Are You Walking WITH God?

The book, With: Reimagining The Way You Relate To God by Skye Jethani, was probably the best book I read last year. It was just brilliant. It was challenging and helpful in thinking about what it is to relate and commune with God. It’s a book I’ve made our interns at church read. And more recently, it’s a book I’ve quoted in one of my sermons when talking about what it is to grow as a follower of Jesus.

Are You Walking WITH God_

One of the helpful ways Jethani frames this idea of walking WITH Jesus is by highlighting how we perceive our relationship with God. In doing this he talks of four postures:

First – Life from God

These are people seeking blessing and gifts from God, but aren’t particularly interested in God himself. God is seen as a combination of a “divine butler and a cosmic therapist”.

Second – Life over God

Here people have lost the wonder and mystery of God and his world. Instead they seek to earn God’s favour through formulas and proven controllables. Those who believe God operates this way will seek to put the right techniques in place for faith, church, and life so a relationship with God can occur.

Third – Life for God

This is the posture of being concerned with serving God and expending all energy in doing something for God. Whether it be service or mission this posture highlights those who believe a relationship with God is founded on the things done. Identity is wrapped up in doing and service for God.

Fourth – Life under God

People who have a posture of life under God sees God in cause and effect terms. Through obedience to his commands God will bless life, family, and the nation. In this posture the believer is to determine what God approves and make sure they remain within those boundaries in order for God to uphold his part of the deal.

I find that these postures are fairly accurate in terms of how people think about their faith and relationship with God. But as Jethani rightly outlines, our relationship with God is exactly that, WITH God. It is a relationship, not a religious exercise with rules and rituals. And so, when speaking about being with God Jethani says,

“The life with God posture is predicated on the view that relationship is at the core of the cosmos: God the Father with God the Son with God the Holy Spirit. And so we should not be surprised to discover that when God desired to restore his broken relationship with people, he sent his Son to dwell with us. His plan to restore his creation was not to send a list of rules and rituals to follow, nor was it the implementation of useful principles. He did not send a genie to grant us our desires, nor did he give us a task to accomplish. Instead God himself came to be with us–to walk with us once again as he had done in Eden in the beginning. Jesus entered into our dark existence to share our broken world and to illuminate a different way forward. His coming was a sudden and glorious catastrophe of good.”

How about you, do you walk WITH God? Or, do you find your relationship with God is depicted through another posture? 

 

Advertisements

Published: The Public Progress of a (Youth) Pastor

While listening to a podcast of one of Alistair Begg’s conference messages I was struck by his exposition of 1 Timothy 4:12-16. In it he refers to the public nature of the ministry, and the progress seen of that ministry by the congregation. This sparked an idea about what that might look like for those of us in youth ministry. In reality it took far longer to write than I’d hoped but I think it has come out with what I wanted to say!

It was recently published at Rooted Ministry, and you can read the whole thing here.

“Through our own maturity as a believer – our persistence in relying on Jesus – and the sharpening of our ministry skills and abilities, we will find ourselves making progress. As we use these God-given gifts, skills, abilities, and aptitudes we will grow in these things, develop these things, and our progress will bear fruit in those to whom we minister to (no matter the size of the group).”

Can Ruth Help With Race?

The book of Ruth is one of the great literary stories in the Old Testament. While it might be a short story, it is a brilliantly constructed piece of literature that involves love, tragedy, and hope. It is packed with subtlety, meaning, and is masterfully written. And as I’ve been preaching through this wonderful book I’ve noticed how this story may well help us when we talk about race, ethnicity, and cultures.

It is in the introduction where this cross-cultural theme is raised. Elimelech, Naomi, and their two sons move away from God’s Promised Land to Moab. In crossing the Jordan River they arrive in a foreign land, with a foreign people, who worship foreign gods.

Here tragedy strikes.

Can Ruth Help With Race_

Elimelech dies; seemingly before his time. And Naomi’s sons marry Moabite women.

And so, the author constantly references ‘Ruth the Moabitess’ as the story progresses. This action to marry women of Moab is not seen as a good thing. Given the historical context of the story these marriages, and the decision to leave the Promised Land, is a rejection of the promise-keeping, covenant-bound relationship with God. It is an act of disobedience.

The issue here in the book of Ruth is one of fidelity.

It is an issue of faithfulness.

The promise-keeping, covenant-bound marriage between God and his people is being broken through (1) a lack of trust in God’s provision and (2) what is more than likely a drifting into worshipping of other gods, rather than worshipping YHWH, the Lord God.

Any infidelity through other gods from foreign nations is considered a breaking of this promise-keeping, covenant-bound marriage between God and his people.

