Monday, December 14, 2015

The Gift of ETERNAL LIFE

One of the extraordinary opportunities of the Christmas season is to engage in public worship and witness through the playing and singing of Christmas Carols.  Have you ever thought of Christmas Carolling in that way - as public worship and witness?  Look closely at the words of the well known carol 'Hark The Herald Angel Sing':


Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!

This carol begins with words of worship!

Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

This carol then gives witness to what Christ has done.

Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

This carol ends with worship.


As expressed at the beginning of this carol, “Light and life to all He brings” is the real hope of the Christmas message that witnesses to the gift of ETERNAL LIFE found in Jesus Christ both in the present and future.  Eternal life starts today and keeps on giving as we move from this life into the life that is to come.  Jesus was born for no other reason than to break the curse of sin and death and restore life to humankind!  Jesus himself affirmed this in John 10:10…

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

This is also the message that Jesus gave the woman at the well as He journeyed through Samaria.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:10-14)

The water in this encounter provides a powerful metaphor for the “gift of God” Jesus spoke of, as we all understand what it means to thirst and we all experience the continual need to quench that thirst.  Drinking water is not a one off action but a continual reality as long as we live.  If you don’t drink, you die!

The woman came to the well to draw water that gave her life for a moment.

Similarly, we receive and give gifts at Christmas that bring temporary joy.  We exchange a form of hope that does little to change the trajectory of a person’s life.

I’m not for a moment wanting to devalue the giving of Christmas gifts, but to remind us that we have something so much greater to give at Christmas time!  I love to give my children gifts, I love the joy we bring to underprivileged people in our community through our Christmas cheer giving, and I love the global impact we can have through giving the ‘gifts that keep on giving’ through Just Salvos. 

However...

Jesus came to the well and offered water that gave the woman life for eternity.

Therefore, we can receive and give a gift this Christmas that brings eternal joy.  We can exchange a form of hope that can radically transform a person’s life.

Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.”  Jesus offers a gift that keeps on giving, that is, the gift of ETERNAL LIFE!

While I enjoy and engage in many of our cultural expressions of Christmas, I grow increasingly frustrated by our consumer expectations of Christmas that create an endless pursuit of something that ultimately leaves us unsatisfied.  In fact, if we are honest, often our attempts to have and give a “good Christmas” leaves most of us exhausted, some with a credit card debt, many  with a few extra kilograms that require a New Year’s resolution to lose, and others with rekindled family tensions!  I’m not sure that is the gift of Christmas that Christ intended. 

Do you look for LIFE through the scourge of endless spending in the commercialism of Christmas?  Or, will you find LIFE through the source of endless supply in the Christ of Christmas?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Gift of RIGHTEOUSNESS

What do you consider to be worst kind of evil or sin in our world?

Each one of us tends to grade sin through a set of moral lenses that are coloured by our world view or faith perspective.  Even those of us with a biblical world view who understand that we “are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God” would not consider ourselves as sinful as some of those really evil people out there!  You might say that our sin has a little ‘s’ as compared to others whose sin has a big ‘S’.

Yet, how does one grade sin before a righteous God who is completely without sin – big ‘S’ and small ‘s’?  Whatever scale we may use to rank our own righteousness only serves to expose the gap between sinful humanity and a holy God that cannot be measured or moved by our standards.

The unpopular truth is that our own self-righteousness does nothing to resolve the issue of sin in the world because it is the fallen nature of our humanity that is the source of the very thing we are trying to resolve.  No moral code, no government legislation, no humanistic values can deal with the issue of sin in the world.

The Apostle Paul addressed the issue of sin in his letter to the Roman church.  He teaches us through his letter two important truths that should reframe the way we view sin:

1.  The origin of sin came through the disobedience of one man bringing condemnation and death for all humankind.
2.   The cure for sin came through the obedience of one man bringing justification and life  for all humankind.

“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.  For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19)

The curse of sin was broken through the gift of RIGHTEOUSNESS!

The good news and hope of Christmas is that this was not a one off gift for one time for a select group of people, but a gift that keeps on giving to all people for all time.

This gift of RIGHTEOUSNESS was given to Joseph not because of his righteousness, which would have led him to quietly divorce Mary as not to expose her to public disgrace (Matthew 1:19).  However, God’s righteousness required Joseph’s obedience:  “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a soon, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).

