The three-minute rule

Ed Stetzer:

“The three-minute rule begins when the final prayer is said or song is sung. 

This is not the time to talk to your best friends. 

During those first three minutes, two things are going to happen: people who are familiar are going to talk to each other and people who don’t know anyone are going to leave quickly. 

This is where it’s crucial. 

If you take the time in those first three minutes to talk to the people who aren’t connected, you will have time afterward to talk to your friends who are more likely to stick around. 

You have three critical minutes to look immediately around for people who are not connected in the body.”

3minutesv2

A wasted life

nate_saint

“And people who do not know the Lord ask why in the world we waste our lives as missionaries. They forget that they too are expending their lives… and when the bubble has burst they will have nothing of eternal significance to show for the years they have wasted.”

~ Nate Saint

In honor of Plymouth Brethren missionaries, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully and Pete Fleming, who were killed by the Auca Indians, January 1956.

Thankfulness is a funny thing…

Thankfulness is a funny thing.

By its very nature the giving of thanks cuts straight across the self-focus of the human heart. When we are thankful for something, we acknowledge that we are in someone else’s debt…

…that there are good things in our lives for which it just doesn’t seem appropriate to pat ourselves on the back. We pause for a day at Thanksgiving to think about the blessings we enjoy – the way our lives, with all their challenges, trials, and disappointments, are actually much better than we could have accomplished for ourselves in our own strength, and much better than we know we deserve.

And that seems to be the case even for unbelievers. Even the most prideful person will admit, if he’s honest with himself, that, strangely enough, it feels good to be thankful. We enjoy giving thanks. Something just feels…right… about it.

Storm-Bay-Kiama-with-the-KIama-Showground-opposite-surrounded-with-Norfolk-Island-Pine-trees-Image-Credit-Gerringong-Australia-PhotographyAnd that’s because we’re tapping into the reality that life isn’t most ultimately about us and making much of ourselves. We’re catching a glimpse of the reality that absolutely everything that we have – from our job to the air we breathe – is owing to the goodness of Another. You see, we are designed to humble ourselves in the presence of Someone infinitely more worthy than us. And we are designed to give praise and thanksgiving to Him for the comforts of this life. The pleasure we feel in thanksgiving is a parable from the God of the universe that teaches us that our glory is not the goal of our lives, but that His glory is.

And so if you’re reading this and you’re not a believer in Jesus Christ, can I ask you to stop and think about why, at this time of year, it feels right to deflect the glory? Would you pause a moment and think about why in the world that is? You truly feel, and therefore say, the words, “I’m thankful for ______.”

But have you ever asked yourself whom you’re thankful to for those gifts? Indeed, that they are gifts and therefore have come from a Giver?

God’s H.E.A.R.T

Gods-own-heart

Thom Rainer (a US pastor and writer) prays evangelistically using the simple acronym, “GOD’S HEART”. I think it’s excellent. Maybe this pattern will help you as you pray evangelistically too:

G = Pray that believers (beginning with yourself) will appreciate God’s grace. When we really appreciate what God has done for us, we naturally want to tell others about Him.

O = Pray for believers (beginning with yourself) to live in obedience to God. If we’re not walking in obedience to God, our disobedience hinders our prayers (Isa. 59:1-2). Remaining in Christ really does matter when we pray (John 15:7).

D = Pray that believers (beginning with yourself) will decide to tell others. Evangelism doesn’t just happen. Telling the story of Jesus is a choice… an action…a decision. We often know we should do evangelism, but decide not to do it. Pray that won’t happen.

S = Pray that believers (beginning with yourself) will speak the gospel fearlessly and clearly. In fact, that’s the way Paul taught us to pray in Ephesians 6:19-20 and Colossians 4:2-4.

H = Pray for your non-believing friend or loved one to have a receptive heart to the gospel. Apart from Christ, people are dead in their sin (Eph. 2:1), held under the devil’s sway (Acts 26:18). Only God can make our hearts open to the good news.

E = Pray that their spiritual eyes will be opened. Our non-believing friends or loved ones are blinded to the truth of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4), and the “god of this age” does all he can to keep them in darkness.

A = Pray that they will have God’s attitude toward sin. Understanding God’s remedy for sin begins with understanding our sickness. We’re all sinners (Rom. 3:23), and we must see our sin as God sees it – as wrong against a holy God.

