Unless you become like little children – Matthew 18:3

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 19:14 (NIV)

I have recently heard some great talks on this verse about letting the children come to Jesus. But I wanted to tease out a bit more what it might mean for us to be like children. After all, the second half of the verse Jesus says the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like the children. A little over a chapter earlier we find that sentiment expressed more firmly:

Matthew 18:3 (NIV)

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:3

So what does it mean to be like a child?

Think about a young child you know. Pre-school age. Ideally one that has a good relationship with their dad. What are thing that are child like that we “learn” to stop doing?

  • Children idolize their father
    • Do you idolize God, or do you keep him at arms length?
  • They will do just about anything for their father’s approval. Their father’s approval rates higher than that of anyone else.
    • Where does God’s approval rate in importance to you? Where is it in relation to society’s approval? Your partner’s? Your boss’s? Your friends’?
  • Their father knows all and can do all. They are so confident of this they will start a fight with anyone who says differently. Even though their father does not need them to come to his defence.
    • Is God the highest authority in your life?
    • Is there anything that, if you’re honest, you believe God can’t do or used to do but doesn’t any more?
    • God and his word word never changes (numbers 23:19, Isaiah 40:8, Matthew 24:35, Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17, Revelation 22:13)
  • Children are completely trusting of their father’s protection. “Daddy is here. Daddy will catch you.” Is like an invincibility potion to a young child. Especially if they have already tested that trust and dad has come through.
    • Do we second-guess God’s commands because of human perceptions of risk? Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut 31:6,8; Heb 13:5; 1 Peter 5:7)
  • They are always eager to spend more time with their father.
    • How much do you love the presence of our heavenly father? Have you really experienced it? Have you become distracted?

How many of these things have we learnt not to do? When dealing with humans, we often stop doing many of these things for our own safety. But we have a perfect father whom we can trust perfectly and who loves us perfectly, and who can protect us and wants to guide us.

God is Speaking

“In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.”

1 Samuel 3:1 (NIV)

In the third chapter of First Samuel, Samuel is living with Eli the high priest, sleeping in the same room as the ark of the Lord.

The Lord calls to Samuel 3 times. 3 times Samuel gets up and runs to Eli thinking that it was Eli who had called him. On the third time Eli sends him back with instructions that, should it happen again, he should respond with “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening (v9).

“Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”

1 Samuel 3:7 (NIV)

Samuel did not know God, and yet God called to him.

The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to Samuel, and yet he recognized authority in the voice and ran to Eli.

Are you listening?

Is God speaking to you?

Do you recognize the voice as God’s or someone else’s?

Samuel needed Eli to teach him to recognize God’s voice (v9), and teach him how to respond..

Is God speaking to those around you? Even to non-christians?

Are you able to recognize when God is speaking to others?

Are you able to help them recognize God’s voice and guide them in hearing and in response?

Not only did Eli teach Samuel to hear God;s voice, more importantly, after teaching him to recognize and to listen to God’s voice, Eli encouraged Samuel to obey that voice regardless of the perceived consequences.

How often do we shy away from obeying God’s voice because of the perceived consequences, because of lies we have believed about God? Did we even hear the voice to begin with?

It is not enough to know that God speaks. We must learn to recognize it from the other voices in our lives. We develop our ear through obedience in practice. Through practice we learn how the voice of God resonates with his creation and his written word.

God is speaking. Are we listening? Are we ready to help those around us to whom God is calling?

Speak no evil

Recent events have caused a number of (Christian) celebrities to talk of “unspeakable” acts or evils.


Isn’t that perhaps the problem?

Certainly there are events and circumstances that are so bad it is hard to find words to do them justice. It is exactly for this reason that we must try.

Society tells us not to promote evil, not to give it a name, and thereby not give it any publicity. The fear is that publicity promotes imitation and fosters the propagation of evil.

Could it actually be the reverse is true? Have we stopped to think that by shying away from evil perhaps we have contributed to a society that fails to identify ‘evil’ from the merely ‘uncomfortable’ or even from the ‘inconvenient truth’.

We have failed to talk of evils as they appear, failed to call them out, failed to describe effectively why they are evil. This has allowed us to reach a point in society where evils are called good and good things are called evil. And on the rare occasion an evil is still called evil, any talk of it is squashed in fear of “inciting violence” or worse “causing offence”. To talk of evil is to risk being labelled evil yourself.

