#58 – July 2014

ScotrailI’m on a train from the Scottish highlands back to Edinburgh. On other occasions when I’ve travelled this route the weather has been miserable and the view out the window has been drab and grey. But today it’s gorgeous – brilliant sunshine showing off this amazing landscape to its best advantage. It’s an apt illustration of what it means to see things in a different light. It sets me to thinking about what else I’ve seen as drab that might actually be marvellous under different circumstances.

 

The last six months have been pretty intense with lots of travel and a variety of activity both in Australia and abroad. That will continue in the second half of the year, but right now, it’s coming up to a break for Heather and me. We are taking two weeks holiday from this weekend – one week in Germany and the other in the South-East of England. I’m as passionate as ever about mentoring Christian leaders, working with Church leadership teams, speaking and training. Even though I love this work it does get tiring and I think I’ve earned a rest. Before heading off I wanted to share a couple of stray thoughts with you about identifying your life purpose and monitoring your emotions.

 

In mentoring conversations I often help people wrestle with the big question of purpose: ‘Why am I here?’ It’s a great question. It crops up at various times in most people’s lives, especially at three particular points. First of all in your twenties, when you’re figuring out which long-term commitments are worth making (if any) and which are to be avoided. Then it pops up again in mid-life when those commitments we’ve made (or not made) come under revision. It looms once again as a person transitions out of the ‘productive’ phase of life into retirement. (Of course, some people refuse to embrace retirement as a result of wrestling with the question of purpose. That’s another conversation.)

 

Developing methods to assist in working through this question is something of a mini-industry. Go online and you’ll find plenty of ‘life purpose’ tools, and some of them are very helpful. All of them make the point that this question can only be answered by responding to other significant questions. My very brief take on it goes like this. The purpose question requires clarity about the identity question, the context question and the values question. If you’re looking for your purpose, ask yourself:

  • Who am I? What experiences have shaped me?
  • Where am I? What are the salient features of the world I inhabit?
  • What matters? For what am I prepared to make sacrifices?

 

Then you’ll be in a better position to name the opportunities situated at the intersection of your ‘who’, your ‘where’ and your ‘what’. That’s where your purpose is to be found.

 

A minor point in a book I read years ago (it might have been ‘The Leader’s Journey’, I can’t really remember) has remained with me and become an important lens for self-awareness. The author presented the idea that, from a physiological point of view, there are only four basic emotions: mad, sad, glad and scared. Apparently, these emotional states can be detected by the physical changes in the body that are associated with them. The way we experience emotion is obviously far more complicated than that. But maybe emotions work like colours. Millions of colours can be made from the basic four tones of cyan, yellow, magenta and black. Perhaps millions of emotions are a mixture of mad, sad, glad and scared.

 

Whatever the case, I found those four emotions easy to remember and useful as a way of checking what is going on within me. Our emotions are powerful drivers, impacting our perceptions, thinking processes, decisions and actions. Nothing necessarily wrong with that; except if they lead you into places you later wish you hadn’t gone. When the intensity rises within me I do a quick check. Is there something here I’m angry about? Is there some loss or grief? Is a desire being satisfied in a way that delights me? Is some fear stirring in me?

 

My default attitude toward these emotions is to resist anger and fear and to embrace sadness (usually in the form of compassion) and delight. So my internal check often goes something like this:

  • What should I be less angry about? Are there things I get hot under the collar about that really don’t matter that much, or over which my anger is counter productive?
  • What should I be more sad about? How should my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God?
  • What should I be more glad about? Where are the little joys of life that I’m missing because of my preoccupations?
  • What should I be less scared about? From what needless fears and anxieties might I be released through gaining a better perspective?

 

As helpful as that often is, in the last couple of weeks I’ve been pushing it further, looking at each of these factors from another angle. I’ve been setting myself these questions:

  • What should I be more angry about? What are the issues that are of such importance and urgency that I should NOT calm down about them but use controlled anger constructively as a motivation to decisive action?
  • What should I be less sad about? Have I been wallowing in the blues about something and it’s simply time to get over it? I would hesitate to do say this to anyone else, but I think there are times for me to say to myself, ‘snap out of it!’
  • What should I be less glad about? Are there things in which I am taking delight that are not right or healthy? Are some of my pleasures ultimately destructive either for myself or for others?
  • What should I be more scared of? Are there matters over which I am altogether too blasé? What real threats demand vigilance? Is my resistance to experiencing fear blunting my capacity for hope?