R = Pray that your non-believing friend or lovedwill repent and believe. The message of Christ is clear: we must turn from our sin and trust Christ for salvation (Mark 1:15). God gets the glory as He frees nonbelievers from the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13).

T =  Pray their lives will be transformed. When God does that, the non-believing world takes note.

Who is praying for you to speak the gospel boldly and clearly? Are you praying for other believers to be evangelistic? Are you praying for non-believers? Are you asking God to save and transform a specific person? Even if you’ve been praying for someone for many years, don’t give up. God still responds to the prayers of His people. That’s His heart!  

A year of Protest on Norfolk Island

It has been a year of protest on Norfolk Island. This has raised for me a challenging and pressing question: as Christians, should we protest and picket the government? 

After all, human government is deeply biblical. Look back to Genesis 1:28, where God commanded Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” Authority, by nature, reflects God’s authority. Romans 13 echoes this foundational biblical theology, “for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Rom. 13:1).
 

Traditionally, although there have been protests organised by Christians (think Martin Luther King), Christians have been mostly negative about protesting. The recommended response to injustice has been to go to God in prayer and leave the matter with Him. In 2 Timothy 2:1-2, Paul urges that ‘petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’. One of the effective means by which Christians live out their godliness is through prayer for the king to the King of Kings.

Despite this, we still need to remember how our modern governments work. Ancient governments did not claim to represent individuals in the way our modern Western democracies do, so protests made little impact (and publicly protesting against the policies of Rome or Assyria was fairly pointless unless you wanted an immediate, public and brief encounter with the lions in the amphitheatre).

I think there is probably a case for Christian protesting today. More importantly, I think today’s governments actually expect some measure of protest. Increasingly it seems they create and announce policies with little thought and even less consultation and then – fingers crossed – impose them on the public. If they are met with strong objections, then the policies or laws are hastily withdrawn, redrafted and resubmitted. In a culture where only those who shout are heard, any failure to protest may be presumed consent or approval.

Perhaps you’ve heard of “Just War Theory”? It’s one of the ways Christians have responded to armed conflict. I think there are some similar principles, which can probably be proposed for a political protest – a “Just Protest Theory” if you will. After all, both war and protest are powerful forces that can easily tempt us to do wrong things – anger and hatred; grumbling and complaining; gossip and slander; insubordination and rebellion; anxiety and worry – these are just some of the wrong responses that can arise whenever the conversation takes a political turn. It’s even easier to get carried away when you are surrounded by the sound of marching feet, waving banners and the shouts of solidarity.
 
LET ME CAUTIOUSLY SUGGEST FIVE PRINCIPLES FOR PROTEST:

  1. We should protest on behalf of others rather than ourselves. Our duty to love our neighbour may involve us in protesting for them.
  2. All other means of influencing the governing powers should have been exhausted. Protest should always be a last resort.
  3. We must be assured that our protest will do more good than harm.
  4. There must be a clearly defined and widely understood aim for our protest (it’s all too easy for things to degenerate into anger and dislike).
  5. The limits of any protest must be set beforehand. Christians can have nothing to do with words of hatred or – even worse – acts of violence.

Moreover, in all that we do, we should try to bring Jesus into our protest. There is a widespread suspicion that the Christian church is no different from all those other community groups that exist only for their own benefit. Protests are an opportunity to show that actually we do care for others. Perhaps you can already think of ways our protesting can be pro-testimony and pro-Jesus?

Finally, Christians should pray for the salvation of our leaders. Paul writes, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people…Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.” (1 Tim. 2:3–6).

Praying for the salvation of our leaders is good in the sight of God. The salvation of souls is in keeping with God’s gracious nature and His sovereign purposes; it is the reason Christ died on the cross. When we pray for our island, we must not limit our prayers to the latest policy decisions and other temporal issues. We must also pray for the souls of those in government and civil service, that by God’s grace they might be saved through faith in Christ!

Questions for reflection…

Here are some terrific questions for reflection / your time with the Lord this week.

How real has God been to your heart this week?

How clear and vivid is your assurance and certainty of God’s forgiveness and fatherly love? To what degree is that real to you right now?

Are you having any particular seasons of delight in God? Do you really sense his presence in your life, sense him giving you his love?

