The Welcoming Church!

So – thinking about churches being welcoming places, rather than what so many people describe – how do we do it well? Or go a step further – do we want to do it well, or at all?

How many churches only welcome those who look like the people already attending? In how many churches is it really only the ministry team and maybe – maybe – a couple of hard-core members who do the welcoming?

And how many Christians in our churches simply aren’t looking beyond themselves and their group of friends, to look around on a Sunday morning and think beyond their own needs and desires and to go out of their way to welcome new people into the community – and not just a quick hello and my name is Bill, but a real welcome, a genuine opening of the arms to gather in those Christ has called to his body, opening our homes and lives to new people, sharing what we have received for the kingdom of God? Not just Sunday – but for weeks and months and years even welcoming those who come to the churches we attend.

Is that the problem with welcoming? We think of it as a job – but really it’s a lifestyle, a choice to respond to those Jesus has called!?

Casting Crowns – “If we are the body…”

What should you do this Sunday? Monday? Tuesday?… etc!

Myth Busters – All Religions are The Same

Religion – All Roads Lead To Rome

A Jew, a Baptist and an Anglican were discussing how they worked out their tithe each week. The Anglican said that he drew a square on the ground, threw the money up in the air and anything that landed in the square he gave to God. The Baptist was much the same, but being freer in his thinking he would throw the money in the air and whatever landed outside the square he gave to God. The Jew said they were both mad. He would stand in the square and throw the money in the air… and whatever God caught God kept.

What Does a Christian Believe?

  • We believe in one God – the Father the Almighty – creator and sustainer.
  • We believe in one Lord – Jesus Christ – truly God, truly man who died for our sins and is alive and coming back to judge of all.
  • We believe in the Holy Spirit who is one with the Father and the Son and has been sent by both Father and Son to call us to life and to speak through the prophets.

One God, three persons. Equal yet different – the Father did not die on the cross, the Son did create the universe, the Holy Spirit points to the Son and caused the Scriptures to be written.

What do people you know say about religion?

Plenty of people think that all religions are the same – if they think about it at all. All religions are simply different expressions of one truth. Especially in western thinking, no religion has an exclusive claim to the truth. So Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’is, Shintoists and Atheists all believe the same thing – and we should just get on with peace and harmony.

Is that true? Are all religions the same?


Have a think – maybe talk to some people.

  • Write down all the religions you can think of and just one thing you’re pretty sure those religions believe.
  • What do people you know world think of organised religion?


The reality is most people have no idea what religions teach – only what the tv tells them. We can actually see that pretty clearly – western Buddhism looks almost nothing like Eastern Buddhism – and western Buddhism tends to be a caricature of what Buddhists seem to believe on TV. In many cases Western Buddhism looks like a spiritual capitalism.

Anyway – it’s true to the outside observer that religions can look remarkably similar to each other. Christians, Jews and Muslims all worship one God – Monotheism – one God. So people say… isn’t it the same God just with different names? We see the Muslims praying. We see Jews praying – what’s the difference? Obviously there are extreme Muslims who obviously aren’t following God’s plans. And the Jews aren’t exactly innocent, but then neither were the Christians in years gone by. Are they all just pointing to the same God?

What about the other religions? There are 5 main types of belief – including monotheism.

  • Hinduism and Buddhism say that there is no God. You become one with the universe by self sacrifice.
  • Tribal and folk religions are called Polytheism – many gods and spirits.
  • Ying and Yang – Taoism – the dualistic religions – good and evil in balance.
  • Atheism is the belief there is no god – so Marxism, Communism and secular humanism. If you go to the secular universities in Australia you will come under the influence of secular humanism.

Spiritual Hunger

Most religions are dropping in numbers, especially in the Western world. There are a couple of exceptions, though they probably aren’t the ones you think. But spirituality is on the rise. There is a hunger in many people to find ways to deal with life – religion and capitalism can’t help. Many people who turned to Eastern religions in the 60’s and 70’s are now turning to new age spiritualism – new in that it’s been around for about 6000 years. Spirituality in the modern western world is very much like jelly – it wobbles all over the place and can be any shape you like. People mean by ‘spirituality’ whatever they want. They include devil worship, tarot cards, crystals, meditation, yoga, vegetarianism, self actualisation – whatever that is. It’s all about following your “inner spiritual path”. In Sydney each year there is a “Body Mind and Spirit Festival” – more than ½ million visitors each year. There was a “blessed medallion” on ebay a few years back that was ‘guaranteed’ to bring the wearer good luck and spiritual peace. It sold for almost $2000. There is no lack of desire for the “spiritual” aspect of life.

In fact what is happening is that an old form of religion is reviving – multi-spirituality – people wanting to determine their own spiritual path to peace and happiness. Spirituality comes from whatever pursuit you choose – as long as you are faithful to that god/spiritual path then you are spiritual.

Do all these paths get to the same God? Are all religions the same?

The Problem

The thing is – as soon as you start investigating you can see that religions have statements of faith that are in direct opposition to each other. And oddly – for most religions that’s ok by them. Moderate Muslims – not the fundamentalists – they believe that Christians, Jews and Muslims all worship the same god – but the Jews and the Christians just need to learn the true name of God. The Bahia religion expects you to worship how you want and to whom you want when you go to a Bahia temple. I visited one once – it felt evil to me – and I’m not that sort of person who gets those sensations. Hindus and Buddhists don’t really care who you worship as long as you are seeking a right path. [P] Are they all the same?

No! And we know because of the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ.

What’s Different About Christianity?

I could do the old one liner – Christianity’s not a religion. It’s a relationship. That’s true enough but it’s only a starting place. Jesus and responding to Jesus is what makes Christianity different.

1 John 4:9-10 “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

  1. John reminds us that Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection are historical events, not mythical. We have good evidence for all of them, including the resurrection. Without Jesus there would be no Christianity – unlike all other religions which are about teaching and practice. It’s what you do and learn and how you act that will determine your future. We are focussed on Jesus’ death and resurrection and his act of salvation.

1 Cor 15:17 “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

This is unique to Christianity. Second…

John 1:14-15 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

  • What’s different is we received the one and only Son of God. God became flesh and dwelt with us. Jesus was God incarnate – the word of the week – use it in conversation. It means that he wasn’t simply a representative, or even an image of God, like a statue come to life. Jesus was God in the flesh – dwelling in person on earth.

John 14:9 “Jesus answered: … Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

  • All religions – even atheism – claim that mankind has a problem. All of them claim that the solution is human effort. Even Catholicism claims this. Jesus declares that our problem is far worse – we are spiritually dead – and unless we accept his life for ours and start living through him then we will remain dead.

Romans 6:23 “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

  • All religions claim we become one with god/universe etc by our own effort. It’s the great Aussie lie! She’ll be right! God and I are mates. But that is patently untrue. God has a zero tolerance policy with sin. He declared the punishment for sin is death and separation from him for eternity.

Habakkuk 1:13 “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”

God is 100% Holy. His holiness and love are not demonstrated as the world wants them to be in leniency. He demonstrated his love for us by sending his Son to pay the price of our sin.

  • The kicker is this. Salvation does not come by moral hard work – it is a free gift.

Romans 1:17a “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last…”

Do you know what you lose when you try to make salvation dependant on us rather than God?


The more my salvation depends on me the less I will be sure because I know myself. I know where I fail. That’s why Hinduism is so cruel. You are reincarnated into a body that reflects your previous life. Make even little mistakes and you come back as a slug, or a cat. That’s why cows are sacred – there goes Auntie Bessie. That’s cruel – no hope, no assurance.

God offers us hope based on His character not ours – on his holiness. Because God loves us he sent his son – it’s not that we loved God. As we come to understand that there is no way that we can live up to God’s standards – as we come to release that we only have hope by entrusting Jesus with our lives – then we will come to understand the assurance we have in Christ. Our salvation depends on Him who chose us rather than me being good.

Do All Roads Lead To Rome?

The Bible answers our question.

Acts 4:12 “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

John 14:6 “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

As the team would say on MythBusters – this myth is busted. We could do a lengthy comparative religions study – interesting but meaningless really except in understanding that Christianity is incredibly different. There is pretty much no similarity between the claims of Christianity and those of all other religions. There is no way to match up the claims of Christianity and the other religions.

It all comes down to this – the character of Jesus and the reality of his death and resurrection. That’s what we need to help people understand – the Bible makes clear claims based entirely on Jesus Christ.

Talking It Up

When we are talking to people who want to argue that all religions are the same we want to do two things.

  1. We really want to pray. Obvious – Yes! The first thing that comes to mind? Maybe not! Whenever we are talking to people about Jesus we really want to be asking God to help us speak the truth in love, and for the Holy Spirit to make it clear to them. Without the Holy Spirit opening their eyes they will remain dead.
  2. We want to focus entirely on Jesus and especially his death and resurrection. We want as best we can to answer their question, or complaints, but we also want to turn it as quickly as we can to Jesus – because the thing they have to deal with is that Jesus died and rose for them – if it’s true then they have to accept or reject knowing the claim Jesus is making on them and the consequences.

True safety – true faith – true life – true assurance rests in Jesus alone – he alone can save us from sin and death – he alone offers us hope that can never fade an inheritance that can never be destroyed. No other religion offers what Christ does.

The Opportunity of Money

Luke 16:1-9 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ “‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’  “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

An Odd Story

It’s an odd story isn’t it – a man rips of his boss – gets fired – devises a scheme to rip off his boss some more – succeeds – and gets commended for it. And then Jesus says Christians should be like the man! It comes as a bit of a shock all things considered.

What’s a modern example of the shrewd manager? What about ex president of the USA Bill Clinton – last hours in the oval office he apparently provided pardons to a couple of allegedly criminal businessmen – in return for favours. You can bet, and the reports at the time indicated as well, that he didn’t do it out of the goodness of his heart – he wanted to be remembered financially and materially once he was out of the oval office. He was surely expecting a return on his investment – just like the shrewd manager.

