The Presence of God

After community breakfast yesterday I visited the home of a friend, clambered over belongings 60cm deep and took in his joy at his painting on the wall.

The Presence of GodEarlier he had arrived late for breakfast but we unpacked again so we could chat while he munched on a large bowl of cereal.

We prayed for his parents and he told me that Mary backwards stands for both

You’re Really A Mess
You Really Are Magical

because life isn’t static but we are always coming out of tough times, recovering; or doing better, enjoying life.

I said it reminded me that we are made in the image of God (magical) but fallen and broken and frail (mess) and that Jesus gave his life to forgive and heal our mess and to restore and discover our magical.

My friend thought this was a reasonable interpretation of Mary backwards.

And I still count it a privilege after all these years to be asked for the simple act of brotherhood of a shared meal and to be given the honour of a private artistic viewing and to discuss the profound meaning of words backward.

I know we in the church (and more broadly) argue a lot about the presence/reality/felt existence of God and some say we only need our faith in the Scriptures and others that we find him as we sing or pray and maybe others think that a pilgrimage is required and perhaps all are correct together.

But I remember Jesus said what you do for the least of these you do for me as if he would be intentionally present to renew and reassure us and that’s what I felt after just a few hours sleep, an hour of setup, serving 40 breakfasts including one home delivery, two after we closed, praying with troubled souls and discussing backward anagrams.

Not tired. Renewed, reassured.

And I know whose presence I was experiencing, right where He said He would be all along.

Likewise the day before nursing a baby in the cool of the night waiting for him to settle into sleep. Likewise the next evening being alongside a daughter and her aged  mother as they negotiated the challenges of daily life and shared grief with nobility and tears and laughter.

The presence of God is everywhere when we forget to look at ourself. Life is not one long selfie.

And just as well… I take a terrible selfie…

What is love?

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In the shadow of a Sydney public housing tower, light and love break out in a post-modern expression of ancient truth.

The purely secular event, addressed at times by politicians of the left, fulfilled quite superbly the principle of the good Samaritan.

Christians came, not with authority or position, but with that greatest of all influences – genuine friendship.

Amazing Grace was sung over the event with more power and pathos than might be found in many church services – not arranged by any human plan but because the request for ‘one more song’ drew it from the heart of the Aboriginal singer who stunned us with her voice and her spirit.

A once-was-a-pastor wandered around, sharing conversation, bridging gaps and encouraging residents and the young workers who gave up their Sunday to serve the community.

He promised his chocolate wheel ticket, if it won, to a woman who has little but loyalty and dignity. It did win and she promptly tried to give the prize back even though it would likely be the only thing of beauty she would receive for a long time.

Old friendships were renewed and far from confessional or altar, stories were shared freely of recovery and new hope amidst old battles.

Then, as if to show that God was pleased and would not be left out, was not afraid to be included, the microphone was handed to a young mother who was there with a small child, there because of her heart that is soft towards those who have had the hardest of lives.

She too had a winning ticket but, before she could receive her prize, was required to answer a question in front of the entire gathering.

‘What is love?’ asked the MC. And what a surprising question this was.

The young woman, her daughter playing at her feet, searched for an answer that was both true and respectful of the moment. All eyes were on her.

‘Love is many things’ she said, tentatively. But then, finding courage.

‘For me, I think about what the Bible says that love is. “Love is patient, love is kind… it does not envy, does not boast, does no evil, keeps no record of wrong, always hopes, always trusts”.’

And in that moment we all knew it was true, and quietly, without preaching, many were encouraged to remember the Source of love.

Joel Edwards of Micah Challenge speaks of the church no longer holding institutional or official power but needing to find grassroots legitimacy through its acts of justice, mercy and humility. I see evidence of this often. I saw it in action in the shadows of a public housing tower.

 

 

A community breakfast in this neighbourhood will continue at the Booler Centre on the first Sunday of each month, 8.30am to 9.45am. 