Have you been finding Scripture to be alive and active? Instead of just being a book, do you feel like Scripture is coming after you?

Are you finding certain biblical promises extremely precious and encouraging? Which ones?

Firing Squads, Jailhouse Religion and Amazing Grace

We must never forget that much of the Bible was written by murderers who were given a second chance – Moses, David, and Paul. We must never forget that our churches would be empty if we killed everyone who was deserving of death. 

Reformed Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran and their six fellow prisoners were shot by a 12-member firing squad in the early hours of Wednesday morning. According to the pastors who were with them in their final hours, the men refused to wear blind-folds and spent their last minutes of life praising God by singing Amazing Grace. Andrew Chan famously became a Christian in jail, and right up until his death he led the worship service in Kerobokan prison. He attributed this change entirely to his religious conversion. But what are we to make of this hope that Chan carried with him right up until his death? Not everyone buys it. “Jailhouse religion” is the derisive term for crooks finding God in the hope of a pardon or better treatment and it’s fair to say that if there is no God then the whole episode looks like a meaningless waste.

Even as a Christian minister, a familiar accusation is that my religion is “a crutch”. I admit that many people are religious, not for rational reasons, but simply because they have an emotional need to believe that there is a heavenly Father that cares for them. On the other hand, we should also admit that many people reject religion, not for rational reasons, but simply because they have an emotional need to not believe that there is a heavenly King we have to obey. Aldous Huxley (author of A Brave New World) freely admitted this: “I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently I was able without much difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption….for myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.”

We need to admit that we have a built-in bias. In order to offset that, have you ever taken a long, hard look at the evidence for faith? If an honest judge had to sit in judgment on a claim against in which she knew she had a built-in bias, she would have to work to be diligent and objective in her examination. On the one hand, it means people who have a strong interest in God should undertake a careful examination of the arguments and evidence, so they don’t believe simply out of emotional need. But on the other hand, people who have an indifference to religion should undertake a careful examination of the arguments and evidence so they don’t disbelieve simply out of emotional need.

If Chan was onto something all those years ago when, in solitary confinement, he first sensed God alongside him as he read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, then he joins many others who have gone to their deaths in similar circumstances, not glad of the fate that awaited them, but hopeful, even confident that through their death they were in fact being ushered into life. Chan’s God is the God of second chances. Think about how Jesus approached those who had sinned in the Gospels. He highlights such teachings as “judge not lest you be judged”; “I did not come for the healthy but for the sick, not for the righteous but for the sinners” and “you’ve heard it said ‘an eye for an eye’ but I tell you there is another way”. Christ stood relentlessly for mercy, favouring forgiveness over punishment. There is actually an incident in the Gospels where Jesus is asked about the death penalty. A women has been humiliated and dragged before the town, ready to be killed. Her execution was legal; her crime was a capital one. But just because it was legal, didn’t make it right – and Jesus interrupts the scene with grace. In the passage in question, found in John 8, Jesus challenges the mob ready to stone an adulterous woman; famously declaring, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone” (v 7). The only one who is left with any right to throw a stone is Jesus – and he has absolutely no inclination to do so. It is this duel conviction that no one is above reproach and that no one is beyond redemption that lies at the heart of our faith. The beauty of it, is that closer we are to God the less we want to throw stones at other people. Of all people, we who follow the executed and risen Christ should be people who are consistently for mercy, for grace and for life.

We dare not forget the story – of a God who so loved the world that Jesus was sent, not to condemn the world but to save it. We must never forget that much of the Bible was written by murderers who were given a second chance – Moses, David, and Paul.

…We must never forget that our churches would be empty if we killed everyone who was deserving of death. And so this week, I both grieve and sing. Because, despite these terrible events I can join them in this prayer – amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

David Fell is the Chaplain of the Church of England on Norfolk Island, an Anglican Church that loves Jesus, loves each other and loves Norfolk Island.

Lest I forget Gethsemane

we nawa gwen forget dem 

ANZAC Day 2015 marked 100 years since the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. Norfolk Island’s own contribution to both world wars was, per capita, the largest in the Commonwealth, which is proudly remembered by all islanders. This year the dawn service was held, not at the Cenotaph, but at the location of the first service in 1917, Emily Bay.

