Thursday, October 21, 2010

First century non-charismatic evangelicals? (Apollos the Egyptian)

I've been reading Acts on and off. I love the raw excitement that is the book of Acts. Personally I desire this to be the kind of activity that occurs in my own life. And why not? Jesus said that we would do the same things and greater than him. He desires to show his love and power through the body of Christ, for his glory.

I came to chapter 18. Paul has become acquainted with Aquilla and Priscilla. Paul met them in Corinth and spent quite some time there getting to know them. He must have liked them so much that he decided to take them back to Ephesus with him. Altogether Paul spent three years living in Ephesus. Ephesus, in many ways became the center of the early church outside of Jerusalem. Notably after the destruction of the temple in AD 70 in Jerusalem, the Jews were scattered everywhere. At that point John ended up in Ephesus.

Aquilla and Priscilla carried on Paul's ministry in Ephesus in his absence.  When Paul had already left them there, one Apollos came along to Ephesus. Apollos was from Alexandria in Egypt. Apollos knew his Bible very well. He was instructed in the way of the Lord and taught about Jesus accurately. But something was missing. What was it?

This is not to undermine Apollos' faith up that point. He believed in the Lord Jesus and had nothing wrong in his faith as such. Apollos had received the Baptism of Repentance, but not the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. In fact, this same pattern can be seen many times throughout Acts. Never does it say that these believers who had not received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit were wrong, but it does say that there was more.

Aquilla and Priscilla told Apollos about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and he humbly received it. So it seems that the idea of Charismatics and non-Charismatics also existed in the first century. Acts certainly seems to point towards the Baptism of the Holy Spirit being desirable.

Wouldn't it be great if such humility existed in the 21st century?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Mercy and Compassion

I remember some years ago watching the news in Australia. It was a short story with an even shorter flash to an image of an orphan in Kazakhstan. The child had radiation sickness. There was a grotesque growth on the child's head. My heart broke instantly and I cried. "Lord, if you would have me do something about this, I will." I had no idea how God would answer this prayer. I still don't. I don't even know how it fits into the bigger picture of what I know God has already called me to.
Where I stand these days, living in Russia again I find myself desiring to be involved in acts of mercy and compassion. I'm not going to go into all the implications of that here, except to say that it still doesn't fit into what we are doing. But I feel that it has to somehow.
I am reminded of a potent Steven Curtis Chapman song. The first verse, chorus and second verse are:

I saw the face of Jesus in a little orphan girl
She was standing in the corner on the other side of the world
And I heard the voice of Jesus gently whisper to my heart
Didn't you say you wanted to find me?
Well here I am, here you are
So, What now?
What will you do now that you found Me?
What now?
What will you do with this treasure you've found?
I know I may not look like what you expected
But if you remember this is right where I said I would be
You've found me
What now?
And I saw the face of Jesus down on Sixteenth Avenue
He was sleeping in an old car, while his mom went looking for food
And I heard the voice of Jesus gently whisper to my soul
Didn't you say you wanted to know me?
Well here I am, and it's getting cold

I have listened to that song many a time, and honestly prayed prayers in response to it. "Lord, what would you have me do?"
More recently a lyric of Bono's has gotten through to me. It is from the epic song "Mercy" which is as yet unreleased (yes, we fans get our hands on unreleased songs), that they have started rehearsing on their 360 tour, and is likely to surface some time soon, to the immense excitement of hard core fans.

The lyric is: Love has got to be with the weak, only then love gets a chance to speak. I have commented before on my blog that Bono uses the word Love as a euphemism for God (i.e 1 John says God is Love). So paraphrased it means something like, God is with the weak, and only in that context is his voice fully and properly heard, only in the context of blessing the weak is God comprehended and understood, only in that context can God be known. It seems Steven and Bono agree, the way to know Jesus is with the weak.

This much I know, I have to do this. My linguistic calling is to the weak and the marginalised. But I think that there is more than that.

I've got the feeling that this chapter of the journey has not yet begun, but I know the Lord is calling me. I want to be obedient. Lord, help me to be obedient.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

European Union (EU) show that they are racist towards nomads (Roma, Gypsies).

I woke up this morning and read the news. Gypsy backlash grows in Europe caught my eye. I was shocked to read that the Roma people are suffering some serious persecution in Europe now. The French (not known for their racial acceptance of others) are destroying Roma shanty towns and expelling them from the country. But these Roma are free to travel where they like in Europe. It appears that Europeans have no tolerance for nomads.
Europeans claim to be the most enlightened culture and society on earth. Yet the French can not tolerate women wearing head covering (mind you covering one's face and head are actually different- and of course every woman should have the freedom to not cover her head). The Germans refuse to grant citizenship to Turkish people who have been living permanently in Germany for generations. A right wing party in Hungary wants to "detain Roma people in camps for life." Racism is alive and well in Europe. Europeans are not racist, so long as people are just like them.
Nomads seem to suffer persecution more than any other people in the world. People simply don't understand their culture. Nor do people understand the early age that Roma people marry at. This by the way is very common practice in many Arab villages.

I guess I should not be shocked. Europeans have only ever shown remorse for racism, but completely lacked in repentance. Many other non European cultures are just as guilty of racism.

Shame on you France, Italy and Hungary.  Perhaps some Europeans will welcome their indigenous nomads and stop persecuting them.

