college travels

Monday, August 31, 2009

God's Good News for Children in Families

No doubt many of you will be aware of the recent death of Graham Wade ( Graham was a great friend of the College from the very beginning – involved in producing our first prospectus, promotional video and various other pieces of information about the College, Graham was also an esteemed partner in the grand task of sharing the good news of Jesus with children. Graham was a presenter at our inaugural Theology of Children’s Ministry conference back in and gave a truly inspirational dinner address to the conference in 2007. It’s been an honour to share a first name with this brother and an even greater honour, privilege and joy to share in ministry with him.

It’s fitting then that I’ve been working recently on writing a gospel outline specifically for sharing God’s good news with children as part of a paper to be presented at the forthcoming Theology of Children’s Ministry Conference. Graham Wade taught us to love children enough to share the truth of Jesus with them in a way that they could understand and engage with. This humble attempt is offered in honour of his example and service.

So... the conference is a month away, so if you have any feedback for me I’d love to hear from you!

Begin with the character and power of God

There are so many good things in the world to enjoy – sky and sea, plants and animals, families and friends. The Bible tells us that God made everything for us to enjoy. God did all this so that we would know that he loves us.

Connecting with the child’s experience of the world– broken relationships with God, each other and the world; and death as the consequence of sin.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like God is with us. We fight and can be unkind to others and they can be unkind to us. Children as well as adults get sick and die. There is pollution and there are wars in the world

The mission of God

God loves his world and he especially loves every person in the world. The Bible tells us about God’s plan to fix the mess that the world is in.

The formation of a missionary people as central to His plan.

God’s plan is to bring people together into a big family so he can be their friend. God helps his friends to work together with him to love and care for his world too.

Sin and its consequences

The Bible says that when people don’t listen to God we end up making a mess of the world and hurting each other. God is against everything that messes up his world.

God’s judgement on the world and his reason for this

When things in the world are painful for us God wants us to ask him for help. God wants us to listen to him. God wants to help us be kind to others and care for his world.

The accomplishment of God’s mission in Christ’s birth...

God the Father sent his Son Jesus to be born as a human baby and to grow up like us. Jesus always listened to God and was always kind to others.


Jesus died so that God could forgive people for not listening to him and messing up the world.

...resurrection and return.

Jesus didn’t stay dead. He is alive again. One day Jesus will come back to make a new world for all of God’s friends.

Jesus’ provision of the Holy Spirit for the initiation of salvation in repentance and faith.

Jesus gives God’s friends the Holy Spirit so they can listen to God and trust his promise of forgiveness.

God’s provision of the Holy Spirit for the continuation of salvation

The Holy Spirit helps us love others and care for his world.

God’s provision of families for the nurture and instruction of children

God gives us families to help us listen to God and follow Jesus. Our families can listen to God by reading the Bible together. We can talk to God by praying together.

God’s provision of the church

God also gives us a church family with brothers and sisters from lots of different families. The church family helps each other listen to God and follow Jesus.

A response prayer – intentionally a prayer that can be prayed repeatedly rather than a once off prayer of initial commitment

You and your family could pray the prayer on the next page to speak to God, to thank God and ask him to help you love others and care for his world:

Dear God; Thank you that you love the whole world. Thank you for sending Jesus your Son to forgive us and make us your friends. We are sorry for not listening to you, for hurting others and making a mess of the world. Thank you for giving us your Holy Spirit to help us listen to you and follow Jesus. Please help our family and our church family love others and care for your world. Jesus, please come back soon. Amen.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Some thoughts on Church and Culture – Thesis 2

I think we've been presented with a false dichotomy – either target your church at a particular culture in order to connect with people from that culture, and manipulate the gospel as a result (see previous post)... OR don't change church to match the surrounding culture and end up with an alienating 'churchy' culture that reaches no one other than those who have been enculturated over a lifetime.

There's another option.  Thesis 2: "A church shaped by the gospel creates its own culture where each member will engage any culture in the name of Christ"

Tim Keller (in The Reasons for God) points out how Christianity has found a home in cultures across the world and throughout history.  There have been dominant cultures within the church, but the dominant culture has changed over time – from Jerusalem to Constantinople, then Rome, Europe, England, the United States of America, and soon to the Global South.  At the same time the church has grown and thrived in diverse cultures and sub-cultures across the world.

