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Fires in Australia

I’m not sure how much international attention this has received, but the state of New South Wales in Australia is experiencing the worst wildfire disaster in over 45 years with fires all around the state. I live in one of the directly affected areas – the Springwood/Winmalee region of the Blue Mountains – and have had fires come within 2 kilometres of my home. I haven’t been in any direct threat yet, however it’s an ongoing crisis and I’m certainly not completely out of danger.

In a time like this, many people ask “where is God?” A friend from my church whose house burnt down, Joel, has written an opinion piece which has appeared on the Bible Society website. It’s well worth a read. You can find it here: I’m a Christian and my house just burned down.

“Underneath we are all the same” Fixed

John over at Sifting Reality posted this up, I felt like it would be more accurate with a small modification.

edited

Discovery Bible Studies

Open Bible

Discovery Bible Studies are a series of 7 bible studies aimed at someone who is new to Christianity or investigating Christianity. They’re super simple to run, and are based on the premise of looking at stories of Jesus and then discussing those stories, such as what each story meant and how we can apply those stories to our lives.

The stories are:

  1. The woman who wept at Jesus’ feet¬†(Luke 7:36-50)
  2. Who does God accept? (Luke 18:9-17)
  3. A hole in the roof (Luke 5:17-26)
  4. Two lost sons (Luke 15:11-32)
  5. A hard road (Matthew 16:21-26)
  6. Jesus’ death and resurrection (Mark 15:1-16:8)
  7. An unexpected guest (John 20:19-31)

When leading, it works well if you’re able to memorise the story and tell it in your own words! Obviously make sure that your retelling is accurate in theology, but I don’t see anything wrong with telling stories in your own words. It feels more natural, and people like listening to stories. Of course, to get it well memorised, one thing you can do is split the group into pairs or triplets, and each member of the pair (or triplet) tells the other member(s) the story. After that, open up your Bibles and read it straight from the text. Overall, each person will hear it 4 times (when you tell it, when their partner tells it, when they re-tell it and when it’s read from the Bible.)

It’s great to split the session up into 3 sections; in each section you can ask different questions and do different activities. Outlined below is one way you could split this up, though of course you can do it differently by using your own questions, or chopping and changing the format below.

Share Time

  • How are you doing?
  • What are you thankful for?
  • What problems or challenges are you facing?
  • If this isn’t the first week:
    • How did you apply the learning from the last story?
    • Did you share the story with anyone?

Lesson Time

  • Tell the story to everyone in your own words
  • Get the participants to tell the story to each other in pairs or triplets
  • Open up the Bible and read the story from there.
  • There are a few questions that you could ask:
    • What does the passage say about God and/or Jesus?
    • What does it say about the people in the story?
    • Is there an example I could follow or lesson I can learn?

End Time

  • Ask the participants the following questions:
    • What is the application for you from this story?
    • Is there anyone you could share the story with throughout the week?
    • Would you like anyone to pray for you?

 

There are a few rules that are helpful, but up to you whether or not you enforce them (and of course don’t be too strict… maybe they could be called guidelines.)

  1. The passage is preaching, not any particular person. Stick with the passage of scripture that we’re looking at, not looking off at other passages!
  2. No individual may impose his or her “insight” onto others – stick with the plain and simplest meaning of the passage in front of the group.
  3. Any individual may challenge another individual in the group with one question: “Where does it say what you are saying in this passage of scripture?”

I know I’m breaking rule 1 all the time as I like jumping around my bible looking at related verses. Basically, use judgement on if and how you enforce these rules. For someone who is very new to the faith it’s best to keep it as simple as possible. Obviously there will be room for expanding their knowledge later on, but this is designed to be a basic and introductory Bible Study.

That’s it! You’ve got 7 weeks of bible studies right there! It’s really that simple. As you might have gathered from the wording of some of the questions, it’s deisgned to be easy to re-tell and share. It’s really great when you’re able to start a chain effect… you tell someone, who tells a group of their friends, and maybe one of their friends tells another friend. I’ve heard stories about groups going 6 generations deep in the re-telling (and that’s what was tracked; once you get more and more people doing the harder it is to keep track of who is telling who!)

Thanks to Tim Scheuer, an evangelist who has been helping us out at my Uni campus (and doing an absolutely amazing job might I add) for showing me this particular study, and thanks for letting me post it online. His aim is for people to share the studies with other’s and keep starting discovery groups.

Is this how we should pray?

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I recently saw this posted on the Facebook wall of a team at my University participating in a competition. I know that in the team there are plenty of non-Christians, and I also know given the nature of the competition and experience the team in question aren’t favourites to win – it certainly means they won’t, and I trust they’ll do quite well, but I’d be (pleasantly) surprised if they came first.