Money and property! Money makes the world go round? The stats tell us that almost 90% of money and wealth in the world is possessed by 10% of the world’s population – which is a frightening sort of statistic. Though as I look at my own life I wonder whether I’m meant to fit into the 10% or the 90% – or maybe I’m somewhere in the middle.

  • A reporter with the Getaway program was asked in by Money magazine (Australia) to finish this sentence: “Money makes…?” and she said: “money makes life easier – ultimately it can offer you choices – even though it can bring out the foulest qualities in some people.”

She’s right – on so many levels. Money is opportunity – for good or for evil. It gives you choices. And – it certainly can make people turn foul. Take 9/11 – money and religion = the worst terrorist activity – the destruction of thousands and 10’s of thousands of lives, pain that will linger for years, the changes to international travel, loyalties, revenge that has been meted out, ongoing hatred it has caused – not simply due to religion but due to money. Without money it would not have been possible. The Muslim terrorist was a multi-billionaire – money can bring out the foulest qualities in some people. I realise this is a pretty extreme example but that doesn’t mean it ain’t true!

The story Jesus tells of the Shrewd manager is a story about the opportunity of money. It’s a story about a man who sees his world with a startling sense of reality.

The Manager

Here is a man caught out – he’s stuffed up big time and someone’s dobbed him in. He’s been foolish with his masters money – he’s meant to manage his masters affairs with sense and integrity – honesty and transparency – but instead he wastes his master’s possessions. Obviously we are not talking small scale – the sorts of sums involved are big business. And his world starts to crumble. He’s not going to be able to get another job in the same position once people find out about his mismanagement. There’s no social security, there’s no other avenues for employment – what’s he to do?

Luke 16:4 “I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.”

He calls in the people he normally deals with – they haven’t heard that he’s had the chop – think ‘window of opportunity’. And he carves up their bills – “take off 50%”, “take off 20%” – just examples probably of the many debts that changed in size that day. What is he expecting to get by ripping off his master?

He’s ensuring that he has rich friends who will put him up – maybe not forever but for a while – maybe give him time to sort out his life in comfort rather than on the streets. It’s a very smart move.

Luke 16:8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.”

Why does the master commend the manager? If someone in your employ ripped you off… and then did it again you would hardly say “well done”. Well he’s probably not saying thankyou to his manager – he’s not offering him his old job back – but when the circumstances were against him he found a way to keep himself out of the gutter – he saw his situation for what it really was, he found a way to make it work to his advantage and he acted. Smart guy!

The Punch Line

Now here’s the kicker. Jesus says…

Luke 16:8b-9 “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

What Jesus is saying is use worldly wealth to make friends for the kingdom of God – so that when this world passes away and God’s kingdom comes we will be standing there with many, many people – eternal friends. Instead of using money for things that can only pass away use it for eternal rewards. Jesus words are almost a plea for seeing and acting according to the truth – people in this world can act shrewdly – can act wisely and sensibly according to the reality they see – if only God’s people would see this world for what it truly is and act accordingly.

Jesus is talking to the Jews – but it applies even more to Christians. The Jews were meant to be God’s people living God’s way in God’s world – which is also a description of Christians. If anyone should understand the true situation of the world it should have been them – and us. If only we who know the truth about Jesus, who know the coming judgement to be real, who know the wonder of God’s love in Christ – who see the real problems in trying to serve both God and money – if only we would act according to the reality of the world from God’s point of view and use what God has given us to further the cause of the kingdom of God. See the world with God’s eyes – act in the world according to God’s plans.

The thing is we are good at spending money on ourselves – we even dress it up as wisdom and sensible stewardship. We buy and sell with the best of the world – we are entrepreneurs when it comes to using money and worldly goods – we scrimp and save, we take on debt burdens, we lock ourselves into wage structures, we spend up big on our kids or our spouse, we provide the best we can get for our families. We know all about using money to mould our world around us, to fill in the gaps and make life as comfortable as we can make it. Just like the Pharisees – perfect according to the law and yet lovers of money – in fact as Jesus declares not only do they love money but money has become their master. Instead of money being an opportunity we have become slaves to the love of money and what money can do.

Making Friends for Life

What is the opportunity of money? Jesus says simply that the opportunity is to use money to make friends for the kingdom of God.

Here’s a question. Why do we have what we have?

  • We live in a rich society and in comparison to many people in the world we are well off. Why?

As we read in Corinthians riches are to enable generosity – in Christians in any case.

2 Corinthians 9:11 “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

The end result of generosity is thanksgiving to God. That is – what we sow with what God has given us will produce a harvest. If we sow our money and life into worldly pursuits then we will harvest a worldly crop. We may well have everything this world says we should have – education, home, cars, holidays, shares, big superannuation, lifestyle etc – but that is all we will gain – and we may not gain that because as we know this is a dangerous world. One minute you can be a multimillionaire and the next a terrorist can park a plane in your office. God says to us store up riches in heaven.

Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

If we sow what God gives us with an eye to eternity then what we will reap is God’s riches for ourselves – and thanksgiving to God. When we arrive on heavens doorstep there will be all those we invested in there giving thanks to God. As Paul says to the Thessalonian church;

1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”

The opportunity of money is you can take it with you – if we spend what God gives us on heavenly treasures, if we put it to work for the kingdom then the harvest will be those who join us for eternity – the friends we make for God.


How can we spend money for an eternal harvest? Well we can take the example of the shrewd manager – he used worldly goods to make friends – he saw his situation and the reality of his world and he acted accordingly. Jesus says to us that we need to be like that – not dishonest but using what we have to make friends for God.

How do we make friends by using money? Well I can think of a couple of possibilities. We could pay people to come to church. Hmmm? Better still we could use our homes and hospitality to build relationships – having non-Christian friends for meals, spending money and time to build those relationships so that we can be witnesses for Christ. When you buy presents for people buy Christian books or give people a Bible and offer to help them read it.

We can give to the poor and the needy through various Christian agencies who intentionally seek to address people’s spiritual as well as physical needs. Sponsor a child in the third world – $40/month through a group like World Vision – they feed and educate and address spiritual needs. Even more – the child’s family probably praises God for the help they receive. Imagine if every Christian family in Australia sponsored just one child each – $1 a day… it’s not a lot of money but it’s an amazing opportunity.

We can learn to be generous towards each other so that people give thanks to God for what they receive from us. Christians praise God when they receive help from God’s people. What we do even in small way can bring praises to God.

Our world is moving towards a day of judgement – that is the reality that we have learnt from Jesus. Our world is in the grip of two enemies – sin and death – that is the reality we have learnt from Jesus. And we know the solution – the opportunity of money is that we can use it to sow a crop that will be harvested in eternity – if only we will see the world and our situation with the same clarity that the shrewd manager saw his situation; if only we will use what God has so generously given us to make friends that will stand for all eternity.

The Cross of Jesus

What Do you Feel

How often do you stop and think about the cross? Imagine yourself standing under it… what is going through your mind? Ask yourself…

  • What do I think about Jesus dying on the cross?
  • What do I feel about it?
  • Do I believe it?
  • Did Jesus die on the cross and rise again?”
  • Is it true?

The vast majority of people in our world are surprised that Christians believe in Jesus, that he was crucified for our sins, or in fact for any reason, but especially that he rose from the dead! Where do you stand on the cross of Christ – how do you respond to it?

Do you stand where the disciples stood?

Take yourself back – back into their sandals… Jesus is dead – it’s a few days after the crucifixion – the women have gone to the tomb to prepare the body of Jesus for burial – there’s no sense Jesus might rise – hasn’t even entered their heads.

They are worried, scared, confused, depressed and down hearted – they are afraid and in hiding for the most part – and maybe worse the very thought of going back to a mundane life of fishing or sitting under trees, after three years on the road with Jesus – well it just isn’t all that exciting a prospect.

Luke 24:36-37 “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.”

Now – fair enough – it’s not at all unreasonable! Dead people don’t pop up in the middle of a conversation – “howdy boys – just thought I’d stop by for a quick bite – I don’t eat much.”

The cross is a startling image – and the resurrection unbelievable. I guess I would have to say, even now after many years as a Christian – that my response is a mixture – joy and thankfulness mixed in with disbelief and wonder. See – I reckon we can imagine the disciples – Jesus appears in their midst from nowhere – terror – “is he a ghost?”! And then the relief… and then the joy and thanksgiving and wonder… how – how is this possible? There are days when that’s exactly what I feel about the resurrection – I have the joy that comes from knowing Jesus and I have disbelief – not unbelief – just the wonder, the surprise, the astounding nature of this event – just wondering “is this really all true?”

Have I staked my life on the right person?

Proof – Alive and Eating

It must have been a unique moment – Jesus standing in front of them flesh and blood –

Luke 24:39 “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Would you have stuck your fingers in? Can you just imagine them standing around, slack jawed staring at a sight beyond imagination – beyond reason… and yet there he stands? These men must very quickly come to grips with a reality they never expected. They were in hiding – they were demoralised – they did not understand that Jesus would rise. Yet – here before them is the living proof of God’s plans – Jesus alive – not a ghost, not a spirit, not a manifestation, not an apparition… not dead! They can touch his hands and feet and stick their fingers in his side – attractive thought.

But here is proof – if someone had said to them “We’ve just seen Jesus” we know the sort of response they’d have received! We know because they responded in exactly the same way.

Mark 16:9-11 “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.”

Exactly – unbelief! Why would any sane person believe the women – “you’re overwrought – you’re hallucinating.”

But here he is – and he wants to eat – dead people and ghosts don’t eat – living, breathing, eating proof that Jesus is alive – and that he is who he claims to be – he has power over death and he has power over sin – it’s all true.

We can almost hear the gears moving in the disciples brains as they reassess everything they have spent the last three days processing.

Jesus was dead – what do we do now – is he the Messiah – what about the Son of God?

