Love enemies or become one…

I think I’ve worked out why (apart from the obvious world peace and so on) Jesus told us not to hate our enemies, but to love them and pray for them.

If you hate your enemies, you will become like them. And then one day you’ll realise you hate yourself.

If your love your enemies, and pray for them, they might just become like your friends and love you back. Or if not, your still in front because you will still find it possible to love yourself and hopefully you will have spent a fair bit of time talking to God. Simple, isn’t it.

Faith shines, undaunted by broken bodies

I have witnessed holy moments this week, acts of faith largely unseen but shining brightly in an invisible kingdom. They have left me humbled and undone. The first I witnessed personally, the second through the eyes of others.

Standing in a rehabilitation hospital I am surrounded by septuagenarians and find myself playing the role of the younger generation, nice for a change.

The first stood, fire in his voice, to pray for his friend sitting in a wheelchair. The pray-er has this year come through life-threatening emergency surgery to remove a massive tumour that was destroying his spine. Remaining full of faith throughout, he feels more qualified to pray for healing, not less.

He wags his finger lovingly at his friend who finds herself in a wheelchair after tumbling down a cliff, breaking her neck and bruising her spinal column.  

‘Don’t ever think that God wouldn’t want to heal you just because you are old. He loves you unconditionally and wants you to have life to the full,’ he says. Read More »

Nature, nurture and the spiritual life

Nature versus nurture is an ongoing debate in the scientific community but what implications does it have for the spiritual life?

Is our identity, personality and behaviour fixed by our genes or is the raw material of ourselves molded by the environment into which we are born – our family, parenting, experience.

Likewise does a person’s spiritual origin determine what they look like or is it more to do with spiritual environment in which they live?Read More »

Thou, our and thy but no me, my and I

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation
For thine is the kingdom, the power and glory
Forever and ever, Amen.

So reads the Lord’s Prayer or the ‘Our Father’ as I learned it as a child. It was not so much a single prayer that Jesus taught his disciples but a way of praying (see Matthew 6:9-13). Nevertheless it is a much-loved Christian prayer that has been prayed hundreds of billions of times.

I was using it as a way to guide my praying in the middle of the night recently, pausing on each phrase and thinking and praying around its intent, when something simple and profound stopped me.

I realised, as I must have already known but forgotten, that there are no I’s or me’s in the prayer. The only pronouns refer to God (thy/your) and us or our.

Which reminds us that the heart of prayer is to focus on God and to see ourselves as part of a community. Prayer, and the Christian walk, are not solitary occupations.

When Jesus taught prayer he lived and moved with 12 disciples and numerous other close followers, both men and women. He visited homes and families and turned strangers into friends. He called out to God as father and sought not his own will, ‘but your will be done’.

For this reason, it was natural he would prayer ‘our Father’ rather than ‘my Father’ and ‘give us’ daily bread and forgiveness and guidance, not ‘give me’.

The one time he did cry out ‘my God, my God’ was when doing something unique – carrying the world’s sin and shame solely in his own being on the Cross. How lonely he must have been to do so. Perhaps we too are more inclined, but from a less holy position, to focus our prayers on ourselves when we feel lonely, isolated and despairing.

Maybe the antidote is not more self-focused prayer, but to break out again into community and find the reality of praying ‘our Father’. PH

Flourishing grace blooms despite grey skies

While the sun shines today, the past two weeks in Sydney have seen almost constant rain, clouds and cold with the occasional blustery wind to ensure we all got wet more than once.

The plants around our courtyards, while at first welcoming the moisture, after a week or so seem to be putting their hands up and saying, ‘we’ve had enough’.

Not so one humble plant, stoically located in a pot near our front door. Just as the weather reports began to be filled with news of east coast lows and torrential rains, our welcome plant was, for the first time, putting forth flower buds.

And as the grey skies took over and the constant rain fell, it broke out in a lavish display of petulant pink, protesting against the bleakness, bowing down under its load of large flowers. Guests even stopped to take photos, umbrellas close at hand.

