Tuesday, January 31, 2012

BIG Ideas on Faith - No. 1 - How could God love someone like me?

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We launch off BIG Ideas on Faith, with the question that many have grappled with over the years.

No. 1 - How could God love someone like me?

Maybe it's a question that you have never considered. I know personally though, I have met a good handful of people who have pondered that question. Possibly it's because they have had a colourful life, and they don't believe the grace of God extends that far. Possibly it's because their picture of God is one of exclusivity; that is, God only loves a select few. The BIG Idea in this passage unpacks one powerful truth of God.

Before we discover the BIG Idea of this question, it's important to note briefly that love in the Bible has a few different meanings. One kind of love (phileo) is a brotherly kind of love. One kind of love that Jesus speaks of (Mt 22:34-40) is an unconditional kind of love (agape).

This is the kind of love that is relevant to the BIG idea we are about to discover. The agape, unconditional type of love is the essence of this BIG idea.

BIG Idea No. 1: God has 'loved you with an everlasting love' - Jer 31:1

How could God love someone like me? God in essence is a God of love. Romans 8:39 says nothing can seperate us from the love of God. Not even your deepest darkest secrets. When we turn this all over to Jesus in prayer, we find the outworking of grace in our lives. That's the revolutionary idea, that no matter what your life has been life, God still loves you with a love that is 'everlasting'. God loves you that much, that he sent Jesus to bring you fullness of life.
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<-- Introduction to BIG Ideas on Faith 
--> What is the Gospel? BIG Idea No. 2

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BIG Ideas on Faith - Start Unlocking the Mystery of Christ

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You may be wondering, what's the BIG Idea? Well over the next few months I will be unleashing many BIG ideas on the controversial, exciting, mine-field of Christian faith. Every idea is just a snippet of what knowledge is available, but it's like a bite-sized chocolate bar; it leaves you wanting to search out more!

Every post will have ONE BIG IDEA that sums up the train of thought. What I love about the BIG Idea is that it unlocks some of the mystery hidden in Christ. Have a look at this passage:

Colossians 2:2-3 says, '2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.'

Help me unlock the mysteries of God. Go on the journey with me and discover something new, exciting and life changing about faith.

Begin unleashing the BIG IDEAS:
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--> How Could God love someone like me? BIG Idea No. 1

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Females in Ministry and Leadership

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I was asked recently, 'What's your thoughts on females in ministry'? I presuppose that the question derives itself from a history of predominantly men in ministry and seeks for me to add fuel to the kindling...

Personally, I don't even think there is an argument to be had today. Women and men. Men and women. Either can be leaders and either can be in ministry. To me, involvement in ministry and/or leadership relates more to spiritual gifts and skill sets, than the sex of the person in question. I know full well that some Christian traditions still hold very passionately to only men being allowed in leadership positions. I rarely come across Christian traditions though that fail to recognise women in ministry.

So what is the big deal with women being appointed into positions of leadership? In the New Testament we know that the twelve disciples were male. Our assumption is that the Jewish leaders in the Synagogues were all male, and when and if they converted to Christianity, they would have kept their strong views on men in leadership. Though, for me, the message of Christ, and the freedom that is found in him, sought to challenge the Pharisaical views of his day. I would argue that if Jesus was here on earth today, he would not have an issue with women in leadership. While he did not challange every social issue of his day, that is noted, he was nonetheless very revolutionary in his approach to being a Rabbi in the first century.

I would like to comment and say, while this can be an issue in some Christian circles and a debate that flairs up occassionally, the fact is, women in ANY form of leadership in the world today find themselves in a minority (CEO and senior management roles mostly). More must be done to seek after equality (especially when men are chosen over women when the women clearly has the greater skill set, and is the better Godly choice).

To support my argument from a biblical perspective I quote Galatians 3:28 that says, 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' This was not a sudden burst of compassion for the Apostle Paul, but rather a shifting mindset in his previously strongly held Jewish faith. What a paradigm shift over time for the Apostle Paul! For more on women in leadership, Bishop of Durnham, N.T. Wright pens the article, 'Women's Service in the Church' - Click here.  He unpacks 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 which is a prickly passage on women in ministry. I will not seek to delve into that passage here, but by all means, check that one out.

