Monday, April 23, 2018

God interactions from random distractions

Photo by Ahmed zayan on Unsplash

I met Sylvia (which is possibly not her real name) who is in her sixties on Roe Highway, Leeming, today. Stranded. With car but lost. 30 kilometres off course. An hour late for her appointment. Panic stricken, due to a family dispute, it took a minute or so to help her slow down enough to understand her predicament. I was on the way to Rockingham to visit my parents, with my son in the car. The Lord urged me to stop. In her state, I wondered if she were genuine or not. But she was just panicked and afraid, so very vulnerable close to trucks on this busy highway, in some ways utterly unaware of the hazards around her.
At one point in her panic she mentioned money and I thought about what cash I had on me; no, she wanted to give me money. Anything for help. Sensing God was in this, I said I wasn’t interested in money. She didn’t know what to do with that. ‘Why?!’ ‘I’m Christian and I want to help...’ – ‘Oh’ she said, ‘God, please don’t judge me for the times I’ve laughed about people who say “amen” all the time...’ 😊
Then she said, ‘We were meant to meet like this, weren’t we?’ Sensing a ‘Wow, Lord’ moment I said, ‘Yes, I think you’re right.’
To which she said, with genuine intent, ‘Are you to become my partner?’ (She had already mentioned how lonely she was since her husband had died years earlier and all her children were now married.) To which I said, ‘No, I’m married, but it could be God that brought us together.’
‘I want to give you money,’ she said. No, I wasn’t there for the money.
We established she needed to be in Morley. So, I said, ‘Follow me.’ And she did. We had spent ten minutes on the side of the road, and my five-year-old had been so patient just waiting in his car seat.
So panicked and upset, she drove erratically, but we eventually got to Galleria safely.
Just before we arrived at the shopping centre, at lights, she stopped, got out of her car, I wound down my window, and just like that, she thrust $10 into my hand... ‘It’s for your fuel,’ she said, darting back to her car. (I had been praying we would get the chance for another chat, so I could share the gospel with her, so I was a little disappointed.)
I kept driving and she followed me, motioning that she did in fact want to talk more. Thank You, Lord!
So I stopped, got out, and between the two cars, out of sight of my son (who again waited so patiently), we chatted... she said, ‘A peace has come over me.’ I said, ‘If you want love, go and meet God’s people – they will love you.’ ‘How do I do that,’ she said... I talked about it, and she allowed me to pray for her. I gave her a hug and then I left her near enough to her home to find her way back.
I didn’t get to share the gospel but I’m glad I was there to help someone like my mother who is easily lost on the roads. And after all that my son, on learning we were too far away to visit his Gran and Pa (my mother and father) now, sobbed, and said, ‘Dad, please can we go, I’ll be patient...’ We were 66 minutes away according to the GPS. We’d been on the road nearly double that time already. And he didn’t whinge once, and we even had dialogue about how God speaks to us and that God is present everywhere all the time, and, as he said, ‘even in space!’ He also mentioned that while I was out of the car that second time he did start getting a little frustrated but told himself to settle down and be patient. ‘It worked, Dad,’ he said. It doesn’t always, but I’m glad it worked this time.
We arrived for our visit at 11.15am, quite content with our morning.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Alone but not alone

Photo by feng haha on Unsplash

“Even though at times I felt like an orphan, You, Lord, took me in and cared for me.” My paraphrase of Psalm 27:10 proves something that is only proven in our hearts when we’ve been a spiritual orphan.
Such a thought ought to never pretend a literal reality — being an orphan is possibly the least fortunate, most vulnerable reality. Yet, there are those, like the psalmist, for whom relationships with parents are estranged to that degree of total loss. Actually, it describes crippling, polarising loss.
There is a broader fulcrum of focus: there are times in certain situations where we feel like orphans.
And yet that spiritual malaise is exactly the kind of situation we find God — when we’re completely alone, abandoned by the very one(s) our world pivots around. Not that this sort of meeting of God is anything to rave about! Anything but. Yet, there comes a time when we will sing about it from the rooftops. Only after a genuine and elongated season of lament that seemed so punishing we at times scarcely thought we could hold on let alone survive.
Trust this:
God is good:
If we can say it by trust,
God is good,
even when life’s unjust.
Clinging to the fact of faith that says, ‘God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good’ our Lord shows us He is good, and trustworthy and powerful, and waiting to restore us. He gives us hope and a vision we can hold onto; a vision that defies everything we otherwise see. And in the meantime, God is deepening our awareness of and dependence on Himself.
We, who cannot hold onto anything else, learn that God is so good that He is good enough even in this season of our being alone. So good that He shows up, ultimately, His Presence in our presence. That is precisely the point; it takes barren aloneness to comprehend how real God’s Presence can be.