 

 

 

Poetry of rock in motion

Rock is like water, only slower.

Walking along a rock platform today I saw waves coursing through the stone, swells and surges of infinite patience, little turgid trickles, the splatter of very slow rain, a steady splash and cheeky, rocky streams.

Shapes and forms, pleasing to the eye, that take seconds to occur in water minutes or hours in sand and centuries or millennia in stone.

And yet the rock has its movement, too slow for our perception, rendering it still to our transient eyes.

But for the Inhabiter of ages, for whom a thousand years is a day and moments are a lifetime, all is poetry in motion.

Which is why I walk peacefully on watery rock and Jesus saunters on solid water.

Filipino wins 99designs contest for Purpose Driven Life cover

There are a couple of interesting sidelights to the redesign of Rick Warren’s best-selling The Purpose Driven Life.

This year Rick Warren and his publisher decided to relaunch the book with a fresh design for younger readers to mark the 32 million-seller’s 10th anniversary.

They used the online marketplace for graphic design, 99designs, to launch a contest for the cover design with a prize of US$3,500.

One designer to enter was Filipino Brian Montes who said,  “The book inspired me to strengthen my principles in life, so designing a cover for the new edition was personally a very meaningful opportunity for me.”

Brian’s clean and simple design features a tree with 40 leaves.

Read Brian’s story here.

Meanwhile 99designs is the number one crowdsourcing online marketplace for graphic design and as of today boasts 145,513 contests hosted to date; 166,281 designers and US$36,127,663 designer prize money awarded.

And to check out the new edition of Rick Warren’s book now titled What on Earth am I Here For? The Purpose Drive Life, you’ll have to wait a few more months but there will be four new chapters from Warren.

Visit the current Purpose Driven Life site.

Related: Purpose Driven meets Starbucks

You Won’t Let Me lyrics tell an eternal story…

Written by Rachael Yamagata and Mike Viola, sung by The Voice Australia winner, Karise Eden, the new single You Won’t Let Me sounds strangely reminiscent of a song drifting down through time from Eden onwards,  from the Creator to the Created…

If you’d only let me
I could show you how to love
Take our time
Let it all go

If you’d only let me
I could show you how to cry
In your darkest hour
I would lead you through the fire

But you won’t let me
You won’t let me
I don’t wanna say goodbye
I just wanna give it one more try

And I’d do anything
Yes, I’d do anything
If you’d only let me

With your hand in mine
I would show you how to laugh
Nothing heavy, nothing serious
Just forget about all that

You’ve been stepping back
I wanna be your friend
Tear down the walls that surround you
And build you back up again

But you won’t let me
No you won’t let me
I don’t wanna say goodbye
I just wanna give it one more try

And I’d do anything
Yes, I’d do anything

So tonight stay with me
I know I can change your mind

But you won’t let me
No you won’t let me
I don’t wanna say goodbye
I just wanna give it one more try

I’d do anything for you
I’d do anything for you
But you won’t let me
No you won’t let me

You won’t let me.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2

Unless a tomato falls into the ground…

Lying forlornly in the dirt, like a yellowing tomb slit open, is the remains of an early season tomato from my garden that didn’t quite make it to the plate.

Sydney’s unseasonally damp summer has meant the vigorous tomato plant this specimen came from is long gone, afflicted by various diseases and my lack of care on occasions when life got too busy.

This shell-of-a-tomato was most likely not picked and taken inside for human consumption because it was marked or damaged or being eaten by a worm… In other words, it was rejected.

I know a Man who takes rejection, accusation and being cast aside and turns them into new life. He did it with his own life, saying, ‘unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone’.

February is late for growing tomatoes but no one mentioned this to my cast-aside tomato and without any assistance from myself, a veritable forest of tomato seedlings have emerged from their yellowing tomb.

With Sydney’s weather finally providing some sunshine and still plenty of rain, the young seedlings are thriving.