He’s alive – clunk, clunk, clunk – get into gear brain – no longer dead (tick) that means…

  • Messiah √
  • Son of God √
  • Power over death √
  • Power over life √
  • In charge √
  • Worth living for √
  • Worth dying for?

Everything they’d questioned is now standing before them in – alive.


And Jesus nails it all home – the proof of the scriptures and Jesus’ own words.

Luke 24:44 “Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

He opens their minds – gets inside and starts making it all clear – clearing away the fog, explaining the things they’ve read in the Old Testament – all come true in Jesus – all proven

Luke 24:46-47 “…it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

They’ve seen all this – and will see all of it because they are the first ones who will take it to the nations and proclaim the good news – the final word though is God’s…

Luke 24:49 “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

The Holy Spirit of God comes with power – promised in Isaiah 32:15. The book of Acts expands

Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

And then a few days later it happens – God provides the proof.

“X” marks the Spot

The thing is – what does all this prove? What is this all about?

Very simply this is the “x” on the treasure map! That great old cliché of every pirate and treasure movie – at the end of the trail on the map is an “x” – here be Captain Jack’s treasure. The treasure in Christianity – the “x” on the map is what God has gone to such lengths to prove – one treasure above all other possibilities.

Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God’s entire plan rested on the shoulders of Jesus on the cross – the very centre of what Christians believe is the cross. Paul writes to the Corinthian Church and pushes the point even further…

1 Corinthians 1:14 “…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

The death and resurrection of Jesus brings forgiveness, life, freedom, peace, security and hope – proof and reality – without the death and resurrection we have nothing – the church is meaningless. The trappings of Christianity without the reality of the death and resurrection mean nothing and have no value. In the death and resurrection of the Christ we have all God’s promises wrapped up and delivered as a gift. Jesus’ own words…

Mark 10:45 “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


The Christian church constantly faces dangers and threats – the biggest is that we might loose focus on the main game – loose our “x” on the map. Even the disciples lost the focus as they walked with Jesus – Peter’s response to Jesus is to rebuke him – don’t talk such nonsense Lord – and Jesus hammers him – get behind me Satan. It’s easy to loose sight of what we are on about. Paul again to the Corinthians…

1 Corinthians 2:1-3 “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Christians must stand together as God’s people and declare that what is important is the cross of Jesus Christ.

The Cross is the Way

That’s what we must be vigilant about – there is no other way to be saved – there is no other power under heaven by which we can be saved – we must not loose sight of the cross. It is how God got the job done. When His kingdom is finally here – when we see God and rest in his presence for eternity, when we stand before the throne of heaven and receive our inheritance – we will do so only by the cross. Jesus paid for our lives with his.

And it’s not just how God got the job done! It’s how we get the job done. It’s the standard by which we live. I realise we may not have thought of it that way but the cross is meant to define how we live and who we are.

We know about sacrifice for important things – we do it every day – maybe missing a meal to get the kids to sport, giving up the newspaper to spend time with the kids, missing a favourite TV program to go to Bible Study – giving up sleep to get to church and often enough we make far larger sacrifices. The things that we must do instead of the things we would like to do. It’s not always what we want and sometimes we’re grumpy about the whole process but we do it.

The cross, Jesus says, defines us – we are signing on for a life of sacrifice and self-denial. Maybe that makes us cringe a little – maybe we want to shy away from it or we’d rather not talk about – well here in Jesus’ own words…

Mark 8:34-38 “He called the crowd and the disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

A life of sacrifice and self-denial! In our society I am everything – it’s all about me – all about you… pamper yourself, take time out for number one – this is becoming the most important daily task – and self-denial doesn’t look too hot. If it were giving up dessert or that extra block of Cadburys it might be ok – but Jesus is saying follow him – take myself out of the centre and put him in the centre – every action, word, activity, relationship… he declares that I am to stop making ‘me’ the central issue.

The cross is how we are saved… and how we are to live – the standard. It’s about having the mind of Christ, the priorities of God and his kingdom. No longer does money or a nice home or education or family or career rule us – at least in theory – Christ rules. We start asking strange questions when we turn to Christ. WWJD? What would Jesus do in this circumstance? What does God’s word say to me about this? What would God have me do or be or say? When we’re frustrated or angry we’re told to deal with it quickly – unlike the world which says go for the jugular. In fact what we are doing is starting to sacrifice ourselves and our opinions and lifestyle and desires and so on to Christ – what he says goes.

It’s a life long process and we’ll never live perfectly this side of heaven but that is the life we have taken on board. It’s the reason so many people become Christians and then realising the cost stop still and go nowhere.

‘This far God and no further. I’ll give up Sundays, I’ll give money to the church but that’s it – and don’t ask for any more cause your not getting it.’

As far as God’s concerned – that’s just not on.

What will the cross – what does the cross of Jesus mean for you – here and now?

As you face your life and the things that are in your life – how will you be living a life of sacrifice and self-denial?

How true is the cross for you?

Thinking about Marriage and Divorce

Marriage Vows

Do you recognise these words?

We have come together in the sight of God, and in the presence of this congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony; which is an honourable state of life, instituted from the beginning by God himself, signifying to us the spiritual union that is between Christ and his Church. Christ adorned and beautified matrimony with his presence, and with the first sign by which he revealed his glory; at the marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the Holy Scriptures command that all should hold it in honour.

It is therefore not to be entered upon unadvisedly, lightly, or merely to satisfy physical desires; but prayerfully, with careful thought, and with reverence for God, duly considering the purposes for which it was ordained.

  • It was ordained for the procreation of children and that they might be brought up in the nurture and instruction of the Lord, to the praise of his holy name.
  • It was ordained so that those to whom God has granted the gift of marriage might live a chaste and holy life, as befits members of Christ’s body.
  • And it was ordained for the mutual companionship, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

Into this holy manner of life these two have come now to be joined. Therefore if anyone can show any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let them speak now, or hereafter remain silent.

Most of us will have heard those words – or something similar – and many of us will have been on the receiving end, standing before the minister. It’s surely one of the biggest decisions we can make – right up there near giving our lives to Jesus.

But in our world marriage has become disposable, unnecessary and costly – you can always get a new one. We went to a 50th wedding anniversary recently – my wife and I have been married 21 years – 50 still seems a way off – and it’s unusual to get an invite to a 50th.

In 1976 Australia streamlined divorce proceedings making the only possible divorce a ‘no-fault’ divorce. Stay apart for a year, make the necessary application and fill out the forms and the marriage is history. There was an immediate spike in the divorce rate which took about 3 years to run its course and then things settled down. By 2000 the divorce rate was around 46% of all marriages. By 2007 this had dropped to about 40%. So for every 100 couples that get married, 40 get divorced. There’s a pile of other stats you can find – there is some evidence but little in the way of hard stats as yet that the 40% is actually a skewed number because a much higher percentage of 2nd, 3rd and so-one marriages fail – some analysts suggest as much as 65-75% of second marriages end in divorce.

That’s what the world says about marriage!

What does the Bible says about marriage and divorce? What is God’s view?

God’s view of marriage

One flesh

Genesis 2:24 “…a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

In a nutshell this is God’s plan and summary of marriage – and at no point does the Bible move from this picture – both Jesus (Matthew 19:5) and Paul (Ephesians 5:31) use this verse as their authority for teaching on marriage – it would be fair to say this verse is normative for every marriage relationship regardless of time, country, Jew or gentile – this is God’s plan.

God’s view of marriage starts with one fact – that he designed it – just as he designed the world and us for his purposes. It’s not man-made – or woman-made institution which is what some blokes think – it really was ordained by God – and is designed for our good.

Marriage comes into the picture of Genesis when God sees that man is alone.

Genesis 2:18 “The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.””

Now let’s be clear – I’m only going to touch on the Bible’s teachings and I will leave some things out. Don’t take what’s said as a judgment against you or your choices – it may be that God is and you’ll have to deal with that – but I’m not.

For example – Genesis 2:18 is not saying that singles somehow don’t measure up to God’s plan. God loves and saves us as individuals – our value is due to his saving grace rather than our relationships. So don’t hear a condemnation of single-hood or even an elevation of marriage over being single. But I do want to think about marriage and divorce.

Marriage is God’s design. And the key to it is the “one flesh” idea – God’s design is an exclusive relationship on all levels – physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual – and the physical oneness, which may be the most obvious part of a relationship, points us to the complete unity of two people of the opposite sex.


The one flesh relationship is in all senses a contract – in God’s eyes a legally binding contract. I know that’s not very romantic – “would you agree to a life-long contractual relationship that is legally binding on both parties with a mutual benefit clause” – doesn’t really cut it against “will you marry me?”! But it might help us see the truth. This contract – we sign the papers, there are witnesses, promises and consequences for a broken contract – this contract is not just an agreement between two parties with a mutual benefit clause but a contract of ownership.

1 Corinthians 7:4 “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.”

We have to be careful here. If you’re a bloke and you’re thinking this gives you permission to beat or abuse your wife – pull your head in. Abuse is not on – if you have abused then it’s time to repent and confess your sin, and don’t just confess in private, or just to your wife – abuse is a crime – so go to the police and admit what you’ve done! Any pastor or minister worth his salt will support you through that process – and mate if your wife is able to forgive you, you may end up with an amazing marriage – totally worth the price of admission.

But – getting back to 1 Corinthians – God is declaring and defending the exclusivity of marriage – there is no place for infidelity or adultery, and we can’t withdraw from our spouse. They say the wedding ring is a tourniquet – it stops circulation – that’s the point. I gave myself to my wife. We have this joke – what’s hers is hers and what’s mine is hers – when we were first married we’d go to McDonald’s and she wouldn’t order fries – but then she’d happily eat mine – I learnt to order two lots. But – truly – it’s no joke. I belong to her – I’m no longer free to give myself in any way to another woman. She is no longer free to give herself to another man.


We have to think of this more broadly than just sex. For some people marriage has proven not to be everything they hoped for.

