Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My Tummy Hurts

While setting up our campsite in Tasmania with our 5, 6 and 8 year old, the middle child wandered up to me and said, “Daddy, my tummy hurts.”

Like a good parent, I knelt down, looked him in the eye and said, “Are you hungry?” He nodded and I gave him a banana.

After finishing the Banana, he came to me again and said, “Daddy, my tummy hurts.”

“Are you thirsty?” I asked. He considered his answer and then said yes. I gave him a bottle of water.

Finally, probably more than an hour since his first complaint, he came back to me and said, “Daddy, my tummy hurts.”

I said, “I’ve given you food and a drink. What is making your tummy hurt?”

He lifted his shirt, revealing a huge patch of angry red scratches.

“What happened?” I asked in amazement.

“I slid down a rock.”

Now, when someone tells me about their hurts, I start with more questions, until I understand what they mean by, “My tummy hurts.” Quick solutions fade quickly. Careful questions lead to greater understanding and true healing.

Ask more questions.

Listen well.

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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Can you hear me?

Like every relationship, great parenting is all about communication. The great communicator’s goal isn’t to get ideas out of their head, but to get their ideas into the heads of their listener.

To get my idea into your head, in a way you understand, I need you to actually hear me. And for that to happen, I need to speak in your language, your world and your way. As a parent, this is important.

Here are some practical steps:

1. Listen. What does your child love to talk about? When do they talk most? Where do they like to be? How do they communicate?
Examples: Imaginative play, drawing, TV shows, YouTube channels, gaming, storytelling.

2. Reflect. Ask them about what you’ve seen. Verify your observations.
Example: “You seem to have super-powers, what are they? What is your super-hero name?”

3. Plan. Create an activity/story-time in their world heading toward the point you want them to hear.

4. Speak. Tell a story or play along with them, integrating the learning message.
Example: A message about cleaning your room while building a house in Minecraft.
Example: A message about speaking kindly while playing super-heroes.

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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Kingdom Worldview

A Compassionate Theology: The Bible

When I was a child, I thought

In the past 50 year or so, the western world has been shifting worldviews from modern to post-modern. As the modern (industrial/scientific) worldview developed and strengthened from the 1700’s until the mid-1900’s its adherents learned that truth was provable. The scientific method was born and — as much as conservative Christians twist, turn, squish and squirm trying to deny it — in most areas of life, we understand the world (think/believe) using this worldview. I say we because I, born and raised as a Seventh-day Adventist was convinced there was a battle to be fought against the many evils of higher learning. Over the past decade, I have increasingly realised this is a battle against a worldview rather than science, liberal Christianity, archaeology, history, or atheistic thought. I was encouraged to stay strong and fight against any field of study which argues with (our interpretation of) Scripture. As the world graduates through post-modernity from the modern worldview to something new, we are to remain steadfast as champions of the faith. That’s the theory of unwavering faith, anyway!

What is Truth?

In the Modern worldview, truth is provable. From the fires of modernistic reasoning a new and compelling foundational process of thought was forged - the scientific method. The scientific method tells us: when we receive new information we are to create a theory, test it, retest it forming proof, show our proof (and entire working process) to demonstrate that what we are teaching is truth because it is verifiable and reproducible. It is interesting to note that most fundamental Christian groups (mine included) formed in the USA during the heyday of the modern worldview. These groups give proof and lecture-style learning (where the expert informs the masses) an almost sacred status. The preacher, expounding the truth, is revered as a beacon of knowledge and faith. And the Truth they teach, based on sources deemed holy by the leaders of these groups, is deified. To control thought, all new ideas (coming from inside or outside the group) are required first to be filtered through their agreed present truth.
The post-modern worldview is so named because, largely, it is a reaction to the excesses of the modern worldview. Science as truth led to some amazing discoveries (vaccines, air travel, global communication) but it also deposited a post-apocalyptic wasteland in its wake because “proof=truth” needs no conscience or compassion. Right is right. Right? Not for post-moderns. Your right may be provable and reproducible but it may be destructive, devastating and very wrong indeed. While it is easy to demonstrate what the post-modern mindset stands against, it is difficult to articulate it as a worldview that stands on its own. For the post-modern: Truth, to be believed, must be experienced.

In the Beginning, God

The Bible was written to a world and within a worldview completely different from anything around today. To understand the Bible it is immeasurably helpful to understand the world and worldview of that day. In a nutshell the ancient Biblical worldview was that all reality (truth included) is brought forth from God and then God commissions His creation to bring forth more of its kind. I call it the God-begat worldview.
God begat Wisdom (Proverbs 8:22, Col 1:15, John 1:1) then God’s Wisdom/Word begat Creation (Genesis 1:1, Col 1:16, John 1:3). Creation (earth/ground) begat flora (Genesis 1:11,2:9) and fauna (Genesis 1:24, 2:19); Likewise, mankind was begat from the ground (Genesis 2:7); Adam and Eve begat children; They begat children until Abraham begat Jacob (Israel); And, the children of Israel begat the Messiah—Jesus the only begotten Son of God. See how it works?
Humanity, created by God in the Image of God, has the special task to begat children not just physically but spiritually—shaping them in the image of God. That’s why the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) is at the core of Biblical parenting, discipleship and leadership - it is a begatting paradigm. Likewise, scripture teaches us, our nature continues forming after we leave our place of nurture. God proposes a life-long relationship with us. He commissioned your parents to begat you, then to shape you as you went in and out of their house. Now He wants you to join with Him in community so that His glory might be made complete in you and begat in the world through you.
So, that’s the God-begat worldview. It’s a bit earthy, a bit love-story but primarily it’s about family; begatting and becoming. It’s almost modern or post-modern… but, it’s not. And, in reality, it’s not a worldview as much as a framework – a foundational framework on which other worldviews, at other times in history, can be built. It’s like a picture frame within which other worldviews can be canvassed and coloured. It is not either God’s way or ours. It’s God’s way then ours. Build on Him. Build in Him.
Some Christians believe, to have an accurate worldview today and still be a Christian you need to ignore, rewrite or change things in the Bible. To avoid offending their particular worldview, they go through the Bible squeezing, chopping, sanitizing, fluffing and cherry-picking verses to try to make them fit today’s reality. This is a misunderstanding and misuse of the Bible. The Bible should be treated the same way another 3000 year-old work of art would be – as a priceless work of antiquity and beauty to study, enjoy and share in its entirety. Seeing the Bible in this way can open doors, windows, hearts and minds to the ever present and powerful reality of God and His Kingdom.