It’s not easy growing vegetables in an inner city town house. Pots are used, mainly, and these have to be carefully positioned to find sun and escape birds and the occasional visiting rat. (And Leroy our dog is known to occasionally pluck a tomato or strawberry for his own illegal consumption…)

It also means carrying pots and soil and shovels through the house to get to one courtyard or another, making an exercise such as repotting tomatoes a logistical challenge.

During the process I carried one of my new self-sown seedlings to another courtyard and realised I was carrying life in the palm of my hand. I also realised it was one of those ‘stock-photo-moments-of-hand-with-seedling-depicting-new-life’.

There is something about gardening that is renewing. Or perhaps the renewing comes first and then the energy to garden emerges. A bit of both I think.

As the cricket starts, and the sun bites, I’ve finished my little project and that pale shell of a tomato womb has birthed an array of seedlings, some already flowering, ready to greet the final month or so of summer warmth in Sydney.

There is not a soul among us who has not had at least a moment of being cast aside, left for dead, and lying in the dirt alone.

There is a God who showed himself as one of us, who placed  pictures of death and resurrection among us as reminders and who died an earthly death so he could share a heavenly life with many, many sons and daughters.

No doubt he is enjoying my tomatoey resurgence and if even one of these offspring is as productive as the original (bought from a stall at Leichhardt Public School fete), then we will enjoy a feast of home-grown tomatoes as the seasons approach change.

John 12:24

 

LL Cool J opens Grammys with prayer for Whitney Houston

“Tonight, we ask ourselves how do we speak to this time, to this day. There is no way around this, there’s been a death in our family. And at least for me, for me, the only thing that seems right to me is to begin with a prayer.”

And so LL Cool J begins the 2012 Grammys in Los Angeles, leading the large group of celebrities, many with heads bowed, in a prayer for Whitney Houston.

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for sharing our sister Whitney with us. Today our thoughts are with her mother, her daughter and all of her loved ones. And although she is gone too soon, we remain truly blessed to have been touched by her beautiful spirit, and to have the legacy of her music to cherish and share forever. Amen.”

Prayer is so often the cry of our heart in the midst of tragedy and joy and many other circumstances.

If you are in need of prayer and are struggling for the words, simply express yourself as you would to a good friend and believe that God who loves you is listening. For more prayer help, visit Wesley Mission’s prayer page or Hillsong’s prayer and support page.

‘Father and son’s daring rescue saves a life’

If ever there was an earthly picture of a heavenly truth, this is it:

Father and son’s daring rescue saves a life

Not only does this story remind that the understated qualities of mateship and self-sacrifice are alive and well in Australia, but it provides a bloodied and beautiful picture of God’s daring rescue of humanity.

The son Kevin places himself in the dangerous water alongside the fallen man, while father Les throws out the lifeline and directs the follow-up support.

And all while they were out fishing. ‘I will make you fishers of men.’

Be encouraged that God too still rescues and puts within us a rescuer Spirit.

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Gay protest could be Court’s toughest tennis challenge

It could be a hard-fought three setter between tennis legend Margaret Court and proponents of gay marriage such as Kerryn Phelps over Court’s uncompromising views on the topic.

Dr Phelps has tweeted a call to Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu and Tennis Australia to rename the Margaret Court Arena before the Australian Open in Melbourne next week. And there has also been a call for people to protest by displaying rainbow flags at the tournament.

Pastor Court, a winner of 62 Grand Slam titles and now senior minister of Victory Life Centre in Perth, said she was ‘sad’ that her views on marriage were being brought into tennis, but that she would not be running away.

A Facebook page, ‘Rainbow Flags Over Margaret Court Arena’ has attracted 660 Likes while a recently added ‘NO Rainbow Flags Over Margaret Court Arena’ so far only has two. However many comments on the former page are actually in support of Margaret Court.

In The Australian, Ps Court explained that her views on gay marriage were based on the Bible and that she did not hate homosexual people.

