Tuesday, August 29, 2017

When the Kingdom comes it will confound you

WE ARE hard to please, us Christians. We want to be used by God, effective in His Kingdom, but we never realise what it will cost.
We never quite take Jesus at His Word: “If you wish to be my follower, you must love me more than anything else; even more than your own life!”
When you’re used by God it’s the most frustrating, stretching, taxing time of your life, because you feel constantly pushed and pulled and completely unable to predict what is coming next. You’re fundamentally undone any given moment. It’s just what the Kingdom demands, and the only way we ‘succeed’ is if we approach life as if our own desires were truly non-existent; as if we had died already.
Whenever we’re pressed into all sorts of shapes of fatigue tending toward burnout, and we didn’t arrive there because we chose to, we’re in the familiar territory of the saints.
God will choose for us our particular idol and He will smash it — if we’re truly purposed for His Kingdom. If we were looking into our lives as if we were someone else, we would want it no other way. But it’s our life, and no matter how devoted we are to God it always comes as a shock that God would take our spoken devotion so literally. But it’s important to us, from eternality’s perspective, that He does.
The secular world will want to reinforce its best attempt at effective management, and so the mainstream church follows the programmatic way of doing things. Sabbath, for just one instance, becomes a rule when under the New Covenant it is a state of being.
We can’t expect not to be pushed to the absolute limit in our faith when we’ve told God our devotion is limitless. God takes us at our word.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

How losses are gains in disguise

TRANSFORMATION or tribulation. Every moment of our lives is a choice and a consequence for one or the other.
Losses are disguised as gains to be had. They’re vital vehicles for transformation, though they seem marked at every point, ‘Tribulation’. Indeed, we never seem ready for transformation until we’ve suffered something we cannot reconcile. And even as we embark one footstep into the perilous way of grief, tribulation seems the only way to run.
But it’s not the only the way! Tribulation usually heralds transformation.
Praising God amid loss seems unthinkable, but such a concept is not estranged to biblical content. Indeed, it is bizarrely familiar. “Consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials of many kinds,” the Bible says in James. I’m not cherry-picking verses here, the Bible is full of verses about remaining faithful in loss, because the Bible acknowledges the reality that loss is not all there is.
It is possible to see beyond the pain of loss in the mode of grief itself. Though it is tormenting, grief itself holds us aloft and away from our ego. Comfort has been thwarted at every level and finally God has our attention, and we have His.
Many, many people despise these words because they cannot entertain a concept of God who doesn’t lavish them. It would be truer to say God lavishes us with more (more power, more truth, more capacity, more grace, more wisdom, and certainly more love) when we lavish Him with our presence, which is easiest to do when we have no god to elevate before Him. And, in loss, finally there’s no barrier we set up to God.
So faithfulness is more important than the experience of comfort; diligence more important than arriving; progress more important than perfection; the means more important than the end. Focus on the means, and the end takes care of itself.
Losses are gains in disguise. How else do we explain the phenomenon of the possibility of growth through grief?
If we’re ever annoyed about messages like this one, we invest precious energies into bitterness rather than redeploy them in betterness.
The choice is always simple, and the effect is profound: Go with God in grief and He will make purpose of your pain.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Five Reasons to Embrace Grief

