The Absence of Imagination

Earlier this year I was listening to one of my weekly podcasts and was introduced to an incredible Leader by the name of Karen Swallow Prior who was asked what she thought the biggest problem with the Church was. Her response was profound –

“An impoverished imagination”

It is suggested that it takes 20-23 minutes to think deeply about anything which may mean nothing to you except that one of the growing economies of this cultural moment has everything to do with our attention. It’s called the ‘Attention Economy’ and it is running wild and free in our western society.

Imagination and creativity are cultivated when we are able to think deeply. There is also literature that has also shown how boredom can unlock creativity and imagination. Deep thinking and boredom do not fare well in an economy that is aggressively vying for our attention. This human facet of being able to imagine and create are part of what we call this incredible status Imago-Dei – what it means to be made in the Image of God.

1 So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. 2 On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation. (Genesis 2:1-3)

Scholars like John Walton have been blessed the church in regards to the world of the Ancient Near East which speaks directly to our understanding of the creation accounts in Genesis. Genesis tells us of how Yahweh created a temple, this was a common idea in the Ancient Near East. In their understanding a god would build a temple and them on the seventh day the god would ‘rest’. Rest is more of an idea of ‘moving in’ than what we may think ‘rest’ means in our world. The god would move in and take control by ruling and reigning – these words sound very familiar to those who have read the Bible.

Quite unlike the gods of the Ancient Near East Yahweh does something radically different. Yes, Yahweh creates a temple and then rests in His temple but His reigning and ruling is administrated in an incredibly different mode – Yahweh administrates His Kingdom Reign and Rule through His covenantal people – This is His Modus of Operation.

What is surprising is that Israel’s scriptures show us that God not only has an Earthly family but also has a family in the Heavenlies. The Sons of God spoken of in Genesis 6, the Divine Council of Psalm 82, Deuteronomy’s commentry of the Tower of Babel incident let us in something that many Christians are simply unaware of – our world is more mysterious, beautiful and complicated than any of us can imagine. Michael S. Heisers book The Unseen Realm has been such a revelation in this regard.

What Yahweh’s Modus of Operation means is that there is great freedom for His family. He has intended that we partner with Him to push out His good creation. The whole notion of ‘ruling and reigning’ is the Kingly aspect of taking this world somewhere. Our grand story begins with a Garden and ends with a Garden City. The intent has been revealed – we are to go forth and push out our beautiful God’s Shalom into this world.

With such an invitation comes the possibility this things going extremely well and also for things to go horribly wrong. So we see in Genesis 3 that there is a rebellion in the Garden. There is actually another rebellion recorded – its found in Genesis 6. We are told of a rebellion in the heavenlies. Things go wrong and now God is making things right.

With the coming of Jesus, the inauguration of His Kingdom of life and Shalom we now return to the Modus of Operation adopted by our beautiful, Good God. This is where our imagination needs to kick in and be outworked with some thoughts that I will share in the next post – Imagination and Improvisation.

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. – Genesis 1:1-2

If there was one thing that was drummed into me in my high school English class it was that the first line of any story is significant. In fact one of my friends who is an author once told me that he would at times re-write the first line of a piece of work a hundred times just to get it right. How interesting that the first line of our great story, the story of our loving Creator God and humanity, so often gets left unnoticed.

The very first line of our narrative in Genesis gives us a glimpse of the key players and what this story is all about. This is a story all about our incredible God. It’s a story that is primarily about Heaven and Earth and it’s a story that shows God in the person of the Holy Spirit who is on the move, bringing form into a place that is ‘formless’, light into a place of darkness and function to a place of non-function. And after He creates a garden of delight called ‘Eden’, God invites humanity to be on the move by joining him in this project of ‘Edenising’ the world, pushing Eden out by means of ‘ruling’, and ‘reigning’ (Gen 1:26-28).

Pentecost is the moment when God empowers a called people who have been engrafted into true Israel, Jesus Himself and once again these called people are on the move. The project is still in play with God still bringing light to darkness, ‘form’ to places of ‘formlessness’ and ‘function’ into places of ‘non-function’ and ‘dysfunction’.

And what is interesting is that God’s Modus of Operation is exactly the same as when He called Adam and Eve – The Church is invited to join Him in His project of renovating, restoring and renewing this world. Behold He is making all things new (Rev 21:5), He is not replacing old for new, (that’s what insurance companies promise), rather we are called to join Him as true Humanity, filled by the Spirit to see to it that God’s Kingdom reign breaks out into our world.

