Friday, April 26, 2013

Victory In Defeat

In a display of honour, Australians and New Zealanders gather together on ANZAC Day to commemorate the Gallipoli campaign on the shores of Turkey during the first world war.  This has become an annual day of remembrance, not of a victorious conquest, but of a crushing defeat resulting in heavy casualties and a retreat from a determined and strategically dominant enemy.  If Gallipoli was a sporting event, it would have been a humiliating defeat best left hidden in the pages of history.  However, as a failed military campaign, it has become the focus of national pride with its veterans earning respect and admiration across all generations.

In a proud nation like Australia, with a strong cultural value of winning, what is it about this failed campaign in the arena of war that evokes such pride?  It seems that there are deeper values seen within the defeat at Gallipoli that transcends the superficial value of winning.  This paradox is not only evident at a commemorative event like ANZAC Day, but in the sporting arena when Australians stand behind the underdog who displays the same kind of values seen at Gallipoli.

What are those values?

While attending this years ANZAC Day Dawn Service, the RSL Vice President gave a stirring speech that identified some of these values that are not dependent upon achievement or victory:

"They were deemed great not necessarily for what they achieved, nor for whether they were victories or successes.  Rather, great events are distinguished by the quality of the human endeavour they called upon, by the examples they create for ordinary men and women, and by the legends they inspire."  (Dawn Service Speech, Dandenong Cranbourne RSL Vice President Bill Shepherd)

The line in this speech that captured these deeper values for me is "the quality of the human endeavour."  This speaks more of attitude than actions, effort than achievement, courage than victory, and resilience amidst overwhelming odds.  The determination to stand firm while under attack, focused on a clear vision and committed to completing the mission, is what inspires others.  The quality of the human endeavour describes the character of a person whose internal victory speaks louder than their external defeat. 

The Bible is filled with stories of heroic people who personify the Gallipoli spirit by displaying this same quality of the human endeavour as they committed themselves to fulfilling God's purposes.  None moreso than the person of Jesus Christ whose apparent defeat on the cross was an overwhelming victory for humankind.  Despite temptation, misunderstanding, persecution, false accusation and a cruel death, Jesus overcame the battle against evil with a victory for righteousness.  When Jesus defied Satan in the dessert by declaring, "Man shall not live by bread alone," He prepared Himself for victory in defeat.  When Jesus said in the garden, "Not my will but yours be done," He positioned Himself for victory in defeat.  When Jesus uttered the words, "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they are doing" while hanging on the cross in front of His accusers, He proved victory in defeat!

When the strength of a person is stronger than their circumstances, they too can have victory in defeat!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


“Loving God, compassionate and merciful,
We pray for every land, and for every daughter
And son of humankind, the right to life, liberty, and security of person;
Freedom from slavery and servitude;
Freedom from torture; freedom from cruel, inhuman,
Or degrading treatment or punishment.”

As we reflect back on the horrors of war, one can almost hear the echo of this prayer in the hearts of men and women, as they themselves went, and watched those whom they loved, march off to fight for such a dream.  It is ironic and tragic that so many had to die to achieve life, liberty and security of person.  Yet as we gather as a nation on ANZAC Day in remembrance and respect for those who fought and fell, there is a sense of pride for the courage and self-sacrifice of our countrymen and women who went to war.

The Salvation Army, like many other organisations, have long had an association with the military in their efforts for peace.  While reading a book published in 1919 called, “The Army that went with the Boys”, I found an article that was published in the Australian War Cry on the occasion of the signing of the Armistice, on November 11, 1918 written by General Bramwell Booth regarding ‘Peace’:

“The news of an Armistice - which, all can see, will lead to Peace - must fill with gratitude every lover of mankind.  No words of mine can adequately express the joy and praise which we The Salvation Army in every corner of the earth feel in the conclusion of the awful conflict of the last four years.  Dark clouds may still hang over the future, but today we can do nothing but thank God for peace.