From being deeply involved in The Salvation Army, I have witnessed God use women significantly in ministry and leadership, and thank God for their contribution to the growing of the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Heart for the Lost

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Followers of Jesus must have a heart for the lost. This may sound simplistic, but I'm not convinced that a majority of Christians live by that motto. They may say it, but does their life reflect a passion for the broken and hurting? Do they live in a way that is undeniably sold out to reaching people with the great news of Jesus?

My mind flickers to this mainly because my eyes came across this verse: 'Brothers and sisters, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.' (Romans 10:1). Now, I don't believe the Apostle Paul was a Calvinist (well that's a ridiculous thought anyway, because John Calvin wasn't born til 1500 years later!). Without getting into semantics, I mean, I don't think Paul believed that God would save who he chose and the rest would go to hell. I believe in a certain amount of free will that God allows sinners to choose to follow Jesus.

Anyway, that being said, Paul prayed that they may be saved. Even when he's in and out of prison, his passion is to see the fullness of the gospel message transform lives and communities.

Do you have a heart for the lost?

Let me rattle off some things that take away our focus from 'seeking first God's kingdom'. I don't list this to be negative, but rather to help us be aware that these are generally things in life that alter our focus:
  • A concern for your financial situation
  • Sickness that cripples your outlook on life
  • Self-obsession
  • Depression
  • Pornography
  • Chasing after the opposite sex
  • Career prospects, career advancement
  • Living a busy life
  • Laziness (slothfulness)
  • Fear
  • Hurt/Pain/Resentment
  • Brokenness
And so the list goes on. Lord help us to be focussed on firstly, being saved, and then reaching others with the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ! Give us a heart for the lost and broken Lord. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Step it up!! Leadership Caffeine from Samuel Brengle and the Apostle Peter

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As I was flicking through J. Oswald Chambers Spiritual Leadership, I found some interesting insights from well known Salvation Army Revivalist Samuel Logan Brengle on leadership. Reading this is like drinking a cup of leadership caffeine. Let it energize you for ministry, and let it challenge you for future leadership that God calls you to.

On the topic of spirituality and leadership Brengle writes, "It it not won by promotion but my many prayers and tears. It is attained by confession of sin, and much heart-searching and humbling before God; by self-surrender, a courageous sacrifice of every idol, a bold uncomplaining embrace of the cross, and by eternally looking unto Jesus crucified. It is not gained by seeking great things for ourselves, but like Paul, by counting those things that are gain to us as loss for Christ. This is a great price, but it must be paid by the leader whose power is recognized and felt in heaven, on earth, and in hell." - (Quoted from Samuel Logan Brengle, The Soul-Winner's Secret, p. 22).
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Consider this for a minute. The greatest vehicle on earth that God uses to extend his Kingdom is his church. The church can only be an effective vehicle if people at some point become leaders (annointed & appointed by God), to lead the church to fulfil its mission. If you are not a leader in the local church, and you sense God nudging you to step it up a notch, why don't you?

What holds you back?

FEAR?

You might know, in Matthew 14:22-36, we have a historical record of Jesus walking on water. Now, what was Peter's response in this account? He said, "Lord, if it's you, tell me to come out onto the water". And Jesus says, "Come." If ever we had a leader in the history of the Christian Church, amonst some other big names, we would probably name Peter, who preached it up on the day of Pentecost where 3,000+ became believers.

Anyway, here's the point. Picture the context in which Peter and his disciples find themselves. The time is between 3am and 6am. It's pitch black. A storm is raging. The disciples are no doubt wet, tired and irritable. It's in this context that Jesus is walking on water AND it's within the storms and fear that the disciples are feeling, that Peter musters up the courage to walk off the boat and onto the water.

See, God may be calling you to step up and be a leader, but you're waiting for the storms to blow away, you're waiting for the inner feelings of fear to dissipate. Simply, you're waiting for the circumstances to be perfect before you step it up a notch. Let me tell you something I've learnt... You'll be waiting forever!!