The post said “Best of luck!¬†We are praying for your Team to win! God is powerful ūüôā“. How would a non-Christian read a post like this? I’d read it as “oh, if we don’t win, God isn’t that powerful if he does in fact exist, and if we do win, that’s got to be all our hard work rather than God!” There’s always the age old question of “what if two people pray for contradictory things?” So one person prays for Team A to win, and another prays for Team B to win. They can’t both win! What if Team C, an “unprayered” team wins? God’s just lost it then… hasn’t he?

I think comments like this, whilst a nice gesture, are unhelpful when viewed by non-Christians. It gives an unrealistic view of what prayer really is. Is God powerful enough to help that team win? Of course he is. Is that how God works though? Not at all. God isn’t a genie there to give us everything we want. And he certainly doesn’t do it in the ways we expect. Unfortunately it was so long ago that I can’t remember what it was, but I prayed for something and I specified to God how I wanted it done. I was adamant it was the best way to do it. God didn’t do it the way I wanted, and I thought the prayer went unanswered. A little while later I remember having the sudden realisation that God had answered the prayer; just not the way I had specified. In fact, his was was so much better. He knew what I really needed, and he made sure to attend to my needs. We need to put everything in perspective and see what our needs really are. Do we need to win a competition? Not really. Do we need the latest and greatest gadget? Again, nope. Do we need salvation from our sins? Now we’re talking about the real stuff we should be praying for!

Prayer is actually quite a strange thing; it works, but never in the way we expect. God know’s the big picture, he know so much more than what we do. He know’s what he’s doing. Just because prayer seems to go unanswered doesn’t mean it hasn’t gone unanswered. Of course, it doesn’t mean we can expect God to be our genie; in the case of the prayer above, I don’t expect it to be “answered,” simply because that’s not the way God works. What I would pray is that the team has safe travels, does their best and all come home safely. That’s something that can be achieved for all teams, and it’s something God can answer if it’s part of his big picture.¬†God’s a lot more concerned with our needs than our wants, because our wants may not be his desires or his will.

A few verses to ponder on about prayer are:

  • Matthew 21:21-22. In this case I honestly believe that one rarely prays with no doubt. So the fact that you can’t move a mountain with prayer doesn’t make this verse invalid or wrong; don’t tell me you had no doubts! (An atheist by definition has doubts)
  • Matthew 6:9-15. The Lord’s prayer, a classic. It doesn’t mean it’s the only way to pray, but it’s certainly a good template for your prayers. I also like Matthew 6:8 in that the Father knows our needs before we even ask, he’s more concerned with our needs than our wants.
  • Romans 8:26. Even when we can’t put prayers into words, we can still pray! Just like Matthew 6:8.
  • James 5:13-20. I like that it gives some good examples of what to pray for. Our prayers should be for other people, but what aspects of other people should we be praying for? Note on v15 of being saved and raised up; this could certainly mean being healed and raised to good health, however we all know that doesn’t always happen. Does this mean James has it wrong? I don’t think so; because I think it also means being saved though faith (of the sick person) and being raised up in glory in heaven. This is very much the opposite of what we expect, as it means the sick person didn’t survive in the way we expected. We should be praying for the sick that they are raised up; they may be raised up physically on Earth, or in glory in heaven.

There are so many verses on prayer and praying in the Bible, just do a quick search online for it!

Reading List

Here are a few books I’ve recently read through, am reading through or plan to read through in the near future.

In choosing what books I want to read, I had a few categories:

  • Classics that may interest me
  • Christian Apologetic books
  • Atheist books
  • Pro-Life books
  • Christian fiction

To some, reading apologetic books and atheist books side by side may seem a bit strange; however I don’t think this should be seen as strange at all. I don’t want¬†to go around wearing rose tinted glasses all the time – most (but not all) Christian apologetic authors won’t water down the truth and in the most part will be sufficient, but the only way to be sure (and fair) is to read some of the corresponding from atheist counterparts. Actually, for most Christians, I’d even recommend reading some, as genuine faith isn’t faith you have as a result of your parents, but a faith that you have chosen to lead.

Anyway, onto the list. So far the list includes:

  • 1984 by Orwell (read)
  • Animal Farm by Orwell
  • The God Delusion by Dawkins (atheistic book; partway through)
  • Who Made God by Andrews (apologetic book; have read it once, plan on re-reading)
  • The Reason for God by Keller (apologetic book; have read half, plan on re-reading)
  • Brave New World by Huxley
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Adams
  • The Sword by Litfin (Chiveis Trilogy; Christian Fiction; read)
  • The Gift by Litfin (Chives Trilogy; Christian Fiction; read)
  • The Kingdom by Litfin (Chives Trilogy; Christian Fiction; partway through)
  • Defending Life by Beckwith (Pro-Life book; started)

I want to add another atheist book to that list – hopefully one by Krauss.¬†If anyone has any suggestions as¬†a good starting one by him, I’m all ears.