For Christians there is an apparent tension. We are called to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’, but also there is a clear expectation that we should ‘hate evil’ just as much as we ‘love good.’ Part of the problem is that too often calling out evil has been confused with hating our neighbour. Even Christians often forget those positions are not mutually exclusive. I would argue that, when you are in a position where it is appropriate, calling out evil is very much part of loving your neighbour, even if it’s not something they necessarily want to hear. Like warning that it is not safe to drive through flood water. Some will ignore you, some will even swear at you as they drive past, but is that a reason to stop warning them? Unfortunately though, even the mildest ‘warnings’ are being shouted down.

Even more scarily, the list of evils about which we are not allowed to speak is ever increasing.

This has been going on so long it is becoming normalised. We find ourselves with an ever-decreasing number of people that still hold the skill of articulating evil in a way that it is understood. Why is that important? It is only when evil is understood that it can be countered effectively. This is something society at large is seriously confused over generally speaking. Like much of medicine that treats symptoms rather that causes, we see outrage at symptoms of evil, yet fail to address the causes of evil.

We complain society continues to degenerate, yet say nothing when it takes a step down that road. Unhealthy lifestyles and ruinous ideologies are at best ignored, at worst encouraged by society in the name of tolerance and equality. Those that actually try to address the causes of evil are singled out as trouble makers or even instigators of evil, the very thing they are trying to stop.

We have already seen people lose their jobs over expressing what they hold to be true on what society considers contentious issues. Very soon we will likely find ourselves unable to speak against the status quo at all without risk of censure, legal challenges or arrest.

It may only take an election to tip us over that edge.

Some People who have Influenced my Life

A retrospective. Sometimes it is good to take a look back and take stock. Remember where we have come from and why we are where we are.

I want to tell you about some people who have been influential in my life. Some made a specific contribution, some were there at the right time. Some big contributions, some small. Some I only knew for hours, some I have known for years. Regardless, each has contributed significantly towards the man that I am today. I don’t expect this to be easy for reasons that may become apparent.  Nor is it by any means an exhaustive list.

I have decided to do this roughly chronologically, so some people, like my parents for example, get more than one mention. I think they’ve earned that.

The Early Years

My Mother – With her best friend she became one of the first two women in Australia to qualify as a Milk and Cream Tester and she has seen and experienced some amazing things. Quite obviously without my mother I wouldn’t be here. Her input into my life during my formative years in particular and in the years since has helped mould the foundations of my personality and of my faith.

My Father – Another one of the world’s gentlemen. Quiet, clever, a creative problem solver, dry sense of humour, traits I inherited from him. He helped foster my technical mind, and taught me to enjoy working with my hands. He was a patient teacher. Quiet and reserved. Disliking confrontation, he always stood up for what was right. As life has gone on he has increasingly “followed hard after God”.

My Parents taught me love, fostered a love of books and reading, helped me appreciate history and culture, and to appreciate the perspective of others. They exemplified faith and trust in God, and the willingness to hold on to truths because they believe them to be right, not because they are popular, or majority-held.

My Grandfather – A gentleman. A man of honesty and integrity. A WW2 ANZAC injured covering the evacuation of Crete. I always remember his kindness. When my mother was growing up and the family were running a store in country Victoria they were seeing a lot of European refugees as a result of the war. He impressed on my mother the importance of learning their names and pronouncing them properly, as that may be the only thing they brought with them from their old lives. That was the kind of man he was. I do not remember ever hearing him utter a careless word about anybody. He is missed. Lest we Forget.

Rev’d Dr David Mitchell – The minister of the first church I remember. As a child I would call him the “Prime Minister”. The one thing I most remember is how, if you asked him a question, he would always pause before answering. You knew that whatever came out of his mouth next was what he meant and it was the truth. That’s a lesson I’m still learning to put into practice. He passed earlier this year.

The Portuguese years

I spent seven years in Portugal, all of my teen birthdays. It was the time of most significant formation in my life. Understandably there are some notable personalities from that time.

Theo – another MK (missionary Kid). His parents managed the CLC bookshop where my parents worked. Loved debate, philosophy, and language, loved using his brain, crazy sense of humour (I have yet to meet a Dutch person without one). A comparative extrovert to this then-shy introvert. A good friend precisely when I needed one.

