A Sticky Christmas

I am one of five boys in my family and as you can imagine at any time (let alone Christmas) our home was always full of fun and a dash of chaos.

I remember many Christmas’ growing up, by far the most memorable happened abit over a decade imagesago. As the brothers all began to get older and earn money we started to buy each other gifts (all be in $10 ones.) one year my older brother Cameron (yep the one heard frequently on LightFM) had remembered to purchase Christmas gifts for everyone but somehow had forgotten to purchase one brother a gift… Yep me. In his Christmas morning panic he quickly dashed outside found a stick (only Jesus knows what was running through his mind) came back inside, wrapped it up and placed it right under the tree buried beneath all the other gifts.

When it came time for Cam to handover the loot he was beaming with pride at his work, upon unwrapping the gift I didn’t share in his joy. I stared at it in shock, and for one of the first times in my life I couldn’t speak. I quickly assumed it was a prank present and that soon a ‘real’ gift would follow, boy was I wrong when he told me “I just forgot about you, sorry mate.”

StickCam & I are best of mates and often (especially at Christmas) joke about this and many other tales. The appropriately titled silly season can fill our lives & calendars, it also can empty our bank balances. It can also make us so preoccupied with presents, food and family functions that we actually forget the original focus of Christmas.

This Christmas in the middle of the shopping, that Christmas function and the cooking, guard your heart from drifting in focus. Christmas is all about God’s love for all of humanity that is seen in Jesus. Before that silent night their was no saviour and the world was crying out desperately for one. Heaven’s reply was a baby boy, and in him Endless hope and relentless joy started.

The Civil Wars are changing my preaching

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I love listening to music, I’m pretty sure I can’t think without some kind of music in the background. So much so I’ve even begun to preach with full blown music tracks underneath while I preach. One of the albums I’ve been listening to for months is the latest project from The Civil Wars. I initially followed the groups beginnings having previously interviewed Joy Williams during her solo Christian music days, however, my interest in the group quickly progressed to something much deeper. I think I could safely categorise myself as a fan.

The duo are on a hiatus and depending on which journalist or blog site you read the reasons are varied. One thing is for sure this album has captured the beauty, the pain, tension and heart break of human relationships. Their current self titled album is probably the most emotionally charged and tense album I’ve ever listened too, and apart from something stunning being released in the next few weeks this album will be my favourite of the year.

Great Art is born from Great tension

Many of the songs on the album are intentionally vague blending fact and fiction which leaves the listener wondering whether the duo are speaking of their musical relationship, their marriages (not to each other) or something else. Recently in an interview JP (other half of the duo) spoke of his desire to leave their songs ‘vague enough, so that everyone can see themselves in it.

I was taught how to preach by some amazing men and women. One of the things they all taught me to do was to make it crazily clear on what I am speaking about but also how you want people to respond and live out what you are teaching. I know for me, what I have done too often though is in my endeavour to be clear is ended up preaching what I now refer to as ‘Friend’s Semons.’ These are sermons just like the 90’s sitcom friends that would start with laughs, have some tension/chaos/disagreement, then resolve it and after 30 minutes wrap everything up nicely. If you’ve ever preached multiple times chances are you may have done this too. Rather than embracing the tensions of the text, the pains of life or even seemed contradictions we try to quickly navigate them with well intended (and maybe even completely true) statements and verses quickly attempting to move to the next thing. I know sometimes I’ve made messages so specific and so free of tension and struggle that I end up alienating countless numbers of people that Jesus is wanting to speak to.

I’m learning more every week that it’s OK to not have all the answers to all of life’s questions and the theological hurdles that may arise because if it.

Sermons, just like all great art whether it be music, dance, painting, acting etc is meant to among other things, generate great conversations. I’m being more intentional than ever to not ‘land’ my sermons with a “one size fits all” solution, but more desiring to help point people to begin a conversation with Jesus and his people to wrestle the tension of how we are to live out the good news even in the midst of what can sometimes be chaos and contradiction.

