Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

static1.squarespace.comI have been reading Rachel Held Evans’ blogs for a couple of years and have found them, at various times, challenging, frustrating, refreshing, and uplifting. So it was with a sense of anticipation that I bought her new book, Searching for Sunday.

In her very personal blog, Evans shared her spiritual journey, including her frustrations, anger and disappointment with the organisational church and how that impacted her relationship with God and with fellow Christians. With that background I was anticipating Searching for Sunday to be a criticism of evangelicalism and an opportunity to deconstruct the church.

However, the opposite was true. The hurt that led her out of the evangelical denomination she had grown up in was still evident, but over and above this was the deep sense of joy that arose out of discovering that God was still deeply in love with a church that was marred and broken, but inexpressibly able to represent his grace.

While I still find some of Evans’ discoveries quite challenging, I can’t help but be delighted at the way this book shows that even the greatest hurts and disappointments can be healed in Jesus. Anyone who has been disappointed, hurt or damaged by the church should find this book a breath of fresh air.

If the church is like a body, like a bride, Evans says, then its worth looking in the mirror:

This is the church. Here she is. Lovely, irregular, sometimes sick and sometimes well. This is the body-like-no-other that God has shaped and placed in the world. Jesus lives here; this is his soul’s address. There is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. She has taken a beating, the church. Every day she meets the gates of hell and she prevails. Every day she serves, stumbles, injures, and repairs. That she has healed is an underrated miracle. That she gives birth is beyond reckoning. Maybe it’s time to make peace with her. Maybe it’s time to embrace her, flawed as she is. Maybe it’s time to smile back.

Growing up in a Baptist Church in Western Australia I regularly heard stories about the Baptist missionaries who went to Papua-New Guinea to serve God.

Place names like Telefomin and the Sepik River were part of my vocabulary as we heard visiting missionaries tell us stories of their work, or had reports read out at church from missionaries serving God in those places.

This morning our church service was led by the Papua-New Guinea West Australian Christian Fellowship and it was a privilege to have Alan Bong and others lead us in worship, even singing in Pidgin.

Alan told the story of a young missionary from Tasmania who went to Telefomin back in 1953 and the way in which the lives of he and his family had been influenced by this young man’s willingness to give up a successful career to bring the good news of Jesus to the people of Telefomin.

The tables have turned and now PNG Christians are in Australia sharing the good news of Jesus with their own people in this country and with Australians.

The same story could be told of many people who were influenced by Christian missionaries and in a new era of globalisation are able to return the favour.

The Centre for Global Christianity Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in the US, has shown that there have been dramatic changes in the way the Good News of Jesus Christ is spread around the world. Countries like Brazil, South Korea and India that were once recipients of Christian missionaries are now among the countries that send the most Christian missionaries to other parts of the world. In terms of missionaries sent per million church members, Palestine, Ireland and Malta are surprising leaders.

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 3.43.11 pmIt was a pleasure to receive ministry from our PNG brothers and sisters this morning and to be reminded of the words of the prophet Isaiah:

As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

PilgrimConsumerism, according to Wikipedia, is a “social and economic order and ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-greater amounts.” Consumerism has become a way of life for us to the point that those of us who live in western society really don’t know anything else. More than ever we become discontent very quickly.

Whether it is the car we drive, the cereal we eat, the supermarket we use, the church we attend, the clothes we wear, or the computer we use … it doesn’t take much for us to be looking over the fence to see if the grass is greener in someone else’s backyard.

You’d think this ideology of consumerism was just a product of the industrial revolution, but references in the Bible to contentment suggest that the desire for something bigger, better and prettier has been around for a very long time.

This morning I talked at church about the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and used the theme, Joy in Community. Paul was in prison in Rome at the time and was writing to a church at Philippi in eastern Macedonia. Despite his own circumstances Paul expressed joy at the church in Philippi and all it was doing. He noticed that a couple of women in the church, key people who he described as fellow-workers, had a difference of opinion, but he called for gentleness in dealing with this issue, and it seemed even this didn’t stop his sense of joy.