Amarildo – If I had to pick the biggest influence for the shortest amount of time, this would be it. I only spent a couple of hours with him, playing guitar and singing. He introduced me to the spiritual aspect of “church” music, that you could actually worship through song and music and that it is a spiritual, not just physical, activity. He is the guy God used to inspire me with a passion for worship. We’d organised a time to get together to jam again next time he was in town, but he was killed in a head-on collision on his way back from ministry in Spain a couple of days after we met.

W.E. Johns (and his ghost writers) – I spent hours reading Biggles books. The action, the adventure. They sustained my interest in aviation which influenced my career. They were also stories full of people doing the right thing for no other reason than because it was the right thing to do. I think we could use more of that these days.

My Year 9 Portuguese Teacher – Negative influences can be shaping too. First term I scored in the top 15% of my class (about 70%), he gave me a “Pass” stating deficiencies in class participation and in my spoken Portuguese. So I pushed. In the second term when I topped the class (I scored about 85%) he proceeded on a 15 minute rant about how a “foreigner” shouldn’t beat a native at their own language and how they should all be ashamed. He then dismissed the class because he was “so upset”… and gave me a “Pass”. So I gave up. I stopped participating. I scored 34% in my last exam… and he gave me a pass. Fortunately it didn’t break me completely, it could have. Seeing people use their position to lord it over others still makes my blood boil.

Bruno – Another crazy cat. Helped me out of my shell. Helped me push myself, particularly spiritually. Really big drive for developing others. Never knew how to slow down though. He showed me how to enjoy just being in the presence of God. The first to actively develop my public speaking. Cemented the worship bug that Amarildo had planted. A brother. We got to the point where we knew what chord the other was going to play next just by reading their body language. Hours and hours of worshipping God in song and music. Great times raising up other young men and women in the faith. One of the top two direct contributors to my spiritual and personal growth outside my family.

My Parents – They showed me what it is to live by faith and to walk with God, even when that is unpopular. We experienced things in the spiritual that most can only imagine and many doubt. They placed my wellbeing over their career and reputation, and I believe God has rewarded their integrity. To this day they continue to exemplify a willingness to learn and to pass on what they have learned.

Into Adulthood

Peter Pilt – “M68”. A great leader and inspiration. One of the most passionate people I know. Passionate about others and about Social Justice. When I met Pete he was the Senior Pastor of Nowra City Church.  It’s been five years since I left that church and I’m still learning leadership lessons from his example. More than that, to me he is an example of doing life well. Not in that it’s all smiles and rainbows (or Coke and Bacon), but doing life with integrity and handling adversity well. And no matter how much you get, there is always more to God.

Mr Woody – A man deeply in love with God’s creation, a love only approached by the love he had for his family. He became an influence in my life at a time when I was very much in need of a compass. Regardless of what life threw at him he always had a smile on his face and it never dampened his love for God. He was an example of what I wanted my character to look like, and the desire to honour his opinion of me provided the motivation I needed to keep going through some of the struggles I was facing and to focus my life on what was really important. “Good morning Mr Steele” he would say. “Good morning Mr Woody” I would reply. We rarely spoke more than a few words together, but It was always a “word in season”. He left for glory while I was out of the country with work. I look forward to seeing him again one day.

My Wife – They say marriage changes you. I can only say that is a good thing. We are alike enough to work well together, different enough to challenge each other. If she wasn’t the woman she is, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. She is the best helpmate I could ask for. She sees the things that I, as a man, do not, yet possess a similarly (if somewhat more) organised mind. I am better because of her.

Poor leaders – To the dictators and positional leaders, the indecisive and overly-consultative leaders, the immoral leaders, the dishonest leaders, the passionless and the visionless leaders, the heartless or detached leaders, the leaders without integrity, to all the leaders I have witnessed or experienced that have fallen too far from the mark I say thank you. Thank you for showing me what leadership should not look like. Thank you for providing a contrast to the good and great leaders I have enjoyed. Thank you for challenging my ability to follow and testing my character, as it is only when your character is tested that you find out how strong it really is and it is only through trial that our character gets refined.

My sons – There is nothing like being a dad. It teaches you things about yourself that you never knew before, and tests you in ways that no one else can. Boys, I love you both, you make me very proud.

Honourable mentions

Fernando – Classmate through years 7 and 8 in Braga, Portugal. He had grown up in France, I in Australia. We became friends through our mutual 3rd culture experience. Basically the only reason I kept focussed at school was to try and beat him. We spent two years exchanging the lead in physical height and in exams except in two subjects: he couldn’t match my English and I couldn’t match his French.