Hidden in God, who created all things

While altering our worldview can be hard, it can be even more difficult for us Christians to adjust our Wordview - the way we see the Bible. To make this Wordview adjustment is not to change the Bible, but to change our approach to the Bible. We fundamentalists have been sold a version of Bible study which requires us to read the Bible as if it were written in and for a modern worldview. In this mode of thinking, you read the Bible scientifically/factually (modern worldview) thus believing Biblical times (2000 - 4000 years ago) are still the way things are, or should be, today. This causes believers to treat social mores, laws and customs written hundreds of generations ago as timeless truths. This is not necessary and in fact it is crippling for Christian youth and results in many leaving the church, believing it out of touch with reality. It also forces readers to ignore verses they can’t justify (like knocking down houses with mold in them, not braiding hair, killing people who pick up sticks on Sabbath, etc) and to enforce verses with “the Bible says!” that they can make sensibly fit into life today. In short, in makes a mockery of being “Bible believing” because it makes you look inconsistent and kooky.
If God is the God of the past, present and future, His Word should be timely and useful in every generation. Scripture demonstrates repeatedly (ultimately in the life of Jesus) that God meets His people where they are. So, a Wordview useful today should speak into the worldview of today — as it has in past generations. And for those of us baptised into antiquity, this shift in thinking can be soul-shattering. Take comfort in knowing, as the change in thinking becomes you, it will make your Christian beliefs, experience and influence more beautiful, meaningful and useful to the world around you.

No other Gods before me

For those who have been deeply saturated in a view of the Bible which requires this modern Wordview, moving into today requires letting go. And holding on. It’s easier to hold on to everything, or let go of everything. Finding a place of equilibrium in the middle takes courage and commitment. To allow the Bible to speak in this generation and to this generation, requires shifts in thinking on a number of levels.
First, it requires us to allow thinking from the current worldview to be credible. Retraining yourself to stop poo-pooing every scientific, historical, genetic (etc) explanation and to, instead, embrace them as “the best we can do for now” is not easy and can be maddening. For those of us indoctrinated to doubt every wiseman on today’s earth; allowing them the credibility they deserve — as created in God’s Image, intelligent and beautifully made — can take years of personal boot-to-the-heads and regular doses of humility. 
Second, it requires allowing the Bible to be what it is — a collection of history, poetry, letters, parables and prophecies that tell the story of God’s earliest people. This does not demean the Bible’s purpose, integrity or holiness but rather allows us to see the constant progress of God’s activity in and through His chosen people from the time of Abraham to the church of today in all its diversity of expression. God is active in the lives of His people — calling, forgiving, saving, leading — always. The Bible’s core message of redemption can be seen in its many storied incidents and its overarching narrative.
Third, it requires allowing the Bible to be studied honestly. Christian denominations which emerged during the modern era locked the Bible down to literalistic interpretation as required by their worldview. Today, in the face of strong and consistent evidence to the contrary, leadership in these churches require their followers to believe the Bible as their primary scientific source. Instead of allowing and encouraging their members to explore and explain the Bible as they do other ancient sources, they rebrand the Bible from a holy (set-apart) book to a Divine book, thus creating an idol of it.
Christian scholarship, outside of fundamentalist groups, has been studying the Bible as a collection of historical documents for centuries. They have been applying various cultures, worldviews, wisdom, technology and combined fields of scholarship to the study of the Bible. The results are interesting, challenging, frustrating and enlightening. Some are easily grasped, others are intricate and complex. Many of them ring true, others lack lustre. This is true scholarship, and seeing it applied to the Bible is exciting and invigorating. Biblical research and results from worldwide Christian scholarship have been made all the more accessible with the explosion of the written word in the world – through the expansion of the Internet and, prior to that, mass-printing presses. Today, students of the Bible can find resources at the tap of a screen.

A new Heaven and a new Earth

We are on the transitional cusp of a new era - a new global worldview. Post-modern is the label social scientists have given this transitional period. Most of us are still modern thinkers. Others of us are not comfortable being moderns and desire something truly new. We are becoming a global village and that village thinks different – it reaches wider: embraces more, rejects less — because each villager is unique, beautiful and worth loving. It is fast becoming, in a very tangible sense, a place where Heaven meets Earth. But our village is yet unnamed. Perhaps it will be called “justice” or “mercy” or “humility” … or maybe it will be called “Earth”. That would indeed be a fitting name for a global village living the Micah 6:8 call of God for His people to live His way; and a great way to come full circle back to our ancient beginning when God created the Heavens and the Earth.
As is true at the beginning of every culture-wide worldview shift, things are changing at home. Many scholars, pastors and lay-people in fundamentalist Christian groups have changed their approach to the Bible, allowing it to speak for itself, in its rich and robust ancient context. Through study and prayer, they have changed their approach to both understanding and teaching. They advocate a more generous and inclusive mindset. They have joined with the rest of Christianity in teaching their people to be Earth’s people - to live justly, show mercy and walk humbly with their God. And those people, now seeing vast tracts of common ground with other denominations and even other faiths in this global village, are expanding their borders, bringing to life God’s Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Build a Village

Children are like puzzles constructed from little pieces of each adult in their lives. Not long ago, children grew up in a village filled with adults like them and their families. The village shaped them.

Today, we don't send our children to play in the streets. Instead they sit inside looking at friends and family through pocket-sized windows. And together, we look out at the global village through giant windows in our lounge rooms, not realising the values our children are picking-up from onscreen heroes.

It still takes a village to raise a child. Children need more adults than their parents to serve as role models, friends, coaches, teachers and preachers. Our children need choices of who to look at for their values - be they physical, emotional, sexual, spiritual, relational or intellectual.