Perhaps the living God can only be best encountered when we have nothing left. A deeper spiritual journey begins there. Alone, yet far from alone. Alone enough to reach out and up, ‘Lord, help me!’ Then His still, small voice is sensed.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Small prayers that loom large for God

Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash

We undervalue prayer so much that during our season of losing our son, we so commonly heard, ‘I’m so sorry, all I can do is pray.’ We would say, ‘that’s the best thing you could do.’
And we believe that by faith. So many believe it. We don’t know how or why prayer works, we just know it’s the way God works and cares for us.
But our prayers feel and appear to us as small. They might feel banal and unimportant, as if God might not think much of them, as if God disregards them, which says more about our doubting faith than it says about the mighty sovereignty of God.
Sure, not all prayers are answered as we would like. Most aren’t. But those prayers we pray that end in Jesus’ words, ‘Not my will, Lord, but Yours be done’, are always answered in the affirmative.
Surely God knows our hearts and loves us so greatly that He grieves that He cannot and won’t give us everything we want. He grieves most that we would want our plan over His. He opts instead to give us the very best — every loving impetus for growth in knowing we cannot coerce Him, and what growth it is when we accept what we cannot change, yet have the courage to change what we can.
Our small prayers matter to God no matter their infrequency. We can be confident that He who does hear them will set in place plans to give us what we need, even if those plans don’t always include what we want.
Even our of small prayers, God is working in the background of our lives for the future, in ways larger than we presently see, for our vision is so limited.
Small prayers, those ones we occasionally think go unnoticed and unheard, do loom large before our Creator God. He cares so much that He’s working on even bigger things that we truly need, not that He disregards what we want, because He knows our heart and exactly how we wish to be satisfied and content. He also understands how sin taints our vision and understanding, and He opts to give us something infinitely better — a relationship with His Son! — which is healing for this life and the next.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Cost of Discipleship Prayer

Photo by Alfonso Ninguno on Unsplash

Dear Covenant Lord
Gracious alone, You are my Rock, from the foundation of the earth through the foundation of life to the foundation of my life. You are my life.
Yet in following You, Lord Jesus, to the seriousness of Your Word, I am convicted of heart about how much it will cost. Will I have the wherewithal to build my allegiance? God alone, You know.
You know I will need a strong and big and pliable heart, a disciplined mind, a fervent soul. And yet Your grace reminds me that the work of Your cross is done, that there is no more to do. For such a fact I owe You my life. Still, You raise me as You, Yourself, are risen.
What else will I need, Lord? What else will be required as I prepare to make my way to You? Teach me again as I ponder what it has cost thus far.
Surely, I’ll need godly support; people who will keep me to short account and encourage me, who will speak truth with me. Surely I’ll need virtue in abundance, especially humility, as pride so often wrests my journey with You away from me.
I will need to focus on being with You at all times. I’ve so often learned how hard it is to be a ‘professional’ Christian. That it can be a free form of discipleship that refuses to believe, let alone pay for, the costliness of such an endeavour. I know, because I have partaken. Lord, help me simply follow You. To simply follow You is harder than being a 9-5, half-day-Sunday Christian. Help me transcend the difficulties of the minister I know too well of.
Jesus, help me not be a half-finished tower, a relic of the promise of means without end. Help me measure what I promise You now so as to overestimate the cost, which must be too fanciful a prayer, and too ludicrous, to pray. Help me when I’m so immature as to get the wrecking ball out to destroy what You have already built.
Help me, in fear and in trembling, come before You now, knowing I will come up short. Prepare my heart even in that sense so I know then what to give up and when and how to do it. Not now, as that is too much to ask, but then.
Give me grace to do what I cannot do in my own strength, but only in Yours.
And forgive me for the way I now still so frequently underestimate the cost.
In my Saviour’s name I pray, AMEN.

This prayer is devoted to Luke 14:28: Jesus said, likening the call to follow Him to that of building a tower… “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?”