The war is ending amid a general downfall of those who hoped to profit by it, and in a universal hatred, not of this country or that, not of this man or the other, but of war itself.  This is the hatred which is akin to righteousness.  It is a half-sister of love, and is manifestation of the spirit of Holiness.

It is not given to us to see into the future.  We know not whether the long hoped for day has dawned when wars shall be no more.  We cannot tell how far the reign of universal peace has really begun.  But we can see that a new and powerful spirit of aversion to the killing methods of settling disputes between peoples has taken possession of a large part of mankind.  Let us praise God for that!  Let us do what we can to instruct and deepen it.  Let us also value the glorious prospect of a new good-will among men, purchased for us at the cost of so much precious blood, and so infinite a sum of agony.

Let us remember, amid our rejoicings of today, the mourners.  The bells and music will be mingled in many hearts with the memory of dear voices now silent for ever.  They have lost that the world might gain - they have given freely that we might be spared.  May God comfort them - and let all who love Him share in the blessed work.

And now, my dear comrades..., need I remind you that in our war there is no Armistice - no cessation of hostilities?  The days of Peace will bring to us needs as great as the days of war.  Let us all in fuller measure give ourselves to God for bringing about a true reign of Righteousness in all lands, and amongst all peoples.  Forward with the Cross of Jesus!”

Well, many wars have passed since that celebration of peace, and many more men and women have died for the same cause.  But let us not forget the ultimate sacrifice of one man who died for the eternal peace of all humankind, Jesus Christ.  Jesus Himself says:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

As we look around us today we see a world of social, political and moral turmoil; a world without the peace that so many have died for.  Although we deeply respect the sacrifice of many, let us acknowledge the sacrifice of one - who alone can bring peace to this world.  Jesus came so that we may experience a life of fullness, hope and peace - He provided the way through His death on the cross, which we celebrated only a few weeks ago at Easter.  And by His resurrection we can experience victory over all that which is evil in this world.

One would hope that as a society who has experienced the atrocities of war, we would learn from the pain of the past and take hold of the hope of the future which is found in Christ.  In our pursuit of peace, may we embrace the words of the hymn, Peace, Perfect Peace:

Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.

Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.

Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
On Jesus’ bosom naught but calm is found.

Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
In Jesus’ keeping we are safe, and they.

Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and he is on the throne.

Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.

It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease,
And Jesus call us to heaven’s perfect peace.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

God Says NO To Our NO To Reinforce His YES!

I am currently studying a Bachelor of Ministry at Tabor College and this semester has me on a theological journey of discovery about Jesus Christ.  While Jesus is clearly my Saviour, my Lord and my Friend who knows me intimately, this subject has allowed me to get to know Jesus a little more intimately.  And because Jesus tells us that we must know Him to know God, God's eternal plan for humankind through Jesus Christ has become clearer than ever before.

There are two significant theological terms that are prominent in any study of Jesus Christ:
  • Incarnation
  • Atonement
For some of you these words are very familiar, for others, you may have heard of them but are unsure what they really mean and their may be a few of you who will wonder what language I am speaking.

Simply put...

The INCARNATION is God taking on human flesh to become one of us in the person of Jesus Christ.
The ATONEMENT is God's gracious act to restore the broken relationship with humankind through the person of Jesus Christ.

The incarnation has been traditionally understood to be about who Jesus is, whereas the atonement has been traditionally understood to be about what Jesus did.  However, the two need to be understood together because Jesus person and His actions are inseparable.

While catching up on some lectures last week I was interested in a discussion about the motivation of the atonement.  Why did God do it?  What is the purpose of the atonement?  What problem for humankind did the atonement deal with?

Ever since the Reformation of the Church, the atonement has been spoken of in legal or forensic terms in the Evangelical movement!

Let me illustrate:  The commonly used "4 Spiritual Laws" evangelism tract says...
  1. God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.
  2. Man is sinful and separated from God.
  3. Jesus Christ is God's only provision for man's sin.
  4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
The problem identified by the "4 Spiritual Laws" is...SIN
Therefore the motivation of the atonement is... SIN

Right?  No!!