U2 360 Moscow- post show reflections and thoughts on Bono's faith in Jesus

I wrote a review for the U2 show immediately for But for some reason it has taken me a while to get back in to a blogging mood. I think the show had such an impact on me that my head has been in a different space.

There can be no denying that so much of U2's material is focusing on God and the spiritual aspects of life. After the show I was reflecting on much of this and started looking at one of my favorite songs "Yahweh". It's a beautiful song of devotion to the Lord:
Take this soul stranded in some skin and bones, take this soul and make it sing
Take this city, this city should be shining on a hill
Take this city if it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart, take this heart, take this heart and make it break
Yahweh, Yahweh.
Yet some crazy people out there see fit to accuse U2 of writing a blasphemous song and have even gone so far as to accuse Bono of being a Freemason or a Satanist. Not being one to shy from the truth I researched this as much as possible. What follows is a stupid trail of forum threads with people spreading rumours. There is not a single comment from Bono that leads to any such speculation. On the contrary he continues to talk about Jesus and get ever bolder in his faith.

I dare say that the spiritual warfare is coming Bono's way. He is having such an impact of politicians and churches of the western world. Changes are being made. One of the texts flashed across the screen in Moscow at the 360 tour was "400 million saved from Malaria in Africa." But lest people think Bono is just about a social gospel, he is also guilty of sharing the gospel of personal salvation with his friends, other rock stars. Bono has been known to share the book "What's so Amazing about Grace" (by Philip Yancey) with Noel Gallagher of Oasis. He has also been known to share the gospel with Joey Ramone of the Ramones. As Bono said at the Boston Elevation show back in 2001, "Joey turned the song 'In A Little While' into a gospel song on his death bed," with Bono there in person.

It's my opinion that the devil is trying to throw some mud at Bono. If he can't seduce Bono into "sex, drugs and rock and roll" nor stop him from proclaiming Jesus and God's love and fighting stupid poverty to boot, then he will try to paint Bono with the stain of freemasonry. The same thing has actually happened to Billy Graham. Both Bono and Billy Graham have something in common apart from following Jesus, they have spent time in the company of US presidents. But the Freemasons officially deny that Billy Graham is one of them. They do acknowledge when people such as Bob Hawke (former Australian Prime Minister) are.

But Bono won't shy away from a fight with the devil. In their song "Get on your boots" spiritual warfare is in full swing. "Satan loves a bomb scare, but he won't scare you." I marveled at the fact this lyric was quite relevant for Moscow, after their Metro bombing earlier this year. Spiritual warfare happens on both the spiritual and physical planes. The devil likes to attack through literal war and blood through bomb attacks, but we need to fight back in prayer, not with further bombs. Bono understanding this says "I don't want to talk about wars between the nations," I.e "this is not a battle of flesh and blood" (Ephesians 6). "Get on your boots!" that is, it's time to go into battle boys and girls, but not with each other but with the devil, with principalities and powers.

Not having found anything of substance to back up the ridiculous allegations against Bono, I turned back to interviews with him and others about his outspoken faith in Jesus. You can read about Bono's proclamations on other sites. There's a great interview with Bill Hybels on You Tube (in which he does a good job of paraphrasing C.S Lewis' 'Liar, Lunatic or Lord'). There's also a good dialogue going on between Bono and Eugene Peterson, even though the two have not met personally. Eugene Peterson is a real fan of Bono's faith. Eugene Peterson calls Bono a prophet. I tend to agree. That's exactly the same thing a Russian friend of mine said to me the day after the Moscow show.

I'm going to steer clear of a few topics directly. But I will say that Bono said some amazing things for Russia. "We'd like to say a hello to our friend Mikhail Gorbachev who is here tonight. He started a new chapter in this great country's history, that I feel is still beginning in so many ways." Bono is ever the optimist, but this was prophetic for Russia. Followed by "I still haven't found what I'm looking for," I was stunned at the spiritual poignancy. I called out to the Lord and told him this was my prayer for Russia. The Lord replied and told me that the rain that night was his tears for Russia. There was much going on surrounding this show, which you can read about elsewhere. But don't think that Bono did not know what he was doing in getting Yuri Shevchuk on stage to sing with him, and also in singing Bob Marley's "Get up stand up."

The Lord spoke personally to me too through this show. Getting to go to see U2 was such a gift from God. I had decided previously not to make seeing U2 a priority in my life, so as to not make it an idol. I gave up all desire to see them in 2005/06 as we were first making a move to Russia. Seeing them in Russia now was something I would never have dreamed possible, something God made possible. As they were singing "Beautiful Day" God spoke to me clearly. I knew that it was a gift from God that I was seeing U2 in the first place. I had given it up and God gave it back. This was their first show ever in Russia, and it was a special one full of passion and energy. There's a lyric Beautiful Day that says "what you don't have, you don't need it now."  God said to me, "see, I can give you a good gift any time I want to." I have often agonised over the fact that we can't buy a house, that although we save money it will never be enough for a house and it seems silly. But I also know that God is my provider and gives my family everything we need.  God continued to speak to me, "I can give you a house anytime I want to, also, but what you don't have you don't need it now."  I really like that God speaks to me through the music I like.  It's pretty easy with U2 also, considering so much of their work is focused on God and spirituality.

