Thursday, July 24, 2008

Posting to

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For those of you who catch up with me here - I'll now be posting solely at

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Everyone lives a committed life

“No one lives an uncommitted life.” Even the person who is lazy is a committed person i.e. committed to laziness. We’re brought up in a culture of commitment (from parents who are seeking to instill a commitment to the family, studies or values - to a culture that tells us to be committed to a our personal development and careers). No one lives an uncommitted life – because everyone is committed to something, someone or some way in life. Commitment is not a bad thing and is to be valued, but as followers of Jesus, it must be asked, ‘what are you committed to in life?’ What controls your commitments in life? Look at your ambitions and priorities, your family, your use of time and money, and your relationships – are they shaped by a commitment to follow Jesus?

Paul in 2 Cor.5:10-6:2 was a man shaped by two events that shaped his commitment to Jesus and his mission. Firstly, Paul understood that as a follower of Jesus he was accountable for the way he lived his life. He makes clear that there is a judgment where we must ALL appear before Jesus to give an account. His desire to please Jesus and to see people come to know Jesus was grounded in the knowledge that it will be Jesus who will one day judge all people (Paul included). Paul had a healthy fear of judgment in his life – a judgment that held him accountable, and a judgment that he knew people around him would also one day face. And so he makes it his commitment to persuade others to join him in fearing Jesus, in living a life that pleases Jesus and in being reconciled to Jesus.

, Paul understood that as a follower of Jesus he was personally loved by Jesus, who died so that he might live. "For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died" - 2 Cor.5:14. We often forget that Paul was not always a Christian. He was an angry, violent, legalistic, self-sufficient man (1 Tim.2:12-16; Gal.1:13, 23; Acts 22:8; 26:19). And like those around him, Paul was under God’s judgment, destined for hell. Then Jesus saved him and transformed him. It’s Paul’s experience of the love and saving power of Jesus that transforms and directs his commitments in life. From one under judgment and hell, to one saved by Jesus, who is now a man accountable to Jesus and his mission because others are still under judgment, who is now ‘compelled’ or ‘constrained’ by Jesus’ love for him in life.

If there was a profound truth that summed up Paul’s personal relationship and commitment to Jesus – it would be ‘Jesus loves me’. If you were to interview Paul and asked him what is the most profound truth you’ve discovered in your Christian life? He would say – Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong / Jesus loves me, he who died. Heaven’s gate to open wide. He will wash away my sin. Let his little child come in. / Jesus loves me, he will stay. Close beside me all the way. If I love him when I die. He will take me home on high (Anna B. Warner, 1860). His life was constrained, shaped, directed, marked, overwhelmed, won over by Jesus’ love for him. Is yours?

No one lives an uncommitted life – what or who are you deeply committed to?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A View Of History In Our City

Our view of history shapes the way we look at life, how we live and how we understand circumstances and events in our world. Some people believe that history is cyclical – life is a cyclical. There’s nothing new – because history repeats itself in an endless cycle. Others believe that history is linear. History and life is linear with a beginning and an end. Then there are others who hold to a chaotic view of history. History and life is nothing more than a series of events that are left to chance, a series of random disconnected events with no beginning, end meaning.

And so when you look at life you’re faced with 3 possible windows. Am I stuck in a never ending cycle beyond my control? Am I moving forward towards some ultimate goal or ultimate end? Or am I living a series of random disconnected events that just happen without beginning, end or purpose?

As I shared last week from the pulpit, there is a Biblical and Christian view of history and life. The Christian view of history and life is that it’s linear and purposeful moving towards a plan put in place by God himself. The Christian view of history is that there’s an unifying story that’s being played out in history and life that cuts across every nation, culture, people and language group – it’s going somewhere … it’s not a random series of events … and all that happens in history and life in our city is moving towards a plan put in place by God himself. There’s a story that unites us in this city.

Firstly, the Christian view of history is that something is wrong with us, our society, our city and our world. Even in an affluent and modern city like ours brokenness is self-evident, from local council corruption, to 30,000 homeless on our streets, to 31,000 abortions each year. Nationally, 40% of marriages in our country ends in divorce, and we spend more on our pets (2.3 billion) than on overseas aid (2 billion). Something is wrong with us, our city and our world. The Bible calls it the consequences of sin i.e. the consequences of living life in a society and culture that has rejected God. What we see and experience of brokenness around us is the outworking of a culture and society that has turned its back on God. (Rom.1:18-32)

Secondly, the Christian view of history is that God is not absent, but is involved, in control, working out his purposes in history to save us, to fix us, to redeem our culture, to renew society, to transform our broken cities and world. And he’s doing it in a man called Jesus who 2000 years ago died on the cross for our sins, who rose again from the dead, and who now rules as God’s appointed right hand man in our lives, our city and our world … who is gathering to himself a people, building a new and transformed society and culture, a city within our city, called the church. Everything in history and life converges and centres on Jesus who comes to save and to transform those living life without God, caught up in sin and brokenness. (Acts 2:21-36; 4:12)