Now the plant’s inaugural show of joy and colour has won out, the rain has given up but the pink flowers live on, welcoming the sun back with barely a ‘I told you so’.

The words ‘bloom where you are planted’ crossed my mind more than once as I regularly dashed past the floral version of a pink flamingo. How inspiring that you would defy the grey and bloom anyway, I thought.

The Creator’s hand was evident, not just in the flowers, but in the timing and the message. Am I willing to be what God has made me to be despite the grey clouds and gloomy outlook? Am I so convinced of his goodness that I will by all means display it regardless of the outlook?

Do I realise the awful power of a loving rightness carried forward by God’s Spirit and alive within me, unquenched by circumstance? Will I allow the flourishing grace of God to choose the time and place for colour and new life? PH

Escaping the ‘once I have time’ fairytale

I read somewhere recently that for modern people, saying you’ll do something ‘once I have time’ is as much a fairytale as saying ‘once upon a time’.

The reality is that if we wait for ‘enough’ time to do that heartfelt, significant, deeply true thing, we’ll never do it. It will remain a fairytale of our existence, but not a true story.

Perhaps part of the problem is we are always busy pursuing our own unscrutinised opinion of what is important, or preparing endlessly for that great opportunity around the corner, or worrying what others might think, or even worse for us, worrying that they may not notice at all.

‘Readiness means a right relationship to God and a knowledge of where we are at present,’ says Oswald Chambers. ‘A ready person never needs to get ready.’ If we are trying to act without God’s reality in our life, not only will we struggle for time, we’ll struggle for identity, clarity and honesty.

Another problem is that we complicate action, losing sight of the simplicity of ‘obedience’. More wisdom from Oswald Chambers: ‘Our Lord must be repeatedly astounded at us – astounded at how unsimple we are. It is opinions of our own which make us stupid; when we are simple we are never stupid, we discern all the time.’

Oswald Chambers quotes taken from My Utmost for His Highest, April 18,21.

Between our worst and his best…

Between the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ there was an agonising pause for his disciples.

Faint memories of a promised return battled with abject shame, guilt, confusion sorrow and fear.

This pattern is often repeated in life. The despair of our worst is tested by time – the wait, the replays, the not knowing, the what-ifs, the wondering if God might still intervene.

If only we knew that amidst the dark soil of our worst is the good seed of God’s best. Like all seeds, it is a few days before the first inkling of new life, new hope, is evident.

Somehow stay in reach of his resurrection. Be a Mary Magdalene approaching the tomb; be a Peter or John grieving together; be a Thomas, wanting but doubting; be an Emmaus pair walking and talking, if not understanding.

Between our worst and his best is a wait. God never said it would be pleasant, only that it would end well. PH

Transcendent story of Easter

 

E – everyone, everywhere

A – all the time, all year round

S – story to begin, end, transcend all stories

T – The… The Christ, The Lord, The Word, The Lamb

E – ending sin, death, the work of religion

R – rising, ever risen, the first of us

Photos: Man-made blue cross on church; God made cross structure in Whirlpool Galaxy. Happy Easter. PH

Living a life of action

To some, living a life of action might suggest bungy jumping and skydiving. But according to dynamic-speaking-duo, Jeremy and Catherine Hallett (Eternity, March 28), it runs much deeper than extreme sports.

The ‘why’ of living a life of action is to glorify God and see his kingdom advance.

The ‘what’ is to move from apathy (going through the motions) to action to kingdom by identifying ourselves as followers of Christ and stepping into a new boldness.

The ‘who’ of a life of action is everyone, or more specifically, everyone who makes themselves available. The ‘when’ is now and forever, in season and out of season – providing we have taken time out to hear what God wants us to do.

The ‘where’ of living a life of action is to start at home – our relationships, family, daily lives – and allow God to grow it from there.

Finally, the ‘how’ will be different for everyone but starts with rejecting fear and embracing the truth that God gives us abundant life.

