Making all things new

Posted: October 11, 2022 in Uncategorized

I’m a regular user of social media. It’s a time waster, some of the posts cause frustration and even anger at times but sometimes there are some very valuable pieces of information, or helpful advice.

I’m a member of a social media group for the town in which I grew up and quite out of the blue someone posted a request for information about a building that they had recently moved into for the purpose of establishing a studio and craft shop. 

It was an old hotel that had been built in the early 20th century and had gone through various stages in its life since then. But what caught my attention was the address. My family had lived in this place for a short time just before I started school. That was.. shall we say … quite a while ago.

At the time our family lived there I remember it was old and dark. The bedroom windows were right on the footpath and passers-by would sit on the window sills. There was no yard and nowhere to play because it was right on the street. I was able to find an old photo which showed just how close it was to being derelict.

The new lessee of the building was delighted to see my old photograph and some other historical photos that people found that showed what it was like in the 1900’s when there were few other buildings nearby. But what excited me was that she posted photos of how the building has been renovated and the way the interior was now a modern and attractive showroom and studio. 

It is delightful to see an old building renovated and made new. And that makes me think about how God must think when he sees us being renewed. 

There’s a verse in the Bible that says: Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also. 

I think of that old hotel where we used to live that has been changed so dramatically that it now not only looks different, but has a quite different purpose as well. When we enter into a relationship with God through Jesus, the change that occurs actually re-purposes us as well.

Instead of being focused on our own needs, or being driven by the pressures of our peer group, or the conflicting demands of our society, we are re-purposed to be people who are living for God’s glory. And that makes a huge difference. We can start to live like Jesus and that means having a different view on life in general, a different idea of what we should be spending our time and energy on, as well as how we spend our money. It’s about having a different focus on life. A different purpose. 

That radical change from something old to something new comes through faith in Jesus. He’ll do that renovation work on us as long as we’re willing to allow him. I reckon God is pretty happy when he sees us being renovated from something old and broken down, to become brand new in relationship with Him. 

A Time for Contemplation

Posted: April 13, 2022 in Uncategorized

I get enormous pleasure from our garden. It’s only a small suburban garden, but it’s become a haven for birds and wildlife, especially a quenda, or bandicoot. Spending time in the garden is an opportunity to detox from the pressures of life and enjoy the beauty of nature.

This video is a snippet of my own contemplation and I’d like to invite you to find at least five minutes to sit and watch and listen to this video, but to take some time afterwards to pause and reflect upon God’s goodness. If you don’t have a garden of your own, I’d like to invite you to enjoy ours, but most of all to stop doing all the things that press in on your day and simply pause.

The musical background is the old hymn, “His Eye is on the Sparrow” written by Civilla D. Martin in 1905. I haven’t confirmed this quote that appears in Wikipedia, but it is purported to be the words of the lyricist:

Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle—true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” was the outcome of that experience.[4]

The Genius of Jesus

Posted: November 11, 2021 in Uncategorized

“How can you take the world’s greatest instrument of death and forever transform it into the greatest symbol of life?” (from “The Genius of Jesus: The Man Who Changed Everything” by Erwin Raphael McManus)

I read a lot, but every now and then a book comes along that stands out from the rest. For me it’s “The Genius of Jesus: The Man Who Changed Everything” by Erwin Raphael McManus. This is a book for everyone, and particularly for those who aren’t already followers of Jesus. If you’ve ever wondered what makes Jesus different from any other historical figure, this book is for you. If you’ve ever wondered what makes the followers of Jesus different from anyone else, this book’s for you.

McManus has spent his life studying genius. He’s fascinated by people like Rembrandt, da Vinci, and Michael Jordan and has studied the various elements of genius. In this book McManus explores the genius of Jesus and has come up with some qualities that make up what he believes makes Jesus unique from others. However, unlike others who stand alone in their genius

McManus comes up with some aspects of Jesus’ genius that may be surprising to many but he presents his argument in a way that is very convincing. He talks about the genius of empathy, the genius of power, the genius of grace, the genius of good, the genius of true and the genius of beautiful. Here are some quotes that I think give a picture of the clarity of his writing.

Empathy: If Jesus reveals one great insight about genius, it is that empathy is the highest form of intelligence… In the end, we will see that Jesus did not simply come to ensure that we understand God. He came so that we would know that God understands us.

