happen. Our lives are not subject to fate but are in the hand of God and His design for our lives, whether that includes things good or bad. A strong belief in God’s sovereignty helps us endure during times of calamity.

[Part 4]


Life is Not Fair, But God is Good (Pt.2)

Cloudy-day

There are many examples of suffering and pain:  

  1. Moral evil relates to choices that people make that end up hurting others. This includes things such as violence, abuse and war – all which cause much pain – and the slaughter of innocent people, such as occurred in the Holocaust. At the office, it could be that you've been working hard but your friend gets a promotion and you get laid off. In the family, it could be a divorce, abuse, conflict or a painful argument.
  1. Natural evil are catastrophes and includes things such as injury and suffering caused by disease, accidents, earthquakes, fires and floods. Also, famine, tornadoes, tidal waves, natural disasters or freaks of nature (referred to as “acts of God” in most insurance policies). Isn't it interesting how we tend to ascribe the good things in life to ourselves (we deserve it or we’ve worked hard or we’re smart) but when bad things happen we tend to blame God.

In every area of life, there is unfairness.

Think of what goes on in an obstetrician doctor’s office: there are women who don't want to be pregnant but are, women desperately wanting children but struggling with fertility problems, and women who miscarry (life is gone and hope is dashed). Ask the doctor and they’ll tell you, “It’s not fair!”

Where is God?

  • Where is God when children die of hunger in a world of abundance?
  • Where is God when a young mother suffers a slow, very painful death from cancer.
  • Where is God when an earthquake kills thousands of people?
  • Where is God when millions of people are killed by a dictator? 

Life is not fair. Each person has their own story - things that have happened to us, that have caused pain and hurt. It doesn’t seem fair. 

The Bible also contains many examples of innocent suffering: Abel was killed by his brother Cain, Joseph sold as a slave by his brothers, innocent babies were killed and Moses was rescued, Job who was a good man who lost almost everything in a graphic example of innocent suffering, and Jesus who lived a perfect life loving and serving people but ended up being crucified as a common criminal – between two authentic criminals. It was horrible and humiliating, from the time they drove the nails through his hands until he breathed his last breath seven agonizing hours later. People jeered him, “He saved others but he can’t save himself (Mt.27:42)!” They jabbed him. A soldier plunged a sword into his side. He was a good man. He didn’t deserve this. Write this on his cross in big bold letters: LIFE ISN’T FAIR!

Yes, Life is not Fair .... This is a fact of life. But don’t confuse life with God.

God is good!

Can this really be true? If life is not fair, then how can God be good? If God is “all-powerful” and “loving”, why do such terrible things still happen? Why doesn’t he do something about this?

This is what helped Job through his terrible time of suffering. He believed in the goodness of God and that even the negative things would work out for ultimate good. He believed, from his experience with God, that God is personal, approachable and for him.

Job grappled intensely with this belief about God’s goodness and, in the face of such terrible disaster, found it hard to explain the contradiction between his belief and his life experience. At times, Job questioned the goodness of God because he felt God had become his enemy who seemed to be very angry with him (Job 19:6-7). Yet beneath it all, there was a conviction that God’s anger would pass and good would be done to him. This gave him the hope to persevere and to continue to call out to God to act in mercy on his behalf.

Job saw God as the creator who looks after and cares for his creation. Job believed that God will help him overcome life’s adversities. Out of the depths of despair, Job often rose in faith to declare with confidence his belief in God’s goodness. He believed that his present experience with God’s anger was transitory and that in the end he would encounter God’s justice, goodness and mercy. This was the foundation of his ongoing hope and trust in God.

Although Job experienced extreme mood swings and intense negative emotions which at times stretched him to the limit, his fundamental beliefs about the nature and character of God helped him to persevere. The apostle James commends Job for patient endurance during his times of intense pain and suffering.

James 5:11. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. NIV

In times of tragedy and suffering, we too, can depend on the goodness of God (Exodus 33:19. Psalm 33:5. Romans 2:4). When we love him, we can be assured that he will work all things together for our ultimate good, even the negative experiences of life (Romans 8:28).

