Thursday, March 31, 2011


The title of a recent article on the excellent blog of Alan Knox, was a question, “What Caused You to Start Studying the Church?”

In my case, the reason was my first meeting, half a lifetime ago, of a large number of other pastors at a denominational pastor’s conference, and the denominational annual assembly. Those meetings were the catalyst to start me questioning why I was even a part of such a group.

That meeting helped me, over a period of time, to see that for myself that, as a denomination, our understanding of “church” was very limited. That limited view was established by our experience of church life and denominational distinctives, not by the Scriptures.

For me, and many others, that experience was a long one, the authenticity of which we had never questioned. Mine began at the age of twelve, and had been repeated and established during the first twenty years of my total involvement, from simply sitting in the pews to preaching and teaching.

To ask anyone the question, "What is church?", always had the effect of people looking very perplexed, and finally voicing the opinion that, “We are the church!”

The faithful attendance at the habitual following of established traditions, reinforced by the messages from the pulpit, was instilling in the congregations the certainty that, as long as they were regular in attending to this, everything was fine and dandy.

The only conversations the congregations were involved in always revolved around the pragmatic matters of organized religion; filling empty pews, and bigger buildings when we filled them, finance and the need to increase the accumulation of it to do the grand schemes the pastor had envisioned. Of course there was the normal discussions of house keeping, maintenance, etc. Occasionally the matter of missions came up. Of course our mission was those missions and never our Jerusalem, or even Judea.

We were a missions oriented church, but not mission oriented!

Very seldom were there discussions which didn’t result in some strong words, which were certainly not appropriate for those claiming to be brethren in Christ.

We didn’t know it at the time but, our individual definition of “church” revolved around our own experience, that with which we were familiar, we were always correct and anyone who disagreed was incorrect. As a result most other congregations in the area were suspect.

No wonder we had problems and cliques of those who agreed with each other, and disagreed with everyone else, even within the local congregation. (have a look at this great article from Paul Burleson)

Other definitions of “church” arise from the satisfaction of personality problems of functioning in community, or desires for “life” which has more to do with sensual satisfaction.

As I’ve talked to people, and pressed them on the original question, "What is church?", several common thoughts appeared. Although, not in any specific order they were generally:

1. Believers who came together each week on Sunday

2. They were a church because they had been baptized as become members.

3. They had a qualified pastor, and possibly elders.

4. Baptism and communion was practiced according to denominational dictates.

5. Although unsure of what it meant church discipline was necessary.

6. Most importantly there had to be a document of doctrinal beliefs which defined who they were.

7. Evangelism is important as long as someone else accomplished it.

When asked, “Who owns the church?” The answer was always, emphatically “We, the congregation, do!”

The presence of Jesus Christ is only assumed, and any concept of His presence by His Spirit, is very vague.

This assumption has allowed many of our institutional churches to become nothing more than social institutions for people who gather using Jesus’ name, and to have reinforced in us the thought that our church/denomination is the one with God's stamp of approval.

Where is the evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who reveals Jesus amongst a ministering people from whom living waters flow, who opens our hearts to understand Scripture, who leads and directs?

Is our idea of church formed by the standard of what we have always done, or, the clear standard of Scriptures?

Are we disciples of Jesus Christ, or, are we disciples of a tradition, from which our standard arises?

Are we afraid to ask questions of that standard, and compare it with Scripture? I think so!


Read the following links and give a brother in Christ a birthday boost:

Here, here, and here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


If you want to read something very important, read this . When you have read it read this!

Friday, March 18, 2011


My blogging friend Paul and I share quite a few similarities. He says, “I love history”.

Well, we are different on this one! I don’t love history.

I like to read history. The more history I read history, the more I see that mankind cannot be trusted to record his own history. Almost every author has his own version, revealing his bias. Even the so-called “official” versions.

As far as I can ascertain, from spending time in the home of an American school teacher, Americans have not been taught Australian history in their schools. Maybe that’s a good thing. Even our Australian “official” histories reveal the (often political) bias of the writer.

When I was attending school, we were taught quite a bit about world history, including American, but all of my reading since confirms my suspicion that secular history alone, is clearly not reliable, especially if we will put aside national pride.

The Apostle Paul has history well defined in his statement regarding the Jews, “ For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God himself has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been understood and observed by what he made, so that people are without excuse."

That statement applies to the whole human race!

The fulcrum upon which all of history hangs is spiritual. God created all that there is. From the first day of creation, God’s hand was on all that would ever take place (I did not say God caused ). God's Spirit is at work among men, and no one can understand history apart from that fact. He is both “hands on” and “hands off”, at the same time.