Hear anything good at church today? Add it as a comment! PH

Millionaire gives away fortune after pact with God

Sandwiched between the headlines ‘Sex claims: Hey Dad star to see police’ and ‘Drunk charged after trying to revive dead possum’ is the news that a British millionaire is to give most of his empire to charity after making a ‘pact with God’.

Albert Gubay was broke and selling lollies in Wales after World War 2 when he told God in his prayers, ‘Make me a millionaire and you can have half of my money.’

The devout Catholic has exceeded his side of the bargain, as has God, with Gubay giving to charity all but 10 million pounds of his 480 million pound ($787 million AUD) fortune to charity.

The Albert Gubay Charitable Foundation is required to invest about half of the money into the Catholic Church and the rest can be used at the discretion of the charity’s board.

Gubay made his money through Kwik Save grocery stores and Fitness First gyms, both of which he sold before investing in property.

While I doubt God makes bargains like that, he answers prayer and blesses faith and integrity which Mr Gubay seems to possess, along with keen business skills.

Faith, prayer, hard work, gifting and generosity – a great recipe for success. PH

Source: SMH

Overcoming walls, discerning calls

‘So how do you know if God is calling you into an area of ministry or service?’ the young person asked as we stirred our flat whites at Deus ex Machina.

It’s a question you are asked many times as a pastor and it is rarely as black and white as people would like.

I told some of my own story of leaving* my ‘calling’ as a journalist to take up a ‘calling’ as a pastor many years earlier. The point being that we serve God in whatever we do when it is submitted to him.

Read More »

Just enough bread

I nearly forgot… Also in the Utterance side-bar, strategically placed at the top, is a Bible verse for the day automatically updated by BibleGateway . The verse appearing right now as a I write – 2.29pm, March 24, 2010, is James 1:12. Here’s my comment on this verse (also verse 11) appearing in my devotional book, Transform Your Faith:

‘James continues to assault the false sense of security we draw from material things. He focuses on that human tendency to try and give our lives meaning by accumulating money, possessions, power, position, fame, and accomplishments. These things aren’t necessarily wrong in themselves, but if we use them as a substitute for God then we are in serious danger. We are reminded that “people will fade away with all their achievements” just like the grass dries up and the flowers wither and fade. Secretly we all know this, even if we do tend to buy into this materialistic approach to life. Something deep inside yearns for eternal things. The good news is that God offers a “crown of [eternal] life” to those who love him and stay faithful to him, regardless of the opposition we may face. This is an offer that does not depend on our works because in the long run, nothing we can do will earn us a spot in heaven. Instead we are encouraged to enter into a relationship with God through Jesus – a relationship built on life-long love. Rich or poor, we can look forward to our earthly lives being crowned with eternal life if we make loving God our first priority…

Growing through serving

Often our greatest growth comes in the act of serving because the act of serving exposes our greatest vulnerabilities.

Whether these are fear, frustration, impatience, weariness, anger, pride or apathy – once exposed, we have a powerful moment of clarity in which to give our weakness to God and allow him to teach and counsel us.

If we hadn’t served – forcing ourselves to be stretched by circumstance, sandpapered by people and sifted by our own emotions – we might have never realised our need, and remained unchanged.

As we approach Easter we recall two friends of Jesus whose vulnerabilities were shockingly exposed as they served and followed their Master. One acknowledged his grief and drew close to his companions, putting himself in reach of resurrected restoration. The other hated himself and withdrew in shame, positioning himself for self-destruction.

Whether sitting in a conference or working on the streets, both moments present an opportunity to take in and give out. If we make it either/or, we have already stalled our growth. PH

No growth without change

Growth is change
              in a positive direction
                         towards Christlikeness
                                we won’t grow if we won’t change.

Change involves continuing to let go of wrongdoing (repentance).
Change involves continuing to let go of hurt and blame (forgiveness).
Change involves continuing to renew our mind with God’s word (learning).
Change involves continuing to enlarge capacity through the Spirit (experiencing).
Change involves continuing to surrender all to the will of God (Lordship).
Change involves continuing to take responsibility for life (self-control).