Don’t believe that when life is unfair, God is bad.

[Part 3]


Life is Not Fair, But God is Good (Pt.1)

Cloudy-day

The question of pain and suffering is one of the most difficult issues to address of any area of human life. At some point in our life journey, we ask, “If God is good, then why does he allow such terrible suffering and pain to exist?”

Despite many attempts throughout the centuries, there are no adequate answers to this question. Evil continues to exist in our world and “all our reflections on providence and evil remain broken and incomplete (Migliore).”

There is also a real danger of merely giving trite or simplistic answers, but the truth is that there are no simple answers. However, we can find some light to guide us in our journey.

Life is not fair!

This poem explains it well ...

I went to a party Mum, I remember what you said,

You told me not to drink Mum, so I drank soda instead.

I really felt proud inside Mum, the way you said I would,

I didn’t drink and drive Mum, even though the others said I should.

I know I did the right thing Mum, I know you are always right,

Now the party is finally ending Mum, as everyone is driving out of sight.

As I got into my car Mum, I knew I’d get home in one piece,

Because of the way you raised me, so responsible and sweet.

I started to drive away Mum, but as I pulled out into the road,

The other car didn’t see me Mum, and hit me like a load.

As I laid there on the pavement Mum, I hear police say,

The other guy is drunk Mum, and now I’m the one who will pay.

I’m lying here dying Mum, I wish you’d get here soon,

How can this happen to me Mum, my life just burst like a balloon.

There’s blood all around me Mum, and most of it is mine,

I hear the medics say Mum, I’ll die in a short time.

I just wanted to tell you Mum, I swear I didn’t drink,

It was the others Mum, the others didn’t think.

He was probably at the same party as I, the only difference is he drank and I will die.

Why do people drink Mum, it can ruin your whole life,

I’m feeling sharp pains now, pains just like a knife.

The guy who hit me is walking Mum, and I don’t think its fair,

I am lying here dying and all he could do is stare.

Tell my brother not to cry Mum, tell Daddy to be brave and when I go to heaven Mum, put flowers on my grave.

Someone should have told him Mum, not to drink and drive,

If only they had told him Mum, I would still be alive.

My breath is getting shorter Mum, I’m becoming very scared

Please do not cry for me Mum, when I needed you, you were always there

I have one last question Mum, before I say goodbye,

I didn’t drink and drive, so why am I the one to die?

[Source: Sermon by Lawrence Khong from Singapore]

Life is not fair!

Everyone has said, “It’s just not fair!” True. Injustices abound. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. We live in a world of much pain, suffering and evil. Innocent people often suffer (“suffering” = affliction, trial, testing, distress, pain, injury, loss, misfortune, calamity, evil). Into every life some rain will fall – it rains on the good and the bad. 

[Part 2]

 


Bridging the Knowing-Doing Gap

DoHere is some wisdom from Proverbs 4.

Vs.1. Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding.

Vs.4-5. Then he taught me, and he said to me, “Take hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands, and you will live. Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them."

Vs.10. Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many.

Vs.13. Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.

Vs.20-21. My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart.

Wise people hear God's words and pay attention to them. They incline or lean their ear towards them so that they receive them into their heart. Just because God speaks doesn’t mean we are listening or receiving his word. Hearing well requires focused and undivided attentiveness.

Once we have received God’s words, we are then to retain and keep them. We must not forget them or turn away from them. We need to embrace them, take a firm hold of them and do not let them go. We do this by keeping them in front of our eyes and in the midst of our heart. We have to make sure we hang on to them once we’ve got them.

It's one thing to learn to hear God's words, it's quite another to hold on to them so that they continue to impact us a long time after they have been given. To do this, we must capture them, write them down and then read them regularly so they go into our hearts and bring about life change.