Neil – Everyone needs a friend they can be truly honest with, also a friend that will push you out of your comfort zone. The best friends don’t just want you to be happy, they want to see you grow and they understand that process isn’t always pretty. They also understand when you royally stuff it up sometimes.

Steve – I credit Steven as the main reason I left my last position with my sanity intact. Quick-witted, the bad cop to my good cop, our strengths balanced each other’s weaknesses, we made a great team.

The people who helped make the ADF Martial Arts Association a reality – Bain – The first to properly get on board and give me hope that it might actually end up a reality.  Those who caught the vision in the early days and put in the legwork to get it started – Michael, Jeff, Justin, Corey –  to those who caught that baton and are dedicated to making it the best it can be – Mick, Aaron, Dave, Dan, Lily, Jacob, Michael. Thank you.

The people who contributed directly to the start of my chaplaincy journey – Andrew, Mick, Eric, Pete, Andy, Tristan. I wouldn’t be sitting here right now if it wasn’t for your contribution.

I could go on, there are many more but that is enough for now. My past 40 years have been pretty good, the next 40 promise to be better. I look forward to seeing who else contributes to my journey.

The year I taught myself how to write

This has been a milestone year for me. A change in job direction, changed focus.
This brings with it the perfect opportunity for a time of renewal. After nearly forty years on this earth and twenty in the workforce I had finally entered tertiary study. My life has suddenly become about the written word, at least for a season. This reinvigorated for me an interest in both the act of writing and the concept of reading words that others had trusted to paper.

I wanted to journal. I wanted to record my thoughts and actions for myself and for the benefit of my sons. I wanted to write to people and I wanted it to be me on the paper. I wanted above all to write with meaning.

I decided that if I was going to be spending a lot of time writing, I may as well enjoy it. I started investigating writing and writing implements.
Fountain pens had always held a certain amount of fascination for me, though I had never really been able to explore their use. This was in part due to my trade as an aircraft maintainer. In an environment where paperwork was often in triplicate, with either carbon, or self inking paper, and stored for posterity, ball-point pens had been the only acceptable writing implement for the conscientious techo. This had of course followed years in school where refillable pens were too messy, and the threat of loss of pens through absent-mindedness or light fingers meant that cheap, disposable biros were the only ink based device used for most of my life.

Now I found myself with an opportunity to use what I wanted, how I wanted.

I wanted to enjoy writing. I wanted it to feel right and I wanted it to look like it was worth writing. I could finally choose the materials and equipment that I wanted. I started exploring papers, pens and inks as far as my budget would allow. Instead of ring binder, I opted for fountain pen friendly notebooks that I use across multiple related disciplines. Instead of ball point, I use almost exclusively fountain pens. I am learning to use dip pens for calligraphy. I use bottle ink and pen converters. I discovered Robert Oster, an Australian maker of coloured inks, and I discovered document or archive ink which I now use for my journalling, important documents and the body of personal letters. I’m still experimenting with different pens and calligraphy and may one day be able to afford “better”, but what I currently use suits my purposes well.

But what of “how” I would write?

This became a time to revise my writing style. At school we had learnt cursive script and my mother always had beautiful cursive which hinted back at her grandfather’s elegant copperplate script. Work dissuaded and at times prohibited the use of cursive and/or running writing, and the high pace of work encouraged efficiency over elegance. Not to mention that less and less people are able to read cursive any more, so my writing was practical, but nothing to write home about (pun intended), and I really didn’t overly enjoy the process any more.

But this writing was for me, for my enjoyment, and potentially for posterity. As I tell my sons, words are important, they deserve to be treated with respect. I wanted my writing to better reflect my personality and better suit my purposes.

I was committed to returning to cursive, it had always been my go-to when writing for myself in my teens, but I wanted writing that was “mine”, so I started being more attentive to how others were writing. I looked at calligraphy styles and any handwriting examples I could find. This resulted in a change of understanding. I had always understood “running writing” to be all joined together, always, the ideal being that the pen would not leave the paper for the duration of the word. Once I started looking closer, I found that there are very few examples of this. Most cursive, particularly in the age of dip pens, was majority joined, though you would frequently find situations where letters were separated. This was a great relief, it opened up the boundaries of what I wanted to achieve: a script that offered a nod to the history of penmanship but allowed me to express myself without looking like I had wrestled a snake across the page. I also wanted a script that suited my newly preferred tool: a fountain pen with a flat or italic nib.