The reason for this is that the trans-cultural truth of Christ can find a home equally within any culture—indeed, the church is made up of people from 'every tribe, language, people and nation' (Rev 7).  But the way we come together is important to grasp – not as one new culture, nor as simply the collection of different cultures, but the transformation of each culture in Christ which comes from giving a new heart to each of those cultures.  

Each culture is transformed in Christ – when we come to Christ we retain everything of our existing culture other than those things that are opposed to the Gospel of Christ.  So as an Australian I'll still cheer the Wallabies over the All Blacks, but I'll put aside the binge drinking and disrespect for the law.  As a coffee-snob I can still enjoy my macchiato but I'll need to tame the snobbery.

As our individual cultures are transformed in Christ, they still retain the differences that are taken up into Christ and therefore taken up into the church.  Which means that each local church will have its own culture – a culture like every other church culture because it is centred on the gospel of Christ; but a culture unlike any other church because it is enriched by the culture of the specific members of that church.  The church may have a majority culture, but that won't be a hegemonic culture because more significant than the majority will be the experience shared by all of confession of Christ as Lord; and neither will the majority culture be derived from those outside the church, but from those inside the church who are most fundamentally members of Christ.

As a result we have a church culture where any culture is welcome to come and be transformed and taken up into Christ.  And we will have a church culture where the individual members of the church will be ready and equipped to engage with any other culture in the name of Christ.

So now, as a coffee snob transformed in Christ, my church culture has equipped me to be able to engage generously and openly with both the elderly couple who live next door, the motor enthusiast who lives opposite, the computer nerd I meet at work and the tree-hugger I met while walking the dog.  And I do that NOT by pretending to be elderly one day, a rev-head the next, then pop into nerd-dom and finish the day wearing a hemp t-shirt.  That sort of 'incarnationalism' is artificial pretense and not what Paul means in becoming 'all things to all people'.

Paul's point in 1 Corinthians 9 is that while he has certain rights and freedoms as an apostle and as someone set free in Christ, he will readily choose to give up those rights in order to serve others more clearly with the gospel.  Where his rights may get in the way of the gospel of Christ being clearly heard he will forgo his freedom so that others might be saved.  Thus for Paul, being 'all things to all people' is not about what he puts on in order to be like someone else (his aim is not to 'go undercover' or pretend to be what he is not).  Instead he is concerned with what he will put off in order to not cause any unnecessary offence so that the gospel of Christ might be clearly heard.

So, to engage with my elderly neighbour I won't turn up my nose if they offer me international roast; with my motor enthusiast friend I won't turn up at his place in a suit, for my tree-hugger friend I won't serve him a coke in a Styrofoam cup.   Though I have a right to do all of those things, I'll put aside my rights, knowing that I'm a servant of all, so that I might share Christ.

And when every member of the church has this at their heart, then we as a community together in Christ will be able to connect with anyone who lives near enough to us to join with us as we join the mission of God as His people called in Christ by the Spirit through the Gospel.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Marriage Equality Bill 2009

I was forwarded this email today:

Submissions on the Marriage Equality Bill 2009 close 28 August!

You may have read our recent VoxPoint article on the Greens' Marriage Equality Bill 2009.  It would delete the words "a man and a woman" from the definition of marriage in the federal Marriage Act, replacing them with "two persons".


If passed, the bill would allow two men, or two women, to "marry".  It would radically change what marriage means in Australia.


The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is holding an inquiry into the Marriage Equality Bill, and FamilyVoice Australia has made a comprehensive submission opposing it.


But homosexual and lesbian groups are flooding the inquiry with submissions in support of the bill.  We need thousands of submissions opposing the bill.


Can you help?


All you need to do is send a short email by Friday 28 August to: .

In the subject line at the top, put "Marriage Equality Bill".  In the email itself, write your message.   It can be detailed, or very simple, such as:


To the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee


I oppose the Marriage Equality Bill 2009 because it would completely change the meaning marriage has had throughout history.  Marriage is vital for raising children, who need both a mum and a dad.


Include your name and street address, with postcode.


Click "send".