This is a challenge to bridge the “knowing-doing gap”. John Maxwell says, "Most Christians are educated beyond the level of our obedience." Ouch! C.S. Lewis once said, "We need to be reminded more than we need to be instructed." We don't just need to learn new things, we need help putting into practice what we already know. If we don't, we deceive ourselves and we never really change. This is the root of much of our frustration - continually hearing but not experiencing God’s changing power because of not applying his word.

What do you already KNOW that you need to DO today?


The Supper

Passover-unleavened-bread-and-wine

Easter is only 3 weeks away and CityLife Church will be presenting a 3-part multi-media experience called The King Is Among Us. Leading up to that time we are sharing three "Stories around the Cross" - the supper, the betrayal and denial. Today we will look at the supper from Mark 14:12-26.

Part of our God-given humanity is the instinct to celebrate significant moments with significant meals (e.g. Christmas, birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries). Sharing a meal bonds a family, a group of friends, a team, a collection of colleagues together. The meal says more than words - about who we are, how we feel about one another, and the hopes and joys we share together. It’s not just about the food; the meal says something, it does something. We become a people who shared that meal together, with all that it meant to us.

The Jewish Passover celebration was such a meal, linking together generations of families around the story that told them who they were - God's people rescued from Egypt. Jesus takes this story and infuses it with new meaning, changing the script to point it towards the work he would do through his death and resurrection. He instituted a new meal - a new supper - for us to connect deeply with him and each other. 

This sacred meal is known by a number of terms including breaking bread, the table of the Lord, communion, and the Eucharist (which means thanksgiving).  Jesus instituted this practice when eating with his disciples just before his death (see Matt.26:26-29. Mark 14:22-25. Luke 22:15-20). Luke shows how the first disciples carried out the instructions of Jesus as they broke bread together regularly (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11. Luke 24:19, 30). This practice was originally associated with a meal (Luke 22:20. 1 Cor.11:25) but later became a separate celebration. Paul also commented on the Lord’s Supper when writing to the church at Corinth (1 Cor.11:23-26).

Six Dimensions of the Sacred Meal

Partaking in communion is not merely a religious exercise or tradition. It is intended to be a meaningful experience of God and His will for our lives, both personally and as a community of Christ-followers. We must not allow the routine of partaking of communion regularly turn it into a ritual rather than the significant celebration that Jesus intended for it to be. One helpful way to ensure that we retain the meaning of this sacred meal is to explore the breadth of its meaning. As we partake, we should look in at least six directions.

1. Look Backward. In the Lord’s Supper we look backwards to the redemptive work that Jesus accomplished through his death on the cross. His death was not an accident or that of a martyr. His death was a substitutionary one in that he took our place and paid the price for our sins once and for all so that we could be forgiven. This was a complete act of grace and not because of any goodness or merit on our behalf. We can now rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross knowing that he has done everything that needs to be done for us to be right with God. He suffered for us. His body was broken and His blood was split for our salvation. Communion is a powerful reminder of this foundation of our faith, which is in the finished work of the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is central to the Christian faith (Gal.6:14. Col.1:20). It may seem foolishness to those who do not believe but may it never be foolishness to the contemporary church (1 Cor.1:18). May we never forget the sacrificial gift of Christ’s life for us!

2. Look Forward. Communion is much more than a morbid recalling of the passion.  Believers “proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes (1 Cor.11:26).” In the Lord’s Supper we look forward to the time when the kingdom will come in full and we will enjoy personal fellowship with Jesus in a celebration meal together. We look forward with confidence each day knowing that our future is secure, whether we live or die. We look forward with joy at his return to earth to right all wrongs and to deliver us from sin and death. We also understand that there will be a day of account where we will be rewarded for the works we have done in this life. Finally, we look forward to a new heavens and a new earth – whether there will be no more sorrow, crying, pain or death (Rev.21:1-4). This accounts for the joy and gladness of heart in which the communion was celebrated (Acts 2:46).

