roadkillThose who have driven on roads in the north west of Western Australia are familiar with Wedge-tailed Eagles sitting on the roadside eating roadkill. It’s not a pretty picture for a bird that looks so regal when it is high up in the sky, it’s great wings spread out majestically.

This morning I shared at church the verse in Isaiah 40 that reads: Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I can relate to the idea of God lifting me above the troubles of the world and delighting in Him through prayer, meditation and worship, but I can also relate to sitting on the ground eating roadkill. It seems that while I want to soar like an eagle, I spend more time grovelling in my own worries and fears.

EagleswingsSo how do we get to soar like eagles? Well, eagles don’t just sit back hoping. They actively chase the thermals – updrafts of warm air – and as they follow the various air currents they are able to fly long distances using little energy.

Isaiah says that those who hope in the Lord (or, wait with anticipation) will renew their strength and soar on wings like eagles. It takes an act of the will to actively seek God and to delight in him through prayer, worship and meditation. When we’re not doing that, we just may be on the side of the road, eating roadkill and dodging passing cars.

I know where I’d prefer to be.

(You can hear this morning’s message online. Click here)

MagpiesI was watching a group of magpies eating the other day. It’s that time of the year that the baby Magpies are demanding a feed. They squawk very loudly until their parents come and feed them.

The interesting thing I noted was that the parent will often have something to eat themselves before taking food to the baby.  It seems a bit selfish, but I think there’s method in their madness. It’s a bit like the instructions you get on a plane. At the beginning of a trip, safety instructions are provided and you’re told that if you have children put your own oxygen mask on before you put one on your child.

The principle is simple. If you’re not safe yourself, you’re not in a position to make your child safe. Magpies have worked that one out.

Counsellors, too, are very much aware that if they are going to be effective in helping people, they have to look after their own mental health first.

Some people are naturally very caring and want to help people who they see are in need, but at times they put themselves at risk in the process of helping others. While we need to care for others we also need to care for ourselves.

There’s a few ways we can do that. We need to look after ourselves physically, to make sure we eat properly, have proper exercise and not to over-indulge. We need to protect our relationships and we need to guard our time to make sure that there’s a balance between the amount of time we put into work, to family, and to what we may call self-care.

But the other area that often gets forgotten is looking after our spiritual health. Human beings are spiritual beings. Most parents want their children to grow up as healthy, well-balanced adults, and many parents are aware of the need of some kind of spiritual stability for their children.

But it’s easy to neglect your own spiritual health, while you worry about your children or another member of the family or a friend, who is in difficulty.  Spiritual practices like prayer, meditation and worship are important and help to build spiritual health.

But sometimes people think that this is enough of itself. God created people with the need to live in relationship with him. And good spiritual health is most achievable when we live in a healthy relationship with God. The Bible tells us that God loved us so much that he came to this earth himself in the form of a human being, Jesus Christ, and he gave up his life for us.

Jesus invites us to come to him, to admit our faults and failings, and accept his gracious offer of love and forgiveness. Find a quiet time to step aside from everything else that’s happening and have that conversation with God.

Being right with God puts you in a stronger position to be in a good place with yourself. It helps you to get a better perspective on where you fit in the world, and who you are as a person.

But it also puts you in a stronger position to support other people, to be a good role model and to have the spiritual strength to help others to grow as well. Check out the magpies next time you see them feeding their young. And remember if you’re going to be any good for anyone else, you need to look after yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually.

IMG_0453We’ve just had the carpet cleaners in to shampoo the carpets and clean the chairs in the church. It was a pretty big job and took quite a while.

I think there’s something therapeutic about the deep washing of carpets because as you go, you throw out buckets and buckets of mud and grime that have accumulated over time. Then when you think you’ve finished and go over it again, there’s still more.

Yet, before you do that you can walk over the carpet on a regular basis and not even be aware of the dirt that has been ground in to it. The carpet doesn’t necessarily look all that dirty, but the process of cleaning drags that dirt out and the buckets of muddy water that are thrown out are evidence that the carpets were probably dirtier than you thought.

We proceed through life every day, and we’re generally not aware of the dirt that accumulates in our life. I’m not talking about the dirt we get on our hands and feet, but the dirt that accumulates on our minds and in our very being.

