Manly Life Update and Progress

Victoria and I are so thrilled with the progress of Manly Life. Just 5 weeks ago the church launched publicly in Manly and the response has been wonderful. For those who live afar or who have been praying for our new church community I thought I would give an update on how things are going.

From Crowd to Community…

Around two thirds of the 100 or so people now coming regularly to Manly Life are people Victoria and I had never met a few months ago. This means that we are in the process of shifting from being a crowd to a community. Everyone in one sense is new to Manly Life. One of the things that has been of greatest encouragement is how friendly and inclusive new people keep on saying the church community is. Building a strong culture of welcome and hospitality is a big challenge though! Lots of our community only get to church every 2nd or 3rd week. It means building a sense of community and continuity is difficult. Despite this new friendships are blooming, people are slowly getting more involved in different ministries and the values we dream of are becoming a reality!

Strong Identity Forming…

I am biased but the things that I believe in and care about in a church community are taking shape. Just last night Chez Robbins preached a cracker of a sermon, there was good ministry time, people stayed around for a BBQ, the worship was full of the presence of God. Alpha has shifted us too, out of the building and into the community (The Space Bar in Manly). People seeking friendship and the truth are coming along and enjoying a glass of wine, listening to the Gospel and then speaking their minds. A stake is being put in the ground about who we are as a church.

It Takes Time…

With all of these fantastic things happening, the reality too is that it just takes time! For this wonderful new church to be strong and viable into the future there are some big things we are still praying for and working towards. Some of the big markers of commitment to a church is giving and serving. Both of these areas have room for growth! Planting a new church is a big step of faith for the all involved and often people wait a while to see what emerges before they really get stuck in with serving and giving. So pray with us that the finances will improve and the gifts that God has placed in people will increasingly be released into the life of the church.

Please do keep praying for Victoria and I, the leadership team and the formation of this exciting new church. There is so much to give thanks for. To God be the glory…

The Rantings and Ravings of Atheists (and Christians)

I felt for the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, last night on the ABC television show Q&A. While I am sure he would have loved to have spoken more about the loving, grace filled God of the scriptures, he was instead harassed and mocked by a loud atheist fellow panelist and many members of the audience. When it comes to public engagement with culture these days, Christians seem to be caught in the trap of holding unfashionable social views around sexuality and are seen as generally intolerant.

On both sides of the debate there is a tendency to demonize, name call and mock the opposition. Neither Christians nor secularists do themselves any favors when they fall into this game. Well done to the Archbishop for trying to remain gracious and serious on the issues.

The big point of course is that in the midst of such slanging matches the Gospel is distorted and secondary issues become the headlines. When I read through a Gospel like Luke all I see is good news for the poor, broken, sick, sinful and isolated. Would the world really be a better place without the local work of churches, organizations like Compassion, the Salvo’s and Mission Australia? In other words, the gap between what is debated and reality of the Gospels is frankly sad.

Research seems to suggest that people like the Christians they know, but not the institution of the church. Of course it is not a PR war, but if it was the church is receiving a hiding at the moment. This is sad because although the church is a flawed organization and has many scars in its history, it is still the vessel of Jesus to the world. In other words it carries the hope of the world to a still broken society and culture. Lives change when the Gospel is proclaimed and lived out – we see this in our churches all the time!

The age of Christendom is well and truly over. The privileged place of respect and influence for the church is declining fast. Into this world, Leslie Newbigin is right that the only hope of the Gospel is for local communities of believers to be living the Gospel out as prophetic acts of the story that changes the world. Love one another, do not judge, act justly, forgive your enemies, blessed are the peacemakers, the merciful, the poor in Spirit. It is all still good news.

Manly Life Church Launch Service (with photos)

On Sunday we launched a new church for the Northern Beaches with a bang! It was awesome to see so many people gather for the beginning of this new community. It was great to see old friends, and meet new faces.

One of the things you hope for in leading a new church is that the right ingredients will be there for the Gospel to be proclaimed and lived out. On Sunday it was great to see a community worshipping, together, welcoming one another and eating together. The good news of Jesus was preached and people responded for prayer ministry. We saw the Spirit move in those gathered. In other words our hopes and prayers were answered!