3. Look Inward. Paul reminds us that the celebration of communion is also an important time of self-examination. Those who live in blatant sin when approaching the table are guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor.11:27-28). Communion times can be important occasions of looking inward at one’s heart and holding oneself personally accountable before God. The original Lord’s Supper was partaken of in the context of betrayal and denial. This should serve as a warning to us and a sober reminder to take heed lest we fall. Paul says that some become weak, sick and even die because of not handling this dimension of communion properly (1 Cor.11: 29-30). No doubt, Jesus’ teaching about reconciliation applies here (Matt.5:23-24).

4. Look Upward. The Lord’s Supper also looks upward as we remember that Jesus’ death on the cross and burial in the tomb was not the end of the story. His resurrection seals the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and that his death accomplished our full salvation. We now look up with conviction and joy knowing that the Savior lives and that He is seated at the right hand with the Father interceding for us (Heb.7:25). Jesus is alive! His resurrection is the foundation of our faith and the assurance that we too have been raised from the dead with him to walk in the power of a new life. We are citizens of a new kingdom. We seek for his will to be done and for his kingdom to come in all its fullness.

5. Look Around. Communion is also a time to reinforce the communal nature of this sacred meal. In John’s description of this time in Jesus’ life he includes the well-known story of Jesus taking on the role of a servant by washing the disciples feet (John 13:3-16). It was a powerful reminder of the calling we have to serve one another (Matt.20:20-28). That same evening Peter boastfully declared that he would never deny Jesus, even if the others did. This self-deceptive pride set him up for certain failure. Without others we can so easily fall away. We need each other’s friendship, encouragement, and accountability to stay faithful as we follow Jesus together. Communion is a time to look around and remind ourselves that we need each other. We are one body in Christ, regardless of differences.

6. Look Outward. Finally, there is an outward dimension to the Lord’s Supper. As Paul reflects on the communion, he reminds us that as we partake we “proclaim the Lord’s death” until he comes (1 Cor.11:26). We live in a world where people need to know the good news that Jesus has provided salvation from our sins through his death on the cross. Communion is a time to remind ourselves of those who haven’t heard or responded to this message. As we go from the table, we go with renewed commitment to pray, to love, and to share the good news of Jesus with others as we have opportunity.

As we can see, there is rich and deep meaning to this ancient practice. At communion we are to look backward (to Christ’s death), look forward (to Christ’s return), look inward (in self-examination), look upward (fellowship with God), look around (fellowship with each other), and look outward (to proclaim God’s word to others). May we all experience more and more of God’s amazing love for us as we celebrate communion together.

Sample Reflection Questions

  1. Which direction do you find most meaningful or easiest to look when taking communion?
  2. Which direction is new to you or something you haven’t thought much about?
  3. Discuss the symbolic meaning of the bread and the cup in communion.
  4. In the Old Testament, the entire family partook of the Passover meal together, including the children. What implication does this have for whether children should partake of communion or not today?
  5. Share with your family, friends or Life Group about what communion means to you. Pray for each other and then partake of communion together. 

Life's Journey

Journey

Mountain top and valley
Sunshine and rain
Calm and storm
Ease and pain

Joy and sorrow
Hope and disappointment
Laughter and tears
Known and unknown 

Darkness and light
Night and day
Summer and winter 
Blue skies and fog

Confidence and fear
Faith and doubt
Answers and questions
Lost and found

Enemies and friends
Acceptance and rejection
Approval and shame
Sin and forgiveness 

War and peace 
Unity and conflict 
High and low 
Life and death

Yet these three remain 

Faith, hope and love 
Father, Son and Spirit
Eternal God
Ever faithful and true.


Crossroads

Crossroads

At another crossroads
So many options
Destination competition
Loud voices
Multiplicity of signs

Stay on the same course
Or make a turn?
Popular highway
Or the road less travelled?