There is a constant refrain in the Old Testament of God having a people he calls his own. This is biblical Israel. This is those who are to trust and obey him with their hearts and actions.

Yet, the Old Testament also speaks of the people of God accepting and including the outsider, the foreigner, into the family of God. Israel is to refrain from oppressing the foreigner and provide justice for them, incorporating them into their festivals, celebrations, and sacrifices and offerings. They are incorporated into the people of God and to be treated as such (Leviticus 17:8-9; 18:26; 20:2; 22:18; 24:16, 22; Deuteronomy 10; Numbers 15:14).

God’s people are to be concerned and care for them just as they are to care and be concerned for their own people.

And so there is this balance. God wants his people to remain his people, while also being open to the outsider, the foreigner.

The author of Ruth highlights the disobedience of this particular family but across the story shows the significance of this particular foreigner. Ruth the Moabitess is to be the person in whom God fulfils his promises and plans; leading to salvation and redemption for all nations.

As we sit here today–post-Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection we understand the gospel continues to have a radical challenge for us in terms of cross-cultural relations.

As Ephesians 2:11-22 reminds us,

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” 

It seems to go without saying that of all people Christians are not to be people who are racist or ethnically monochrome.

First, we understand that all people are created by God and made in his image.

Not much more needs to be said, other than this is a foundational truth for us as believers. Those we sit next to at work, those we play sport with on the weekends, those we interact with in our street, are all people created by God and are his image-bearers. Genesis 1-2 outlines the imageo dei for us, a crucial understanding of who we are as persons.

Second, we understand that the gospel is for all races, nations, tribes, and ethnicities.

Paul writes in Galatians 3:27-29,

For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

The promises of God, and the good news of what God has done in Christ, is open to all people. This is leading to a time when people of all nations and tribes and ethnic groups will worship God together. Revelation 7:9-10:

After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

 Salvation belongs to our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!

Third, we understand that God’s people, the Church, is made up of people from all nations and tribes and tongues.

There isn’t a flattening of cultures and ethnicities into one monochrome Christian culture. Rather, the Christian church becomes a deeper and more diverse faith because of the worship of God through cultures and ethnicities worshipping God in ways they understand.

God, in his wisdom, has provided a church that is multi-ethnic; and we as the people of God are to reflect that multi-ethnicity in our local communities of faith.

And fourth, we understand that we are to go and tell; to share this message of racial inclusivity to all nations and cultures.

The mission of his church is to show the gospel and the Christian faith isn’t a nationalistic faith, a ‘white-man’s faith’, or a Western faith.

It is good news for all people of all cultures at all times.

When we read the opening of Ruth we may have lots of questions around this issue of Ruth being a foreigner. Why does it seem so significant? But really, the surprise comes in that she is included into God’s family. In a similar way to Abraham, she is a person who accepts God by faith, and in doing so is accepted by God.

I wonder, I just wonder, whether Ruth can help us in our understanding of others…?

5 Learnings From Being ‘Acting Senior Pastor’

Earlier in the year my Senior Pastor went on paternity leave for three weeks.

I was technically ‘Acting Senior Pastor’ during that time. There were extra responsibilities. This is what I learned.

5 Learnings From Being 'Acting Senior Pastor'

1. The amount and variety of decisions required to be made is enormous.

This is the main difference between what my role is normally and what I stepped up to.

It took me nearly two weeks to realise the main difference in roles was that of decision-making.

Each day there were new queries, new decisions to make, new things to have conversations about and then make follow up decisions to enable progress. Upon reflection, I realised that the decision-making required is at a new level, a level you just don’t get at the associate pastor level.

At first I was tempted to put this down to not being used to making these decisions, but after further reflection I don’t think it’s just that. I need to make many decisions in the associate role, some I’ve been used to making for many years. But in the senior role there are a greater variety and range of questions asked of you, leading to a greater variety and range of decisions required.

2. The regular preaching is a joy and privilege.

I expected to be weighed down because of the extra preaching load. Rather than preach once a month or so I had to preach five out of six weeks.

Maybe it was the series we covered, an expositional series on the book of Ruth, but I was enthusiastic and excited about teaching and preaching each week. It was great to prepare for it as a series and to then present the material through the preached Word each week.

3. The one-on-ones became more reactive than active.

In reality the extra load did mean there were some things I didn’t do that I normally would’ve. One of those things is actively searching out young adults and others for one-on-one catch-ups during the week. Instead of being active is sourcing these meetups those I did have were usually reactive. That is, people would call and want to meet, or people popped by the church office and sat in with me for a while. Both are important of course, but I do prefer being active rather than reactive.