There is a story being played out on the stage of history, in our lives and in our city. We live in a broken world, because we’re broken people who have rejected the God who made us and ignored his way in life. We all need saving, and God acts to save us in Jesus by sending him to die for our sins, to conquer death by raising him from the dead, and to be the one who now rules over all. And right now Jesus continues to save and gather his people, building a new and transformed city within our city called the church; a city where his love, compassion, forgiveness, justice and mercy rule; a city on a hill, a church whose light cannot be hidden in a city that desperately needs saving. You and I are that city, and the story is still being played out today.

Monday, February 4, 2008

An Open Letter To Our Cell Group Leaders

Cell groups have started and the new ministry year has finally begun. Firstly, let me say that I am thankful for the commitment of our cell group leaders - let it always be to Jesus and his mission. I anticipate both a challenging and an exciting year as we look to bring a renewed vision of Jesus and His mission to our church. As I shared on Sunday, renewal comes when we are grounded in the gospel of the the Lord Jesus who died for my sins, who rose from the dead, who today rules this city and my world; renewal comes when we begin to see that Jesus calls us to a bigger vision in life and ministry than our narrow vision ... the people in this city and the world is our mission; renewal comes when we rely on, depend on, seek, and wait on the power of the Holy Spirit to empower us to accomplish his vision and mission through our lives, in this city and in our world. We need all three - a clear gospel, a wider vision, and the power of the Spirit. My prayer is that God might be so gracious as to do just that for me, for you, and for the people under your care. Pray with me, for me and for each other, and for our people. It's what we need.

Secondly, let me say that I'm looking forward to leading our Tuesday evening cell group leaders fellowship this year. I know that we're all busy with ministry, but I hope you'll see coming on Tuesday evening as your time: your time to sharpen yourself and others; your time to chill, relax and share with other leaders; your time to be renewed personally for life and leadership. My prayer is that you'll come and leave energized, excited and empowered for Jesus and his mission.

We'll be meeting up as cell group leaders starting this month on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month at church, with our first get together on the 12th (next week). The program for us as cell group leaders on Tuesday will generally be a simple one - we meet at 8pm sharp and will be finished by 9.30pm. They'll be a short teaching segment that I'll take (1/2 hour); they'll be small group time (guys/girls) to think and work through the implications/relevance of what we might look at (1/2 hour); and then 1/2 hour of praying over what we've explored, for ourselves, and for people in our cell groups.

Thirdly, let me say that I'll be praying for you these few weeks as your cell groups start. May you know the leading and power of the Spirit, as you follow Him and as you lead others under Him.

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Time To Chart New Maps In Our City

Not only are there two ways to live in life – as a church, there are also always two ways to do ministry in our city. We’re either investing our lives in building the ministry of the gospel in our city or we’re happy being comfortable and safe where we're building up our own little patch in the city of Sydney. It’s always worth asking … what are you building – who are you following?

If your focus in the Christian life or even as a church is on your little patch in life (and honestly that’s all it is … a little patch of grass), and some have larger patches than others in nicer suburbs, the reality is that its still only a patch of grass in God’s scheme. This is the reality as Peter puts it, “All men are like grass, and all their glory (their work) is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And then we read that, "this is the word that was preached to you – this is the word that saved you". (1 Peter 1:24-25)

There’s nothing you build in this city that’ll last - grass grows and fades and withers, but it’s only the Word of God, the Word of the Gospel that saves, that’ll stands forever in our city. I want to make sure that we keep investing and building in what will last beyond our lifetime in this city. Personally, and as a church, what matters is growing the Word of the Gospel in our city. In fact, we’re believers today in the city of Sydney, because the apostles first preached the gospel in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

In fact, the book of Acts is really a testimony to the living, enduring and growing Word of the Gospel. You read in Acts 1:8 where Jesus says to his apostles, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And today the Word of God is still going out to the ends of the earth in the lives of men and women who have received the gospel. Nations rise and fall, empires come and go, buildings are built and demolished, but the Word of the Gospel will always stand. In fact the growth of the gospel has never depended on the size of a church congregation or its facilities. The pattern you see in Acts is one where as the gospel is preached and received, there you see churches planted in those communities. Some churches meeting in homes, others in public lecture halls, still others in the outdoors.

What are we building and growing in our city? My vision has always been to grow a church not bound by walls, by tradition, by fear, by comfort, but a church with a vision to raise the next generation and to plant Bible believing, Jesus loving, Spirit empowered, gospel proclaiming, mission minded churches across the city of Sydney. In 2005 I cast that vision of sailing the deep waters which led to us starting GracePoint at Auburn. That was part of the start of a vision to plant churches across the city of Sydney: to be a church without walls, looking to plant 7 new churches in 13 years. It’s a vision I’m still committed to.