Moving fast
Trying to read the map
Traffic congestion
Important decisions

Take a pit stop
Pull out of the race
Just for a moment
Catch your bearings

Where have you been?
Where have you come from?
Where are you now?
Pin point your location

Big picture
Zoom out on the map
Where are you headed?
Check the compass

What is true north?
Where do you really want to be?
Don't follow the crowd
Wide and easy road

Dare to be different
Be true to yourself
Hear the voice
Heed His call

Identity
Significance
Meaning
Belonging
Destiny

Take the ancient path
Footprints in the sand
Follow His lead
Trust His heart

One step at a time
Don't rush ahead
Enjoy this moment
Be fully present

He IS the way


Happy Birthday, Nicole

Nicole girlOnce upon a time there was this cute girl named Nicole. She launched out on this adventure called life and our paths intersected 30 years ago. She is now my best friend and my climbing companion.

I can’t wait to see the joy that is just around the next corner for both of us.

Happy birthday, my love!


Announcement about Mark Conner's Future

Mark Conner (sunglasses)This weekend, I made the following announcement to my church family - CityLife Church. Obviously, it was a surprise to many, while not to others. There is a degree of sadness with any change like this but I am also encouraged by the amount of support I have received. [Watch on You Tube]

I have given the matter of our church’s future, as well my own future, much prayer and reflection over the last eight months. As a result, I believe that it is time to start thinking about a successor – who will be the next Senior Minister of CityLife Church.

I have been on church staff for 31 years now, 21 years as the Senior Minister, and I believe that the time has come when CityLife would benefit from new leadership with energy and fresh vision for its next chapter.

As a result of this, I and the CityLife Board of Elders are now prayerfully beginning to consider who could be the next Senior Minister – whether that person be from inside or outside the church. I am committed to working with the Elders (as the Senior Minister is one of the Elders) to ensure that the best person is chosen to lead CityLife into its next season. Once that happens, I will give my full focus and energies to contributing to a really good transition to that person, just like in a relay race. I am confident that once a suitable successor is selected, we will be able to navigate a very successful transition together. I have been up 'close and personal' to two leadership transitions in CityLife and I’ve been on the receiving end of the last one. I believe we know what it takes to do this well.

[I should note at this stage that a new Senior Minister is first selected and nominated by a two-thirds majority of the Board of Elders and then confirmed by a two-thirds majority of church partners (members) at a subsequent Annual or Special General Meeting. This might be a good time to become a partner, if you aren’t one already, so you have the opportunity to be involved in this important decision about our church’s future leadership!]

Transitions are always vulnerable times. Please pray. Pray for me and the Elders, as well as for this important time of change coming up. CityLife is Jesus' church. I didn't start it. I have never seen myself as an 'owner' of the church but rather as merely a 'steward'. CityLife was already 28 years old when I became its leader and I've done my best to lead it over the last 21 years. It's now time to get ready for a new season.

Change is not always easy. There will be some grief and some loss. But endings make way for new beginnings. Yes, things will be different but our mission remains the same. Let’s stay close together at this time.

I am sure, for many of you, this may come as a surprise and you may have a lot of questions. Let me anticipate a few of them:

  1. “When will all this happen?” We don't have any fixed dates as of yet. All those details will unfold once a successor is decided upon. Right now, I am going to be continue to lead the church as the Senior Minister and I’ll be giving it my very best. I and the Elders will be keeping you up-to-date with the progress of this transition. Today’s announcement is simply to let you know that we are now talking about succession planning.
  2. “What does Nicole think about this?” Nicole told me that if I wanted to lead for another 10 years, I would have her full support. This has been my decision and I think it’s time to get ready for change. I am very thankful for the support of Nicole and my entire family.
  3. “Will my son Josiah be my successor?” Josiah has just turned 27 years of age and he is doing a great job leading the youth ministry, along with our staff and volunteer team. He has told me that a role like Senior Minister is not something he would even consider at this time in his life nor is he ready for. So please don't ask him, “Are you the One?”
  4. “What about the building projects we are currently undertaking?” The Story Building Projects are not my projects or about me as Senior Minister. They are for the direct benefit of our Knox and Casey congregations. So these projects will continue as we seek to create environments that will serve our mission for many years to come. Like most of you, I will be making a pledge next weekend. For Knox, our plan is to complete the new community centre this year. Leading up to the completion of this first stage, you will hear more information about the remaining stages.
  5. “Is Mark burnt out?” I don't think I am. However, during these last few years I have felt more tired mentally and emotionally than at other times, despite my sabbatical in 2012. I started leading at CityLife Church at the age of 18 as a volunteer and came on staff 5 years later, so I have been leading ministries with constantly increasing responsibility for 36 straight years now. At age 54, I am at a time in life when I'd like a smaller world not a bigger one, a slower pace not a faster one, and a simpler life not a more complex one. Could I lead for another 5 years? Yes, but I don't think I have the spark and the energy that I think this job requires and deserves going forward.
  6. “What does my dad, Kevin Conner, think about this?” Feel free to ask him. My dad is 89 years of age now, and when I met with him and Rene a few weeks back to inform them of my decision, my dad responded by saying, “I don't know how you do what you do. I couldn't do it.” So I am thankful for their understanding and support. [Our founding pastor, Richard Holland passed away back in 2008. When he was around he used to say, “I was good, Kevin was better but Mark is the best!” I have never claimed to be the best but I have tried to do my best. Richard led the church for 20 years, my dad for 8 years, and by the end of this year I will have completed 22 years, so Richard would at least be pleased that I was in this Senior Minister role longer than he was!]
  7. “What's next for me?” I am not leaving to go to another job. I haven’t been ‘head-hunted’ from somewhere else. It is simply a time for me to consider finishing in my role as Senior Minister and see what the future holds. After I finish, I'll take some extended time off then see what opens up (I’m not ‘retiring’ and I do need to work). I believe I have much to offer the wider church from my years of church leadership experience and so I will prayerfully explore a variety of options in which I can add value to other churches and leaders. Nicole and I are excited about doing some new things together in the next season of our life and ministry.
  8. “What is really going on?” There is no ‘back story’ to all of this. I have decided that it’s time to think about my successor. It's a simple as that – nothing more, nothing less.
  9. “How do I feel about all of this?” It’s all a bit surreal at the moment. I am sure there will be some ‘lows’ ahead, as I face the grief of letting go of a role that has been so a part of me for many years, as well as some ‘highs’, as I experience the relief of no longer having to carry this level of responsibility.

God has led CityLife for almost 50 years now and we have navigated transitions like this well before. I believe great days are ahead for the church and we can trust God to lead us through this next transition into an even more fruitful future.

This is not ‘goodbye’ or farewell. There will be time for that later. I am simply being open about a process that is beginning right now, so that you are fully aware and can pray and journey with us at this important time in the history of our church.

Thank you for your prayer and support during this season of my life and ministry. I really appreciate it and I love you very much.


The Fisherman and the Businessman

Fisherman1

A holidaying American businessman standing on the pier of a quaint coastal fishing village in southern Mexico watched as a small boat with just one young Mexican fisherman pulled into the dock. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. Enjoying the warmth of the early afternoon sun, the American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish. 

"How long did it take you to catch them?" the American casually asked. 

"Oh, a few hours," the Mexican fisherman replied. 

"Why don't you stay out longer and catch more fish?" the American businessman then asked. 

The Mexican warmly replied, "With this I have more than enough to meet my family's needs." 

The businessman then became serious, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?" 

Responding with a smile, the Mexican fisherman answered, "I sleep late, play with my children, watch ball games, and take siesta with my wife. Sometimes in the evenings I take a stroll into the village to see my friends, play the guitar, sing a few songs..." 

The American businessman impatiently interrupted, "Look, I have an MBA from Harvard, and I can help you to be more profitable. You can start by fishing several hours longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra money, you can buy a bigger boat. With the additional income that larger boat will bring, before long you can buy a second boat, then a third one, and so on, until you have an entire fleet of fishing boats."

Proud of his own sharp thinking, he excitedly elaborated a grand scheme which could bring even bigger profits, "Then, instead of selling your catch to a middleman you'll be able to sell your fish directly to the processor, or even open your own cannery. Eventually, you could control the product, processing and distribution. You could leave this tiny coastal village and move to Mexico City, or possibly even Los Angeles or New York City, where you could even further expand your enterprise." 