This gift of RIGHTEOUSNESS was given to Mary not because of her righteousness, as she was a virgin pledged to be married but found to be pregnant (Luke 1:27).  However, God’s righteous found her to be highly favoured and also required her obedience:  “Do not be afraid Mary, you have found favour with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33).

The gift of RIGHTEOUSNESS was granted to Joseph and Mary through the power of Holy Spirit who overshadowed their inadequacies and gifted them with the very presence of God through a son named Jesus Christ.

This same gift of RIGHTEOUSNESS continues to give today as His presence remains with us through the gift of HOLY SPIRIT.

Therefore, Paul’s message resonates with us today as clearly as when it was written:

“…how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Romans 5:17)

The gift of RIGHTEOUSNESS is a gift of grace…
The gift of RIGHTEOUSNESS is a gift of life…
The gift of RIGHTEOUSNESS conquers the power of sin…

We are made righteous before a holy God because of the obedience of one man named Jesus Christ!  Will you receive and share this gift of Jesus who keeps on giving this Christmas?

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Gift of GRACE


One of the great paradoxes of Christmas is the conflicting messages presented by the two cultural and biblical characters most commonly celebrated during this festive season.

Culturally, we celebrate a jolly old man named Santa Claus who is “making a list and checking it twice” because he’s “gonna find out who's naughty and nice.”  

Culturally, this means the Christmas message we tell our children is that their gifts are dependent upon whether or not they are good enough.

Yet, in contrast…

Biblically, we celebrate a man named Jesus Christ through whom God “shows the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us…for it is by grace [we] have been saved, through faith – and this is not from [ourselves], it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Biblically, this means the Christmas message is all about the gift of Jesus who is “good news of great joy that will be for ALL the people” irrespective of whether or not they are ‘naughty or nice.’

In fact, the entire Christmas story, from a biblical perspective, is a demonstration of God’s extraordinary grace that is so far removed from a cultural image of Christmas that has been wrapped up in colourful paper and tinsel.  The Christmas story is about a gift of grace that was unwrapped when Jesus "made his dwelling among us...full of grace and truth."

The Gift of Christmas was a descendant from an adulterous relationship…that’s a gift of GRACE.
The Gift of Christmas was presented through an unmarried woman…that’s a gift of GRACE.
The Gift of Christmas was rescued from the hands of a tyrant…that’s a gift of GRACE.
The Gift of Christmas was raised as a refugee in a foreign land…that’s a gift of GRACE.
The Gift of Christmas was rejected and despised by His own people…that’s a gift of GRACE.
The Gift of Christmas died a criminal’s death…that’s a gift of GRACE.

The circumstances of Jesus birth, life and death are a grace saturated environment!

Song writer and author Geoff Bullock summarises this grace saturated environment well in his book ‘Hands of Grace’:

“If Christ owned the rejection of a teenage pregnancy, if Christ owned the suspicion of a Jewish country town, if Christ had to be born out of town, out of the way, out the back, then we have no other choice than to acknowledge that God does not place his favour on those who look like they deserve it.  God, by the choice of the conditions of his Son's birth, shows us that he does not judge the book by its cover…We have a saviour who knows the plight of the homeless, rejected, misunderstood misfits that the world wishes would just go away.” (Bullock, Hands of Grace, 60-61)

The gift of GRACE is a gift that keeps on giving beyond the Christmas story creating a grace saturated environment for ALL people for ALL time that is not dependent upon whether we are naughty or nice but upon God's unmerited favour!  That's a gift of GRACE!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

More Than A Number!

Today I had the opportunity to witness another side of the immigration process by supporting a friend who is seeking asylum in Australia at his Refugee Review Tribunal.  For confidentiality reasons I won't comment on what happened in private, but I want to make a brief comment on what happened in public.  

After checking in at reception my friend was given a "number" and invited to take a seat and wait for a Hearing Officer to take us to the Hearing Room.  We almost missed our call, as both the solicitor representing my friend and I heard the Hearing Officer call out the name "Emma Fyfe".  After ignoring the first call, we heard the name "Emma Fyfe" called again, but there was nobody else in the waiting room except us.  It was then that I looked across at my friends "number" and saw "MR5" (eM-aR-Five).  We heard a "name" but what was actually spoken was a "number"!

In that moment I was struck by the paradox within a process that is supposed to verify the identity and story of ordinary human beings experiencing extraordinary circumstances, but instead violates their identity by assigning a "number" in place of a "name".  