AMID the tempest of grief outbound of loss, love builds in the heart and wisdom forms in the mind, when we can allow the present to be as it is.
Here below are five reasons to embrace the inevitable when it comes:
1.      God transforms us in our pain. But, we may never wish to be transformed. None of us do. We may see it as an invasion. We view pain through eyes of cynicism. But pain teaches us what no pleasure can. Only after we’ve been transformed by grief do we see its vast benefits (not that we wouldn’t ever prefer things as they were — for that is understandable). Pain makes us able to see more truly.
2.      Loss is simply loves situational opposite. We experience loss because we have loved. Such experiences of love and loss teach us to magnify the one whilst we endure the other as patiently as we can, which can seem impossible at times. The one we magnify will be ours again. And that’s a hope we can never lose. We just cannot stop believing that life will turn to our fortune again. Such hope is life. Such life is resilience. Such resilience is purpose. Such purpose is hope.
3.      In grief, God reveals much that we wouldn’t ordinarily see. He reveals the suffering aspects of life. Hence, compassion comes when were taken to the abyss. We see more truly. He reveals others; those who care from those who dont. Those who do care show us something; the fundamental gift of care, and then we’re ever won to the power in caring. In those who care against those who don’t, we see people as they are, no longer as we thought them to be. Of course, God also reveals much more of Himself through our grief, when we’re open to what He has to show us.
4.      Grief forces us to reflect. Were easily stuck in thought patterns of how good our life was. But just as easily we can resolve such thoughts by simply being still. Only when we allow God to bring us to the end of ourselves are we then blessed by our practice of reflection.
5.      In the sea that is life, loss is the ebb tide and the flood tide is love. Endure one wave and enjoy the next. Loss is the ebbing of a wave of comfort, and that wave will flood in again via God’s compensation. All of life is an ebb and flow; of loving and losing, good fortune and lack, of health and ill-health. Grief teaches us this pattern, and if it weren’t for loss, we would probably never become aware of it. What maturity teaches us is acceptance and awareness.
There are benefits to grief, not least of which is the wisdom that sits aside life, learning the ability to remain open to God’s purpose in it, fulfilled in some cases in the life to come.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

You are LOVED, NOT for what you do, but for WHO you are

THIS world is about competition — being better than others, or being good enough for others. There aren’t many places we can go where we are welcomed and safe as we truly are. And it’s not always others forcing us up or down the social pecking order. We ourselves are the ones who feel driven to compete or to conform.
We place that kind of unrealistic pressure on ourselves.
Universal acceptance is something God is calling us to: self-acceptance, our acceptance of others, and, not least, our acceptance of God.
This is the principal reason God in Jesus came: to herald and to inhabit the good news; to let us know that we’re loved, not for what we do, but for who we are; that, we’re not judged here in this life for what we’ve done (our sins against God and others); that, we’re not condemned for the sin that is in us; that, in Jesus He sees us, and the Father is for us. As we immediately are. Unconditionally. Relationship. It’s about love. That’s about losing power:
There’s only one thing that really matters. Relationship. ‘Do you love me? Do you love me as I am?’
— Jean Vanier
Only when we have accepted people as they are will they be inspired to become better than they are. Only when we are accepted are we bravely curious enough to look at role models to become better ourselves.
Growth is contingent on acceptance,
for only when we’re free to be who we are
are we then enabled to become.
When we’re constrained within the vast chasms of division in this world we’re far from the Kingdom of God. Our thoughts are chaotic and awry and senseless. But when we loose our thoughts from judging and condemning, when we can let each and every person have their place, their view, the Kingdom of God comes immediately into sight.
Here is a fact for the naysayer of God:
You are loved by the Creator
of the universe and you,
yes, just as you are!
If only everyone knew.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Grace, the gift of right relationship with God

ONE of the profoundest word-gifts I’ve ever been given was when I was told to ‘enjoy the gift God has given you’.[1] Astoundingly simple, unfathomably deep. The gift.
As Christians, we do not make as much of the concept of grace as truly we should. That is because we cannot wrap our heads and hearts around it. There is too much theology to contain it. Grace is too much to contemplate. The gift is too gargantuan to comprehend. Grace is a gift that gives a spiritual reality of overwhelming eternal abundance.
But indeed, we’re blessed by studies like the one in present focus — that God’s positive work of redeeming humankind has not an iota of recrimination about it. Although we should rightly be condemned, and without Christ we were, our justification at the hand of Christ has now no longer anything to do with our criminality.
We are bequeathed right relationship with our God, just as if God looks at us and sees Jesus — no spot nor wrinkle of sin, though we’re still spotted and wrinkled; no condemnation, though we know we still deserve it. How irrevocably good is this gift?
For the matter of putting Christ at the head of our lives, to live according to the faith of trust in Jesus, right relationship with God is the decreed consequence. This is the good news. Not that we’re given easy lives nor are we promised joy at every turn, but, much more meaningful, that we’re ascribed worth as sons and daughters of God.

Acknowledgement to Dr Richard Moore whose life work has involved the study of Paul’s Concept of Justification: God’s Gift of a Right Relationship and the production of the first New Testament in Australian English.