So take the challenge of Samuel Logan Brengle, and the encouragement we feel when we consider Peter walking on water. Be decisive today. Be the person God calls you to be. Step it up and fulfil the potential that exists for you to be used by God within that awesome 'vehicle of transformation' called the local church. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Church WILL Grow

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When God promises something it will happen right?

When God says he will fulfil a prayer on your heart, God is faithful to answering that prayer.

Jo isn't pregnant, for those thinking they have had some divine revelation from God. :) But let me tell you about what has transpired over the last 24 hours within the life of Palmerston Salvation Army.

Last night (Saturday) Jo came up to me, crying, saying, God is going to do great things tomorrow. She said, the Lord had reminded her of Joshua 3:5 that says, 'Consecrate yourselves [get yourself right before God], because tomorrow the Lord will do great things among you'. She didn't mention any more than that...

We come to church, and look around, and by 10:10am (people never get there on time!), there's around 50 people gathered, with some new families, and a couple of visitors. The worship time was electric in all senses of the word, and people were filled with faith. Well that's all fairly normal for a healthy church right?

Jo gets up to preach, and begins talking about hope. The words of Jeremiah 29:11 were spoken, that God seeks to prosper you, and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future. All pretty normal, engaging kind of preaching, with a message that was uplifting. So what happened next?

Jo begins to say, that she believes with ALL her heart, that our church WILL grow. That 2012, the church will grow and many lives will be touched by the gospel. She then said, last night...

"God called me to cut my hair"

The prophetic revelation was this... "As sure as the certainty that your hair will grow back, so will I grow my Church," said the Lord. She wrestled with God last night, questioning whether she should publicly cut her hair; in church. It sounds like some kooky Old Testament prophetic word, that Jeremiah might have been right in to. She prayed this morning and said, 'God just confirm in my heart if you want me to do this.'

I tell you I was unware of this word that God had given Jo. Apparently, as Jo shared publicly, Shekinah (our three year old) came up to her early this morning and said, "Mummy, cut hair?" What?! Gee, what a confirmation from God, that deeply challenged Jo about going through with this prophetic act.

As she shared this idea publicly that God would grow his Church, just as her hair would grow back, she asked if anyone would come up and cut her hair.

A lady visiting for the morning, got straight up, and gently grabbed the pair of scissors from Jo's hand. She smiled at Jo, and said, 'I'll cut your hair'. She snipped away, cutting off half of Jo's locks (more hair than what I've got), and then she sat back down.

Most people present were a bit teary, as God was moving amongst us. Then the husband of the lady popped up and said, 'I just want to let people know, that God is in this... and also... that my wife is a hairdresser... ' Everyone was taken aback a little.

WOW! Let me recap. God gives Jo a prophetic word to cut her hair, as a sign, that as her hair grows back, that God WILL grow HIS church. Shekinah, unknowingly, led by God, confirms this word. Then a lady who happens to be visiting is a hairdresser, who feels absolutely compelled to come forward and take part in this prophetic act. I love it!

By the way, God had sent another lady as well to visit the church, who ALSO was a hairdresser! God was just making sure!! Also, following the service, the lady finished up cutting Jo's hair nice, so she saved atleast $60 and scored a free haircut!! :)
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One other amazing thing happened this morning, if you'll just keep reading on for a moment. A couple visiting the church this morning spoke to Jo and I after the meeting. They said, 'We heard you speaking about the new Kid's club ministry you are starting up soon, and we want to financially support it... We would like to send through $5,000 to bless this new ministry...' WHAT?!! You're joking me, I said to myself, as I chuckled and teared up at the same time...

We got home from church, completely nackered (that's the original Greek word to describe it), and then we received a text message. 'We have just deposited $3k into the church bank account, and we will deposit another $2,200 in the next couple of days'. Haha, wow! Jo and I laughed and cried, and then we did something we don't normally do... We 'Craughed' (which is a combination of crying and laughing and choking up at the same time). That's a new word for your vocabularly. God is so good.

To wrap up, the Holy Spirit reminded me of sermon from last week. It was from Isaiah 43, that said, 'God is doing a new thing... Can you not perceive it?' And I find myself saying, right now, today.... that...