 

Does any of this set off in you other insights, questions, comments, or refutations? Love to hear them if you could take a moment to reply. I’ll get back to you after this break.

#57 – December 2013

Beach-SantaClose to Christmas now and, apart from things that are necessarily done at the last-minute like food preparation and arranging the house for hospitality, we’re set. I find myself getting ready for two versions of Christmas that I engage with simultaneously – the cultural one and the spiritual one. They are pretty different. I mean, what do you make of the fact that so many of our Christmas traditions have their origins in paganism?

That used to bother me more than it does now. I still do cringe a bit when well-meaning Christians try to shoehorn theological significance into Christmas trees, tinsel, bells, snowmen and Santa. I don’t think anyone can find a sound spiritual rationale for giving so many expensive, elaborately wrapped consumer goods and eating and drinking way too much. Let’s just face it; our cultural rituals at this time of year may be loads of fun, but they just don’t have anything whatsoever to do with God taking on flesh and being born as a human being.

So in my head I just separate them, treating the cultural Christmas as a piece of entertainment – like rolling Australia Day, the Adelaide Arts Festival, the Melbourne Cup, the Henley-on-Todd Regatta, Grand Final Day and every Food-and-Wine Festival that ever was into one event and putting a sprig of holly on top. Great fun, a bit of a laugh and as long as you don’t drink and drive, no harm done.

But the spiritual Christmas? Well, I keep that more low key, to share quietly in reverence and awe with those who love our Saviour as I do. THAT Christmas leaves me speechless in wonder that the creator of all that is would come near in such humility and kindness to draw this fickle human race back into relationship with himself. Considering how we’ve so comprehensively botched his vision of a creation alive and thriving in perfect balance and harmony, it’s almost incredible that God would not come to us in wrath and power rather than as a humble and vulnerable baby. I say ‘almost’ because, of course, God’s responses are in sharp contrast to the way I would do things.

If there’s any link between the cultural Christmas and the spiritual Christmas it might be in the spiritual practices of feasting, fellowship, singing and generosity. ‘Are those actually spiritual disciplines?’, I hear you ask. In the popular contemporary books on this topic we’re more likely to read of spiritual disciplines that arose from the monastic movement like fasting, solitude, silence and austerity. And that’s right too. Those disciplines of self-denial and detachment are necessary antidotes for compulsive, self-indulgent people like me (and maybe you, too?)

But there are also disciplines of affirmation and engagement. Just think of the rhythm of festivals God established in the Old Testament. There were some pretty full-on parties there, all to the glory of God. In our Christmas feasting we can, if we choose, rise above crass gluttony to affirm the pleasure God gives us in food. In our gatherings we can go beyond just attending another party to give thanks for the gift of friendship and engage with others in an affirmation of sociability. When we sing, rather than approaching carols with a grumpy or gushy attitude (depending on whether you are carol-phobic or a carol fan) we can affirm that the complexity and beauty of human music is unique in all creation. And when we give gifts, it can be more than fulfilling some unwritten contractual obligation. It really can be a spiritual practice that reflects the generosity of God towards us.

Well, I’m off now to help Heather prepare the food for the coming days. Family and friends will gather, plus some people I don’t know well (and one I’ve never met) who have no family here in Sydney. It’s going to be a little glimpse of the kingdom of God, I think.

May you be drawn ever deeper into the mystery and joy of the incarnation.

Rick

#56 – October 2013

In a few hours I’ll be flying to the UK for another season of ministry. There’s such variety in the things I’ve been asked to do, and I love that. The majority of my time will be spent meeting with the Christian leaders I mentor, then there’s preaching in churches, leading spiritual retreats, teaching at training seminars, consulting with a two churches and a major charity and networking with people doing some very creative things in ministry and mission. This new way of doing ministry I’ve been led into may not be lucrative, but I’m having the time of my life!

