Questions I’ve never asked

In Chapter 2 of ‘Unexpected Gifts’ I found this list of penetrating questions that remind me of my world of experience compared to the majority worlds experience.

How long can my baby live without milk?
Where will I sleep tonight? Can I find a placed where I won’t be raped again?
If I die tonight, will anyone remove my body from the street?
How long will this one set of clothes last?
Does being dirty on the outside make me dirty on the inside?
Why did my parents sell me?
Is there anything to eat in this trash can? What about the next one?
Do my parents remember me?
If I sniff enough glue or take enough drugs, will I forget how cold and hungry I am? Will I forget how lonely I am?
Why is the night so long? Does anyone know I’m in this brothel, chained to a bed? Does anyone care? Why don’t they come for me?
Does the man I’m with have AIDS? What about the next one? Do I have AIDS? Is that how I will die? Will it hurt? Can I go home now please?
(by Paul Rase – p19-20)

Unexpected Gifts

I have just finished reading ‘Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community’ by Christopher L. Heuertz.

Jean Vanier, himself a world guru on community life, says of the book –”Unexpected Gifts is a prophetic book about the wisdom of community. For nearly two decades, Christopher Heuertz has led the community Word Made Flesh, whose goal is to serve and be with the most miserable and oppressed people of our world, hidden in war-torn lands, slums, and red-light districts of big cities. The community founded in the evangelical church has become ecumenical; members from different churches united in their desire to serve the poorest of the poor, are inspired by Jesus.” This high praise by Vanier is backed up by a foreword from Richard Rohr.

Chapter One looks at community, under the subtitle ‘Why bother?’, he answers by suggesting that, while God created humanity out of love, God also created out of loneliness, saying: “After all, love, by it’s nature is self-giving and needs a subject. And if there is such a thing as divine loneliness, I imagine our need for relationships is one of those subtle indicators that we actually are made in the image of God (pxiv).”

He is very clear about the difficulties and failures in trying to build community. “I’ve always been in a variety of communities. The most authentic ones are on a continual journey of failing miserably. In those circles of relationships we’ve let one another down and disappointed one another: Many of us haven’t been the kind of friends we hoped we could be to one another. We haven’t always fought fair. We’ve made plenty of mistakes. Sometimes we have given up on one another. But I believe tragic flaws bear unexpected gifts. I trust in the reasons to stay, even though I’ve experienced more than adequate excuses to leave most of the communities I’ve participated in.”

The book talks about the unexpected gifts of staying in friendships, relationships and communities and facing the challenges implicit in sharing our lives with others and pathways to resolution. Here is a summary of the challenges and resolutions:

Failure to support
Doubt to acceptance
Insulation to absence
Isolation to inclusion
Transition to stability
The unknown self to identity
Incompatibility to boundaries
Betrayal to friendship
Ingratitude to celebration
Grief to contemplation
Restlessness to faithfulness

There is so much growth, life, identity and hope in learning to be faithful in friendships and community. As he says:

“Stepping into community is far riskier than expected. It’s far worse than you expect it to be. But in the end, it’s far better than you could ever imagine.”

It is a good read. I’ll summarise a few bits from it over the next few posts.

Church Prayer Meeting Update

Last Wednesday evening October 15 we held a prayer time for the whole church. Thank you to all those who came out and joined in prayer.

The primary theme of our prayer was for the unity of the church. We are a relatively big church with many entities and things happening. In this thick tapestry of events, ministries, gatherings and groups it is easy for us to get lost – either not feeling we belong and are part of the church or losing a sense of being one church. So, we prayed about what holds us together, our foundation in Jesus Christ and the heart of the church to be a redemptive focused church, made up of many small redemptive communities where our relationship with God, each other, ourselves and the world are restored, healed and can grow and develop.

