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Where Would Jesus Go?

23 June, 2003 10:09 AM

'If Jesus was to show up in your town or suburb today to spend a week - where would he go, who would he hang out with and what would he do?' I asked a group of Christian youth and young adults during a workshop to work on the above question.

The list they generated was a fascinating one. It included

- in the homes of single moms
- at the local high school with the smokers
- at the horse racing track
- he'd do a shift on the kids help line
- in the pubs and clubs
- on the streets helping the drug addicts and homeless
- at the hospital healing people
- at the strip club/brothel
- talking to the dorks at school
- in the public housing estate with the refugees and unemployed
- he'd stand up against the casino
- at the gay bar
- he'd confront the prime minister about the way we treat refugees and indigenous people.
- he'd hang around with 'ordinary' people

There were a lot more responses but you get the picture.

Paul's words 'You are the Body of Christ' ring in my ears as I look at this list.

There is a lot that can be said about that verse — it speaks of many things. It is one that often gets pulled out to talk about unity between Christians (and so it should). But I wonder if that's only half the picture.

Bodies give us a physical presence. Without a body we'd be limited in our capacity to do anything. We are the body of Jesus — we are his physical presence in the world today.

We are pretty good at identifying where Jesus would turn up in our culture — the gospels give us a pretty good idea of that — but when it comes to his physical presence in the world today I think the responsibility rests largely upon our shoulders.

If the above list is where Jesus would go — and the Church is his body — why is it not in these places in force? Is the body of Christ suffering from paralysis?

The gospels show us that Jesus also spent time with his community and time in prayer with the Father — we as his body need to do likewise — but so much of the gospel is about him connecting with those outside his immediate circle of followers.

I'm going to the pub again....no....its too early to be open....I'm going for a coffee

Sunday Rant

22 June, 2003 2:26 PM

I know I mentioned this post in my last one but Randall Friesen is spot on the money with his post on HP.

I like this little bit: 'The closed spiritual skies over peoples lives have been opened wide, God is at work, calling speaking, moving. We've been praying for a greater hunger and thirst in the world, haven't we? But when God pulls the lid off our spiritual eyes, it turns into open season on what people move toward. All things spiritual are released and men and women's hearts are just hungry enough to look for answers in ALL the places, right or wrong.'

I cannot remember the amount of prayer meetings I've been in over the years where people have prayed that God would move in our nation and around the globe - that people would have their eyes opened to the spiritual, to God. I've seen people cry, jump up and down, make weird noises and do other bizarre things as they pray for 'revival'.

In recent years I've noticed that a lot of my non churchy friends have begun to explore 'spiritual things', that our society is also fascinated with it, the spiritual/mysterious is in the TV shows and movies being watched, the books being read, shopping way people are exploring their health and in the conversations that they have. Here in Melbourne the 'Mind, Body and Spirit' festival is one of the best attended exhibitions of the year and New Age festivals, Yoga classes, meditation groups etc are springing up all over the city.

People of all ages are searching - they want to dialogue - they are willing to make sacrifices to connect with what is 'out there'.

What an opportunity we have to join people in their spiritual searching and to share our stories and hear theirs. Yet what do we do? We condemn their activities as of Satanic, we withdraw from any activity that we don't understand or that looks suspect and in the process we ostracise ourselves from the people who we are called to love.

It reminds me of this true story that I wrote a while back that still makes my stomach churn today.

I don't understand why we continue to gather together in our little 'holy huddles' praying that God would do something in our world when its so obvious that he's already out there doing it and waiting for us to join him!

Yes - On this Sunday God is at the New Age festivals wooing people to him, God is in the pubs and cafes where people are discussing their latest philosophical ideas whispering in their ears and God holding the millions of children in his arms as they read Harry Potter stimulating their ideas and intriguing them with the wonders of life.

The question is - Where are us Christians on this Sunday and what are we doing?

I'm going to the pub.....

Harry Potter - a debateable debate

21 June, 2003 4:23 PM

Stumbled upon a Harry Potter discussion that makes me angry. Jake writes about how it will drive teens to become witches and rants agains parents letting their kids read and watch HP.

I guess Jake comes from a similar camp as the person who just wrote me an email complaining that my Gary Kotter entry was also 'flirting with one of Satan's favourite tools'.

I responded to Jake with this comment:

I think the debate over whether Harry Potter is good or evil is a pretty useless one.

You see I don't think such a discussion will ever stop young people from reading it - there is nothing you can say or do to stop the kids I teach in Religion class in the local primary school from reading the book or seeing the movie.

A more useful discussion to have would be how do we journey with kids who do read and watch Harry Potter? (which here in Australia is most of them!) If our stance is blatantly standing against something that they love do we cut off an opportunity to talk to them about Spirituality? I think that in each of the books that there are numerous entry points to a fantastic discussion about faith, spirituality and ultimately Jesus.