I guess I don't need to give more of a review of the show as I did so on  But I will say that after being at a show, I am a renewed fan. I'm listening to their music non-stop. I'm finding some of their unreleased material on You Tube. U2 have new songs in the pipeline such as Glastonbury and new rock song, North Star (that he wrote with Michael W Smith- what was Bono thinking?) and Every Breaking Wave, plus the instrumental Return of the Stingray Guitar. I am hanging out for their new album, and really hope it will be Songs of Ascent (from the Psalms).  As Bono says, they draw fishes in the sand for those that want to see. These days there seems to be a whole school of fish. For those that don't have ears to hear or eyes to see, some of them just sling mud. But as for me I'm getting on my boots.

Some more shots from the show:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

U2 360 here we come! (Moscow show)

(If you are looking for my comments and review after the show read here: Show review.)

Ok, I think I will allow myself to get a little excited now. It's been 12 years since I have seen U2 play live. The first concert I went to was Zoomerang (ZOO TV) at the MCG in 1993, and the second was POPMART at Waverley Park in February 1998 (one of the last events at Waverley Park before the stadium was decommissioned).
I missed out on Elevation in 2001 as they never came to Australia. Then for Vertigo, they were supposed to come to Australia at the end of 2005. We left the country at the end of 2005 and they did not make it to Australia for another year.
I never wanted U2 to be too important in my life, so I never tried too hard to make it work. It's better not to make idols out of things. Having said all that, U2 are my favourite band, and I have been a fan since 1989.

So I knew it was a gift from God that I am able to go to Moscow to see them this year. They have never played in Russia before. I already made a decision to be in Russia before I knew that they would be playing here.

Of course Bono has had his back scare recently. But the boys are back on stage and hopefully he will be ok. Then also the weather in Moscow has been atrocious due to a terrible heat wave and the devastating forest fires. Too much anticipation leading up to this gig. Of course the suffering that many Russians have faced is far more important than any U2 show.

But I will still enjoy it if it goes ahead next week and I don't have to cancel my tickets.

Enough babble. What am I hoping for from this U2 show? Apparently a mate and I will get together at a local pub for lunch and bump into a bunch of other expats. Then we'll make it to the stadium in time to get a good spot. If we get near the front I will be stoked, but I'm not gonna hang all my hopes on that. Their show is supposed to fill the stadium anyway.

I've been following their setlists recently. On one hand this may spoil things as I have an idea of what they will play. On the other hand, I want to rehearse and sing along to all the songs. :)

Some people have been complaining about their setlist. The fact is that the band can never please everybody with their list. Some have been complaining that there are not enough songs from No Line on the Horizon. Some have been complaining that there are too many songs from the Zeroes. Some have been complaining that there are too many songs from the 80s. (Yes that's right, there 'aint many songs from the 90s in the setlist.)

I happen to agree with the latest column from, that although New Years Day is a fantastic song, it could be rested. Let me tear into the list and remove some more 80s songs. In fact I would keep New Years Day more than I would keep some others.  'I still haven't found what I'm looking for' and 'With or without you' could be left off and I wouldn't complain, although some others might be mad.  Sunday Bloody Sunday is a fantastic song too, but I would live if that were gone. The only song from the 80s that is too sacred to remove is 'Where the Streets Have No Name.'

What I would like to see is a little more from Atomic Bomb and No Line. 'Sometimes you can't make it on your own' has not surfaced at all during the 360 tour, nor has 'All Because of You.' 'Stand up comedy' from No Line has not been played at all during the entire tour, nor has 'White as snow' (apart from Magnificent, they are my two favourite songs on No Line).

I do applaud the new material such as 'North Star' and 'Glastonbury' being played and I am looking forward to them. But while new material is being played, I am sure there are many other fans that would agree that it would be amazing if they pulled out 'Mercy' and played it live.

What ever they play, I am sure that it will be great. Having missed Elevation and Vertigo, I have a lot of catching up to do.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The coming Mongolian expansion and Muslims coming to Christ

I've spent a fair bit of today sitting around listening to Wolfgang Simson talks. I was feeling really encouraged on Saturday after we were able to share the gospel with the family we visit every week for language learning, and a few hours of hanging out after our lesson. This new friend of ours had not appeared to be searching spiritually much before. But it seems the Holy Spirit woke up in her a memory of a time in her life that she was searching. Back when she was 27 she spent a large sum of money on a Bible, as it had previously been impossible to buy one. She read through the whole Bible and said, "This must have been written by my ** people group, as the ***(dominant people group) would never behave that way." Immediately the stories of the Bible spoke to her as if they were directly for her own people. We are praying that the Lord is reminding her of her spiritual search and that it is now restarting.

Sadly, I then got quite discouraged yesterday. Another friend of ours, who has so much potential to do huge things in God's kingdom is struggling with alcoholism. Despite initially appearing to be ready to do something about his problem, he is not admitting that he needs to. Until he takes the step of humility, he will be stuck in this stage that he is in. I don't know why, but I got my hopes up that he was ready to seek healing. At the moment, I'm feeling a bit lost for him, but will continue to pray. The Lord is a miracle worker and things are not finished for my dear friend.

Today was a day off, which means I haven't even done my homework. Arrgh. I was so tired I just lay there on the couch this afternoon and listened to Wolfgang Simson. His talks about God's revolution in the church were very stimulating and eventually had me on the edge of my seat instead of lying down. Wolfgang was getting excited, "if you want to know where the most number of people are coming to Christ in the world, it is definitely the Muslim world."  Exciting stories of over 4000 house churches in Egypt and a new movement sprouting up in Iraq are just a start.