Monday, April 16, 2018

From Pain to God’s Presence Through Pain

Photo by Fineas Gavre on Unsplash
There are many ways with which God challenges our hearts, but could this way be poignant for us all? 
The truth is, because we’re all sinners, we all fail to adequately and appropriately follow Jesus like He or we would like. Secondly, we fail to experience Jesus as He or we would like. These, I believe, are connected. (This article is no comment on the grace that saves us all from an eternal destiny without Christ, thank God!)
We can follow and experience Jesus better. When we follow Jesus well we experience His Presence better. And central to both connected concepts is pain.
Spiritual pleasure is felt when we feel our pain materially. What I mean is the comfort we crave, which in many ways is desire out of control, morphing materially into sin, is the temptation to avoid pain that God may well invite us to enter. Here’s the idea:
God’s promised Presence is prepared for those
who are prepared to enter and even embrace their pain.
None of us like the idea of experiencing God at a deeper level through our pain. We always hope that God would just love us more and bless us with His favour simply for being nice people.
But God doesn’t work that way. God is the Lord of truth. He desires that we be truthful about the areas of our lives where we know we cannot measure up, not to rub our noses in them, but to consecrate us because of our faults. In other words, the more we admit our sin, the more we’re aware, and act, the more we experience peace with God.
God wants us to enter His courts with humility enough to reconcile our sin. When we do, He invites us into deeper intimacy, not unlike the transaction that occurs for David in Psalm 51. We need to be Psalm 51 Christians, able to endure the pain that propels us into the healthy fruit of repentance.
In truth, we need to be people of truth before a God of truth. Then we will be free.
We avoid pain through the comforts of this world,
but if we avoid comfort that can never satisfy,
and enter the truth of the pain about ourselves we do not like,
God will meet us there by His Presence
and He will give us true comfort.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Two gospel purposes in every one life

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The conviction of the Holy Spirit was indelible. It went like this: two opposing ‘gospels’, but that which complement one another. Let’s say one is preached by Paul Washer or David Platt. The other is preached by Joel Osteen or Rob Bell.
One gospel for me. Another gospel for others. The hard gospel — the way of Paul Washer and David Platt — is for me, and for you, along our personal discipleship journeys. The softer gospel — the way of Joel Osteen and Rob Bell — and this is not meant as any judgment or innate criticism against their work — is for us in our approach with others. We hold ourselves to hard standards that compel us to be humble. And we do not hold generic others to account at all; they are offered our kindness and compassion. And in holding ourselves to high, hard standards, with the love of God coursing through us, we experience His kind and compassionate Presence, and that encourages us — we do not look for praise, understanding or appreciation from others.
The only exception is for guiding people along discipleship journeys — then we will need both approaches, but always moderated by grace.
Then we will need hard approaches for challenging and soft approaches for encouraging those in our charge.
I guess my point is this: our lives tend to be characterised by us being easier on ourselves and harder on others. We minimise our errors and flaws, whilst getting upset with others about theirs. Yet, Jesus called us to the practice of getting the log out of our own eye. He called us be hard on ourselves and easy on others. Yes, Jesus requires that we be especially kind and compassionate about others’ errors and flaws.
Life goes better when we go harder on ourselves and go easier on others. It’s called humility. It’s also how we vouchsafe success, command respect, and show leadership.
The best relationships feature people able to own their stuff who also have the capacity to overlook offense.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

No fear of missing out, just pure joy, when IN Christ

Photo by Haley Rivera on Unsplash
Gazing through a shopping mall at all the shoppers — individuals, families, elderly, children — and I can’t help noticing something striking. These are people of all varieties. Some seem so happy. Others, I can tell, are not enjoying their present moment.
Then I realise something through my smile; the kind of smile you wear in a philosophical moment, when God is revealing something profound:
We love because He first loved us…
— 1 John 4:19
God catches us. Not the other way around. What I mean is, we think we accept Christ, but really God brings us to a place where we can no longer refuse Him. If not, we don’t know Him.
And when we arrive at that time, when our premise for life and eternity is challenged, and we move on from our previous concept of reality, He shows us something.
We’re detached from the bonds of being hemmed-in to the wiles and moods of this life.
Suddenly there is a choice. We quickly see that a fork in the road appears right before us. To respond as we always have, and either have our misery sustained or respond in a different way. A new way. A possible way. The simple way of choice for life at the easy rejection of the way of death.
We have this choice because God first gave it to us. We don’t just think it up. He put it into our heart.
Living the life caught by the Spirit of God is easier than any other life. It appears to externals as the hardest thing, because of all the so-called self-denial in living for God. But such self-denial is only ever the product of a choice — it’s a fruit — of what comes as instinctive from the initial decision sustained through simply moving forward, without question for compromise, in the Spirit. Christians are generally never happier than when they ‘miss out’, and why? Because, they’ve made the better choice.
Choosing to obey Christ by going with the biblical leading of the Holy Spirit brings peace, no matter the cost that others see we’re bearing. Sure, we’re giving up what we would like, but that isn’t all there is. There’s much more to be considered.
It is easier to choose the disposition of joy for the moment
than it is to choose surliness. Joy is a blessing to maintain.
The choice we make to succumb to moodiness costs us and others so much. And what a curse it is to sustain! We are about as happy as we decide to be. And if we struggle to believe that, try thinking about the smallest things you truly appreciate. Soon we work out how incredibly blessed we really are.
When we are grateful, what happens? We cannot worry when gratitude spikes. We are patient and considerate, meaning we have peace. Humility rises as we think more of others. It puts paid to our anger. We cannot be frustrated when we are grateful. See how the supposed hard Christian life is easier.
When Christ embodies us through the Holy Spirit, He
causes us to seek peace, which wells up to hope, to the overflow of joy.