God is indeed sovereign, and if He is sovereign at all, He is sovereign over all, including history, at all times.

My friend, Paul, avers his love of poetry, as well. As for poems, I love some and loathe others. Here is one which rang a bell for me:

The Calf-Path
Sam Walter Foss (1858 -1911)

One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;

But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.

Since then two hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.

But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way;

And then a wise bell-wether sheep
Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep,

And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-wethers always do.

And from that day, o'er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made.

And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about;

And uttered words of righteous wrath,
Because 'twas such a crooked path.

But still they followed - do not laugh -
The first migration of that calf.

And through this winding wood-way stalked,
Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane,
That bent, and turned, and turned again.

This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load,

Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.

And thus a century and a half,
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;

And this, before men were aware,
A city's crowded thoroughfare;

And soon the central street was this,
Of a renowned metropolis;

And men two centuries and a half,
Trod the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout,
Followed the zigzag calf about;

And o'er his crooked journey went,
The traffic of a continent.

A hundred thousand men were led,
By one calf near three centuries dead.

They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;

For thus such reverence is lent,
To well-established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach,
Were I ordained and called to preach;

For men are prone to go it blind,
Along the calf-paths of the mind;

And work away from sun to sun,
To do what other men have done.

They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,

And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.

But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf !

Ah ! many things this tale might teach -
But I am not ordained to preach

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Fiftythree years ago I was sitting in an interstate coach travelling from norther New South Wales to the city of Brisbane in Queensland. In those days such public transport had a large, full width mirror above the windscreen to enable the driver to see all the passengers.

From where I was sitting I could see most of what the driver could see, but off to one side I saw a beautiful blonde sitting by herself. I must have been staring, because she noticed me looking at her, and, with a haughty shrug of her shoulder, she moved out of my line of sight. Soon after, she alighted at her destination.

Two years passed. The girl in the mirror never left my mind. I used to think of her daily. I even made up songs about her, which I used to sing as I worked. I was, as they say, smitten! I didn’t know who she was, or where she came from. All I knew was that I could not forget her.

During this time I had started a youth group for the local young people. The young people, and their parents were left in no doubt that the primary concern was healthy lifestyle based on the teachings of Scripture. Many of these youngsters learned, for the first time, that “fun” was not a dirty word for Christians. The group was well established and there was room for more to join with us. I started visiting homes in a wider area, offering transport and an early arrival at home after the gathering.

Knocking on the door of a house, in a nearby small timber milling village, the door was opened by a rather stern looking lady, but before any introductions could be made, my attention was drawn to the very face I had seen in the bus. She was sitting at a table behind the lady at the door, her mother. I must have seemed a rather incoherent, dubious character as I blurted out my reason for disturbing the peace of this home. My message must have gotten through, though, as the lady of the house asked her daughter to come to the door. I repeated my reason for being.

She said, “I’m Valerie! Yes! I would like to come”.

No sleep for me that night!

I picked her up with several other young people, and had a great night at the Youth meeting. I carefully engineered the dropping off of all except Valerie, whom I dropped off last. Having been invited by my boss and his wife to go to a movie, I thought I would ask Valerie if she would like to accompany us.

Again! She said, “Yes!”

We had known each other for three months, meeting two or three times a week. We were talking about serious matters and seemed to be so much at ease with each other that I asked Valerie to marry me..

And, again! She said, ”Yes!”

We set the date for twelve months hence, 4th March, 1961.

Fifty years ago, on that date, we sealed our lives together “till death do us part”.

To those who talk about “falling out of love”, I say, “You never knew love !”

I still cannot find words sufficient to tell her what she means to me.

I do know that for both, love is not a bed of roses, and that it does not fail, even though each of us have.

If I know anything with absolute certainty it is this, GOD’S HAND WAS IN EVERY ASPECT OF THESE PAST FIFTY YEARS, from that first glimpse of the beautiful woman who was to change my life, to this day.

When we failed, His Spirit guided us out of the failure. When we sinned, His Spirit reminded us of what God had paid for through the incarnate Jesus. We have no doubt of His protecting hand on our five children, as they had amazing escapes from sickness, and even from death.

Fifty years of marriage, five beautiful children and their wives and husbands, seven grandchildren, two great grandchildren.

I’m the richest man in the world. No money, but so wealthy!

Valerie, my sweetheart! You are still my dream girl! Thank you so very much!

Father God, to You belongs the glory!