4. The phone becomes more important than ever.

The invention of the phone has got to be the greatest thing in the ministry kit bag. I was on the phone a lot more, particularly through phone calls, than I usually am. Part of this is the greater number of people who want to talk to me, or share something, or who I needed to follow up. But, the phone became a great resource for me to have pastoral conversations and show care to those in the congregation.

5. The true day off, mentally and physically, is nearly impossible.

I am usually pretty good at switching off and making sure I’m not available. But, I also find myself thinking about youth ministry a lot because I am passionate about it. I like to reflect, write, and think through it.

In the senior position I found myself thinking about the church, its people, and the ministry more often than I would normally. People didn’t know when my days off were and so I would get calls on every day of the week. This led me to then take the call or return the call on the same day because of the context I am in. And so, a full day off of nothing was something that became harder to implement, even though my intentions were to do so.

There’s a lesson in self-care here somewhere.

Luther’s Evening Prayer

I came across Martin Luther’s evening prayer this week, written in his Small Catechism (circa 1529). I found it a prayer that encourages rest and solid sleep, recognising God’s hand, oversight, and care for his creatures.

“I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray You to forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen.”

Sleep well.

The Benefits of Short-Term Teams

Questions are raised about short-term teams all the time. As I defined in my previous post, short-term teams are:

“A group of up to a dozen Christians, spending up to three weeks, specifically exploring the idea of mission in a context that is culturally and linguistically different to their home culture.”

And even a definition like this will raise questions.

Many of these questions consistently revolve around finances, impact, development, need, politics, and church relevance. Questions like:

  • Are they worth the cost? Couldn’t the money be used elsewhere?
  • Do Westerners arriving on the shores of a developing country for a couple of weeks actually help anyone? Are these teams a modern form of colonialisation?
  • Is anything really achieved for the participants and the people in the host country by a 2-3 week stay?
  • What is the image given to people who see wealthy Western Christians coming and going from their country while they are never helped themselves?

These are good and valid questions.

I know a number of people who have seen damage done spiritually, personally, financially, culturally, and socially because of these teams. And so rightfully, questions do need to be asked of this $2 billion industry. Depending on where you come from will mean different questions.

The Benefits of The Short-Term Mission Team

In recent years there have been helpful books written, like “When Helping Hurts“, that have promoted better practices for short-term mission teams. These practices have elevated the need to think through short-term teams, not only from a participant point-of-view but for those in the country where the team is going. They have also provided helpful frameworks, and questions to ask of teams, in the areas of finance, community development, spiritualisation, evangelism, discipleship, and more.

This goes a long way in helping those of us who lead teams and involved in short-term missions to think through the issues. Sometimes there is the need for change because of this thinking and questioning. And sometimes, we may only need to shift our goals a little and see the benefits of these teams can occur from a better and more solid foundation.

Benefits Of Short-Term Teams

And while there are plenty of criticisms and plenty of questions to be asked, I believe there are also plenty of benefits. Many of these I have seen myself, for me personally and for others who have been on teams before. And I’m sure there are also plenty of others that come from short-term teams too. But in the mean time, here are 15 benefits of short-term teams.

  1. They increase mission awareness within your church.
  2. They give the church a tangible opportunity to be involved in global mission.
  3. They broaden the worldview of those who participate, and those in the congregation.
  4. They increase the participation of of church members in local mission.
  5. They help grow followers of Jesus.
  6. They open participants eyes to the needs and realities of other people in other cultures.
  7. They develop a sense of connection between church members, participants, and the missionaries visited.
  8. They encourage the ministry of the the missionaries who are visited.
  9. The provide opportunity for participants to receive training in cross-culture ministry and settings.
  10. They help people understand the nature of support-raising.
  11. They enable participants to see what the reality of missions is like on the ground.
  12. They give another person in the world the opportunity to interact with someone from another culture.
  13. They increase the passion for helping people and being a good neighbour.
  14. They provide action-reflection experiences for participants in emotional, physical, and spiritual ways.
  15. They change lives and career paths.

Each of these points could be expanded. There are no doubt others to add too. But, as I’ve said here, and previously, these benefits give good impetus for short-term teams and their value to the church.

Defining The Short-Term Mission Team

In recent years there has been much written decrying the short-term mission trip. Thankfully, there has been much written promoting healthy ways to engage in short-term mission trips too. But for a number of year now there have been a plethora of articles on the issue of short-term teams and whether they are actually beneficial to anyone.

And in many ways much of what they say is right.