Monday, April 9, 2018

We are here for you

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

It wouldn’t be an unusual scenario in any of our lives to have a loved one or dear friend who needs to know, ‘we are here for you.’
Such a need to hear it only just shades the necessity to say it. Those who say with compassion what others need to hear are Godsends. And those who hear what God has to say to them through a caring friend are blessed to journey forward in a hope that can only be learned. (I say that hope really does need to be learned; the need of hope exists, yet it’s only when we experience hope that we realise it really does exist as the resplendence of a truth we now possess.)
There are people in our midst right now who are need, and we may or may not be aware of it. We may or may not have the capacity to help them. We may or may not know what to say, but be encouraged, we can always listen without needing to know the answer.
God seems to send each of us into the fore,
of the person we know, unsteady and struggling,
right to their door.
Whenever we walk out of our door expecting to encounter somebody who needs to hear ‘we are here for you’ we can expect to be shown such a person who needs to hear it. We walk out of our door to be invited into theirs. It doesn’t always happen, but when we expect it to happen we’re ready for such a necessary encounter.
You send the message, a most desperate plea,
just don’t dilute the message, so we begin to doubt what we see.
We’re certainly aware of those who would send the message ‘I cannot do this anymore’… some say it too much, never truly meaning it as some who would never say it and yet take their lives. All are implored not to cry wolf. Yet equally we’re all implored never to imagine a person is.
We are here for you is a message for at least three people:
1.      The person deep in their need, enshrined in the need of support. They simply must be met in their moment of need or something dire could occur. It’s anyone!
2.      The person who has the wherewithal to help. With the capacity and the reach to help, it’s our privilege to simply extend our hand of help. Yes, it’s us!
3.      The person we know and care about that will receive help and we won’t even know about it. It causes us to be thankfully grateful for the grace extant in the moment that we have no inkling of. It’s someone we care about, and someone we don’t even know — who cares!

Imagine God training us to see the potential neediness in every person we encounter, looking for it, and able to meet it. Suddenly, we see the person as someone not to be judged, nor envied or condemned or even pitied, but as a person, like us all, with frailties. We meet them with a love we wish our loved ones, or even ourselves, could receive in such a need.

Friday, April 6, 2018

It takes 15 years to grow a Tuart

Image: Ecoscape.

Friends recently adopted a Eucalyptus gomphocephala. They water it most days of the week. Within fifteen years it will be 10 metres tall. We too take time to mature.
It’s difficult to say to someone when they want it all now that all things take time. It’s difficult to say, you can’t have it now. Like the Eucalyptus gomphocephala (the Tuart tree), all things of stature take time to develop.
More than ever we live in an instant ‘pop-up’ world. More than ever people want instant results. I know this well even as I get disheartened on day three of a four-month campaign to lose 30 pounds. It’s so easy to say it’s all too hard.
It takes 15 years to grow a Tuart. It takes that sort of time to grow a career too, and a family, and a reputation. Most things take that sort of time to grow. The rules are the same for everyone.
This life favours those with faith enough to invest daily for the fifteen-year result. One day we will be that fifteen years older so we might as well commit to the journey.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A 365-Day Easter

Now that Easter is over for another year, we may well forget its significance.
Perhaps Jesus is trying to get our attention. Or, keep our attention.
It might seem easy for those engaged full-time in ministry to maintain their faith. This is not the case; quite the reverse, as so many of us know. Even for those of us engaged in pivotal part-time service can easily fall foul of doing it all in our own strength.
A relationship with Jesus sets as its centrepoint the life of repentance, or of turning back to God, for guidance, for help, for discernment, for leading, and for humility, daily, moment by moment; a prayerful consciousness. Are we ever anything of veracity without His help?
When we are thankful for the cross we bear our cross without resentment. He leads us into acceptance for that which we cannot change. We are less tossed and thrown by the vicious, uncaring waves of fickledom.
When we are awestruck by His resurrection we are enthralled about the life He has given us; the faith-life which overflows with more abundance than we often readily imagine. We have courage to change what we can. A confidence that we cannot claim as ours is ours.
Easter ought to be an everyday experience. That could be His challenge and opportunity. Maybe He has so much more to reveal to us. The truth is He has so much that He wants to show us. God displays His glory to us commensurate with our intimacy, our wholehearted devotion, our sheer love.
A 365-day Easter is the way we take God’s hand as He walks with us into the vast sweeping unknown.
Lord Jesus, help me live life in You, with You, and for You;
today for today, tomorrow when it comes,
and ever more Your way and not my own.

