Why are we afraid to witness? Fear of rejection.
Why are we afraid of rejection? Pride, fallen human nature, pecking order.
But we have been ultimately accepted by The One Who really matters!
Let that change us inside-out. See more here from Ray Comfort.
It's now 12 months into the pandemic, and we've been fairly protected here in Western Australia. With the first lockdown, Cheers transitioned fairly well into Cell Church mode, using digital tech to relieve the isolated, and our usual small group discussion format to keep Biblically centred.
- the young adults settled into 4 groups
- our teens re-gathered quickly
- Church 247 met on alternate weeks in Home Groups, and gathered in the Community Hall as able.
Adults were less confident to lead Home Groups than I'd hoped. It's not so difficult to run a small group, especially when compared with meetings and other responsibilities they conduct at work, and they have all they need in terms of knowledge, skills and tools, yet most still seem bluffed by leading a small group around the Bible. Not sure what to do about that, but press on. However it does show the importance of training young people who seem to be more likely to learn and do the stuff.
During the year some of our young adults married and moved to the country, taking their training with them and we're cheering for them, confident that they will find ways to bless and benefit their new part of the world with the Gospel. Others have done this in the past, and more are set to do so in the next year or so. We pray this outflow will result in multiplied mission.
At a wedding recently I used these symbols to illustrate the Great Mystery (Ephesians 5) of marriage.
First the triquetra, an old Celtic symbol for the Trinity, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It also illustrates how Christian marriages invite God into our marriages, he strengthens the relationship like a threefold cord (Ecclesiastes 4)
But the Mystery of Marriage goes yet deeper:
True North - Christian
From hiking to ethics, politics, spirituality, psychology, relationships, in all areas of life in which decisions about reality are important, we really need a true reference point. We need the compass needle to point north so we can align ourselves with reality as it is, and not get lost. A reliable reference point.
For societies to function well together, a primary reference point needs to be agreed so we can all avoid conflict as much as possible. When I visit Indonesia, I know the local reference point is largely Islam, so I know how to get along. Even if I don't agree with Islam personally, I can accomodate wherever possible in good conscience. At Australian Federation we chose a generally agreed reference point in Judaeo-Christianity, the Bible, "under Almighty God." The consensus was that we all go along with this same reference point as a society. Besides, part of that Christianity was that "secular" meant non-sectarian, open to all, regardless of creed. So Christianity provided a good reference point for public ethical decisions and the moral conduct of society.
Spinning Compass - Agnostic
But from mid twentieth century, Australia's general population became less certain of Christianity, and even the idea of objective truth. With growing multiculturalism, the magnets of other ideologies made the public discourse agnostic: "we don't know what our public reference point should be." But instead of really thinking this through, broadcast technology rushed through the shallow, political-correct (ie. wrong in the real world) idea of "each to his own, you do you, I'll do me." Public media and politics mostly ignored the matter of truth, ultimate reality, and an agreed reference point.
This sounded democratic: "let's leave it as a private matter and not have a public reference point as such." And no doubt most Aussies still think that's what we have today... but not so!
Self-Aligned Compass - Naturalism
Most of us didn't even see it happen and assume we're back at Agnostic. But to the degree that religious / spiritual worldviews are excluded from the public square, one worldview remains as the default reference point. Naturalism asserts there is only the natural, physical world, no super-natural, no other dimensions, no God to answer to, no higher power, so do anything you want - just keep religion private. "Secular" has come to mean, "no religious views." In practice this Naturalism is Australia's public reference point, now unofficially determining all our national, ethical, political decisions. Marriage, gender, religious education, terminating babies, the old and infirm, public narratives about science, climate, races, power/victim status, are all decided squarely on the reduced basis of Naturalism.
We were not asked if we wanted to shift our public reference point, let alone shift it to Naturalism. It just happened by excluding the other options. If we had been asked, "Do you want Naturalism as our new public reference point?" we would have certainly voted against it. Why?
1) Partly because more of us do experience spiritual realities than do not. "Under God" is a real consideration for most of us.
2) Also because with a little thought it soon becomes obvious that Naturalism is a really bad reference point because it inevitably leads to the Law of the Jungle, with everyone pulling for their own interests, with the most ruthless grabbing power to eliminate the competition. That's been the result in all socialist / communist governments, which are always based on, yep, Naturalism. We know where that road leads, and we don't want to go there.
The question now is, will we become publicly wise enough to thoughtfully choose our reference point before we descend into naturalist chaos?
