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Lets stop settling for desires far below what we were created for.

Lets stop settling for desires far below what we were created for.

Recently I spoke about the fact that words like Peace, Love, Hope and Joy express deep longings we all have, but that we end up settling for “stuff” that promises to deliver these longings but never does.

Over the last couple of nights I have been reading a book that has given me new language to understand just how profound that settling for less actually is.

Regular readers of Faith Reflections will know how much the books of N.T. (Tom) Wright have had on my heart and mind. There has been a deep relief as I encountered his writing because I found him expressing the truth of the bible in a way that made sense intellectually but also challenged my heart and helped me understand Jesus and myself a whole lot more.

His most recent book is called “The day the revolution began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion,” and while I haven’t yet finished, the parts I have already read are helping me understand the dilemma of what it means to be a human being much more clearly.

When I was speaking on Christmas eve about our longings for Peace, Hope, Love and Joy, I knew that I was speaking about the human spirit that is common to everyone. In the book of Job, the courageous young man Elihu asserts that:

But it is the spirit in a person,
the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding.
Job 32:8

I knew that whether the people who were hearing me would call themselves Christians or not, there was a spirit in them that that longed for hope, peace, love and Joy. I also knew that no words I could say would accurately capture that reality, because as the writer of Ecclesiastes points out, God has made everything beautiful in its time, however:

He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Part of all of us is beyond our capacity to understand. Our hearts long for true love, true hope, true peace and true joy and those longings drive us, and as I wrote a few weeks ago, these are the longings that clever marketers try to tap in to when they sell their products.

What N.T. Wright helped me give words to in a new way is what happens when we settle for less than who we are created to be.

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When I saw the Toyota commercial I had to write something. This Christmas, lets not settle for the imitation.

When I saw the Toyota commercial I had to write something. This Christmas, lets not settle for the imitation.

Many of the words that we use around Christmas time are actually placeholders, attempts to name experiences that no word can adequately capture.

Words like hope, peace, love and joy that sound simple, are actually anything but.

Our church has been journeying through the advent season and week by week looking at these words. This past weekend I was speaking about love and on Christmas eve I will be speaking about Joy.

As I reflect on my own life, and as I talk to others,  one of the constants is that all of us have different moments we can point out where we have experienced things we would call real hope, real peace, real love and real joy, but for most of us those moments are fleeting.

I think John Elderedge hit the nail on the head when he said, about Joy in particular:

“Joy seems more elusive than winning the lottery. We don’t like to think about it much, because it hurts to allow ourselves to feel how much we long for joy, and how seldom it drops by.”

Love, Hope, Peace and Joy are not just fleeting experiences, they are things we deeply long for.

I think that is why, long after the real meaning of Christmas has gone missing for many, our culture hangs on to this one holiday. We might have all kinds of intellectual arguments against God, but part of us knows there is much more to life than our intellect can make sense of.

In 1985 Canadian singer Bryan Adams had a worldwide seasonal hit with the song ” Christmas time”. Some of the lyrics are:

There’s something about Christmas time
Something about Christmas time
That makes you wish it was Christmas everyday

To see the joy in the children’s eyes
The way that the old folks smile
Says that Christmas will never go away

We’re all as one tonight
Makes no difference if you’re black or white
‘Cause we can sing together in harmony

I know it’s not too late
The world would be a better place
If we can keep the spirit
More than one day in the year
Send a message loud and clear

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The baby born in Bethlehem invites us to reconsider our whole lives and re-orientate around who (not what) truly matters.

The baby born in Bethlehem invites us to reconsider our whole lives and re-orientate around who (not what) truly matters.

I love Christmas.

I know its commercialized. I know that the reason for the season is going missing for many, but I still love this time of year.

I love the promise and the idealism of Christmas. I love that for a few days people hum tunes about peace on earth, joy to the world and snow (even in countries where there is no snow).

Most of all I love that for a few days, life priorities get rearranged. For a few days, it is our relationships that get the most attention. Family gets visited or skyped, meals are savoured and gifts are given.

Even  pain associated with this time of year is the right kind of pain, the kind of pain that should be felt and not avoided: the pain of loved ones no longer with us, or the pain of broken or absent relationships.

This year too, there is another kind of pain that I have been conscious of: the pain of the gap between the Christmas promise of peace on earth and the truth of the ugly reality that has unfolded over the last twelve months.

I find myself humming some of the lyrics to U2’s song, Peace on Earth. Its a sad song that asks the question that many people find themselves wrestling with at this time of year, why is there so much pain in the world when the baby born in Bethlehem was meant to be the Prince of Peace?

Why does God let a little boy like Aylan Kurdi  wash up on a beach? Why does God let ISIS do what it does? Why does God let a policeman shoot a teenager sixteen times? Why does God let a married couple shoot so many innocent people in San Bernadino?

Why doesn’t God fix the pain? Why doesn’t he take away the suffering?