Spend regular time with grand-parents and extended family. Choose other families with children the same age and create regular times of community. Interact with sport clubs, school activities, holiday clubs and church groups. Have play dates and sleep overs. Build a village for your children. They will be better for it, and so will you!

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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Friday, May 08, 2015


In this section ("Parently" tab) of my blog you'll find stories about parents, tips on parenting, thoughts on children, raising a family and managing extended/blended families.

Come back often. I'll be posting links, motivational pics, articles I find, articles I write, and your thoughts. 

Please comment on any post that intrigues you. If you've got advice, stories or questions, please email them and I'll post them as guest entries. davedgren@gmail.com

My Tummy Hurts

Can you hear me?

Build a Village

A Good Story

My Catch Phrase

A Story Like Tory

Another Shot at Saying Sorry

A Memory of Elephants

Concrete Thinking

I'm Happy and I Know It

Thursday, May 07, 2015

A Good Story

The story we live in front of our children shows them the truth of our lives and theirs. If we see and say the positive stories in life, our kids will experience the world as a positive place where they make a difference.
If, on the other hand, we constantly comment on the negative state of the world, the problem with the neighbours, the unfair hand we've been dealt - our children will learn to be critical and afraid. They will see others as dangerous and suspicious rather than unique and beautiful.
Because our stories become us, great parents tell stories that empower rather than impede. There are so many positive messages that raise people up. By telling positive stories, we create happier children and thus a better world.
We are each truly special. We need to believe that of ourselves and tell that to our children. Tell good stories. Live with joy and passion. Smile.

Keep changing the world - one story at a time.

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For more parenting pondering,
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Monday, May 04, 2015

My Catch Phrase

Mikey - 12 Years Old
When my three teenagers were children, it was so easy to spend most of my time telling them what they were doing wrong. Having three kids within three years meant they were always up to something. Because I didn’t want to focus on the negatives, I came up a phrase to help me look for positives – because that’s who I want them to become.
"Catch them doing something right and tell on them!"
We all want to be noticed. We repeat actions that get us attention. That’s human nature. We become the ‘me’ that gets noticed. Catching (and praising) your kids for doing the right thing is very powerful. It can change an attitude for life!
You could catch them smiling, sharing, playing, creating, listening, sleeping, eating, or any positive action you want to see more of in your child. Let them know you saw what they did and that they are awesome!
"Catch them doing something right and tell on them!"
Once you’ve caught them doing something right, make it a priority to ‘tell on them’. This takes careful consistent effort as a parent.
When kids do something wrong, it usually makes a good story. So we tell it – to family, friends, teachers, even strangers! It lets others share the parenting journey with us.
Hearing a story about yourself forms identity as much as what actually happens to you. A story about you is attention given to you. So every story reinforces the behaviour in the story. Each time you hear a story about yourself, it becomes more and more ‘who you are.’
Choose carefully the stories you tell about your kids – especially in front of them. Ask, “Is this story about who I want them to become?” We become the stories we hear and tell about ourselves. Choose the positive stories and tell them often. Then watch you children shine!

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For more parenting pondering,
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Monday, April 06, 2015

“He is Risen!”