 

It’s been interesting working through the financial thing over the past few years. I’ve gone back and forth wondering whether I should share this here. On balance, I think it’s worth putting it out there because it might help someone else working through this or a similar issue. I knew money might get tight when I left secure employment at Castle Hill Community Church to launch out into itinerant ministry, but I’d come to peace about that before I left in June 2011. God gave me this deep sense back then of him being my heavenly Father who knows my needs. Then in May 2012 I had a bit of a wobble when I couldn’t see how things were going to stack up. I became quite anxious for a few weeks. That got sorted out while I was in the UK the next month. Seeing God provide for me in so many little ways while I was away from home reminded me of my security in him. But I was still left with the technical question of precisely how to make a living out of mentoring, training and consulting.

 

My sense of call from God has never been to focus purely on providing services in the secular, commercial sector. Everyone tells me that’s where the money is, but I don’t care. Who I really care about are Christian leaders, whether in Christian organisations or in secular business environments, who want to make a difference for the kingdom of God wherever he has placed them. Restricting myself to serving Christians has financial implications. Most churches and leaders can only afford modest fees, and some fantastic front-line leaders simply can’t afford to pay me at all. On top of that, I sensed God prompting me to make mission workers in isolated contexts a high priority. I knew I had to think this through carefully.

 

One way to go was to approach people in my circle of influence to see if they wanted to sponsor me to mentor mission workers who couldn’t afford to pay for my services. That’s a reasonable strategy, and one which I could recommend to others in good conscience. But my just heart sank at the prospect. It’s not that I don’t think my ministry is valuable; I just hate asking friends for money. When talking with some WEC mission workers I was challenged to adopt the WEC fund-raising strategy – which is to simply commit the matter to God and leave it with him. Simple, huh? But hang on a minute. Perhaps the WEC approach is just a convenient way for me to avoid doing something that I find distasteful. Or, then again, maybe it really is what the Lord is calling me to do. How do you figure out something like that? One sign would be if someone approached me, out of the blue, to offer support because God had prompted them to do so. Well, I decided I’d wait for that to happen. The VERY NEXT DAY I got an email from a couple who want to support my ministry financially. That was good enough for me. What would I have done if that sign hadn’t come through? I would probably have swallowed my pride and gone ahead with the support raising exercise. So there you have it. How about you? Have you had to work through an issue like that? Where are you up to with it?

 

Grace and peace,

Rick

#55 – August 2013

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I visited my Mum in Adelaide last week. She’s 87 but still plays a tough game of Scrabble. I love the way she’s still such a forward thinking person. She’s one of those rare old-timers: she’s happy to see the church change in any way that will be beneficial for the generation of her grandchildren. May her tribe increase! Many years ago she handed on leadership to the next generation and has continued to cheer them on even when they did things she privately thought were misguided. Now that generation is at the point of handing on to the generation after them, but something has changed. The baby-boomers are having difficulty getting off the stage. Many are not yet ready to release control. But those who are ready to pass the baton strike another difficulty: the next generation are not especially interested in taking over what they have been doing. This presents a greater challenge than that faced by my Mum. Generational change of leadership at this juncture requires faith that God will do a new thing through those who take over and make not small but massive changes to what they inherit. Can the baby-boomers believe that God’s kingdom can go forward using completely different ways and means to the ones with which they were entrusted?

old hands in prayer

I wonder what I’ll be like at 87. I’ve been mulling this over in the mornings, along with my usual morning routine of praying the Lord’s Prayer. Then I thought, why not try to pray the Lord’s Prayer with the perspective of an octogenarian? I really ought to road test this with my Mum, but I’ll give you the rough version. Maybe you might like to suggest some embellishments or reshaping. As a person in my 80s, I hope I can still pray, “our Father” with a sense of childlike trust in God. I hope I never get so old that I think I’ve outgrown that simple dependence on my heavenly Dad. I hope I can still pray, “Your kingdom come” with passion, with longing, yearning and openness to see God’s reign and rule established in my life, my church, my community and my country. I hope I’m still prepared to base my security in God’s daily supply of my needs – my “daily bread” – rather than close up into assuring my own security by protecting my superannuation and surrounding myself with predictability. I don’t want to end up so risk-averse that I no longer experience the thrill of living by faith. I hope I can maintain a soft, repentant heart to easily ask God to forgive my sin, and a gracious spirit to let go of hurt and offense and forgive others as a matter of course. I hope I don’t get to the point where I think I can handle things by myself; that I’m not liable to temptation. I hope I will always have a right and healthy fear of what I might become if left to chart my own course and pray fervently, “lead me not into temptation”. Finally, I hope I can confidently entrust all my uncertainty and sense of vulnerability and feebleness to the mighty One who can and will “deliver me from evil”.