Power: In the same way that humility is always more powerful than arrogance and generosity is the great power over greed, servanthood is the singular power that can overcome obligation. Obligation is false power. Intention is a power that elevates you to your highest freedom.

Grace: Grace by any definition is transcendent. Even in the most mundane environments, it evokes wonder. You know grace when you see it. It elevates. It transcends. It carries a touch of the diving. Grace manifests in favour that seems unfair, in works that can only be described as a masterpiece. It is undeniable.

Good: This is where the genius of Jesus gives us a new way to wade through the complexity of real life. Jesus does not simply teach us to see the difference between good and evil, or even to choose between right and wrong. He treats those as obvious distinctions. Instead Jesus teaches us to choose between the right and the good. It may seem counterintuitive, but the greatest enemy to doing the most good is living your life always trying to be right.

True: When Jesus says he is the truth, he is saying there is no gap between the source and the voice. He can be trusted completely, because instead of perceiving the truth or learning what is true, he is the singular source of all that is true. He is both the scientist and the science. He is the one who can be trusted. He can never get you lost, because he is the compass and the North Star. Truth exists because God can be trusted.

Beautiful: The cross is the story that words could not tell, the elegant solution to our most complex problems. The cross is tragedy. The cross is beauty. The cross is the genius of Jesus.

Here’s a suggestion, get a group together, read it then discuss each chapter individually. People have been writing about Jesus for centuries, but this is a book that’s worth a second look. I’d be surprised if after reading it you’re not convinced of the genius of Jesus.

What about Mound Building?

Posted: August 27, 2021 in Uncategorized
Photo: Rob Douglas

I love the termite mounds of the Kimberley. They are a familiar sight throughout the north of Australia. When we first got to Derby I did a video, as I do, about the termite mounds and I reflected on what they may teach us about the church. I talked about the way the termites worked together to produce these amazing mounds and how the termites can be a great example to us of working together and producing great results together.

Then I thought about what I said, and realised that there is probably another, and maybe a more important message for the church. As I looked at these mounds all across the environment, I pondered on the fact that the church is busy building its own termite mounds. Like the termites we work away creating amazing structures that protect our colony and everyone can see what a great job we do. Unfortunately, all our feverish work is only to make a comfortable environment for ourselves and all people can see is the outward structure.

That sounds very critical and I know it’s not typical of all of Christ’s followers or his church, but it’s intended to prompt our thinking.

In these COVID times I wonder if it is time for us to look beyond some of the things that have been important to the church in the past and to re-think about our role. The purpose of this video is to encourage followers of Jesus to think more about this, and to start a conversation about what the church may look like in the future. I’d love this site to be a place where people feel free to discuss their ideas and help us to look beyond termite mound churches, and discover God’s calling in a fresh new way.

Check out this video and let me know your thoughts.

Faith: A Risk Worth Taking

Posted: August 26, 2021 in Uncategorized
Photo by Rob Douglas

On going back to Derby, I couldn’t resist checking out the rodeo, one of the popular annual events right across the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

There was plenty of action, lots of dust, and more Akubras than a plague of rabbits trying to get over the rabbit proof fence. There is a risk involved in getting on a horse or steer and racing the clock to stay on longer than the next person. Falling off at some stage is without question, it’s simply a case of when … and how hard the fall.

Photo by Rob Douglas

Check out my latest video where I talk about risk and the way in which we take on a whole lot of risks in life, often with the knowledge that it’s going to end with a nasty fall. But despite the dirt in our eyes, the bruises, and sometimes, broken bones, we go back and have another go. Often our use of drugs, alcohol and other addictive substances and behaviours are accompanied by a thrill akin to riding a wild steer, and in the moment, we revel in the experience and this justifies the inevitable fall.

But there’s another risk that’s definitely worth taking. Faith in God is a risk because we can’t see God and we often don’t want to take someone else’s word that it’s OK. Like many, you’d rather sit on the outside of the fence and watch everyone else, rather than getting on that steer yourself. Even the Bible itself tells us that faith is the evidence of things we can’t see (Hebrews 11) but there are thousands of years of people who have attested to the wisdom of faith as a risk that far surpasses so many of the other risks we are prepared to take every day.