Having never thought of such things, the Mexican fisherman asked, "But how long will all this take?" 

After a rapid mental calculation, the Harvard MBA pronounced, "Probably about 15-20 years, maybe less if you work really hard." 

"And then what, señor?" asked the fisherman. 

"Why, that's the best part!" answered the businessman with a laugh. "When the time is right, you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions." 

"Millions? Really? What would I do with it all?" asked the young fisherman in disbelief. 

The businessman boasted, "Then you could happily retire with all the money you've made. You could move to a quaint coastal fishing village where you could sleep late, play with your grandchildren, watch ball games, and take siesta with your wife. You could stroll to the village in the evenings where you could play the guitar and sing with your friends all you want."

The moral of the story is: Know what really matters in life, and you may find that it is already much closer than you think.


Vision - CONNECT

Connecting2

Vision - ENGAGE

In a world of uncertainty and upheaval, Jesus is THE Transformer, bringing about transformation to this world … one day at a time, one life at a time. How do we join him in his work in the world? We ENGAGE with people around us just like Jesus did through 5 simple missional practices:

    Begin with prayer

    Listen to people

    Eat with people

    Serve in any way you can

    Share your story and God’s story

Imagine the impact if we all simply focused on one person, just like Jesus noted how a good shepherd leaves 99 sheep to go after one lost sheep (Matthew 18:12). This year, let’s FOCUS 1! As we do that, we will see over 10,000 stories of transformation by the end of 2016.

Vision – CONNECT

This mission God has given us is not to be done alone or in isolation. It is to be done in community - in connection with other people. Notice how Jesus went about transforming his world: Mark 3:13-15. Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. NIV

Jesus created a group of people to be ‘with him’. Notice the relational connection (a call to CONNECT). On this foundation, he ‘sent them out’ to proclaim good news and to influence society positively (a mission to ENGAGE). In doing so, Jesus was modelling what he wanted his church to BE. In fact, all of the metaphors of the church are relational and involve connection. The church is a family where every person a member, a flock with sheep following the shepherd together, a body with all the members joined together, an army of soldiers fighting side by side, and a building made up of living stones. Independence and isolation are dangerous. Church is not something you ‘go to’ (a building or event) but something you are ‘part of’.

The two best ways to CONNECT at CityLife are: being part of a Life Group or a Serving Team.

What’s the Big Deal About Small Groups?

Small groups (which we call Life Groups) are biblical; they are the only way to care for a large congregation; they are the best way to disciple people; they are the best way to develop leaders; and they the best way to grow a strong church.

Our Life Groups are not just a ‘program’. They are about people and relationships. They are beneficial to your life and are not the same as casual relationships. As we grow larger, we need to keep getting smaller.

How to Be a Great Life Group Member

  1. Be committed to your group. Embrace the value of small groups. Understand that relationships (even difficult ones) are essential to personal growth (or transformation).
  2. Be prepared to give something to your group.
  3. Be attentive and prepared to minister to others.
  4. Be open and vulnerable.
  5. Build your life on the foundation of God’s love for you. 

What’s the Big Deal about Serving?

Jesus came into the world and took upon himself the role of a servant, living a life focused on helping other people (Phil.2:5-11). Jesus then called his followers to be like him – servants. By love, we are all to serve one another (Gal.5:13). When this life is over we will stand before the Creator of the entire universe and we will be asked two basic questions: (1) “What did you do with Jesus Christ?” Your answer is a “salvation issue”, a matter of life and death, heaven and hell, and (2) “What did you do with your life (your time, resources and energy)?” Your answer to this question is a “stewardship issue”. God is looking for a return on his investment in our lives and we will be rewarded based on our fruitfulness. We know that God’s love for us is unconditional, based solely on his grace and his choosing. However, it pleases God very much when we use our gifts and abilities to serve other people in love. We are not judged by how much he has given us (compared to others) but by what we do with what we have been given. God sees and he rewards our efforts, no matter how insignificant they may seem to us (Mk.9:41. Heb.6:10).

