Oh and love yourself

‘I love you and you and you and you and me and you and you and me and you and you!’

Pointing at four of my grandchildren in turn and occasionally at myself for comic relief – it was a fun game with a happy message.

‘Funny Pa Pa, you love yourself?!’ said the oldest who at nearly 4 has a remarkable grasp on the subtleties of life.

‘It’s good to love yourself,’ I said, ‘Because God has made us amazing and loving ourselves helps us to love others.’

The moment moved on quickly but it stuck in my mind which means it stuck in her eminently more absorbant mind.

Loving self is the third of three loves forming part of Jesus’ Great Commandment. It is as hard to get right as the other two and in fact all three are contingent on the reason for it all – God so loves us.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30‭-‬31 NIV

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Love over information

It’s the information age and big data is going to save us and the more we know the higher we will rise, don’t you know?

Or perhaps it’s just that we want to prove we know more than the next guy, that we are in the know, in style, across the game, up with the Joneses, not missing out.

And maybe when we hear what’s going on we can’t resist contributing our superior knowledge and experience, looking down by enlightening.

But verses today put paid to all of that, put the lie to our culture’s view that it’s all about knowing, all about filling our heads with headlines and computers with a million files or leaking someone else’s files to the world.

And of course information, data, knowledge is a tradeable power on earth, but not in heaven.

Oh, and the verses:

‘Those who think the know something do not know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.’ 1 Corinthians 2,3

In other words, what ever you think you know is at best partly or minority known. But when ever you love you are competely and utterly known by the only One that knows everything.

Being known is what we all desire, at the heart of things. Love brings that, not knowledge. And just as well, or else all of us who know nothing would miss out.

Love over information.

Speechless of late

I know I’ve been speechless of late
Without utterance
It’s what happens when your ears are full
Your mouth is empty
And your heart is silence overflowing

I still see things and wonder and create
Small chains of ideas
But the energy to bother has been cruelled
Slipping through cracks
And running down the dirty city gutter

It occurred to me as a small example –
Our life addiction
How we settle for many impoverishings
Because we at least
Are alive to breath and remember

Or to notice the man with maddened hair
Dark tanned cracked face
Sitting on a shady step on hot King St
Counting his coins
Black eyes catch mine before we separate

Or to feel tears swell when crackly speakers
Come to life and bid
Us all stand and silently remember
I saw just a boy’s name
And recalled the worth of two quiet minutes

Here’s to all the dreamers and lovers and stealers
For the ‘sparks soul’
Where ‘love is the only art’; so mention
It again to yourself
And open wide your flailing utterance

Hope against all hope in the midst of change

It has been a year of unprecedented change for our family, some if it chosen, some of it not – and it’s not over yet.

Change, whether initiated or imposed, is often challenging – especially when it affects the deep things of your heart and your future.

In the midst of some difficult moments this month, I had a speaking engagement where my theme was to be hope. Having been planned long before, it almost seemed laughable that I would contemplate hope when I was more prone to panic.

Of course, God has a sense of humour and that is good reason to be hopeful – it helps not to take yourself too seriously.

There is something unique about the Bible that when you turn to it to prepare some thoughts for others, it has an amazing power to instead prepare you.

And so, for all those pondering their future, wondering their past and wandering right now, let there be hope:Read More »

If love is value, how do we make it real?

Sy Rogers is a Christian minister, married father and a man who lived as a woman for two years in preparation for a sex change operation.

Around that time, as he ventured into an average American church, he learned something of the real meaning of love, a message he shared in Sydney on the weekend, some 20-30 years on.

Feeling that the word ‘love’ has been over-used and stripped of meaning – we love our family but also love our new shoes – he replaced it with the word ‘value’.

‘For God so valued the world, the he gave His only Son…’ or ‘Greater value has no one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends’. 

He said love – or his definition for it – value, is delivered, communicated or made real to others through three things:

1. Acceptance – which says ‘I’d rather have you messy than not have you at all.’ Because someone is valuable to God and valuable to us, we accept them as they are. This is where love/value begins.

2. Accountability – which says ‘because you are valuable I won’t leave you where you are, but hold you accountable towards a better day’. It’s the kind of accountability that doesn’t leave a friend playing dangerously on a busy highway, but says ‘ for your own good, because your valuable to me, get off the road’.

3. Affirmation – which says ‘I’m going to show you that your valuable, not just by what I say, but by how I treat you.’ Affirmation is when we communicate that what happens to someone we love, matters to us – rejoicing with those that rejoice, and weeping with those that weep. We need affirmation because of insecurity – ‘a fancy word for fear, a fear that says “I doubt my value”‘.

May your day be full of the giving and receiving of acceptance, accountability and affirmation because you are of great value!