I remember a story that came back from the Lausanne Worldwide Evangelization Congress held in 2004 in Thailand.  An Afghan believing husband did not know that his wife was also a believer. Muslims in Afghanistan were so afraid of persecution that they were hesitant to tell their spouses they believed. They both happened to be at an underground meeting together, and discovered that they were both believers. They had of course been maintaining their regular appearances. This means that there could be so many more that are maintaining their appearances, but beneath the surface they are believing in Christ. I like describing the Muslim world as a mountain. On the outside it seems formidable. But on the inside thousands of tiny ants are eating away, until one day the exterior will simply collapse when the Muslim world turns to Christ in its majority.

God is definitely doing exciting things in the world. I was talking to a friend who lives in Mongolia. Back in 1990 there were 2 known Christian believers in Mongolia. Today there are over 100 000 and the church is beginning to explode there. Mongolians are excited about their new found faith in Jesus. They have the highest ratio of believers from the church going out in mission of any country in the world. Many of them are going to their brothers in China. They are beginning to talk about going into Buryatia to their north. I hope they keep heading north after that, to the Siberian peoples. They are also talking about going west to Kazakhstan. In fact, the Mongolian Christians like to hang a map of the Mongolian empire on the wall and say "there is our mission field." Mongolian people are nomads and they aren't afraid to travel.

It excites me to think of this map. The Mongolians have a big view of the world. They are aware of the terror that their empire brought to the world. They are also aware of the healing message of Jesus Christ. I think it's a spiritual principle that the people the Mongolians hurt, they will need to bring the gospel to. This is what redemption means for the Mongolian people. It is probably a spiritual principle that applies to every nation on earth. An even more powerful spiritual principle, that of forgiveness, is when a people take the gospel to those that have hurt them. This would mean that the Koreans and Chinese should be seeking to take the gospel to the Japanese.

There are coming waves of expansion in God's kingdom. The devil is about to lose some big battles. Things are hotting up. That is why we live in such turbulent times.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Why World Cup Soccer / Football is a farce

Many people will know that I am not much of a soccer fan.  I've been feeling some regret for some of the harsh words I have said about the game in the past.  So many people like this game, so I really should leave them alone to enjoy it, shouldn't I?
I told my friends that come world cup I would be a hypocrite.  Here I am in Russia with little access to Australian sport.  So when my nation plays in the world cup, it is the best I can get, so I settle for it.
As far as letting the world enjoy the game in peace is concerned, should I not be dismayed that a drachonian game is forced on the masses and that they are unaware almost that there are many either exciting football codes out there that can be played other than soccer?

Here is a list of my beefs so far this world cup, and I haven't being paying that much attention:

1)  Tim Cahill was given a red card in the first game for Australia against Germany.  All of the German players said he did not deserve it.  Tim Cahill is currently Australia's biggest star.  Australia was left with 10 players for the majority of the game, and sunk to 4-0 against this world champion side.
I hate the idea of the red card.  In a moment the referee is judge, jury and executioner.  Then Cahill misses the next game.  To make matters worse FIFA refuse any right of appeal to a red card decision.  This is authoritarianism on steroids.

2)  If it wasn't bad enough what happened to Cahill, the same thing happened to Harry Kewell in the next game against Ghana.  Kewell was removed from the game for the majority of the 90 minutes, there by greatly decreasing Australia's chances of winning and advancing in the world cup.

As far as hand ball is concerned, well my distaste for the hand ball rule goes right down to the roots of my historical dislike for the game of soccer in the first place.  It is such a strict and ugly rule.  If we have hands, why should we not be allowed to use them.  Every other code of football allows use of the hands.

In the case of Kewell's hand ball, he did nothing deliberate, and therefore did not deserve a red card.  He was punished enough with the penalty goal that ensued.  But with the red card, three punishments were effectively handed out for breaking a rule that shouldn't even exist in my book.

Players can use their chests and heads, but if they use their shoulders this is somehow different?  It is a very different thing from picking the ball up with your hands, which I believe is the original sentiment of the hand ball rule.  The hand ball rule is simply Eton School snobbery in my book.  (Eton School invented the rule in the early days of the evolution of football codes in England.)

Kewell and Pim Verbeek have both been quoted as saying he would have had to cut off his arm to avoid the handball.  I think all soccer players should cut off their arms.... or effectively the rules of soccer are as evil as cutting off a person's arms.

3)  So I have had my whinge so far about the persecution of Australia in this world cup.  Us Aussies have been enjoying seeing New Zealand do so well in this world cup, and it is almost a consolation, that if Australia doesn't advance perhaps New Zealand will, and we can vicariously enjoy their success.

In last night's game I said to my wife that Italy would cheat to try to win, just like they did against Australia in the last world cup.  New Zealand scored the first goal, and were on the road to glory.  So what does Italy do?  They feign another pathetic fall and score a penalty, that was completely unjustified.  Either soccer referees are complete idiots or they are corrupt.  My bet is with the latter.  They were again bribed by the Italians.

At least New Zealand escaped with a draw which is still a moral victory, but it may not be enough for them to advance.