  • A wife might find a man that seems to really understand her – she gives herself to him – not sexually because she’s a Christian, but they talk, laugh and share like she never could with her husband.
  • A Christian guy has a secretary who finds him attractive – they flirt – but nothing further.

Is it wrong? Where’s the line that guards the exclusivity of marriage? This is where Malachi’s helpful – it brings into the equation the idea of faithfulness. Israel has been the subject of God’s judgment and they were wondering why?

Malachi 2:14-15 “You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.”

It’s not just sexuality – though that’s a bit of a dead give-away of unfaithfulness. Breaking faith is bringing into an exclusive relationship something that doesn’t belong – anything, not just sexual, but anything that damages or has the potential to damage the marriage bond. Bring it back to our relationship with God, which is the model for marriage. If we Christians were to chat up other gods – so to speak – if we flirted with worshipping them, never quite actively praising them or offering ourselves to them, but skirting the edges, putting ourselves in temptations way – would we be being faithful to God?

Exodus 20:2-3 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.”

You wouldn’t say to God “I’m yours but when I’m at work I like to spend a little time with Buddha – he understands my situation better – knew you’d understand.” Keeping faith means doing whatever it takes to actively protect marriage, for better or worse, in sickness and health, richer or poorer, until you get bored and give in? No – until death! So Paul says to the Corinthians…

1 Corinthians 7:3-5 “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

Don’t deprive each other – this is one area that constantly surprises me – the number of couples who have given up sex. Sometimes it happens through illness for example and that has to be dealt with. But if you are depriving each other of sex – and yes I realize how bluntly I’m speaking – you are breaking your marriage vows – God’s plan and command is that your marriage is an exclusive, life long, contract of one flesh, one mind, and one family, under him.

God’s view of divorce

So what about divorce? We can have all the excuses in the world, and I hear them every other day – incompatibility is the big one – we no longer love each other, we should never have been married, we don’t find each other attractive, we never have sex anymore, he’s not a Christian!

Let’s be blunt! An exclusive marriage contract between two people for life is an exclusive marriage contract between two people for life! Until death do we part! With blokes I often end up wanting to thump them when they come to me about divorce – what is it about the word “promise” we don’t understand?

This is what God say about divorce!

Malachi 2:16 “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, … says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.”

We have managed, even in the church to get away from the directness and the bluntness of God’s view of divorce – “I hate divorce”. How do you read that any other way? Divorce goes directly against the good plans God has for us – the exclusive relationship – one flesh! In our world you can get divorced for no reason at all – and Christians have picked this up. As far as God is concerned – from the Bible – marriage in all circumstances is meant to be life-long.

Matthew 19:3-6 “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

It’s not a free for all – get divorced for any and every reason. It is… “what God has joined together, man must not break apart.” Jesus gives one concession – and it is a concession.

Matthew 19:9 “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”


You may be the innocent party – where the other person has broken the marriage vows and severed the exclusive contract! And you find that you cannot live in that relationship anymore – then, and only then is divorce and remarriage permitted – not encouraged or commanded. In all other circumstances adultery and remarriage is sin. Now – we humans, we like rules, we want specifics – yes! We can get divorced if our spouse has had an affair. What about brutality, abuse, verbal abuse – what about being a bad father – being an alcoholic – what about “he’s an obnoxious ‘prat’ and I can’t imagine why I ever married him?”

Like the Pharisees we want our excuses to be given Gods’ approval. Christians will talk to their minister to get the minister to say “yes – I’m sure God approves!” But the mistake, surely, is looking for an excuse. God’s plan for our marriages is that we do everything and anything under God to preserve our marriage – and that we divorce only in the most drastic circumstances, where the other person has broken the one flesh nature of the marriage beyond repair. If we’re ferreting around for an excuse then that hasn’t happened – and our promise as Christians is “until death we do part.”

Two Facts

This is a huge topic and the Bible has a pile of stuff to say that would be beneficial. It’s also a very painful subject for many people – which is why we should stick to what God says. If you’ve been affected by divorce please understand I don’t want to make it worse, or judge you. And frankly I would say that the church has really dropped the ball when it comes to accepting and caring for divorced people – we either ignore it and God’s will, or we make it impossible to have fellowship. Madness!

But I also know this is an area Christians need to fix. Not a week goes by that I don’t spend hours dealing with people’s marriage problems, divorce and the pain – it takes up the largest part of my time, next to preaching. I keep coming back to the two facts of marriage as being the most important.

  1. God hates divorce – full stop!

We must, as Christians, become extraordinarily slow in approving divorce and remarriage – if not then we will go beyond the provisions made by God for the breakdown of relationships and we might be approving people in their sinfulness. Yes – that does sound hard – but I would challenge you to think on Jesus’ words – how far does he go in allowing divorce?

  1. God’s wonderful plan for us is that men and women will form “one flesh” relationships that last a lifetime – and they are worth every effort and any amount of pain to preserve and grow them.


  • In the Old Testament the word divorce is related to the word for cutting down trees – divorce cannot happen without a huge amount of damage, without amputation of the one flesh.
  • The word adultery means, “to break the one flesh”.

Disasters and God


It was with morbid fascination we watched aircraft plough into NY’s Twin Towers. An outrageous act – how could anyone justify it in the name of god? It was appalling – 3000 dead – and it changed our world. 9/11 has new meaning – terrorism, aircraft security, air marshals, the war on terror. There are lingering fears about high-rise buildings.

Where was God?

Boxing Day 2004 – 237,000 dead or missing, in the aftermath of the Tsunami. Other disasters seem to pale into insignificance with those sort of numbers. 237,000 dead. That means in family terms 1-2 million immediately affected by lost loved ones. 5 million people displaced. How many people would be affected by your death – immediate family, extended family, family you don’t talk to very often, friends, colleagues, neighbours, workers in shops and stores you visit, school friends… how big a list. 237,000 dead – if you know 100 people that’s over 23 million affected in some measure by those deaths. 200 family and friends? Almost 50 million affected long term. And apart from human suffering – a $50 billion clean-up bill, 10-20 years to fix the disaster – psychological trauma, lost businesses and livelihoods, lost networks.

Where is God?

And in-between 2001 and now or 2004 and now – count the disasters. Just this year… earthquake and tsunami in Japan, earthquake in …, mudslide in … floods and cyclones in Queensland, NSW and Victoria,

Letter to the Editor

This bloke wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald in 2004, in the aftermath of the Tsunami.

As the scale of the tsunami tragedy unfolds I wonder just how all the religious people among us are going to explain it to themselves and to people like me. When I hear that 300 Sri Lankans were swept away to their deaths while praying in church I think I can be excused for being somewhat cynical about God’s benevolence. Yet the natural reaction of the faithful after an “act of God” is to flock back to church to praise Him.”

Clearly he is not alone in his thoughts or opinions – and I would say in response… fair question!

Is God proved dead?

Humanists and atheists tell us God’s not around. These events – these disasters are simply “Mother Nature” at her worst, or maybe part of the effects of global warming. It’s an opportunity to show how powerful we are, to make the world a better place. The environmentalists blame humans for it. Some Muslims have called it Allah’s act of vengeance – a judgement against man for ignoring the true and only god. Some Christians have done the same – they just mean a different God. Hindu’s call it the world’s Karma – it was meant to be. Buddhists say something similar. Truth is most religions have nothing to say – certainly no meaningful answers. And neither do the atheists or the environmentalists – the reasons they give are pathetic excuses by a world that simply doesn’t know why. In fact – they are the very opposite of the truth.

Is God proven dead by the disaster? Where is God?


It’s a reasonable question – God’s existence, goodness and power? Each fresh disaster brings heated debate! People are afraid – the sheer scale of these disasters is overwhelming. It is devastation on a grand scale, in some case amongst some of the poorest nations on earth. In a country like Australia, the resources we can bring to bear on a disaster are astronomical. The $50 billion clean-up for the Boxing Day Tsunami – in Australia we would basically say “so what”! Yes – it’s a little painful – we’ve just seen the introduction of the disaster recovery levy – we all get to pay a little extra in tax. But – we have that capacity. We can find 50,000,000 dollars. And if it was more, or happened more than once – we could do it again. But in a 3rd world country, or simply a poorer country – the numbers are basically incomprehensible.

And it shows the weakness of religion and atheism – both of which offer meaningless sayings and platitudes, or are simply reduced to helpless silence.

It’s shocking because there’s no sense to the destruction. Terrorism has a rhyme and reason and someone to blame. Natural disasters wreak havoc and destruction with no logic in who lives and dies. Christian, Muslim, child, adult, poor, rich, innocent and guilty – dead! No one to blame except maybe poor old “Mother Nature”.

If God exists, what’s he doing?

If he’s in charge why would he do such a cruel, undiscriminating thing? Isn’t he a God of love? And if he’s not in charge of nature, then what good is he? Does he look on helpless, sad but unable to intervene? Is he simply weak? Is he a tyrant punishing whoever he feels like punishing? Does he simply not care?

‘god’ Is Dead

Actually disasters do prove that god is dead!

Disasters should wipe away any pretence that the god the world believes in exists at all. The real God of the universe has been forgotten and in his place there is a vague, general religious feeling. We have domesticated and trivialised the true God. We have diluted his character and purpose with false religions, and even with false Christianity. We have turned Jesus’ life, death and resurrection into a sideshow – a child in a manger, a movie star – but mostly just an expletive – a common, foul mouthed, swear word.

And we think we‘re invincible.

In our country, we are well off. We are generally safe. War is relatively unknown to us in Australia. We take great offense when our soldiers travel overseas to fight and worse to die. It’s quite easy for us to think we’re the masters of the world. To us natural disasters are unique, strange – a natural disaster is almost an insult. The world is not meant to be like this; God is kind, God is safe and inactive. Disaster should only occur far away and not too big, where we do not have to explain or respond and so that our short attention span can allow us to forget what the world is really like. And even when it happens here in Australia, to us – well it’s an opportunity to band together, to demonstrate to the world what it means to be an Australian – and we should be proud as a country that we can and do help each other out – mateship is alive. But we do that rather than face the truth that disasters should bring us face-to-face with.