That doesn’t mean I don’t give steps, principles or insights on how we are to live, but rather I’m committed to let God be at work in his people by his spirit and not think that their obedience to him is based solely on whether or not I preach the right 6 steps.

So let’s talk about it…
I pray I can be more like Jesus in this…

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Breakfast Ministry

I’m a parent of 3 beautiful children. Having kids is by far one of the greatest decisions that my wife and I have ever made.

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Yesterday at breakfast I was struck again by a spiritual truth that came out of a regular conversation with my oldest son Caleb. His current flavor of the month breakfast is to have a bowl of corn flakes and some honey drizzled over the top (really a poor man’s crunchy nut corn flakes.) That morning however, I realized I’d run out of honey and had forgotten to mention it to my wife for our weekly shop which was done the day before. I had to break this to Caleb that he wouldn’t be able to have honey that morning on his cereal. What followed was a 4 year olds version of his world collapsing as he was unable to get what he wanted. I said to Caleb ‘Son I know you want honey, but I can’t give you something I don’t have.’

No sooner had that sentence left my lips I felt the urging of God saying the exact same thing to me. ‘MJ, you can only give people that which I have already done in you.’

After being in pastoral ministry for over a decade now (outside of radio work it’s been my only real “job”) I have to admit that too many times when I’ve come to preach or share leadership thoughts with my teams and I’ve found myself coming to God and his word for content to deliver rather than for transformation of myself or intimacy with God as the ultimate objective.

Before I teach it, preach it, tweet it, heck even blog about it I must ensure that I am transformed by it and living it

You can only draw water out of a well that’s already dwelling inside. So too we can only give out that which God has already done within us.

Lets not become mere professional Christians, rather let us live out and be transformed by God so that we can give out that which has been done within us.

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Projection Problem

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Recently I was setting up my MacBook for youth & attempting to project the image from the computer to the screen. A pretty normal function and one I thought would be pretty simple task. However, somehow and God only knows (or a Mac expert) that the image from my computer began to project a completely different visual. I quickly became incredibly frustrated after several failed attempts to fix the projection problem. How hard can it be to take one thing and authentically project it somewhere else without anything being different.

In this moment (if I’m honest I was über close to using some words probably not uttered by a pastor in the church walls of Heathmont Baptist Church) I felt the voice of God speak to me saying “MJ you do this in your life too.” “What are you talking about” I said to God, I should by now know better to argue or question him on things.

God was gracious with me again and explained “isn’t it frustrating when the real picture isn’t shown but rather an imposter is projected? Well in the same way their are times where who you are projecting is not who you really are.” I felt immediately convicted and repented in that moment fully aware of my sin and also my own inadequacy. I know in my life when I feel inadequate or that I believe I’m not good enough these are the moments I’m most likely to project a performance image rather than the real image. In these times I need to learn to once again lean more onto God and put more of my trust in him and not myself.

We need to be accurately projecting who we really are and who Jesus is. People can spot a fake from a mile off, and also become quickly frustrated once they realise their is a difference between the real picture and what we are projecting. Don’t be who you think others think you should, but rather project an authentic image of who you are and who Jesus is.

Skip to the good bit

If you are anything like me, you tend to skip the greetings in the epistles to get to ‘the good bit’. However, if you do that in Ephesians you miss an incredibly important truth. Paul refers to everyone in the church as ‘Saints… in Christ Jesus’ (Ephesians 1:1-2). When we hear the terminology of saint (which isn’t used by accident) we often think of people like Mother Teresa in India or for me personally in conjures up images of catholic saints. Sainthood isn’t about things you have done or achieved, being a saint requires one step: Be in Christ. Many teens & 20’s I meet with do not believe they are redeemed image bearers of Christ and Saints. They instead believe they are sinners defined by their sin.

Sin may explain some of your activity, but not your identity. saints and sinners

Acknowledgement of your sin, confession & repentance is an important part of our faith journey. It however doesn’t define you. Your identity is in Christ, and because of this and by God’s grace, and in the spirits power you can change your activity.