My friend and every other person, regardless of their race, religion or means of arrival, are more than numbers!  They have a name and a story and an identity that cannot be diminished or erased by a system that puts politics before people.  

Despite the awkward moment in the waiting area today, I am glad I heard a name and not a number!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Overcoming Evil

In 1914, at the outbreak of World War 1, British author and social commentator H.G. Wells is credited with penning the phrase "The war to end war" in several of his published articles. 
  • Yet, wars continue to wage!
In 1963, during a civil rights march on Washington, American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech calling for an end to racism.
  • Yet, racism continues to divide!
In 1990, in response to the international stock market crash, Australian Federal Treasurer Paul Keating described the Australian recession as "the recession we had to have." 
  •  Yet, economies remain fragile!
In 2001, after the terrorist attacks in the US, President George Bush declared a 'War on Terror' in his speech to Congress stating, "We will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail."
  • Yet, terrorists continue to terrorise!
In 2013, during the Australian Federal election campaign, Liberal leader Tony Abbott pledged, "We'll stop the boats" as a commitment to end people smuggling.
  • Yet, refugees continue to be displaced!
It seems we have learned little from one hundred years of endless conflicts, eloquent speeches, economic bailouts, evading terror and emigrating people.  Our best attempts to resolve human conflict has done nothing to change the human condition.  Our advances and achievements are unable to answer the universal question - "Why?" - about all the suffering in the world.  Our humanistic ideologies fail to compensate for our religious inadequacies.  If our past and present failings as the human race have taught us anything, it is that there are forces at work in this world that transcend our humanity and have corrupted our human nature and continue to disrupt the created order.  These forces are not of human origin but are manifested through human behaviour.  Until we acknowledge that the evil in our world is fundamentally a spiritual battle we will continue to fight against the agents of evil while not addressing the source of evil.  

There has been no conflict, no diplomacy, no sanctions that have ever had the power to destroy evil.  That's because we are fighting the wrong battles with the wrong weapons, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12).  The only time in history when a person possessed the power to overcome evil was when "The Word [aka Jesus] became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14).

In the first century, during the reign of King Herod and Roman governor Pilate, a Jewish man named Jesus Christ affirmed, "In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

In the garden before being arrested, Jesus Christ confronted the forces of evil as He determined, "Not my will, but yours [that is, God's] be done" (Luke 22:42).

In the moments before He died, Jesus Christ confounded the forces of evil as he stated before His accusers, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34)

In the days following His death, Jesus Christ conquered the forces of evil as His disciples witnessed His resurrection and heard Him say, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18).

In a time yet to be disclosed, Jesus Christ will return to earth and consume the forces of evil so "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4).

The only way we can overcome evil and experience peace on earth is through a relationship with Jesus Christ who has the power to transform the human condition and restore the created order.  He has defeated the real enemy of humanity and has established His kingdom on earth.  Through Jesus "the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God have come.  The authority of his Messiah has come.  Satan, who brings charges against our brothers and sisters, has been thrown down.  He brings charges against them in front of our God day and night.  They had victory over him by the blood the Lamb spilled for them.  They had victory over him by speaking the truth about Jesus to others.  They were willing to risk their lives, even if it led to death. (Revelation 12:10-11).

Sunday, September 27, 2015

LifeLines #5

Feeling depressed, anxious or stressed?  

LifeLines offers biblical wisdom as a source of HOPE for today and tomorrow.

 

 

The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.  I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.  Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:  The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” Lamentations 3:19-24


Suffering and grief have a way of overwhelming people with memories of painful experiences, both past and present, which can make any thought of the future seem unbearable.  This is how the prophet Jeremiah felt when he cried out to God.  Yet, even amidst the depth of his grief, Jeremiah clung tightly to a hope that could not be extinguished, despite the bitterness of his memories.  His hope was based on the faithfulness of God, not the futility of life.  His hope was not engulfed by the darkness of night, but enlivened by the dawn of a new morning.  We too can "dare to hope" because the inheritance Jeremiah spoke of is yours and mine through a relationship with Jesus Christ who identifies with us in our sufferings.  This truth is affirmed by the Apostle Paul - "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory" (Romans 8:16-17).

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Compassion Conflict

Today I watched with interest as the Australian government announced their response to the Syrian refugee crisis.  It seems the confronting image of a young child washed up on a Turkish beach, that shocked the world and evoked an outpouring of compassion, penetrated the tough exterior of the Abbott government's border control policy.  Their announcement to increase our refugee intake to accommodate 12,000 Syrians has received conditional praise from all sides of politics and many refugee advocate groups.