If you want reality – look to the Bible – and to experience. The theme of the Bible is that we are out step with the world because we are out of step with God. The Bible never considers the world to be safe and secure. From the Biblical flood (Noah and the Ark) onward – the whole assumption of Biblical faith is that we live in a fractured, dangerous world. We will frequently experience drought, flood, famine, earthquake, disease and pestilence. The normal relationship between man and nature is one of exploitation and pain.

The god of the world has no answers.

The God of the universe does.

Misunderstanding and Forgetting

My grandmothers both died a few years ago.

I read a story a few years back about four-year-old girl who died by choking on a pebble.

A few months ago a policeman was killed in the line of duty.

Just the other day another Australian soldier was killed in Afghanistan.

Every day we are reminded that death stalks us. But here’s the thing – why are the deaths of 237,000 people worse than the death of my grandmother, or a little girl, or a cop, or a soldier? Does the death of one person mean nothing but the death of thousands suddenly become proof that God does not exist?

The world is mistaken in thinking that a Tsunami, a flood, a cyclone or some other ‘natural’ disaster is the worst disaster to befall mankind. And mistaken too in thinking that the deaths of so many at once disproves the existence God. That argument is simply about scale – so many dying at once – God must not exist – it shocks us!

As shocking, and maybe terrifying as it is that so many can die at once – it’s really the death of individuals that matters.

And truth is – we forget so easily. We have the attention span of a goldfish when it comes to disaster. How many “innocents” have died from AIDS and HIV, smallpox, plague – from starvation and famine, drought, earthquakes, crime and murder? It is not the scale we should question – it’s the very existence of death, disease, crime, pain, sin, hunger, thirst, sadness, poverty – that these exist at all – that is where our questions should be directed.

  • In WWI more that 250,000 Australian men died.
  • In WWII 20 million Russians – we always think of the Jews murdered – and frankly we should never forget such atrocities – but we mostly do forget the 20 million Russians. We remember Hitler… we forget Stalin!
  • Saddam Hussein murdered something like 20 million.
  • Pol Pot, Stalin, Idi Amin, Gaddaffi – Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, South America, Rwanda, Bosnia, Chechnya – you want disaster on a grand scale? Pick a war.
  • The great flu epidemic of 1919 – 40 million people.
  • The Japanese earthquake in 1923 – 140,000!
  • Earthquake in China – 242,000.
  • 3 million have died in the Congo wars over the last decade.
  • 20 million people right now are on the verge of starvation in the Horn of Africa.
  • And let’s be honest – I haven’t touched the surface in recalling the disasters that we have seen in the last 100 years, let alone the rest of history.

We forget!

We ask the question but we don’t remember the disasters. Where is God?

Responding To Disaster

We Christians should probably be accused of failing to answer – many of us blindly accept God’s plan, or misunderstand it – and our answers are often less than helpful. Sometimes we raise as many questions as the world does, because we fail to answer from God’s Word. In all these disasters…

  • Was God passing judgement on those people for their sins?
  • Were they evil?
  • Did they incur God’s wrath?
  • Were they being judged for being Muslim or Hindu or for not being very good Christians – or for something else. Were they being judged for being – atheist or agnostic?

There are four things we need to understand if we are to make sense of our world.

  1. The Sovereignty of God

Is God sovereign over all things? Is he good? Is he all-powerful? Is he a God of love? The answer is yes – yes – yes and yes! We’re not going to be able to see it clearly from the world – only from Jesus on the cross. It’s God who acted in the person of Jesus to defeat our enemies. Our world cannot explain sin let alone get rid of it. But we can. Sin is rejection of God and ignoring God and it kills us – because God is good he refuses to live with us as sinners. Yet he offeres us life in his presence for all e


As the Bible tells us

– when we were still God’s enemies, Jesus destroyed sin’s hold and the power of death by dying to pay the price and rising again.

Is God powerful? Well

… God through Jesus dealt with the two enemies we have no power over. He destroyed the hold that sin had over us and he destroyed the anguish and certainty of death. Yes God is powerful.

1 Corinthians 1:24 “… Christ [is] the power of God and the wi

sdom of God.”

Jesus is the power, the wisdom, the love and the goodness of God in action.

Psalm 25:7-9 “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD. Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.”

  1. The connection between sin and judgement?

Some Christians say that disasters are God’s judgements against sin. And it’s tempting I suppose to try to see that sort of sense behind it – but they are tragically mistaken. There are numerous instances of the link between specific sins and judgement under the Old Testament covenant – that was the agreement between God and Israel. But Jesus says this is no longer the case.

Luke 13:1-9 “Now there were some … who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Were any of the victims of any of the disasters being judged by God for their sin or unbelief?

Yes and no!

Yes in that they have perished and have faced the judgment seat of God.

But no also – the disasters are not sent by God to destroy those who are “more evil”. We need to be very clear. Jesus is asked about some Jews killed at the Jewish altar as they were making sacrifices for their sins – so good, upright, faithful or at least religious Jewish folk. Their blood mingled with the sacrifices, contaminating the sacrifices and making them worthless. Were they worse sinners than everyone else, being judged by God? Absolutely not! Nor were the 18 who died when a tower fell on them. Specific sin and judgment are not linked directly. If you go and sin right now God will not strike you down because of that specific sin.

But – and this is the chilling part, the part the world fails to notice…

Luke 13:5 “unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

  1. The reality of judgement?

Zephaniah 1:14-18 “The great day of the LORD is near—near and coming quickly. Listen! … That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness,… I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath. In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.”

The day of God’s judgment is very real. In each disaster did the people die because of some terrible sin?


Did they die and face judgment for the way they lived and how they responded to Jesus?


Sin and judgment are directly linked. If you don’t want to face the judgment of God and perish then repent of the sinful life. However your life is taken from you – a massive “natural” disaster, terrorist attack, a car accident unnoticed by the media, dying alone and senile in a hospital bed – whether the world reels in horror at your death or simply doesn’t notice – if you die unrepentant of your sins then you lose.

God has said clearly that His wrath against sin will consume all who do not belong to Jesus. We must not water down judgement – nor minimise the day of judgement that is coming. We can take God at his word – in the great disasters it is not the scale of the disaster that is at issue, but the death of many individual – and in each disaster every-one who has died has been judged.

Revelation 20:12-13 “… I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. … each person was judged according to what he had done.”

But we also know – as sure as judgment is for all people – Jesus offers hope in the face of disaster. Disaster is meant to be a warning to those left – not that more will come or that life is fragile but that God takes life when he chooses – and he chooses who will survive. He demands our response – turn back to God, repent of our sins and live. Jesus tells a parable…

Luke 13:6-9 “Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ”‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

Every day, every month, every year that we don’t die is a day, a month or a year more in which to produce fruit for God – that is to turn back from our sins and receive life at God’s hands. If we bear the fruit of repentance – if our lives are shown to be faithful in Jesus then we will not be cut but will live. We will receive all that Jesus offers – life, safety, hope, peace and freedom.

How to explain it to non-Christians?

1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

In helping others see the truth we have to recognize that the vast majority of the human race will think we are fools – hopeless, blind children. You can hear it in their words…  “…the natural reaction of the faithful after an “act of God” is to flock back to church to praise Him.”

When you stand up for Jesus people will think you’re a moron. When you stand up for Jesus in the face of a disaster – they will think much worse. But some will believe.

John 1:10-13 “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

The fact is they killed Jesus when he told the truth. Yet a few believed – and 2000 years on – a few still believe. Do you want to know how to explain it to non-Christians?

Tell them the truth and pray for them. We are not responsible for how people believe.

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

God makes them grow.

What we must do however is live the task of faith. In Paul’s words…

Acts 20:24 “…I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

We who already believe must tell people the truth – that Jesus died and was raised again so that even in the face of a massive disaster we might have hope for all eternity.

And pray for them, faithfully day after day – that God by His Spirit would move them to see the truth clearly and repent of their sins.

Some will believe.

Competing With God – Money and Generosity

Duty, Scraps and Little Expectations

A friend’s dad used to come to church at Christmas – every year – he was very religious. And he thought that he should support the church. He was well off – not a Packer or Murdoch, but he had plenty. When the plate came around he would drop in 50c. He deliberately came to church without notes – he felt it was his duty to give money to the church once a year, but only what he wouldn’t miss – the scraps.

Big John was a great guy – the sort of bloke that would make a fat guy feel positively slender – big hearted too. He was a commercial banker – nicely set up with all the trappings. He said to me one day…

“God doesn’t want me to deprive my family so he doesn’t expect me to give more than I can spare. That’s right, isn’t it?”

He is a Christian, generous to his family, gifted, faithful, hardworking, and good at witnessing the gospel. I have seen him in action and especially amongst men at church he was a gifted evangelist.

Was he generous towards God – absolutely not!

  • Where does generosity come into our relationship with God?
  • What does it mean to be generous towards God?
  • How has God been generous to us?

Lifestyle Religion

Malachi was the last book of the OT to be written – about 450 years before Jesus – and it summarises Israel’s relationship with God, gives God’s assessment – have they lived according to the covenant – have they been God’s people living God’s way in God’s land. That’s the question. The answer is not just a resounding NO!

Malachi 3:7 “Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

Israel simply refused to live by the covenant for any length of time. They were just ordinary people – not particularly bad, not particularly good – just like us except they were Jewish and most of us aren’t. Many of them probably wanted to serve God faithfully, to be obedient – in the same sense that we see today –Christians generally want to be faithful. But Israel had a problem.

Malachi 3:14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?”

Their problem was obedience and repentance – or rather a lack of!