[1] With credit to Elaine Olley, wife of Old Testament scholar, Dr John Olley.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Peace Amid the Anxieties of Daily War

DAYS off are not necessarily a blessing, nor are days at work necessarily a curse. Peace may evade the one, but be positioned centrally in the other. Yet, as per joy, peace is an enigma. So much of our peace belongs to the mind; procuring and possessing it through mastery of thought, of letting go, amid experience. And only for the now.
Like many of you I suspect, I’m easily confounded by time and task pressure; the whirlwind of competing priorities and the contracting concertina of time. At the one extreme I’m bored, at the other I’m barraged. And it’s a fine line that separates the two.
It’s humbling how fragile I am when it comes to the circumstantial. And yet, without such relentless stimulus, the life unabating, I would never have learned the powers of the mind that can superintend, and be salubrious for, the vulnerability of my heart.
Peace is an enigma, a paradox, a never-ending conundrum. Yet is it ever available. Those realities seem genuinely opposed, but they’re once and at the same time true as contradictions of reality.
Peace seems impossible when the present brings several competing pressures simultaneously, but that circumstance is merely the invitation to slow down and enter the phenomenon of process — doing one thing at a time through attentive discipline.
The goal of peace within the limits of time and space makes us face an irrepressible reality. We cannot shift dimensional law to come into conformance with our whims. Expecting these laws of time and space to bend our way is absurd, but it’s common that we get frustrated when we find we cannot cram more into less. We simply need to see how futile it is to expect the impossible.
When we accept life is a war, peace is the armistice we go wilfully into battle for.
Peace and Anxiety
For peace to be our possession there first needs to be the awareness of our anxiety.
Denying anxiety is pointless. Acknowledging it is the first step of embracing it as the next step toward reducing it. To common anxiety we can say ‘no!’
The simple effect of employing calming strategies that are within continual reach proves we can lessen anxiety or nip it in the bud for the definitive moment. Of course, there’s no long-term solution other than the mastery of that which we easily devise and employ; but, that which is only for now.
Accept that peace and anxiety are possessions of the now. We may have one as much the other. Peace takes no more work. So why do we allow anxiety free reign?
Prayer for Practicing Peace
as I come before you,
help me accept my war,
to You Whom all is true,
give me peace now to explore.
Life is a war, but it’s not to physical death that the battle seeks to take us. It’s a war of attrition. Life’s purpose is not to wear us down. Its invitation is for us to reconcile the tensions and arise, acknowledging anxiety as the precursor to peace, for without the one we wouldn’t passionately seek out ways to attain the other.
What better way to address anxiety than look up into the skies and ponder possibilities.
We can only find peace within the eye of the storm. It’s the only place amid chaos that’s dead calm. It’s the place of the mind at the core of the heart. When chaos swarms and threatens to overthrow all rationality; where reasonability seems impossible.
In the storm, move toward the eye; the stillness within the fury; silence in the howl. That place is found in the absence of our mind. Experience through the senses.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Shalom Within a Sea of Unresolvable Contradictions

“There is no ability to live with paradox, mystery — which is exactly what contemplation teaches you — to live with contradictions, unresolved ones; in fact, if we don’t teach people that I don’t think we’re preparing you for the only life you’ll ever have… every one of you are facing a half dozen unresolvable contradictions, in yourself, in your marriage, in your children, in your country, in your church… and if you can’t learn how to hold those with patience, and forgiveness, and freedom, and even joy, you’re a pretty bitter person by the time you get to my age.”
― Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM
FIRSTLY, what do we mean by shalom? Then, how does that relate to what Father Rohr is saying? And then, so what?
Without referencing anything I posit that shalom is a state of being. And there is so much in that; of being rather than doing; of sitting still in the heart; of a mind at rest. This is possibly the hardest thing to do in our world — to refrain not simply from activity, but from the gravitations of our thoughts, the surges of our feelings, and to resist distraction through a paradoxical mindfulness that sustains cognitive emptiness. Life simply coming at us and us bearing it.
The Rohr quote is pungent with truth. It describes an existential challenge few approach, let alone seek to master.
Life is a moving feast of unresolvable contradictions. And it is impossible to master any of them because every day is too dynamic, besides the variables we encounter that we cannot predict. Our only solution is to stand apart from life, covet its machinations much less, and learn to be centrist in every area of life.
What I mean is our views, our opinions, cost us dearly. We all judge too much. It’s not to say we cannot be passionate about aspects of life, we just need to decide what we’ll be passionate about — something worthier and sustainable — like the ability to appreciate a range of views and opinions without judging any of them; like being an advocate in nonviolent, non-violating ways.
It brings to bear the great power in the Serenity Prayer… accept the things, and every other person, that we cannot change… have the courage to challenge and change the person we can: us… apply the wisdom that discerns the difference.
The irresolvable contradictions are beautiful, to this extent: God uses them to rein us in. He gets our attention if we have the humility to acknowledge what it does us no good to ignore.
Shalom is a chosen and trained state of being, possible in the fury of chaos, like a clock ticking methodically away even in a thunderstorm.
Shalom is the journey God invites us to join Him on. To accept the limits of change and, where appropriate, to challenge the limits we accept.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Reason We Learn to Dislike the Real Jesus