A Compassionate Theology: Holy Days

Just after sunset on Easter Sunday, I listened as an Adventist evangelist reminded his audience that neither Easter nor Christmas are mentioned in the Bible. “In fact,” he said, “there are no Christian holy days mentioned in the Bible except the Sabbath. All other Christian holy days are pagan in origin."
What he didn’t say, but allowed his listeners to infer on their own, is that these days are somehow evil due to their pagan origin. This is precisely the wrong conclusion to draw and yet fundamentalist Christians have been doing so for decades. Christmas, Easter, and lesser known (more localised) Christian festivals began as early Christians looked for ways and days to celebrate key moments in their faith. Instead of being involved in the pagan celebrations, the Christians rebranded the holy days and celebrated significant events in the life of Jesus rather than joining in the worship of false gods.
Instead of celebrating the winter solstice and the rebirth of the Sun by worshipping the ancient Babylonian sun-god Tammuz (or one of the other sun-gods who evolved from Tammuz in ancient religions after Babylonian times) the Christians chose to celebrate the birth of the Son of God – Jesus. Focusing on the new life of Baby Jesus, the incarnation of God into human flesh, Christians in effect stole Christmas away from paganism and gave it to their God.
Instead of celebrating the return of spring and worshipping the ancient Babylonian fertility-god Ishtar, the Christians chose to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of new life that comes because He died and returned to life for us. Combining some symbols (like bunnies and trees) into Christian celebrations happened as early Christian converts from various other religions kept their innocuous traditional activities while embracing Jesus and the new meaning His people gave to the day of celebration.
If it is wrong for Christians to practice anything and everything that was first done in an ancient pagan religion, there are a lot of things we need to stop. Prayer, temples, and sacrifices all started in ancient Mesopotamia well before Judaism or Christianity. Likewise, funerals and little stone statues in your garden. Wedding ceremonies, wedding rings, marriage proposals, a veiled bride, the groom shaking the hand of the Bride’s father as he delivers her as contracted beforehand, and the bride becoming part of the groom’s family (in name and location) are all from ancient Mesopotamia well before Genesis 2:24 was written.
Rather than abandoning humanity’s past, we need to embrace Divinity’s entrance into our story. Jesus changes everything. When we confess belief in Jesus, are baptised and welcome the Holy Spirit into our hearts – our past is not erased. We are still the product of the many experiences and stories that have formed us. But we are, at that moment and into the future, part of a greater story which reaches farther back than human history and farther forward than human imagination. One day, in the twinkling of an eye, we will all be changed at the last trumpet. Until then we must live knowing who we have been and who we are becoming, where we have come from and where we are headed, and that we are dearly loved by our God every step of the journey.
In the early church in Corinth, the people were struggling with being involved in pagan worship. As believers in Jesus, they had no interest or desire to enter the pagan temples, but much of the food blessed in the pagan temples was later sold in the common marketplace. They debated amongst themselves if they should eat food offered to idols. Paul’s answer in 1 Corinthians 10:25-28 is useful to us in understanding involvement in Christian holy days. Paul quotes Psalm 24:1 which declares that the Earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord.
From this Biblical platform Paul goes on to council the group of maturing Christians in Corinth to eat anything from the marketplace without a battle of conscience. He continues his thought saying that if a Christian should be invited into someone’s home, they should be bold in eating whatever is offered to them, not worrying if it has been offered to idols. When facing a decision between accepting and rejecting hospitality, be gracious thinking of the host before yourself.
At this point, Paul adds some complexity to the argument. What if the person who has invited you into their home to eat, places the meat on the table and declares that the food has been offered to idols? Paul says, this is when it is your duty to politely decline. This is a prime opportunity to explain your commitment to the God who made the Earth and everything in it. For the sake of the other person, who believe they are blessing their guests by feeding them idol-blessed food, demonstrate your conscientious commitment to Jesus as your only God by refusing to participate in their act of pagan worship.
Never in all my years of collecting, purchasing or hiding Easter eggs have I been encountered by a fellow participant, shop owner or neighbour who said, “Thank Ishtar for this new season and this lovely gift of chocolate!” If I ever did hear such words, I would have a most vigorous conversation with them. Likewise, in the many preparations and interactions at Christmas, I have never shared a moment with a believer in Tammuz who declared their bliss in the return of the sun.
There are two days every year when the world stops to examine – sometimes closely, often from afar – the Christian faith in Jesus. In my town of Warrandyte all of the local churches, across denominations, joined together on Easter Sunday to run a “He is Risen!” celebration service in the local outdoor amphitheatre. While they were singing and speaking of their passionate belief in our risen Saviour, I – along with my fellow Adventists – hid on a campground listening to things we have heard a hundred times before. I missed a great opportunity to speak about my Jesus while the world was willing to listen.
Rather than encouraging ourselves to create further distance from these key outreach opportunities, we should be embracing the Christmas shoppers and the Easter egg hunters as they wonder at the meaning of a babe in a stable or a cross on a bun. Let us reverse the paganising of Christmas and Easter by contemporising them. Meet the people where they are, when they are open, as they are listening, while they are preparing for a celebration which we truly understand.
Then people of the world would recognise Jesus in His followers, embrace the Christ-story as their own new story and, recognising the religious roots of the secular celebrations which they enjoy so much, teach their children something truly beautiful. That this world, which often seems so hollow and meaningless, was embraced by the one true God who sent His Son – to be born, to truly live, to die, to reclaim life after death – because He loves us and our world so very much.
Not only would this time of focused outreach be a wonderful and fitting use for the Christmas and Easter seasons, it would also honour the original intent of our Christian ancestors in claiming and naming these days as holy. We are a people of the Jesus story as told in the Christmas and Easter seasons each year. These holy days are Christian because they come as a response to the love of Jesus through the actions and practices of His early followers. They are not in Holy Scripture because they are from a later time in history than the Bible’s pages. But early enough that Christ’s body after His ascension – the church – still understood the necessity of becoming all things to all people so that by all possible means we might save some.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

“Two Dolls”

A Compassionate Theology: Creation

This conversation, or one very similar, took place between my daughter and I when she was in year 5 at a public primary school. I truly cherish Rachael and her beautiful heart.

Daughter: “Today, my teacher was telling us about how it took billions of years for the world to be made. Why doesn’t she believe in God? How can she believe in Evolution? Can’t she see that God made the World?”

Dad: “There are many people who believe in God and Evolution.”

Daughter: “But God made the world in six days!”

Dad: “Why do you say that?”

Daughter: “Because that’s what the Bible says.”

Dad: “Actually, there are two stories in the Bible about Creation. Things are created in different orders in the two stories. And, one story mentions days while the other story doesn’t. The two stories are back-to-back in Genesis 1 and 2.”

Daughter: “How can they both be in the Bible if they are different?”

Dad: “Good question! What do you think?”

Daughter: “Because one is right and the other is wrong?”

Dad: “Hmmmm. What if they are both right?”

Daughter: “What? How can they both be right?”

Dad: “Maybe the Bible presents two Creation stories so we can choose the one that speaks to us most clearly?”

Daughter: “I guess. But what does that have to do with Evolution?”

Dad: “Let me ask you a question.”

Daughter: “OK.”

Dad: “Pretend your birthday was today and you got a present from Mum – a beautiful hand-crafted doll. You say thanks and hug the doll. You ask Mum where she got the doll and Mum explains how she searched everywhere yesterday at the shops to find just the right gift and when she saw it, she knew it was for you! How do you feel about the gift?”

Daughter: “Amazing! I would love it!”

Dad: “Now let me change the story. You unwrap the present and it’s the same hand-crafted doll. You thank your Mum and hug the doll. You ask where she got the doll and she laughs and tells you she spent months making it, each night after you went to bed. Which doll would you like more?”

Daughter: “The second one!”

Dad: “But, you wouldn’t know the other story.”

Daughter: “Oh, I guess not. If she bought it at the store, I wouldn’t think about the doll she made. I guess I would like them the same because I would only know the one story.”

Dad: “Now let’s look at it from your Mum’s perspective. What difference is there in the two stories? Do both stories show that your Mum loves you?”

Daughter: “Yes. Because she got me a beautiful gift.”

Dad: “Which story do you like best?”

Daughter: “The one where Mum makes the doll.”

Dad: “Why?”

Daughter: “Because my mum made it for me and she was thinking about me for all that time!”

Dad: “What do these two doll stories and the two Creation stories have in common?”

Daughter: “I guess that there are different ways to provide gifts for your children.”

Dad: “Good point! Now think about the Christians who believe God took a long time creating the universe for them rather than doing it quickly in six days. How could the beauty of nature be just as meaningful to them as it is to those people who believe in a quick creation?”

Daughter: “Because God took so much time doing it, like the Mum who made the gift slowly rather than buying it quickly.”

Dad: “So, now what do you think about Christians who believe in Evolution?”