Can we choose a better reference point? Which reference point would you choose and why?
- Which worldview actually produces freedom of conscience? (Not merely allows it for the time being.)
- Which has a proven record of producing moral societies, with humility and civic service?
- Which encourages separation of powers, and the idea that all of us are accountable under the Creator? (Check Magna Carter.)
Even honest atheists admit that Christianity has yielded the best moral code for societies, and the safest freedoms for others to disagree. A Christian public reference point best serves everyone, including agnostics and naturalists. Agnostic Jordan Peterson knows this: as a psychologist helping people to align their lives with reality, he says, “I live as though God exists, and I’m terrified that he might.” That’ll work for Australia too.
(PS. After returning to the climate of freedom that Christianity brings, maybe we can also remedy that agnosticism about evidences for the Creator. That’s another story.)
Biblical Feasts summary
Feasts are more than just great times. They bind communities together around shared concepts and experiences in common. Like a wedding feast celebrates around our common support of the union of these people. Likewise the feasts that God instructs his people to observe, bind them together too, around concepts core to their identity. And because these core concepts are fulfilled in Jesus, they are also about our identity too.
Due to our communion services, many of us already know how Passover relates to our life in Christ (the prophesied Messiah). Likewise, so do the other feasts.
1) Christ is the spotless Passover lamb, whose blood saved us from death, and slavery to sin.
2) Christ is also the Unleavened Bread, broken, wrapped, and buried to return later.
3) Christ is the First Fruits of the resurrection.
4) Christ’s Spirit is given at Pentecost /Weeks /Second Harvest, to gather Gentile believers as a second harvest.
5) Trumpets will announce the coming of Christ, the start of the age to come.
6) Christ will cover us on Atonement Day, the Day of Judgement - he's also The Judge - sorting out this mixed up world.
7) Finally Christ Shelters with us, as in the wilderness of this life, as he did as God in the flesh, and does now by his Spirit, he'll be with us in the Heavenly feast to come.
So although not all Christians observe these feasts, we can celebrate that Israel's core Scriptural feasts are fulfilled by the Messiah who grafts us in to His Story. Thus these feasts can bind us together very deeply.
New Life Church in Fremantle made these cards (I made minor embellishments) to consider how Jesus fulfils these Feasts, instituted in Lev23:1-44. Num29:12-34. Deut14-16.
Christians benefit from a closer look at the Biblical Fall Feasts, because, among other things, they foreshadow Christ's work in days to come. We have hindsight to help us see how Christ fulfilled Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Pentecost. We need foresight to see how he will fulfil Trumpets, Atonement, and Shelters.
This helps us understand why there are two New Years in the Jewish calendar: the religious-year cycle of teaching starts with Trumpets, but the calendar-year starts just before Passover. Some people start their spiritual lives at the beginning with Creation and the Old Testament, but some start with Jesus the Passover lamb.
The religious cycle begins with Trumpets for the beginnings of eras: Creation; a ram for Isaac; the Law of Moses. Atonement is made, and at Shelters we thank God for his presence. Then at Passover, Unleavened Bread & First Fruits we recall the Exodus. Pentecost calls for the second harvest.
And thus people lived... until the new cycle.
A new era of the Messiah is Trumpeted (think of the Prophets), the Saviour who will make Atonement, will Shelter with us - and scriptural clues suggest Jesus' birth around the time of Shelters - God-with-us in the flesh. At Passover/Unleavened Bread he makes the necessary sacrifice, then becomes the First Fruits of the resurrection, and at Pentecost gives his Spirit for the second harvest of Gentiles.
And thus people live… until the new era!
The final era will be Trumpeted at Christ's return, his prior sacrifice will be what Atones for us (covers us) on the Day of Judgement, and we will Shelter with him in Heaven.
And thus people will live… forever.
Whether you start with the Old Testament beginnings, or start with Christ's Passover, the feasts commemorate the whole history from beginning to end.
