One of the things I enjoy about the Christian experience in Australia is the lack of patriotism in the church. Or perhaps I should say the low level of it. Some friends travelled to U.S.A around seven years ago to become pastors in the Methodist church. He had travelled there a number of times as a itinerant evangelist / musician. It was through his recounting of his experiences that he shared stories of people taking their guns into church. Congregations saluting the American flag and singing the national anthem.
I confess up front I like guns. I have lived all my life around guns. My dad taught me to shoot from a young age. I have used guns both for work and recreation purposes. I am also proud to be Aussie. I think I am blessed to live in the greatest nation in the world. I am proud to be an Australian, simply because I am Australian and don’t know anything different. Certainly there are things that our nation have done which makes me hang my head in shame – but there are many things about this nation that makes me hold my head up high and say, I am Australian. Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie – Oi Oi Oi!!!!
But, I found Mike’s experience rather disconcerting. I have never taken a gun to church. I can’t imagine a reason to do so. Not in the western world anyways. I have never seen the Australian flag in any church I have visited. Wait, I tell a lie. One church I went to, had a picture on the wall of every flag of the world. The picture was a reminder and was a representation that we were to pray for every nation and to go out to every nation and make disciples and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. But I digress.
Last night I came across the following story where a travelling family in America visited all kinds of churches in their travels. Charismatic, Reformed, Baptist, Liturgical etc. The style didn’t phase them, as long as Jesus was proclaimed Lord. They shared how they continued to hear the Lord speak into their hearts, “You can’t have two masters! You need to chose which master you will have!” They tell the story how this church they visited had some lively singing, which they thought was God honouring and they enjoyed it. Till, they started to sing the national anthem and other songs about America… Once again they felt the Lord challenging them, which master will you have, you can’t have two. So they stood up and left the church building and went on their way.
The truth is that God isn’t into nations that much. He is into his own Kingdom. A kingdom that comprises of all gender, nationality, age and social class. And more importantly in this kingdom, there is no distinction between gender, nationality, age and social class. All are equal in standing with each other and before the Lord. All stand before him as sinners, having fallen short of his glory – and more importantly, we stand together before him, forgiven.
It’s easy for me to say with shock horror, how bad is the church in America with its nationalism. And its easy for me to do so with an element of pride and self righteousness that we don’t do the same in our own culture. But, the truth is, we do have an element of nationalism within our Christian heritage and experience. For some, they use their Christian faith to push a political agenda. On one side the political agenda is one of social liberalism. On the other, the political agenda is one of social conservatism. On many levels, I too am caught up in the social conservatism. Currently we have a issue with muslims coming into our country. Not all of them are nice people. Many are caught up in what we call terrorist acts, both here and overseas. There is a fear that the radicals will have a effect on the stability of this nation and cause the same unrest and turmoil which is evident in many places around the world. And indeed, some of them have been caught in the midst of plotting such acts of evil.
I need to also clarify that not all refugee Muslims are terrorists. I have met many great peeps, who were genuine. I made friends with quite a few while I was in hospital. Our accountant is a Muslim guy. Our neighbours are from Turkey and are also really nice people. Once I met an older lady while fishing. Yes, she was wearing her scarf which clearly identified her as Muslim. She offered me a coffee and I tied a hook onto her line, after it had broken off. She shared how she and her husband were 19 and 21 when they came to Australia. They actually met on Australian soil as they disembarked off the ship and were later to get married. She shared with me how two of her sons were becoming radicalised by some unsavoury elements and so she and her husband took them with them on a holiday to see family back in Lebanon. During the two weeks they were there, they experienced gun shots every night, experienced bombs going off and the news was filled with maimings and killings. They both took their sons aside and told them.. hey, we left here as young adults to get away from this crap and start a new life. If you want Australia to become a place like this, then, we are going to leave you here, and you can live this lifestyle to your hearts content… As for us, we are going back home to the Australia we love and the lifestyle we enjoy
But, I digress from the theme of my post today. I have to ask myself, on what level is my social conservatism and on what level is my social libertarianism (And yes, call me complicated – I do hold and practice a measure of both – which does confuse many who know me :) ) I need to ask myself the important questions, and I believe in general every Christian needs to ask “Am I trying to serve two masters? Am I trying to achieve a political outcome through political means and if so, am I serving two masters?”
I’d ultimately like to be able to say in all honesty that I am serving only one master. That is the Lord Jesus Christ. But, in all honesty I can’t say I am. What about you. Can you likewise say that you truly only serve one master? Yes I know, its a hard question to ask, isn’t it.
I’m kinda thinking, or is that musing, or perhaps its more of something else or other about the issue of vagueness. I’m not really sure about what I’m thinking about it, as my thoughts have no real coherent substance to them. I’m not sure that you would or could relate to the experience of not being able to pinpoint just what it is I am thinking. Or even engage on a deeper level of meaningful conversation on the topic; if that would be even possible.
I have been reading Fast Forward to Mission by Alan Hirsch. My facebook friends can access a free download from a link on my timeline, but, for technical reasons beyond my ability, I can’t provide the link here. My paraphrase of this work is.