Penalty ... Italy's Daniele De Rossi falls to the ground after a challenge by Tommy Smith was judged a foul. Photo: Reuters

4)  Lastly, Italy have proved that there are very few elite nations who are actually allowed to win the world cup.  Sure enough there is a huge gap in skill and talent anyway, but even if they slip, they always have corruption on their side.
In all the history of the world cup there are only 7 nations who have won.  Uruguay won back in the 30s when they hosted it and soccer was still developing as a sport.  They are no longer a threat.  England won in 1966, but always seem to be in disarray and are no real threat either.  France won once on home soil in 1998.  That leaves four genuine contenders at every world cup: Germany, Italy, Brazil and Argentina.  France and England could be considered dark horses.  Everybody else is making up the numbers.  If any nation threatens to have a little bit of success like Australia or New Zealand then there are various official forms of cheating to push them back down.

Australia and New Zealand should just go back to playing Rugby... and AFL of course!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Beauty will rise- Steven Curtis Chapman (album review)

I haven't been a Steven Curtis Chapman fan for very long.  I remember a friend telling me years ago that I should listen to him.  Somehow I never got around to it.  I've just never been into solo performers that much.  But it appears I was missing out.

The first album I listened to was All things new in 2004.  I enjoyed that a lot.  I remember sharing songs like Angels wish with people when they came over as dinner guests, it just seemed to hit me so powerfully. Even recently I remember God speaking to me in a very personal and poignant way through the lyric "come, come and know me now" in the song What now.  Some how this man just seemed to have such an intimate relationship with God that he could touch chords deeper than others ever seemed capable of doing.  I was convinced from these songs that this man really knew Jesus.  Christianity was not just some religion for Steven Curtis Chapman, it was rough and it was challenging.

His next album This moment has had some seminally impacting moments in my life.  After narrowly escaping death on the road, the song Miracle of the moment came on the ipod.  I have written about this in another blog, but it was no small thing that God was speaking to me to live in the moment that he had given me.  Steven encouraged me "if it brings you tears then taste them as they fall, let them soften your heart, and if it brings you laughter, then throw your head back and let it go".  That was completely what I was doing in that moment.  Never has one artist enabled the Holy Spirit to bring me to tears on so many occasions, through moments when God spoke directly to me.  This has also happened with the songs Beautiful scars and Cinderella.

Cinderella is a real kicker.  It's all about loving one's daughter as she grows up, because she will be grown up before you know it.  The lyric "I know something the prince never knew" is so apt.  When I asked permission from my father in law to propose to his daughter I knew it was a serious moment.  I just didn't know what that means to a father.... until I had a daughter of my own.  A daughter is such a precious gift to a father.  Mine is particularly special, such a bundle of joy and she just never seems to run out of energy from the moment she wakes up in the morning until she drops off on the pillow.  What made the song Cinderella so hard to listen to was that it was released only months before one of Steven Curtis Chapman's little girls was killed by a car, at the family home.  What made it even harder is that this little girl was the same age as my little girl, just five years old.  So I was really beginning to relate to this man.  The lyric "all too soon the clock will strike midnight and she'll be gone" is so cutting because Steven could never have know what this would mean when he wrote that song.

I had enjoyed these two albums so much that I needed to buy his new album Beauty will rise.  I didn't even stop to think what I was buying.  I didn't take the time to remind myself that this mad had lost his precious little girl, and that this was his first release after the fact.  My glass stomach was awaiting an almighty knock out punch.  I forgot to cut Steven some "slack" when I first listened to his record.

The traditional Christian thing to do when I was a teenager was to plaster the liner notes with scripture references.  This came in handy when trying to convince skeptical parents that rock music was ok.  Reading lyrics was paramount, something you almost did before even deciding if the song was worthy of a listen.  As my personal musical journey evolved, I stopped reading lyrics and just listened to the music.  I only began to pay attention to lyrics if the music caught my attention for long enough.  I only interacted with the lyrics if they were poetic and skilful enough.  This gives credence that music should be art and not a preach fest.

So when I first "spun" (I don't spin too music too much anymore) Beauty will rise on itunes, I didn't pay much attention to anything at all.  I just listened to it and just let it be.  "Heaven is the face of my little girl"...began the album.  "Ok, that's different" I thought and just let it go.  After a number of listens I began to think, "hey this is a fairly melancholy and dark album."  Lyrics like "I don't even want to breathe right now, all I wanna do is close my eyes" and "I am broken, I am bleeding, I'm scared and I'm confused" have a way of conveying darkness.

I must confess that something in me started to worry a bit for Steven.  Was he experiencing doubt and despair in his life?  All the while, it was in the back of my mind that he had lost his daughter.  I knew this must have affected him.  Of course I had no idea how deeply it can affect a person.  That's the thing about suffering, you can only guess what someone else is going through from your own perspective.  I heard some gasps for breath in his lyrics and could hear him calling out to God.

Then earlier this week, the whole shell exploded open for me.  In the midst of my simple listening a lyric hit me dead between the eyes and completely floored me, "It was the day the world went wrong, I screamed until my voice was gone...".  Hold on, that song is about the moment his daughter died... "And watched through the tears as everything came crashing down, slowly panic turns to pain."  I began to listen properly to the song and it was so painful and I began to relate to Steven's emotions and experience.

Then the lid lifted for me.  It wasn't just this song that was about the death of his five year old little Maria.  Every... single.... song... on the album was about this.  Wow.   I had no idea.  I was stunned to read that when he recorded this album he paid no attention to the listener, that he just wrote the songs as he needed to, and that not even his wife heard most of it until it had been recorded.  That's just how raw and real this record is.  Steven Curtis Chapman is being so completely vulnerable in releasing this album to the world.  And I am so completely blessed by it.  He is teaching the church and unbelievers also something that we all need to know.  Suffering should not stop someone from knowing God's love.  In fact Jesus meets people in the midst of their suffering.  This might actually be the only real place to truly know who Jesus is.  It was in Jesus suffering that he showed the depth of his love for us.