Monday, April 2, 2018

What a thing to face — you can’t out-sin God’s grace

Photo by Greg Weaver on Unsplash

No matter how long we’ve accepted Christ’s death and resurrection as our salvation and new life, we still cannot fully comprehend it.
This is a fact by the way we live. We cannot stop living in a self-condemning way at times, and we’re so quick to judge. Judge another and like a boomerang we reveal how much we judge ourselves by the insecurities we reveal are adhered to our persona. That, or we get stuck in comparison-mode, and we cannot get over how well-endowed or fortunate or blessed another person is. And the trick here is, the more we think we know Christ or have Him, the more we’re ruined by pride. God won’t be ‘had’ by anyone. See how blessedness can never be a material asset, only a spiritual one?
The only one who is close to Jesus is the one who knows how derelict they are without Him.
The gospel is a complete paradox that none in humanity can reconcile other than let themselves be swept up in a mystery. The best position we find ourselves in with God is when we feel unworthy of His saving us, because we’re so well in-touch with our sin.
If you feel unworthy, well, take comfort in this:
He who cannot not keep His Word,
Has given up His Son, even for you,
He has given Him up,
And there is nothing more to do.
Oh, I do understand what you think,
God knows we think the same,
That’s why God did what He could,
To entirely and eternally deal with our shame.
So you think, ‘what shall I do?’
Well I think God wants you to rest,
To stop trying and competing,
And let Him work in you best.
But don’t ever think you’ve mastered Him,
It’s those who know they haven’t who do,
Those who are in touch with their sin,
Are ever the Father’s kin.
God must love it most when we enjoy grace for what it is, gratefully, knowing we don’t deserve it.
As our sinfulness abounds in our consciousness, grace abounds more in our connection with God, as we seek Him.

What a thing it is to face, that none of us can out-sin God’s grace.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The passion that broke Jesus as He bled compassion

Scene from The Passion of the Christ (2004)
The betrayal in Gethsemane stands once for all time, the treachery of humanity against a God that devised us. Even of a sense that we may love God, we resist God and even repel God at times. Judas Iscariot lives in each of us; that fearful, greedy, self-obliging spirit.
The Passion of the Christ (2004) was released on February 25, 2004. I know because I was there. It was a poignant time in my life when God had my fullest attention and obedience. I was both broken and on fire.
It was a Wednesday. The preceding Monday (the 23rd) had seen me rocked to within an inch of my life — five months to the day of my very first cataclysmic rock bottom experience — and this event five months later was worse than anything else I’d experienced. I was at work in an industrial port location, a leader around many wild men, beside myself in a panic attack that lasted an hour or more, and on a helpline desperate for aid. Nothing could assuage the grief I experienced that day. There had been some conflict, and I had never felt more alone and vulnerable, ever. I took the opportunity to see the operations manager who was an empathic friend, and he ordered me to go home; a non-Christian, he even offered to pray for me to my God! The drive home was twenty minutes of mental Armageddon. I devised a plan, if you know what I mean. It was a silly plan that would never have worked, but I was frantic for escape. When I arrived home, I paced through the place in that living hell, just not able to settle, tormented within. That place represented death, and death threatened to envelope me.
I was in what felt like Gethsemane, though without the burden of all eternity’s humanity crushing me.
This experience was the perfect taster for the days soon to come — to tearfully witness The Passion seven times over a fourteen-day timeframe. I sobbed throughout each showing, unashamed for what others thought. It really didn’t bother me.
Jesus meant so much.
He suffered, and was scourged and mocked,
and He bled, and His body was torn apart, and He DIED, for me!
They brutalised Him.
Only in the unconscionable
is there the witness of a compassion that bleeds love.
What God showed me about Jesus’ passion has stayed with me. It was only as I had been rejected that I came to understand how beautiful it was that Jesus was rejected. It was only from that situation — utterly alone but for five humans (my parents and my daughters) who were inextricably invested in me — that I came to understand how His love equalled the cross. A sacrifice I too could live. Feeling alone, betrayed, abandoned helped me relate with a Saviour who Himself had died alone, betrayed, abandoned.
Jesus’ passion broke Him, and in this the Father was well pleased, for God’s compassion is resplendent for all eternity in the passion of the Christ.