Six Days in…

2020 was a hard year…a revealing year.

At the end of 2019 Church leaders around the globe were ‘prophesying’ that 2020 would be the year of ‘2020 vision’ and boy didn’t they get that 100% right!!

2020 was a year when we got a beautiful glimpse of the human heart in all of its wonder beauty and fragility. I personally saw people walking across the street and going out of their way to make sure the vulnerable in our society were alright, that their shopping was done and that they weren’t alone. I saw families in their cars driving in succession down streets and cul-de-sac’s wishing little boys and girls ‘happy birthday’ as they were unable to have parties or see their friends. We were able to see the absolute best in humanity all over the world. We also saw the worst as fear paralysed, crippled and made us lash out over the simplest things, such as toilet paper in shopping aisles.

2020 also showed us how the agenda’s and ideologies of the ‘principalities and powers’ of this age have infiltrated the Church. As Church leaders we all have preached about ‘new wine’ and ‘new wine skins’ throughout 2020, it seemed to be a subject matter that God was wanting to bring to our attention, but when the time came to let go of those old wine skins…well, lets just say the Church seemed to be a bit reluctant. We all seemed to be holding onto the ‘old’ for dear life whilst at the same time proclaiming the ‘new’.

2020 also pulled back the veneer for us to see the abuse, division, racism and elitism that has occurred in many parts of Jesus Church. These revelations brought with it more ‘bogey men’ like CRT and BLM issues for many evangelicals to attack – maybe we were blessed with ‘2020 vision’ in the year 2020 after all!

And then as we bid 2020 farewell and as a new year dawned it only took six days for a massive exposure to occur that had been nurtured in Churches for possibly decades. The world saw the violent Insurrection protests in America and to our shock this movement, broadcast all over the world had Christians symbolism thread throughout it. Christian singing was heard, preaching was done, there were prayers, banners and flags pointing to our Christian heritage – Christian Nationalism seems to be more powerful than what we would dare imagine.

I think it is a mistake to dismiss this as an ‘American issue’, as God may have just allowed a mirror to be raised for us all to peer into. I also think it is a mistake to follow the pace of our 24/7 news cycle and move on to the next item on the agenda. There is something here that we need to look at and look into because somehow along the way we as followers of Jesus have gotten lost.

The obvious question is “What or who has been discipling us over the last decades?” Is our allegiance to Jesus and His Kingdom values or have we somehow allowed the ideologies and values of this present evil age to infiltrate our Churches and mascaraed as spiritual virtue – I think the latter is true.

We must again return to reading scripture faithfully, which means studying faithfully – easier said than done I know. We need to grappling with, engraft to and embody God’s story, the story that has been laid out for us in Holy Scripture,( not a narrative that suits our preferences), returning to the Good News of Jesus, His Kingdom and what this means for our present world.

Learning the ways of Jesus is uncomfortable and difficult. It may mean that our most precious KPI, Church attendance is left behind – this is a hard pill to swallow I know but the way of the cross is not for the faint hearted. A life shaped by the Cross does not coddle to up power and influence, rather it serves generously and continually pours itself out for the flourishment of others, including our enemies. This lifestyle may not marry well with our modern ideologies of ‘Church Growth’ but if the lack of discipleship can escalate to what we have seen in this past week then maybe this is the path we must now take.

Engrafted into His Story

I hate to state the obvious, but the world is changing and changing fast and I for one am struggling to keep up.

An insatiable appetite for personal autonomy and freedom has left us with a severe deficiency in experiencing true community and discovering real meaning in our worlds. Our progressive world is in hot pursuit for a ‘utopia’ which excludes any mention of the transcendent and it is this new world that we are all trying to navigate.

The underlying issue resulting in a deficiency of meaning may well be that we are story people who have been separated from a grand transcendent story. Where is the issue you may ask? Meaning is discovered within a story.

Being story people is something that transcends generation, culture and era, even those holding a different worldview to mine acknowledge the importance of story. I recently heard an interview with philosopher, historian and futurist, Yuval Noah Harari, who suggested that humans rule the world because of our innate ability to gather and cooperate around story. The idea of humans being story people is not new, nor is it exclusive to those from a Christian worldview.