This doesn't mean we should endorse the occult, witchcraft. However if we spend all our time protesting about the book I suspect we've missed an amazing opportunity - an opportunity to dialogue, to interpret, to tell our own stories and to help the millions of Harry Potter readers to enter into a life beyond anything that the books will ever speak about!

So I say - get out there and read it - look for the Jesus themes - find the entry points for life giving conversation - don't be scared of it - God's bigger than anything it contains - and engage with the children of our world who are currently intrigued by HP but could potentially be obsessed with JC!

All I'll add is that I personally enjoy the books and movies and that as a result of reading them I've had some amazing conversations with the children (and adults) I have contact with. I believe that God can show up in the most unexpected and ordinary places in life - even in a Harry Potter book!

update: Randall says it alot better than me! Nice post mate.

Holistic Spirituality - Wrapping it all up

19 June, 2003 10:01 PM

Thanks for your patience with me on this series of posts. I've found it helpful to write it down. I'm doing another camp next week on the topic so its been helpful preparation.

Here are the posts in the series one last time. INTRO - TRUTH - WONDER - ACTION - LOVE

In summing up I'll make a few last points:

- I'm not a 'Spirituality Expert' by any means at all - in fact in looking at the four quadrants I wonder if I've even really got off ground floor yet!

- The model is not perfect. The four areas overlap significantly and on the two dimensional diagram (pictured below) it is difficult to be strong on both Truth and Love or on both Wonder and Action.

- The model does not describe 'how it is' for all - rather its designed as a framework to think about spirituality - to evaluate the status quo and to inspire growth in new areas.

- This model is not only relevant for individuals but churches might also be able to identify their corporate strengths and growth areas on the model. The diagram pictured makes some gross generalisations about where types of churches MIGHT be able to be plotted.

- The hypothesis of the model is that we can all grow in each area and that a holistic spirituality draws on all quadrants (aims for the middle). Each of us will probably be able to identify one or more areas where we feel we are more comfortable, this might be due to personality, upbringing or experiences. Its fine to have a strong area, but the point of the model is to encourage us to not only celebrate our strengths but to spur us onto developing other ways to connect with God.

- There are dangers in going to the extreme in any area of the model. Individuals and communities can get dangerously out of balance at times - balance is so important.

- In looking at my own life I can plot myself on the model at different places at different times in my life. I suspect this is a normal and healthy thing, especially for young Christians making sense of their faith.

Here is the diagram - I have a word doc copy of it if you'd like a larger copy.

I'm very interested in your feedback on this last series of posts. What do you think of the model? Is it missing something? Does it over emphasise something? Where would you plot your strengths and growth areas? What ways do you use to keep balance?

Holistic Spirituality - LOVE

19 June, 2003 8:53 PM

LOVE is the final aspect of the Holistic Spirituality model that we've been looking at this week. Similarly to ACTION the focus is not on the individual in this quadrant but on others — however LOVE is expressed with a narrower focus upon the community of faith. Concepts like 'community', 'fellowship', 'body of Christ' and 'Church' are dominant in here.

People who operate naturally in this quadrant feel most connected to God and alive in their faith when they are journeying with other followers of Jesus. This may mean journeying with others in the areas of TRUTH, WONDER and ACTION but also includes the day to day sharing of life in big and small ways (through meals, pastoral care, shared living and developing friendships with other believers etc).

As with other areas previously explored, Jesus was constantly developing this aspect of Spirituality in his own life and that of his disciples. He calls a diverse group of people to come together to follow him not only as individuals but as a community sharing the ups and downs of life. Together they not only worshipped, learnt and did mission but they also engaged in the normal activities of life including weddings, meals and festivals.

Unity among those he left was of paramount importance to Jesus as we can see in his prayer of John 17 and the topic of LOVE was a constant feature in his teaching.

The early Church recognised early that their only way forward was to continue to journey together. The picture of this dynamic community is an inspiring one (Acts 2:43-47). It is no wonder that this was a growing group that was attractive to those living in the world around them because there was such an emphasis upon caring for those in need and shared life together.

Paul also was convinced that faith was not something for the individual but rather for communities. His language is almost always written in the plural, and his teaching is often focused upon how believers should live together. The Body of Christ imagery(1 Corinthians 12:12-31) paints a wonderful picture of how we are called to operate corporately. Similarly 1 John 3 calls for love to be central.

Likewise the Old Testament is equally as focused with the theme of journeying together. 'Family', 'tribe', 'nation' and 'the people of God' are all central.

My personal journey in this aspect of faith is still developing. As an introvert I sometimes have found it a little difficult to grapple with but recently have felt a growing awareness that the Church is just not cutting it in this area. I wonder if perhaps we delude ourselves that we are in 'community' with our cups of coffee after church and a quick sharing time at the end of bible study. Maybe we're not really willing to risk of getting close to others, maybe we're just lazy or maybe we've just bought into our cultures individualistic obsession!