Between 1994 and 1996, the Institute for Church Development in Germany conducted a research project surveying 1000 churches in 32 countries (published by Charles Schwarz in Natural Church Development.) Churches were categorized into sets of 1-100, 100-200, 200-300 etc. They found that churches in the 1-100 category increased an average of 32 new people over the past 5 years; churches in the 100-200 category also increased an average of 32 new people; churches in the 200-300 category averaged 39 new people; and churches in the 300-400 category increased an average of 25 people (C. Schwarz, Natural Church Development. p.47.) And that means 'a small church wins just as many people for Christ as a large one, and what's more, two churches with 200 worshippers on Sundays would win twice as many new people as one church with 400 in attendance.' (Schwarz, p.47)

What about churches with more than 1000 people? They found that the smallest churches (with an average attendance of 51) won an average of 32 new people in the past five years, while mega-churches (with an average attendance of 2,856) won 112 new persons over the same 5 years.

In raw numbers it means that a mega-church wins more people than a single small church. But, if you keep in mind that a mega-church is 56 times the size of a small church, then the following calculations shows you the potential of the two groups more realistically. 'If instead of a single church with 2,856 people worshipping we had 56 churches, each with 51 worshippers, these churches would, statistically, win 1,792 new people within five years - 16 times the number the mega-church would win.' (Schwarz, p.48)

The effectiveness of small churches in terms of growth is statistically, 1,600 percent greater than that of mega-churches. The myth is that big is better. What we need are more Bible believing, Jesus loving, Spirit empowered, gospel proclaiming, mission minded churches planted across our city. Research also found that statistically more people are mobilized to use their gifts to serve in a smaller church than in a larger churches. If you look at our growth at GracePoint we fall into the small church category. When we started with our first congregation between 2000 and 2003 we grew from an average of 45 to 95 people attending our service (a growth of 50 new people in our service through evangelistic and transfer growth).

I believe we grow the ministry of the gospel best in our city by planting new churches or congregations. As each church plant grows and develops, we begin to plant new churches in different suburbs, which in turn eventually plants new churches themselves. And apart from achieving a much more effective rate of growth evangelistically reaching people groups across the city of Sydney, a smaller group allows for much greater involvement of people in terms of using their gifts in serving, less red-tape and structures to worry about, a much greater ability to maintain focus, and a much more personal church.

We can actually reach people across Sydney more effectively by planting new churches. You plant the first one, and then in 4-5 years time when you have a stable and strong congregation, you plant another new church in a different suburb, one out of our evening congregation, and one out of our morning congregation. If we did this, potentially by 2013 we could have 400 people spread across 4 churches or congregations, with all 4 churches ready to plant another 4 new churches.

Personally I believe it’s time to sail the deep waters again, to chart out new maps as a church in our city. We musn't be bound by walls, by tradition, by fear, by comfort. We’re called to love Jesus and his mission, and people in our city. We’re called to be a church with a vision to raise the next generation and to plant Bible believing, Jesus loving, Spirit empowered, gospel proclaiming, mission minded churches across the city of Sydney.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Water, Church and Ministry

This morning I was at my local coffee shop reading and thinking about ministry. Felt the need to re-read a book titled, 'Aqua Church' by one of my favorite authors, Leonard Sweet. Been thinking about the 'church' recently. What does it mean to be a church where Jesus is at the center leading, directing, shaping, molding, modeling, instructing us? I hear people pray that all the time, that our church might honor Jesus, or that our church might have Jesus at the center. What does it actually mean?

So much of what we do seems more 'human' led rather than Jesus led. Like most churches, I suspect our ministry is filled with countless meetings where decisions are made, where church plans are discussed, where Bible studies are run, where leaders are trained, where evangelism is carried out. The question that's constantly on my mind is, 'where is Jesus in all of this?' Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that ministry = meetings. Run enough meetings, pump out enough paper, organize enough events, keep the wheels turning each week, and we fool ourselves into thinking that we're doing ministry.

Someone forgot to tell us that the church is not a business, a committee or a company, but a people that Jesus has saved and gathered around himself; that he's transforming and leading. The church belongs to Jesus and it's His mission and vision we serve. Leonard in his opening chapter points out that our mission is to lead people to water i.e. to Jesus. I'm not always sure whether we're leading people to water whether it's those who belong to the church or those still on the outside.