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Are you enjoying your reading these days? I am, so let me give you a few brief reviews. Two recent books on mentoring are worthy of special mention. First up is The Lost Art of Lingering by Rowland Foreman, for which I wrote this commendation:

If you’re hungry for a life of discipleship in the company of others, Foreman’s book is a smorgasbord of the finest fare. With a generous spirit, he embraces a wide range of approaches and distils the essence of ‘one-anothering’ into insightful teaching, engaging reflections and a host of practical tools and resources. This is a book you’ll return to over and over again in the years ahead, such is the wealth of wisdom it contains. This is the most useful and encouraging book on mentoring that I’ve read for many years.

Then I picked up Deep Mentoring by Randy Reese and Robert Loane from the bargain bin at Koorong. And at $10 it really was a bargain. I was drawn in right away by their emphasis on ‘noticing God’s already present action’ in the lives of others. The book relies heavily on Bobby Clinton’s work on leadership, but it manages to overcome the clunky ‘engineer’ feel that characterised much of Clinton’s earlier work. This is a more soulful offering, delivered with lots of engaging, chatty stories. I’ve also been enjoying Father Chris Jamison’s Finding Happiness: Monastic Steps for A Fulfilling Life. After publishing this book in 2008, Jamison became famous through the BBC series ‘The Monastery’ which drew together lessons from his book and daily life at Worth Abbey where he was Abbot at the time. His basic proposals are that vice makes us miserable and that happiness may be achieved by adopting ancient Christian practices that combat the seven deadly sins. My only disagreement is over his treatment of anger, which he says is a sin in itself and must be denied. And then there is Flunking Sainthood by Jana Riess. This book might best be described as devotional comedy. Her subtitle is ‘A year of breaking the Sabbath, forgetting to pray and still loving my neighbor’. She’s both funny and spiritual at the same time. A great read.

Federal_election

The campaign for the Australian Federal election has one week to run. More than in any previous election I’ve followed I am profoundly disappointed with the alternatives we are being offered. I find election media articles and propaganda painful to read; the television ads and programs depressing to watch. I’m ready to admit that I’ve become a grumpy old man but I think the dissatisfaction I feel is not just because I’m hard to please. The bias of some media outlets is breathtaking in its brazenness. The naked lust for power from both the major party leaders is sickening. I’m struck by the obsession with economic policy in this land of plenty and how each position is evaluated on the basis of personal financial impact for the voters. Where are the serious attempts at social policy based on a vision of a just and good society? I’m straining to discern from our politicians any sort of vision for this country that contains echoes of the kingdom of God. I’d like to say that we have a right to expect better than this, but then I recall he truism that a country gets the government it deserves. Oh Lord, you have blessed us with outrageous abundance, yet we are selfish with our wealth and greedy for more. What will you do with us as a nation if we continue to refuse your call to justice, mercy and faith? Please stir your people to speak out for what is right, to apply their private values of grace and truth to matters of public policy and to spread seeds of hope for a new way of living together in this wonderful land in which you have set us. Here endeth the rant. And the Rave.

Grace and peace,

Rick

#54 – JULY 2013

Okay, it’s only juuuust July, but it counts. In this Rave I’m just going to restrict myself to reflections on my recent walk in Spain. There’s plenty to share just on that, then I’ll be back again in August with some other things I’ve been thinking about.

000 Camino symbol

Walking the Camino de Santiago is an experience I’ll never forget. Exactly what makes it so impactful is hard to express. Part of it has to do with being away from the myriad of annoying little details that complicate normal daily existence. Life becomes very simple on the Camino. There is space to think, space to talk with others without the pressure of time or agenda, space to simply be. Part of it, too, is the earthiness of the experience. Walking is an effective way to get connected to a landscape and the people and culture embedded within that landscape. It’s a very different experience than travelling in a car or bus or train. And, of course, when walking significant distances you become very aware of your body – both the pain and the strength – which is an experience that gets pretty earthy. So for these and several other reasons, the Camino is memorable for me.