As we watch television shows about crime and violence year after year, we become a little bit immune to it. Things that may have shocked us a few years ago don’t shock us any more. We enjoy relaxing in front of the TV to see comedians or to watch comedy, but over time discover that we laugh at things that once we thought were crude or inappropriate.

Little bits of dirt have accumulated on our minds, and we’re not aware that its there, But it builds up bit by bit and over time we don’t notice that we’re a little bit grubbier than we were before.

There was a time when you avoided people who told dirty jokes, you were more careful in the way you drove your car, you were less judgmental of people who were different to you.  Now, of course, you’re older and wiser, more tolerant, but somehow when you look back you realise there has been some slippage. Little bits of dirt have accumulated, and you haven’t noticed it.

In fact, somewhere in the Bible it says: All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.  Now, you may think that’s a bit steep. After all, we like to think we’re basically good people.

But the reality is, the bits of dirt and grime we accumulate in our minds and hearts actually builds up into something quite disgusting when we compare ourselves with the purity, and beauty and holiness of an almighty God.

But there’s a solution. You can walk over carpet for years and put off the day you have to bring in the cleaners because you’re not prepared to admit how bad the carpet really is.  Same thing goes for our lives. The Bible also says that if we confess our sins … that means we actually admit that we’re sinners, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Sometimes we have to admit that even though we vacuum the carpet regularly, we still need to bring in the carpet cleaners to do a proper job. We may assume we’re basically good people, but there comes a time when we have to admit that compared to God we’re nowhere near perfect.

If we’re prepared to confess our sin, and admit our need of God, he’s assured us he’ll hear that prayer and put us right with himself.

hensWe had our grandchildren staying with us over the holidays. One day we were out the front of our house and our neighbours drove up, stopped and wound down the window.

They acknowledged our three year old grandson and, as you’d expect, he was a little wary of this stranger stopping to talk to him. Instinctively he put out one arm, protecting his little sister who was just behind him.

I was amazed at this response of protection from a three year old. But I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Because we’ve all been made in the image of God, and it’s in God’s nature to be protective of those he loves.

The apostle Paul has a great description on love in one of his letters, and it says in part: Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts,  always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Some people struggle with the idea of God as father because experiences with their own father hasn’t been good. If that’s the case you may find some comfort from verses like these that show the protective nature of God.

The prophet Isaiah quoted God as saying: “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

Isaiah also quoted God in this way: Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me. Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”

Here’s one that draws on the image of a mother eagle (Deuteronomy 32): In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft. The Lord alone led him.

Jesus himself said: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

What a great picture this is of a God who cares so much about those he loves. You can see the mother hen trying to get all her chickens together but some of them are running off in the opposite direction. How frustrating it is to try and keep them altogether.

And that’s just what Jesus is saying. His goal is to protect and draw people to himself, but more often than not, our independent nature comes into play and we resist God’s love.

If a three year old can protect his little sister, how much more will almighty God protect those he loves. And how crazy it is when we don’t accept that love and allow God to protect us.

There’s an article in today’s West entitled, “Is the Age of McDonald’s Over?“. The article says that McDonalds market share in the US has been shrinking over the last few years and stocks have fallen about 6% in the last six months.

“On every fundamental metric, things have been really bad for McDonald’s,” says Yahoo Finance’s Jeff Macke.

This could be because of temporary PR problems but “if you put it in the context of every other fast food operator and the price of gas, these are tailwinds that a fast food operation can’t afford to ignore.”

The article points says that in the US McDonald’s has unveiled a new marketing plan in an effort to address falling sales:

In order to appeal to those who want healthy, fresh food, McDonald’s will allow for an increase in local autonomy. That means that chain owners will be allowed to give menus more of a regional flair.

Nationally, McDonald’s will work to simplify its menu and introduce the “Create Your Taste” initiative, which allows customers to personalize their burgers.

A redesign is also in store for the fast-food behemoth. The company unveiled new minimalist bags and changed their slogan from “I’m lovin’ it” to “Lovin’ is Greater than Hating.”