Embedded in story is the possibility of discovering meaning. This is the place where we make sense of who we are, why we are here, where we are going and what we are experiencing.

So, what does this have to do with Water Baptism? Baptism has always served as a means of engrafting us into God’s Story and as I said, story is where we discover meaning.

As a Senior Pastor I am challenged that every time I’m involved in water baptism, I have been given an opportunity to retell God’s story and give place to where meaning can be discovered. In a world of competing narratives aggressively wanting to be heard water baptism gives me this incredible and important opportunity.

We don’t need to look far in the New Testament to hear of the significance of Baptism. Of course, Paul masterfully shares the profound fullness of what it means to go through the waters of baptism in Romans linking it with themes of creation, exodus, exile through to New Creation achieved through the work of Christ including that exhilarating promise of Romans 6:4-

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

But our New Testament bears witness to the significance of water Baptism even before Paul came to see Jesus as Israel’s promised Messiah.

From the first sentence of Mark’s Gospel (Mk 1:1-3) there is an exciting declaration made via the prophets that God’s story and therefore God’s promises are still in play. This may mean little to us but imagine the excitement and exhilaration when after 400 years of silence God’s people hear that God is moving once again. How was this primarily observed? Well, through a strange prophet who’s dress code and diet likening him to Elijah was baptising so many people that he was known as the baptiser.

John’s Baptism was significant to an Israel that was still in exile. Israel was still under foreign domination, was still awaiting God’s promise of returning to the temple, was still waiting for their national renewal and still waiting for the renewal of the rest of the world. They were waiting for God’s Story to come to a satisfying conclusion.

John’s baptism did a few things. It was reminding Israel of God’s story thus far, passing through the waters of baptism was re-enacting the passing through the waters of the Red Sea, that exodus event. It provided an opportunity to repent, and for a nation that knew they were still in exile repentance made complete sense. It was also a baptism that brought an anticipation and expectation that now God was going to fulfil His promise of a New Exodus. In other words, God’s story was now coming to its climax.

Living this side of the Cross we now know what that climactic event was and can attest that it was indeed an event that completely overshadowed Israel’s Exodus moment.

Water Baptism engrafts us into God’s Story, it always has. Living this side of the Cross brings with it even more significance and more meaning.

Water Baptism has the power to move me from a historical vantage point of observing what God has done in the past to a present, personal position today. This sacrament which includes themes like repentance, forgiveness, new life and separation for service also brings with it the invitation and immense privilege to participate with our God as His Story continues.

God is still on the move; His Story and promises are still in play being outworked through His Church by the Holy Spirit. Water Baptism engrafts us into God’s Story – what He has done, What He is doing and what He continues to do.

Within God’s story meaning abounds if we take the opportunity to discover and continually engraft ourselves to it.

In Search of Eden

We are story people who are on a quest.

Futurist, historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari suggests that humans rule the world because of our ability and propensity to gather and cooperate. He suggests that there is a glue that seems to be present in humans that distinguishes us from other creation. This glue is made of stories and not genes.

It fascinates me when I read and listen to a person of a different world view than mine articulate something so Biblical. I would simply add that yes we are story people, but we are story people who are on a quest. Just spend a day listening to your own heart, spend a week with a child or pay closer attention to the people we love in our lives and you will soon hear a deeper cry. We are all on a quest for a place of delight, in Biblical language this place is called “Eden”.

And what keeps us interested and intrigued is that all of us get a glimpse of Eden from time to time. Now we often won’t use a word like “Eden”, possibly “Utopia” is a word more palatable in our world today. We aren’t too sure where this place is but we are given promises about different pathways that will take us to there.

There is the promise of ‘Techno-Utopia’, where science and technology will create this ideal society, a new Renaissance is currently in play which will enable man to make advances in every arena whether that be political, social, economical and cultural. There is a promise that this movement can even reach to the depths of transforming a human heart. And for those who are sceptical of this pathway there are a myriad of other pathways that we have tried and adopted over the years and will try and test in the years to come.

All of this to say we are story people on a quest for Eden.

From Jesus own lips –

” Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

The pursuit for Meaning

I don’t mean to offend you but the idea of meaning is something that evades the modern, progressing, enlightened person.

This has a sense of irony about it. We all have an innate desire to be ‘more human’, the irony is that in the pursuit of becoming more human the opposite often occurs, especially when lured by a means under-girded with the prized scaffolding of ‘ultimate freedom’.