What I found significant is that Paul seemed have a very lay-back approach to life. He called for gentleness, appealed for the disputing women to get together and sort out their issues, he reminded the people of the presence of Christ, and told them not to be anxious. Paul was a pretty serious person but on this occasion, at least, he seemed to be keen to help the church to take their foot off the accelerator.

One of the things he had to say to the church was that he had learned “the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  In a consumer society that sounds like a secret worth knowing. Paul went on to let his readers in on his secret: I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” It seems that his trust in Jesus gave him the capacity to appreciate what he had and to enjoy his circumstances without getting anxious.

It took me back to John’s Bunyan’s allegory published in 1678 called “Pilgrim’s Progress“. Without telling the whole story, the key character, Christian, is carrying a heavy burden on his back and in his search to find a solution to his problem comes to the “place of deliverance” where the straps that hold the burden on to his back are released and the burden rolls into an open grave.

John Bunyan’s allegorical story about “Christian” was the same as Paul’s: Consumerism and all the other pressures of modern life are like a heavy backpack that create constant anxiety. By throwing that backpack down at the foot of Jesus’ cross we can be released from anxiety and experience peace and contentment.



starMay the Fourth Be With You.  Yep, it’s International Star Wars Day and all over the world people are walking around saying “may the force be with you” – with a lisp. It’s an appropriate day to ask why themes of religion and philosophy and the battle between good and evil, prove to be such a winner in movies. From Star Wars to Matrix, the Lion King and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, we seem to have an interest in exploring deeper issues vicariously on the silver screen.

The “Force” in Star Wars is an energy that can be harnessed by those who have the ability to do so. It is an energy field that surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the galaxy together. While the Jedi use the Force for good, the Sith use the dark side for evil in an attempt to take over the galaxy.

I suspect that our fascination with the battle between good and evil is because there is a reality about it that we bump into at various levels. Every day in the newspaper and on the TV news we hear about hoons, bashings, robberies and unsociable behaviour. We don’t like it and argue loudly that the government should do something about it. But deep down we know that we are only a step away from behaving badly ourselves.

There’s a sign of that struggle in the words of Jesus, when he said: I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” The struggle between good and evil is evident at the deepest level of our beings and very often we find the drag towards the dark side stronger than the desire to do good. Even the Apostle Paul felt this struggle when he said, “what a wretched man I am” after making the comment: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

Fortunately, he finished off his rant by saying: Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord. There is an answer to the ultimate battle between good and evil and it’s not in some nebulous “force”, but in the reality of Jesus who took the battle to the place of death on the cross where he became the ultimate overcomer, not through force but through love.

John put it this way: This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.






As much as I’d love you, my dear reader, to be at church on Sunday morning, I know it’s not always possible. If that’s the case I would encourage you to listen to JD on Sonshine fm, and guess what? You may hear me. I’ve recorded six three-minute messages that will be played on Sonshine fm on Sunday mornings. Here’s one of them:

Lady Di at Sandstone, Western Australia

Lady Di at Sandstone, Western Australia

Wedge Tailed Eagles feeding off the carcasses of kangaroos were the main feature of a trip I had some time ago between Leinster and Mt Magnet in the Mid West region of WA. So it proved to be a welcome change when we came across the tiny township of Sandstone. There was a mass of white roses along the wide main street and this contrasted with the red dirt and immediately announced that there was something different about this place.

For a period of six years from 1907 Sandstone had a population of 6,000 to 8,000 people. It had four hotels, four butchers, many cafes, stores and business houses, as well as a staffed police station and two banks. During this boom period, in July 1910 the railway came to the town, however by 1919 only 200 people remained. The population has continued to dwindle.