Negative Equation

They looked at the world and said…

Obedience + repentance = 0

Doing God’s will, repenting of sin – gets you nowhere. The rich get richer at the expense of the poor. The arrogant are happy, evildoers prosper and escape God’s wrath. So they followed the nations. They wanted what other people had – security in an insecure world, security they could touch, taste, hold and be sure that it was real. They wanted love, and justice, fairness, romance, health, wellbeing, prosperity, enjoyment, safety, and peace. And they decided to get them through money and by calling God a stupid fool.


See, what they said was ‘evil people prosper and get ahead’. The part they didn’t say – but obviously believed – was that God was either wrong or stupid. The world doesn’t work the way God says it does. God says ‘hang on – take a step back from your sin? Give me glory and honour – obey me, be my special possession as you agreed to be – and then you will see the difference.’

Malachi 3:18 “And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”

But Israel wanted to see a difference that didn’t exist. They wanted God’s blessing even though they were exactly the same as the evildoers – there was no discernable contrast between Jew and pagan. Be mine says the Lord, be absolutely my people – be discernibly different and then you will see the difference.


In their relationship with God they had given up everything that had any meaning and were simply doing the religious bits and pieces. And one of the clearest indicators was with their money. This is so often the truth with the people of God – what you do with your money says volumes about your faith. The Jews thought that money would get them ahead. They saw the locusts devour the crops, the thieves steal and storms destroy, they saw the taxman and the banks taking more and more and their superannuation destroyed by downturns in the market and they said to themselves, “I have to stop giving to God so that my family can live.” And they did – they gave up the tithes and offerings.

What do you think God said to them?

“Look guys – sure – yeh – no worries – no problem, I understand. Times are tough, I know it’s all been a bit hard – heaven’s been a little tight too – there have been cutbacks you know – so look, that’s fine.”

You know what God says to Israel?

Malachi 3:8-98 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.”

Israel responded to God’s generosity with disobedience and a lack of generosity.  They weighed up faithfulness and financial security and money won. Their interests and security had to come before God. They thought they had to provide every good thing, that they were responsible for prosperity, that they had to make a name for themselves, to protect themselves against locust, thieves, storms, disaster – have you ever tried to stop a swarm of locusts? They decided that it was up to them to provide generous blessings for themselves.

At this point there should be big flashing neon signs saying “Danger” “Danger” “Danger”.


How different are we from Israel? We are God’s people living God’s way for eternity in God’s kingdom – by the death and resurrection of Jesus – the new covenant. We are not Israel, we don’t have a regimented lifestyle religion, we don’t live in Palestine, nor has God ever promised any such thing. But like Israel our lives are meant to conform to God’s will. We are to worship God, to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, to live by the Spirit, to grow closer to Jesus day by day, to fellowship with each other, to do specific things when we gather, to support and care for each other, to witness the truth of the gospel even to the point of death. It’s not a matter of rules and regulations but our entire lifestyle is to be a reflection of what we will be for eternity – God’s people living God’s way in God’s kingdom – by the death and resurrection of Jesus. For all eternity we will be focused solely on praising God in word and action – shining lights sharing in Christ’s glory.

Modern Society

But right now we live in a society obsessed with money and possessions, and the temptation for us is to see a hostile world, to see its dangers and difficulties and to bunker down – to protect our assets and build for the future. That is what the world encourages us to do – at every turn, if we are to be productive members of our society then we must strive for security, for the money and possessions that will free us – and we have bought the message so fully that we think God agrees with our aims! We think it is righteous to withhold from God – we think God agrees with the worlds view of cash!

But God says that we are in the greatest danger – danger of robbing him – danger of responding to his generosity without generosity – of being like Israel bunkered down, relying on themselves and their wealth, trusting their ability, giving glory to themselves and lacking generosity towards God.

The question is – what to do?

God says “be generous as I am generous” – but what does that mean?

I guess we could do what Israel did – look for rules – how much should I give to God in $$$ terms or % terms? The Pharisees of Jesus’ time gave 10% of everything they produced, including the herbs on their kitchen window – they had rules, hundreds of rules to regulate what generosity to God meant. I know for myself that is my temptation as well – to look for rules in my giving. I was brought up with the idea that 10% was a good starting place – I’ve hardly questioned that principle in my life. Even now as I write it bounces to the surface – if only people in the church would all give 10% the church would be loaded – ministry would progress, evangelism abound… (just leave aside the little element of self-righteousness that threatens to creep into my thoughts).

But God isn’t interested in how much! God is not interested in how much money – or time, fellowship, worship, praise, prayer, possessions, love, care – or money. There are no quantities being bandied around in the heavenly realms – quotas and targets. No – not how much… but rather God’s interest is how will we respond to God’s overwhelming and outrageous generosity?

You know what must have stuck in God’s throat with Israel? God promised them everything – their heart’s desires. In fact God was the only way they would ever have their hearts desires. And he came through – when they were obedient and repentant they received everything with abundance. Did they respond with gratitude – did they respond in kind? No! They said – “Wow, look at what we’ve done. Look at what we have built for ourselves – look at how rich I am – I did it my way – I better make sure that I protect it – that is the most important thing.”

And you thought they were different to us?!

How should they have responded?

With cheerful generosity! To say to God “You’ve given us everything we need and desire – can we give back to you.” To say to God “I will trust in you to fulfil your promises because you hold out the things I want and need.”

Look – the reality is no different for us. All the things we desire are found in Jesus – he offers us love, security, peace, hope, life, esteem – everything we really want, the things we seek. How should Israel have responded to God’s generosity? How should we respond? When we look at our little world – our home, possessions, education, superannuation, family, kids and grandkids, friends, holidays, leisure, our plans for the future, our marriage, our church and church friends here, the lifestyle that we have – do we look at all that, do we survey our domain and say “look at what I have done for myself”? Or do we say “thank you God”. Do we say, “I did it my way” – or with cheerful generosity, do we say to God “You have given us everything we need and desire. I will trust in you to fulfil your promises because you hold out the very things I want and need. How can I be generous towards you Lord?

Reality Check

Here’s the thing – I know lots of churches struggle to exist. But I do wonder why? Why are finances always an issue? It makes sense if there is real growth and the money just keeps outstripping the demand for ministry – that’s a nice problem to have. But for lots of churches that’s not the case. Why are the finances in constant trouble? Is it that there are not enough people earning enough money? Is it that we don’t give enough as individuals? Is it that churches spend the money unwisely? Is it that budgets are too adventurous or simply wrong?

As I look back at Israel it strikes me that when they did not prosper it was because as individuals and as a nation they refused to be generous to God!

There could be all sorts of reasons why churches lack sufficient funds – but if what the Bible says is true about money and generosity… if we will respond to God’s generosity with generosity then we will lack nothing – God will provide far above our desires and even our imaginations.

It’s a hard question isn’t it – it hits home pretty hard, right into every aspect of our lives and our families. But hear me on this – it’s not a matter of how much we give, or don’t give. Rather it’s a matter of living by God’s principles as we deal with money.

Principles of Generosity

I’d like to suggest three Biblical principles about money and possessions. This is not everything – just a part.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

Paul says… don’t be arrogant about wealth, don’t put your hope in wealth, do hope in God (the provider), do good with the cash, be rich and generous towards others (probably speaking about those in the church), lay up heavenly not earthly treasures, take hold of real life not the falsehood of money. And… it’s also ok to enjoy what God has provided.

Three Principles?

  • Be generous.
  • Don’t assume responsibility for what God has done.
  • Set your hopes on God.

We can bunker down all we like in the face of trouble. We can fear for our financial security and hoard and store and protect OUR assets for all we are worth. But none of it matters an ounce should God decide to alter our perspective. None of it’s worth a drop should we be found in the end to have been trusting in riches. It’s true for individuals and for churches.

God is the one who provides. God is the one who gives us generously out of his great wealth – if you have wealth of any sort – in fact if you have anything at all, it has come from his generosity. We falsely assume responsibility for our position in the world and in society when God is the one who gives and can take away. If you are hoping in your riches – your hope is entirely misplaced.

God says… don’t hoard and protect – don’t bunker down in the face of trouble.

He says “Try and beat me at being generous.”

Try and be more generous to me…
than I can be towards you…
and see who wins!

Money & Church

Christians don’t like it when ministers talk about money and generosity. Maybe you feel churches should focus elsewhere rather than on money and giving. I’d say the opposite – I can’t think of a more appropriate place than church gatherings to be asking myself (again and again) “How am I responding to God’s generosity?” If I am God’s person, living God’s way in God’s kingdom for all eternity because of the tragic death and the incredible resurrection of Jesus Christ then how will that affect my cash? For no other reason than God’s gracious love, he gave his son to take my place in death so that I might live.

We talk about the wonder and joy of Christmas – do you know the truly amazing thing about Christmas?

It’s not that Jesus was born as a baby boy!

But that he was born at all – that God acted generously towards me and you by providing his one and only Son as the sacrifice for our sins.

Do you think there will ever be a day that you can be more generous than God has been towards us? Out of that outrageous act of kindness God gave us life – life that is without limit, life that is full of every good thing, life full of everything I need and all my hearts true desires. How can we respond to God’s generosity by living generous lives towards God?

Some Questions for Thought and Discussion


  1. What is your attitude towards money? Especially – what is your attitude towards giving money to God?
  2. How did you decide what to give?
  3. Where did your understanding about God and money come from?

Read 1 Timothy 6:17-19

  1. Is your hope in God or your wealth and financial standing?
  2. How would your friends and family answer that question about you?
  3. What does hope in wealth look like in day to day life?
  4. How are you using your money to lay up treasures in heaven?

Read: 2 Corinthians 9:6-11

  1. Can a lack of growth in maturity, converts and the church be linked to a lack of generosity towards God?
  2. If the harvest is small – does that mean we have put too little in?
  3. If we lack anything we need does that mean we have not been generous to God?

Think & Pray: How can my church use the money God has given to proclaim the gospel? What will it take to convert those we live amongst?

Action: What actions do you need to take regarding money? Who do you need to speak to this week about Jesus?