Dying while bringing sight to the blind

The headline read ‘Taliban massacre big-hearted team devoted to helping Afghans’ and accompanying the written report was a video featuring the widow of one those killed.

Before the video plays, on the SMH online site, it is preceded by an advertisement for electric toothbrushes.

The team killed in Afghanistan was providing basic medical care, including eye and dental care and one of the workers was a dentist who had handed out thousands of toothbrushes over the years, to children who had never seen one.

This juxtaposition reminds us of the implausible position we in the west too often take – that our wealth and freedom has no connection to another’s poverty  and restraint.

This post is in honour of the six Americans, two Afghans, a German and a Briton who were slaughtered on August 8.

Many of them were Christians, most having given up their life in the west to embrace life in Afghanistan so they could be an example of kindness and goodness.

Read the full report here.

Watch the video report (minus toothbrush ad) and particularly note the response of widow, Libby Little, as she calls down God’s mercy on those who killed her husband.

Read the full statement about the deaths from International Assistance Mission, the Christian organisation for whom the team worked. This is an example of a deeply committed, intelligent, genuine Christian response to the world’s poor.

Asking the poverty question.

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.

Jeffry leaves us far too quickly

One of the boys lingers after morning devotionsOne of the last times I saw Jeffry alive was as we gathered around a single candle flickering on the white tiled floor of the children’s home in Bali.

It was the first time that I had stayed overnight at the home and, although the home-parents had set me up in my own room with a fan, a blackout had left me too hot to sleep.

As I listened to the noises of the night – geckos, frogs, dogs, babies – it seemed only moments before I heard the sound of children and adults rising to share devotions.

As the children began to sing, I shuffled bleary eyed from my room and sat on the floor among them. We sang to Jesus, candle shining, and the tiles providing at least some coolness.

Jeffry was there, nurturing the candle as boys love to do, singing with the others his love for God.

Later that morning – it was still only about 7am – I enjoyed a specially procured breakfast of fried bananas and took photos of some of the kids as they headed off to school. Four other boys travelled on the back of motor bikes, but Jeffry rode his bicycle.

I had ridden his bike myself a day or two before. It was just before church at the children’s home and I was wearing my preacherly best, but caught up in the playfulness of children, hopped on the bike, riding up the lane, much to the amusement of the kids and arriving churchgoers.

Jeffry loved to call my daughter (Rebekah) bebek which means duck. She would ask for the names of animals to say back, and her attempts left Jeffry and the children rolling with laughter.  

A couple of days later I flew home but that little corner of Bali, down a back lane in Denpasar, is never far from my heart, or my family’s.

There was no candle, no white tiles, no smothering humidity when I got up yesterday morning, heading to make coffee and breakfast.

I noticed a text had arrived on my mobile. I opened it and read: ‘P please pray 4 Novi, motor bike accident young Jeffry died Novi in coma we r at hospital.’ Later we learned a drunk rider had collided with the two children.

My own sadness at this news cannot be compared with my daughter’s who has used almost every available holiday in the past few years to visit these children. We can only imagine the aching grief of those whose lives entwined with Jeffry every day.

It was many years ago when I sat in the room of a small boy as he died of AIDS, contracted from his mother. He had spoken of visions of Jesus coming to his room to speak with him. These memories tell me that Jesus is never outdone by tragedy.

Experiences like that, like this, remind us that every child is beautifully special and that somehow God, in his great love, makes provision even in the darkest hours. Our prayers and our presence are part of that provision, the reason we care, that we go.

One of Jeffry’s  ‘sisters’ at the home wrote, ‘everyone very sad , and also still not believe that Jeffry must go quickly…’

It is true, he has gone far too quickly for us, but he finds himself in a place where time, or tears, will never bother him again. Till we meet again…

Dear CheapBranded, thanks for your caring email…

My computer makes a doorbell sound, ‘ding-dong’, that used to be associated with Avon calling but is now better known as Windows default for a new email.

A shadowy preview of the new message appears in the lower right of my laptop screen and tells me it is from someone called ‘CheapBrandedViagra’.

(Just mentioning the word Viagra in my blog will send the spam protection software for this site into overdrive, such is the inter-connectedness – euphemism for lack of privacy – on the internet.)

A train of thought begins, thanks to my new friend CheapBranded, and I wonder if many of us realise how often we turn to the latest email, Facebook status, Twitter tweet or blog comment to fill deep emotional needs and stave of dreariness.

If our dearest friends are those who connect with us electronically, I have an amazing friend in CheapBranded as he has shown incredible determination to bypass not only my own spam protection, but that of my internet provider.