Daughter: “I think maybe they love God lots because He was thinking about them for billions of years before He gave them the gift He was making for them!”

Dad: “And what about Christians who believe God made the Earth in six days? Do they love God, too?”

Daughter: “Of course! Because God made the perfect place for them to live!”

Dad: “Which story do you think is true?”

Daughter: “I don’t know. I wasn’t there!”

Dad: “You’re funny.”

Daughter: “Maybe God put two different Creation stories at the beginning of the Bible because He knew about the Evolution story and wanted people to be ready.”

Dad: “Ready for what?”

Daughter: “To love each-other anyway.”

Dad: “That’s a good thought. I think you are right!”

Daughter: “Hey Dad, I just had a weird thought. Maybe my teacher does believe in God. I thought she didn’t because she teaches Evolution. But, maybe she does!”

Dad: “Well, there’s one way to find out.”

Daughter: “I’m going to ask her tomorrow.”

Dad: “That’s wonderful.”

Daughter: “But first, I’m gonna tell her the story of the two dolls.”

Dad: “Good idea! You’re a great storyteller, just like Jesus.”

Daughter: “Thanks, Dad!”


Friday, March 13, 2015

Moving on in the Spirit

Today we had our regional chaplaincy gathering. Sharing a meal and training with fellow chaplains is inspiring. I was asked to lead in a 20 minute worship time. As I was planning my worship, I realised what a long time it has been since I’ve been asked to lead a worship among fellow ministers. And then I realised a reality that I have been struggling to admit.

My ministry has moved house. My colleagues are a new group of ministers – school chaplains. We have our local communities, our ministry plans and strategies and our hearts deeply embedded in Christ. Today, breaking bread with them, praying with them, telling God’s stories to them… I realised it is time to accept reality.

In January of 2014, due to a indiscretion for which I take complete responsibility, my ordination as a Seventh-day Adventist minister was withdrawn, my role as an Adventist pastor was cancelled (I was fired) and my involvement as a church member was censured. For all of 2014, I was not allowed to participate in any form of leadership in any Adventist church – sermon, Sabbath school lesson, singing with a mic, or Children’s story. I apologised to the local conference president part way through the year because a Sabbath school teacher asked me to close in prayer. (I couldn’t figure out a polite way to say no!)

After the year finished, I asked for the Conference leadership’s will for my future church involvement. They responded that I can now be an active member but I may not preach from behind the pulpit in a Seventh-day Adventist church for the next 5 to 7 years. When probed, it was agreed that I can take Sabbath school lessons, children’s stories, sing with a mic, and lead in prayer. But not from behind the pulpit between 11 and 12 on Saturday mornings.  This decision, it was explained to me, is the will of the Victoria Conference leadership and Australian Union leadership. This stipulation was revealed to me in December 2014 - at the end of my time of censure.

I’ve now had nearly 3 months of being an almost active Adventist. I’ve lead one Sabbath school class (which was great fun!), sang with a mic a couple of times and have the children’s story tomorrow. I’m happy because I am with my family at church. I have so much fun worshiping with my wife and kids!

I also got back into my old habit of writing a Sabbath school study guide for group leaders to use in generating an active discussion. But, I've come to realise, this pseudo-pastoring is an exercise in false hope. Who am I to be telling Adventists what to talk about?

When I want to use my gift of preaching, I must go elsewhere. And that’s my primary gift. So, I preach in various churches on the occasional Sunday. It hurts to have my spiritual giftedness refused by the church I grew up in, got married in, brought my children up in and love ministering in. But I’m not supposed to, now. I accept, this is a response to a reality that I have brought on with my own actions. I know this. I do find it desperately sad that the Adventist church has no clearly stated restorative process for fallen ministers. 

Spiritually, I am closer to the heart of Jesus than I have ever been. Being thrown at His feet was a humbling and healing experience. I understand, like never before, Paul’s comment “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” It’s not about how much sin you’ve experienced but about how much grace you’ve needed and received. Only the shattered recognise the excruciating joy of being made whole.

So, I’ll still be at church on Sabbath. For family. For friends. For God.

But, I need to stop thinking like an Adventist pastor. Leading the Adventists is no longer my vocation or calling. Time to move on. So, I have a wonderful new prime directive: I will only be doing what the Holy Spirit leads me to do. And it looks like He’s got plans for me in chaplaincy and the many churches that support state school chaplaincy. No more Sabbath School Starters and no more hoping for church leadership to reconcile with me. My ministry, from now on, will be based on the Holy Spirit’s prompting rather than a sense of duty or pride.

Check my blog now and then. I’ll still be writing when inspired to do so.

Keep changing the World!


Friday, February 27, 2015

Sabbath School Starter – 2015 Q1L9

The Godly Mind, Heart and Mouth
reflections on Words of Truth - Lesson 9, Quarter 1, 2015

The Godly Mind
Memory Text: I have written thirty sayings for you, filled with advice and knowledge. In this way, you may know the truth and take an accurate report to those who sent you. (Proverbs 22:20-21, NLT).

What does this text tell us about the person receiving Solomon’s 30 sayings?
How does Solomon ask for his 30 sayings to be used?
How might this strategy of Solomon, who received ambassadors from across the known world, have served to increase his reputation while also spreading the Wisdom of God?
Solomon’s collection of Wisdom sayings is in the Holy Bible, the most widely sold (and hopefully read) book in the world. How far do you think Solomon’s words reached during his lifetime?

What do you think of the idea (presented in Saturday’s lesson) that some of the ideas in Solomon’s wisdom were imported from Egyptian wisdom and altered to fit the Hebrew perspective? How does the memory text shed light on this?
With the understanding that humanity is created in the image of God, what does a discovery and implementation of ‘foreign wisdom’ suggest about the character of God?
What needs might it suggest in our personal and corporate (Church) character?
Does 2 Timothy 3:16 decrease or increase the possibility that God’s wisdom is present in human wisdom traditions around the world? Why?