2) Noel had a way of dignifying normal life. We college boarders saw each others’ bad hair days, and once Noel asked my friend for a razor to shave because he’d left his at home. He was not embarrassed because he was genuinely humble. He knew that his little moments were just as significant as his global work. His gracious attitude was the same in all circumstances, everything was a gift from Christ. From the podium to the kitchen he was Christ's grateful servant. This inspired the community with integrity from top to bottom. Lk16:10 faithful in little things
3) Noel kept Christ at the centre of the community. Without this, communities inevitably drift. But Noel’s communities stayed true. He would often remind us that the college was to teach us to “think theologically,” because through Scripture we get to know Christ. Noel knew both intimately, which is why often you could tell he was led by the Spirit to say just the right thing, to have that gracious humility, to love that enlivening way. If everyone bathed in the Word and the Spirit like that, counselling services would become redundant. Eph5:26 washed with the word
Each house at this school has a theme, Courage, Character, Compassion, and that of Vose house is Community. This might surprise if you only knew Dr GN Vose from his Wiki page, looking at all his academic achievements and the Theological College he started. But that College was a Vose-like - no, Christ-like - community. It pulled people together. And I’ll warrant that same enthusiastic community was a hallmark of Noel's presidency of the Australian Baptist Union, and then of the Baptist World Alliance: he pulled people together. Noel regenerated discussions between Baptists and Mennonites in a way that hadn't happened since 1630! He planted a new church at 70! Community was his legacy. Back then we used to tease him about being "The Pope of the Baptists.” But he kind of was - in the best sense of “papa,” building up all of us who came to orbit around his truly Christian community.
Don't Squander Your Chance
For many this forced layoff is a chance to reset our priorities and activities. The decks have been cleared for us. So what shall we do with this time? First thought: have a rest! Yessss!!! Watch some movies, read some books, sleep longer…. Maybe get some jobs done, clean up, sort out… But after you’ve caught up, then what?
Well, what do you consider most important after all?
Now is a great chance to start doing what you really deep down want to do.
How about these top five practices for life:
5) Be generous with toilet rolls. If we don't share when we have, who can we ask when we need?
4) Spend quality time with the people in your household. Don't be isolated in your screens, make time to reconnect. Have dinner around the table; ask "what do you thank God for today?"; play a board game; do some craft; a jigsaw… google family fun ideas.
3) Reconnect with extended family and friends via calls or videolink.
2) Re-introduce yourself to God. Actually pray. Get to know him better. Day by day. (We can help with Core Stuff, and the Bookmark of HPOWER).
1) Meet for prayer, care and sharing around the Bible, in groups of 3-6, via videolinks if necessary, to actively grow in the Spirit, and share the love with others. (Cheers can help with this, and get you BOPping!)
This virus, now, is an opportunity for humanity to turn back to God. Let’s take it.
As Ferris Beuler famously said, Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.
Apocalypse. It actually means uncovering, revealing, as in the Biblical book of Revelation. But ironically we have smothered the word with such fearful connotations that we covered over the very thing that was meant to be uncovered! We fear the dangers so much we miss the main point.
Since we apparently live in such apocalyptic times... it’s well worth asking: what was meant to be uncovered? Answer: the Ending to The Big Story.
What Big Story?
The overall narrative from the beginning of time to end. The Biblical Story. The Story within which all our life stories are contained! Which begs the further question, what part will you play in it? Using the Olympic Rings, here’s a graphic summary of that Story:
Just like all great stories, there's an Author, Evil, Salvation, Freedom & Community.
Author - Blue reminds us of Creation and thus its Creator. God creates, creation is good, humans are made in God’s image, very good. But then...
Evil - Black, darkness, selfishness, the sin that damages creation. We try to take over from God, to run our own lives but only ruin our own lives. This sinful fallenness is shown from Adam and Eve to every story in the Bible...
Saviour - Red, blood, the Saviour’s mortal battle to make things right.
The Law and the Prophets (>>) foreshadow and predict the Salvation to come. The Old Testament repeats stories of sin and salvation: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israelites, Judges, Kings, Writings and Prophets: we ruin life, God saves it, repeat. There are always warnings, and then judgement for the stubborn and salvation for the faithful. The cycles repeat through history even to the present day. But then comes The Saviour...
(X) Christmas reveals the Christ, the Messiah. 'Jesus' means Saviour. He is none other than the Creator become human, Immanuel, God-with-us.
Love summarises his message and his actions, love God first, and people as yourself.
On the cross, Jesus has DONE what we can’t DO for ourselves: he himself bore all our collective sin, guilt, shame, griefs, sorrows etc. for us, on our behalf. Separated from God, he then dies for all of it - in our stead. This means that sin is no longer held against us, we are made right with God! Amazing gift of mercy!
His resurrection overcomes death with life. This proves he has overcome our sin with his purity.