Boat People and Australia

Every man and his dog has a political and/or humanitarian opinion about illegal boat people – a term that according to some commentators and activists is probably not an accurate description – but since the 70’s that idea has worked it’s way into the Australian psyche.
The above article is an interesting starting place for thinking about the realities of the boat people issue. It certainly presents some basic facts and dispels some myths – it is a parliamentary background paper with sources. It may still be filled with political bias but so far it seems pretty good.

A Christian Response

I’ve been thinking about what a Christian response would be to the issue of boat people/asylum seekers – it’s a complex issue and everyone has an opinion including an apparent majority of Australians seemingly opposed to illegal immigrants – but also confused about the best approach and maybe in many cases mislead regarding the facts.
So for my own sake I want to investigate what I can without the political agendas and rhetoric and I guess find out what I think from the facts – assuming they are available. It’s easy to blindly follow the crowd or the political party or to be taken in by the rhetoric without the truth ever really getting a look-in.
More than that I want to think about the issue from a Biblical point of view with an eye to the mission of the church. So does the Bible have a contribution to make on the issue, what sort of passages might we consider, are there general principles we can take from the overall theology of the Scriptures and are there any Biblical solutions – not thinking for a second that a government might ever consider a Biblical solution!
Should be interesting – for me anyway.
I have to say at the start that I don’t really know what I think. I have some basic opinions but none of them are solid – mostly I think I have responded with the basic idea that people should only come to Australia legally and that boat people, for all their desperation, are ‘jumping the queue. But for all my reading I feel a little ill-informed on the facts. And I do wonder if I think (see – bit wooley headed at the moment) that we should change what we are doing as a country.

Compassion and Mercy

How should compassion and mercy figure in our decision making process – not just in whether we accept them into the country as refugees, but how we treat ‘boat people’ during that process.

It seems interesting to consider that if we had simply accepted all boat people who made the journey to Australia since 1976 (when we started getting refugees/boat people displaced by the Vietnam war) and processed them in the community rather than detention centres, allowing them some sort of temporary status during processing, we would have accepted around 1710 people per year. That really is a drop in the bucket. Sure – if we open the borders then I guess the numbers would increase so we want to factor that in. But how many of these were kids? How many would have developed an amazing loyalty to a generous kind spirited Australia that allowed them to live life freely? How few would be potential terrorists or criminals – maybe a couple though most of what I’ve read so far suggests that there is little or no evidence of that. Leaving terrorism aside for now – even if a few are criminals how great a burden does that add to our system as it stands now?

There’s also the astronomical cost. This coming year apparently we will spend $1 billion processing 8500 refugees. Some costings I’ve seen – but not checked yet – suggest anywhere from $80,000-$120,000 per person cost in processing, checking and detaining. And that figure may not take in the cost of building detention centres and providing border security – as I said some research still to do. But would we benefit as a society from allowing these people to live in the community, take jobs, get education, participate in the functioning of Australia, pay taxes, support local schools? Would they not respond with gratitude (for the most part)? Would that not be a more positive way forward? How much affect can 1700 or so people have on an economy of 20+ million?

Anyway – just thinking out loud. For now!

A Welcoming Church 3

Ten Commandments – Front Line Welcoming

  1. You get one chance to make a first impression – so make it a good one.
  2. Visitors are honoured guests – so they should get VIP treatment. They are not intruders – they are an opportunity for us to express Christ’s love.
  3. Remember the environment and the people are all strange to them. Visitors may feel apprehensive, especially getting morning tea after the service.
  4. Members must go out of their way to speak to visitors, be prepared to chat for some time. Look after them introduce them around. Don’t leave them stranded. Hi and good bye are simply not enough.
  5. Take the newcomer at their pace. Don’t embarrass them, don’t be pushy – be warm and friendly but let them enter the community at their own pace – fast or slow.
  6. Wear a nametag – they don’t know and won’t remember your name. Does your church have a system where you can quickly generate a name tag for the visitor? Should do and it should look the same as everyone elses.
  7. Generally people want to meet the minister – so create an opportunity after the service and introduce them. If there is time before the service and the minister obviously has time (not always true) then before is OK too. However don’t introduce and leave – you have become their new best friend for the day – stick around or arrange someone who can.
  8. The minister is one person and cannot do it all – even ½ is beyond him or her. They will have lots of people wanting to have a chat and pass on news.
  9. A warm welcome is stage one only. To incorporate the newcomer takes time and energy.
  10. People visit churches for all sorts of reasons – but they stay mainly for one – relationships.

What to say after you say “hello”?

  • People like to talk about special interests.  The BIG clue is to ask questions that call for more than a simple “yes” or “no” response – you want to get them talking rather than answering questions.
  • Invent your own interest style, taking care not to pry and always being alert that some people have hurts – a recent death, divorce, depression – that make them vulnerable. How you listen and show interest is important.
  • Learn by heart a couple of special questions that you find helpful.

People often like to talk about

  1. Their family, their children or their children’s school – “I noticed you had a couple of kids with you this morning…? – Where do they go to school, what are their names, what grades are they in, how do they enjoy school, what sports do they play…?”
  2. The street they live in and how long – “How long have you lived in … street?”
  3. Why they chose your particular Church – “It was great you could join us this morning – how did you find out about the church?”
  4. A special interest? – “I noticed you had a Bulldogs jersey – are you into football?”
  5. Pets and pet topics (theirs not yours)
  6. Some major world event – but avoid the gory and the political – Try “The … disaster was sad for everyone?” or “How will the world cope with these major oil spills?” or “Have you been watching the cricket… Rugby World Cup… Olympic Games…

Things to Avoid

  1. “Are you new here?” You’re bound to get someone who has been coming for years but is not overly active in the church – and in my experience they will get offended! Better to say, “I don’t think we know each other?” or “I don’t think we’ve met before – my name is…”. And don’t do what I did once – said that to the same person at three separate meetings over 4 months! Oops. Pay attention.
  2. “Who are you?’  This is blunt and often means “What do you do?” Job questions are better kept for further into a conversation – and the reality is we probably don’t really care what they do yet – when we get to know them we might but early on it’s a copout conversation piece.
  3. Leaving people in the lurch – if you’ve welcomed them make sure they have people to talk to, food in their hands and a cuppa. If no one else is available to talk then you’re on deck. And don’t cut and run. Once you’ve introduced them, keep watch, rescue them if need be, rescue others if need be. If they get involved in a conversation that’s obviously fine, but they are just getting a feel for the place so help them get around a little and when you leave come back.
  4. A question that is not from the heart. Ask, showing you want to listen. People can generally pick a phoney a mile away – except for real estate agents and car salesmen. So ask questions that you are willing to listen to the answer to – and then listen. Don’t listen with an ear to what you’re going to say, or trying to hear what your friends are saying – listen with your ears and eyes… with your attention firmly focussed on them. Be attentive!
  5. The quick talk to just do your duty.
  6. Quickly moving to animated and lively interaction with close friends. Rather – introduce your new contact to your circle and continue to make him/her feel comfortable. You can ring your friends later, have a meal with them and catch up – and most visitors won’t stick around for hours anyway. Spend 15 minutes in their company and unless you’re a fruit loop in all likelihood they will return next week – because they connected with a human who cared.
  7. The uncomfortable – allow space and personal differences – if they express opinions that differ to yours does it really matter. Even theological issues don’t all have to be resolved within the first 5 minutes. If they are a non-Christian then it’s not their differing theology that matters – it’s their stand against God that matters – we can deal with the other things later.


  1. Leave the conversation with a bright note and if possible connect him/her to another face, another ministry, or another interest.
  2. Leave a latch, a key to further interaction
    • “See you next week?” Await a response!
    • “Can I phone you?”  Take the phone number
  3. If they have an interest in something particular; “Bob Jones can help you here. How about I introduce you to him – or I could get him to give you a call in the next couple of weeks?” Get an address and/or phone number if at ease.
  4. Be committed to follow up. If you say you will then do what you say.

Caution: Genuine interest in new faces is the crucial missing ingredient in many churches. Will you be genuine?

Always talk to a new face or someone you don’t know well before linking up with your friends.

Some Final Ideas

1.            Generosity is the key.

  • You really want to involve this new face in your church, your life, and your circle of friends.
  • You want to share yourself and your friends.
    • You don’t? Leave welcoming to someone else.

2.            Take the initiative.

  • Newcomers need to be welcomed on the spot with a smile and an outstretched hand – “Good to see you here.”
  • Give that person the V.I.P. Treatment and remember to smile at regulars.
  • Ever felt left out? Initiative is often the quickest cure. You can be a self-starter.

3.            Listen.

  • Answer questions asked directly.
  • Observe the body language.
  • Accept the person just as he or she is.
  • Learn some starter questions and give the newcomer the opportunity to talk.
  • Your prompts are best taken from your interest in what the newcomer is saying.
  • Three wise words  “Listen, Listen, Listen.”

4.            Assume nothing.

  • “If you ASSUME… you may make an ASS of U and ME.”
  • Your newcomer could be the most important new face in your church God has sent this year – so don’t assume someone else will say hello. Don’t assume the person wants to be alone – they’ve come to church for friendship and welcome as much as for God’s word. If they are a non-Christian they may not know why they are here.
  • He/she needs your care

Some Final Hints

People basically like people.
People like to be liked.
People matter to God.
Be creative and a listener to the visitor.
Know what your church offers.

A Welcoming Church 2

A Biblical Basis for Welcome!

One of the reasons – maybe the prime reason – why we study the Bible is that it reveals to us aspects of God’s character.  As we consider his characteristics – what he is like, how he acts and speaks – and as we begin to try to be like him, that can truly affect the way we think, act and live towards others.

Whilst one verse is hardly a summary of the Scriptures, John 3:16-17 shows us the great reality of God’s plan revealed in the Bible…

John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

In other words when we were incapable of moving towards God – he took the initiative, at great cost to himself, to rescue us and draw us back to himself.