I think everyone has regrets and to a degree feels remorse. The older I get and my relationship with Christ matures I see the reality of my sinfulness more clearly & grieve it more deeply. The Apostle Paul himself in 1 Timothy 1:15 he refers to himself as the “chief” of sinners.  Remorse can be a good thing, as God by his spirit convicts us of sin it calls us to repentance and to live in the freedom that can only be found in Jesus. What can happen really easy is our conviction moves to condemnation.

Conviction… Condemnation…
Is from God Is from Satan
Leads to life Leads to despair
Ends in joy Ends in sorrow
Makes us want to change Makes us believe we can’t change
Leads to new identity in Christ Leads to old identity in Sin
Brings specific awareness of sin Brings vague uncertainty about sin
Looks to Jesus Looks to Self
Is a Blessing Is a Burden

Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

As saints we are tempted to sin, just as Jesus was. But we are not obliged to sinfully respond to temptation. Temptation isn’t sin.  They are two very different things. To be tempted is to be presented with an opportunity to either sin against God or worship God. Being tempted doesn’t make you guilty of sin after all Jesus was sinless and yet was tempted and we see this recoded in Matthew 4.

 1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

When you are tempted to entertain and act out in sin, remember that in Christ you are a saint, knowing your identity in Christ is the key. In Christ there is forgiveness of sin!

What I learnt from The Voice

073484-michael-paynterLast night I was glued to my television screen as I watched my friend Michael Paynter sing on Australia’s version of The Voice. I’ve known Mike for about 10 years, after first meeting him when we were both starting out in the music industry, him as an artist, me as a radio announcer and publicist. Once I saw Michael was going to be on the show I knew he would put on a fantastic vocal performance and that he’d amaze the coaches with his ability. (Honestly, how this guy isn’t one of the biggest things in music still confuses me!) But what got my attention and if you saw the show live or have since watched it online later was something even more that captured the judges and a legion of fans and media types since then. It was Michael’s genuine humility. The most challenging and also inspiring line Mike said last night was “I’d rather that (humility) shine more than my voice any day.

You are not born with humility, your learn it.

photoThe dictionary defines humility as having a “low view of one’s own importance.” But humilitas, the Latin root of the word, means “to lower yourself,” as Macquarie University Professor John Dickson notes in his excellent book Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love and Leadership.

As he explores the origins of humility—which he says was first used in Roman culture during the second and fifth centuries AD—he defines it as “the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself.” Dickson’s definition of humility goes miles deeper than our culture’s comparatively crude use of the world.

True humility isn’t thinking less of yourself. It’s not being outwardly humble, while harboring pride. And it’s not being weak. True humility is service to others, service to a cause greater than your own personal ambition.

How do you personally define humility? And how would it look in your life everyday as you lived it out?

To see Mike’s performance from last night click here.

The Toughest Leadership Challenge

If their was every going to be anything that would get in the way of all God wanted to do through your leadership what would it be? The Devil? A difficult church member? Council blocking your permit? Or could it be something much closer to you than you ever thought?

I’ve learnt in my life that the greatest challenge to my leadership fruitfulness is ME.

courageous-leadership-bill-hybels-hardcover-cover-artThe toughest challenge I’ve found in leadership is the art of self-leadership. The person I should be leading first isn’t my teenagers, my youth team or even my family. The person I should be leading first is myself. To be the man God desires me to be, the husband and father my wife and kids need me to be and the pastor and I must learn to lead myself first. Every month I grab a coffee, sit on the beach and spend an hour with Jesus reflecting on where my life is at. I use the following a list of questions Bill Hybels lists in his book Courageous Leadership to help me grow in my self awareness, but also in my own leadership.

  • Is My Calling Sure?
  • Is My Vision Clear?
  • Is My Passion Hot?
  • Am I Developing My Gifts?
  • Is My Character Submitted To Christ?
  • Is My Pride Subdued?
  • Am I Overcoming Fear?
  • Are Interior Issues Undermining My Leadership?
  • Is My Pace Sustainable?
  • Is My Love For God And People Increasing?

I want to encourage you to spend some time with Jesus over the next few days reflecting honestly over these questions and allowing Jesus to transform your heart, life and leadership to be more aligned with the Gospel.