As a strong advocate for refugees also, you would think I would be happy with this decision?!

But I'm not!  Well, I am, but with concerns.  In fact, I am feeling a lot of conflict about today's announcement.  Apart from a general mistrust of the politics and motives of our government, my conflict with this expression of 'compassion' runs deeper and wider than the Syrian crisis.

  • An appropriate humanitarian response to Syria is accompanied by a questionable military air strike on Syria further contributing to the reason why people seek refuge in the first place.
  • Refugees from Syria have attracted justifiable compassion, while refugees on Manus and Nauru continue to attract unjustified condemnation and cruelty.
  • 12,000 refugees from Syria will be accommodated in Australia, while there are 34,000 vulnerable Australians on an endless waiting list for affordable housing.
  • The same government who has indiscriminately turned back boats of people fleeing persecution said today, "It's those who can never go back that we're focused on."
  • Mr Abbott said Australia would "move quickly" to resettle refugees but has left asylum seekers already in Australia waiting indefinitely to be processed.
  • The government will also spend $44 million supplying 240,000 refugees with cash, food, water and blankets in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, when they are cutting Australia's welfare budget by $1.6 billion over the next four years.

At this point of my conflict I need to be clear that I equally support Australia's humanitarian role as global citizens and our domestic responsibility to alleviate poverty in our own nation.  It is my strong position that the two are not mutually exclusive of each other!  Some may argue that 'charity or compassion starts at home' but globalisation disqualifies this argument.  Participation in the global market carries with it an obligation to share our national prosperity in the very global context from which it was obtained.

That being said, my conflict is with conditional compassion that seems more politically motivated than genuinely people oriented.

As a follower of Jesus, I see compassion motivated and modelled differently:
  • Christ's compassion broke religious rules (Mark 3:1-6)
  • Christ's compassion crossed racial boundaries (John 4:1-42)
  • Christ's compassion defied social expectations (Luke 7:36-50)
  • Christ's compassion transcended economic conditions (Matthew 14:13-21)
The only agenda I see for the compassion demonstrated by Jesus Christ is His unconditional love for a common humanity motivated by God's command to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27).

While I welcome any act of compassion, I long to see a time when "we love because [God] first loved us" (1 John 4:19) regardless of popularity, political advantage or personal gain.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Rise Up!

What happens when 170 Christian men from all over Victoria gather together for a weekend of teaching and fellowship?  For some, new friendships are formed.  For others, past acquaintances are renewed.  For most, the time away leaves them inspired.

What would happen if the same 170 Christian men returned home from such a weekend filled with the Holy Spirit?  They wouldn't just be inspired but would be transformed!  

Imagine the impact on their families, churches and communities!

During the final session of teaching the guest speaker invited the men gathered to "Rise Up in Power" and suggested that "Men need today a baptism of the Holy Spirit.  There are men in our churches who live somewhere between the Resurrection and Pentecost.  They have experienced the empty tomb but not the upper room."

That was the thought that resonated deep within my spirit!

It is time for men of faith to move beyond a knowledge of the Resurrection towards an experience of Pentecost where the power of the Holy Spirit is unleashed so that we will 'rise up' and become the husbands, fathers and leaders that God has ordained us to be!  

It is time for men of faith to desire more of Jesus than of ourselves so that God has total supremacy of our lives.  

It is time for men of faith to no longer "live according to the flesh [with] their minds set on what the flesh desires; but [to] live in accordance with the Spirit [and] have their minds set on what the Spirit desires" (Romans 8:5).

It is time for men of faith to 'rise up' and take a stand!
 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Changing The Conversation

When an aboriginal footballer is booed for performing a "war dance" that incites a crowd, the fans are accused of RACISM.
When a female politician is criticised for leadership that divides a political party, politicians are accused of MYSOGYNY.
When a same-sex couple is challenged about a lifestyle that contradicts biblical values, Christians are accused of HOMOPHOBIA.
When refugees are condemned for seeking asylum through "illegal" channels, opponents are accused of INJUSTICE.

There is no doubt that there are people who are prejudiced against other races, those who show contempt for women, some who fear homosexuals and others who oppose migrants.  Regrettably, there are attitudes and behaviours still prevalent in our society that are intended to be discriminative and divisive.  However, a conflict of values and opposing views does not automatically warrant a label that prejudges the heart of a person expressing a different worldview. 