Through all of the darkness and pain in each of the lyrics, and not only the lyrics but the gut wrenching tones and melancholy melodies, there are moments of heaven breaking through.  There are moments when Steven looks out of his deep pit of despair and actually sees the hope of glory for what it is.  The hope of heaven is so real for him.  The hope of seeing his little girl again, but even greater than that the hope of when all things are truly new, when all things are truly healed.

That's the thing of it though.  So often we get caught up in this life as if it is all there is.  But our lives are fashioned for eternity.  We don't actually belong  in this mess that is the present fallen world.  We belong in the perfect place that the Lord has waiting for us.  "Out of these ashes.... beauty will rise, and we will dance among the ruins, we will see Him with our own eyes...   I can almost feel the hand of God reaching for my face to wipe away the tears, and say "It's time to make everything new".... It would take our breath away to see the beauty that he's made out of the ashes."   Little Maria is now perfect in heaven, with a perfect and new glorified body.  As Jesus said "unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, there can not be new life."

How great the pain, and how searingly difficult to understand, but it is through death and suffering that God brings about something new and perfect.  This was what he did through Jesus on the cross and the resurrection that followed.  This is what he has planned for each of us who dare to believe in this amazing God.

All of this album has moments of tragic pain in it.  All of this album has moments of the true hope of glory, of eternal redemption, of seeing Jesus face to face.  I am so touched that Steven has been able to hold on to Jesus, well that Jesus has held him so close in the midst of this.

This album is so intensely powerful and such a huge blessing.  Every moment and every melody that climbs to heaven from the deepest depth is so very real.  There is not one ounce of pretence.  To me Steven proves that God can be known in suffering and dispels every critic who denounces the truth of Jesus.

If I were you, I would give it a listen, if you dare.

(I haven't even begun to do justice in this review to how great this record is, or how great the faith is of trusting in God.  I just know it will inspire you beyond measure.  I can't recommend highly enough that you buy it... go on off to itunes you go.  :)  )

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Faith like potatoes- a movie review of your faith

My sister gave me a DVD for my birthday at the end of March.  I had a whole month in which I could have watched it.  But with packed preparations for going to live in Russia I never seemed to fit it in.  Melody and I eventually watched it on our third night in Russia, on our own out in a small Russian village.

I had already begun to feel the spiritual oppression here again, and of course I know why we are here, but still it was a little overwhelming and discouraging.  If we had watched this movie while in Australia it still would have been encouraging but watching it here it received 10 times the value via the spiritual exchange rate.

The story of Faith Like Potatoes is tremendously inspirational.  It left me praying that God would give me the gift of faith in my own life.  I know that learning another language and communicating the gospel stories are necessary and important parts of the work.  But I also know that people come to faith the most when God does miracles in their lives and cultures.  Miracles are not an end in themselves.  In fact Jesus was actually more concerned that people would be forgiven of their sins than that they would be healed. This comes out clearly in the story where the crippled man is lowered through the roof.  Jesus says, "so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive your sins, take up your mat and walk!"  But miracles have a massive impact that challenge people's world views to the point where they are prepared to repent of their sins.  This is why I want to see God work miracles in people's lives, even through my ministry.  This has become my prayer.

Does God always heal?  Actually that's none of my business and none of my choice.  But we have not, because we ask not.  When we were in China I prayed for beggars on the streets on a couple of occasions.  The first time God told me to pray for the woman.  I did so in obedience and I know that he worked.  The second time he actually moved on me to pray for a cripple to be healed.  But I was too afraid.  I was too afraid of what would have happened if the cripple was healed.  It was in a subway train station.  If the cripple was healed, pandemonium would have broken out and I would have had to disappear for fear of being arrested.  Surely God is big enough to take care of those little details.  So I repented of not praying for the cripple to be healed.  That was before watching this true story movie.

Next time Lord, please give me the faith to not be afraid of the consequences but to trust you no matter what.

I've barely told you a thing about the plot of the movie, apart from hinting that there are miracles in it.  That should be enough.  It's well worth watching and should seriously challenge your faith.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Making Jesus famous

