25 December 2018

The Peace We Need

Merry Christmas to you! If you didn't plan to, or weren't able to make it to a gathered celebration of Christmas this year, here is a message that I shared at Georges River Life Church this year. So after all the food and festivities subside, the food coma lifts and you have a quiet moment in this holiday season, pause a moment and have a read.  May you know a lasting peace today and for the coming year.

Long before the birth of Jesus a coming saviour king is foretold by prophets and leaders for hundreds of years in remarkable detail, even down to specific times, locations and events. One key insight from a prophet named Isaiah 700 years before Jesus, describes the kind of saviour that would come. In Isaiah  chapter 9 he says "For a child has been born for us, a son given to us. The government will be on his shoulders and he will be called wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace."

Isaiah’s next words were “of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end” - endless peace- now that sounds good. But no matter what era of history you care to choose, the search for peace is a never-ending pursuit because peace is always a passing experience.

Peace is hard to pin down in our lives and our world. Even the birth of Jesus was not in any way a peaceful time - a long uncomfortable journey, a sudden labour, the absence of accommodation, the barrenness of an outhouse, the odour of animals, an emperors murderous campaign, fleeing to Egypt. From the get go, the prince of peace was subject to the absence of peace like you and I.

Peace is fleeting, fragile, endangered experience. There seems to be a chaos, an anxiety a tension at every level society and life. From Brexit’s and impeachments and civil wars all the way down to our families and our lives. And whether you believe in God or not, your soul knows you are already seeking a peace you really long for. It may only be a whisper in our soul, a nagging sense of being unsatisfied, incomplete .. and yet the tantalising sense of hope that peace is still available, just around the corner…

I’d like to propose that the kind of peace we all need is not the kind of peace we all want. 

I think the kind of peace we generally want is simply the absence of something - anxiety, conflict or discomfort, hurry or trouble. And who wouldn’t want that! But I don’t know if being permanently anxiety free, conflict free, cancer free, care free, debt free, fat free, stress free is ever a realistic portrayal of being human. Is it?

Jesus says this on several occasions. Like in his sermon on the mount in Matthew 6.34 he says – "therefore don’t be full of anxiety about what tomorrow brings – each day has (peace sapping, anxiety generating) trouble of its own." And in John 16, before Jesus was crucified, he shares at length with his disciples what trouble will befall him and them - “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart I have overcome the world.” If you are looking for certainty in life about anything – it’s that you’ll have trouble that will steal your peace. Merry Christmas!

It appears that wherever we are, trouble or anxiety is not far away because it’s not just around you in your circumstances, it is you! Like that comical sign that was erected on a congested Sydney street that read “you are not stuck in traffic, you are the traffic”. We encounter trouble and let’s be honest, we create trouble.

What I’m saying is that we humans are bombarded with peace-sapping situations and behaviours every day, in one form or another. So the peace we want is almost guaranteed to be fleeting or a tantalising tease – just out of reach. Like the moment of wonder and nostalgia I had as we finished decorating our live Christmas tree last week only to have our 2 cats descend on it and proceed to gorge themselves on the green grassy needles in order to bring on a good fur ball vomit. The sound of dry reaching Burmese on the Persian rug was not in my Christmas picture.

So I wonder if there is another kind of peace that we need? I suspect there is a clue in Jesus words back in Jn 16.33 I have told you these things (that you’ll be faced with extreme hardship) "so that in me you may have peace." I wonder if peace is not so much the absence of trouble but the presence of something, someone greater than our trouble. In me, you, may have peace. What if real peace is not a thing of human enterprise? What if peace is not made, but encountered in someone greater than us. Someone who can be with you in both the joys and victories of life and sorrow and defeats. Someone that doesn’t violate human freedom yet someone that will have the final word on all of this mess.

In me, you have peace. What if there is a peace that is available to you right now that has little to do with your circumstances? What if that peace is found when you find yourself in (friendship with) him? What if the kind of peace you need to pursue is a person who longs to overcome the world within you more than around you – because if he can change the world within you, you can change the world around you.

And what if it is available not because we managed to wrestle back every difficulty in life in our favour but because someone outside of us has entered into our mess and overcome the power, the finality of our mess. People thought they wanted a king to established a government of power… Jesus came to establish his government of peace in our hearts and to be our enduring peace.

That's the peace we need.

You might be thinking that’s all nice but how do I start experiencing this kind of peace? The stoics said if you want peace, don’t love anything at all – because everything you love you will eventually lose - they’d be great to go to a party with!  But St Augustine said peace rather is found in the correct ordering of what you love, and the first thing you should love is that which doesn’t change, that which you can’t lose. He said

“God alone is the place of peace that cannot be disturbed”

If you love anything more than God or live for anything more than God peace will be as sustainable as your capacity to hold onto those other loves. And to be honest we lose more sleep gaining and retaining our loves than we do experiencing the gratification of them. Like the person who loves owning that big boat but they never enjoy it because they are exhausted from having to work 70 hours a week to pay for debt they racked up to get it - let alone the stress to maintain it. And if for some reason it sinks so too will your peace in that moment.

See I’m sure there is another kind of peace we need. To be plain, peace found in Jesus – Prince of peace, God in our midst, God coming to us, God coming for us. Christmas reveals that in the midst of our trouble, the prince of peace will meet you right there – Jesus enters into the chaos, exchanging glory for rags, perfection for fragility and in our shoes – reveals both what peace looks like in a person and eventually would be our peace by surrendering his peace on a roman cross – so that you can permanently enjoy the gift of peace in and with God.