I think its something we really need to grapple with because in my experience people today are just not willing to believe these days unless they first feel a sense of belonging within communities of faith.

How do you go in this aspect of Spirituality? Is it something you feel you've experienced either in the past or currently? How do you seek to develop community with other believers?

UPDATE: Here are the complete set of links to this series. 1. INTRO - 2. TRUTH - 3. WONDER - 4. ACTION - 5. LOVE - 6. Wrapping it all up.

Holistic Spirituality - ACTION

19 June, 2003 8:57 AM

ACTION is the third quadrant of the Holistic Spirituality model. This is where spirituality extends beyond being purely an 'inner' thing and impacts the world around us. The emphasis leans more towards 'doing' and ones attention comes off the self and is lifted to include others. The two areas of JUSTICE (seeking to stand up for injustices faced by individuals, groups and the environment) and EVANGELISM/MISSION (seeking to share the Gospel message with others whether within or across cultures) generally dominate this quadrant. They are often seen as separate but I feel that they can and should be, where possible, strongly linked.

In the same way that some will find themselves naturally drawn to connecting with God in the areas of TRUTH and WONDER, others will find themselves feeling most alive in God when they are participating in what God is doing in the world they live in. This can be expressed in many ways ranging from as formal missionaries both locally or overseas, to sharing ones faith in a place of study, work or home, to being involved in local community groups.

Jesus was constantly engaged in Action. If you were to tear out every page of the gospels where he didn't heal, cast out a demon, preach, stand up for someone or against some issue you would have very little left, if anything. His mission statement (Luke 4:18-19) should have given those around him a hint at what his focus would be as should his teaching which called people out of a selfish focus to that of service. He was also interested in drawing his disciples into this action frenzy as can be seen from his calling 'I will teach you how to fish for people'. (Matthew 4:19) through to his last words to them 'Go make disciples' (Matthew 28:18-20) and 'You will be my witnesses'. (Acts1:7-8)

The early church was eager to grapple with Jesus' commands to action. Empowered by the Holy Spirit and under persecution they changed the world they lived on baptising thousands and planting churches as they were forced to scatter throughout the known world. Along the way they continued the pattern of healing (Acts 5:12) and preaching that had been established by Jesus.

The Old Testament is also rich with material in this area with many passages showing Gods desire for his people to be creating a just society. The exhortation to care for the widow, orphan, refuge and the poor are repeated again and again. (Isaiah 1:17)

James sums it up as bluntly with the words, 'Faith without works is dead, it is no faith at all.' (James 2:14-17) Billy Graham says faith without works is like inhaling without exhaling (which could be rather messy). Another nice analogy is that faith and works are like the two chemical components of salt, sodium and chloride, both of which by themselves will kill you if you sprinkle them on your steak and chips but when combined as salt they are a life giving property. Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he told his disciples that they were 'the salt of the earth'!?

This is another area that I personally have grown a lot in over the past few years. Growing up I always shied away from it, mainly out of fear that I didn�t have the formulaic evangelism method that I'd been taught in �missions lesson� at church down pat. It might also have been slightly put off by the fact that our youth pastor forced us to go door knocking and street evangelising with him every now and again! More recently I�ve been relieved to find that mission is not just about bowling strangers up in the street with a bible and �selling� them Jesus and that relational evangelism is also a valid and effective approach in the times we live in! I've also felt a growing passion of late for a number of local and international social justice issues and have begun to explore what my personal response might be. Again, I'm no expert in this area, but am loving the recent freedom that I've found to operate within it.

Is ACTION a natural and important way that you connect with God? In what ways have you experienced or struggled with it? Why do you think so many people do struggle with it? (most groups I've taken through this model have identified this as their weakest area) Leave a comment to spur the rest of us onto action!

UPDATE: Here are the complete set of links to this series. 1. INTRO - 2. TRUTH - 3. WONDER - 4. ACTION - 5. LOVE - 6. Wrapping it all up.

Holistic Spirituality - WONDER

17 June, 2003 11:59 PM

In the WONDER quadrant of the Holistic Spirituality model the experiential is important. This way of connecting with God focuses on engaging our hearts, senses and emotions. Prayer is a dominant idea, as is Worship. Interaction and engagement with the Holy Spirit is often a focus for people who connect well in this area. Experiencing God through creation and the mystical methods of reflection and prayer are ways to engage this area of spirituality. Contemplation and meditation are also important. The focus is largely about developing intimacy with God.

While some people will connect with more naturally connect with God through their minds others will be much more comfortable connecting with their hearts. Church comes alive for these people during times of worship and prayer, through story telling, use of image and creative/alternative/ancient forms of worship. They might also be energised by their own personal times with God in prayer and meditation.