As we drove slowly through the deserted streets we spotted someone waving to us and heard a voice call out, “come and have a cup of tea”. It turned out that Lady Di, as she is affectionately known, has lived in Sandstone for 12 years and three days a week runs a sausage sizzle in the park, cooking up her own recipe of herbs and spices to provide a hearty welcome for the visitors who pass by on a regular basis.

So a cup of coffee and a chat with Lady Di was a welcome relief from the long, hot drive and gave us a picture of a community that was struggling to survive, but was welcoming of strangers, and keen to make its contribution to the wider community of travellers.

Communities that look after their own, are wonderful, but communities that welcome strangers and contribute to the lives of those outside have an element that is unforgettable.

There’s been plenty of criticism of the church over the years, and some of that criticism is warranted. But from the first century when the church first came into being, the idea of welcoming strangers was always at its heart. The church was not intended to just be another country club, or a secret society where only those who could recognise the password could enter.

Jesus ate with the people who nobody else wanted to mix with. He identified with those who were outcasts, the people with disabilities, the people whose behaviours made them unacceptable in a “good” society.

Every community needs a Lady Di who is prepared to put up with the heat and flies to offer a welcome to outsiders, but I think all of us need to have that sort of commitment to reach out beyond ourselves to welcome strangers.

If you’re not a part of a local church I’d encourage you to find one that welcomes strangers, a church that offers you the opportunity to grow to be more like Jesus yourself. A community where you can receive the support and help you need for your own spiritual and emotional growth, but where you can become a person who reaches out to others with the love of Jesus.

There are a few things that the church should be doing. The church was established to worship but it was also sent out to represent Jesus in the marketplace. At different times in history, and at different locations, the marketplace may differ.  For one person it is their place of work, to another their golf club, to another their school or university, and to another it is with their friends in the coffee shop.

Yesterday Maida Vale Baptist Church was at one of the marketplaces where we have found a spot each year for a number of years. We spent the day at the Zig Zag Art and Craft Festival in Stirk Park, Kalamunda, where we ran a kids craft activity.  It was a full day’s work, spending time with hundreds of kids and their parents and grandparents. We weren’t there to preach, but simply to represent Jesus and to make a contribution to the lives of people and to the community as a whole.

It was a joy to see the smiles on the kids faces as they participated in activities they had never done before, like gluing, creating, drawing, and enjoying the day with their families and friends. And it was good to hear the comments from parents and grandparents who appreciated what we were doing for their families.

It’s good for the church to be in the marketplace.





There are a few people who are “followers” of my blog which means that you get advice that I’ve made a new post and if you’ve got time you will read it.

Thanks for your support. I appreciate that people read what I have to say, and that they can benefit from my ramblings.

But I’ve been thinking about the Facebook type of following and the sort of following that Jesus talks about.

Yesterday in church I spoke about an incident that was recorded in Luke’s Gospel about a time when Jesus was walking along the road surrounded by a big group of people.

There were those people who we refer to as the “disciples” but there were others who joined Jesus and took part in a conversation about what it meant to be a “follower” of Jesus.

One man promised to be a follower of Jesus, but Jesus had to remind him that he didn’t  have a home of his own so following him would cause him to risk the usual comforts of life.

Jesus invited a second person to follow him, and he agreed to the idea, but put it off until some of his plans were sorted out. He made the comment that he needed to bury his father first.  I suspect that his father wasn’t even dead yet and following Jesus was something that would happen at a later, and more convenient, date.

A third person was really keen to follow Jesus but needed to go home and say goodbye to the family first. You still get the idea that it was a delaying tactic.

It seems there was a clear distinction between the disciples, that group of men who had given up their fishing, tax collecting, and other businesses, to follow Jesus, and some of the other people who were walking along the road with Jesus at that time, talking about the issue of following.

It seems that we can be fellow travellers with Jesus, but not followers in the way in which Jesus was inviting people to follow. That we can be like “blog followers” who can pick and choose what that following will look like.

When Jesus invited people to follow him, he didn’t just ask them to tick a box and read his blogs when we had time. He was asking for a level of commitment to him that involved putting him first in every aspect of our life.