'Isn’t that too wonderful… and this Christmas our prayer is that you’ll see through any anxiety, striving, and trouble, your highs and lows. Because just at the right time, in the most unexpected way, one brilliant, cold starry night, God broke into this muddled world. True love came hurtling our way, slipping through a back entrance, in a place that we didn’t expect and hadn’t thought to look, offering us another foundation that can’t be so easily shaken, a peace that can’t be so quickly stolen. You know the peace you want. May you know the peace you actually need this year…

05 November 2018

Why we have so many Royal Commissions and what they tell us about our Future

In 1886 Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote the classic horror story “The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” In the story, the good Doctor Henry Jekyll becomes depressed with his life, feeling increasingly torn between his respectable self and a dark inner man lurking within. Dr Jekyll said “With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two…. It was in my own person, that I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.

So, the doctor formulates a potion that, with a dose, will separate out his two natures, giving birth to his alter ego, Edward Hyde - a contorted life, toxic and utterly selfish. With a second dose of the potion, the good doctor would re-emerge. But as time goes by Mr Hyde begins to manifest unassisted and Dr Jekyll begins to realise his evil self was far more wicked and overpowering than he imagined 

– ‘I knew myself tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil’.

That ‘primitive duality’, is not just the stuff of fiction, is it? No, this is our story. We are a torn creation. We like to think ourselves basically good. We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. But in truth are we really any different?

Over the past 6 years we’ve witnessed a steady stream of Royal Commissions in our nation, which to me speak as much about human nature as they do about the specific matters. We’ve had the Royal Commission into:
  • Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2013–2017), 
  • Home Insulation Program (2013–2014), 
  • Trade Union Governance and Corruption (2014–2015), 
  • Child Protection and Youth Detention Systems in the NT (2016–2017), 
  • Misconduct in the Banking, and Financial Services Industry (2017–present), 
  • Aged Care Quality and Safety (2018-Present), 
  • And back in the 90’s two significant ones I recall were the commissions into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the NSW Police Force. 
What do these commissions say about us? Perhaps they reveal two things:

The obvious revelation is that Mr Hyde is alive and well. Each commission illustrates that, left unchecked, all people are extremely vulnerable to the temptation of power and privilege. Power and its selfish pursuit corrupt even the most trusted people in our community; like police, clergy and carers. And even more disturbingly, it is usually the most marginalised, powerless people that are the victims - be that indigenous youths, children or as the latest royal commission is revealing, the elderly.

At their core, Royal Commissions are places where people without a voice get to have one. Every story echoes the same sorry reality that people (and institutions) typically put personal gain over social concern, disregarding that golden rule to ‘do to others as you would have them do to you.’ People can be guilty of great cruelty and self interest. But there is more here because the 'guilty' aren’t just 'them' - the fat cat bankers, sexually repressed priests and corrupt public servants we love to hate. If there was a royal commission into any of our lives, I wonder, would anyone be blameless and proud of the findings? I wouldn't.

But the other revelation is that Dr Jekyll is not dead yet. Our commissions thankfully reveal that deep down we know we can be more than Mr Hyde. That we fundamentally desire a just society and we have reasonably consistent expectations on how humans should treat each other. And when either don’t happen, eventually, like property prices, a correction is inevitable because anything left unchecked is unsustainable. It seems we all have an unconscious vision for another kind of world – a world of justice, equity and peace which sometimes needs to be fought for.

This was repeatedly expressed at the recent Invictus Games in Sydney. A notable example was when wheelchair tennis player Paul Guest was preparing to serve and an approaching helicopter triggered his PTSD, freezing this already paralysed man pre-serve. His Dutch playing partner Edwin Vermetten rolled over to his partner, looked him in the eyes and led him in song – two old warriors fumbling a rendition of the song Let it Go from the film children's film Frozen. It was a remarkable moment of redemption and kindness expressed by two brave yet battered men. Invictus was a celebration of men and women overcoming the wounds inflicted on them, and I don’t doubt, the wounds they inflicted on others. There is such a glory amid the darkness of the human soul.

Which is why Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is so terrifying, because, in the end, Edward Hyde wins. There is no redemption, evil triumphs, hope is lost. And something within us says that can’t be how the story ends - but what if it does? If history is any indication of our future, we are already scripting tomorrows Royal Commissions and conflicts.

Three years before Robert Lewis Stevenson’s book was published, a philosopher named Fredrick Nietzsche had a different vision of our future. He famously declared 'God is dead', believing that we as a species would evolve beyond our petty need for God and into a superior form of humanity, the Ubermensch (yes the inspiration for Superman). This new breed would, in the void of God, be free to create new values, aspirations and a supreme expression of life on earth. It sounded like a glorious vision of the future…. but some of these ideas then directly fuelled the bloodiest century in history. So much for social evolution and utopia!

Is it our destiny to remain lost in what Dr Jekyll, and indeed the Apostle Paul called being ‘sold a slave to my original evil?’ What if despite our glimpses of glory, we are a species doomed to self-destruction? It kind of seems that way.

The apostle Paul in a letter to the first church in Rome (ch7.24) would write ‘What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?’ Paul knew that our own self-actualising efforts were grossly inadequate to offer any hope of salvation from this slavery to evil. Immediately he points to the cross and says ‘Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I don’t know how you take that. Maybe in your mind it’s just a cop out, a spiritual abstraction or fairy tales. Sure, you can write God out of the story but given that every humanistic attempt to liberate us from our battle with evil ends up in another form of it, perhaps we do in fact need to look beyond us for another future?

Perhaps our future lies in a Jesus who not only demonstrated how to live a powerful life without abusing power, but who, in love, willingly wears the consequences of our corruption, so that every act of injustice can be met with an ultimate justice and an alternate future.

I think that is a far more hopeful, coherent vision of the future, and good news in a world where Royal Commissions are sadly becoming commonplace.

23 August 2018

The problem of pride in politics..... and everywhere else.

Pride is seldom used in a negative sense these days. But when you ponder it for a moment, we might just be in the grip of a pride pandemic - maybe even in federal politics! So just for fun, and to commemorate yet another leadership crisis in our nation - here is my light-hearted, awfully cheesy, ode to pride. (If you are on a mobile, turn your phone sideways)

It could be pride
Pride makes you make purchases you can’t afford, to impress people you don’t know.
And did you know we Aussies spend over $2bn a year on cosmetic surgery?
I suspect some of that could be from a tide of pride.
Pride makes nations end up in war and pride makes marriages end up in court.
How many families and friendships are forever fractured when pride sees them refuse to forgive?

People might send their kids to elite private schools because of pride,
and they might drop little Johnny to the gate in a luxury ride, because of pride.
Some swagger in their high moral standards, their virtuous life
, because of pride,
and some strut in their spirituality, their zeal for God, but on the side, it’s really pride.
People leave churches because of pride, and some never go in the first place.
Pride takes a leader adored by his flock, and ends their career in disgrace.
Soccer fans start riots because of pride for their tribe,
And if you mix religion or nationalism with pride
, well, you might get genocide.

Pride could see a leader, or even a prime minister, stay too long, or their understudies come on way too strong.
Pride repels us from people not like us and gravitate to those who are. Pride avoids vulnerability, never exposing who we really are.
Because of pride, some men I know don’t go see the doctor, nor ask for directions - even when they need it. And pride creates a desperate addiction for more of whatever will feed it.

We Christians are brilliant at spiritualising our pride. 

So as one of them let me just say,
If you do most of the talking in your small group – it could be pride.
If you sound like you are the authority on a subject – it could be pride.
If you hear from God sooo much more clearly than others – it could be pride.
If you can’t take feedback when someone offers it – it could be pride.
If you need to win the debate – it could be pride.
If you need to share your resume of why you are great– yep
, that’s likely pride.
If you get cynical, critical or sarcastic about others – it could be pride.
If it’s not your responsibility to serve or give – it could be pride.
If your serving must always be satisfying or fulfilling – it could be pride.
If you need to rescue people who are making dumb choices – it could be pride.
If you need to avoid people who are making dumb choices – it could be pride.
If all your relationships are beneficial to you – it could be pride.
If you are daily posting selfies on social media – it could be pride.
If you need to edit said photos so you look so much better – well, it could be pride.

Are you offended easily? 
It could be pride.
Are you tired or stressed out all the time? It could be pride.
Are you secretly jealous of someone’s life, their looks? It could be pride.
Are you desperate for praise or promotion or a platform? It could be pride.
Are your more likely to worry than pray? It could be pride.
Are you convinced you are really quite humble and surely none of this applies to you?
– yes, that too could be pride.

You may think pride is an essential characteristic of a well-functioning person, the only way perhaps to overcome and advance in life.  But as William Willimon in his book Sinning Like a Christian - a new look at the 7 deadly sins, says “Somehow pride and its cousins – arrogance, egotism, vanity and conceit – fell off the radar and got trumped by self-respect, self-esteem, self-confidence. “Love thy neighbour as thyself - just became love thy self and we’ve become the most narcissistic generation in history.”

It may not always be pride in this negative sense of the word, but if you and I dig down, past the good common sense, the logic and all the spiritual justifications – it is not beyond the realms of possibility that some of the heartache we feel or give, could indeed be born out of pride.

Perhaps when we shrink the transcendent from our lives, a higher authority to whom we offer our thanks and praise  all that remains is ourselves to promote, our interests to advance and our glory to behold. And in time, all of that eventually evaporates too and just maybe then we realise that all those pride-filled years yielded such a low return on investment. Pride is a prison that keeps you from the life you could have. 

In large or small ways, if we ruthlessly limit pride in our lives, we all might enjoy life together a whole lot more.

26 July 2018

10 questions before you click ‘share’

Someone half my age last week tried to coach me on using Instagram because well let’s face it, I’m out of date and Facebook is passé for millennials – maybe too much information or too many adds? Or perhaps it’s just that young people still don’t want to go to the same party as their parents!

Facebook has been in the bad books lately. The share price plunged and Mark Zuckerberg has been on a world tour saying sorry for mishandling your information. When I logged in to my Facebook account recently a 1 question survey randomly popped up from Facebook asking “Do you think Facebook is good for the world?

And to be honest my first reaction was to tick the “not really” box. I know, that sounds hypocritical given you are probably reading this post via my Facebook. I’m a pragmatic social media user – it’s a communication channel.

But social media, whatever the platform, is fundamentally reshaping the world for good and for ill. It is enabling people of all ages to form connections, and community on a scale never before seen in history. I love the fact that I can connect with vintage VW lovers all over the country! It is also giving voiceless people a voice and disempowered people a powerful platform to bring positive social change e.g. the #metoo movement.

But it is also reshaping politics, news reporting, the nature of social interaction, relational etiquette and even the concept of ‘friend’. Social media is transforming the way we know our world and the way our world knows us – our future employers, even our future partners. Social media has scratched our primal itch for connection and community, all be it a digital replica of the real thing.

Is the phenomena of compulsive self-publication (like selfie posting) just todays form of self-expression? Or is our tech stimulating more pathological problems – addictive or obsessive behaviours, self-objectification or conversely, narcissism? Are we happily fuelling a new class of social and psychological problems or am I over thinking it all?

Have you wrestled with how to interact with the world at your fingertips? I do. And while it seems nonsensical in modern life to be a disengaged, social media hermit. It also seems perilous to have no internal guide-rails which protect and direct such engagement with a potentially massive audience. Organisations the world across have learnt that a social media policy for employees is now essential. Perhaps at a personal level, the same applies?

I think it does. So before I post or share anything on my Lifewords website, Facebook or Instagram - here are 10 questions I ask myself:

1. Why do I really need to post this?

2. What benefit is it to others?

3. Is it respectful and well considered or insensitive and ill informed?

4. Could this leave someone feeling like they are lacking or less in life?

5. Do my hundreds of ‘friends’ really need this much detail about my life? Really, why?

6. Will I be even slightly disappointed if my post doesn’t get likes or reactions?

7. Can I post this and not look at how it is being reacted to for 24 hours or will I be checking in every hour to see how popular I am?

8. How many posts have I already made this week and how much time does that add up to?

9. Who or what is missing out because I’m focused on my next social media interaction?

Lastly, as a follower of Jesus, one more question crowns all the others:

10.Whose kingdom am I building with this – mine or Jesus’? Or to put it another way, does my post or selfie or whatever leave a person longing for what I have, or what Jesus has - attracted to me or Him?

Maybe you think this is all a little over the top, too heavy for something that’s meant to be light hearted fun? Maybe you are right. But to me, everything is leadership and almost everything has an influence on someone else, right down to what you click ‘like’ to. And not just because I'm a pastor, but because I, like everyone who is a Jesus follower, is a 24/7 revealer of another kingdom and another king – Jesus, the one to whom I am ultimately accountable.

Social media presents us all with an unparalleled opportunity to communicate to a worldwide audience. Let’s do that well.

What do you think?

18 June 2018

Is Pro-Life Anti-Choice?

If you were about make a huge decision which you can never change, you will never forget and has life or death implications for someone else - would you want to be sure you were making the right choice? Would you want as much information as possible? And if you are under intense time pressure and social pressure to act now, how would you know you were making the best decision?

Under laws passed last week in our state parliament, that decision just became a little harder. The new bill bans ‘protesters’ who intimidate, harass or film people within 150 metres of clinics or hospitals that provide terminations. It also excludes any form of communication around alternative choices to abortion in the exclusion zone. Those caught face heavy fines and jail time even.

Now I’m all for prohibiting the intimidation and harassment of anyone at all, let alone vulnerable women about face to such an awful, invasive medical procedur. And there is no justifying any guilt laden, ‘wrath of God’ tactics that leave a person feeling any more condemnation than they already feel. That to me is psychological and spiritual abuse.

But is this the whole picture? Interestingly the current and former Ministers in the portfolio of Women’s Affairs both voted against the bill. The Minister for Women, Tanya Davies, refused to vote for the bill on the basis that it allows for no distinction between intimidating protesters and ‘sidewalk counsellors’ that offer pastoral support and information to women. Pru Goward, the minister for Family and Community Services, rejected the bill because of its fundamental departure from the right a person has to free speech (and this is a red-hot issue constantly surfacing in our social landscape since the same sex marriage debate of last year).

I suspect the majority of Christians fundamentally believe in the sacredness of life from an early point of gestation because we read classic passages in our scriptures like Psalm 139 like “you knit me together in my mother’s womb”, “your eyes saw my unformed body” and we can’t not ascribe worth and dignity to the life growing within the mother. We rejoice with those who announce they are expecting and weep with those who miscarry. Why? Because in our simplistic understanding, the life inside the mother is exactly that, a life “fearfully and wonderfully (being) made.”

But we also recognise the dignity of the woman carrying the child. This is her body also, and there is an inseparable connection between her life and the new life within her. We feel a sense of awe and wonder for the mother who is now pregnant with new life - a miraculous and sacred thing is happening to her.

So how do you honour both the sacredness of the child’s life and the mothers?

I think women (and their partners) need both a medical and an ethical perspective in their decision-making process. They also need help with social, psychological and economic support to best aid their decision. I wonder if the hospital or the clinic can provide that? How do people make these massive decisions? And who can ask them to consider not only what their rights are, but also what might their obligations be?

Without question the first priority is preserving the life of the woman without whom there can be no child. But does the child have any rights at all? And who determines when those rights kick in - when theoretical life becomes practical life? Is it reasonable to end the child’s life because of say, inconvenience? Would that be acceptable at the other end of life when a person is too old and frail to be cared for by the family?

There appears to be very little good data on this issue. Most states don’t keep detailed records on terminations or reasons for the procedure - perhaps such information would be too confronting. A Royal Women’s Hospital report published in the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that of the 3018 women seeking terminations between October 2006 and September 2007, 80% were for reasons of poor timing or other life factors (excluding significant hardship 19% or rape 1% rape). These figures tend to correlate with other minor pieces of Australian research however after consulting with two medical professionals in preparation for this article, they advised that these figures may not be adequately encompassing of medically recommended terminations such as in cases where there is a genetic problem in the foetus or a life-threatening outcome for the mother (such as ectopic pregnancy where the foetus is developing outside the uterus). Note also that this report is 10 years old.

For years I’ve been pondering this issue but have never articulated it. I find it really hard to disregard the humanity and personhood of an unborn child on emotional, theological or scientific grounds. This is perhaps shaped by our own experience of miscarriage and the lingering grief and loss that has never fully disappeared.

Embryologists have no doubt we are dealing with a human being from the earliest days after implantation of the fertilised egg (blastocyte). As one medical professional advised me, that moment of implantation (which only occurs in maybe 20% of fertilised eggs) is the critical moment when new life is not only possible but viable. Similarly, Dr Meghan Best (watch here), contends that after implantation the life quickly becomes a ‘unified, unique, dynamic, self-directed whole human being.’ And given the foetus is fully formed at 12 weeks with just the growing to do, I can’t get my head around the Victorian Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 which allows for ‘the provision of abortion on request by a qualified medical practitioner, nurse or pharmacist if a woman is less than 24 weeks pregnant; after 24 weeks a second practitioner must agree the termination is in the patient’s best interest for an abortion to be lawfully performed.’

24 weeks! 

The grand irony today is that we spend countless millions of dollars on the latest medical technology keeping wanted children alive in utero or when born premature, but terminate tens of thousands of unwanted children. Or that a mother can elect to have a termination but if that same termination happened against her will, say in the case of John Andrew Weldon who tricked his partner into taking ‘misoprostol’ (Ru-486) killing the 6-week-old child, that was considered a criminal offence.

I realise this is a highly complex and deeply personal issue that is perhaps too painful, too awkward or too controversial to deal with. I hardly feel qualified to write anything on this topic and I accept this may to be offensive and painful to others who have been in through this. But if our convictions don’t at times draw us into contentious places, I wonder if they really are convictions after all. 

As a pastor, I’ve conducted several funerals for devastated parents who have lost premature and full term children. These little lives are not just significant because their parents thought so, or wanted them. No, they are significant because they are human beings, miraculous creations formed in the likeness of their biological parents and bearing the blueprints of a divine creator. 

Where to from here? I don’t really know. But I take comfort in that same divine creator, Jesus -
    Through whom all things were made and have their being.
    Himself born in flesh, who said ‘let the little children come to me.’
    And at the end of days declares ‘I am making all things new.’

That Jesus has infinite capacity and longing to redeem anyone He knows, regardless of age. And equally that Jesus has infinite grace for our darkest days, our greatest heartaches and deepest regrets. That whatever our experience in this sad story, our next chapter need never be shame or condemnation – but forgiveness, redemption and new life.

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!
Revelation 21:3-5 

16 May 2018


Richard Rohr in his wonderful little book Falling Upwards describes our life as having two halves. He says the first half of life is primarily about building the ‘container’ of our life, and dealing with core concerns of identity, security, and survival. This half seeks to answer questions like:
· ‘how do I want people to see me?’
· ‘what makes me significant?’
· ‘how can I support myself?’
· ‘who will do the journey with me?’

But, Rohr and others would contend, we are not meant to become entrenched in our insecurity, narrow attitudes, and the belief that ‘success’ is dying with the most toys.

Rohr would describe the second half of life as concerned with the ‘contents’ of our life and what that contents can bring to bring to our world. It is a life that is becoming increasingly secure, simplified and selfless.

When I think of an elder I don’t picture a nice, quiet, older person who is seen and not heard. No, an elder is a person who is, unlike their body, still growing, serving, seeing and responding with a wisdom that only experience brings.

I picture an elder as a man or woman who is no longer enamoured by the identity building, ladder climbing, dogmatic thinking of their youth. Someone who has woven their falling, failing and suffering into the rich and humble tapestry of their being. They have ceased striving for power and yet seem to carry greater influence. They speak less yet say more at the same time. And, the ones I’ve known seem to carry a distinctive atmosphere of peace that transcends their circumstances and a deep undergirding spirituality and faith in Jesus. My centenarian grandfather who died last year was one such man.

And yet I’m realistic that an elder is not a person without faults and fragilities. We can all be glorious contradictions - free in one area yet stuck in another. And, ageing eventually slows all of us down physically, mentally and socially. By design we all become elder-ly also. But I still want to hold onto the distinction in terminology between elder and elderly because I do feel that the concept of an elder is becoming increasingly lost today … and not everyone is an elder.

Do you have many elders in your life at the moment? I have a hunch there are more elders out there than we think, but perhaps we who are ‘younger’ fail to recognise them. I wonder if in western society there is such a bias toward youth and toward the first half of life experience, that we have lost any expectation for the role our seniors might play. Nor do we create any aspiration in them to find out what it would be like to become an elder in the future, rather than only elderly.

And as a result, we see older people as being elderly and can’t conceive of them being anything else. And sadly, neither can many of them. And yet I’ve had the privilege of knowing (and burying) dozens of brilliant elders. Men and women who in their own understated way, embodied what I’ve described - just without the title. In the past week, I’ve received 2 cards from some of the oldest people in our church. Both filled with affection and prayer for their young minister who sadly has too little time to spend with some of his greatest champions.

I stand at the theoretical mid-point of my life imagining what the second half will bring. Will it be a repeat of the first half or can I grow beyond those first half challenges and aspirations and become something more. My seniors have shown me that the greatest challenges of life will be in the second half where there will be more tears, more tests and more trials than I’ve known to date.

That would be a depressing outlook if not for two things; the life changing hope of the gospel, and the remarkable elders who have shown me that it is possible to navigate the second half well - and make future generations ambitious for the opportunity also.

What kind of a person would you like to grow into?

Want to dig deeper on this topic?
Try Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward – A spirituality for the two halves of life.

11 April 2018

Giants in the making

Young parents with infants often become intoxicated by the development of their children. Every aspect of their little one’s growth is joyously analysed, photographed, bragged about and recorded in that little blue book they give you when you leave the hospital after he or she is born. Growth is anticipated and celebrated. As the years advance so too their physical development, spiking in the adolescent years then levelling off , until all that is left to grow through the remainder of life is, of all things, our ears and our noses. That’s just great, like I really need a bigger nose!

Imagine if we all kept growing at the same rate all through life. We’d all be giants. Think how annoying that would be. You couldn’t keep wearing that same suit to weddings for 20 years. Your false teeth would constantly need resizing and even your house would need grow to accommodate you. Silly I know, and it seems there is great design in our physical stagnation.

That’s how God designed your physical life, but is that how he designed your soul - the inner you? Who you are is more than flesh and bones. If for example you lost your legs, you are no less you because you are more than the sum of your physical parts. You are a who, not simply a what. Who you are is a person with a unique perspective on of how you see yourself, your emotions, thoughts and longings and how you interpret and respond to your world. This is the immaterial part of you that is constantly becoming material in every aspect of your life – your personality, your priorities, your passions, your relationships and so on.

Now I’m getting to my point. Can that immaterial part of us keep growing right through life? Or does our inner world also stagnate and shrink with time?

I’d like to propose that our souls aren’t designed to stop growing, but rather become increasingly expansive, creative, deliberate and reconciled with life as we age. That you, yes you, can become a living giant, glorious and inspiring like an ancient and majestic Oak tree steadfastly growing through the decades.

Perhaps that all sounds way too romantic. But I do wonder if we think too little of ourselves - our design and potential. I wonder if we’ve overlooked the glory that is in us and as a consequence set a very low bar of expectation for our ongoing growth, especially in the second half of life. Regrettably, the kind of giants I’m describing seem in my experience to be an endangered species.

What do you think? Are there any giants in the landscape of your life? People who all at once affect you, inspire you and humble you. What made them a giant in your eyes? Was it their wisdom, their strength, their humility, their endurance, their generosity? What was it about their inner world that made its way out and influenced you so much?

If they are still alive, thank them. If they are now gone, remember them.

And what about you? Are you also becoming a giant in the making?   More on this next time....

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

30 March 2018

Glorious Failures

I’ve spent the past few weeks in Thailand and cricket is the only story coming out of Australia right now. Our prime minister’s commentary on the ball tampering scandal last week was virtually a rewrite of his recent speech concerning the indiscretions of the then National’s leader, Barnaby Joyce. He said, ‘the whole nation holds the baggy green up on a pedestal and this is a shocking disappointment.’ So, our players have, for want of a better word, sinned against the baggy green itself and their sentence -  national disgust and cricketing purgatory for 12 months!

Smith, Warner and Bancroft have all as one newspaper put it, 'fallen from grace' and 'disgraced the nation.' Sport really is a religion in this country, it even borrows the same language. The three men were ushered by guards through the crowded airport amid the cries of 'cheat' and the sound of boos. As one former test cricketer Dean Jones described, 'this vision is horrific! My god…'

I see how all this may be an embarrassing disappointment, but is it really that ‘shocking?’ Are we really shocked when someone’s life goes rogue, morally fails, is selfish or just stupid? Are we surprised that celebrities are just like the rest of us?

We can be so full of contradictions here. On the one hand people rail against any mention of an ultimate moral code that tells them what is true and good, and what is not. ‘How dare you judge me, what gives you the right’ they say in defence to their own behaviour. Yet we so naturally jump to 'shocking disappointment' when our own self-styled moral code is not applied by others. We can be remarkably attuned  to anyone else’s failure (sin) yet often blind to the magnitude of our own.

If your life, like our cricketers, was filmed from every angle and broadcast in high definition for the world to see – would you be spotless and unashamed? I doubt it. My point is that we all have integrity issues; we all have a walk of shame, we all fail. I’m not excusing sin or whatever you want to call it, just acknowledging it's unmistakable presence in us all.

And in acknowledging the  reality of our sin, I wonder if it’s also worth acknowledging the deeper reaction we often have to it – guilt and shame. Guilt and shame can feel like a stain that you can’t remove. A deep wound that leaves you feeling unworthy and sometimes even worthless. I wonder if that is how Steve Smith feels at the moment. You see, it’s not just that he did wrong (guilt), but that somehow now he is fundamentally wrong as a person (shame) and unworthy of any place in the cricket community. How do you come back from that? Can you ever?

I think you can, and here is where I find the gospel so unique and compelling. The gospel simultaneously takes you to the very heights and to the very depths of your being in a way no other faith can.

To our pride, self-righteousness and success the gospel says you are a complete moral and spiritual failure – all your morality, good works and accomplishments are pathetic and hopelessly inadequate.

But thankfully the gospel doesn’t leave you there! To that harsh reality Jesus says I made you, you bear my image and I still choose you, delight in you and forgive you – and I’ll die to have you. No other religion or philosophy can embrace both our failure and our glory so completely. We are glorious failures indeed, but glorious failures that never fall from God’s grace - even when we fall from one another’s grace.

Over this Easter we remember the one who took another walk of shame, accompanied by guards, to the taunts and boos of a feral crowd, bearing the burden of a wooden cross and an unmerited shame. That walk of Jesus to the place of His crucifixion was for the Smiths, the Warners of this world, and for you and I. Jesus was accused so you could be pardoned, He was made a disgrace so you could receive grace, he was bound so you could be free.

No one else loves you that way.

In life, we all fail gloriously and bear the consequences. The cross reminds us that the state of our heart is far more serious than a momentary failure, a sinning against the baggy green – there are far greater implications. We need a saviour who neither excuses us nor abandons us. On the cross that is precisely what happens - justice and mercy are perfectly expressed in sacrificial love.

You could say our cricketers have experienced a swift justice and now I hope they experience a swift mercy because there is a great gift in our failure – the opportunity for humility, redemption and growth.

First there is the fall and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God. 
Lady Julian of Norwich 

14 February 2018

A good apology 101

If you are a leader, I bet at some stage you’ve been a great disappointment!
Over the past 15 years of leading a larger church I’m regretfully confident I’ve disappointed hundreds of people one way or another.

Whether you lead a business, a church or any other organisation - the burden of leadership means we sometimes make choices for people that they wouldn’t necessarily make themselves. We initiate change which can be uncomfortable, we challenge accepted norms and confront situations and mind sets that others won’t confront. All that lends weight to the old adage that leadership is not a popularity contest.

But sometimes we disappoint or hurt people because we actually say or do something insensitive, ill-conceived or just plain dumb. And when that happens, we either clean up our mess or make some more. Experience tells me we often like to make some more.

Point in case, MP Adam Bandt made some offensive remarks in the media last week about Senator Jim Molan suggesting he may have committed war crimes during his role in the battle of Fallujah. Bandt’s baseless claims offended both Mr Molan, and much of the wider serving and ex armed forces community. Mr Molan asked for an apology and what Bandt eventually offered was just 6 words - 'I hereby apologise for those statements.’

That was, as Jim rightly pointed out, a ‘weak and disappointing apology.’ But before we all get too self-righteous, I bet we’ve all make weak and disappointing apologies from time to time. I sure have.

So how do you clean up your mess? How do you repair the damage to a relationship when there is a significant breakdown? Perhaps the best place to start is with owning your mess, and a darn good apology. But what is a good apology? The best answer I've found to that question is found in the  Peacewise 7A’s of a Confession model. The 7A’s process of preparing an apology are:

1. Address everyone involved in the situation.
2. Avoid self-justification and using words like ‘if’, ‘but’ and ‘maybe.’
3. Admit specifically what you did.
4. Acknowledge the hurt you’ve caused.
5. Accept the consequences of your behaviour.
6. Alter your behaviour and express how you’ll do it.
7. Ask for forgiveness.

I like this approach because, when followed, generates an expression of contrition that is more fully cognisant of the damage you’ve caused. It is often more significant to the offended and it builds greater self-awareness in the confession process – the lack of which is often why we get ourselves into trouble in the first place.

Adam Bandt did eventually offer a second apology (perhaps with gritted teeth) and it was much better. I suspect he was coached by some wise soul in a process much like this one.

I find the last A of the 7 particularly meaningful – Ask for forgiveness. There is something so important in actually asking for forgiveness. When we ask for forgiveness we aren’t just addressing the past but we are asking for a future where mercy overcomes judgement and we are released from guilt and restored to the other person. We ask for something that is beyond our control, a gift only the other person can give. And if they give it, we experience grace and true reconciliation.

What a victory that moment becomes. And what and profound echo of the even greater grace, forgiveness and reconciliation we can all receive when we humbly come to Jesus the same way.

 If you cover up your sin you’ll never do well. 

But if you confess your sins and forsake them, you will be kissed by mercy.

Proverbs 28:13

06 February 2018

What would Jesus say to Harvey Weinstein?

When I first watched the cult film Kill Bill fifteen or so years ago I remember feeling pretty darn disturbed. In my mind, violence was something men did to men and every Hollywood script seemed to reinforce that notion – be that a western, a crime or war film. Kill Bill seemed to flip that script in several ways. Firstly, men were brutally violent to women and women were equally violent to their male (and female) perpetrators.

Thurman’s character begins the film as a victim of savage abuse, shot in the head, left for dead, somehow surviving only to be repeatedly raped throughout her 4-year coma. When she finally wakes up she sets about killing everyone involved….and that’s about it. Typical Tarantino film, directed by his now notorious friend Harvey Weinstein.

Thurman’s character is the hero of the film - a powerful female who stands up to her abusers with lethal force. Back then, this was a rare narrative indeed - a powerful and aggressive woman. Until Marvel’s Wonder Woman, how many female superheroes could you name?

But for all that ground-breaking girl power in the film, the sad reality is that before, during and after the film, Uma Thurman, in a recent New York Times interview revealed she was another victim of Harvey Weinstein and the ‘misogynistic, vindictive, amoral culture of Hollywood’ – a culture that projects liberation (for women) with an underbelly of enslavement.

Once again, Uma’s story left me pretty darn disturbed, and angry. And yet this is not isolated to Hollywood, is it? The culture that dehumanises and objectifies women under the guise of their liberation is alive and well everywhere. I can’t buy a sandwich from the local takeaway without having a magazine stand full of demeaning images of women in my face, lobbying my own flawed heart. Nor can I search for something on Gumtree without an unsolicited add for dating ‘hot’ women appear. The Harvey Weinstein factor is not an isolated case – he is literally everywhere. Sadly, he also shows up in the church and sometimes there is an acute disconnect between the approach of Jesus and the practice of his followers.

In Jesus' time, women were inferior beings, inconsequential apart from servitude and procreation. The 2nd century BC writings of Jewish scholar Ben Sirach reveal that a daughter was considered a total loss and constant potential source of shame. Women were seen as responsible for sin coming into the world, their testimony was of no value in a court and they were typically, socially and spiritually invisible from a male viewpoint.

But Jesus approached women in a way that was radically different to his time and in many cases, ours. For example:

  • Jesus travelled through cities and villages with a band of men and women known to be his disciples - an unthinkable idea in his context.
  • Some of his female travelling companions are noted as having the means to resource his ministry.
  • Jesus specifically went out of his way to minister to women and especially women of disrepute in society, at times defending women from their male abusers.
  • Jesus continually expressed a deep sense of tender concern for women.
  • Jesus selected images and created parables with a deliberate concern to communicate his message to a female audience.
  • The first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus were women.

And perhaps more importantly, Jesus imbued that same value of equality into his male disciples. How so? The gospel authors could have followed their cultural bias and edited out women from their writing. Instead they selected and presented stories from, and about Jesus that continued Jesus’ elevation of women to a place of equality with men in the community He created. But more so, the early church leaders resisted the prevailing world view and included women into the very heart and functioning of their churches. Women don’t disappear when Jesus is gone, no they retain and grow their significance within the fledgling communities of faith.

Has the Church failed to apply what Jesus and the earliest disciples embodied? All too often, and we need to own it. But stripping back all the layers of culture, insecurity and ignorance that so often drive our behaviour and resulting reputation - the Jesus of the bible was indeed one of history’s greatest champions of women, and so was His church.

Today, every local expression of Church around the world has the ongoing responsibility to shape its people as Jesus shaped his - as a community that equally lifts and empowers all people, male and female, young and old into the dignity and worth they already have in the eyes of God.

What would Jesus say to Harvey? I bet the tone in Jesus’ voice and the look in his eyes would say ‘even so, I love you Harvey.’ And, he’d want to discuss the myriad of reasons behind Harvey’s behaviour – just as He would for you and I.

26 January 2018

Australia Day - The problem is not the date

Yesterday my kids and I spent almost an hour hunched over, shuffling through tight spaces on the decks of the HMS Endeavour, an exact replica of Cook’s original ship that carried him into Stingray Harbour (now Botany Bay) on the 29th of April 1770.

We learned that the Endeavour was a second-hand coal carrier, purchased by the Royal Navy in 1768 and refitted for a scientific mission to search the seas for a fabled Terra Australis Incognita or "unknown southern land". Joseph Banks, the botanist who joined the expedition was not a seaman, but his passion for discovering new flora and fauna made the voyage an irresistible opportunity. He paid in today’s terms, about a million dollars to be on board.

The ship was clearly not built for comfort and as we disembarked I was filled with a real sense of wonder and admiration for those who sailed her. They faced the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean in an age where charts were more suggestions, ships were made of wood, medicine was basic and communication was what happened if you made it back.

It’s sad I think that the life of Cook, Banks, Arthur Phillip, Burke, Wills and other early explorers and pioneers have become so politicised of late. In St Kilda today stands a century old statue of Cook, now layered in pink paint, defaced by a vandal who is looking for someone to blame.

Now as I’ve already written in older posts, I am an advocate for a substantive and meaningful constitutional recognition of our Indigenous peoples. I also believe the first history and culture lessons our children should be learning is our indigenous history and culture, and we should take pride in our nation having the oldest continuous living culture on the earth. Our story must also remind us of the gross injustices that followed colonisation and we need to keep recognising and responding to the ongoing need to provide equity and respect to indigenous people and culture.

But changing the date of Australia day, really? “Invasion day” if there was one was not the 26th of January. Cook arrived at Kurnell on the 29th April 1770 and Arthur Phillip arrived with the first fleet at the same location on the 18th of January 1788 and the formal establishment of a colony by Phillip did not take place till the 7th of February the same year. All that trivia to say that the arrival date is all a matter of interpretation.

For me the problem is not the date, but the modern bias in our national story rather than a celebration of our greater story - which is not hundreds of years old but thousands of years old. Today we should all pause for more than a moment to consider the past, both our indigenous peoples and our colonial pioneers. But let’s not feel guilty for also celebrating the immense privilege it is to live in Australia today - not perfect, but pretty darn great. C’mon people, travel a bit and you realise just how blessed we are.

But also, it seems selfish to just celebrate how our nation is good for us. I’m challenged to consider how such privilege and prosperity propels us into greater generosity toward people and problems both at home and abroad.

So today might we remember our past, be thankful for our present and thereby be moved toward a more generous future personally, and as a nation.