This is the email I sent off to the Senate Committee:

To the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee

I am writing to express my opposition to the Marriage Equality Bill 2009.  I do so as a Christian who is concerned both for the significance of marriage and for my concern for the rights of same-sex couples.  Marriage is the foundation of families where children can be raised by both a mother and a father.  I was raised in a single parent family following the death of my mother when I was a child.  I know first hand what I have lost through the loss of my mother.  My sister raised her first daughter through the early years of her life as a single mother.  I know from my relationship with both my sister and my niece of what they lost through the absence of a father in that family.  There is no value judgement involved here - both my own, and my sister's experience of family were good, but they were not ideal and there was a loss involved.  The Marriage Equality Bill would institutionalise this loss of a mother and a father for Australian children.

My Christian faith leads me to both argue for the preservation of marriage as the union between a man and a woman, and to argue for the safe-guarding of legal and economic rights of all Australian citizens irrespective of sexual preference.  The Marriage Equality Bill appears to me to be seeking to preserve the latter by discarding the former.

Therefore I would urge the Committee to reject the proposed bill.



Thursday, August 20, 2009

Some thoughts on Church and Culture – Thesis 1

I’ve been thinking a lot about the interaction between gospel and culture recently, particularly in relation to church planting. The vibe I’m hearing around the place is that we need to discover the culture of the community in which we want to plant a church and then shape our church culture to be able to fit with the surrounding culture. It goes under the heading of ‘incarnational mission’ (something I’ve railed against in the past... but that’s another story). So, to take a prominent example, Mars Hill Seattle looks around their city and sees a whole lot of Gen Y inner-city types; so they set about developing a church culture that is Gen Y inner-city-ish and from that platform set about evangelising the city. Which all seems great – and of course, there’s lot of greatness and godliness involved in it and lots of people have come to life in Christ. But here’s my concern...

Thesis 1: “If a church is targeted at a particular culture the gospel must become moulded to, marginalised by or manipulated by that culture”

Now you may respond as others responded when I first suggested this to them – “but Mars Hill is VERY orthodox! They’ve succeeded in keeping the gospel clear while also being relevant to the surrounding culture”. Buy my question is, is that really true? My BIG concern with Mars Hill is that the doctrine of the divinity and uniqueness of Christ comes across with the same force and passion and expectation of adherence as the doctrine that men shouldn’t be stay-at-home Dads. I imagine that when asked, Mark Driscoll would affirm that the doctrines of Christ are more central and important than the doctrine of stay-at-home dads (I hope he would!). But the problem is, that to the punter listening there’s no differentiation (that I’ve heard) between what is a catholic doctrine of the faith and a particular application of a particular interpretation of the Bible! Hence, a manipulated gospel at worst, a moulded or marginalised gospel at best.

I’m reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s line: ‘God hates visionary dreaming.’ Which wasn’t a spray against planning and vision casting! Instead, he levelled a challenge to church leaders to dream of a church with Christ alone as its head rather than a church with themselves at the head. His point was that the church must be the community shaped by the gospel, and only the gospel.

I have a friend who is dreaming of a church that would have the same grungy-surfy-semi-alternative culture as the suburb he lives in. His dream is to see lots of people won for Christ. I just don’t think his plans are going to achieve that. If we craft a church that has a grungy-surfy-semi-alternative culture then we’re going to have to say to existing members of the church, ‘you can’t belong here’, or at least, you can’t be prominent in leading here because you’re an old-fashioned-anglo-conservative. Not only do we end up with a church that excludes those who are already Christ’s, we’ll also exclude those who could be Christ’s but who don’t fit the target culture – what happens to the grandmother who is neither grungy, surfy, or alternative in even the slightest way? We have a church where she can’t be welcomed. The church is no longer shaped by the gospel, it’s shaped by the culture, with the gospel fitted in afterwards.

Given that the gospel is the gospel for all nations, when we set out to create a church that will make current members no longer fit and potential members not be welcome we’ve moulded, marginalised or manipulated the gospel. To be saved you need Jesus and grungy-surfy-semi-alternative-ness.

But, my good friend says, all you’re ending up with is your own un-scrutinised promotion of a particular culture to the exclusion of current and potential members – you’ve just replaced the dominant culture of the area that will attract more people with the out-dated, weird, churchy culture that you’ve inherited and grown used to, and that attracts NO ONE!