I was reminded of the power of the Gospel once again. The sermon was on Luke 4:18-21 and Jesus mission of bringing freedom, healing and forgiveness into the world. In Jesus we don’t just meet ideas about God and his plan for his creation, but we meet God and see his plan for the world in action. I was struck by this being a story that invites us, to not only come for forgiveness and a new start, but also to find purpose as we join in with Jesus mission. It really is good news.

There is now some exciting times ahead as our new church community begins to do life together. We will form our unique identity over time as we worship, pray, share and grow together. While we have a great culture already developing, it is as we walk this journey together that our true shape and mission will emerge.

Finally, a big thank you to everyone in the core team for making this adventure so enjoyable. We are all blessed as we all play our role in seeing this church get established and see God’s kingdom come to our area. We are deeply hopeful, mainly because we follow a Christ who is deeply faithful and powerful today!

3 Quick Prayers for Manly Life

This is what I am praying this week.

1. We will be a radically welcoming and hospitable community. A major marker of any alive church right since the beginning has been inclusiveness. In Jesus we are told there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. The echo of that today is the open hand of friendship to all who come.

2. We will see not only the truth of the Gospel but also it’s power. Alive churches through the ages have not only proclaimed the truth but have seen the power of the Gospel demonstrated through the Spirit’s presence, healing and words of revelation. I pray for a church that seeks the same power for today.

3. People will grow in their true identity as sons and daughters of the living God. Knowing our inheritance and the family we are called into, we will not be a church of prodigals but of sons and daughters who grow in our true identity. This will manifest in how we love, honour and bless each other.

It’s time to launch a new church!

It’s launch week at Manly Life Church and we are full of hope!

Launching a new church is about lots of things but primarily it is about Jesus – and his ongoing story of liberating the world from its bondage to decay. Now that may sound grandiose, but it is the essential claim of Jesus, of his church and of our new community. We plant new churches because we want to be a part of that story as it unfolds around the world today. Is Jesus irrelevant, weak, boring? Not the Jesus that I know.

In Luke 4 Jesus announces what he has come to do by reading an ancient prophets scroll. He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” It says he then rolled up the scroll and proclaimed, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” That is was his mission, that is his mission, that is our mission. Where Jesus is, there is freedom.

Join us this Sunday as we launch the new church for the Manly region of Sydney. We will be kicking off at 5pm at 275 Pittwater Rd, Manly. There is parking at the Manly Seniors Centre and in surrounding streets.

Come, help us continue the Jesus story.

Spending Your Life Well

What kind of life do you want to live?

What kind of story do you want to tell? What kind of mark will you leave, what kind of legacy will you impart? With big changes in my life over the last year, these have been recurring questions in my mind, and ones I want to challenge you with.

My friend Pete shared with me recently the three kinds of lives people live. The lowest form being the pleasurable life. This is the life where everything is served up to you on a platter and you spend it on yourself. Many dream of this kind of life… win the lottery and never work again… go on one big permanent holiday, escape reality, you spend on the most important person in the world – you! You read sad stories about such people all the time like the recent demise of the Tetra Pak billionaires in the UK. You know the old adage that it takes 3 generations to make and lose wealth…

The average form of life is where with the strengths you have you build a good life for yourself. So this is the life that many people work towards in Australia. You discover the gifts you have, the resources you are given and you invest those strengths for more gain. Work hard to play hard. But the gain is still ultimately used to benefit yourself.

But the highest form of life is to have strengths that are used not only for yourself but in the service of and benefit of others. This is the highest form of life. It is the life God intended us to have, the one of that original promise to Abraham that he would make his family into a great nation, and that it would be a blessing to all the nations on earth. It is the lamp not hidden under a bowl, it is the life of the faithful steward. That is the key to life: investing all that you are given for the creation of more, for the flourishing of life, for the blessing of your world!

Jesus started a revolution and he told stories about people such as these! You know the story of the Master who entrusts his servants with great wealth in Matthew 25. It explains what Jesus’ revolution people do with their lives. The message is clear – for those with ears to hear, let him hear!

In the story we are talking about a lot of wealth. The bags of gold he mentions here is equivalent to the wages of a working man for 10 years… So this master is wealthy and to the one with great ability he is entrusted with 100 years worth of wages. The implication is this story has scale – it is about what one would do with the totality of your life, all the resources and gifts that you are endowed with. Your intelligence, what you have inherited, your gifts, the blessings of family or education.