I’m seeing in a new way that while these are profound questions, they reveal a misunderstanding about what Christmas is actually about.

Something clicked for me this week as I read Skye Jethani’s book With. In the book Jethani points out that before the world existed relationship was at “the core of the cosmos” in the form of the “one but not the same” love that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit have for one another.

For God the most important organizing principle in the world is love.

For us the most important organizing principle is us.

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Do they know its Christmas time at all?

Do they know its Christmas time at all?

I remember fondly the musical optimism of the mid 1980’s with the two mega singles, “Do they know its Christmas time?” and “We are the world.” Both singles and the ensuing global concert were motivated by a heart response to the crisis of a famine in Ethiopia.

Thirty years on, Bob Geldof pulled musicians together to reprise the song,  in response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Sure efforts like this attract criticism, however, I think there is something to be said for a heart response to suffering.

The latest incarnation of Band Aid

I am proud of the people in our church who give their time to serve those who are suffering in our city. Most of us avoid engaging with the homeless, the drug addicted, the cold and the hungry. It’s much easier to sit back and point out what wrong than to allow ourselves to have a heart response, even at this time of year.

Around the world this year we have been witness to unimaginable suffering, devastating sickness and incomprehensible violence. Time and again we have been left shaking our heads and even averting our eyes as the unfolding events defy our comprehension.

It’s much easier to avoid thinking about these things than to have a heart response. In fact, sometimes I think that If I was God I would probably start over, declaring the world a hopeless case.

At Christmas time we celebrate that someone like me is not God.

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I often don’t have faith in God.

I often don’t have faith in God.

This website is called Faith Reflections. I think I was probably crazy when I named it.

At the moment I am finding myself deeply challenged about the nature of my faith. I often teach people about faith and help them see that faith is ultimately about seeing the world from God’s perspective and acting. I think I am gradually having to face more and more of me that doesn’t see the world that way, and certainly a big part of my life that doesn’t act that way.

I sometimes feel a bit jealous of Christians whose faith seems to be straightforward. They talk as though trusting God was simple and anyone who doesn’t fine it that way must be unspiritual. My experience of faith is often battle to hold on in the moments when God feels a long way away. That is not all the time, but I realise that often the disillusionment I am experiencing is possibly a good thing. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

We believe in all kinds of things. Indeed, we believe in much too much. We believe in power; we believe in ourselves; we believe in other people; we believe in humanity. We believe in our nation; we believe in our religious community; we believe in new ideas. But we don’t believe in the One who is above them all—in God. For faith in God would take away our faith in all those other things and powers. Faith in them would become impossible. Those who believe in God believe in nothing else in this world, because they know it will fail and pass away.

I’m realising by this definition I often don’t have faith in God.

Faith seems like a roller-coaster ride, as I see my trust in something else, then let go of it, then see my trust in yet another thing, then let go of that, and over and over…. I would like to think that I could get to a point where I completely and fully trust God, but somehow I doubt it. My experience is that the wrestle with Faith really is a journey where slowly, and often painfully, more and more of me is surrendered to God.

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A movement that is actually changing the world

A movement that is actually changing the world

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a fan of U2 and often quote their lyrics. As someone who has been working with a group that calls itself a movement, I have been fascinated as I watch Bono’s intentional efforts to build a global movement to eradicate poverty.

Back in 2006 he gave what I consider to be one of the greatest speeches so far in this millennium. He was calling for action.

A couple of weeks ago he gave a speech at TED, which shows that things are changing in a remarkable way.

I have posted both speeches in this reflection, and I would recommend you watch both.

This is the 2006 speech:

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Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

20130104-183942.jpg We went to see Les Miserables today.

I thought I was doing well in managing my emotions until Jean Val Jean died in the arms of his daughter, and then the final lyrics hit me:

Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
there is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
and the sun will rise.

They will live again in freedom
in the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the ploughshare;
they will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
and all men will have their reward.

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
when tomorrow comes!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
when tomorrow comes…
Tomorrow comes!

There is something about the moment of letting go of life and taking hold of a dream that got me when I first saw the stage version, and got to me again as I sat in a darkened theatre with my family.

The storyline is rich and profound with the theme of grace running throughout, but for the first time I heard the lyrics of the song, “look down” and realised how the theme of the struggle for the humanisation of the underclass is such and important part of the musical.

I loved the moment when young Gavroche teased the posh aristocrats and the cast sang:

Look down, look down, and see the beggars at your feet
Look down and show some mercy if you can
Look down and see
The sweepings of the streets
Look down, look down,
Upon your fellow man!

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Knowing Jesus changes my character from someone trying to organise life to make it hurt less, to someone who is firmly planted in who they are and where they are going.

Knowing Jesus changes my character from someone trying to organise life to make it hurt less, to someone who is firmly planted in who they are and where they are going.