“I would summarise Jesus’ teaching under two headlines: forgiveness and inclusivity. You go through His teachings. You can see why they killed Him.”
— Fr. Richard Rohr OFM
I’M going to ask you to channel your inner Pharisee for a moment. Sure, we’ve all got one. It’s that self-righteous self that views others through the lens of the law, and ourselves through the lens of grace. Be honest. That inner Pharisee is never too far away. None of us is so full of Jesus that we don’t recognise how quickly we resort to judging and condemning others. Even as we intellectualise our rationale — (‘Oh, I have logic and data on my side that tells me how wrong they are!’) — we only put a more self-deceptive mask on. (That ‘logic’ and that ‘data’ never normally finds others innocent and ourselves guilty.)
Most of those red-letter Bible verses our inner Pharisee hates.
Those red letters highlight everything he can’t do, because to do them requires denial of self, the taking up of one’s cross.
The reason we have to enter our inner Pharisee is it’s the only way to see something so fundamental to our visceral condition.
Unless we see that we are the ones with the log in our own eye we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Until we concede their sin is a speck from our point of view we cannot be healed and will remain utterly broken. Lest we see that, as far as Jesus is concerned, He can only heal us as we allow Him to, we’re forlorn.
Our healing has nothing to do with the person who besmirched us five or fifty years ago. But the bitterness we harbour at their betrayal forever holds us marooned to the mast of misery.
The reason we learn to dislike the real Jesus — even though we ‘love’ Him — is we detest having to soften our hearts before the person we despise has, never understanding it’s more blessed to give than to receive. And even more so when they never soften their heart, forgetting the judgment they may bring upon themselves that has nothing to do with us, and that we’ll never know anything about.
Our relationship with Jesus is manically bipolar when we consider we love Him for all He’s done for us, for the gospels, for who He is, yet when we see Him looking at us with those forgive-that-person-who-has-hurt-you eyes, we hate it. Sure, we don’t want to think we dislike Him! But we can certainly begin to avoid those who bring His discipline our way.
Jesus wants disciples — those who disciplined in bearing the weight of their cross.
Nobody likes to do this. It’s like the apostle Paul. We all have a thorn in the flesh that torments us. It prevents us getting too conceited. The only way we can bear the tremendous burden — the gargantuan weight — of our cross is to surrender the burden of our pride to Jesus by being honest. By drawing to conscious awareness that which would latently reside in our unconscious mind.
Pride causes division, and this is where Jesus also divides. Those who would remain prideful, choosing to remain bitter, or refuse to reconcile, choose to be lukewarm. They say they love Jesus but they show they dislike His teaching. They ought more to say they dislike Him. But, honesty will cause us all to wriggle in at least mild discomfort. None of us are that perfectly surrendered, although the perverting inner Pharisee in us is persuasive in fooling us into thinking we are.
The Jesus of the gospels — the real Jesus — is less interested in doctrine, tradition and protocols, and more interested in honesty that leads to repentance and transformation.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Thank God for Life and then you’ll Live