Secondly this story makes it clear that life is not fair, but it is about what we do with what is entrusted to us. According to their abilities, the wealth is entrusted to the servants. But life aint fair… and that can apply both looking up and looking down. Just as there are many who do not posses the blessings you have been given, so there are those who are blessed naturally with more than us. That has become very evident to me watching the Olympics. Victoria was pointing out to me that the long jumpers jump over 8m. I remember at school athletics being able to jump a little over 2 metres…

So this is about what you have been entrusted with.

The first servant is given 10 bags of gold, invests it and makes 10 more bags worth of gold. The second servant is given 5 bags of gold, invests it and makes 5 more bags. To both the master is pleased, “well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your masters happiness.” What an amazing thing to hear. Wouldn’t it be great on the day when our lives are judged to hear that!

The third servant though is called wicked, lazy and worthless… why? Because even with the little he is given in his life, he burries it and returns it unused. There is an expectation from the Master that he was entrusted with wealth to bring a return. At the very least he could have earned some interest at the bank! As a result what he should have used to bring more blessing is given to those who invested wisely!

Well what kind of life do you want to live? What kind of story do you want to tell? What kind of mark will you leave, what kind of legacy will you impart, what kind of life do you want to live? If your life is a gift, and you have been invited to join a revolution, how will you spend your life?

If I could sum up this story for revolutionaries like you and me it would be this. Have a crack at life! Don’t tread water; start sowing for the life you want to live! The higher life! Use it well, invest your life wisely, bring back a return on what has been given to you!

Is this a story about your finances – yes. Is this a story about the spiritual gifts you have – yes. Is that about the key relationships in your life – yes. Is this a story about your health and fitness – yes. Is this a story about your work – yes. Is this a story about your creativity – yes.

This is about a life well spent. About the dreams that God has placed in your heart. About the resources he has entrusted to you in your life through your family, your education, the opportunities you have been born into. About the gifts that you have that can bless and benefit others, to build His kingdom, to prosper his church.

I was hearing about a successful church planter in the US recently. He was talking about the dreams we have and the hopes for our lives. He said, you are never really ready and you are never really sure you will succeed. But what you going to do with your life? Bury it in the sand and watch it pass you by? No, no!

Teddy Roosevelt – man of faith and 26th President of the United States famously said; “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Will you spend your life in a worthy cause? Firm in the knowledge that every good gift comes from the Lord. Firm in the knowledge that we work for a kingdom that will not perish or fade. Firm in the knowledge that we serve a God who loves us and calls us to join his heavenly revolution?

So what are called to do with your life?

5 Weeks til launch, 5 reasons to be excited!

With under 5 weeks until the public launch of Manly Life Church, here are my 5 reasons to be hopeful and excited for this new church;

1. We know our God and he is faithful! He has revealed himself in Jesus and throughout history. Our God is full of love, breathes new life on the broken, and moves in every generation of his people who are up for the adventure of faith.

2. A community of extraordinary people are already gathering! I could tell you something amazing about each of the 50 or so people who have come to Manly Life in our pre-launch meetings. Not that they are perfect, but they are all shaped by grace, generosity and the life Jesus gives.

3. We have heroes in the faith cheering us on! We have had support from local churches and friends around the world. It means a lot to be a part of a broader community who have modelled church and life together well.

4. What we are called to is clear! If in our meetings, our lives and our life together we can love God and love each other – it’ll turn out great. Faith, hope, love and the greatest of these is love.

5. Have you met my wife? Enough said – she is amazing!

God’s presence or bust!

Victoria spoke last night at Manly Life on that great passage in Exodus where Moses says to God; “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

In the same passage God promises; “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

This is the ongoing story of God’s people through time – it is His presence in and through us that makes all the difference to all that we do. It should be what distinguishes us from all other people. Whether in the way we share good news, pray for the sick, act with compassion or meet together, it all counts for nothing if the presence of God is not with us. Some thoughts for us as individuals, churches and in our communities…

1. Personally we need to take seriously being the temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Co 6:19). The same Spirit/power that conquered the grave now lives in us (Rom 8:11), the same Spirit of Jesus is now shaping our character (Gal 5:22-26), indeed the same Spirit cries out within us that we are the children of God (Rom 8:15-16). We live as children shaped by the presence in us!