Defining The Short-Term Mission Team

For over 60 years the short-term mission trip–where a gaggle of young people raise money, buy new clothes, luggage, and gifts, and spend time in a culture that is not their own, all for the sake of believing they are helping people-–has been one of the sexiest things the church has been doing.

And of course there are plenty of caveats that should be said here.

  • No doubt many people have been helped because of these trips.
  • Many who have gone on these trips have grown themselves. 
  • And, some have even turned their short-term experience into a long-term missionary career.

And that’s great.

Truly, it is. 

But knowing that over $2 billion dollars is spent on short-term teams per year, and many who go leave the experience behind them, then serious questions are worth asking.

Having been on these types of teams, helped numerous churches facilitate them, and continue to lead these teams, I still believe they are worthwhile.

I believe that with a good framework these teams can become a terrific investment for individuals, the local church, and the church-at-large.

Over the coming weeks I will be publishing a series outlining a healthy approach to short-term teams, giving adequate thought to preparation, delivery, and debrief.

But first, it is helpful to start with some definitions.

Defining The Short-Term Mission Team

Before outlining a framework it is worth defining what a short-term team is.

First, short-term teams can be defined by length.

Some organisations have teams that only last a week. Other organisations classify short-term up to two years. That’s a big difference. For the purposes of defining short-term teams in this series I think of them lasting up to three weeks in duration.

Second, short-term teams can be defined by what participants actually do.

(1) Some teams spend time linking up with another church in another city, in their home country, and do mission-type activities together.

(2) Some teams involve going to a majority world country and helping an organisation in that country by painting their building, or their church, or a local school. This is the project-type team, which spends the majority of time doing a practical project in a particular place.

(3) Some teams spend a few weeks exploring the life and culture of a different country, visiting the work that is already going on in that place. This then involves lots of observation, cultural activities, and asking key questions to workers and missionaries already there. In this team there is a recognition that 2-3 weeks in a particular country won’t make much of a difference, except for the participants themselves.

(4) And finally, some teams are ‘longer’ short-term teams whereby the participants learn the language and culture of where they are going and spend significant time in one city, connected with one or two particular ministries going on in that place.

Third, short-term teams can be defined by their destination.

If the team is going to a developing country then it is more likely to be seen as a ‘proper’ short-term team. A team visiting their own country, or at least a place with a similar culture and language, may consider themselves more a partnership team, or just a few people from a church serving in another place for a short period.

There may be other ways to define what a short-term team is, but I believe this covers most of what would be expected and understood by churches, mission groups, and other voluntourism organisations. And this leads me to define these short-term teams as:

“A group of up to a dozen Christians, spending up to three weeks, specifically exploring the idea of mission in a context that is culturally and linguistically different to their home culture.”

What about you? How would you define these short-term teams?

Having this definition will help us think through some of the benefits of these short-term teams before helping us unpack some foundational thoughts about a healthy framework for short-term missions. This is where we will turn to next in our series. I hope you will join me.

Missions Sub-Committee Approves Short-term Mission Team to Neighbours

For the last nine months Huntingdale Heights Community Church has been actively pursuing the idea that it should reach out to its neighbours. On Monday night the short-term missions sub-committee taskforce formally approved its first short-term missions team to do just that.

Missions Sub-Committee Approves Short-term Mission Team to Neighbours

Over the past three years Pastor Jeff Hines has been preaching through the book of Acts, and this has inspired a small group of eight people to consider reaching out to their local community.

One of those inspired members, Mary Michaels, brought the idea of a neighbourhood short-term mission team to the missions committee. She said, “Knowing missions is in the Bible I thought we could try something small by sending a group from our church to connect with the neighbours in our street. I’ve seen other churches go overseas and to different cities around the country but it seems obvious that we should reach out to those around us.”

After a period of visioning a sub-committee taskforce was formed to think through the process of formulating such a team and decide what they would do. David Jenkins, one of the key members of this sub-committee taskforce said, “For the last six months the committee has really narrowed down on how to best develop this trip and the team going. We have seen what other churches do and feel we could do something similar in our community, even in our street. We’d really like some of our members to connect with our neighbours, and are willing to partner with them in prayer and finances as they head off on this adventure.” Mr Jenkins explained that the team would undergo a training weekend with workshops on language and culture, team building, and gospel presentation.

The 10-day short-term mission trip is being met with much anticipation by those attending Huntingdale Heights Community Church. Gary Hopper thinks this could really spark the missions activity of the church and would like to see it occur annually going forward. He said, “It’s terrific, really terrific. To have a group of 6-8 people from our church who are willing to commit time and resource to reaching our neighbours is something of a culture shift for our church. We’re so busy these days that it is inspiring to see this small group commit 10-days to meeting our neighbours needs. This team could make such a great impact in such a short time.”