You have been saved and called you for a special purpose (2 Tim.1:9). Your life purpose is multi-dimensional and is outworked in three primary areas: your family, your church and your world. Satan loves lukewarm, uninvolved Christians, as they are no threat to his work. Don’t be a spectator - get involved in a ministry. We need more ministers, not just more church members. You will grow, as will the ministry of the church. We grow through spiritual input, fellowship and ministry.

Our church has an incredible mission from God, one that will only be achieved as each person fulfils his or her own mission and contributes to the overall task. In fact, your personal mission finds its true significance as part of the church’s overall mission. Imagine a church where everyone became a servant, found their spiritual gift and started using it. What an impact we could make together!

Your Next Steps

  1. Choose the mentality of a servant each day.
  2. Get involved as a volunteer in a ministry within the church. Step out of the crowd and join God’s team. Begin serving, meeting a need and using your gifts for the benefit of others.
  3. Keep developing yourself and your gifts (1 Cor.12 and Rom.12) in order to maximise your God-given potential.

Reflection Questions

  1. Why do you think that Jesus’ call to CONNECT (relationships with other Christians) is such an important foundation for our call to ENGAGE (our mission) with our world?
  2. Reflect on the tendency in our Western culture towards individualism compared to the strong community focus of past generations. How is this impacting the church today?
  3. What do you enjoy most about your Life Group?
  4. What do you think would make your Life Group experience even better?
  5. Brainstorm ideas for reaching out and including those people not already connected to Life Groups in our church.
  6. What do you enjoy most about serving in your church?
  7. What do you think would make your serving experience even better?
  8. Brainstorm ideas for reaching out and including those people not already serving connected to a serving team in our church.
  9. What are some ways to grow as a volunteer in a church ministry? Consider ideas such as: learning from others, receiving feedback and receiving ongoing training, and taking on new challenges (more responsibility such as a team leader).

Could you live to be 100?

100

Over 3,000 years ago, Moses wrote this: 

Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures … they quickly pass, and we fly away … Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:10-12. NIV

More people are living over 100 today than at any time in history. They are referred to as ‘centenarians’. The United Nations estimates that there are 316,600 alive today who are over 100 years of age. In the United Kingdom, it is estimated that one third of babies born in the year 2013 will live to be over 100.

Research has moved to begin studying the ‘super-centenarians’ - people living to over 110 years of age. On record, we know of 39 people who lived to 115, and 3 are alive today.

So what are some keys to living long enough to blow out 100 candles?

  1. Establish close family ties and have meaningful social engagement. Being part of a caring community is vtial.
  2. Eat healthy food. Japan has over 50,000 centenarians, so eat up on sushi and fish!
  3. Don't some and have limited or no alcohol.
  4. Exercise regularly and keep active.
  5. Have a purpose beyond yourself. Spirituality is vital to longevity. 

Here's to a long life for you!

See also:

Picture: English centenarian Harold Firth is still chipper on his diet of fish suppers!


Is it time to slip away ...

Lake_boat_by_lembrant-d6h834x

As I read the Gospels, there is a refrain that continues to play throughout the stories of Jesus. Jesus is actually not this ministry machine, who is always teaching, praying, healing and helping people. He regularly slips away ... to be by himself.

Matthew 14:13. When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. MB

Matthew 14:23. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night. MB

In solitude, we often find perspective for our life, as well as restoration for our soul from the rigours and pressures of daily life and relationships.

Is it time for you to slip away ... for an hour or two?


Start Small

Small

Some encouraging advice from Jesus today:

Matthew 10:41-42. This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing. The Message Bible

Sometimes we can easily get lost in reaching for big dreams and huge visions that we lose the importance of the everday and the ordinary. Jesus wanted his disciples to take the good news of the kingdom to the world (that's BIG!) but he wanted them to do so by taking simple steps each day - as simple as giving a cup of water to someone right in front of you who is thirsty.

Mother Teresa got this:

"Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."

"There are many people who can do big things, but there are very few people who will do the small things."

What small step will you take today?