Also in store? An ad campaign that focuses on transparency and an increase in customer interaction. “We’re moving from a philosophy of, ‘billions served’ to ‘billions heard,'” says an official McDonald’s statement.

indexI have just concluded reading “Slow Church” by C Christopher Smith and John Pattison where they address the “McDonaldisation” of the church, so the article about McDonald’s rang a bell for me, particularly in the light of the recent collapse of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. A year ago Mars Hill had an average weekly attendance of 12,329 in 15 locations and fitted Smith and Pattison’s description of a “McDonaldised” church.  Following controversy around their founding pastor, Mark Driscoll and a massive decline in attendances, the church merged three of its Seattle locations, cut 30–40% of its staff to deal with decreases in giving, then announced plans to dissolve the church’s 13 remaining campuses into autonomous entities, with the option of continuing, merging with other congregations, or disbanding.

Could it be, I ask myself, that the franchise-style megachurch is bumping up against the same issues that McDonalds itself is experiencing. Could it be that it’s time for us all to slow down and look at some different approaches to church? Smith and Pattison put it this way:

If McDonalised church makes the case for increased efficiency, calculability, predictability and control, Slow Church makes the case for taste – specifically the case for the taste of the place, and for taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps.34:8). Taste is the most intimate of the five senses.

It goes on…

Tasting God’s goodness and costly discipleship go hand in hand. As we follow Jesus we experience in new ways the complex palate of God’s goodness. Similarly, since the church is the body of Christ, it is partly through the church that the world tastes God. This is why Slow church refuses to sacrifice quality to quantity. When efficiency, calculability, predictability and control become the primary standards by which we evaluate our life in our churches, it’s easy to justify cookie-cutter approaches to disciple making. Churches churn out Christians notable not for their authentic peculiarity but for their bland sameness. The final standard needs to be faithfulness.

The latest news about McDonalds on top of the news about Mars Hill Church is a timely warning to the church to look seriously at what it is doing and slow down. Perhaps if we did that we may get to enjoy the ride. Check out this video:

les-miserables_1Last night Robyn and I went to see Les Miserables at the Crown Theatre in Perth. Unintentionally we found ourselves at the front seats, close enough to see the expressions on the conductor’s face as he led the amazing orchestra and cast. It was a wonderful production – much better than the movie adaptation, I have to say.

Les Miserables is based on Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel that tells the story of a ticket-of-leave convict, John Valjean who finds himself treated as an outcast, and steals some silver from the Bishop who had given him shelter for the night. He is arrested by the police who take him back to the Bishop who, surprisingly, lies to the police in order to save the man. In fact, he gives him a couple of silver candlesticks and tells the man, in front of the police, that he had given these to him, but he must have forgotten to take them. After the police have gone, the Bishop tells Valjean to use the silver to make an honest life for himself.

The story that follows tells of the effect this act of grace has on his life as he seeks to protect and save the lives of others.

Reviewer Benedict Nightingale describes the impact of the story like this:

Our increasingly cynical world finds it near impossible to believe that goodness exists, let alone that it can be a compelling passion. But Les Mis take the opposite view, presenting us with a bitter, brutalised criminal who is converted by another man’s generosity in to someone who tends the weak, needy and outcast, is prepared to sacrifice his own safety and happiness to others, and refuses to hurt his most unforgiving foe when he has him in his clutches; the show has the imaginative thrust and the emotional authenticity to make you believe that this could be true. Perhaps that’s the reason that I don’t just like Les Mis, as I like the score of other great musicals. I love it.

While Nightingale simply describes Valjean’s change of heart as the effect of another man’s generosity, the grace of God is clearly evident in that act of generosity and in Valjean’s attitude thereafter. When he is faced with choice between revenge or forgiveness he says:

How can I ever face my fellow men?
How can I ever face myself again?
My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on.

The grace of God is so powerful and so restorative that, when received, can be paid forward in ways that are beyond our natural human capacity.

If you get the chance to see Les Miserables on stage, don’t just look out for great acting and amazing music, look out for a brilliant script that tells the story of grace-at-work.

2014 in review

Posted: December 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

We’ve just been practicing for our Christmas Eve Celebration at church and the words of a new Christmas hymn are ringing in my ear.