Is SIN really the primary motivation of God?  Is SIN the main theme of the Bible?

Not according to Jesus!

"For God so loved the world..." (John 3:16)

Nor according to John!

"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sends his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:10)

The atonement certainly does deal with the book of Romans to see that!  The motivation, however, is not sin, but relationship - God loves us and sin is a barrier to relationship with God, so He deals with sin, not as an ends in itself, but as a means to restore broken relationship.

From the Creation story to the Cross...RELATIONSHIP has been God's only motivation for His interaction with humankind.  No matter what people have done to sever that relationship by saying NO to God, He has relentlessly said NO to our NO, reinforcing His YES for the salvation of all people!

God says NO to our NO to reinforce His YES!

The word "Atonement" broken down means at-one-ment:  that is, to be at one with God.

To be at one means to be in relationship.  God said YES to relationship at the beginning of time and reinforced His YES by sending Jesus (incarnation) to reconcile broken relationship with God (atonement).

God says NO to our NO to reinforce His YES!

No matter how hard you try to say NO to God, you cannot escape God's YES because it is His eternal plan to be in relationship with His creation.  It is the motivation of the atonement for you to be at one with God.

Therefore, the atonement fully satisfied God's love for humankind.

This motivation of the atonement challenges the way the gospel has been traditionally presented through modern evangelism and even sung about in worship.  Take Stuart Townend's song "In Christ Alone" for example, a powerful worship song that I love to sing.  In the second verse it presents the motivation of atonement to appease the wrath of God.  However, based on a relational motivation of the atonement, I think we need to correct the 2nd verse of the song...

In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied -
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

This line infers that the motivation of the atonement was sin, but because we have established that the motivation is relationship expressed through God's love, the line would better read...

The love of God was satisfied!

Jesus satisfies God's love for His creation by providing a way for reconciliation between fallen humanity and Creator God.  God refused to accept our rejection of His love, because His YES for relationship was greater than our NO.

God says NO to our NO to reinforce His YES!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

What Is Truth?

"We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God and that they only constitute the divine rule of Christian faith and practice."  (1st Doctrine of The Salvation Army)

Yesterday, social media was flooded by posts and news reports celebrating the historic passing of the Gay Marriage Bill in New Zealand, becoming the 13th country to legalise gay marriage.  What is a significant win for the voices of those advocating for the rights of the LGBT community is also a significant challenge for the Church seeking to reconcile biblical truth with popular opinion.  We live in a time when there are conflicting voices about truth, morality and ethics, not only challenging the tenets of faith, but long held social values.  As demonstrated yesterday, when enough conflicting voices find unity, truth is redefined and laws are changed.

The democracy that has been defended in our nation provides the platform for minority voices to be heard and to significantly influence the majority.  In recent years we saw the rise of a small minority party in Australia called "One Nation" that gave voice to racist and other prejudiced views that attracted enough votes to win a seat in parliament.  The rise of multiculturalism and increase in the prominance of world religions in Australia evoked the introduction of the "Racial and Religious Tolerance Act" in Victoria that landed two Christian leaders in court for speaking out against opposing religious views.  Euthanasia advocates are gaining increasing public support for the legalisation of voluntary Euthanasia with a private member's bill only two votes away from victory in the South Australian parliament last year.

At what point does a society not allow popular opinion or majority rule to alter foundational or traditional values?  What are the checks and balances to protect against loud and opposing minorities?  Does a popular view make it right?  Who determines what is right?  Is the democratic system of government that we celebrate in Australia as secure as we think?  What happens when enough people in a democracy agree on an idealogy that violates basic human rights or long held biblical beliefs?  Are we on a slippery slope of self destruction by abandoning absolute truth?