'God, you ARE doing a NEW thing, and I definitely perceive it, and I'm seeing it happen right before my eyes...'

Thanks Jesus!!!!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Teleological Argument for the Existence of God

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One of the most convincing arguments I have ever heard about the reality of the existence of God, came when I heard a Christian scientist rattle off a heap of mathematical probablities regarding the 'fine-tuning' of the universe. The question was put, 'Based on these statistices, how could we possibly have life on earth without the intelligent involvement of a Deity?'

Well, let me explain the teleological argument for the existence of God.

Firstly, when we look around at the complexity of our human existence, we are caused or confounded at times, to ask how it all came about. Some scientists would claim the veracity of Charles Darwin's theory on evolution. Though in recent years, the idea that cells evolved into the life forms we have today has become increasingly debated. William Lane Craig writes, 'The explanatory adequacy of the neo-Darwinian mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection with respect to observed biological complexity has been sharply challenged, as advances in microbiology have served to disclose the breathtaking complexity of the micro-machinery of a single cell, not to speak of higher level organisms (Reasonable Faith, p. 157).

While many scientists work hard at attempting to explain natural selection, some theists work hard at providing evidence and rational arguments for the involvement of a God in the created order. One of those arguments is called the teleological argument for the existence of God. It relates to a concept called 'fine-tuning'. The thesis is simply that the world in which we live is so complex, that it is irrational to consider that the world was formed without the presense of God.

Physicist Freeman Dyson says, 'The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense knew I was coming.' Or as Antony Flew writes, 'the laws of nature seem to have been crafted so as to move the universe toward the emergence and sustenance of life' (There is a God, p. 114).

Professor Owen Gingerich says a similar thing, 'To me, belief in a final cause, a Creator-God, gives a coherent understanding of why the universe seems so congenially designed for the existence of intelligent, self-reflective life' (God's Universe, p. 12). He goes on, 'It would take only small changes in numerous physical constants to render the universe uninhabitable'.

Lets look then briefly at why leading physicists and cosmoslogists would argue for the 'fine tuning' of the universe. The speed of light (2.99792458 x 10^8 metres/second), a constant that remains at that speed within the universe, if slightly different to that speed would not have permitted life on earth. If the mass of a carbon atom (or any atom for that matter) was slightly different, then a non life permitting earth would have occurred. Our universe is finely tuned. Finely tuned by the omnipotence of a creator.

Now one of the counter-arguments to the teleological argument for the existence of God is the concept of multiverses. What is a multiverse? A multiverse is the scientific way of explaining away the need to embrace the idea of intelligent creator. A multiverse is an unknown number of universes that exist; existing somehow outside of each other. The scientific rationale is that there are millions of other universes that exist, and we merely live in one where the right balance of biological and physical processes have occurred in order to sustain life. A non-theist needs to travel down this path of attempting to explain the idea of multiverses, otherwise, they are left with a load of evidence that suggests the probability of life being sustained on earth within this one universe, by random chance, is impossible.

If we dig deeper into the fine-tuning argument, we come across a plethora of fundamental physical and biological laws that are intrigingly complex and seemingly 'well designed'. Glance your eyes upon quantum physics, or biological processes, or even the sustaining of the animal kingdom, and you are caused to question 'how' could this have possibly originated by chance.

To narrow down the fine-tuning argument, let me outline how William Lane Craig puts it:
  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
  2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
  3. Therefore, it is due to design. (Reasonable Faith, p. 161).
The first point is relatively not controversial, but point number two is where the debate arises. I will not delve any deeper here, though, I am absolutely convinced there is enough rational, scientific evidence to strongly suggest that this universe was not the accidental outcome of the emergence of bacteria, but was created by a God who fine-tuned the universe's existence into being. That's the teleological argument for the existence of God.

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See the following texts:
  • Craig, William Lane. (2008). Reasonable Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway.
  • Flew, Antony. (2007). There is a God; How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.
  • Gingerich, Owen. (2006). God's Universe. Cambridge, Massachusetts. London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 

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