Obstacles to growth/change include:

  • Failure to decide and commit – we must be intentional about growth
  • Ongoing criticism and judgement – our critical spirit locks us into forced superiority
  • Low self-esteem and pride –   they both say, ‘I can’t be better’ but for different reasons
  • Laziness – we want the benefit but won’t pay the price; we won’t it now or not at all
  • Depression – a loss of the any sense of possibilities. Begin with the small things
  • Being ruled by our emotions – our desire to grow may waiver but the need remains

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. Gal 6:4-5 TMB

The unspiritual self, just as it is by nature, can’t receive the gifts of God’s Spirit. There’s no capacity for them. They seem like so much silliness. Spirit can be known only by spirit—God’s Spirit and our spirits in open communion. 1 Corinthians 2:14 TMB

Heavenly vision in practical issues

I am a first time reader of Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest and so it was a special moment when I came across the phrase in a daily reading that lends itself to the title of the collection:

If we do not run our belief about God into practical issues, it is all up with the vision God has given. The only way to be obedient to the heavenly vision is to give our utmost for God’s highest, and this can only be done by continually and resolutely recalling the vision. The test is the sixty seconds of every minute, and the sixty minutes of every hour, not our times of prayer and devotional meetings.’ March 11

What is it that God has shown you and to what extent has this vision leaked? Take a moment to recall it and then do something, even tiny, to put it into action. PH

Transform Your Faith now available

To the right of this post you can see a ‘badge’ for my self-published book called Transform Your Faith.

It is my first attempt at self-publishing and hopefully not my last foray into the world of publishing!

I have just received the first ‘test’ run of 10 copies. They look pretty good and if you would like one, please let me know asap – they cost $30 which might seem a little high but it includes a $10 donation to aid projects I’m involved in through ChangeMakers. The rest of the cover price covers the cost of printing and delivery.

Actually, you can purchase a copy directly for yourself by clicking on the Transform Your Life badge but if you would like to see one first (which is fair enough) then there’ll be copies on display at Eternity this weekend.

Read More »

Possessed by our possesions

‘Anything you cannot relinquish when it has outlived its usefulness possesses you. And in this materialistic age, a great many of us are possessed by our possessions’. Mildred Lisette Norman courtesy of Criminal Minds.

‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor…then come follow me.’ Jesus courtesy of Mark’s Gospel, Ch 10:vs 21

Confronting comfort

Comfort: – verb 1. to soothe, console, or reassure; bring cheer to. 2. to make physically comfortable. 3. to aid; support or encourage.

To truly bring comfort to the discomforted, we are almost certain to be rendered uncomfortable. No wonder the Holy Spirit is called the Comforter. Rather than comfort ourselves, we comfort others making room for the Spirit to comfort us with an everlasting comfort. PH

Jesus out-socialists the socialists

Following on from yesterday’s blog post All you have to do is live your life comes this gem from Oswald Chambers:

“Jesus Christ out-socialists the socialists. He says that in His kingdom he that is greatest shall be the servant all. The real test of the saint is not preaching the gospel, but washing disciples’ feet, that is, doing the things that do not count in the actual estimate of men but count everything in the estimate of God.” (My Utmost for His Highest, February 25).

Both quotes question our definition of success. Is a good life that quietly leaves a wake of happiness rated below a great life that is noticed and acclaimed?

Is being visible and acclaimed as preacher (or celebrity) to be more highly valued than the simple humility of servanthood? Is it possible to be both good and great?

What of the partly reformed alcoholic standing next to me, singing his lungs out and often teary because of how much he feels loved at his little church? Is he a picture of success greater or lesser than a large auditorium of well-heeled, attractive young people with hands raised?

What “count[s] everything in the estimate of God” in your life? Can you esteem it highly too or are have you given away the high ground of goodness and servanthood to greatness and worldly success? PH