In the absence of absolute truth, relative morality and popular opinion provide a very unstable foundation for social, political and religious values.  Since the early church councils of the first few centuries, Christians have embraced the Bible as God's revelation and the foundation for truth.  It has acted as a measuring stick for life and the law, shaping much of the western world's values.  It reveals God's pattern for humanity and His plan to restore relationship between the Creator and His creation.  Everytime we abandon God's ideals for ours we step out of alignment with His pattern and plan for humankind.  It seems to me that the brokenness we see in our world is proportional to the shift of social values away from biblical values.

We may defend our right to choose and pursue whatever lifestyle seems right to us, but when what is right for me clashes with what is right for you, we have an impasse that compromises the very essence of community.  While a return to the Scriptures as the "divine rule of Christian faith and practice" may seem archaic in a modern secular society, it does provide a solid foundation to reestablish a society centred around a common set of values that are aligned with God's pattern and plan for humankind.  When ancient Israel "did what was right in their own eyes" an entire kingdom fell, but when they submitted to God's laws the nation prospered.  I wonder what it will take for this nation to recognise the vulnerability of our society as we shift further away from the foundation of God's Word?  How many marriage break-downs, financial collapses, corrupt politicians, acts of violence and terrorism, environmental disasters, armed conflicts, abused children, trafficked human beings will it take to admit that as a human race we have got it wrong and are incapable of making our own rules?

There is so much talk about our rights - the right to love who we want, to say what we want, do what we want, have want we want and be what we want.  But when what we want for our lives misaligns with what God wants for our lives, the happiness we think we feel is temporal and incomparable to the abundance of life that is ours when we abandon our rights for a relationship with our Creator and live according to His pattern and purpose.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


It is only when relationships are real, reflecting who we really are in every arena of life, that they withstand the challenges of leadership and make any real impact on those we lead.

The CROSS Road at Emmaus

On the road to Emmaus the disciples faced the CROSS Road between knowledge and experience when they encountered the resurrected Christ.

Jesus challenged their unbelief...

"Jesus said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26)

Jesus opened their eyes through their encounter with Him...

"Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”  (Luke 24:31-32)


The transition between the revelation of the prophets and the reality of Jesus is a CROSS Road of belief where what we know becomes real!

It is that movement from head to heart, theory to reality, knowledge to experience.  You may call it that 'aha' moment of faith.  A moment when faith and life intersect.  

When was your 'aha' moment of faith?  When did your knowledge of God become an experience of God?

Are you still wandering down the CROSS Road of faith wrestling with unbelief?  Or is your 'heart burning within' because of a divine encounter?  Has God's revelation become your reality?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Balanced People Don't Change The World!

As a student of leadership I find myself at times on a conflicting journey of self improvement.  My eagerness to learn and develop myself stumbles into my enthusiasm to lead and develop others.  My integrated approach to life and ministry defies a compartmentalized view of leadership.  While I am open and receptive to sound leadership principles and coaching, I instinctively resist a pull towards a more "balanced" approach to life and leadership.  In fact, I have developed a real aversion to even the word, let alone the idea of "balance."  Why?  Because balanced people don't change the world!

Consider the following biblical, historical and modern heroes of the faith:

The letter to the Hebrews outlines a list of extraordinary biblical leaders who were far from balanced -  "Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.  Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.   Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.  Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.  Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.  Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.  He left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible." (Hebrews 11)

St. Francis of Assisi abandoned a life of privilege adopting a life of voluntary poverty.  He founded the Franciscan Order of "lesser brothers" who preached on the streets and ministered to the poor, expanding their mission throughout Italy and beyond.

John Wesley sustained an insane ministry schedule becoming an influential preacher, prolific writer, generous benefactor, supporter of the abolition of slavery, making a significant contribution to theology and the holiness movement, and sowing the seeds for modern Methodism.

William Wilberforce used his social and political influence to lobby parliament for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.  He fought relentlessly for 20 years against repeated defeats before 'An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade' received royal assent.

William Booth pursued a uncompromising passion to reach the most disadvantaged in the east end of London, abandoning a lay preaching ministry with the Methodist church to advance an audacious vision for the salvation of the whole world through The Salvation Army.

Bill Hybels, when he received a vision of a prevailing church while in college, left his fathers business and together with a group of passionate like-minded Christ followers invested everything they had to build a church "to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ."