Thus I have come to my current style. The majority, particularly uppercase letters still show my mother’s influence, though there are touches from other places. My lowercase cursive has changed significantly. I was never happy with my lowercase D,  until we visited Old Parliament house and saw hand written records my the early explorers where the lowercase d was its own letter and absent of a downstroke. This form has since become mine. My lowercase L and T no longer continue from the preceding letter which has improved my tidiness and legibility. My lowercase H starts with a little curl and words ending in G or Y finish with a small flourish. Using a flat nib adds something to the wording.

End result: I now enjoy writing. It is still a work in progress, and I suspect it always will be. But it’s now mine and I find it intensely satisfying.

My preferred journalling tools: Parker Vector with a flat nib (fine), Midori MD notebook and DeAtramentis Document Ink in blue-grey

I have never experienced a Prime Minister I have voted for.

So we now have a new PM. “Here we go again” some might say.

I’m seeing quite a few comments along the lines of “I’m sick and tired of Australia getting Prime Ministers we didn’t elect”. I’d just like to point out that, strictly speaking, we don’t elect them. There is no popular Prime Ministerial election. At no point do the Australian people get to choose who will lead any of the political parties, let alone the country itself.

Typically, we vote for our local representative. Depending on how we vote, we may get to vote for a party in particular. We then hope that the combination of results across the country secures the party that either 1) has the policy platform we prefer; or, 2) has the political leader we most prefer. We do not actually get a say in who that is.
Should we get to elect our Prime Minister? Maybe we should. But we don’t. From a certain perspective does it matter? Given the “Party Politics” we see in Australia, particularly from the two major parties, does it make a significant difference who actually leads the governing party, so long as they actually do lead?

I am sure I stand with the majority of Australians when I say that I would like to see actual leadership from our politicians. For quite a while now Australian politics has left a lot to be desired with regards how they go about the business of governing this country. I’m not sure exactly what it will take to change that. More prayer for starters.

Do I like where we are at? not really. But if you’re going to complain, complain about something real. And do something about it. Get informed. Write letters to your local and Federal members about the things that matter to you. Write to them about the disappointments in politics. Be specific though, and be real, and don’t just whinge, tell them why with real, valid, tangible reasons. Give them a reason to fix the mess. Then go out and get involved in your local area. Don’t just watch the news or social media and complain about it. Do something. Contribute. Then when the time comes, back it up at the poles.

Should the church be like a gym?

Recently I read a blog on why there appears to be less and less “Christ” in the modern church. Here are some thoughts that came out of that:

So many people say the want a “life-changing encounter with Jesus”, except they shy away from the “life-changing” bit. We want our lives just the way we like them, plus the benefits of faith.

We all want to hear Jesus say “your sins are forgiven”, but stop up our ears when He says “now go and sin no more”.

An encounter with Jesus should be life-changing. Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t expect us to be able to make lasting, positive change on our own merits, but there is the expectation that we try.

The challenge of the church is to provide an environment that is welcoming of all, but also promotes and nurtures the change described throughout the Bible. Nobody who enters a church should leave the same as they came in, for the better.

Churches are full of broken, imperfect people. But the church cannot be a place that allows people to remain broken.

Sadly, many people attend church like they go to the gym: doing it solo. But, just like the gym, the best results are when we allow those around us to challenge us, to help us to set goals that we don’t think we can achieve, but also help us achieve them, fortunately, in the case of church, with the guidance of the best “coach” around: Jesus; and the most thorough training manual: the Bible.

You don’t go to the gym to remain the same, don’t go to church that way either.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28


This is a sermon I prepared for St Mark’s Anglican Church, Dromana, VIC, Australia.  It’s the first time I’ve been asked to preach on a specific passage. The sermon was to be delivered to both Sunday morning services, the more traditional first service, and the family service. Prep for both is the same, delivery varies depending on audience. My introduction was somewhat reduced from the first to the second service. All Bible verses are in New International Version unless otherwise stated.


I’ll be honest, when I found out that I was to be preaching on the last passage in a sermon series I felt the responsibility greatly. I mean, if you get a passage in the middle and stuff it up, there’s always room for someone to make up for your shortcomings later. When you are the last link in the chain, you are the one that people will often remember.

So who am I, and why am I here in front of you? Most of you have seen me once or twice. I have spent my life in church. As a child we were in church every Sunday. As an adult I have been an active member of every church I have attended in a variety of roles, usually around music and worship.