When was the last time you attended a meeting at church whether a cell group, a committee meeting, a music team practice, or even a worship service and thought to yourself, 'man, that was refreshing ... I came and I met Jesus today'? Like the words of that song on what's at the Heart Of Worship, 'it's all about you, it's all about you, Jesus'. I wish I could say that about every single one of our meetings at church. Unfortunately, it's not always true at church. The Psalmist tells us to 'taste and see that the Lord is good' and that there is 'blessing for the man or woman who takes refuge in Him' (Ps.34:8). Our mission is to lead people to water i.e. to Jesus. We need water and so do those on the outside.

Our problem is that sometimes we muddy the water in our meetings because the cups are dirty. And when you muddy the water, it's difficult to convince people to drink from it, because all they see is a broken and dirty cup. Even worse if people actually drink the water, instead of an experience of Jesus, what they get is an empty, draining, often lifeless experience of church. Or maybe sometimes the cups are not dirty, but just unattractive, so they obscure the pure refreshing water on the inside.

As I was reading Aqua Church, it was also made clear that if you notice something about water ... it's liquid. It's a liquid that fills the shape of any container. The main thing is to trust the water. Don't tamper with it, don't muddy it, don't dilute it. The content always remains the same - the same Jesus yesterday is what I need and what people need today. When it comes to church, people need water, but the containers might need changing. Perhaps what the church needs is a different container. Leonard writes that,

"Every generation needs a shape that fits its own hands, its own soul. Each generation, every person, needs a different handle from which to receive the living waters of Jesus. Our task is to pour the living water into anything anyone will pick up. By 'anything' I mean that literally: anything. If I want to reach my twenty-second century children with the gospel of Jesus, I must be prepared to to pour the living water into containers out of which I myself would never be caught dead drinking. This is what Paul meant when he talked about our "becoming all things to all men" that we might win some (1 Corinthians 9:22)"

Perhaps what we need is not just more of Jesus, but different containers in the way we do church that will help people drink from the living waters of Jesus. Maybe what we need is not just new wine, but new wine skins as well in the way we do church. Ours is an ancient faith, a well of living water that has been running a long long time. There's nothing wrong with the water, it's the containers that need changing in our generation.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Pastoral Note - 11th November

The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) give us the story of the life and work of Jesus. The book of Acts is the story of the powerful work of Jesus after his resurrection. While it’s called the Acts of the Apostles, it’s really the powerful acts of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Jesus in growing His church through the first disciples from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria to the ends of the earth. We read in chapter 1:8 that the purpose of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples of Jesus was so that they might have the power to be Jesus’ witnesses. Acts is the unfolding of that story.

There’s a reason why the first disciples of Jesus needed the Spirit’s power to witness. Because wherever Jesus is proclaimed there you’ll always find opposition, and the temptation to fold under pressure. Right at the start the early Christian experience in sharing Jesus was ridicule in ch.2 and persecution/jail in ch.3. From embarrassment, to the fear of ridicule, to the fear of being excluded, this has always been experience of Christians who put Jesus forward in their lives. Even Paul who wrote most of the letters in the New Testament one prayer request is that he might be able to share about Jesus boldly and not be afraid (Ephesians 6:19-20). I reckon we face the same temptation to be afraid when it comes to putting Jesus forward, sharing about Him, even talking about Him whether at work, at uni, at school or at home.

Ever been in a situation where you have the opportunity to share about Jesus, but are afraid? Ever been in a situation where someone has asked you about your beliefs in front of other people at work, but you brush it off? Ever been in a situation where your friends are discussing a moral issue, but you remain silent rather than put forward a Christian perspective? We read in Acts 4 that Peter has just landed up in jail for talking about Jesus, and when he’s hauled up before the authorities he speaks clearly and boldly. This is the same Peter who a few months ago denies Jesus 3 times! What lies behind Peter’s boldness and clarity? Acts 4:8 tells us that it was when Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, that he was able to boldly and clearly proclaim Christ. So impressed were the people opposing him that they were astonished, because Peter was an unschooled, ordinary guy (Acts.4:13). The power of the Spirit led to a bold and clear proclamation of Jesus in Peter’s life.

As you read on you discover that after Peter is released he goes straight to meet up with the other disciples of Jesus to pray with them. And they all ask God for continued boldness and courage to speak about Jesus (Acts.4:29). His answer comes to them in v.31, where we’re told that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. The power of the Spirit led to a bold and clear proclamation of Jesus in the life of the disciples.

Perhaps what we need as well these days is more of the power of the Holy Spirit to give us boldness. Maybe the reason why as a church our witness is weak, our personal proclamation of Jesus is reserved, lies in that we lack the power of the Spirit to be bold. When we feel afraid, embarrassed, tempted to baulk at the opportunity to share about Jesus, unsure about our abilities, what we need is to pray and ask God to fill us with the Holy Spirit to give us boldness. Or as Paul himself asked for prayer, we should be praying this for each other.