The Godly Heart
Put these four words in the order that works best for you. Discuss why you put them in that order.  Belief      Desire      Hope     Faith

How do you feel about the following statement from Monday’s lesson?
“Faith in God and in His promises of judgment help give us some peace of mind regarding all the injustice we see in the world now.“
Is this really the hope we should have for those who do not know Jesus?
As followers of Jesus, what is a better “hoped for” outcome for the lost than judgement?
How does our own experience of repentance and forgiveness make a difference in our desired outcome for the lost?

The Godly Mouth
Compare Proverbs 23:1-8 with Mark 7:14-23
How are they related?
How is the hospitality of the proverb’s ruler or stingy man likely to lead to the evils listed in Mark 7:21-23?
If we are to take the words of Jesus seriously, what might the advice in Proverbs 23:1- 8 be teaching rather than the control of our (food) appetites?
What should we do or say when we see someone caught in the vices mentioned in Mark 7:21-23?
Consider Ezekiel 33:8 and Proverbs 24:11-12 before answering.

How does the gift of God for us, in the death of His Son Jesus, make possible the formation of a Godly mind, heart and mouth in us?
How does the gift of God to us, in the presence and power of His Holy Spirit, make possible the maturing of a Godly mind, heart and mouth in us?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Jesus Sandals

Walking Like Jesus
Walking around school each day, I look for little ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Last year, when I was new at school, one of the students commented that they liked my sandals.
"Thanks," I said. "They're my Jesus Sandals."
"Jesus sandals?" He said.
"Yeah, Jesus told his followers to walk like Him. He wore sandals. So, I assumed he wants me to wear sandals, too. Makes sense, right?"
"Not really."
"Why, what do you think He meant?"
And on the conversation goes.
I've had that conversation at least a dozen times with boys, girls and even teachers. Nobody has any confusion about who's shoes I'm walking in!

72 Pairs Sent Out
Jesus once sent 72 of his sandal-wearing followers to go into towns where He was planning to go in the future. He wanted their visit to prepare the hearts of the people for His arrival. When they arrived in a town, Jesus told them to look for compassionate people to stay with while they visited the town. If they were unable to find anyone willing to invite them to stay, they were to leave the town.
Once they settled in a home, Jesus told them to go into the town, heal the sick, and tell them, "The Kingdom of God is near you now." Near, because they were experiencing the miracle of God's healing. Near, because Jesus would be visiting soon, pouring God's Kingdom into their town.
If they did not find a home to stay in, they were to shake the dust off their sandals as they were leaving town. And they were to say, "Know this--the Kingdom of God is near!" When it happened this way, I wonder if Jesus' followers said these words with anger or in tears. It meant that their sick would not be healed. It meant that this town would not accept Jesus when He came. And perhaps, it meant Jesus would not even attempt to enter their town because so many towns were willing to welcome God's Kingdom as it approached.
Jesus said He came to help the blind be able to see and cause those who thought they saw everything to become blind. These towns were a good example of what He meant. They thought they were doing just fine. They were making perfect sense of the world. Until the Kingdom of God came to town. They rejected Jesus' followers because they refused to see their own sickness.
Towns that recognised their sickness were reassured by receiving miraculous healings. This led to increased faith and desire for the Kingdom of God to come even nearer. And when Jesus came to town, the lame walked, the deaf heard, the blind saw and the dead woke up. In short, the Kingdom of God arrived!

Kingdom Vision
How are we to understand the Kingdom of God being present, effective and powerful in one town and completely invisible and ineffective in a neighbouring town? It is as if there are two realities which are both fully real. People live in the reality they believe in most--the Kingdom of their choosing.
To help explain the concept of God's Kingdom being all around us, and yet unperceived by many, imagine we each have a reality filter through which we view the world. Like a volume knob on a stereo, we each have a slider that adjusts the depth-of-field of our reality filter. The further up the slider is, the more clearly we see the Kingdom of God. The lower the slider, the more earthly and carnal our worldview. The only way it slides up is if God nudges it and we, feeling the nudge, release our hold and allow it to slip into a new vision-field.
There are stories in the Bible that clearly show God changing the depth of field in individual's perception of reality. He adjusts the slider a notch either way, to demonstrate a point, and then takes things back to the way they were. Let's look at an example of each--a time when God turned things down a notch and a time when God turned things up a notch (or three!).
Our example of God turning things down a notch is found in Luke 24:13-35. It is the day of Jesus' resurrection. Two of his followers, believing Jesus to be dead, are walking home from Jerusalem. Jesus joins them on the road and they have a vigorous conversation. He explains everything to them, so much so that their hearts begin to burn within them. And yet, in a seemingly impossible twist, they do not realise that Jesus is Jesus. They think they are just talking to another man walking the same road as them. They didn't recognise Him until He said the blessing for dinner in their house, hours after He joined them on the road. Why didn't they recognise their friend, their mentor, their Messiah? The answer is blindingly obvious. Verse 16 says, "They were kept from recognising him." And Verse 31 says, "Then their eyes were opened and they recognised Him." Jesus had pulled their worldview depth-of-field slider back a notch. They saw a man because that's all they were allowed to see. Then, when Jesus slid the knob back they saw Jesus, the King of Heaven--and they jumped for joy!
My favourite example of this worldview slider at work is found in the Old Testament. This time, God cranks the knob to full volume for some and for others takes it back a notch--at the same time!
The story is found in 2 Kings 6:8-23. Elisha, the prophet of God, is telling the army of Isreal every move the enemy army from Aram is about to make. When the enemy king hears of this, he sends his men to capture Elisha, alive, to bring him back and put him to work telling him the future, rather than his enemies. The army of Aram marches by night and surrounds the city of Dothan where Elisha is staying. Early in the morning, Elisha's servant goes outside and sees the massive army surrounding Dothan. In a panic he tells the prophet, to which Elisha says, "Don't be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them."
Can you imagine the look on the servants face? Two of us. Thousands of them. Has the prophet lost his mind?
Realising the problem, Elisha walks to a point where they can see the enemy army and the distant hills beyond. Then he prays, "Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see." On answer, God slides the servant's depth-of-field knob to full. Instantly, the servant sees the rolling hills all around come alight with armies--horses, chariots--of fire. Now he understood the prophet's lack of concern. The army of Aram was surrounded and outsized dramatically.
Then Elisha asks God to make another worldview adjustment--similar to the one Jesus made in the previous example--but this time for more than just one or two people. The prophet asks God to slide the reality knob back a notch for the entire army of Aram. God does and Elisha walks directly to the leader of the army, tells him this is not the right road or the right city and that if they followed him, he will lead them to the man they seek. Spiritually blinded, they could not see the prophet of God for who he was. They saw just another man walking the same road as them. Believing Elisha, they followed him through the army of fiery horses and chariots, down a long road, and into the city of Samaria where the king of Isreal was waiting.
Once the entire army was trapped in the city, Elisha asked God to put their vision back to normal. Suddenly, the army of Aram realises they are trapped and Elisha is standing right in front of them. Elisha then does a worldview altering trick of his own. He tells the king not to harm this army but to feed them and send them home. When the army of Aram returned home and told the king of Aram that they had been trapped, fed and sent home unharmed, the king of Aram stopped attacking Israel. Desert law, even today, states that one who has fed you in your time of need must be fed in return. In effect, a peace treaty was signed for the price of a meal, and two kingdoms stopped their fighting.