Jesus operated out of this quadrant in his life. We often see him in lonely places praying and fasting (Mark 3:13). These times seem to energise and empower him. We also see him interacting with and led by the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 4:1) It is evident that his relationship with the father is one of real intimacy. He not only has knowledge about his 'Abba' (Daddy) but he has oneness with him. We find Jesus not only prays in private but also in public (John 17) and that teaches his disciples to engage in prayer also. (Luke 11:1-13) Jesus style of teaching through parables and storytelling is also a way of helping his followers to engage the wondrous side of their spirituality. His preaching is also filled with challenges to be intimate with God - John 15 (the vine and the branches) is a wonderful picture of this intimacy. 'Remain in me and I will remain in you. This is wondrous language!

The early church also engaged in this sphere of their faith. We find in them constantly meeting for prayer (Acts 4:24) and worship (Acts 2:46) and there is no doubt that the Holy Spirit is an important and empowering focus for them. (Acts 21-13) Paul constantly models prayer for the communities he writes to (Ephesians 1:16-23) and encourages them to do likewise. (Colossians 4:2-4)

The Old Testament is full of wonder - Psalms and Song of Songs have a life time of material for engaging the heart and describing an intimate relationship with God.

I personally have grown a lot in this area over the past ten years. Its been refreshing to discover God in new and refreshing ways through prayer, worship, creation and story telling. In the 90's I began to explore some of this through 'contemporary worship'. My church also gradually began to be more open about the Holy Spirit (and eventually even described themselves as 'mildly Charismatic'!) I found the journey to be wonderfully refreshing although at times wondered if the heavy focus upon 'singing' was perhaps too narrow! I made a concerted effort to expand my wondrous horizons and soon discovered that I could connect with God through creation (bushwalking/camping), through my own creativity (photography) and in more recent years in some more alternative and ancient forms of worship. By no means have I arrived in this area, but I'm loving the journey.

How do you find this aspect of faith? Is it an area you feel you are growing or stagnant in? Does it energise you or frustrate you? What have you discovered on the journey that might inspire, encourage or resource the rest of us in this area?

UPDATE: Here are the complete set of links to this series. 1. INTRO - 2. TRUTH - 3. WONDER - 4. ACTION - 5. LOVE - 6. Wrapping it all up.

Holistic Spirituality - TRUTH

17 June, 2003 4:45 PM

Thanks for those of you who have expressed interest in the 'Holistic Spirituality' model that I mentioned earlier. Sorry to those logging on yesterday to get the next instalment - Its been a crazy few days!

As I wrote previously: "The model is pretty simple - and identifies four main ways that people tend to connect with God. We each tend to be strong in at least one area and often are week in one also. Alan's hypothesis is that to develop in one's spirituality they should be growing in each of the four dimensions.

The first of the quadrants of the model is TRUTH.
This way of connecting with God is predominantly through thinking. Here ideas are important and the brain is engaged. Theology is central as is putting words and language to faith. This is where we seek to understand more of who God is, who we are, what belief and faith is. Here Scripture is held onto, and is generally regarded highly and it is studied vigorously. The focus is largely 'God' with the mind.

Some people will naturally be 'thinkers' and love to connect with God in this way. Their favourite part of church might be a good meaty sermon where the Word is expounded and the mind is challenged. People who are strong in this area might be drawn strongly to bible study groups that take an intellectual approach to their activities or to reading stretching books on faith or theology.

Jesus was someone who operated in this way throughout his ministry. We find him as a young boy in the Temple(Luke 2:46) expanding his mind (and the minds of those around him!), we see he has a good grasp of Scripture and that he uses it to resist temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13), he also quotes it throughout his ministry and in his teaching stretches the minds and theology of those listening to him. He also was keen to see his disciples grappling with his teachings - John 8:31-32, "if you hold onto my teaching you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."

The early church also developed in this area - we see in the early chapters of Acts that the community was devoted to the teaching of the Apostles(Acts 4:13) and that Paul in his letters was keen to stretch his reader's thinking at times. He writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7 — 'Think about what I'm saying. The Lord will give you understanding in these areas'

Hebrews 5:11 — 6:1 challenges us to move beyond the basics and to get onto the solids of faith. Too often I fear that we don't really grapple with this area of faith. God has given us the capacity to think but do we extend this gift to our faith?

Of the four areas that I'll be covering this week, Truth is probably my 'weakest link'. Whilst I am not interested in putting the guilt's on anyone who struggles in this area, the point of this model is to encourage us all to do some thinking about where we are strong (and celebrate that) and where we are weak (and make decisions to improve in that area). Over the years I've had to force myself to grow in this area through enrolling in a Theology degree (its only taken me 9 years so far), reading some meaty books and throwing myself into conversations and debates I might otherwise have avoided. Every time I do I'm constantly amazed at the way my faith is deepened!