With only a month before the team heads off the last minute planning and preparations are taking place. The church is busy organising next weekend’s trivia night where it is hoping to raise the $1500 per person it needs for the trip. And some of the members of the team are buying all the essentials they need, including some new branded clothes that will allow them to fit in well with those they meet.

Of course, this trip wouldn’t have gone ahead had it not been for God working in the lives of the congregation. Josh Arden is one young adult member who has felt called by God to go on this missions trip. He explained his reasoning for doing so this way, “Listening to Pastor Jeff teach through Acts has shown me how important missions really is. I am nervous and excited about how God might change me and grow me through this trip. I look forward to meeting the neighbours of the church during this time, and hopefully helping them in various projects they need doing. I’ve been mowing the lawn for my parents for the last couple of years, I wonder if some of our neighbours would be be willing for me to do the same for them?”

Upon exiting the church building it was noted that the church’s storage room was beginning to fill with half-filled paint tins; donated by caring church members for the painting of some of the neighbours fences.


I submitted this satirical post to The Babylon Bee. It wasn’t accepted. I thought it worth publishing here. I hope you enjoyed it as much as enjoyed writing it. 

Inspire – A Reflection for SYG 2018

This coming weekend 3000 people from nearly 70 youth groups come together to play sport, connect with one another, and worship God. It’s also the weekend where we find out whether we have everything we need at our campsite, go to bed and wake up cold, and possibly get flooded. Yes, that’s right, it’s State Youth Games 2018.

SYG2018_Title-Single-Story_medres

The SYG theme for this weekend is “Inspire”. The various aspects to the weekend will be focussed on this theme, particularly the main sessions on Saturday and Sunday night. And while there may be some inspiring acts of sporting greatness occur on the courts and pitches at the various venues, I would like to think the focus will be on how we are inspired by God, because of God’s Son, to be God’s people in the world.

I enter my third SYG weekend inspired by what God may do with the group we have going. We have the largest group I’ve been part of, 60-65 in total. Together there are great people, great leaders, great helpers, and great opportunities to build the community and faith of our youth and young adults.

I’m also reminded of Jesus’ words to his first disciples, something I preached on only days ago, “Come, follow me”. It is my hope that through the Spirit a work of God will take place in the hearts and minds of those who are with our group. That they will be called to follow Jesus, perhaps for the first time, or perhaps at a deeper level.

And this links to the theme we have as a group. Our t-shirts will have the phrase, “Walk in the light”, taken from 1 John 1:7, on the front pocket. It is a theme within our group we want to be promoting all weekend, and afterward as well.

Of course, one needs to know the light in order to walk in the light. And this phrase is set in the context of the author writing about God being the light. Only a couple of verses earlier John, the author, writes “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” For those of us who have faith in God know that this light is displayed most perfectly and brightly through Jesus Christ. It is Jesus himself who tells the world, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

And so to walk in the light is to recognise that Jesus is that light. When light is shone darkness disappears. And so it is with Jesus, who through his death and resurrection provides the light we need for life and faith and hope. Moreover, his death and resurrection provides the disappearance of darkness, of sin and ugliness and brokenness, in our hearts, enabling a relationship with God.

In essence, as we follow the light that is Jesus, we find ourselves following him who has called us.

And so we come full circle back to the words, “Come, follow me”.

It is my hope that we as a church community, and particularly our youth and young adults, are inspired to know God more and grow more like him because of their experience this weekend. May they see the light, know the light, and follow the light of life. As the great missionary William Carey said, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God”.

If you are a praying type, then please do so. Looking forward to it.

Published: Clarifying The Call Of God

‘Calling’ is one of those Christian words, used by Christian people, that is more confusing than clear. In this article for Rooted Ministry I try to unpack the meaning of calling and seek to bring helpful clarification.

“To feel called by God would be evidence that we are unique, that we are special, that we are being used for a divinely appointed task. To feel called would be proof of some sort of special anointing upon us, a special anointing that no one else would have. To feel called would mean that we have been set apart to have a significant part in the movement and growth of God’s kingdom.

To some extent all of this is true, but the trouble we run into with this thinking is that it places the emphasis on us and not God. God has called us unique, special, anointed, and called, whether we feel it or not.

We have confused feelings with calling. God’s actual calling does not always show up on a billboard, nor does it always feel right.”

You can read the whole thing here.

This article was republished at The Gospel Coalition Australia on June 27, 2018.