“I have always said I have nothing against homosexual people,” she said. “We have them in our church. I help them to overcome. We have people who have been homosexual who are now married.

“When I spoke a month ago and stood for marriage, things came back from tennis players who probably didn’t read what I wrote. It had nothing to do with people personally or tennis players. I remember speaking to Navratilova 10 years ago on something she brought up with me and I said ‘Martina, I love you, God loves you, but a wrong doesn’t make a right’.

“I think I have a right, being a minister of the gospel, to say what it says from a scriptural side.

“I have always been a champion and always loved what I do and love tennis. I think it is very sad they can bring it into that. It is hard that they can voice their opinions but I am not allowed to voice my opinion. There is something wrong somewhere.” Read more

While Pastor Court’s views have been consistent and well-known for a long time, she spoke out on her blog in August about family and marriage and also during the gay marriage debate at the ALP Conference in December.

24/7 prayer and night club worship meets the world’s party capital

If you’ve read Pete Greig’s Red Moon Rising you would remember his descriptions of taking 24/7 Prayer Rooms to the clubbing districts of Europe to bring prayer, love and outreach to the thousands of young clubbers.

smh.tv has just released a documentary, God Bless Ibiza, which follows a group of young British Christians as they head to the Spanish clubbing hotspot of Ibiza. One website describes Ibiza as the ‘undisputed party capital of the world.’

The promo for the documentary reads: ‘Young, hip and radical, the team are a far cry from the sandaled missionaries of yester-year. They’re more at home in a club than a church, dance tracks are their hymns and they invoke the Holy Spirit in clubs with quasi-spiritual names like Godskitchen, Eden and Ascension. Whilst they have no problem hanging out with clubbers high on E, the team themselves have all sworn off drugs, alcohol and sex and say they get their kicks instead from supernatural experiences of God.’

If you are used to Christians copping it in the media, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this documentary, not only for the in-depth and positive treatment the 24/7 outreach team is given, but by the groups faith and action. Prayer-walking, creative prayer spaces, worship in night clubs and genuine Christianity without a hint of religiosity.

Check out this nearly 40-minute online documentary and share it around.

John Cleese’s favourite joke

Monty Python‘s fish slapping skit (below) was described by John Cleese, speaking on Seven’s Sunday Night program, as the silliest skit the comedy group ever did.

But when it came to the funniest joke, he offered this, towards the end of the interview:

‘How do you make God laugh? You tell him your plans…’

He was commenting about whether he would be married for a fourth time. In context, the joke suggests that we know so little about what will actually happen in our lives that to tell God what we are planning is hilarious.

But I guess you got it.

Visualising God at 300km an hour: Senna

Watching cars go round and round has never been a favourite pastime – I get enough of that in Sydney traffic – but as in every facet of human existence, there are personal stories embedded that make even Formula 1 racing interesting.

Asif Kapadia’s new documentary, Senna, tells one of these stories and while there is a fair bit of round and round, there is also an interesting investigation into the life, talent and faith of one of the sport’s most revered figures, Ayrton Senna.

The Brazilian Senna was a superbly talented, and some would say, a dangerous risk taker who had 41 wins and three World Championships which earned him the reputation of being one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all times.

He was well-known for his religious convictions which seemed to heighten for him as he raced.

“Somehow I got closer to God and this was very important to me. I visualized and saw God who is a part of me,” Senna said after one race. When reflecting on his love of racing, Senna says, “I think God gave me this chance.”

Frenchman Alain Prost, one of Senna’s key rivals, held an equally strong belief: that Senna’s personal companionship with the Deity made him a hazard to other drivers.

In one confrontation between the two, Prost says, “Ayrton thinks he can’t get hurt.” Senna responds, “Just because I believe in God does not mean I’m immortal. I know I can get hurt.”