Maybe I'm a slow reader, or maybe I just digest things slowly. I am meandering slowly through the prophecies of Isaiah- the gospel of the old testament. That's why my blog is called "in one ear". Things go in and get stuck inside for a long time before coming out again. The final chapter had already struck me with the climax of God's glory been made known in all the earth. In the build up to this climax a few pieces of the puzzle have been falling in to place for me.
This morning Melody and I were reading chapter 26. As I read through Melody said "didn't you read this chapter yesterday?" It sounded familiar. :) But as I read I wanted to keep reading, it sounded different to yesterday. Things were jumping out at me all over the place. After such a rapid succession of ideas and understanding, we decided to pray through the chapter, point by point that had struck us.
So often scripture has been something for personal application. But then how should verses like- 'Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith', be interpreted? This is not something that I can act on as an individual. This requires action from a nation, that a nation itself may become righteous. Sometimes we can become so consumed in our western individualistic lifestyles that we do not believe it possible or even right for a group of people or a nation to act together. But I believe it to be God's desire. Still, how can I act on this scripture? I can pray for it to come true, for my own nation and for the nations that God has called me to.
The salvation that the LORD has won for us is powerful. It is to be our strength. In fact Isaiah describes it this way- 'We have a strong city, God makes salvation its walls and ramparts.' Salvation is to be our defence against all forms of spiritual attack. Such attacks can come in the form of discouragement, struggles, sickness and even depression. But we have a strong city to live in. It's God's desire that all nations would live within his holy city.
There are lots of things in this chapter that can be prayers in our lives. "The path of the righteous is level, O Upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth." This is a promise and a great prayer to pray. Lord, make us righteous like you and make our ways smooth. God can open doors for us in life, according to his will. We have seen this so many times recently, that I am beginning to think that God wants this to be a pattern in our lives. This idea is echoed in verse 12, "LORD, you establish peace for us, all that we have accomplished, you have done for us." This can also be our prayer. It reminds me of all the things the Lord has done in recent times to get us here. The Lord has accomplished this, he has established peace in our lives.
Verse 8 struck me the deepest. "Your name and renown our the desire of our hearts." This is a simple thing to say, but a far deeper thing when true. This has become my prayer. My prayer that my desire would truly be that Jesus would be famous in all the world. My prayer that it would not only be my desire, but that it would come true. My prayer that this would happen in the land in which i live, to the indigenous peoples to which I am called, that Jesus would indeed be famous amongst them. I have a feeling that when this is true, that they will believe also. It's not my job to make anyone believe. The Holy Spirit draws people, but it is my job to make Jesus famous. That's my desire, that's my vocation.
There are many more thoughts developing in me in response to this song of praise in Isaiah. But I guess they will have to churn around inside a little while longer before they rise to the surface coherently.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Intimacy vs Formalism

Anybody who knows me knows that I am not a formal person. The only time in my life that I actually enjoyed wearing a tie was in high school, which was kind of weird. I don't own a suit, in fact when ever there is a wedding or a funeral I inevitably have to buy dress pants as they never make the cut when I am moving around the world.

I guess it's no secret that Australian culture is also less formal than some other western cultures. This can certainly get Aussies in trouble at times when relating to some Europeans and North Americans. And I am certainly one of the casual Aussies around. I'm not saying that everybody has to be like me, far from it. But I would like to explain in some way why I prefer deep and intimate relationships to formal and distant ones.

There is a bit of a thought process going on that has been latent but recently has risen to the surface. I guess I really have been listening to a lot of Steven Curtis Chapman recently. His musical genius is probably the most significant music that Melody has brought to our marriage (she doesn't listen to as much music as me). Just recently one of his songs hit me square between the eyes.

It's called Beautiful Scars:

Sit here wth me, tell me your story
Even if it breaks my heart
Let me see your scars

Shame will whisper
Although we can't listen
Cos these are the stories
That make us who we are

And I love who you are
And your beautiful scars
Your Beautiful scars
Reminders of the wounded love that has carried us this far
Beautiful scars, turning the marks of our pain into beautiful scars

For us bruised and broken, for us he was forsaken
Our wounded healer, suffered to set us free
See in his hands and his feet

Beautiful scars, beautiful scars
Reminders of the Saviour's love that has carried us this far
Beautiful scars, turning the marks of our pain into beautiful scars

See in his hands and his feet

There is something incredibly intimate about this song. Just to imagine sitting down with Jesus and him telling me the story of the pain and sacrifice he went through to redeem me. To ask to see someone's scars is a very intimate thing to ask. But would Jesus hold back from such a request? No. In fact he invited St Thomas to touch his hands and side, to which St Thomas responded "My Lord and my God!" Jesus invited intimacy. We know that he had very close friendships with all of his disciples. Does this intimacy stop with the disciples though? I don't believe so. The LORD God walked in the cool of the day in the Garden of Eden to fellowship with Adam and Eve. He had intimacy with them. Sin broke this intimacy. This broke God's heart. Adam and Eve had to wear clothes to hide their shame. This was also a reminder of the intimacy lost between them and God.

Ever since that fatal day many thousands of years ago the Lord has been working to restore intimacy with us. He allowed formalism at times, as a concession to our weaknesses; we see this in the structure of the tabernacle and temple. But this is not where God was most pleased. He was most pleased when people like King David worshiped with everything that they had. When David danced before the Lord he was naked and unashamed. (I'm not actually advocating a nudist movement here.) The key is that he was unashamed, and sought intimacy with the Lord. We know that David was a "man after God's own heart." Isaiah goes on to prophesy against the formalism of the sacrificial system saying that

"Who ever sacrifices a bull is like one who murders a man, and whoever offers a lamb, like one who break's a dog's neck; whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig's blood and whoever burns memorial incense like one who worships an idol. They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations."

So it is my theory that God is seeking intimacy with us. Jesus taught us to call him "Abba Father", that means "Daddy." He didn't teach us to call God "Sir" or "Your excellency." Now of course when Jesus taught these things it turned the Jewish world view on its head. I think Jesus would turn the church on its head today and that we have strayed a long way closer to calling our heavenly Father "sir" than "daddy".

To me formality in relationships is the opposite of what Jesus teaches us. Jesus desires intimacy with all of us. He doesn't just desire that we have intimacy with him, but that we also have intimacy with one another. To me formalities get in the way of intimacy, especially when the "professional" nature of a relationship puts up barriers to intimacy. I know there are some that will not agree with me. That's ok. I just wanted to put up my case as to why I do not seek formality, but rather intimacy in my own life.