Keith and Kristyn Getty have penned these words that I am pleased to share with you this Christmas, praying that this will be a blessed Christmas for you, and knowing that even in a world of dangers Jesus came to give us life:

Jesus, joy of the highest heaven,
Born as a little baby under a wondrous star.
Like us, crying He takes His first breath
Held by His mother, helpless,
close to her beating heart.
Jesus, laid in a lowly manger
Facing a world of dangers,
Come to turn me, a stranger
Into a child of God.

Jesus, king of the highest heaven,
Learning to take his first steps
That he might give us life,
Like us, knowing our smiles and sorrows
He showed the way to follow,
A way that is true and right
Jesus take away every darkness
Steady my simple footsteps
That I might in your goodness
Live as a child of God.

christmas-presentsWhat do you want for Christmas? Have you written to Santa, or made a list? Or have you just given hints around the house about what you want?

Receiving presents is the bit about Christmas that we all like. Don’t you just love opening the presents on Christmas Day and discovering that someone has given you something that you really want? And even the socks and undies are OK because you know that someone has thought about you.

But I think you’ll agree that giving presents is what really gives you a buzz. When I was a kid I used to spend a lot of time disguising and wrapping presents in such a way that the person receiving it wouldn’t have any idea what they were getting. Bits of cardboard, oversized boxes and other disguises would change the size and shape and weight of the present so they’d never guess what was inside.

I know that in spending time with the gift like that I found myself thinking about the person who was receiving it, and the surprise they would have when they got through all the wrapping paper and other bits of disguise.

Jesus said, it’s more blessed to give than to receive, and he’s right you know. Receiving presents is great, but there’s real joy in giving. The process itself is important … thinking about the person you intend to give a present to … making a decision about what they would really like and what would give them joy … wrapping the present … thinking about how and when you are going to give it to them.

In all of these things you are thinking about that person, instead of yourself. You see our natural inclination is to think about ourselves. Thinking about other people ahead of ourselves actually takes a little bit of work. It requires an act of the will, and that’s most effective when it’s motivated by love.

The story of Christmas is a story of love and giving. It’s about God looking on this world that he has made and being overwhelmed with sadness at the way in which people had messed up the earth, damaged relationships and generally turned away from him.

And rather than waiting for people to turn back to him, God was proactive – he took the first step – he exercised his love through giving. In the greatest act of giving you could imagine, God became a human being. He came as a little baby, born in a humble middle-eastern village.

And as he grew up, Jesus taught us how to live. He taught us what it means to live in a right relationship with God. And he gave his life for us. The story of Easter is tightly linked with the story of Christmas, because it’s about Jesus giving his life for all of humanity. For God loved the world so much that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him may not be separated from God but everlasting life.

I’d encourage you to spend a little bit more time this year on the presents you’re giving away. Think about the person you’re giving it to and what’s special about them. Think about what you can do that will be a contribution to their life.

But most of all think about the greatest gift of all, the gift of life that God has offered to you in Jesus. And don’t knock it back as though it’s not important. You wouldn’t do that on Christmas morning when you pull the presents out from under the tree. Receive that gift – the gift of Jesus – in the spirit in which it was given – as God’s gracious act of love for you.

You can hear this message live on Sonshine fm radio 98.5

Another great fair is over – for the sixth year, Maida Vale Baptist Church has run Christmas at the Fair in Range View Park, High Wycombe, and it was a beauty.

Many thousands of people (couldn’t count them) turned up for three hours of fun, participation, food, rides, information, and a reminder that Christmas is a part of our cultural heritage here in Western Australia.

We had an amazing group of boys, both Maori and Noongar, who presented a series of Maori dances as part of their ongoing learning about the importance of family, respect, setting goals and achieving them, cultural identity and reverence for their creator.

A new choir in Perth, the Perth Chin Baptist Church choir presented some brilliant music from their native of Myanmar, and the ever-popular Kalamunda Pipe Band brought some cultural heritage from the northern hemisphere.

Maida Vale Baptist Church likes to think of Christmas at the Fair as our gift to the community – it’s not a fund-raiser or a PR exercise, but an opportunity for us to give something back to the community and encourage people to participate in a range of activities and get to know their neighbours in the process.

I would like to thank the scores of volunteers who helped out in so many ways during the year and during the event to make this another successful event, and to those who came along and enjoyed the evening I thank you as well.

Take a look at the video and enjoy it again.