The gospel of Jesus connects our own story to the story of God, working through, over and within history, and in doing so, gives us meaning and understanding of our own place in the universe. Not only does it give us meaning and understanding – it connects us in meaningful ways with others as we understand the story of God who works not only through us and for us – compels us to engage with all of humanity allowing the experience of God to challenge, change and continue to draw all to himself …
Perhaps like me, you too struggle understanding the meaning of many of the stories that Jesus told. Some of his stories are easy to understand, while others are much harder. One story / parable that I have struggled to understand is one found in Matthew 13:44, where Jesus told a parable about a hidden treasure that someone finds in a field. He tells how the person who finds it, goes and sells all they have to buy that field; such is the immensity of the treasure.
I’m currently reading Dallard Willard’s book, Revolution of Character. On page 60 he gives an explanation of this parable which I think totally nails its meaning. Think about the treasure that is found in the field. It’s so valuable, the person who found it, gladly and joyfully sold all they had to buy that field. Do you think this person was sad and reluctant to sell all they had? No! Not at all!
The meaning of the parable is that Jesus is the treasure. He calls us to give up our life to come and follow him. He doesn’t call us to come follow him reluctantly. He calls us to come follow him gladly. He calls us to deny ourselves to come and follow him. But what is it we are denying? And what is it we are gaining? We are called to lose ourselves in his eternal immeasurable love. Allowing that eternal immeasurable love to change us, mold us, hold us, cover over, well up within and flow out from us.
Why would we want to hang onto our own lives – whether our life is good or bad – when, such a immeasurably valuable treasure is freely offered to us… all we need to do is deny ourselves, acknowledge the fact that there is a better way and accept Jesus.
Perhaps you would like to pray this prayer with me. _ Jesus, I need you. I need your love to permeate through me, cover me and flow through me. I turn from my ways and accept you. Help me to know what it means to walk in your love. To walk in your forgiveness. To turn away from my sin. Fill me with your Holy Spirit, and show me the riches of your immeasurable love.
I have been reading a book called “Relational Leadership : A Biblical Model for influence and service.” By Walter C. Wright. It’s a book that has taken me over 12 months to read, and is one that I enjoyed reading and will go back and read again. Some of the highlights come from its Biblical foundation in building teams. Operating in grace, mercy and forgiveness and the need to press into God when we are faced with something bigger than ourselves.
The author draws on much of his own experience in being a president of Regent Bible College and his current position as CEO at the Max De Pre Leadership Center. I like the conversational style of the book, where he keeps technical advice to a bare minimum to where its absolutely needed. I truly believe that anyone in a leadership position will benefit greatly from this book. Throughout the book, he highlights the fact that everyone has a leadership role somewhere in life.
One of the things I am really struggling with in this book, and this goes with all leadership books I am reading, is that it tends to place the role of leadership within the framework of the individual. The pastor leads the church. The CEO leads the organisation. An individual leads a bible study group etc.
There is one area of church life that really presses my buttons. I gets me rankled. It makes me climb up onto my soap box and cry out…nooooo! And that is the issue of senior pastor of a church. Or that of an individual leading the church. No where in the Scriptures can I find the terminology of senior pastor. Nor can I find the example of one person being in charge of the church.
Instead, I see an eldership driven model where leadership is a shared responsibility. But, the elders are servant shepherds called to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. I’m heartened and encouraged to say that there are a number of other more highly qualified people throughout the world, who agree with me on this issue, and who are strongly promoting it.
After reading this book I am left with the question, if we really want to see our churches change to this model, and we really believe this is the model our churches are to emulate -should our bible colleges also emulate this model of mutual leadership? Instead of having a title of CEO or a Principal – should instead those titles be changed to Elder? Indeed is it at all possible for a Bible college or other organisation to operate within a eldership lead model of organisation. What would happen to our churches if indeed those who were being trained, equipped and released for ministry, were done so in an atmosphere where that sort of leadership was modeled?
While there are many strengths to this book and the leadership model it encourages – I am left wanting more. What does mutually submissive leadership look like – What does it look like where the leader isn’t so much an individual – instead, the leadership is a collective group of mutually submissive people, ministering together.
Is right doctrine more important than right living? For even the demons believe right doctrine.
I was talking to a friend and fellow minister yesterday about depression. During our conversation I admitted to him that I have suffered from it in the past. Not only have I suffered from it in the past, there are still times when I have to subdue its ugly head as it tries to overcome me. I asked him if he was thinking of blogging on the subject, as our conversation had given me the inspiration to do so and started to write down a few thoughts.
This morning, like many others, I was shocked to hear that Robin Williams had died, through suicide. Robin Williams was an interesting actor. Someone whom I admit I both loved and hated. He was able to cause me to double over with pains of laughter, tears streaming down my eyes. There were many times he also caused me much emotional pain through many of his cringe moment scenes. Like many other brilliant and funny actors, he also suffered from depression. This is something that I admit I didn’t know about him until I read a number of articles this morning.