Secularism has redirected our eyes, teaching us to forego the ancient paths of discovering meaning in the transcendent, instead we are now transfixed on the immanent and the immediate and told that these will now suffice and steady us towards the same destination point, to become truly human…this is not working.

Humans need meaning, we are meaning people, we are story people and without satisfactory meaning there are obvious out-workings. We are also people in desperate need of community, we are connected but we no longer commune, we have commitment issues, no longer anxious about missing out (FOMO) but now we fear missing out on a better option (FOBO). We are also people who need certain freedoms, though in an ironic twist an excess in freedom has meant a deficiency in both community and meaning. Why? Because ultimate freedom does not bode well with the requirement that community and meaning has, that of being en-grafted in.

This is the point where Jesus followers must walk in an opposite direction to our secular friends.

Mark’s Gospel gives us a visual picture of how any person can become fully human. After much conflict, rejection and accusation from the leaders of the day Jesus begins a new approach in teaching, called parables (Mark 4:2). Jesus first parable addresses the situation at hand, identifying the underlying problem and then consequence of what happens when people do not listen to what Jesus is saying.

Mark 4:3

 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed.

That first word, “Listen”, is not Jesus trying to apprehend everyone’s attention, the people surrounding Jesus were well and truly attentive, no this is the subject matter of this all important parable, How you listen to the words of Jesus is everything!

And interestingly after this parable Jesus gives a picture of what is happening to a person when they refuse to listen –

Mark 4:12

so that, “ ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,and ever hearing but never understanding;otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”

Its the picture of an idol, or an icon, a statue. Having eyes, it can’t see, having ears, it can’t hear, why? Its an idol. Jesus is giving a powerful picture of what happens when we refuse to listen to Him, we become less human, not more human.

Being en-grafted into God’s story, His complete story, from the outside looking in appears restrictive, even archaic. Freedoms are limited yet the paradox is that the limit in freedoms under Christ enable us to flourish, to function and to become fully human, enjoying and participating in the Grand narrative that our Good Heavenly Father has invited us to join Him in that –

Thy Kingdom Come and Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.’


When Nathan Won’t Speak

The prophetic voice is important because every one of us are flawed, we all misstep, make mistakes and no-one is actually above the expectations of scripture.

King David relied on the voice of the prophet Nathan, especially at the moment of his greatest delusion. The King of a nation abuses his power and influence and calls a married woman to his bedroom chamber. What is amazing is that he knew who she was before sending for her, because he asked who she was –

2 Samuel 11:3 (NLT)

3 He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”

So okay, David sees a beautiful woman, asks who she is and finds out she is married to one of the men who is currently fighting for you in war, story over. Right?

The next verse says, “Then David sent messengers to get her” (2 Sam 11:4).

The rest is history, David has an affair with a married woman, gets her pregnant then tries to cover his tracks which fall through because Bathsheba’s husband evidently has more righteous standards that David. So David plots to kill Uriah, Bethshebas husband and succeeds.

Then comes the voice of Nathan who rebukes the most powerful man in the nation as recorded in 2 Samuel 12 with such precision that David is brought to his knees with pure contrition and humbled. Of course, there is hope in the rebuke for our God is able to redeem all things but here’s the point – David repented because God sent Nathan to speak.

What happens when Nathan doesn’t speak?

In recent months we here have heard of deplorable behaviour done by prominent Christian Leaders in our world. Willow Creek is in disarray because Bill Hybels sins accumulated over decades has finally come out and can no longer be swept aside, Franklin Graham is suggesting the unthinkable by downplaying the alleged sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and we don’t even need to mention the sin that has damaged countless children at the hands of the Church.

Where is Nathan? Has he become silent? Has he been forced to close his mouth? I have no doubt that we have many Nathan’s who are sent by God to expose Christ-followers who have fallen into sin and let’s be clear we all sin. We need to uphold the corrective prophetic voice in our world, call a spade a spade and hold to a better, higher standard.

Can we one one hand say we believe Imago Dei, that every person, male, female, boy and girl is of immeasurable worth because they are made in the image of God and therefore should be loved, protected and HEARD and then on the other hand when sin is exposed we casually go about our ‘Christian’ lives as if nothing has happened – actions do speak louder than words.