Photo: Rob Douglas

There’s a major difference between faith and the risks that are common to humanity. Faith involves trusting in a God who, unlike a desperate horse or steer whose main goal is to get rid of its rider, wants us to stay in the saddle. He invites us to give up control of our own lives and to allow him to lead us in directions that may take us out of our comfort zone, but which have eternal rewards.

The great apostle Paul put this this way: For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

Now that’s a risk worth taking.

Spreading my Wings

Posted: August 25, 2021 in Uncategorized
Photo: Rob Douglas

I am delighted to advise that from September 1 I will start a new position as Presbytery Minister for Mission with the Uniting Church in Western Australia. The three year appointment will involve working across Uniting Church congregations in WA, resourcing and assisting congregations to undertake deliberate, wise and prayerful missional planning and assisting in exploring fresh expressions of church.

Robyn and I have already had the opportunity to connect with some of these congregations over the last few years in our role as regional coordinators for Messy Church in WA. 

Early last year as COVD19 hit, I began to think more deeply about the future of the church and how we might emerge from this time of change. I have observed how healthy fresh expressions of church are being explored in many parts of the world, and have sensed that God has been leading me to become an encouragement and support to those who are open to discovering unexpected spaces where the Spirit is already at work. 

The last 18 months or so have been a time of seeking God’s will and discovering more about the path ahead. Robyn and I have valued the opportunity to briefly serve the Perth and Riverton Baptist Churches and to spend four months as locum pastor at Derby Baptist Church. This has been a time of waiting and learning to relax into God’s timing and purpose, and we have found peace in knowing that a new door is about to open, along with all the opportunities it brings. 

I am appreciative of the Uniting Church in WA for taking on an “almost rusted-on” Baptist and giving me the opportunity to spread my wings in this exciting area of ministry. Thank you to all those who have encouraged me and prayed for Robyn and I as we have been seeking God’s leading for this next stage in our lives.  

People have asked me from time to time if I am retiring, but I have been convinced for some time that God had something more for me to do. God is a “sending” God who sent his Son; together they sent the Spirit, and Jesus sent his disciples with these words: “You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.This is my command: Love each other.” 

As one who is aware of having been sent my desire is to serve my Lord wherever I am sent, and be faithful in making disciples who will in turn, become disciple-makers. 

The Boab Speaks

Posted: August 24, 2021 in Uncategorized
This grand old Boab tree on Gibb River Road may be 2000 years old. Photo: Rob Douglas

The iconic Boab tree is a feature of the environment of the Kimberley region of West Australia but the Boab tree featured in the environment of my preaching during a recent locum pastorate in the remote Western Australian town of Derby.

Holy Habits was my theme over a period of 10 weeks, concentrating on the activities of the early church as recorded for us in Acts 2:42-47. There’s a tree along the Gibb River Road that scientists say could be 2000 years old. This got me thinking. If the dating is correct, this church was just a tiny sapling at the time the church was born. As a result that grand old Boab tree became a symbol for me of the church – starting from those seeds of holy habits as recorded for us in Acts, and growing to be a grand old lady that is still surviving in a harsh environment.

As I thought about the Boab tree I felt that it had so much more to speak about. Check out this video to find out what the Boab has to say about the church and how we can be a part of helping the church to grow into the future and to continue to influence our society. Enjoy

Photo: Rob Douglas

Hope and a Future

Posted: August 23, 2021 in Uncategorized

We have those moments from time to time when our history comes back in the most surprising way. The story in this video is about one of those moments. We’ve just come back from Derby where I’ve been working as a locum pastor with the Derby Baptist Church. We first went to Derby 35 years ago and it was a privilege to get back to the old town and see what has changed and what hasn’t.

This is a story that speaks of God’s hand in history and is a joyful reflection on how something fresh and new can emerge from what has been discarded. Enjoy.

Expect the Unexpected

Posted: August 23, 2021 in Uncategorized

I just had to do this video. We’ve just spent four months in Derby, in the north of Western Australia where I have been a locum pastor at the Derby Baptist Church. We lived on site and I loved the wildlife we encountered while there.

But some surprise visitors that we had each morning at 6am were completely unexpected in the harsh Kimberley environment. They were fairly timid so I had to set up a camera on a tripod and use a remote to start the video. Here’s the outcome. Enjoy this short video.