2. As churches we are known for the presence of God dwelling in our midst. Just as the early church was filled with awe, miracles, signs and wonders (Acts 2:43), our meetings today are to be characterised by the presence of God. When someone comes to one of our services we owe them an encounter with the presence of God. Whether that be in a sense of peace and grace or in mighty demonstrations of God’s power – we are to be seekers of his presence with us!

3. In our community we are to be the visible carriers of God’s presence. Jesus promised after his resurrection that “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:20). Whatever we do in our communities, let it be characterised by Jesus being there with us. An act of mercy, a word of good news, an encouragement, a prayer of faith – may His presence go with us!

Theologically I believe that battle is over – the church has awoken to the need for the presence of God to manifest in our lives, in our churches, in our mission. “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And where we don’t see it yet, we keep seeking and praying. God don’t send us unless you are with us!

Choose Your Own Spiritual Adventure

Being in the religion section of Manly Library is as good a place as any to realise that you no longer live in Christendom (that mystical place when everyone was a Christian and the church held the dominant position in all areas of society). There are books on every imaginable spirituality and religion. Indeed the lady standing next to me in the religion section smelt like a walking incense stick…

With the release of the latest census data it is fair to say that Australia is becoming simultaneously a more diverse religious place and a less religious place. So what then is the fate of Christianity in Australian society? Is it destined to be one faith among many? Perhaps it will be reduced to a few useful spiritual slogans for the spiritually enlightened types? Or could we one day see a resurgence of Christian belief and impact by a church stripped of some of the unhelpful institutional baggage.

Jesus claimed to be the way, the truth and the life, the only path to God. He claimed if you want to know God, to get to know him. I imagine to the average Australian who knows believers from different faiths and non believers alike, this must seem a bit narrow and outdated.

As Leslie Newbigin (a Bishop in the CofE last century) said; “How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross?” If we believe the Jesus story is true, if we believe that it is unique and we believe it is powerful – then how will that come to bear on a society that is increasingly spiritual but not religious? Searching for meaning but not in the church? Open minded but thoroughly skeptical?

Newbigin believed that the answer was the church – Christian communities living out the gospel and making it credible and powerful through their belief and practices. In other words, it becomes a powerful force once again when people can see it in action.

Talking about the early church Jim Wallis from Sojourners says;

“The message of the Kingdom became more than an idea. A new human society had sprung up, and it looked a lot like the new order to which the evangelists pointed. Here love was given daily expression; reconciliation was actually occurring. People were no longer divided into Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. In this community the weak were protected, the stranger welcomed. People were healed and the poor and dispossessed were cared for and found justice. Everything was shared and joy abounded, and ordinary lives were filled with praise. Something was happening among the Christians that no one could deny.”

I am hopeful for the future of Christian faith in our country because like many I believe it is powerful to save and to transform. At Manly Life my hope is that people will see a community that bears witness to the truth and power of the Gospel by the way it follows Jesus and does life together. There is no more powerful a force than a community that loves one another and its neighbours around it. When we gather we want to share stories of grace and hospitality, to pray expectantly and see God move whether through signs and wonders, addictions broken or forgiveness given.  This is surely the best signpost to the God we claim to know and serve.

Life’s Storms

Last night it felt like Manly could actually get blown over and washed away. Victoria was getting nervous that one of the big pine trees outside our apartment was going to come down. On the beach side, the waves came up to the retainer wall and on the harbour side boats were being run up on the beach. It is times like this you hope the foundations of your building are strong.

No life is left untested by storms. Everyone will face sickness, both in those you love and personally. Most go through challenging work situations, staff cuts, strangling office politics. The strongest friendships get tested, the ones closest to us can hurt us the most, relationships can fall apart. Things we once enjoyed can get a hold on our lives. There will be storms.

Jesus says as much at the end of his brilliant sermon on the mount (Matt 7:24-27). Rain comes, streams rise, winds blow and beat… the questions is upon what foundation has your life been built. The wise man has put Jesus’ teaching into practice and like a house built on rock it does not fall. Another whom Jesus calls a fool takes no notice and like a house built on sand does not survive the storm.

Before yesterdays storm I heard a warning to prepare for what was coming. It is the storm that will test the foundations, not the sunshine. When the storm rages I hope that my life is built on THE rock. That I will have peace because I know that I am loved and saved. That I will  have power to transform a situation with grace rather than be overcome. That I will have an imparted strength that comes from the one who defeated the grave!

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