The tone of social commentary in recent times has relegated political correctness and popular opinion to the same level of prejudice that devalues human beings who do not conform to cultural norms.  It is ironic that what is meant to promote tolerance seems to provoke the exact opposite, projecting the very same values that are deemed to be offensive.  This in no way condones discrimination on any side of an argument, but highlights the 'white elephant' of reverse discrimination that has hijacked civil debate in a society that has historically defended freedom of speech, celebrated cultural diversity and protected religious rights.

There is part a speech from one of my favourite movies, The American President, that describes well our current social and political environment in Australia:  "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free"...We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections."

Before you are tempted to point the finger at our politicians with a resounding, "YES!", this is also reflective of how we try to win arguments through social commentary.  Shutting down different views or demonising those who express them does nothing to solve the problems we face today.  In order to change the conversation and create the platform for respectful and robust dialogue, it is worth repeating and drawing wisdom from a statement made by former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson prior to the last federal election, which I have quoted on numerous occasions: 

"We are losing the art of civil debate in our society, as we secularize...because we are losing the ability to understand the value of the other person.  Voltaire is accredited as saying, "I may disagree with you, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."  That's not the way we conduct the debate at the moment in this country or in the west.  If we don't like someone else's debate now, we demonise the person who puts the idea on the table.  Voltaire understood...that each individual ought to be valued enough for you to say let them put their idea on the table, then we'll debate that idea.  The greater the potpourri of ideas we've got in a pluralist society the better the chance we have of getting good policy out of it.  We will never get good policy in this country again until we learn how to have a civilized debate where we debate the issues and decide the case on the merits, not on, sorry to say it, popular applause."

The wisdom in this statement is applicable to any conversation that seeks to address the complex issues and engage the diversity of thought that challenges our values and beliefs as Australians.

Postscript:  See my previous thoughts on this subject in my post Civility v's Hostility written two years ago.

Monday, July 27, 2015

5 Lessons To Achieve Your Goals

At the conclusion of another grand tour on the international cycling calendar, the Tour de France provides an endless source of inspiration and life lessons from three weeks of endurance and intense competition by elite cyclists.  As I approached the Tour de France this year, I didn't want to just be a spectator from afar but a participator in my own cycling context.  So, I set myself a challenge...21 Rides in 21 Stages!

My challenge was to go on a bike ride during every stage of the Tour de France in my local area, aiming to cycle routes that offered similar terrain to each stage of the Tour.  For example:  Stage 1 was a 13.8 km individual time trial, so I rode 13.8 km around our local criterium track; Stage 4 included stretches of cobblestones, so I included some gravel roads in my ride; Stage 8 was up in the Pyrenees Ranges, so I went for an epic ride through the Dandenong Ranges; Stage 20 was over the famous Alpe d'Huez, so I rode up a popular local climb known as "The Wall"; etc...  The distance for each ride didn't matter.  The point of the challenge was just to ride, regardless of the conditions, each day of the 21 stages of the Tour de France!

How did I go?  I achieved 22 rides, 759 km in 21 stages.  Challenge accomplished!

While I am far, far, far from being an elite cyclist and cycled in far less exotic surrounds than the picturesque countryside and breathtaking moutains of France, my own little 'TDF 21 Rides in 21 Stages Challenge' offers some life lessons that may be a source of inspiration for anybody else setting goals or pursuing their own challenge.


Life Lesson #1 - Avoiding DISRUPTIONS
Embarking on such a challenge immediately collides with existing family and leadership responsibilities.  There is something always competing with my time and for my attention.  To avoid allowing the everyday disruptions, the expectations of others and the unexpected from derailing my goals, planning ahead was crucial.  This involved scheduling rides into my diary in advance of each day and treating them as important as anything else on my calendar; not at the expense of things needing to be done, but alongside them.  Planning ahead made time for this challenge rather than hoping to find time to fit it in.


Life Lesson #2 - Overcoming DIFFICULTIES
This challenge fell in the middle of one of the coldest and wettest winters in Melbourne for a long time, presenting some pretty nasty riding conditions.  You need to know that I am a sook in the cold which made these conditions very difficult for me!!  Unfavourable conditions often present themselves in many forms in life and can quickly demotivate you from achieving your goals.  I chose to embrace these difficult conditions as a part of the adventure, adding another dimension to each stage of the challenge.  What could be viewed as a nemesis can become an ally; for example, I once heard another cyclist refer to 'head wind' as his training partner!