The documentary shows the fulfilment of these words when Senna is killed in a crash  in 1994 at the age of 34, while leading the field at the San Marino Grand Prix. The crash was caused by a mechanical fault and a camera strapped to his car continued to film throughout the tragedy.

Many people from all walks of life talk about the experience of feeling close to God when engaged in an activity that they sense to be their very specific calling and gifting. I once hear a rugby league winger say he felt he was born to score tries. As strange as it seems, maybe Senna was born to drive, and there was no other way to die.

Senna is showing now at Palace Leichhardt – check guides for other cinema times.

Perry perched on precipice of prayer

Rick Perry
Rick Perry

You’ll hear more and more about Rick Perry in coming days and most of it will be bad. Not to say that he is bad, but being a conservative Christian who is demonstrative about his faith and running for US president ensures he’ll get plenty of bad press. Maybe he deserves it, but don’t believe everything you read.

American politics is complex, polarised and confrontational with far less political correctness than is present in Australia. Australians would find it hard to even imagine a character like Perry surviving anywhere except on the very fringes of Australian politics, and yet he is emerging as a genuine presidential contender. It would be like Fred Nile being a strong contender for Australian Prime Minister… not likely, no hard feelings Fred.

But is his faith genuine, heartfelt, intelligent – giving genuine moral and spiritual impetus to his personal and public life? The secular media won’t even consider such questions. They’ve already stereotyped him as someone to dismiss. Perhaps we’ll join them, but there could be more to him than that.

I’m going to keep an eye on him, and to begin with, check out this thoughtful article from Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in The Atlantic.

Is Rick Perry as Christian as he thinks he is?

And while you’re at it, you might want to think about this call to prayer Perry sent to other governors before his controversial August 6 prayer breakfast:

“I sincerely hope you’ll join me in Houston on August 6th and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God’s forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.

Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy.”

What do you think?

Kate enters MasterChef final with plenty of prayerful support

Several thousand past and present students of Greenacre Baptist Christian Community School will be glued to the MasterChef finale with former teacher Kate Bracks one of the final two contestants.

And quite a few might be saying the occasional prayer to see her win the final challenge next week. They’ll be joined by the members of Orange Evangelical Church where Kate, husband Luke and three children are members. Throw in additional prayerful support from Orange Christian School and it could be suggested that Kate has an unfair advantage.

But it will come down to taste and so far, Kate has proved time and again that her food has plenty of that. The township of Orange is, no doubt, in raptures about her success and will be hopeful her cool and calm approach will continue into the grand final.

Back in the early years of this century when Kate was teaching at Greenacre, she was a much-loved and respected teacher at a beautiful little school located in an area often referred to, somewhat ominously, as south-west Sydney.

And while fires and shootings at nearby car wrecking yards were routine, there was an atmosphere of love and peace that enveloped the school and embraced two of my children for several years.

Kate taught my youngest son in his pivotal Year 6 and, while there was no hint of her cooking prowess in those days, she was an excellent teacher.

On his Year 6 progress report, she wrote: “He is cooperative, modest and encouraging in his dealings with others.” Sounds very much like Kate’s own approach to her time on MasterChef.

Kate spoke about taking on the challenge of MasterChef to show her children that it’s possible to chase one’s dreams and be stretched beyond our normal existence. It might also be a shout-out to all parents to be living examples of faith in action to their children, shrugging of conformity and consumerism and doing something generous with their lives.

As for taking on the MasterChef challenge, Kate credits family and friends for their support. The Central Western Daily newspaper (worked there myself back in the day…) reports:

“Despite her love of cooking Mrs Bracks said she wouldn’t be competing in MasterChef if she didn’t have the support of her family and friends, including those from the Orange Evangelical Church. ‘I’ve got such a supportive network,’ she said.
Even after a successful audition for the show it took an extra push from her husband Luke, a teacher at Orange Christian School, to remind her that she was up to the challenge ahead. ‘He just told me not to let other things get in the way [of me doing this],’ she said.”

Kate and the Dalai Lama