I grew up in a Christian home to Christian parents. Dad was an electrical technician by trade, working in the Bureau of Statistics for the Department of Transport, Mum was a mother first and foremost but a competent secretary and receptionist working in the Gideons headquarters in Mawson, ACT. While I was still in Primary School my parents felt God calling them into full time overseas ministry. We sold everything, packed all our remaining belongings into our car and headed off to Bible College in Tasmania living in for two years. My teen years were spent in Portugal, and was the time I most developed as a Christian. It was in this time that God instilled in me a love of worship, primarily through music and introduced me to working in and with His people through the local arm of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. After returning to Australia and readjusting to the way of life I joined the Navy as an Avionics Technician. Eighteen years later I find myself changing roles and early next year will commence study and training to become a Navy Chaplain.


1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

(NIV) “12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

Paul’s First letter to the Thessalonians – where are we up to?

We’re coming to the end of a very “nice” letter as far as Paul’s writing goes. Paul hasn’t felt to address love, or caring for each other, or how they behave in their local community and the kind of example they set the non Christians around them. Paul even gets to basically saying “just keep doing more of what you’re doing”. I can’t help but wonder how many churches these days would elicit the same response?

Paul knows the church. He gets it and understands what it needs. He didn’t plant a church to be a satellite, but rather an autonomous, self sustaining, and more importantly, self replicating entity.


Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

These closing verses are written to the church as a whole and cover three aspects of church life: the leadership, the members and public worship.

This passage quite handily lends itself to some bite-size portions. I am always wary of cutting the Bible up into pieces that are too small, as it is very easy to end up taking things way out of context.

“12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.”

The New King James Version says “and we urge you”. “and” is very poignant as it link to what has come immediately before: “11 Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing(NJKV)” verse 11 sums up the closing passage quite nicely, and sets up the following instructions.

Acknowledge those who work hard among you. NKJV uses the word Honour. Recognition where recognition is due.

We are all surrounded by those who have gone before us in the faith. The elders within the church, not by age or title, nor necessarily by time in the faith, but through their spiritual maturity and God-given wisdom and experience. Those who lead us by their example, share their advice, and nudge us back on the path when we stray.

There are two sides to every coin. Likewise these statements work both ways. On the one, hand we, the body, are to treat our elders with respect and honour, listen to them and heed their guidance. By the same measure, though, this implies that those who are elders should be leading and encouraging and “admonishing” and rebuking and “working hard” to do so.

Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”

Brothers and Sisters. That’s us. We are the children of God. Like brothers and sisters in a family, looking out for each other, so does Paul encourage as to be with each other. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It takes the healthy, functional family of God to raise the children of God to full maturity.

This is not the ministry of the anointed leadership. Paul quite clearly places this burden on us, the congregation. He expects us to help each other, encourage each other, challenge each other. To be there for each other when we are in need, to walk with those who may be struggling with an aspect of their faith. Too often, especially in the Western world, we offer platitudes “God will make a way”, “He works all things for the good of those who love Him”, “God has a purpose in all of this”, without actually doing what Paul is encouraging which is to do life with each other. The body analogy is  relevant. When one part of our body is injured, it affects the whole body. So it should be with the Church. Not that it should drag us down, but that we lift them up. That requires that we be as close as family. Not an Aussie family, where the kids are in Melbourne, Mum and Dad out near Ballarat, and the Grandparents retired in Queensland. More like a European family.

When I was living in Portugal there was a series of traditions surrounding family. Family land would be split among the children. When they married, his family would literally build the house, often next door to the parents house, and her family would furnish it. Godparents were chosen at the same time as the bridal party, and were expected to do life with the family, receiving almost the same level of esteem as the patriarch and Matriarch. As the parents aged, it was the responsibility of the firstborn to look after them. Special occasions would see the gathering of the whole family. Likewise sad occasions. So it should be with us. We should be close enough to know when those among us are hurting, and close enough to be able to speak into their lives when that is needed too.

The challenge, though, is to remain at peace, being patient with everyone. Being the family we need to be for each other isn’t always going to be easy. Sometimes it will smart, however we need to remember and ensure that it is all done in love with intentions and desires for the best.

“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

One of the things I appreciate about Paul is his practicality. No airy-fairy feel-goodedness, solid practicality and serious appreciation of our situation in life and eternity.

Here we are given, not just three attitudes, but three actions that will assist in creating those attitudes. Rejoice, pray, give thanks. this is less about feeling, and more about doing.