I remember years ago I told the Lord that I wanted him to "use me." It was as if I was applying for a job. Four years later the Lord said "you want to be used by me, but do you want to know me?" He was telling me that he was not interested in a professional relationship, in giving me a job. He told me that he wanted intimacy with me a thousand times more than anything else. He took away all the things I proposed to do for him, and asked me if that all came crashing down, would I have a relationship of intimacy with him.

I guess that's who I am, the Aussie Sentimental Bloke, who likes intimacy, mateship, loyalty, redback boots, and hates suits and ties, professionalism and formalities. I prefer a good old fashioned yarn over documents in triplicate any day. I am oral, not literate in my approach to the world....

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Let the nations fill the LORD's temple

I have been reflecting on Isaiah recently. I think I'd like to do some more of it. Isaiah excites me as a prophet. It's stunning to realise how much prophetic insight the LORD gave him. He saw some things that the other prophets just didn't.
The Lord revealed to him in chapter 14 how the devil fell from heaven. The Lord revealed in great depth that the Messiah would suffer. This wasn't exactly what many Israelites expected. But then again many Israelites were far too busy worshipping pagan gods to be interested in what the Lord actually had to say to them.
The Lord revealed some down right controversial things to Isaiah. So controversial in fact that it got him sawed in half. How about this excerpt from chapter 66.

And they will bring all your brothers, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem.... And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites," says the LORD.

Levites from other nations? How can that even be possible. Aren't they supposed to be from the tribe of Levi. It just goes to show how serious the Lord is about people from all nations worshiping him in his kingdom is.

The chapter starts out with this piece of poetry.

This is what the LORD says:
"Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things,
and so they came into being?"
declares the LORD.

I had always thought of these verses along the lines, "we will build a temple for you Lord through our praises." It sounds nice, but this is not what the verses are talking about. The questions are rhetorical questions. The LORD is saying, "could you possibly build a temple good enough to glorify me?" Follow this up with God denouncing their sacrifices and you would have to say that he is tired of their false worship in Jerusalem. Could he even tire when we worship him falsely? What are our motivations?

The LORD is saying, "look, I'm sitting here in the heavens on my throne, and I'm so big that my feet are sitting down there on the earth. You couldn't possibly build a temple good enough to glorify me, but I have. I have already built the temple, it's all of my creation." If the LORD has built a temple the size of the universe then it needs to be filled with his glory. As it says in Habakkuk...

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD,
as the waters cover the sea.

The whole temple needs to be filled. Who is supposed to fill this temple that God has made? Isaiah goes on to answer this question later in chapter 66, well the LORD does through Isaiah's words.

"I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. And they will bring all your brothers, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD -on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels," says the LORD. "They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels. And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites," says the LORD.

People from all nations, will come and worship at Jerusalem. Possibly this is a picture of the new Jerusalem prophesied in Revelation. What ever the case, the temple is not full until people from all nations are worshiping the LORD in it.

I like this spin on the verses at the start of chapter 66, I think it is a more accurate interpretation, and when you think of it, it's a far more exciting one, to think of all nations worshiping the LORD.

There's still over 4000 unreached people groups or nations in the world today. Let's fill the LORD's temple with his glory, with the praises of thousands and thousands of nations, peoples, tribes and languages. This is what mission is all about. I hope it excites you. It sure excites me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why I quit facebook aka... Myface or Spacebook

Yep, that's right I deleted my account. It wasn't easy to do I can tell you. There used to be a simple function under account settings, but it is now hidden deep within the dungeon of their administration. Even when I did "delete" I was informed that there is a 14 day cooling off period. If I were to log in within the next couple weeks, it would be as if nothing happened. But I'll show them! I have kicked their narcotic I tell you.

Facebook is a bit of a social experiment gone wrong. I have found myself in far too many debates with people over the last few years. Some people love a good debate. Some can't stand it. The simple fact is that many people use facebook for their own reasons, but if they are different to your own, then they are not quite compatible.

It is far too easy to say things that you would never quite say in real life. That is, the thought may be the same, but it is often phrased differently on facebook. I have certainly done this, that's for sure. Too often I have taken my opinion and thrown a little bit of a spin on it to ruffle people's feathers and try to get a debate going. This has had some distasteful consequences.

In short, I am aware that I have offended people with my opinions at times. I have never been one to hide my opinions in life, and have also been overly enthusiastic in wanting others to understand me, and even agree with me. In short, I am humbled and apologetic for causing this hurt to people, some that I know about, and some that I don't. I only hope that I have the chance to apologise properly to those that I have hurt.

Now that facebook is gone, I'm happier. :) No more banal triviality for me. No more consuming myself in various debates, all the while feeling a little sick about it. Life is more peaceful again. I can feel the soft breeze of reality blowing back in to the room. I can blog again. I really need to blog again. It's a thousand times more therapeutic for me, and I know that there will always be some that will want to interact with me.

In real life there is always the chance to speak back instantly. In real life respect is mandatory (in my book anyway). The recent experiment called "Chat Roulette" shows just how far the virtual reality world can go, deep in to places where people have no anchor for their psyche, and will undoubtedy get lost in a treacherous outer space squall.

I'm getting back to the Nescafe ads, LOL in person.

Blogs are second best hey?! :)