108 early morning alone

However, the value of doing this walk is not simply in the memories created. It is also in the personal transformation that takes place. No doubt this is slightly different for everyone who does the Camino, with, perhaps, some common threads here and there. What was the personal transformation that happened in me? I need to be a bit careful here because it’s too early to tell whether, in fact, I have undergone personal change or have simply become aware of areas of my life that are in need of transformation. I hope that at least a start has been made in certain aspects of my character. So, at the risk of setting myself up… Something in me is shifting in terms of patience, perseverance, tolerance and acceptance of others, gratitude for simple things and resisting drivenness so I can manage my energy levels wisely. I cannot transform myself in these areas through the effort of will, but God’s Spirit can change me. The Camino has focussed my attention so that I am now tuned in to cooperate with his power at work on those things. It’s a Colossians 1:29 sort of thing.

019 Alto de Perdon

For the first 24 days of the Camino I read slowly through the gospel of Luke, one chapter per day. I expected that my different context would cause me to come to the text from a different angle. But I was not prepared for the degree to which this was the case. It was as if I had never read this gospel before; there were new insights and perspectives popping out at me every day. The most impactful and enduring of these was a fresh appreciation of how direct Jesus was in his dealings with people. There was no beating around the bush. He was, as we sometimes say, “in people’s face”, with challenge, confrontation, even provocation. To my middle class, western sensitivities he seemed a bit rude at times – lacking in tact. I felt drawn to consider how I might emulate this aspect of Jesus character. That was not a comfortable thought at all.

099 boots

At the same time I was reflecting on the conversations I was having with people along the road and being convicted by the Holy Spirit about my tendency to be judgemental of others. Later I shared this with one of my friends in the UK and she said, Rick, that can’t be right. I’ve never known you to be judgemental.” Well, that just shows how cleverly I hide my inner thoughts. But there’s no pulling the wool over God’s eyes. He sees it all very clearly. Anyway, being challenged about being less judgemental and more direct at the same time put me in a bit of a tangle. I realised that my way of being more direct with people usually involved a dose of being judgemental along with it. And I could work on being less judgemental, but that would usually result in me being less direct as well. I can see that Jesus was both non-judgemental and direct at the same time, but I don’t see that in me. Plenty of room for growth then! Then I realised this is simply a restatement of John 1:14, that Jesus came full of grace (of which non-judgement is a part) and truth (of which directness is a part). This has been a personal paradigm for ministry practice and character development for me for well over ten years. Here I am STILL working on it! Lord, help me to make some progress.

130 Astorga

I was able to have spiritual conversations with others doing the Camino every single day, and several times each day. This is not my normal experience in day-to-day life. I would think I’m doing well if I have a spiritual conversation with a stranger once per week. Why was it such a rich time of deep conversation? There are several factors. Firstly, the Camino de Santiago is consistently presented as a spiritual pilgrimage by those who offer support services for pilgrims and in the literature. Over a thousand years of history lies behind this walk, and those who follow the route can’t help but be affected by that history of religious devotion. Secondly, physical pilgrimage – taking a long walk – is a very apt metaphor for the inner journey of spiritual seeking that is common to all human beings at some point in their lives. These first two factors, taken together, explain why pilgrims will routinely ask one another, “Why are you walking?” The question makes perfect sense and drives immediately to the inner journey for which the outer journey is a symbol.

033 Foot massage at Villamayor

And I think there were other conditions, not general ones like the two I’ve mentioned but particular ones relating to my experience, that helped me to have so many spiritual conversations. I was practising being non-judgemental. I’m sure that opened some doors. I was not seeking to ‘sell’ my point of view. I was having genuine, mutual interactions with people whose stories and perspectives were of real interest to me. At the same time I was prepared to ask fairly blunt questions of others. You could call it being nosey, but my conversation partners were up for it. It was as if they had been longing for someone to open up these lines of discussion. Further, I was trying to be as honest and vulnerable as I could about my own uncertainties and frailties. I was not saying, “I’m a Christian and have it all together and wouldn’t you like to be like me?” Finally, I was trying out some different language. If I had said, “You know, God really loves you”, that would have been dismissed as religious claptrap. Instead I tried saying things like, “The universe is a friendly place, don’t you think?” I found this engaged people far more readily and we would be away into an interesting chat within seconds.