(I thought you should know I have worked with great commitment to avoid any unfortunate Viagra puns in this posting…)

But wait, perhaps CheapBranded is just that, not a caring friend who searched me out today with a loving email as my life faces precipitous change, but a cheap charlatan hoping to profit by pushing his brand at some perceived need.

Read More »

Religion of hate loses touch with God of love

‘Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes.’ – Senior Iranian cleric,  Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, as quoted by Iranian media. 

‘Thank God for eight more dead troops. We are praying for 8,000 more. We’ve turned America over to the fags; they’re coming home in body bags.’ April 16, 2010 Press Release from Pastor Fred Phelp’s Westboro Baptist Church, Kansas, US. 

If Mr Sedighi and Mr Phelps met in the street they would no doubt be mortal enemies, except they are speaking from the same script. One believes God is sending earthquakes to Iran due to short dresses and the other believes God is sending home dead soldiers because of the US tolerance of homosexuality. 

While these two ‘clerics’ might seem to be at opposite ends of the religious spectrum (Muslim v Christian) they are actually of the same religious spirit, just wearing different colours. 

Religion is a set of laws that people observe externally with scant regard for the state of their heart, or other’s. Power is gained by asserting these laws in ever-increasing measure to affirm one’s own superiority and to ensure the others sublimation. 

It is true that we live in a moral universe and that there is a way of living that is right before God. But none of us attain it and our only hope is not more religion, but a freeing relationship with the one who is always truth, and love.When the religious power-mongers of Jesus’ day brought an adulterous woman before him, he first reminded them of their own sin and then dealt graciously with the woman. ‘He that is without sin, throw the first stone.’ No stones were thrown and the only one entitled too, Jesus, chose to love, forgive and gently direct the woman to a better life – one that she found in following him. 

Now if Jesus didn’t cast a stone, how is that Mr Sedighi and Mr Phelps (and, let’s be honest, occasionally you and I)think they can? Because they have lost sight (or never known) their own brokenness before God and that in Jesus, judgement has fallen, been met, and the way thrown open for new life. Does God hate sin? Yes, because of what it does to people. Does God hate people? No, he died for them. All of us. 

A certain Australian pastor, who I’ll refrain from naming at this point, made some frighteningly similar remarks to these vengeful clerics in the context of the Victorian bushfires last year. It is to be hoped that he submits his theology to the crucible of his peers before making any more remarks like that… PH

Go and see The Blind Side

“A project for the projects,” jokes one of Leigh Anne Tuohy’s well-to do friends about her taking a poor, black American teenager into her home.

“Count me in”, she says. But want she doesn’t realise is that it isn’t a project, it’s personal.

When one human heart is moved by God and broken for another human being, projects, politics and political correctness go out the window.

As Shane Claiborne said in the Irresistible Revolution, it’s not that Christians don’t care for the poor, it’s that they don’t know the poor.

What  this true story shows is a wealthy middle American mum stepping out of her charity mentality and putting herself in another person’s world and allowing them into hers.

This will always create miracles, regardless of your politics, and your colour.

At the end, Sandra Bullock playing Leigh Anne Tuohy thanks God for the privilege of being able to share her life with Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron).

Well she might. Afterall, it was God who sent His Son to share his life not only with us, but as one of us, that we might live. PH

Into the dark places

As part of Eternity Christian Church’s ChangeMakers conference, Live life Loud, we have heard from two outstanding Christ followers whose actions amplify their words such as they break through fear and complacency to change us.

I listened to Pastor Sharon Wright describe how she is seeking to be God’s person in the NSW town of Condobolin and was deeply moved by the sowing of her life with the love of God. “We are the prophecy,” she said. “God’s love is the reason.”

Captain Paul Moulds of the Oasis Youth Support Network told us we would be made uncomfortable as he took us into hard places in our city. It was sweet sorrow as we heard the horrific stories of broken lives but also felt the grace of God present there.

After laying a platform which is broken humanity, Paul said with knife-like clarity: “The church of God needs to be in the dark places of our city and towns. These are hard places to be, but if we don’t go there, other people will go there with different purposes and intentions. We must be in the dark places.”Read More »

No knee caps

“How are you going today, George?” I ask while standing in line for a meal at the Lambert St Lunch, Camperdown.

George is 60ish with long gray hair and unshaven face; is wearing a t-shirt, too-small shorts and joggers and carries his walking stick.

“Oh, not that good. I nearly fell over on the way here.”

“That’s no good,” I reply. “What happened?”

“Have you ever had your leg just slide out, like this, while your walking,” he says while demonstrating a strange sideward leg movement, precariously. A lunch volunteer, plate of food in hand, is watching as our conversation unfolds.

“Maybe George, but have you had that happen?”

“All the time,” he says seriously. “It’s probably because I’ve got no knee caps, so I’ve got to be careful.”Read More »