Should Christians be offended by new advertising campaign?

A new advertising campaign hit Sydney in the past week, with a bit of a twist. We have definitely seen religious related campaigns before (Jesus All About Life!) but never before (or at least to my knowledge) has Sydney seen an Islamic campaign on this level.

A direct attack on the identity of Jesus, a very good way to get people talking (and by blogging about it, I’m definitely no exception to it.) I want to ask the question: should Christians’ be offended? My yes/no answer would be no, but I do want to elaborate on it a bit more.

Firstly, it really depends how you define “offended.” I don’t agree with what they are saying. They are wrong. Nothing can change that. Why should I really worry what other people think? It’s not really any different from attacks from atheists, which I’ve learnt to deal with (there’s no reasoning with you guys!) Yes, it’s a direct attack on my fundamental beliefs, so in a way it is offensive. Though, I want to try and define offensive by how you react to it, and how you deal with it.

I don’t think there should be any reaction other than continual love. That’s what (should) seperates Christian’s from everyone else (though, quite often it doesn’t, and sometimes is the reverse.) Constantly loving your enemy is the one thing that people just can’t come to terms with. I know it’s one of the best apologetic tools when it comes to defending Christianity against atheists… after all, they know how much they attack Christians, what does it say if you just keep loving them no matter what? Now, I think the same should come with all interactions with other world views, whether it be atheist world views, or Islamic world views.

Having been involved in dialog between Christians and Muslims before, I have seen a few Muslims get offended very easily about the smallest thing (and, in one of the instances that I was there, was very vocal about it, though I am by no means generalising that about all Muslims, I’m just reporting what I saw,) and I was cautioned by the Christian chaplain when I just suggested that possibly,¬†Muhammad¬†was a false prophet to be tactful with what I say (I hate political correctness, so I’ll just say it: I believe that…¬†Muhammad¬†was a false prophet.) So, what I am suggesting, isn’t to fight fire with fire, but instead turn the other cheek. Don’t get all upset and vocal about other people’s beliefs. Keep loving them, no matter how much they attack you and your beliefs (not to say that I don’t do the same: I have to when making my beliefs clear, hence the last set of¬†parentheses.)

Ultimately, I think the best summary of the whole thing is… the truth doesn’t need defending. Jesus is Lord and Saviour, and no amount of billboard and website promotion is going to change that. So it’s really a non-issue then, don’t you think?

(P.S. Too all my Muslim friends: Whilst I’m not going to water down my beliefs to try and not offend you, so¬†inevitably¬†I will, I love you all! I hope one day you’ll see the truth and I’ll see all of you in Heaven!)

(P.P.S If you’re interested in browsing the website, check out¬†www.mypeace.com.au. In order to try and be fair to all views, you should probably also check out¬†http://www.jesusallaboutlife.com.au/. I’m sure Google can find you some atheist websites, but I don’t actually know too many (actually, scrap too many, I don’t know any) off the top of my head.)

Politics and Religion: What does it mean for them to mix?

With the NSW State election just gone (and a landslide Coalition win,) I started to look around at some of the other candidates that didn’t make it in, especially those from the Christian Democratic Party. The way I see it is, CDP are extremely unlikely to get any seat, but how bad is it?

After reading an article on Christian Today about Peter Madden, the local CDP member for Sydney (I’m not in the Sydney electorate,) I thought it’d be interesting to see how he actually went. Turns out, he was absolutely slaughtered.

After doing some Googling to find out what policies he actually stood for, to try and find out where it went so wrong, I came across a news.com.au article about what he stood for. Upon reading the comments, I was reminded once and once again what the view of many secularists out there is: politics and religion shouldn’t mix. My attention suddenly turned from one man’s loss to “what does it mean for politics and religion to mix?”

The question has to be raised,¬†because¬†there are many scenarios in which it can be said to “mix.”