Life Lesson #3 - Facing DANGERS
During stage 12 of the challenge I came off my bike in the middle of heavy traffic, landing hard enough on the road to break my helmet.  The reality for any cyclist is it is dangerous on the road!  Rarely do I come back from a ride without a near miss or incident involving another road user.  Risk is a part of life and leadership!  We can mitigate some risks, manage others, but we should never abandon our goals out of fear or avoidance of risk.  Courage to face inherent dangers builds confidence to navigate through any challenge and to pick yourself up and keep going when you fall down.



Life Lesson #4 - Dealing with DISAPPOINTMENT
About half way through stage 4 I stopped along a gravel road to take a photograph of my surroundings.  Unfortunately, my phone battery went flat and I was unable to continue recording my ride on the Strava App on my iPhone, losing the last 15 km of my ride!  Now, this may not sound like a big deal to most, but to lose data in the middle of a challenge was a major disappointment for me.  No matter how trivial or big the disappointment, it is too easy to allow it to distract you from the original purpose of your challenge.  Disappointment needs to be right-sized and not permitted to overshadow your goals.


Life Lesson #5 - Going the DISTANCE
Twenty-one days is a long time to commit to a challenge, given the variables of a busy lifestyle.  There were several points along the way when it was tempting to skip a day or give up on the challenge altogether.  There is a well ridden hill in Adelaide called 'Mengler's Hill' that has the words "Pain is Temporary, Victory is Forever" painted on the road about half way up the climb.  These words echoed in my mind while climbing 'The Wall' during the final stage of my challenge.  The battle was as much mental as physical to push through the pain barriers and go the distance to reach the summit.  


Bailing on any challenge, at any stage of the journey, robs you from the immense satisfaction of not only achieving your goals but developing the resilience required to pursue even greater challenges in the future.  However, avoiding DISRUPTIONS, overcoming DIFFICULTIES, facing DANGERS, dealing with DISAPPOINTMENT, and going the DISTANCE positions you for future success!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Which Door?

Recently, I've been hearing in pastoral conversations and reading on social media comments along the following lines:

"When God closes a door, He opens another"
"If God shuts a door, stop banging on it"
"Until God opens the next door for you, praise Him in the hallway"

These phrases are meant to offer reassurance and encouragement when life takes unexpected turns or when things don't turn out the way we plan.  I have even found myself using similar lines from time to time when responding to someones disappointment.  While they are well meaning, are they true?  Do they provide a correct biblical representation of God?  What do they say about the choices we and others make along the way?  How well do they position us to discover God's will?

The idea that God opens and closes doors suggests to me that God is someone who can lead us down pathways that are either the wrong destination or a dead end.  This could imply that God doesn't know what He is doing, thus denying His sovereignty.  Or, if God is indeed sovereign, it could infer that He is testing us or toying with us.  None of which align with a biblical image of God.

Consider this alternative view of God, as revealed in Scripture, not on social media.  It may seem less comforting according to our pop-theology, but a biblical theology is a far more solid foundation to pursue God's purpose for our lives.

God doesn't open or close doors, He is the door.

Jesus declared, "I am the door.  If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and will find pasture" (John 10:9).  What an interesting two sided statement.  The first part affirms what we know about Jesus, He is "the WAY" to God.  The second part references our response to "the WAY".  Jesus doesn't open multiple doors for us to choose from or for Him to change, but is "the DOOR" for us to choose whether or not to remain in Him (a point later expounded in John 15).  Combine this thought with the rest of the passage:  "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:14).  It is only when we enter through "the DOOR" and remain in "the DOOR" that we can truly come to know the Shepherd and recognise His voice from counterfeit voices outside "the DOOR" that will try and lure us through other doors.

I wonder if the confusion over other doors is more to with the amount of time we spend inside "the DOOR" listening to the voice of the Shepherd whose role is to guide, protect and provide for His sheep?  In this space it is easier to discern and decide which doors to open and close in our lives when we engage in the world outside of "the DOOR".  