For 40 days he appears, explaining all Scripture to eyewitnesses, offering His salvation to all. Then…
Freedom - Gold, the Spirit of resurrection, in us to set us free from the law of sin & death. Jesus ascends, then 10 days later sends His own Spirit into His people, whoever trusts him, helping us to live like Him. Amazing gift of grace! And this gift is still being given and received today…
Community - Green, Grow in these relationships now and forever. Go share this Big Story. Loving God and people goes on now and forever (>>), in fact The Big Story ends with a divine marriage, Christ receiving his Bride - us! The Big Story turns out to be a Divine Romance.
So for now we are supposed to Grow in those relationships: turn from our sin, trust the Creator-Saviour-Spirit, and live life his way. This trust is what determines our part in the revealed ending: will we receive His amazing gifts and be in the marriage for the faithful? Or will we refuse, ru(i)n our own lives, and face the judgement for the stubborn? Go share this Big Story to anyone who will listen.
So I’m now sharing this Big Story with you. May God give you ears to hear it and pass it on.
I'm convinced this Big Story is actually a True Story, for good reason: it is uniquely coherent, uniquely comprehensive from the beginning of time to the end, and it uniquely accords with all the data we have available to us - including scientific, historical, experiential, relational and spiritual. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that the revealed ending will also come true.
Yes, the Apocalypse (the Revelation) contains frightening warnings and judgements, alarming events to come - wars, calamities, plagues, martyrdoms at the hands of evil economic and political ideologies. The warnings and judgements will cycle some more - exactly what we see in our day - little re-tellings of the Big Story of evil, salvation, freedom and community to come. But then The Big Story will end as revealed, with a final judgement for the stubborn, and a wedding for the Bride and Bridegroom who is the Creator-Saviour-Spirit.
But if we only focus on the calamities, we cover over the main revelation to be uncovered:
the Ending to The Big Story. Don’t miss the main point... What part will you play in The Divine Romance?
What is Cheers doing during the CV19 lockdown? Meeting in cells of 3-6 in homes, (digital attendance is also ok as long as it is person to person interaction, not anonymous viewing.) In some ways we’ve been doing groups of 3-6 for years whenever we gather around the word. Now we just have to do it at home. You’re welcome to look through our crash course summary on how we provide a balanced diet in the groups with a simple bookmark. We call it the Bookmark Of Power (BOP).
We see the CV19 lock-in as being in solidarity with Christians in China who can’t meet in groups bigger than 5, so when they hit 6 it is time to split, and by then both triplets need to have someone who can lead. Thus it empowers and multiplies - it disciples. I can see why God might want to equip us all in such a way. So let's make the most of this time. Perhaps our BOPs will work for you in your own circles. Here's youtube's Cheers Playlist for the CV19 lock-in.
I'm not panicking because my worldview is not limited to Naturalism. COVID-19, bushfires, climate change, etc. merely remind me of our mortality, and the bigger view of life. But Naturalism, which dominates Western public discourse - news and entertainment media, social media, politics, law - across Australia, NZ, USA, UK and Western Europe, has no bigger perspective. As such it's a worldview that generates the very fear, depression, and hostility we see with every reminder of how fragile we are.
Naturalism in a nutshell:
Naturalism is both shallow and brittle.
It's shallow because it rules out other dimensions, and disregards all non-physical phenomena observed.
In contrast the Biblical meta-narrative is deep and robust.
Don’t be put off by the shallow dismissals on public broadcast. Examine the Bible properly without prejudice against spirituality, and you’ll see why it stands the test of time as uniquely reliable revelation from The Creator to us. Unique because no other volume or corpus of texts has anything close to the following qualities: Reliable because the archeological and manuscript historical evidence is peerless concerning the Bible's preserved transmission from eye-witnesses to us. Revelation from God, because the over-arching Saviour-centred story is uniquely coherent and comprehensive, despite the diversity of 40 contributing authors across at least a 1600 year period. Plus it contains hundreds, even thousands of specific prophecies, many of which were fulfilled in later parts of the Bible, some of which are yet to be fulfilled in the yet to be completed parts of the History. Plus it claims to contain, and be, God’s word around 3000 times. Plus the meta-narrative combines with the readers’ realities to change lives for the better, right up to the present day. (I mean people can relate with the God of the Bible in the present!)
The Biblical meta-narrative is deep in that it accepts other-dimensional realities and interacts meaningfully and substantially with them.
Naturalism is a shallow and brittle worldview that discords with reality, and fragments society.
The Bible gives a deep and robust worldview that accords with reality, and unifies humanity under God.