I feel like I am on an important journey at the moment. At the start of each year, at the back of my new journal, I list the things that I want to see happen in the year to come, along with the people I want to commit to regularly pray for. It is always affirming to gradually see how God takes care of the people and things on the list.

This year I wrote “know Jesus better” on the list for the first time. I had come to a point where I knew my relationship with Jesus the person needed to deepen if I was to continue the wrestle with faith. As I have travelled the journey this year, God has been showing me just how central that request is.

I am seeing that my faith tends to be about gritting my teeth and holding on as best I can, which is about my effort. At the moment I am glimpsing another way.

I was struck by The Message this morning:

We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us. (Colossians 1:10-12)

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Wood, hay and straw are cheap but its the gold, silver and costly stones that matter.

Wood, hay and straw are cheap but its the gold, silver and costly stones that matter.

20120129-143824.jpgI’ve been thinking a bit about legacy.

I’m at a point where I am looking back at 20 years in ministry and looking forward at maybe another 25 years and I am asking myself where do I want to be in 2037? Even writing that date seems ridiculous, as thinking about 2012 must have to my Dad when he started Fusion in 1960.

I loved seeing my son Daniel receive his Foundations certificate on Friday. He had done the course for the first time, along with Maddi and Josh and the week had a real impact on them all. Maddi even taught her first unit.

It was a strange feeling for me, sitting up the back and just enjoying the looks on peoples faces at the end of a very busy week, given that I was not involved at all. As I saw the big group huddle together, I thought to myself “Well done Dad.” Dad wrote the first incarnation of the course in 1963 and in 2012 it was still changing peoples lives. Many of them didn’t even know who he was, and yet their lives will be different because of his work.

I came across a Chinese proverb that says:

One generation plants the trees; another gets the shade.

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Wisdom from Lord of the Rings – Some things are worth fighting for

Wisdom from Lord of the Rings – Some things are worth fighting for

Yesterday we made our way through the Lord of the Rings  once more and I was fascinated by how much more I got from the movies this time around.

Probably the moment that touched me the most was towards the end of The Two Towers when Sam has one of the longest pieces of dialogue in the whole trilogy.

Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

I am enjoying the wrestle of trying to finally finish my book, Kingdom Cells. In many ways it is my wrestle to name what I believe is worth fighting for.

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Structural Grace

Structural Grace

Happy New Year

I love this time of year.

It’s a time to stop and breathe, to reflect and to plan.

It’s a time to try to make sense of all that has been and all that will be.

New Year for me is a kind of structural grace. The promise that the past can be over and there is a whole year ahead without any major mistakes, crisis’ or blemishes.

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Peace on Earth

Peace on Earth

Merry Christmas?

I do love this time of year.. there is a sense of anticipation in the air at our house as the kids try not to speculate too publicly about what presents they might get.

There is also that sense of pre-Christmas madness as we host the Christmas lunch for the first time and somehow the house needs to move towards some semblance of order.

The more I connect with others, and the more I am aware of my friends in other countries however there is a stark reminder that Christmas isn’t the same for everyone.

In fact, the idealism of Christmas sentiment seems out of place in the context of the challenges so many people will be facing tomorrow.

One of the best doses of Christmas reality comes in the form of U2’s Peace on Earth.

The song begins:

Heaven on Earth, we need it now

I’m sick of all of this hanging around

Sick of sorrow, sick of the pain

I’m sick of hearing again and again

That there’s gonna be peace on Earth

Can you identify with those words?

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Its about where you look

Its about where you look

Hope or rubble?

Have you noticed that whether you have hope or not usually has very little to do with what is actually happening.

I enjoyed teaching Nehemiah this week.

Nehemiah helped a rag-tag bunch of misfits become one of the most remarkable building teams in the world.. constructing a massive wall around a whole city in 52 days!

Along the way there were plenty of setbacks, which could have caused them to lose hope.

There is one moment in the book that really speaks to me both personally and as a leader..

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Preaching to myself

Preaching to myself

Rejoice in suffering?

I had the opportunity to give the valedictory address for our Diploma graduates yesterday.

I have been reading through Romans, and the book is hitting me in a new and fresh way.

One of the things that I am very grateful about is how honest Paul is. In several places he talks about the wrestle with his feelings and also the wrestle with the part of him that longs to take the easy option.

As I gave the valedictory address yesterday, I wasn’t just speaking to our graduates, I was very much speaking to myself too..

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South Africa Pilgrimage: Stella

South Africa Pilgrimage: Stella

Hanging on to hope

When I arrived in Durban I heard a few of the team members say something like “she could be another Stella” two or three times about different people.

I wasn’t sure what they were talking about.

As the bus rolled in to Cape Town someone said “Oh Cool Stella is here”.

I still didn’t know who they were talking about until a biggish older lady squeezed into the minibus next to me and introduced herself after the tour of Robben Island.

I discovered a very special person.

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