How do you go in this area? Is it a natural and energising part of your faith or do you also struggle with it? What have you discovered that might help the rest of us grow and extend ourselves as we seek to engage our minds? Do you use any exercises or resources that help in this area? Leave your comments below so that we all might benefit from your experience.

UPDATE: Here are the complete set of links to this series. 1. INTRO - 2. TRUTH - 3. WONDER - 4. ACTION - 5. LOVE - 6. Wrapping it all up.

A significant equation

14 June, 2003 5:03 PM

Significance = Others Opinion of You + Your Achievements

Tomorrow I'm speaking at Horsham Church of Christ (which is about 3 hours to the west of Melbourne. I'm doing a 'Holistic Spirituality Workshop' in the afternoon and then in the evening speaking at a youth gathering.

In the evening I'm talking about the messages that our world says to us, largely through the media.

The average Aussie teen is exposed to 600 commercials every day (I'd say that's a conservative estimate). So by the time they are 60 they've seen or heard 13,140,000 ads! Add to that the 8 years of television shows that they watch in a life plus all the time online, in magazines, at the movies and in front of computer games and you've got a lot of messages!!!

We are hearing ALOT of messages. Some are really worthwhile, but I suspect that many may be outright lies! For instance, one study showed that one in four commercials made some direct statement about beauty. Another showed that 69% of women on TV were significantly under the weight of the average weight of women. Another showed that overweight men on TV were always cast as the funny guy who was the butt of the joke, bald men were generally cast as geeks or nerds and that the powerful, romantic and serious roles generally ended up with guys with athletic bodies and full heads of hair!

I think the equation above (which is taken from a course a church here in Melbourne runs) is a pretty good way of summing up a lot of these messages that we hear. To be significant you have to make others think highly over you and be a high achiever. The more I think about it the more I see this as true...both in my own life but also in the lives of those living around me.

Today I asked myself the questions: When do I feel most alive? When do I feel most worthwhile and valuable? When do I feel at my lowest?

The answers surprised me and point to the fact that I often feel most valuable when another person has told me I did or do something well or when I've just done something that I'm proud of...whether it be a good grade at school...buying my latest gadget/toy... writing a good post on my blog ...or standing in front of the mirror and realising that those push ups have been having an effect!

Not that there is anything wrong with being liked or achieving - they are fine things in their own right - however when we base our value and significance upon them we're setting ourselves up for a fall. Its just impossible to always have others like us and to always be successful

There have been two times in my life when I've contemplated ending it all. In hindsight I realise these two times were when I went through times of rejection by others and realisation that I had failed at something I saw as important.

Its a risky equation to buy into! It therefore doesn't surprise me that Australia has the second highest suicide rate in the world per capita and that so many of those ending their lives are 18 -25 year old males. All day every day they are told to achieve, succeed and make sure they are loved. So when the day comes when the rejection of another or a failure inevitably comes the reason to go on living disappears.

The people who came up with the above equation also came up with a second one that they say describes how God views our significance. When I first looked at it I cringed a little, it sounds a little corny...however I can't think of a better way to express where true significance comes from. Its definitely a better 'equation' than the first, but I'd invite your response to it if you feel moved to do so.

Real Significance = Gods Opinion of You + Jesus' Achievements


Interview with Bilal 3

13 June, 2003 4:19 PM

This is the last part of my interview with my Muslim friend, Bilal. Here is Part 1 and Part 2

What social responsibilities does your faith leave you with?
One of the main pillars of Islam is Zakah (or charity) in which we give financially so that those who are less well off. Whilst I do not personally have any involvement with the distribution of this money I believe through my giving that I am having a positive impact upon the wider community.

I also feel I have the responsibility to care for my family as a result of my faith. Family is central to my belief. I did not leave home until I married and even after doing so remain close to my family. As my dad gets older my responsibility for caring for him grows. At some point in the future he will probably move into our home so that we will care for him.

Our Mosque is also proactive about getting involved in the wider community. We annually have an open day where people can come and receive a tour through our buildings, eat our food, hear about our prayer and ask questions. Last year we had thousands of people through over the day. We also take part in local community days, sometimes even working with local churches to put them on. These are very important to us, especially with the current focus on Islam. We try to debunk myths that people think apply to us.

What is it like being part of a minority group here in Australia?
In recent times being a Muslim in this country has become more difficult. I personally have not been persecuted but others from the Mosque, especially some of the women, have been on the receiving end of comments and threats in the street. The media is mixed in their portrayal of Muslim people, it concerns me that at times we are portrayed with sweeping statements and generalisation.

Up until the latest renewed focus on Islam I had not had much feeling of being ostracized from the rest of my wider community.

The other issues for me are the normal problems of finding time and space to pray and a few dietary considerations as living in a society that is so preoccupied with sexually loose morals. This was difficult for me growing up especially as a teenage boy.