The fact that we remember the Gallipoli campaign as a great national day must be odd to people of other countries. The Americans have Independence Day, the French have Bastille, the British have Waterloo and Trafalgar, but ANZAC Day centres on an ignominious defeat in a side show theatre of the Great War. It sounds like foolishness, but of course we understand that this defeat symbolised something far greater.

The Bible speaks of a far greater defeat that stands at the epicentre of human history. A defeat which seems like foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved is the very power of God (1 Cor 1:18). The foolishness is of course the death of Jesus the Christ, which is still a stumbling block to so many in all their ‘wisdom’.

Last Saturday we will rightly say ‘lest we forget’, as we remembered the great sacrifice of others for out mortal bodies, but last Sunday we remembered the immeasurably greater sacrifice of Jesus for our immortal souls.

Lest I forget Gethsemane,
Lest I forget Thine agony;
Lest I forget Thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary.

David Fell is the Chaplain of the Church of England on Norfolk Island, an Anglican Church that loves Jesus, loves each other and loves Norfolk Island.

Friends

In the 1990’s pub trivia was changed forever when ‘buddy sitcoms’ hit TV. Millions of people would tune in each week to see if Ross and Rachael would ‘finally’ get together, or for their weekly fix of Kramer-isms. In the 2000’s the trend continued with shows like How I Met Your Mother, New Girl, Scrubs and Community.

All these shows enjoy massive ratings. Each one starts with an eclectic bunch of young people with something in common – either their apartment block, New York City or their workplace. What they share draws them into a tight community, when otherwise they would have remained complete strangers.

What interests me is why these shows are so popular.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that the one thing that links them is community. We are drawn to community. We resonate strongly with the bonds of friendship. We laugh at the hilarity of the dysfunction, and cry when their love for each other overcomes any obstacles that threaten the group. We inwardly long to feel that sense of belonging that comes with community.

Of course as Christians this comes as no surprise. God himself is Trinity, a community – 3 persons in 1 God. So love, friendship and community are intrinsic to God’s character. People are drawn to community because humanity was designed by God to reflect his own nature. God created us in his image and so naturally we will also share his desire for intimate fellowship.

In Acts 2:42–47, we are given a glimpse into the life of the very first Christians. They were living life together, caring for and loving each other, meeting each other’s needs, eating together and hanging out every chance they could get. To emphasise this, the writer of Hebrews has this to say: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

The community of God is a place that we can truly call home. Let’s take responsibility for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, continuing to live lives together for our good and God’s glory.

David Fell is the Chaplain of the Church of England on Norfolk Island, an Anglican Church that loves Jesus, loves each other and loves Norfolk Island.

Stretching Our Heads Across Eternity

I hope you’ve been enjoying our sermon series on Ephesians. If you’ve missed any of it, let me try and re-cap for you!

Deep breath. Rub my hands together. Here’s my attempt at a short, to-the-point, yet helpful 100-meter dash through the first three chapters of Ephesians. Ready?

Ephesians 1 is our glorious introduction to the church. Church is not just a nice spiritual thing for us to do together. It was eternally purposed by God to be “in” King Jesus. From before the foundation of the world God thought of us, and thought of how to call us and join us together, inside of Jesus, along with all the rest of creation. Jesus is the great Ruler over everything, in this age and the next. Yet this great and glorious King has been given to us as head of the church, so that the church is “the fullness of him that fills all in all.”

We’re supposed to respond to this chapter with, “Woah! Wow! Amazing! We have been called into a glorious, cosmic, Divine purpose, planned by God before the foundation of the earth! Wow whee, my head is spinning.”. It sounds over the top, but I mean every word. That’s how we should respond to Ephesians 1!

Ephesians 2 and 3 brings in some details, but the effect is the same. We’re seated in the heavenlies in Jesus despite the fact that we were once all demonically influenced sinners (really, see 2:1-3). We are now citizens of heaven and part of a glorious mystery, hidden through all the ages, to join Israelites and Gentiles, all people, into a dwelling place for God.

Wow!

Talk about stretching your head across eternity and the universe – can’t wait to see you again this Sunday!

David Fell is the Chaplain of the Church of England on Norfolk Island, an Anglican Church that loves Jesus, loves each other and loves Norfolk Island.