There are a large number of factors which cause depression. Continual stressful situations can rock us. Drug abuse and addictions can lead to dysfunction of the brain. Grief is a major cause. Lack of sleep. Constant adrenaline rushes followed by the lows. Sin, and spiritual / demonic oppression can be another.
My friend yesterday asked me what three key points I used to combat depression. And being the preacher I am, I gave him four. I want to say upfront that there is no easy solution to combating depression. It’s a very real and often can be a very complicated issue to deal with. And so, though I give my points here – I want to avoid simplistic 1, 2, 3 steps to conquer it. Instead of using the terms conquer and getting over it, I prefer to use the terminology of journeying through it.
My first point in journeying through depression is to identify the source. Is the depression caused by stressful circumstances. Are you going through a grieving process? Have you been hurt? In identifying the cause of the depression, its helpful to acknowledge that we have a right to feel. We have a right to be upset. We have a right to be confused. We have a right to be angry. And we need to accept that depression is not a sin and that its a normal result of what we are going through or have been through. Self acceptance is important. Perhaps though, the root of our depression is that we need to forgive: Maybe we need to forgive ourselves, someone else, a situation ( I once had to forgive a horse for bucking me off and wounding my pride ) or perhaps even forgive God.
It’s important when journeying through depression we don’t do it alone. We need the help of a faithful friend, or three, who will listen to us. People who will let us speak. People who can draw us out. People who don’t judge us. Who won’t condemn us. They need to be people who will come along side and speak life into us. Someone who will encourage us. Sometimes we need medical help in the way of medication, doctors and counsellors. Personally I think caution is needed here. I don’t think its right to medicate grief. Grief is a natural response to a painful situation. And human nature being what it is, we tend to want to avoid grief and numb it with drugs, alcohol and take a happy pill. Other times, medication is an important part of helping someone to journey through depression – particularly if its caused by an imbalance of the brains hormones.
The second point I made was in the area of “Spiritual Warfare.” Within Christian circles I believe there are two mistakes made. The first is to deride the existence of the devil and his henchmen. Demons are explained away as being ancient mythological superstitions. The second mistake is to believe there are demons under every rock. We blame the demonic for our burnt toast. Our missing socks. Our car running out of petrol. And every illness and hardship we face.
I have had some personal experience with the demonic. In 1997 I was freed from 3 demonic forces which had enslaved me to a gambling and masturbation addiction. When freed from these oppressive forces, I was instantly set free from those addictions and have been free ever since. I have also lived in a haunted house, which sadly the previous occupants had released a demonic spirit into the house through their holding a seance in the home. The experience wasn’t a pleasant one. Since then, I have been involved in praying for others to be released from demonic forces and prayed through houses, freeing them from demonic forces in them.
But I digress. The spiritual warfare I am talking about doesn’t involve so much of telling the devil to get. Rather it involves taking my eyes off myself and looking to Jesus. It involves my confessing the truth of what the Bible says about me. During the crux of my deepest darkest time, I found praying what I call the prayer of reception a powerful prayer.
Lord I receive your love so that I can love you, myself and love others.
I receive your patience so that I can be patient with you, myself and with others.
I receive your mercy so that I can be merciful to you, myself and to others.
I receive your kindness so that I can be kind to you, myself and to others.
I receive your joy so that I can be joyful with you, myself and with others.
I receive your peace so that I can be at peace with you, myself and with others.
I receive your discipline so that I can be self controlled with you, myself and with others.
And the third area is to start thinking about, helping and praying for others. I can’t tell you just how often I have felt a bit low (its too many) and I consciously make the effort to pray for others and before I know it, my own spirits have lifted. There have been times when all I wanted to do was to climb down and hide under my rock – and instead friends have gone out for a meal with a friend, attended a function, helped someone move, garden, cook, go for a walk etc and soon found myself laughing and forgetting about myself and my own situation.
Scripture is full of stories about men and women who suffered depression. Some of their prayers and songs of lament are recorded. I’d like to finish this post today with one such prayer / song of lament.
Psalm 42 The Message (MSG)
A psalm of the sons of Korah
42 1-3 A white-tailed deer drinks
from the creek;
I want to drink God,
deep draughts of God.
I’m thirsty for God-alive.
I wonder, “Will I ever make it—
arrive and drink in God’s presence?”
I’m on a diet of tears—
tears for breakfast, tears for supper.
All day long
people knock at my door,
“Where is this God of yours?”
4 These are the things I go over and over,
emptying out the pockets of my life.
I was always at the head of the worshiping crowd,
right out in front,
Leading them all,
eager to arrive and worship,
Shouting praises, singing thanksgiving—
celebrating, all of us, God’s feast!
5 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God.
6-8 When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse
everything I know of you,
From Jordan depths to Hermon heights,
including Mount Mizar.
Chaos calls to chaos,
to the tune of whitewater rapids.
Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers
crash and crush me.
Then God promises to love me all day,
sing songs all through the night!
My life is God’s prayer.
9-10 Sometimes I ask God, my rock-solid God,
“Why did you let me down?
Why am I walking around in tears,
harassed by enemies?”
They’re out for the kill, these
tormentors with their obscenities,
Taunting day after day,
“Where is this God of yours?”
11 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God.