There are a few more videos that I have prepared during our time in Derby which I’ll be posting in the near future. Make sure you click “follow” so you get notification when I publish next.

Dark Emu: An eye-opener

Posted: February 3, 2021 in Uncategorized
Clochan on Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula. Photo: Rob Douglas

I commence this post by expressing my deepest thanks to the First Nations people of the continent in which I live that we now call Australia.

I have long respected these people and have been brought up to recognise that before Europeans arrived in this country, there was already in existence a sophisticated culture.

But somehow the prevailing attitudes and assumptions over the years have hindered me and, dare I say it, most of my fellow Australians, from honouring the achievements of those who shaped this land over many tens of thousand years.

My wife and I visited Ireland a couple of years ago and had the privilege of seeing the Beehive houses, or clochan, on the Dingle Peninsula that are believed to date back to the 8th or even 12th century. So I was fascinated to read about something that was perhaps similar in Australia. The source of this revelation was Bruce Pascoe’s fascinating book, “Dark Emu”.

“Elizabeth Williams quotes a graphic account from William Thomas, an Aboriginal Protector, which provides a neat summary of the scale and sophistication of Aboriginal housing, but also why so few people saw it after the first visits of Europeans: [The] first settlers found a regular aboriginal settlement. This settlement was about 50 miles NE of Port Fairy. There was on the banks of the creek between 20 and 30 huts of the form of a beehive, some of them capable of holding a dozen people.” (from “Dark Emu, New Edition” by Bruce Pascoe)

Pascoe has carefully investigated information that is readily available about what early European settlers recorded having seen on their first sojourns into Australian countryside, highlighting stories about agriculture, aquaculture and housing that debunk theories about an uninhabited and unsophisticated land. He argues that the paucity of knowledge that we have of these discoveries is based on an unwillingness by early settlers to accept that a sophisticated society could possibly exist outside of European civilisation.

“On seeing houses built to accommodate forty people in groups of fifty or more, both explorers resort to words such as ‘huts’ or ‘hovels’ to describe buildings that in rural Ireland would have been called croft houses.” (from “Dark Emu, New Edition” by Bruce Pascoe)

The use of language in this way has prevailed over many years to maintain cultural supremacy, according to Pascoe. He argues that the term “hunter-gather” is a lie that has been maintained to prove that western methods of agriculture were superior to methods that had proved successful and sustainable for thousands of years.

“Dark Emu” explains in detail some of the agricultural practices that were undertaken prior to white settlement and that were observed by early explorers, and the way in which these practices were quickly suspended as fences were constructed, and sheep, cattle and wheat were introduced. Pascoe speaks about the link that existed between the original inhabitants and the environment, and the care that was taken to maintain the sustainability of food sources. But he takes his argument further by suggesting that a sustainable future for agriculture in Australia would benefit from studying native vegetation and crops, along with agricultural methods that had served this country well long before the arrival of introduced animals and crops.

Language was only referred to briefly by Pascoe, but my father spent a lifetime studying indigenous languages across Australia and was convinced that he was dealing with high levels of sophistication. While these languages were originally unwritten, the process of analysing languages and writing grammars and dictionaries, proved that this was not a primitive people. My father’s experiences with language convinced me that First Nations people were far more advanced than popular narrative suggested, but Pascoe’s book has opened some new doors.

Views of cultural superiority, fuelled by prevailing Darwinistic philosophy, led the first white inhabitants of Australia to dismiss an existing culture and, in some cases to deliberately cover up the evidence before them that they were breaking and entering, without invitation, someone’s well organised home. This has been maintained over the past 230 years and still exists as we argue that indigenous people are better off as a result of colonisation.

I am immensely thankful to Bruce Pascoe for having put in writing what has been hidden for far too long, and it has caused me to be immensely thankful to those people who carefully and wisely managed this land long before white people arrived. It is time we expressed that thanks by honouring our predecessors through a thorough investigation into the methods that were adopted to achieve sustainability. As Pascoe puts it:

“In the excision of unpalatable parts of our history (the illegal occupation of land and the slaughter of the occupants, for instance), we have lost elements we never knew existed. Those elements — such as the crops, houses, irrigation systems, and fisheries — may hold keys to future prosperity.” (from “Dark Emu, New Edition” by Bruce Pascoe)