What are the main misconceptions people have about Islam and Muslims?
I think the general population does not misunderstand us. There are a few stereotypes that come out in the media from time to time though. The big one is that all Muslims are violent terrorists and extremists. Others are that we oppress women and that we are all Arabs who are intolerant of other people's faiths. In my opinion none of these are true.

What is your view on how Islam values women?
We value women very highly. They are individuals with rights and responsibilities like I have. Both men and women are supposed to dress modestly and behave appropriately. Some of our female friends choose to ear the veil and do so not because they are forced to but rather because they find it actually brings freedom from having to conform to the way our society expects women to behave. My wife makes decisions for herself, she works, she socialises and she is my equal.

Holistic Spirituality

13 June, 2003 10:26 AM

What is the number one topic I'm getting to speak about lately?

Developing a more holistic Spirituality.

Before I go any further I'll say that by no means am I an expert in the topic, some days I look at my own spirituality and wonder if I'm kidding myself!

However its something people are really keen to explore and something that I've been thinking about a lot of late.

Whilst I'm not a big fan of 'models' I use one in my workshops as a framework to help people flesh out their current strengths and areas for growth in their spirituality. The model was developed by a guy here in Melbourne called Alan Hirsch (who blogs occasionally at Stinky Convoluted Past). Its something that gives me a framework to think about my own faith and that I've used for a few years now in the communities that I've been involved in - I've found it very helpful. In some ways it reminds me of a simpler version of Richard Foster's Streams of Living Water.

The model is pretty simple - and identifies four main ways that people tend to connect with God. We each tend to be strong in at least one area and often are week in one also. Alan's hypothesis is that to develop in one's spirituality they should be growing in each of the four dimensions.

No one will ever 'arrive' or 'make it' in any one of the dimensions — that's not the point. Rather the encouragement is to not rest on the areas that we might be strong in, but rather to continue to expand our understanding of God and the ways in which we connect with him. This will sometimes mean us leaving our comfort zones, sometimes it might even mean opening out minds to things that we'd previously 'written off' - but in my experience as we do this, we enter into new dimensions of our faith.

It takes a while to unpack the model - but over the next week (starting Monday) I'll attempt to flesh it out a little.

As I do, I'm especially keen for your feedback and also your ideas about how YOU develop your faith in each of these areas - practical ideas would be great as I'm toying with the idea of developing a resource which will be a practical companion to the workshops I do.

UPDATE: Here are the links to Parts 1-6 of this series. 1. INTRO - 2. TRUTH - 3. WONDER - 4. ACTION - 5. LOVE - 6. Wrapping it all up.

Kids and God

10 June, 2003 4:49 PM

This afternoon I did my usual session of teaching RE again in the local primary school. Today I took a video camera into the class to interview them. I had a group of 8 ten to twelve year olds and we did interviews on the topic of 'What is God like?' I was a little sceptical that we'd be able to get much out of them as most of them are not church kids - but their responses were quite amazing. I wish I could video stream it for you...however for legal reasons (and my lack of technical nouse) I can't. After we finish videoing next week I'll put up some of their responses.

I will say that they were very open to talking about God and very honest in their responses. They didn't feel the need to pretend that they knew or believed God, some expressed that they were not sure. Others had some really great insights on deep topics....somehow we got onto is God male or female?. Others talked about their experience of prayer....it was quite a comprehensive session.

I love the way kids so honestly tell it like it is.

Pentecost - Church Emerging

8 June, 2003 9:24 AM

Pentecost is here and I'm excited!

I'm looking forward to a great celebration with two other local churches this morning. I've just finished a practice run through my input and am feeling personally challenged by the message. (I almost went forward for Salvation in my own lounge room....but then who would have prayed for me as I knelt at the alter....I mean couch!?)

Seriously - I love Pentecost. What an amazing transformation of 120 pretty ordinary people, who must have been pretty confused and unsure of their future. They must have been somewhat overwhelmed by the last words of Jesus which laid before them a world wide mission! How could they possibly fulfil that!? What I love about it is that they go from being a church in hiding (locked away in some room) to being on the streets communicating the gospel in ways they never would have imagined previously! The before and after shot is an amazing study in contrasts.

I think this is a very important message for the church today. We too live in a crazy world - we too have a world wide mission given to us. This week I've been chatting to a number of church leaders around the globe, in New Zealand, Canada, America and the UK. One thing I notice is that we are all asking questions about Church and that a lot of the questions I suspect are pretty similar to the questions that Peter and the other 119 might have been asking as they gathered to pray that day.

Who are we? Where are we going? What does church look like in this changing world? How do we do mission? How do we communicate the gospel to our world when we don't speak its languages? Its amazing to see how so many of us are asking the same questions at the same time at all corners of the globe.