  • A¬†particular¬†religion¬†or religious group is in control of a country or area. Modern day examples are Islamic dominated countries, where the law, for all intensive purposes, says you have to be Islamic. A historical example is the Catholic church throughout history that had more power than a single church should, and mis-used that power.
  • A single¬†religious¬†group has a majority in the number of representatives in a democratic government.
  • A Member of¬†Parliament¬†who is of a¬†particular¬†religion, and¬†because¬†the person is of a particular religion, their¬†conscious¬†vote issues are different from the majority.
The first one in the list I am dead set against: no government should be completely controlled by a religion, a government is there to represent everyone. It should never force that religion upon people, as what happens still today in many Islamic dominated countries.
The second one I don’t think it likely to happen (especially in Australia). If it ever did happen somewhere, I wouldn’t be against it: those people have been voted in by the people, so if that’s what the result is, it’s what the people want. (Of course, it does rely on a completely fair election, which may not always happen in certain countries.)
The third one is what happens the most in developed countries such as Australia, and are what people call a mix of politics and religion. Though I am struggling to see what is wrong with it. The way I see it is, if a Member of Parliament is Christian, and¬†because¬†of this votes against key issues such as abortion,¬†euthanasia, legalised prostitution, and many other key issues, should they be told they’re not allowed to because they’re “mixing politics and religion?” They aren’t bringing their religion to politics, but their¬†conscious¬†votes are likely to be influenced by the fact that, for example, they are Christian (granted, there may quite well be Christian MP’s who have different views, but¬†I think¬†the majority would share fairly common views.)
The way I see it is, people who yell “Politics and Religion shouldn’t mix” are scared. Their underlying motives for saying that is: they don’t want to see a Christian MP get elected. Of course they don’t, it’s completely understandable, but it seems to be almost forgetting one thing. We live in a democratic country: if a Christian MP get’s elected in, they were elected because members of the public elected them in. Why should a single person be able to yell “politics and religion shouldn’t mix,” when the MP was elected by the public?
Just¬†because¬†someone is religion shouldn’t exclude them from running for¬†parliament. If they were excluded, then MP’s wouldn’t evenly represent the whole country or state, they’d just be representing the people that claim that politics and religion shouldn’t mix.

Switchfoot Sydney Presale Password

… is HELLO.¬†Presale’s over, though general admission tickets are still available at the time of writing.

Concert is at Luna Park Big Top, 21st of April 2011. Go buy your tickets now!


21st has been and gone, and it was awesome. New Empire, the pre-show act, was pretty good (better than I was expecting,) definitely going to check them out.

Mega-Churches: Good or Harmful?

After reading a recent article about how Rick Warren, a megachurch pastor in the US, is planning on creating 5 more church campuses over the next 10 years, it started to get me wondering, are megachurches good, or are they potentially harmful?

I have had discussions about, not¬†necessarily¬†megachurches, but the difference between regular sized churches, and small gatherings of about 10 Christians. What were the pro’s and con’s that I distinctly remember?

Pros for larger churches (and therefore potential cons for small groups):

  • Consistent theology. Of course, my view is that there is only ever one right answer, and that answer is whatever God says, but the interpretation of these answers by humans can be varied and interpreted incorrectly (including by myself, please don’t go away with the impression that I think I’m perfect – far from it!) The larger the church, the more input there is (or at least should be) to what theology is taught, and the more likely it is to represent absolute truth, which is what all theology teaching should aim to do.
  • Easier organisational wise. Outreach and evangelical events wouldn’t really happen if there were 100’s of autonomous small groups, whereas with a couple of larger churches, that may be autonomous but still in communication with each other (which my hope would be that all local churches are, regardless of denomination,) will have a much easier time organising events and getting people together.
Pros for smaller groups (and therefore potential cons for larger churches):
  • Deeper connections with each other member of the group: in a larger church, even with just 100 or 200 people, it is very easy to get lost. You could go in, sit in for a service, leave, and not talk to anyone. You could, if you really want, not talk to anyone. And even when you do talk to anyone, when was the last time you spoke to this person? What exactly do you talk about? I for one, and I’m sure I speak on behalf of many others, feel more comfortable sharing more about myself with a smaller group that I have been with for a little while and become comfortable with, rather than someone that I may¬†occasionally¬†talk to at Church.
  • It’s how Jesus meant the Church to be. You need to be careful here with the use of the word “church”. There is a church, and then there is the church. In this particular context, I am talking about a church, and how a church can be of any size. Then there is the church, which is used to describe every church in all of creation, in all of history, joined together in one body.
Granted, I think it comes down to a good balance. Consistent and correct theology teaching is important (though not always present in mega churches, but if it isn’t, it’s more likely to be exposed,) but personal relationships that you get with small groups or congregations also has a high priority. Most mega-churches are huge on small groups, and I think the “Church runs Small Groups” model works the best.

Sentenced to Death: Clear Violation of Human Rights

This week I got an email from a friend about a Christian woman in Pakistan, Asia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam. Whether you are a Christian, atheist, or of any other religious view, you should be outraged by this injustice and clear violation of human rights. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states the following:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Let me put it this way: if you’re an atheist, you would likely be found guilty of the same thing in Pakistan or any other Islamic based countries, if you deny the existence of Allah and stick to it. That is why it should outrage not only Christians, but atheists as well. It is a violation of human rights, and if people start getting the death penalty for exercising their human rights for freedom of thought, conscience and religion, then this world isn’t going to go anywhere but down.

I urge everyone to join in prayer for Asia, as it is one of the few things we have left. I also urge people to lobby governments, and the UN to enforce human rights, because we can’t let clear violations of a basic human right to continue in this world.

If you are interested in reading more, please read the following posts on the Voice of the Martyrs website 13:3: