Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A book that changed your life…


26 September 2007

The Sydney Morning Herald Saturday paper has a magazine inside called ‘Good Weekend’. Each week Good Weekend (GW) has a column titled “Your time starts now…” Whoever is being interviewed is given a host of half finished statements which need a quick and short conclusion.

The sort of statements involved are:
My earliest memory is…
I wish I’d never worn…
My happiest moment was…
What I don’t find amusing is… And so on.

One of the statements each week is, “The book that changed my life is…” Recent responses to that statement include:
… ‘Intimacy and Solitude’ by Stephanie Dowrick (Stephen Campbell, Head of campaigns, Greenpeace Australia).
… ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran (Ethan Stiefel, Ballet Dancer).
… has yet to be written. Only experience changes us. (Peter Cundall, gardening guru).

It was while reading Ethan Stiefels responses that I began to wonder what I would say in answer to that same query. The book that changed my life is…? Lots of books have informed me and challenged me. Some profoundly. Eg “The People of the Lie” by M. Scott Peck, or “The Covenant” by James Michener.

Then I thought I should probably have answered “The Bible”, which made me wince because it sounds so pious. I wasn’t the least bit comfortable about that until I thought about one particular book of the Bible. It’s St Paul’s Letter to the followers of Jesus Christ at Ephesians. The first time I actively recall reading in that book it changed my life. After years and years of “working to impress” the Lord above, I read this:

“By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast”. (Ephesians 2: 8-9)

As I read these verses I was hit by a conviction that has never left me. All my bloody best efforts to get into God’s good books counted for nothing – and Jesus Christ counted for everything. That very day I stopped the hard labour of trying to do enough to get into God’s good books and accepted that God gave me freely in Jesus Christ what I desperately wanted and which I couldn’t create for myself. Peace!

Later it dawned on me that each follower of Jesus Christ, each one who trust him for Good Friday and Easter, “…has been saved”. It’s behind me already. I don’t live toward his acceptance. I live from his acceptance. Freedom!

Over the years it’s been this letter of St Paul which has provided so much of the insight that has shaped my life, my hope. and the cause to which my energy goes. Let me share a few:

God raised us (past tense) up with (Christ) and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (2: 5-6). Translation? My kingdom address is: In Christ, at the right hand of the Father. Home!

“… he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world…” (1: 4). Translation? Don’t know how, but I was / you were on his radar before creation. Known! And loved!

“…through him (Christ)… we have access in one Spirit to the Father” (2: 18). Translation? I / you have a permanent entry pass into the Father’s presence. Personal conversation!

“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine…” (3: 20). Translation? You’ve gotta love that ‘abundantly far more’. Our requests are never ever beyond his reach. Limitless!

“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers for building of the body of Christ…” (4: 11). Translation? The word about Christ – the message, the knowledge, the wisdom – is the absolute foundation of everything the church does and how it lives and how I live. And I have been given ears to hear!

“… being filled with the Spirit” (5: 18). Translation? The followers of Jesus have a high calling for sure – but he is constantly moving his Spirit toward us to make it happen. Rained on!

“Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church” (5: 25). Translation? I / I’m going to lead in my marriage, it will be the way Jesus lead – by serving, even if it means the cross. Counter-cultural!

There you go. I could give you dozens of examples just from that one book. It’s a living Word we’re dealing with. It’s a living word which is dealing with us.

Bless You


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

“The joys of iodine”


19 September 2007

In the year penicillin was discovered, 1928, my grandfather died of blood poisoning. He was a builder. Having got a splinter in his hand he removed it using a chisel. Infection followed and death soon after. Four years later, in the year penicillin was first mass produced, grandfather’s father also got an infection in much the same way. He too died soon after.

My own father was 12 at the time of the first death, and 16 at the time of the second. He never knew much about penicillin but he was extraordinarily wary about cuts and wounds getting infected. And since iodine was regarded as an infection killer we got large amounts of it put on any wound or cut. How much it might hurt didn’t come into the equation. He knew infections could be deadly and responded accordingly. He was taking no chances.

That’s not unlike our God with us. Well may we know that our sins are forgiven. But our heavenly Father well knows that continued sin in the life of a believer can be a contagion that leads to death. It’s the reason he confronts those who belong to him, often very harshly, to bring them to the place of receiving the “Cross-help” they need. Someone will challenge us directly. Or someone will send us a note. Or something we read is like an arrow to our conscience. Or we hear a sermon that hurls us to our knees. That’s our heavenly Father doing his inspection of our wounds and alerting us to the need for ‘medication’. He wants to get at the problem area, the unconfessed sin, so that healing can take place – so that spiritual iodine can be applied.

That’s why we cherish mates / friends / parents / pastors who will tell us the truth about ourselves frankly and fearlessly. They represent a wake up call before it is too late.

That’s why in our worship services we have a time to reflect at the beginning of Worship – so we can know the value of that cleansing word of forgiveness spoken in Jesus’ name.

It’s also why we ‘get real’, perhaps better “are forced to get real”, before Communion. The medicine of immortality works its miracle for those who know they have need of it.

To use a different analogy, can you imagine any of us ignoring the signs of termites in the foundation timbers of our homes? No way. We see the signs and respond accordingly. We hope it’s not too late. Necessary remedies are put in place. The time to act is now! We innately know those things in the natural realm. Strangely we’re slower than slow in the spiritual. So be grateful when the Lord Almighty smacks you on the nose to get your attention. It’s one of the ways he has of saying “I love you!”

Go with God.


PS: Some years ago I met a chap attending one of the AA group meetings here at St Pauls. He was well over six feet tall with abundant tattoos adorning a very imposing frame. We got talking. He’s a passionate Christian with an outreach ministry. Gave me his business card – “Joe Bloggs, 4X2 MINISTRIES. Said that God had to use a 4X2 to get his attention!

PPS: A word of wisdom which I’ll attribute to “Marcus van Namen” :

“It is wise to acknowledge the splash of truth in the shit-bucket of criticism which is thrown over you”.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Relationships inside the church


12 September 2007

Hi Guys

On the last Sunday in April I conducted a wedding at Observatory Hill which is right beside the southern entry to the Harbour Bridge in Sydney. For the short address I used the recent 75th anniversary celebrations of the opening of the Bridge. Often during those days there were pictures of the two sides of the span reaching out toward each other – trusting that there would be a gentle bonding in the middle to make one bridge.

Well, all week leading up to that wedding I was thinking that those same thoughts were appropriate to our churches as well, and to the relationships inside those churches. How do we / can we move ‘towards the other’?

The other thing was that I had an obsession about conveying this to the gatherings on Sunday morning using words beginning with G. I came up with two lists:

1. Negative, destructive patterns, attitudes or behaviours
a) grudging: moving toward the other with reluctance –
not wanting to ‘move toward’.
b) gushing: moving toward the other in a superficial overdone way.
c) grievance: moving toward the other with anger, hostility and bitterness.
d) grinding: moving toward the other with the idea of wearing
him/her down.
e) grim: moving toward the other without joy.
f) gross: moving toward the other in an offensively rude way.
g) grubby: moving toward the other in an underhand way.
h) grasping: moving toward the other with the aim of taking and keeping
i) greed: moving toward the other with coveting in the heart.

2. Positive Kingdom building, blessing type attitudes or behaviours
a) gentle: approaching the other with care, in a non-invasive way,
acknowledging that I must come humbly, as a guest, into your
b) graceful: moving toward the other with respect, and protectively
c) gracious: moving toward the other recognising that we always bring foibles
and failures to our meeting, and choosing to rejoice in the other
d) generous: moving toward the other with a generous spirit from a generous
heart, with all we have and own, including forgiveness.
e) goodness: moving toward the other with that winning combination of truth
and love, holiness and compassion.
f) glowing: moving toward the other with joy.
g) gleaming: moving toward the other with light.
h) grateful: moving toward the other with gratitude and thanksgiving for God
and for them.
i) grieving: moving toward the other with willingness, when necessary, to
enter into the sadness, to hold the hand of the suffering, to massage the heart with compassion.
j) gritty: moving toward the other with courage and determination.
k) guiding: moving toward the other to be helpfully beside him/her.
l) glue: moving toward the other because we’re supposed to stick

All of this is possible because we have been graced in Jesus the Christ,
- forgiveness is real, and complete
- his life is ours
- his Spirit is ours
- his love is ours
- his mind is ours
- his will is ours

God is for us.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4: 2-3).

And hey, God loves you!