142 Roisin in Astorga

The people who were so open to have spiritual conversations with me on the Camino, had only days before been in another setting and undoubtedly were not nearly so open to have those conversations. On the Camino the right conditions were created that put people in the sort of headspace (heartspace?) in which they were ready to talk. Now I’m asking myself if those conditions can be replicated away from the Camino. The first two factors above – the environment that reflects a history of devotion and participation in the powerful metaphor of walking – cannot be readily reproduced in daily life. However, I do think that if I am non-judgemental, have a respectful, listening stance, take the chance to ask probing questions, am willing to be vulnerable and carefully choose my language to use interesting turns of phrase that avoid religious jargon – if I do these things, then perhaps I might have more Camino type conversations in my daily life. I’m going to give it a shot anyway.

Love to hear your thoughts about any of this. I’ll write again soon.

Grace and peace,

Rick

#53 – April 2013

Camino-de-santiago

Only two weeks to go until I set off on pilgrimage in Spain. It will take me a month to walk the 800kms from St Jean Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in the north-western corner of Spain. I started training last July and have been working on gathering together the things I’ll need for the trek. Preparing my body and my gear has been the easy part. Preparing my mind, heart and soul has been more complicated, but definitely more interesting and rewarding. I’ve been meditating on relevant passages of Scripture like Psalm 84 and Luke 9. The best book I’ve read was Charles Foster’s ‘The Sacred Journey’. This is not just an adventure – although it is that. Pilgrimage is about seeking God, waiting on him in an open-ended fashion without having a preconceived notion of what outcomes that might bring. It is simplifying life to what I can carry on my back and who I carry in my heart. Things that insulate me from the harshness of life can also insulate me from the discipline of God. These will be left behind. No books (except my map) no phone, no computer, no keys. The numbers might surprise you. People have been walking this pilgrim path for 1,000 years. About 200,000 people walk it each year – many more in a Holy Year. I’ll walk between 25kms and 30kms each day – some days more. And what will it all achieve? I’m not sure I care very much about the answer to that question. I’m not doing this to achieve anything in particular. I’m doing it to answer the call to be with Jesus on the road. What he will do with me, I can’t tell. I suspect it might have something to do with the people I will meet. I started out thinking and hoping I might be used by God to touch the lives of others. Although that might sound noble, it presents a classic trap of placing oneself in the superior ‘helper’ position. It would be so easy to wind up terribly proud and self-centred and insulate myself from what I can learn from others when I’m in a vulnerable place. I’ll let you know…

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Something significant happened last week. One of my heroes, Keith Farmer, bowed out of leading the Mentoring Network that he founded and has stepped back to take only a consultative role on the team that steers the ship. He’s made noises before that he wanted to do this, but we have always managed to talk him out of it, persuading him to stay on just a little bit longer. But this time I sensed we needed to respect his position and allow him to withdraw with dignity. The fact is, he’s getting older and he knew it was time to step aside. I just want to go on record to say that Keith is a truly great servant of the Lord and it has been an absolute privilege to have followed in his footsteps. The rest of the leadership team of the Mentoring Network and I am glad he’s still around to refer to if we get stuck, but with gratitude we release him to take life at a slightly less manic pace. I now step into very big shoes, chairing the leadership team in Keith’s place, and I’m am so pleased to still be in partnership with Andrew McCafferty and Tim Dyer. We have some ideas to give the Network a good kick along in the next year. The recent Mentors Forum we ran in Melbourne was excellent in terms of quality, but we need to get the word out to gather more than 40 people next time, and work harder between Forums to build connectivity between members of the Network and provide a continuous stream of practical resources for Christian mentors.