What are the considerations? Well on the Perth landscape, Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit is still going ahead, I leave enough room to be wrong and am torn knowing that everything is currently being done to make things right, but I’m not sure it should have. Franklin Graham is coming to Perth in 2019, to endorse a ‘Nathan’ who refuses to speak out in a Gospel-centered way again I am torn.

I by no means am suggesting that my thoughts are absolutely right, I am definitely not as smart as most Christian thinkers in Perth today but as a Christian Leader trying to lead myself, my family and a congregation in Perth it would be helpful if prominent leaders lead their own lives well and when sin is exposed there is an appropriate path of restoration that tells them and the world that even when we as Christians fall we aspire to live rightly before our God.

If we have any hope of this Nathan must speak!


One Last Thing

I think Carl Honore observation is my everyday experience –

“In our fast-moving modern world, it always seems that the time-train is pulling out of the station just as we reach the platform. No matter how fast we go, no matter how cleverly we schedule, there are never enough hours in the day.”

We use words like, “I feel lost”, “he just lost his way”. Of course, everywhere we go, there we are. What we are trying to articulate is that in the midst of a confusing, hectic, complicated world we lose clarity, the main thing is pushed to the peripheral and we get swamped with the insignificant. We even use mind-games to help regain perspective, clarity-

  • If you had only $50 for the rest of the week with no food in your house, what would you spend that money on?
  • If you were stranded on an island and you could only take 5 items, what would you take?

We’re familiar with such questions, but what if we were to go a bit deeper and ask –

“If you had one day left on this Earth, what would you do?”

It’s a sobering thought. What I find astounding is that scripture describes this exact scenario in the life of Jesus. If I had one day left, I’d make sure I see its sunrise and sunset, I’d be with family, I would eat as much food as possible. Jesus, on the other hand, decides to wash some feet.

John 13 describes this moment, we call it the Last Supper. What John does not do is explain what brought this seemingly strange action of Jesus about. Fortunately for us, we have the other Gospels to fill in the gaps.

Luke 22 lets us know what was the happening at that Last Supper.

Luke 22:14-16 (NLT)

When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table.  Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins.  For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”

You can hear the anguish in Jesus tone, “I have been VERY eager to eat this Passover meal with you BEFORE my suffering…” Jesus is aware that His time had fully come. I would have thought that the disciples would have enough emotional intelligence to pick up that Jesus is not Himself, there is discomfort in His tone as He contemplates what is about to occur. However, the disciples are fine to form even in this moment.

Luke 22: 24 (NLT)

Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them.

This is not the first time that this conversation had come up. In fact, James and John’s own mother was part of this same argument when she requested her two sons sit on Jesus right and left in Glory.

Now at what we call The Last Supper the scenario is incredible. Jesus has one night left, one meal left, one lesson left and the future leaders of the Church are bickering, arguing about who would have the greater accolades, who would be better known, who would be the greater and who would be lesser. The disciples are completely lost in their own arrogance and pride, seduced by a cultural norm that contradicts everything that they have observed and learned from their teacher.

On this last night, Jesus gives one last lesson, before He must endure the cross there is One Last Thing.

He disrobes picks up the basin and towel that had been in the room the entire time. Silence grips the room and the atmosphere changes. The washing of feet was a task reserved for the lowest of slaves, many in Israel thought it not appropriate for even Jewish slaves, no, this task was only appropriate for Gentile slaves. And here is the teacher washing the feet of the future leaders of the Church who are childishly bickering and arguing about greatness…one last thing.

Of course, the lesson is profound and Jesus words following this release any follower of Christ from simply being an ‘admirer’ of Christ and being a true disciple,

John 13:16-17 (NLT)

I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.

We can know what to do and not do it, we’re blessed not because we ‘know’ but because we ‘do’. Jesus example also demonstrates a challenge when He washes the feet of a man who He knew was hours away from betraying Him. Evidently, we don’t get to pick and choose who we serve.

William Barclay made a challenging observation –

“It is easy and so natural to resent wrong and to grow bitter under insult and injury; but Jesus met the greatest injury and the supreme disloyalty, with the greatest humility and the supreme love”

We too get lost and consumed in a culture and system that runs in contradiction to our true home. We too enter that upper room and like those original disciples walk straight past the basin, the towel, and water, the equipment for service. Clarity gets lost, pride rises and then in a moment our beautiful Lord reminds us about one last thing…

“And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. “

Clarity found.