GOD has given us one thing for which we could never repay. Life. Our lives.
This is a Note to Self (read as yours at your discretion and peril):
Does it not seem strange to you, in your bitterness and complaints, that you expect more from God — because He’s God — than you should? He gave you your life. He gives you life. Would it not be more appropriate, more just, to praise Him for the air you have in your lungs right now? To thank Him for those thinking abilities that you use to besmirch His holy name when things don’t go right for you? To revere Him for those senses you use apart from His will? To laud Him for the cravings of goodness that you oft let so casually go awry?
If God owes us anything, and let’s be certain, He does not, would it not be better to thank Him for that thing He gave us our lifetime ago? Do we not owe Him that debt?
From where does life — the power to live — come?
Consider these poignant Scriptures.
“Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it! I will bring great disaster upon all these people; but I will give you your life as a reward wherever you go. I, the Lord, have spoken!”
— Jeremiah 45:5 (NLT, italics added)
This passage commends us not to join crooked enterprises for our own gain. God will bring great disaster on them and we’ll be implicated for our compromise. No, it would be best not to seek great things for yourself. God is giving to me my life as a reward for the living, for His purpose, as I refuse to enter into wanton idolatry.
“Behold, [Satan], all that Job has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.”
— Job 1:12 (ESV, italics added)
The theology here is problematic, but it is something we do well to accept. Evil will seek to corral us, but God will not allow evil to hurt us physically, protecting our lives. But every other form of suffering is possible in this life.
These Scriptures in unison herald one classic truth: God gives life; He saves, protects, and rewards us with life.
Being summarily happy having your life, and needing nothing else to satisfy you, means there is but one remaining conundrumdeath. But with faith in Christ there is both the hope in this life — a purpose to live for — and in eternity beyond this life indeed to stretch toward. We’re laden with hope that ought to produce peace and overflow us with joy.
You have been divinely appointed to live your life. You have been dropped from eternity — or, if you believe otherwise, somewhere foreign to this physical realm (let’s not get hung up on theology) — into your life. It is yours. God gave it to you for you, and, in that way, for His glory, as you live it fully in accord with His wish for you.
So, from where does life come? From God, of course. From God, for you. It is His gift to you, to live. Will you take it? It is, after all, your responsibility. Nobody but you can accept responsibility for it. It’s up to you.
Will you take this life that He gave you, not judging it, not looking through it nor hating it for any reason?
Will you go now, making it your own, taking it with both hands, walking with it with both feet, making the most of the life you have?
Will you agree today to accept your life as it was and has been given? Every moment of pain and fury, accepting every chastisement, as good and bountiful, as productive for the time before you now.
Will you?
If so, then hear the Holy Spirit utter these words of life into your soul:
Your life is yours, my son / daughter.
Be you, today, and Live.
And, importantly, look to life for nothing else but ME.
Simply live.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I’m From – Reflections at 50

I’m from Ron and Coral down Armadale way
and as a youngster in bed I wouldn’t stay.
I’m from Dampier with little brother Dave
together we had many a close shave.
I’m from wearing an army uniform
getting dressed in the right gear would become my norm.
I’m from sweet still sis Debra, in September ‘73
Oh how our lives have been enriched though you we did not see.
I’m from Dampier, to Perth, with little bro Matt
poor little guy in the middle seat he sat.
I’m from footy in winter and summer for cricket
gee didn’t I love to take a wicket!
I’m from cracking farts to advanced in mathematics
Yes, years 7 & 8 were filled with all kinds of dramatics.
I’m from Countdown and KISS, Pink Floyd and U2
I’ve always loved music especially when I’m blue.
I’m from Karratha, as good a place to grow
with mates, whose names, all ended in ‘Y’ or ‘O’.
I’m from squats, bench presses, and chins
bodybuilding and good times and other kinds of sins.
I’m from the Falcons footy and Salt cricket club fun
that goal on Taylor, 50 metres on the run!
I’m from pumps and diesels and iron ore screens
but work now involves the sharing of coffee beans.
I’m from the nineties and having three gorgeous girls
those dancing concerts and wigs with curls.
I’m from Amy and Zoe and Rhi
what blessings in their lives I’ve had the privilege to see.
I’m from separation, divorce and devastation
but thankfully God engineered my restoration.
I’m from God, who reset my course
a passion to serve others became my life force.
I’m from Sarah, from the family of Brown
solid as a rock, the jewel in my crown.
I’m from writing to unravel enigmas
a passion to advocate against all kinds of stigmas.
I’m from Ethan, our little dear
right now, he’s one I like to be near.
I’m from Nathanael, the preciousness of loss
But I’ve learned that life comes from death at the cross.
So... I’m from son and grandson to husband to father
and there isn’t another life that I would rather.
Now to you all, who have been important to me
love is reciprocal, I know you’ll agree.
Thank you.