Our public discourse needs to break out of its shallow, brittle naturalistic worldview. Otherwise it will keep covering up the BIG Story that these apocalyptic events are meant to uncover for us:
- that we are mortal, sin/self/satanic forces are bad, we need a Saviour. Leaving God was not progress.
- and that we need to turn back, trust in, & tune in to the Creator, accept his salvation now and forever. In this true, deep and robust worldview, fear subsides, and we can live in courage & faith.
That’s why with all these fires, viruses, climate change... I'm neither panicking nor in denial. I know what to think when reminded of my mortality. Not only the creation, but we who have the first fruits of the Spirit also groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For we were saved with this hope in mind - Romans 8. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom - Proverbs 9.
Pippa and my nephew Justin were student participants. My sister-in-law Jenny and I were adult observers. Worldview Academy was a camp for teens at Cedarville Ohio comprised of 25 hours of lectures with small groups and activities.
Topics developed from "what do we mean" by worldviews, words, and the West, to "how do we know" a worldview is reliable (apologetics), to "what difference does it make" (ethics, and sharing with others from different worldviews.)
We'd like to see something similar in WA.
If you know of such a thing already here... or if you'd like to help build it, please let me know.
Keep Moving Forward is morphing to Keep Moving Closer.
During the year we continued working to empower our people to follow Jesus in helping others follow Jesus too. The teenagers and young adults seem most able to adapt, develop, and try new things. In third term two pilot groups started.
- A pilot youth group in Ellenbrook proved too difficult to sustain...
- The new "Rookies" group for upper primary schoolers is kicking on into the new year led by three young people.
- A new 18+ group looks ready to commence this term as well, led by a handful of young people. [Update: The Shed has established itself well this year. ]
In both instances they will continue to use simple tools featured in BOOST training.
At Camp in April 2019, Cheers focussed all the more on not just moving forward in mission, but moving closer in relationship. Using games, objects, and clips from the movie Epic, Geoff illustrated the book of Philippians during all-age “Family Times” after breakfast. Teens+adults dug deeper after younger ones’ bedtime. The Way is a Person, His death and resurrection, His Way of discipling, His Spirit, and His Body.
The Pathway is a Person! Human nature makes it too easy to turn love into a task, mission into a method. We want to have our love with Jesus motivating and overflowing into spirit-led action. We want to be led by his Spirit, not merely our conscience.
So Cheers 247 continues to focus on the books of the Bible (using thebibleproject.com), where they fit in the big picture, and what the Spirit is saying to us through them. The repeating themes include the Gospel which is that we are given righteousness, the Goal of which is growing relationships. And our young people are putting themselves in lead situations where they have to rely on God more - they keep moving closer.
And so we remain hopeful that we will eventually (pray soon) multiply outwards to bless and benefit Banksia Grove and beyond.
My daughter is a 21-Pilots fan. Proof: today she bought pre-sales tickets to their December show, where they will play music she hasn’t even heard yet because their album isn’t due out until next month. What if their new album is a terrible disappointment? She might have to sit through a whole concert of terrible music...
But her purchase is an act of faith. The good kind: reasonable, not blind. The kind that makes for good relationships. There's not an iron-clad guarantee but there are enough reasons to make it worthy of trust.
Her faith is based on good reasons: their prior performances, the music she has already heard, the interactions she has already enjoyed in the fandom, their demonstrated trustworthiness as people to date. So she has good reasons to trust that the boys will deliver a concert worth the price of entry. So she bought in.
My faith is based on good reasons: God’s prior performances (in demonstrably reliable histories, writings and prophecies), the ‘music’ I have heard already in this life (the good, true, beautiful, life-giving ways that really work), the interactions with God I have already enjoyed alone and together with other believers, the demonstrated trustworthiness and wisdom of God’s character. I have plenty of good reasons to trust that God will deliver a Life worth whatever price he asks of me. So I bought in.
Some disparage “faith” per se as if it is blind, based on nothing. Some people seem to blindly believe cliches and assumptions, but these days I’d say that's far more likely among the agnostics of main-stream culture than among the Christians who go against the flow. Most Christians I know have had to challenge the mainstream cliches and assumptions, and have come to my daughter’s kind of faith, a reasonable and well-founded relationship.
When people actually examine the reasons for this kind of faith, they often become ready to buy in.
The Limits of Proof
The Phenomenal and the Noumenal - Noumenal realities are important and life-directing. Yet the more noumenal a reality is, the greater the need for good and sufficient reasons. Good reasons are there. Go get 'em.