Maybe it is not God who opens and closes doors.  Maybe it is through "the DOOR" that we are given divine wisdom to discern the will of God in order to open and close the right doors ourselves as we pursue His purpose for our lives.  Just a thought.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?  Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”  (Acts 2:5-12)

My dream for our community is that everyone we encounter, from all cultural backgrounds, will say of the Cranbourne Salvation Army, "We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"  

Today, I captured a photo of some of our Community Support Services volunteers representing six nations, different faith perspectives and diverse life experiences. Yet, each one of them identify with the mission of The Salvation Army in some capacity and voluntarily give their time to serve our common humanity.  In this space there are many messages being spoken by both our words and actions, but I wonder what part of our mission is most being heard and understood?  What is our primary witness - the works of 'man' or the wonders of God?  Is there a langauge of love that personifies the love of God and transcends culture?

The cultural diversity of our volunteers is reflective of the cultural diversity of our community.  My prayer is that the Spirit of God will move with such power through our ministry that everybody we encounter will be "utterly amazed" just like those gathered at Pentecost and will also ask, "What does this mean?"  When they do, may we be empowered to declare the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ in such a way so "that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Acts 2:21).

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Be Careful What You Sing For!

Like other Salvationists from all over the world passionately engaged with the #Boundless2015 Congress, both in person and online, I too was inspired to hear the collective cry in our worship for God to "Send the fire today" and the corporate desire expressed through song that "We need another Pentecost" in The Salvation Army!  

But do we really want it?  Are we prepared for what it might look like?  Can this fresh outpouring of the Spirit be fully released within our existing structures?  Will we ride the wave or will we erect breakwaters to protect the harbour?

When we sing "Look down and see this waiting host" - how expectant are we?

When we sing "We need another Pentecost" - how well did we respond to the first one?

When we sing "And make us fit to live or die" - what price are we willing to pay?

When we sing "To burn up every trace of sin" - do we have a truly repentant heart?

When we sing "The revolution now begin" - will we try to risk-manage it?

When we sing "The fire will meet our every need" - how does that influence our fundraising efforts?

When we sing "For strength to always do what's right" - is that in spite of unpopularity?

When we sing "For power to walk the world in white" - will holiness precede tolerance?

When we sing "To make our weak hearts strong and brave" - are we prepared to be persecuted?

When we sing "To live a dying world to save" - do we still believe the world is in need of salvation?

When we sing "Oh see us on Your altar lay" - does that include what we have always done?

It is easy to sing such stirring words in the security and affirmation of a united gathering, but living such words is quite another story when immersed in the trenches of mission, navigating layers of bureaucracy or soliciting community and government support!  

While it is true that The Salvation Army ministers in challenging and complex times, it is equally true that "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3).  

Therefore, when we sing "Send the Fire" let us dare to allow Holy Spirit to consume the dross and reignite a Christ centred, Spirit empowered, faith driven, and prophetically guided movement that repositions God's salvation message as central to our mission!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

BOUNDLESS

On this second day of July in 2015, the immortal words penned by our founder General William Booth are echoing across the world as delegates from 126 countries gather for an International Congress in London to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of The Salvation Army...

O BOUNDLESS salvation! deep ocean of love,
O fulness of mercy, Christ brought from above.
The whole world redeeming, so rich and so free,
Now flowing for all men, come, roll over me!

This gathering of Salvationists is aptly themed BOUNDLESS - The Whole World Redeeming capturing the spirit of Booth's song and the soul of his movement that is still passionately pursued by The Salvation Army today!

While I am interacting with this congress from a distance in Melbourne, Australia via live streaming, the BOUNDLESS energy and enthusiasm of such a diverse crowd united by a common mission is palpable, even on the other side of the world.  The BOUNDLESS nature of our mission flows out of the BOUNDLESS love of our BOUNDLESS God who transcends all cultural boundaries!

 
Today, we acknowledge the BOUNDLESS grace of God (Ephesians 1:6-8)
Today, we receive the BOUNDLESS strength of God (Ephesians 1:18-20)
Today, we demonstrate the BOUNDLESS mercy of God (Ephesians 2:4)
Today, we preach the BOUNDLESS salvation of God (Ephesians 2:8)
Today, we share the BOUNDLESS riches of God (Ephesians 3:8) 
Today, we seek the BOUNDLESS wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10)
Today, we experience the BOUNDLESS love of God (Ephesians 3:18-19)
Today, we advance in the BOUNDLESS power of God (Ephesians 3:20)


Tomorrow, we march forward as The Salvation Army, full of the Holy Spirit, transformed by the BOUNDLESS salvation of Jesus Christ, to fulfil the Great Commission of the WHOLE WORLD REDEEMING for another 150 years!  Hallelujah!!