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I’m quietly excited about the release of the latest edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece. Now, some of you might think this is a bit left-field, but stick with me for a minute or two. This publication known as the NA28 is the last word in scholarship on the original Greek text of the New Testament. You might be aware that there are hundreds and hundreds of fragments of the New Testament written on parchments dating way back to the third, second and even first centuries. Study of these parchments is what makes our modern translations of the Bible so very accurate and reliable. These parchments have slight variations at some points, and the scholars spend a ridiculous amount of time combing over them to choose the very best, most reliable reading. If you’ve ever wondered how we can really be sure we’ve got the Word of God, this highly technical area of study is a big part of the reason. So why am I excited? Well, for years there has been hot debate about Jude 5. Your Bible probably says something like, “The Lord delivered his people out of Egypt…”, and in the footnotes it might say, “Some early manuscripts Jesus“. That’s because some of those old parchments containing Jude have, “the Lord” and some have “Jesus” in verse 5. In past editions of Novum Testamentum Graece the editors have wrestled with these alternatives and plumped for the former reading, not just on textual grounds but also on theological ones – they have found it difficult to believe that Jude would actually have originally written “Jesus” in that place. But now, further manuscripts have been studied and the weight of evidence is too strong to deny that it is far more likely that Jude wrote “Jesus” than that he wrote “the Lord”. If Jesus delivered his people out of Egypt, an act clearly attributed to God (Yahweh) in the Old Testament, then Jesus and Yahweh are one and the same. The difference this makes is profound. Some critics of Christianity and some unorthodox theologians have tried to assert that the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus was a fourth century (or later) invention of the church and not part of the gospel taught by the apostles. This reading of Jude 5, confirmed in NA28, is another very strong piece of evidence that Christians in the first century believed that Jesus was divine – in fact, even Jesus’ brother Jude believed it and taught it! Okay, that’s the end of the textual criticism lecture. It’s all right if you’re still scratching your head. But trust me, this is an important development and I love that it honours my Lord and Saviour!

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Anamcara, my little business in mentoring, consulting and training, is doing okay. Little by little I’m building up a clientele of individuals, churches, boards and Colleges. I still have plenty of capacity to take on more work, so please get the word out to whoever you think might be interested. The email address is rick at anamcaraconsulting dot org dot au. 

I always love to hear from you so please post a comment or drop me an email. I’d really appreciate keeping in touch.

Grace and peace,

Rick

 

#52 – February 2013

Isum_2013

A few weeks ago I attended the first Summit gathering of the International Society for Urban Mission (ISUM) in Bangkok. Two hundred Christian missionaries, mostly those working in slums around the world, came together to consider the challenge presented by the rapid rise of urban poverty. It was easily the best conference I have attended for a very long time. From the start, the theme, Integral Urban Mission, sent a clear message that there should be no artificial distinction between a ‘spiritual gospel’ and  ‘social gospel’. Rosalee Velloso Ewell from Brazil gave an inspiring opening address unpacking the positive and negative aspects of cities from a Biblical and theological perspective, and reflecting on how the Biblical concept of ‘dwelling’ impacts our understanding of incarnational mission in an urban setting. All of the speakers were excellent, but we did far more than sit and listen. Over 30 site visits were offered for delegates to choose from, each one an opportunity to interact with amazing people working in situations of need in Bangkok. The conference delegates broke into seven working groups addressing different aspects of urban ministry among the poor. Each group produced material for a 10,000 word briefing paper, all seven of which will be gathered into a major resource to be published later this year. It was my job to chair the first Annual General Meeting of ISUM, which a small group of us formed just a year ago. We now have many more members and a great sense of being fully launched!

Nigel_and_rick

I found the conference to be extraordinarily well-designed and executed, but the biggest positive for me was in the general atmosphere of joy. Two hundred Christian workers, most of them living in extremely tough conditions, and not one word of complaint or moaning or whinging. Sure, there was a realistic acknowledgement that working among the urban poor is challenging and requires sacrifice. But as one young woman said to me, ‘This is what I’m made for. I’m having the time of my life and wouldn’t want to do anything else.’ Nigel Branken is a wealthy white man who responded to God’s call to live among the poor of Hillbrow in Johannesburg with his wife, Trish, and four small children. That’s him with me in the picture above. Slowly Nigel and Trish and the kids are bringing the light of the transforming love of Christ into a very dark part of the city. He broke down in tears when he realised that there were others in the world who cared about the urban poor the way he does. He thought he was the only one, because so few South African Christians take this aspect of the gospel message seriously. (At least, that what he told me.) There are many other inspiring stories; too many to relate here. I came away deeply grateful for the privilege of calling these people my family in God, and wanting to do whatever I can to encourage, strengthen and sustain them.