72 Pairs Return
When the 72 missionaries returned to Jesus, they had amazing reports to give. They told of the many healings and towns ready for Jesus to come into them. But the most exciting reports came because of something Jesus hadn't told them beforehand.
"Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!"
Jesus didn't seem at all surprised. In fact, he responded that even though demons do flee at His name, that is not what should be exciting. Jesus explains, they should be excited they are each registered as citizens of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was saying, "If you are casting out demons, you're operating by another Kingdom's power. Your actions prove, you are citizens of God's Kingdom. That should make you rejoice!"

Citizenship in the Kingdom of God isn't about where you are going, but where you are from. Your citizenship declares your allegiance, identity and values. Those who walk in Jesus Sandals overthrow the kingdom of this world as they walk through it--because they have been empowered by their King, Jesus, to do works in the power of His name, to the glory of His Father, and for the presence of God's Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. We have been commissioned to heal the sick and to declare, "The Kingdom of Heaven is near!"

Small Miracles
After the year-end break, I returned to school alongside the students. I continued my habit of walking around campus each recess and lunch to have random conversations with students. In the second week, a year 8 girl walked up and said, "Still wearing your Jesus Sandals, I see."
"Oh," I said, looking down at my feet. "They're new. The other ones broke."
"Yeah," she said, raising her eyebrows, "but they're still your Jesus sandals, right?"
I smiled. "Indeed they are! Do you like 'em?"
"Yeah, they're cool."
She had understood, better than I realised, who I really am. My citizenship in God's Kingdom defines any footwear I choose as Jesus shoes.

Once a week, I take bread to school. The bread is leftovers from Baker's Delight. The students make short work of the 100+ rolls during recess. Then I put a display of larger loaves in the staff room for the teachers.
As I finished arranging the bread for the first time this year, I realised all three teachers in the room were new. I said, "This bread is for you guys. I bring free bread once a week. Please cut a slice whenever you want. Or, take a loaf home with you. It's here for you!"
They all nodded and said thank-you. Then, from the far end of the room one of the teachers said, "Where are the fishes?"
"Fishes?" I said.
"Yeah," he said. "You've multiplied the bread. Where are the fishes?"
I smiled and told him the truth. "I'm still in training. Small miracles. He just has me doing bread, for now."
Everyone had a chuckle. This time, just by serving bread, my citizenship was recognised and mentioned by one who inferred greater meaning in my simple gift than I had meant. While I'm still wrapping my head around this Kingdom citizenship idea, others seem to see it easily.

While introducing myself to a class, a student asked why I decided to become a chaplain. I explained to him that I love listening to people and helping them take the next step in being healthy and happy. Later, while walking around at recess, he came up to me and said, "I want your job when I grow up. All you do is listen to people and give them bread!"
I smiled and said, "I want my job, too. I'm changing the world!"

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sabbath School Starter – 2015 Q1 L8

From the Sabbath School section

Memory Text: Most men will proclaim each his own goodness, but who can find a faithful man? (Proverbs 20:6).

Some of us have known a person willing to stand against the prevailing evil of their day. Does anyone come to mind? Who, in your lifetime and experience does this text bring to mind?
Have you ever learned something from someone’s actions that you couldn’t learn from their words? What was it? How did their actions make the ‘learning difference’?


The death of a little monk named Telemachus during Rome’s gladiator games in 404 AD was one of the stones to cause ripples that became waves which washed Roman culture away and replaced it with Medieval Christian culture. You can read Telemachus story on the following link.

Have a close look at the story and you will find two endings. You will also find plenty of material for this week’s lesson. This story can be used to create conversation on nearly all of the topics in this week’s lesson. You might want to print out the above website and take a few copies to class so people can use it in groups.

Tell the story of Telemachus. Then consider the following questions.

Words of Wisdom

Consider the two endings. The usually quoted ending (of all the people leaving in silence due to their disgust of seeing gladiators kill a monk) is from Foxes Book of Martyrs which was written more than a millennium after the story happened. The other ending (of the monk being stoned to death by the crowd because he interrupted their entertainment) was from the writings of Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus in Syria (393-457 A.D.) – a contemporary of Telemachus. It is clear that the oldest ending is the most accurate to the facts.

Which ending is more startling to you? Why?

What does the death of a monk at the hands of the populous of Rome tell you about the city?

What does the cancelling (forever!) of Gladiator games, three days later, by Emperor Honorius suggest? What effect do you think it had on the people?

Although Medieval Christianity was vastly different than Christianity today, Emperor Honorius enacted many laws protecting, encouraging and enforcing Christian practices. Christianity was overtaking the pagan culture of Rome. Why? What does this suggest about the wisdom of the scriptures (yet to be canonized) which were part and parcel to the Christian faith?

We are all equal

Read Proverbs 20:12
How did Telemachus demonstrate this text was alive within him?