Romans 5:8 “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

There’s a song that was around in the 80’s – we don’t use it much anymore – it went like this;

Father welcomes all his children
To his family through his Son.
Father giving his salvation,
life forever has been won.”
(© Ring of Praise)

Or maybe better is the parable of the prodigal son – which really we should rename as the parable of the forgiving or welcoming father.

Have a read of Luke 15:11-32. For a searchable online Bible go to

What we find at the end of the parable is the father waiting for the son – in fact going out each day to look for and wait for him – it’s not really about the son who was foolish but about the father representing God the Father – his love and welcome for all who turn away from their sin and turn to him – who say with the son “I am not worthy to be called your son”… only to have the father forgive and welcome us into the fullness of life in his house.

Take a look at the following passages and consider what they say about welcoming – what does each passage tell us about God’s character, what commands or exhortations are there, how might you apply them today, practically in your church?

Leviticus 19:33-34; Luke 14:12-14; 15:1-7; Hebrews 13:2; Matthew 11:28-29; 25:31-46; Mark 9:36-37; 1 Peter 4:8-10; Acts 28:30-3; Romans 12:9-16

Pragmatic Reasons Why Welcoming Is Essential?

  1. It is a sign that points people to the gospel. Our God is a welcoming God. When we warmly and lovingly welcome people we demonstrate God’s love and point them to Jesus.
  2. People going into new and unfamiliar situations feel anxious and need to be put at ease. Have you ever been to a function where you knew no one – say a wedding or Christmas party? People attending church are in a very unfamiliar setting – even if they are used to the church they are not used to your church.
  3. Today’s society is highly mobile – 17% of Australians move every year, a further 39% move every 5 years. In churches it is not uncommon to find that 50% of the current members have been in the church for less than 5 years (NCLS). These people are looking not just for Christian input and fellowship but also for friendship and community. The same thing applies when people have other major changes in their lives – baby’s, marriage, moving, death, illness and hospitalisation, a job change or unemployment – all of these can open people up to be receptive to new ideas and new commitments. Often we find people in these circumstances rocking up to church.
  4. Each generation seeks different things – though that’s probably far too general a statement. For example, Gen X are apparently becoming disillusioned with the results of the ‘me’ generation – and many are revisiting old values – including the church. Denomination doesn’t matter – warmth, friendliness, relevance and ‘style’ do matter. They ask first “what will I get out of this for me?” before they ask any other question – does it meet their needs, and their families’, is it life affirming and positive. This is the supermarket generation – they shop around. Baby boomers might stick it out, Gen X may not. (This requires far more teasing out than one brief paragraph – but it’s worth understanding generational differences to consider what they are looking for in a church.)
  5. Churches grow from newcomers if they have good systems for not only accessing new people but also of welcoming them into the life of the church and helping them be and feel included. This sort of church asks questions like “What does it feel like to come here if you’ve never been before?” or “How can we make what we say or do more accessible to the non-churched person?” This means thinking outside of our own needs and desire – especially for comfort and the security of a non-changing environment and seeking the good of others.
  6. Broken relationships are affecting more and more people in our community – divorce, separation, abuse, and family breakdowns. The whole concept of ‘family’ has changed to accommodate the vast proportion of people who do not conform to the standard pattern of 50 and even 20 years ago. All this is a good thing – because the church is the community of the broken;

Matthew 5:3-6 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

We tend to forget! The church is not for the beautiful and rich but for the people who know they aren’t!

Welcoming – Sunday Services

We have a tendency to see welcoming as a small job – maybe the problem is the word ‘welcoming’. It’s far too limited when it is trying to describe one of the largest and most important ministries in the church. Welcoming is front line ministry – how people are greeted and dealt with as they arrive and on subsequent days and weeks is all-important. We want them to come here – we want them to hear the gospel and be converted, we want them to grow and to mature with us. Our task is to…

  • Welcome
  • Invite
  • Integrate

…new members into the life, joy and ministry of this church. This is especially true if they’re from the local community and the suburbs where we live and serve, or they have some connection with the church.

Welcoming is also more than those who are rostered on. I think every church needs welcomers rostered on. I guess we might call them ushers and greeters – they hand out books and literature, field questions, direct people to services and amenities and take up the collection. But welcoming is every active member’s task every week, and must be more than those who are rostered on if we want to really welcome people into our church community.

Important Steps to Welcoming

1.            Understand that welcoming – the role you have as a welcomer (whether rostered on or not) – is a vital ministry.

In which case we should be praying for the ministry we do and being prepared for it, spiritually and physically. Do you pray that you will have opportunities to welcome people and introduce them to your church? This is a Christian Ministry role – like all others we should have people committed to reading their Bibles and praying in the role. So how’s your spiritual walk going? Have you dressed appropriately for the task and for your church? Showered and shaved (blokes) or whatever it is you need to do to be attractive – you represent not only the church but also the gospel. Do you see the task as an important one worth spending time and energy on?

2.            Apply the BELL principle – Be Early, Leave Late – and be prepared.

Have a good rest the night before so that you’re not tired and grumpy at church (this is good advice in any case). Be early enough to get ready – books and papers in place and ready to catch everyone who comes in. and preparation means more than just the right things to hand out. Come early enough to clean up anything that is messy; arrange chairs or whatever is required, to get things in order, to find out what needs to be handed out. Early enough that you can set yourself and your family up in whatever position you wish to have and are ready for church yourselves.

3.            When people start arriving – old or new faces – be welcoming.

Seriously – it’s not that hard. A smile, a kind word, a joke (not at their expense), a firm but gentle handshake – all good stuff. But more than that – be aware of the people. Who are they – why are they here – who have they come with – are they locals or not, visitors or checking out the church? People come with all sorts of reasons uppermost in their minds and hearts. Some will come because a loved one has died and they don’t know what else to do – so how we greet that person will make a big difference. Problem is you can’t know – but you can be sensitive and watching. (See list below of some of the reasons people might walk in the door).

4.            With newcomers and visitors our task is to make them feel welcome and comfortable.

It’s the task of the gospel to make them feel uncomfortable. So they need somewhere to sit, a drink maybe, to know where the toilets and kitchen are. If they have children they need to know about Sunday school, crèche and the parent’s room. Even more important they need to know that their kids are welcome – so tell them. And not just tell them but welcome and pay attention to the kids as much as the adults. A kind word about kids will have a positive effect 1000’s of times greater than any other comment. A kind conversation to kids (not down to!!!!) will provide an incredible welcome. People love it when you acknowledge their children as worthwhile and valuable enough to talk to!

  • Offer to escort people to an appropriate seat – not right down the front, nor directly in the centre. They may refuse the help – but it’s unlikely. The best places for new comers are the sides and rear – not against the wall and not right at the back but in the congested areas. Try to seat them with similar people if you can – and introduce them to people who can look after them. After an appropriate time, you can say something like; “I’ll leave you in the capable hands of John” and then you can go do other things. Don’t dump them and run – you’re the only familiar face they have so far and John could be a mass murderer for all they know.
  • Offer them coffee and tea if it’s on before church. (If you want to get people to church early – put on great coffee and tea for people to pick up before church. What a great thing to be able to sit and relax at church with a cuppa before church starts!)
  • Point out where the toilets and facilities are.
  • Offer them the church literature – newsletter, brochures etc – gives them something to read in the sermon J!
  • Ensure you give them a communication card and pencil – ask them if they would fill that in so the leadership team can contact them during the week just to say hi. (What do you mean your church has no communication card?)
  • It can be worth pointing out the minister – ministers – but only if it fits in. You could say something like “Have you met our minister? That’s him with all the grey hair – if you like I could introduce you after church?” Easy!

5.            After the service it’s important to go back to them.

Ask them how they liked the service etc and ask them if they’d like to meet the minister. In almost all cases they will say yes – so set it up. But don’t cut and run – introduce them (use their names) and stick around so that the minister can move on without abandoning them.

6.            Make sure that they aren’t left totally lost and alone.

Especially getting morning tea/supper. It can be daunting getting to the coffee and tea – especially if you have people who are not intent on welcoming newcomers, so they stand and chat to the servers and get in the way. Help newcomers out. Offer to get them a cuppa, or to beat a path for them. Make sure they get something to drink and eat – the kitchen helpers will know where extra food is if it has run out.

7.            Try to notice they are leaving.

Recognition is a big deal – people want to come and be recognised as having value – including the fact that we enjoyed meeting them and look forward to seeing them again next week. If you’re not standing with them then pay attention to what they are up to and break off your own conversation and farewell them properly. Offer them your phone number and name if they have any questions during the week.

8.            Contact them during the following week.

Here’s where welcoming starts on the road to invitation and integration. If you’ve been welcoming on the weekend and struck up a bit of a repour with someone then the very best thing you can do is to contact them, either by phone or mail, just to say how enjoyable it was to meet them and to offer them your expertise in joining in with the life of the church – if you don’t feel like an expert then imagine how they feel.

In many churches this is done by the staff. Ask yourself – would you prefer a staff member (who gets paid to do his/her job) to contact you – or the person who was so friendly towards you (who doesn’t get paid but thought it would be nice to follow up anyway)? People expect the ministry team to make contact – and it’s worthwhile. What they don’t expect – and this will be a nice surprise – is that the people in the congregation care enough to make the effort as well.

  • It doesn’t have to be the phone conversation version of ‘war and peace’ – just a simple call to say that we noticed you and want to recognise you as valuable. For example;
  • “Hi John – it’s Peter from …………… Church – we met on Sunday morning. I just wanted to catch up with you and say if there was anything you needed or you wanted to ask anything just to give me a call. I hope you/am glad… you enjoyed the service. It would be great to see you and your family again next Sunday – our new assistant will be preaching and he’s pretty good…” etc!
  • Now the conversation might go on or it might not – it doesn’t really matter – what matters is that you – a real person rather than a minister has taken the time to call.

Stay tuned for Welcoming 3