We also prayed through 4 current challenges:
1. During the 4 years since the earthquakes our Sunday attendances have dropped 15%. The primary drop has been at our 11am service. Changing attendance patterns seem to be one of the responses to our changed lives as the average drop for larger Baptist churches in the city is around 28%. We prayed for our church and the churches of the city.
2. We prayed for our church giving and expenditure as we are squeezed at the moment through a dip in recent giving.
3. For 3 years we have been considering a piece of land near Wigram that could have been the site for a new church complex. As part of our discerning we had a geo-tech report undertaken. Prayerfully assessing this report, we have decided not to proceed on the purchase of this land. This heightens our priority for local communities throughout the south-west of the city and brings us back to the drawing board regarding future facilities to support our grassroots mission.
4. With Dave Bates moving into a new career, we are looking for a church manager.

There were a number of words shared and we revisited the sense we had from last year that God was calling us to renew our first love and focus of trust on Him. Also, that we are in a season where we are being called to step out in new, different and uncomfortable ways.

Let’s continue to pray through these concerns in our life groups and local communities.

Grace and peace
Alan

New Life

Over the last two weeks I’ve watched the cherry tree outside my window slowly come into blossom. I see it each morning as the daylight emerges and, little by little, the array of small white flowers become visible. Today the tree is in full blossom, probably tens of thousands of small, perfectly white flowers spread across the whole canopy and small crisp green leaves coming in behind.

I guess watching that tree is a bit of a prayer – a prayer that God’s new life would show in my life, our church’s life. Each of us could be a tree like this cherry tree – full of new vibrant life, that the sun can play on.

It reminds me of the tree describe in one of my favourite Psalms. Psalm 1 says:

Those “whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on His law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither-
whatever they do prospers.”

Comfortable Numbness

I’m a baby boomer. As such I am one of the most wealthy, best educated, privileged and pampered generation ever to live on earth. But sadly, my generation is also the most self-serving generation every to live.

When I look at my kids and, now, my grand kids, I am hugely embarrassed by my own generation and what we, predominantly, have given our lives to in the west. Where did we get the idea that our personal comfort and happiness is the most important thing in the world? And, how could we ever justify this stance?

As a follower of Christ the predominant values and lifestyles of my generation are even more difficult to make sense of.

It’s as if we don’t have a big enough dream to live for, so we settle for lesser dreams – nice cars, boats, batches, a meal out etc. That is the sad part – our dream has become too small.

I remember coming back from the Solomon Islands a few years ago where I had been looking at a sanitation and water development in a very remote school, four hours boat ride from the end of the road. I was chatting with a friend back home who was talking about their dream to get a new motorbike. They asked me what I thought and I remember saying, probably before thinking, ‘Get a bigger dream’.

I guess it is something I’ve been praying about lately. I don’t want comfortable numbness. I don’t want to live for a small dream, I don’t want fear of failure or hardship to drag me into safe little dreams. I want the last quarter of my life to count for something I can believe in and my grand kids could admire.

New SWBC App

Fantastic!

This weekend we are launching the new SWBC App. It is great! Thanks to Donald,Claire, Jess and all the others involved in this.
It has been a lot of work but it now gives us a very interconnected and comprehensive set of online tools including:

  • Our church Website which was redesigned and significantly increased last year
  • Our CONNECT communications platform which has some very grunty tools and capabilities. There are good learning videos as part of this programme that can show you how to use every feature
  • Our SWBC APP for smart phones which connects you to messages, newsletter, events, my blog, giving, calendar, our Facebook page and CONNECT
  • Our church Facebook site

This is a pretty impressive and hugely powerful set of tools at our finger tips. Fill your boots! There is not much you can’t communicate, advertise, connect with or find out about that isn’t here!

Great Global Missions fortnight

Thank you to all those involved in the Night Market and the other events around our Global fortnight. It has been very inspiring, challenging and hugely encouraging.Read-more

From Libby Little’s inspiring life story through to the brilliant message Ants gave last Sunday night it has been a world class – world focused two weeks.

In amongst this three short term teams have or are going overseas: the young adult Kolkata team have recently arrived back, the Bolivia team leave today and a team from the West Spreydon local community are gearing up to go to Bangladesh. We will be praying for this Bangladesh team this Sunday night. They are heading to LAMB hospital, where Steve and Juan are, to help with practical work around the hospital.

