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.

9 Objections to Christianity

Over the past 2 days I have watched much of the Resurgence13 Conference (you may have seen a lot of #R13 on social media.) This Seattle based conference had live sites scattered across America and also and online contingency of over 20,000 viewers. Over the 48 hours of the conference delegates and online subscribers heard messages from Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, Judah Smith, James McDonald and Matt Chandler just to name a few. The heart of the conference was for delegates to learn lessons from ministry leaders who have seen God’s faithfulness as they respond to his call. Many of these sessions I managed to see and found all of them especially helpful, compelling and empowering. I’m sure in time these sessions will made available at The Resurgence.

In the final session of the conference Pastor Mark Driscoll shared of a number of new developments that he, his church (Mars Hill) and The Resurgence website would be working on. One of those is a project that will become a book, sermon series and small group studies on the 9 objections to Christianity
the unchurched and dechurched (people that haven’t attended church for a considerable amount of time.)

The market research (done by some of the market leaders in research) has already been undertaken and after numerous survey’s, focus groups and interviews Mark shared the summary of the Top 9 objections to Christianity. I for one, am incredibly thankful for the time, energy and expense that has been invested and await eagerly the finalisation and communication in full of the data, it’s findings and how we as believers are to respond. So these are the 9 and below also a quote from different participants of the study.

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Intolerance
“Some Christian groups are too intolerant”

Sex
“The Christian religion and I have different views on social issues like abortion and gay marriage

Politics
“I don’t like how some Christian groups meddle in politics”

Hypocrisy
“Most Christians are hypocrites”

Exclusivity
“There are lots of religions, and I’m not sure only one has to be the right way”

Inequality
“All people are not created equal in the Christian faith”

Scripture
“I don’t really share the beliefs that the Christian faith tells me I should”

Greed
“Christianity is about making money, not religion”

Irrelevance
“The Christian faith is not relevant to modern times”

I wish I could post the session as I greatly appreciated how in just 90 minutes Mark unpacked these objections, it would obviously help further explain what each subheading specifically spoke too. I look forward to this project and it’s findings being shared on the global scale in the first half of 2014.

I truly believe It’s important for us as believers to be engaging in the conversations our culture is having, and be able to speak the truth into issues, shortcomings and falsehoods people have about Christianity.

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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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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.

If you could choose one…

Have you ever played the game Desert Island? It’s often played on long car drives or some kind of getting to know you activity. Basically, the idea of the game is you are trapped on a desert island, through some strange forfeit, but you get to choose several things to bring with you. So It could be a person, a CD, book, TV program etc.

I was thinking along these lines, If their was only one sermon you could ever listen, what would that be?

For me, it’d have to be a sermon I’ve heard 3 times preached live and watched and listened to several dozen more times by Judah Smith Lead Pastor of The City Church. Everytime I listen to listen to this message I find myself falling more in love with Jesus, desiring to get God’s perspective on my life more, a hunger and a passion for lost people and to grow in my call and grace as a leader and preacher in my church.  I’ve shared it with you here:

What about for you? If you could only ever chose one sermon, what would you choose? And why?

Your Life Matters

Where is my Value?

I’m a Performance Addict

To be honest I’ve always known it, I’ve always seemed to care too highly about what others thought and truly believed that if I succeed in things (work, radio, ministry, sport, friendships really everything) I thought it’d make me a better person & more highly valued to others and ultimately to Jesus.

During a pretty dark period in my life a few years ago I processed a lot of these thoughts and felt like God did a great work in my heart & motivations. However, as you probably know their is always MORE God wants to do.
This week after hearing a message by Peter McHugh during a Pastors Retreat I read Luke 10:38-42 in fresh eyes, it says:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

As we look to the 10 commandments we see two very important things. The first commandment points us to intimacy with God. The second commandment speaks of involvement. The order is important. We need to find our identity in Christ not in our activity. We need to be more aware of what God is doing for us, rather than what we are doing for God. However its;

Acceptance before performance BUT not without performance.

Change your belief not just behavior. If you do it the other way you become a moralist. I must change my belief systems (by being renewed in my mind by the Gospel) about who God is and how he really truly views me and what is of greatest importance to him! Ministry to the Father comes first. What’s the father doing? That is the great question I must always ask myself.

We know all fruitfulness comes from the place of intimacy with Jesus John 15:1-17 tells us that.

Before I finish it’s important to notice one thing within the story of Mary & Martha. Jesus says “Mary has chosen the good portion” it isn’t the only portion! Doing things, leading serving are all important, it’s not the only portion, It’s just the intimacy with Jesus, finding our identity, security and value in Jesus not in what we do.

Behavior is an echo of belief.

Jesus, help me to see my value and worth is in you and that in you I am accepted and loved unconditionally And let me lead and do things from that place of acceptance.