I come away from the first few chapters of Acts with real hope. We worship a God who is into transformation big time! God is interested in change and in bringing wholeness. He does it on an individual level (take a look at a before and after shot of Peter if you want proof), he does it on a communal level (check out Acts 2:42f) and he does it on a world wide level (that 120 people became 3120 in a day...and just look at the numbers today in 2003!). There is hope. In fact as I think about it, if there is one day in the year that us Emerging Church type people hold onto, learn from and celebrate the most — I reckon Pentecost should be it!

There is so much we can take from this passage, I feel like I've got about 3 or 4 sermons in me!

- This is a community of prayer, even before the fire and wind - this has to be key for us today!

- This is a group who see the importance of community, again even before Pentecost they are meeting together, they understand that God desires us to do faith together.

- This is a community that is willing to be moved, reshaped and refined. They are willing to let God move them, even in very sacrificial ways. Some of them sell all their possessions, others end up in international mission and others give up their lives. Are we willing to be moved by God? Are we willing to let him reshape us as individuals and as communities so that we can be better suited to serve him?

Ok - now I've 'warmed up' on you I'm going to go to church... Have a happy birthday Church!

Hillsong

7 June, 2003 10:49 AM

fridaysixpm (6th June - permalinks not working?)has an interesting review of a TV expose on Hillsong an Aussie Pentecostal church which has attracted alot of criticism over the past years.

You can get the transcript of the program here

fridaysixpm writes:

"There's a lot I could say about this church. Of course I respect people's right to express their spirituality in whatever way seems appropriate to them, but as far as I'm concerned Hillsongs as an organisation embodies the worst of consumerism and sexism while denying its members the full range of human experience (God wants you to be happy all the time!). For outsiders, the Hillsongs phenomenon is fascinating, as well as an annoying tax scam. For thousands of church-members, it can be close to abuse. "

Update: Eddie has a rant on a similar topic.

Thanks for the discussion that is going on in comments below - lets remember to treat each other with respect as we discuss. On the topic of prosperity - I highly recommend the book 'Praying like Jesus' (pictured above/right).

Update 2: I'd like to thank all that have contributed to this conversation - we've had around comments left over the past 13 months - its obviously a hot topic that people feel very deeply about on both sides.

I have deleted a few comments left on this thread from people taking both sides who were unable to contain their anger to a point where their comments got to a stage of personal attacks and crude language.

After a lot of thinking about it I've decided to close comments to this thread as I feel we've probably achieved as much as we can with the discussion. I'm not sure that anything anyone can now say would add much to the conversation or change too many people's minds either way.

I've appreciated all those who've participated in this discussion - valid points have been made from numerous perspectives. I see validity in both sides of the conversation personally but feel that the conversation is perhaps heading in a direction where it could be seen as more destructive than anything else. As a result I'm closing comments as of now. I'll allow the comments already post to remain as a record of our conversations and hope its a useful resource to those thinking through the issues discussed.

Pre Fire and Wind

6 June, 2003 8:28 AM

Something I've written for Sunday:

As I stood up to speak to those that had gathered, his words still rang in my ears.

He'd said, �Go, make disciples of all nations!�

He'd said, �You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.�

I looked around at those who had gathered — the 'witnesses' — and my heart sank.

There was John, James and Andrew — simple fishermen. Sitting with them was Matthew the Tax Collector and Simon the Zealot. Then there was Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, James, and Judas (son of James). They were just simple guys, average in so many ways. We had lived with and loved him for three years yet after all that time had deserted him when he most needed us.

His mother Mary and some of his brothers were with us also as well as Mary and Martha and some of the other women. Lazarus sat on the window ledge talking with Nicodemus.

Then there were the other nameless faces scattered throughout the room.

There were those he had healed — who were once blind, lepers and lame. There was the woman who had bled for most of her life. There were even one or two that he'd raised from the dead.

There were widows, beggars, prostitutes, Samaritans, adulterers and tax collectors. There were the old, the children and the poor.

And then, there was me. Simon Peter — the Rock! Yeah Right! More like Simon Peter 'Mr foot in mouth'. I'd disowned him too. I couldn't even admit I knew him to a servant girl. What kind of witness was I!?

We had gathered together because he had told us to wait in Jerusalem — but we were scared and confused. Our leader had gone and we felt alone. We were unsure of who we were and what our place in the world was.

I looked out the window at the world we had been called to go to and I was afraid. The streets were filled with people of all nations yet we were not equipped to communicate with them. Our own nation was living under oppression — these were troubling times — how could we make a difference?

He'd told us we would be his witnesses to the world yet we were so few, so uneducated and so powerless. We had little money, influence and no real social standing. In fact, many of us were on the fringe and some were outright outcasts!
Locked away in that room we were a timid and fragile group of 120. What could we hope to achieve?

We began to pray.

Alt-Quiet Time

4 June, 2003 10:59 PM

Is it time for some 'Alternative' Quiet Time/Devotional material to be developed? Does anyone know of any personal devotional material with an edgy, creative, alternative and post-modern feel?