Rejoice always”. Our joy comes from God and our relationship with Him, the creator of all things. He is eternal, unchangeable, His Word never changes, never fails, it does not return to Him without achieving His purpose. He is all-knowing, all powerful. Our joy is found in an immovable source. He is our foundation.

“Pray continually”. Often translated “pray without ceasing”. Does that mean we’re meant to wander around muttering to ourselves? Or repeating prayers ad nauseum? By no means. Our default action in all cases should be to take everything to God.

“Give Thanks in all circumstances”. Does that mean that we have to like everything that happens? No. But whatever happens, no matter what life throws at us, we should be practiced at finding those things for which we can be thankful.

Rejoice, pray, be thankful. Three keys to resilience. Taken together, they provide keys to working our way through the toughest of situations.

“19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

God has given us the Holy Spirit as a helper. To help us understand God’s Word, to encourage us, to equip us for ministry, to teach us, providing us with a suite of tools available for God to use through us at His discretion. It is, however very easy to hinder the work of the Holy Spirit. When we read the Bible and feel challenged or convicted and yet do nothing about it, we frustrate the Spirit’s work. When we hear of those in need at feel the urge to act, yet do not, we hinder the Spirit. When God has placed His gifts at our disposition yet we fail to use them, we stifle the Spirit. When God tries to speak to us and reveal more of Himself either through His Word, or his messengers, but we ignore Him, we quench the Spirit. God encourages us to ask, but we don’t. He tells us to seek, but instead we prefer to be told. God tells us to knock, but instead we wait for the door to open of its own accord. We have been delegated authority in this world, but we ignore it, or we fail to learn how to exercise it properly to the full scope that God intended. We should be more open that we are to the ways God can work in this world and through us. The caution is not to avoid those things that we may be uncomfortable with, but to test them against the truth of the Bible. We should not hide from things we do not understand, but rather we should seek to know the Bible and God’s teaching well enough to weigh everything against God’s truth so that we can “hold on to what is good”, but have the wisdom required abstain from evil.

How can we know evil if we do not intimately know God’s truth for ourselves? That is a challenge for us all.

Finally we end with a reminder that in all of this, it is God that is our shield and defender, it is He who works in us to preserve us. This removes an incredible burden of being tempted to worry about ever really being good enough.

To quote from Vincent Cheung:

“Christians are at times driven to discouragement, and sometimes almost to despair, when they perceive that they fall short of perfection. Paul’s doctrine of sanctification reminds us to place our confidence in God, and not in ourselves. This does not excuse us from our responsibilities, since Paul has just finished listing a number of them. It is not that we may become passive in the pursuit of holiness, bit that even our effort are inspired and energised by God, and that we may have confidence in Hom to do this for us. As Paul writes elsewhere, “Therefore my dear friends, as you have always obeyed (…) continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose“(Phil 2:12-13)”

The work is God’s we need to allow Him to do it. In us and through us. And we are encouraged to help each other through this journey of faith in practice.

“23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you”



Why New Year’s Resolutions are a bad idea.

I had a bit of a reality check today.

In my job I am routinely surrounded by people with a good level of personal fitness. This has never been more so than in my current position where the average age, including staff, is about 22.

Today I took my boys to the park. it was a beautiful day.
There were a lot of dads there which is fantastic. You can never have enough men spending quality time with their children.
What I noticed was something else. All told there were about 30 dads there. Including myself, only three were not visibly carrying excess weight. Of the remainder, about 75% would be classified as obese, one or two morbidly so.

It was the handful of men left over that caused me to think. They shared the same characteristics: Mid to late thirties, (body just starting to slow down), slight paunch. Probably suffering more from a lack of exercise than anything else. It is these men that are in a dangerous time.
From what I’ve seen this is the tipping point. It is the changes they make now that will determine which group they end up in in the future. If they don’t pay attention, in five to ten years time they will wake up to find themselves obese, probably with back and joint pain, at risk of diabetes, with an uphill battle to get back to fitness.
If they form good habits now, make the changes that their slowing body demands, they can have a long and healthy life with minimal effort.