Well, that’s quite a challenge – which I shall gladly rise to in my next post.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tim Keller and the Value of Doubt

Have been reading The Reason for God: Belief in an age of scepticism by Tim Keller. I was attracted by a book that aimed to defend and promote Christianity to a post-modern world that could quote from C. S. Lewis, a Nobel prize-winning Polish poet and Darth Vader (among others!). Almost half way through and it's a great read.

His introduction talks about the value of doubt: for unbelievers, they ought to consider that their doubts about Christianity are actually displaying alternate beliefs (to say, 'I doubt that there can be one true religion' is saying 'I believe that there cannot be one true religion'), and that they ought to expose their beliefs to the same scrutiny as they challenge the beliefs of Christianity. This, I can see, is a useful apologetic strategy in our current culture.

More interesting still though is his challenge to believers to doubt:

A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenceless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart sceptic. A person's faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection...

Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide grounds for your beliefs to sceptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive. (p.xvi-xviii)

I think this is so important for youth ministry (and, as children mature earlier, for children's ministry as well). Supporting someone in the 'searching' stage of faith development that transitions a young person from an affiliative to an owned faith is one of the key challenges of youth ministry. 'The search' is something that can fill the horizon of a young believer; and if we shut it down or leave them to search alone it can have disastrous consequences. Searching alone can be like sending a four year old off on an easter egg hunt without ever bothering to stop her before she gets to the freeway. She'll need to have a good look at the freeway and will have to work out for herself that the freeway isn't a place where eggs are hidden—but she's going to be able to work that out without being run over at the same time with a wise and supportive adult by her side. But to shut down the search is to tell her that there's an egg in the letterbox, another one behind the pot plant and a few more near the front door. Which takes all the challenge away, either leaving her infantilised and absolutely dependent on others, or turns her off and sends her looking for challenges in other places.

Are our young people getting run-over by the false ideas and alluring promises of the world without any wise and supportive adults to help them examine these options carefully without having to run headlong into them? Are we providing sufficient challenge for young people that will enable them, even force them, to grow up? Or are we providing an environment of such safe predictability that they wander off after concluding that the Christian faith can't be seriously lived by a thinking adult?

Tim Keller's book is a helpful resource for the search, and for those who want to be wise supporters of those who are on it.


Jodie McNeill has convinced me to give Twitter a go for a month and see whether it can be a useful way of promoting the work of the College.  We'll see.  I've set a challenge of 250 followers by this time next month.  So if you're interested, you can follow me at @YWCgraham.

Friday, August 07, 2009

What’s wrong with Mother?

The energy drink that is.  With the equivalent of 60g of sugar and 160 mg of caffeine - well, my opinion had been they're a curse from the devil and one of the sure signs that society is heading rapidly down the toilet!  That's my two cents as I sit here drinking my macchiato and feeling very self righteous.

Until we had a GP come to college and give us some facts.

That having over 1000mg of caffeine a day is dangerous, but having between 200 and 300mg a day is fine.  And given that an espresso shot has 77mg of caffeine, then three to four cups of coffee is okay, AND two Mothers is okay (just).

So, I've had to change my tune – those of us who enjoy coffee and a bit of cake (with its own little bundle of sugar) have no health-related moral high ground to occupy from which to look down on those of you who enjoy a Mother or two.

BUT… is the physiology of caffeine content and sugar content all there is to say?

Because what I also object to about Mother and all the other 'energy drinks' is the sub-text behind them all, that you can party all night and just throw down a couple of these and you'll be able to get through the day and back up for another party tonight.  And that just seems a bit debased to me.  It doesn't sound like 'six days you shall labour and do all your work'; it doesn't sound like 'work and do something useful with your hands so that you may have something to share with those in need'.  Instead it sounds like a 'do what you want when you want it and take this stimulant to get you through the day'.  And that sub-text IS a curse from the devil.

Not that I'm getting all self-righteous again though – because the other sub-text I've been thinking about is the 'I drink macchiato in Newtown wearing my black skivvy' world that says 'I'm so much cooler than you because I can't stand instant coffee and I'll only plunge in emergencies'.  Now I enjoy a good coffee, but I can see that there's a danger in setting my preference for good coffee as an indication of social superiority that will promote a Corinthian-like factionalism in the church – 'I'm of Campos', 'I'm of Vella Nero', 'I'm of Gloria Jeans', 'I'm of International Roast'.  What folly!

Maybe we should all just drink tea?