We are very keen to hear from people who want to commit to pray for particular global workers or put in a faith promise global mission giving slip. These can be done on line on our website or at the services on Sunday.

If you haven’t heard Ants message on Sunday night please download it from the website (see the home page). It was a great message and well worth hearing. I listened to it again this morning over breakfast – made for a challenging breakfast!

Our Heart and God’s Heart

Our Heart and God’s Heart – No pain, no gain.

I went for a run this morning, something I enjoy but it also hurts. It’s the old “no gain without pain” adage. It got me wondering.

We talk a lot about the heart of God for the whole world and for all people everywhere. It is the heartbeat of our global mission work which has been a crucial part of the life of this church for decades. Every year, in September, when we focus on global mission we ask people to be part of the prayer support for particular people overseas and to be part of the financial support of those we have sent overseas.

We unashamedly ask for your support because we know this is God’s heart and our people depend on our support, specifically financial and prayer, to do what they do. But, that isn’t the main reason we ask you to be personally involved.

The main reason is for your sake. If we are going to grow as people and followers of Jesus then our hearts need to beat to the things that God’s heart is about. Crucial pathways to sensing God’s heart and being linked to God’s heart are through prayer and how we invest our money and time.

So when we pray for people around the world our heart draws closer to the heartbeat of God. When we give financial support our heart grows closer to God’s. When we give our time to support someone working overseas or visiting them or going on a short-term visit to support them our heart is expanded to take on a little bit more of God’s heart.

The old adage says about getting fit, that there is “no gain without pain.” In my experience it is the same with getting God’s heart concern’s into my heart. When we pray so it hurts a little, our hearts are opened wider to God’s. When we give so it is costly for us, then our hearts take on some of the heart of God. When we give our time we shouldn’t be surprised to find God meeting us and expanding our hearts further as God syncs our hearts to His heart.

We don’t take on the heart of God easily but praying, giving our money and time are pathways that link our heart to God’s heart. To grow our heart in line with God’s we have to hurt a bit. The pathways are praying till it hurts, giving that costs and personal support that nudges us from our comfortableness. There isn’t another way. If our prayer and giving is tokenism, our appreciation and connection to God’s heartbeat will be the same.

Where are you?

Where are you?

‘In the beginning’, scripture tells us, God created everything from nothing. What a marvelous, powerful, creative, relational God. As God was creating, God created human beings ‘in his own image, in the image of God. . . ‘. God gave them both a relationship together and a place. ‘The Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. . . ‘ And God looked at this and it was ‘very good.’

Sadly Genesis chapter three tells of the choice of the man and the woman to defy God and do the one thing He had asked them not to. That evening God comes into the place He has made for His people and not finding them He calls out “where are you? ”

God gave them a place and now they have irreparably caused damage. The damage affects all their relationships

  • Their relationship with God is damaged
  • Their relationship with each other is damaged
  • Their relationship with themselves is damaged, which is shown in the way they are embarrassed and hide their nakedness
  • Their relationship with their place is damaged and God ‘drove’ them out

Notice what God says first – “where are you?” Where they were mattered! God had created a place for them. It was their place. A place they could belong, care for and that would care for them. But now that relationship with their place, their rootedness in a land, their place of belonging, their knowledge of home is gone. God calls out “where are you?”

God cares about all our broken relationships and seeks to bring redemption, healing and new life in each of them. Including our relationship with God, with each other, with ourselves. But God also longs to repair and heal our sense of belonging to our place so God does not have to ask ‘where are you?’

Today many people live ‘above place’. By this I mean they don’t have any sense of their place, grounded belonging, home community, a people and a place to belong to. And I wonder if God is calling out to His people all over the western world with the same sadness and pain in His heart – “Where are you? I’ve made you a place but you are not there. I’ve given you a place to create a garden, to care for, to steward, to be a loving trustee of but where are you?”

Have we gone a-wall and are not aware of it?