How might Telemachus’ willingness to interrupt two massive gladiators demonstrate the common ground he felt with them?

While it is usually told that Telemachus’ reason was due to righteous indignation, might he have leaped into the Gladiator’s pit to save them from death? Might he have been treating them the way he would want to be treated if he were in a fight to the death? Saved, by one willing to interrupt and risk rejection.

The test of Life

When I went to work in a secular workplace, I wanted a way to spread the Kingdom of God without cheesy Christian-speak sounding clich├ęs. I spent many hours considering the meaning of God’s Kingdom. What is it? What does it mean for God’s Kingdom to be near? What does it mean to expand the borders of God’s Kingdom? What does it look like to be a Citizen of the Kingdom living in exile?

I toyed around with a few different phrases and finally settled on: “Keep Changing the World!” For the past two years I have signed off every email, to whomever, with that phrase. It has been amazing to see the responses. People love it. It encourages and challenges them at the same time. As followers of Jesus, how does the desire to “Keep changing the World!” reveal a life well lived? What other phrase would you use?

Telemachus died for what he believed in. You can only do that once. How does “living for what you believe in” compare? Is it harder or easier? Why? How does it have the potential to be more powerful?

Waiting for the Lord

This section of the lesson talked about not being quick to judge yourself or others. Wait for the Lord to do the judging. Is this easy? How hard is it to let the Lord handle the matter, in His time? Can you think of a time when you were successful at this? How did it change you?

Sometimes God asks us to act now. When has God asked you, or someone you know, to be like Telemachus and stop evil, injustice or unfair treatment of others? Did you do it? Was it hard? Was it rewarding?

Compassion for the poor

How does compassion for the poor reveal the character of the Christian?
Why do you think Jesus chooses this as His main criteria for judging between followers and fakes?
How did Jesus model this in His time on Earth?

How can we, like Telemachus, be driven by Christian love no matter the cost?


Telemachus yelled, “In the name of Christ stop!” What did he teach in those words?

Then he jumped in the ring and stood between two gladiators. What did he teach in his actions?

It is often said that actions speak louder than words. Do you agree? Why?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sabbath School Starter – 2015 Q1 L7

From the Sabbath School section
What Drives You?

There are two basic moral compasses that drive all of us – guilt and grace. We vacillate between the two and then, based on the way we were discipled by parents or teachers, we settle into one or the other – sometimes very deeply.

Grace driven people live knowing they are worthy of redemption. Love exudes from them. They know and believe that Jesus’ grace is enough for them – otherwise He would have provided something different. His death on the cross restored a right relationship between themselves and God. In daily living, these people are gracious with others and forgiving of their own faults. Because they are assured of their place in the Kingdom of God, they do not worry about their life, what they will eat or drink; or about their body, what they will wear. They rest well because Jesus has done the work for them! Grace is like a ripe piece of fruit handed to them which they eat freely, deeply, often.

Guilt driven people live believing they are unworthy of forgiveness. Law radiates from them. They treat themselves, and often others, harshly and never feel they have done enough, and what they have done isn’t good enough. Jesus’ perfect life makes them feel inadequate. So they work and work. They don’t rest well. Accepting forgiveness is very hard because to be forgiven you must accept defeat. This causes them to struggle to forgive or trust others. They know Jesus’ death on the cross is their salvation, they are just unsure how to accept it.  Grace is like precious stone frozen in the middle of a huge block of ice – they can see it, but they just can’t figure out how to get to it. So they keep chipping away.

Most Guilt driven Christians are that way because they were raised that way – either by legalistic parents or, if they were adults when they became Christians, legalistic Christians who discipled them. Nobody is born believing they are unlovable. That takes years of judgement, belittling and humiliation – first by others, then by ourselves.

Switching moral drivers from guilt to grace is difficult. It takes a shift in worldview and often the only way to change a worldview is to have your world turned upside-down. And that hurts! But, when your world does come crashing down around you and you fall, or are thrown, there in one place worth falling.

At the feet of Jesus (John 8:1-11)
 Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Have you witnessed someone who has been caught in sin, dragged into public by religious leaders and thrown down in judgement in front of a congregation of watchers?
How did you respond to that person?
If Jesus was there how would he have responded?
How did you respond to the religious leaders?
If Jesus was there how would he have responded?
How does this story challenge anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus?

When a sinner is thrown at Jesus’ feet, the first thing Jesus does is drive away the accusers. In our lives, when we are caught in sin and shamed publicly, it often feels like we are being driven away. But in Truth, it is Jesus driving our accusers away so He can spend some quiet time with us - and forgive us. There is no better place to fall, or be thrown, than at the feet of Jesus.

As Jesus traced words on the dusty temple steps with his finger the teachers of the Law went away, one by one. The only thing Jesus ever wrote with His own hand drove religious leaders away from Him and saved a sinner from judgment and death. Jesus overwhelms Law with Love—writing His name on our heart and our name on His hand—this is salvation. God's Law produces guilt, God's Love produces grace.

What is Jesus revealing about the character of God?
What kind of people does this story suggest will accept God's grace?
What does this story teach us about those who value the Law more highly than Love?

How does Jesus’ action and answer reveal the difference between guilt and grace?
How do we respond to those caught in sin? Are we more like Jesus, the silent crowd or the teachers of the Law?

John was written later than the other gospels – after the early church was formed and growing. It is often called the Gospel of God’s Love. Perhaps the early church needed a reminder of God’s passion for the lost, blind and broken - and that He expected His people to love who and how He loves.

Biblical scholars tell us, the recounting of the woman caught in adultery was added to John sometime after it was originally written. This story, of a guilty woman thrown at Jesus’ feet, was shared from person to person until an editor of an early manuscript thought readers would benefit from hearing it in the context of John’s telling of the Jesus story. But, it’s not just a story of a guilty woman. It is also the story of judgmental leadership, silent bystanders and God’s grace in the forgiving actions of Jesus.

What need, in the early church, could this story have been addressing?
What purpose, in today’s church, should this story serve?

To explore this story, and it’s meaning in our lives, in more depth see “A Changed Woman” in the 28 Stories Bible study series.