Shortly after I made the decision to 'invite Jesus into my heart' as a young child my Dad sat me down one night as he was putting me to bed and gave me a colourful little book that looked something like this. It was a daily devotional book for kids complete with cartoons, stories, prayers and activities. Dad told me that one way I could grow my friendship with Jesus was to have something called a Quiet Time or a Daily Devotion. From that time I endeavoured to have one every morning.

Through the years my devotion to devotions varied between being once per day to being once a year (if that!). I used all kinds of material. As I got older the material I used got a little more hip and mature. When I got online I even found ways of having a quiet time there.

In more recent years I began to grow dissatisfied with some of the printed and online material I'd found. Often they seemed so packaged - a short reading, an easy question or two and a prayer to read just didn't cut it for me any more.

As with so many other GenXer Christians I began to experiment with some ancient forms of prayer and reflection. I've also tried some newer forms of journaling. These have been amazing for me - they've re-ignited some of the passion for Jesus that I'd lost over the years but they've also left me thirsting for more.

There seems to be a lot of resources being developed 'out there' for corporate prayer and worship experiences - alt-worship has been a dynamic and growing movement in the past decade or so. But I wonder if there is much being developed in the area of personal devotional material with an edgy, creative, alternative and post-modern feel? I'm keen to find some if you have any ideas - I'd like to develop a bit of a resource page for it if there is any out there....and if there isn't, perhaps some of us should put our heads together and develop some!?!

Sabbath, prayer, worship, creeds....

3 June, 2003 4:55 PM

There is a very interesting discussion going on over at signposts after last Tuesday's gathering between Living Room and Nexus (one of Phil and Dan's congregations). The conversation in comments there is covering everything from is Sunday the only day a church should gather through to what is worship and prayer through to creeds. Good stuff.

I can see clearly now...

2 June, 2003 1:13 PM

glasses.jpgOn Friday I got new glasses. My old ones were getting pretty scratched and my prescription needed a small adjustment. I could still see out of the old ones fine, but it was time for an update.

When I walked out of the optometrist wearing my new specs I was amazed at how clearly my new glasses allowed me to see. I had become so accustomed to the scratches and old prescription that I had not realised how fuzzy my vision had gradually become.

It reminded me of when I first got glasses and realised for the first time (I was 13) that it was possible to see individual leaves on trees from a distance. I had always known trees had leaves, but had become accustomed to seeing trees as green blurs where leaves just merged into one another.

I wonder what other things we get out of focus without realising?

Today I've been preparing for this Sunday's Pentecost sermon at NCBC and have been reading the Acts 1-2. As I read the story of this dynamic community of faith I wonder if perhaps we, as church today, have gradually been loosing focus. Maybe without even knowing it our lenses have become clouded by the scratches of politics, power, comfortability and fear. Is it time we had our prescription checked to enable us to cut through the fog and get to the core of who we are and what we should be on about?

Evangelism

30 May, 2003 12:34 PM

Todd responds to: 'The standard punch line in an evangelistic sermon is:'if you walked out of here right now, got hit by a truck and died, do you know for sure you would go to heaven?'

Interview with Bilal II

30 May, 2003 9:44 AM

After a few mainly encouraging comments and emails in response to Part I of my interview with my new Muslim friend Bilal here is Part II (Part III will follow)

What is your understanding of worship?
I see worship as something that we do with our whole life. There are times when it is a focused thing in prayer or fasting, but I feel it is bigger than that. Worship is pleasing God with the way we live. I guess I am lucky that I have ways of constantly being reminded throughout my day that I am supposed live a life of worship to God.

How does your faith impact you in the low times of life?
I think it impacts me in lots of ways. One way is through the community that I am a part of. When my mother died was the lowest point of my life and yet it was the time I felt most loved by those around me. I knew I really belonged and that people cared. They brought food to my father, they sent cards and they prayed for us. It was an amazing time. I feel my community actually helped us to grieve rather than leaving us to do it ourselves.

The other thing that helps in these times is prayer. Because I am praying all day I have a constant source of strength in those times when life gets too much for me. Sometimes its hard to motivate myself to pray and my mind will wander, but because we do it every few hours the next time is often better.

What part do scriptures and study play in your life and faith?
At different times in my life the Qu'ran has meant more to me than others. Deep down I know that it is the words of God revealed to Mohammad and I know that it tells us how to live our lives. To be honest there have been times where I have found it to be hard to relate to but I have never doubted that it is Gods words. Sometimes I'm amazed by the amount of subjects that it covers, it really does give us a basis to live and make the decisions we need to make for life.

I have never studied the Qu'ran seriously, but I do turn to it on occasion and enjoy when the Imam speaks from it and explains its relevance. A number of times its almost as if God has been speaking directly to me through his words.

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