I’ve added a couple of posts during the week that you may have missed. The Science of Happiness is a great video about the power of gratitude. And for a bit of light relief, look at The View from an Aeroplane Lavatory and follow the link to see some more great pics.

Whatever your preference in colours, this weekend in Western Australia has been pretty well focussed on the colour purple.

For those who read this blog who don’t live in Australia I need to explain that one of our state’s football teams, the Fremantle Dockers has got into the grand final for Australian Rules Football next weekend for the first time in its 19 year history. Even buildings have turned purple.

But it’s got me thinking a bit about teams. As much as most of us like our own company at some stage, we all have a basic need to live in relationship with other people.

Whether we’re playing football, going to work, staying at home, or going to school, we find ourselves working in teams and it turns out that it’s an essential part of who we are as human beings. We need other people to help us grow and develop, and the people around us need a whole lot of things from us.

I’m not a avid football supporter, but I did watch the big game on Saturday night and one of the things that was obvious to me was that while each footballer played their own game and was able to make a personal contribution to the game, their success was in how they could pass the ball on at the appropriate time to allow another person to take the ball a little further, and yet another person to kick the goal. There was no room for putting personal achievements ahead of the bigger goal of supporting the team.

I’m not completely ignorant about football. I suspect it was a part of the curriculum for boys to play football at Western Australian schools back when I was at high school, however, I was always put into back pocket, a position that I worked out was the safest place to put someone who was likely to drop a mark, couldn’t kick particularly well and couldn’t run fast.

However, while it was a position that was out of the way, and where I could do the least amount of damage, it still felt better to have a place on the team, than to be left out altogether.

There’s always a place on God’s team and what I appreciate most is that while some people are in prominent positions, and others seem to be hidden away, each member of God’s team is important and critical to the team. If we ever find ourselves in “back pocket”, it’s not to keep us out of the way, but because that is where God needs people with our particular skills, personality and strengths. Having the right person in the right place is good for us, and it’s good for the team.

If you want to find out more about this concept read 1 Corinthians chapter 12.

ImageOne of my favourite places in the whole world is a spot at the southern-most tip of Ningaloo Reef where I first experienced snorkelling.

As you step off the white sand into azure waters you look around at a beautiful world of cloudless skies and pristine coastline, but when you put your head under the water, you touch another world.

The scenery above disappears as you are immersed into a world where bright coloured fish dart around between multi-coloured coral, massive schools of colour flash by as larger fish dodge in and out, apparently unaware of a human floating above them in awe of their busy community.

It’s a world that is as far removed from the world above the surface of the ocean as you can imagine.

Jesus told many stories about ordinary people doing ordinary things, but he prefaced the stories with the curious phrase: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” There was a sense in which Jesus was giving people the opportunity to get a glimpse into another world – a world that was very different from what they were used to, but was still only a breath away.

We become familiar with life as it is, whether it is an exciting, fulfilling, enjoyable life we lead, or one in which we regularly experience sadness, rejection, hurt and fear. But just a breath away is another world of incomparable beauty.

Entering the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus spoke about, doesn’t require us leaving the world in which we live, but by holding the hand of Jesus we enter into a brilliant experience of fulfilment, hope, and life that eclipses and transforms everything we know.

Are you ready to put on your snorkel and dip your head under the surface?

Here’s the video of last week’s amazing Fun Factory at Maida Vale Baptist Church, High Wycombe, Western Australia.

We had an average of 100 children each day and visitors included Akwaaba African drummers, Maori dancers, Operation Christmas Child and children’s entertainer, Sean W. Smith.

For three hours each day the children participated in games, activities, craft, singing, and Bible stories. The theme was Around the World, so each day we focussed on a different country, highlighting Africa, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Canada.

Sean W. Smith concluded the week with a concert, bringing us many of his favourite compositions.

Thanks to the many volunteers from the church who contributed to the success of the week’s events.

Enjoy the video.