These heroes of the faith did not become influential leaders who literally changed the course of history by opting for a work-life balance.  They were passionate, risk-taking, faith-driven leaders who had the audacity to believe in a God who could do extraordinary things through ordinary people.  They were discontent with the status quo and possessed an unshakeable vision for a better future.  They dared to believe in a God who could, even when they couldn't.  They refused to settle for mediocrity and strove for excellence.  They were driven by a Holy Spirit fervour that could not be quenched by a humanistic ideology.

Balance is a myth that anesthetizes passion, risk and faith in leaders.  Balanced people are unlikely to leave the security of a well paid job, uproot their family and abandon all that is familiar for the uncertainty of a local or global mission.  Balanced people don't change the world!

In her book "Chaotic Order" Major Danielle Strickland from Canada challenges this balance myth - “Exposing the balance myth is important for leaders in chaotic environments because it frees us from the restraint and constant fear that we are somehow losing ground by being passionately committed to people. Rejecting the balance myth is key to leading out of relationships that can feel chaotic. Being available, open, honest, transparent, real, and needy isn’t easy.”

Whether I live to 100 or die at 50, I don't want to waste a minute of my life giving anything less than the totality of my entire being to fulfilling God's calling.  In the word's of the old chorus, "All my days and all my hours, all my will and all my powers, all the passion of my soul, not a fragment but the whole.  Shall be thine, dear Lord." 

Why Because balanced people don't change the world!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Dear Mr Kim Jong-un

Dear Mr. Kim Jong-un,

As a global citizen I am deeply grieved when the basic human rights of people are violated, regardless their culture, creed or class.  I acknowledge that western nations have not always exercised fair and just citizenship, but I appeal to you to join me in respecting our common humanity to end the cycle of injustice.

As a follower of Jesus Christ I am ashamed when religion is used as a tool to oppress and abuse people, from all expressions of faith.  I acknowledge that the western church has not always demonstrated the love of God we profess, but I appeal to you to join me in exercising a common humility and submit to the Creator of all humankind.

As a husband and father I am concerned about the safety of my family living in a world faced with the constant threat of terrorism and war.  I acknowledge that western governments have contributed to global unrest, but I appeal to you to join me in creating a common haven of peace and security for our families and future generations to come.

You and I share a mantle of leadership that grants us great influence over the people for whom we are responsible.  You lead a nation, I lead a local church, but the decisions we make impact lives.  May we share the prayer of King Solomon who understood the need for wisdom and discernment in carrying out his role as a leader: “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.  Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.  So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.  For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

Yours in the hope of a better future...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Divine Conversations #2

Divine Conversations #1

“He has shown you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?”

“…to Act Justly”
Lord God, stir in our hearts a holy indignation for injustice.  May your righteousness so burn within our spirits that we are compelled to stand up for the vulnerable, defenceless and voiceless of our society.  Open our eyes and hearts to the injustices of our world.  Challenge our own attitudes and actions that may inadvertently contribute to injustice.

“…to Love Mercy/Kindness”
Lord God, may we not only be a people who speak up for truth, but be a people of grace that displays your mercy and kindness to a lost and hurting world.  Give us a deep compassion that sees people the way you see them, so that we may serve them as you would.  Soften our hearts and quicken our hands so that we may “do for the least of these” as though they were Christ.

“…to Walk Humbly with your God”  (Micah 6:8)  
Lord God, give us “the same attitude as that of Jesus Christ” who humbled himself “taking the very nature of a servant”.  Remove any pride that would cause us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought.  Restore within us a right image of ourselves so that we may see what our Creator sees.  May everything we think, say or do bring glory and honour to you, O Lord!

Restore your church to be the beautiful bride you called her to be.  Raise up an army of believers who will uphold righteousness (truth) and mercy (grace).

Renew a right spirit within us so that we may truly walk in your ways.

Revive a lost and broken world to claim the redemption that has been accomplished on the cross by Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.