This is where I come to the title of this post. I have always believed that changes that are important enough to make a resolution about are too important to put off until a milestone. This is seldom more true than in issues of health and relationships. New Years is a bad time for health as well, as most of us have just come out of a period of overindulgence. This compounds the trap in designating a start time: if we say we’ll start at some designated point in the future, often we will be even more relaxed until then. The bad habit becomes worse because because we have a plan to “fix it in the New Year”. We stop watching what we’re eating because we have a future plan. This can mean that the five extra kilos we’ve been carrying through the year can become 10, or even 15 over the holiday period. What could have been fixed by not eating dessert quite so often and taking a good walk every day, now requires concerted effort, significant diet changes, probably medical advice and lots of hard work.

Part of being a dad is modelling all aspects of life to our kids. Physical play, enjoying the outdoors, even just being able to keep up with your kids while they’re having fun at the park will make a huge positive input to all aspects of their development. The healthier WE are, the longer we can do this for as well. It pains me to see dads who are too unwell to do more than watch their teenage children play, especially when it could have been prevented if only they’d caught it early. Spending more time with our kids is good for us too. It helps us keep a sense of perspective about things.

The trick is to pay attention to what is happening in our own bodies, and to not put things off until later, because thing have a habit of creeping up on us. Our children need this of us.

Some thoughts on worship for worship leaders

As always, most of this is for me, a collections of thoughts and musings about worship leading.

Let’s begin with some nots.

1) it’s not about you. No, really, nothing about corporate worship has anything to do with you aside for the fact that is something you should be doing.

2) it’s not your anointing. It’s God’s anointing. It’s His to do whatever he chooses. He can pour it out, or He can stop it.

3) do not rush. God understands the constraints that may be placed on you wrt time. If you don’t get through your entire song list, what does it really matter? It is more important to come with the right attitude.

4) do not be afraid of silence. We don’t want to “drop the ball” on stage, but when Elijah was in the cave, God was in the still, small voice, not the fire or the earthquake. Sometimes stillness is required to remove the distractions. There doesn’t always have to be noise. 

Which brings me to some dos.

5) do know why you are worshipping. Do know why you are worshipping with other believers in church. Understand why corporate worship is different to personal worship. Private worship is solely about you and God. Corporate worship can be as much about the others in the room as it is about God. The songs we sing aren’t just an offering to God, but the words they contain and the statements they make are a reminder and a declaration of the attributes and promises of God. Which leads into:

6) do make sure what you’re singing aligns with the Bible and what it teaches. Too many church songs sound nice, but have no meaning, all they contain is fluff. Some even contradict the Bible yet still get sung because they’re catchy or make us feel nice about ourselves. 

7) do know the spiritual authority you have. This not only relates to the authority you have a a Christian through the name and blood of Jesus Christ, but your authority in relation to the congregation. While you are on stage, you are the senior pastors representative. That doesn’t mean you’re the boss, it means there is a responsibility that rests on that position.

8) as far as possible, be a worshipper first and musician/minstrel second. While we should pursue excellence, that should not take the place of a heart of worship. There may be situations, like when Nehemiah rebuilt Jerusalem that it may be appropriate for someone to be selected for their musical knowledge or talent (Keneniah was placed over the musicians “because he was skilful at it”, that was because there was a lack of skilled, experienced musicians), however we are called to worship “in spirit and in truth”, not “in musicality and showmanship”. The pursuit of excellence should only be driven by a desire to bring our best for God because that is what He deserves.

9) the ability to worship is a privilege, worship is a gift, to God. Like a gift to your lover, it should not be given expecting anything in return. It is not a key to a lock. Deliberate worship can bring us to a place where God is free to move because it takes the focus off us and places it on God. When focussed on God, everything else pales into insignificance. 

And now for some questions:
Q1) you’re in a corporate worship setting and you do not feel “the manifest presence of God”. Do you still feel you’ve worshipped Him? If not, are you worshipping for the right reasons?

Q2) what are the songs you sing about? Are they about what you do for God? Are they asking/telling God to do something? Are they about what God did/does for you? Are they about the attributes of God? While I believe there is some scope for all of those, we need to know who they’re to. Some songs are written to the singer, some to the people of God, some to God himself, some are even written to the devil. Make sure you’re singing the right songs to the right person/people and for the right reasons. 

A handful of thoughts. Dozens of books have been written about worship, is there really anything I can add to the topic? Who knows? If you’ve read this far, maybe I’ve written something God wants to to read. Maybe a reminder of something you already know, maybe a confirmation of beliefs. Maybe something you disagree with. That’s okay, as long as it had you thinking about the why of worship. “My people perish through lack of knowledge” we need to be thinking Christians as much as we are faith-filled and Spirit-lead. 

I pray this blesses you in the way God intended.