Tt_friends

Last week and this week I have been accompanying my British friends Martin Robinson and Paul Griffiths as they teach on evangelism and church planting. Last week they were in Sydney and this week in Brisbane. After this they will go on to Melbourne without me for a few days then back to the UK. Martin comes to these topics with a vast and coherent grasp of history and theology and hundreds of stories from around the world that throw light on how God is working in and through the church in our day. Paul brings practical tools that help ordinary Christians translate theory into a sustainable and credible lifestyle of faith sharing. While he is a big fan of Alpha for those who are ready and interested in ‘Christian’ questions, he rightly points out that most unbelievers today are further back than that. Many are WAY further back than that. He has developed tools that engage unbelievers in spiritual conversations about the topics that they are interested in. There’s no entrapment like the old timeshare holiday presentations. This is genuine two-way communication, well facilitated through tools like a game called ‘Table Talk’ and a pre-Alpha course called ‘Puzzling Questions.’ Having set up this tour I’m now enjoying hearing them share with so many varied groups and seeing God at work, turning on the lights and stirring hearts for mission. All very encouraging.

Coast_community_church_logo

This weekend I’ll be with Coast Community Church at Bensville beginning a year of training 17 people as spiritual mentors. I can tell you, I’m really excited about this because I know that each person is going to experience personal growth for themselves, and through the practical nature of this training, they are going to pass that on to many other people. This is now the second cohort of mentors being trained at Coast and it’s all part of their Senior Pastor’s strategy to take discipleship seriously and make it a normal part of the culture of the church. I don’t know of any church anywhere that has a clearer, more practical approach to forming people for life in the Kingdom of God. I had a ball with last year’s cohort. They are such wonderful people – easy to have a laugh with but also the kind of people you’d trust with your life. They have genuine care for others so that they invest time to see them flourish in God. This year the new cohort will do a lot of hard work in reading and reflection and in practical application, we’ll share stories, laugh and commiserate together and come out the other end enriched by the journey. In one sense this is pretty demanding for me as the trainer, but I absolutely love it.

Guitar

Years ago I used to ‘lead worship’ a lot. Back in the 1980s it was probably a more prominent and more strongly affirmed part of my public ministry than speaking. At the time, ‘leading worship’ was synonymous with ‘leading the singing’. We knew that worship was more than singing, but we did love to sing and that’s what we majored on. Singing and playing my guitar was not just a public thing, it was also the biggest and most life-giving aspect of my personal worship. I wrote songs and recorded them; I got to lead worship bands at big events and ran worship seminars and all that stuff. But over the years as a ministry team leader it was smarter to give that ministry away to others so that I could concentrate on other aspects of my role that could not be delegated. That was kind of sad, but a necessary step. And the upside was that I got to see so many young worship leaders emerge and mature in a way that never would have happened if I’d hogged the role. In the past couple of years leading singing in worship has evaporated completely. I no longer pick up my guitar because I only ever did that in order to play for worship. In the same timeframe, my son Tom has emerged as a brilliant guitarist and a very able and passionate worship leader. Now, something unexpected has happened. At my new church I’ve been asked to play guitar and lead worship. My first outing is this Sunday – playing in the band Sunday morning and leading Sunday night. I’m as nervous as a kitten. Could this be God returning something precious to me? I do hope it’s not just our worship director remembering former glories, and me falling for the temptation to go backwards to a place that used to be a place of spiritual intimacy and ministry effectiveness. My desire is for it to be a new start, not a re-run of an old thing. Connected to the past, for sure – God never wastes any of our past experiences but weaves them into our future in creative ways. Yet I’m looking for something fresh here. Therefore I’m out of my depth which, since Peter got out of the boat, has always the best way to see God come through, don’t you think?

 

Grace and peace,

Rick