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I Wonder

My friend and mentor Andrew Norton passed away last week aged 61 years.

Andrew was a preacher, priest, prophet, photographer and poet, who embraced life, faith, family, friends and work with keen perception and vigorous passion.

He leaves us all with an amazing legacy. No word, not even poetry can describe how thankful I was to have him in my life and how much I will miss him.

I had one last coffee with him in Auckland in April this year.  We had been meaning to catch up for sometime, and I am so glad we met this one last time.  I remember my conversation with Andrew – his intense listening, his comfort with long silences, and how he always answered my questions with more questions.  He thanked me for making the effort to catch up and how my perseverance had meant we were able to meet one last time.  He told me how he had paused recently to take a photo of a magnolia flower and then just spent some time noticing the design of the magnolia.

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Last Friday I attended the celebration of his life. His family described his passing in a way that was so unique to his life and calling:

Our mighty Totara has today fallen into the arms of the Great I Am

The Totara is a native NZ tree, and my friend Andrew was as mighty and present as a great tree.

While Andrew was suffering with cancer he wrote a short book on his reflection on the grace and gift of dying. His family gave us each a copy of the book – Turn to Wonder, as his final gift to us. 

Arohanui and farewell, for now, Andrew – my friend and mentor.

In response to his well lived life I wrote this poem for him:

I Wonder

When the weight
Of the world
Fills too much of my head
I turn to Wonder

When my head is
Too full of worries
Doubled by fear
I turn to Wonder

When my friend I
Had our last coffee with
Is no longer with us
I turn to Wonder

For in Wonder I see
A new Heaven and Earth
That empties my worries
And fears of the future

For in Wonder I will
See my friend again
And we will trade answers
To his great questions

Of life and death
Of loss and gain
Of solemnity and grace
Of Awe and Wonder

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Like probably many of you I have met people who are fascinated, compelled, or drawn to Jesus, but some question or obstacle keeps them away. They may have heard from a Christian, “This is how it is – end of discussion. The Bible says it, so that settles it.”

Or they might have been taught that to follow Jesus, they had to go down a certain road and believe certain things, some of which they found problematic. What interests me is the power of questioning and the experience of solidarity in finding you’re not alone—of always wondering, “But what about that?” and then finding out, “Oh, other people feel the same way.”

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Rob Bell wrote a book back in March 2011 called Love Wins.  You may have heard of it.  The subtitle – A Book about  Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. If you haven’t read or heard of this book – its not a book about hell, fire and brimstone.  It’s a provocative book that upset lots of fundamentalist Christians.  For me, that was a compelling reason to get myself a copy.

The first chapter of Love Wins poses this interesting question:

If a missionary got a flat tire, and missed meeting with a nearby village, would this really mean that the villagers missed the only opportunity to hear about God, and would not be saved? Would a flat tire mean that they are all destined for hell?

This of course raises a couple of far more disturbing questions like:

Is your future in someone else’ s hands?

And then the next question:

Is someone else’s eternity resting in your hands?

Perhaps Rob’s purpose here is that we get loosened up with the questions – that the questions pull out us out of ourselves and wake us up, like a triple shot flat white coffee. It’s okay. There should be no fear in the questioning and no hesitation in the asking. We can go there. The biblical tradition, particularly the Hebrew tradition, is actually filled with questions, all the way to Jesus on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Many people are afraid to question their faith, having been taught that this is tantamount to either rejecting or losing one’s faith. The best evidence against this line of thought is the Bible itself, in which both God and all the main characters ask many, many troubling questions.

Asking questions is, in fact, a means God often uses to help us rid ourselves of limited and wrongheaded notions about God, so that we catch a larger and expanded vision of who we worship. The bible is full of questions, and full of people who have many doubts and need answers.

By the way – if you’re still stuck or maybe uncomfortable about the two questions following the flat tyre question above then the answers are “most likely no – God has a Plan B.”

Perhaps questions are actually one of the ways we meet the Divine. Somewhere in here we find our own questions and we learn that we are never alone.
And the quest – behind the question is even more interesting and compelling than the questions.

May you, my brothers and sisters remember this week that the questions of life may be more important than the answers. May you recognize your quest behind the questions and may this take you to a place where you can sit in wonder and awe at what the Divine is doing in your life and how much he loves you.

Grace and Peace.

The Quest Behind the Questions

The questions that we ask
Follow the answers the we seek
They riddle the hours of our lives
As our days become our weeks

As we strive to understand
The complexities of life
We miss the here and now
As our worries lead to strife

As we wonder how the past
It teaching us the way
We miss the burning bush
As we rush past it every day

It is not the ‘why’ the matters
As we seek to know the reason
Don’t we just accept the sun
As it moves through every season?

Perhaps the ‘what’
Is the one compelling question
As it grounds us in the present
With it’s beckoning suggestion

That perhaps these questions comfort us
As we seek what keeps us safe
As our present hope is anchored
On our the object of our faith

Greetings

How often do we stop and take time to examine our soul?  I heard a description of the the soul this week as a old church stained glass window.  God’s Spirit shines through the window and the colours reflect the many diverse elements of our soul.

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The heart-cry of every soul is for intimacy with God. For this we were created and for this we were rescued from sin and death. In Ephesians, Paul lets us in on a little secret: We’ve been more than noticed. God has pursued us from farther than space and longer ago than time. Our romance is far more ancient than the story of Helen of Troy. God has had us in mind since before the Foundations of the World. He loved us before the beginning of time, has come for us, and now calls us to journey toward him, with him, for the consummation of our love.

Who am I, really? The answer to that question is found in the answer to another: What is God’s heart toward me, or, how do I affect him? If God is the Pursuer, the Ageless Romancer, the Lover, then there has to be a Beloved, one who is the Pursued. This is our role in the story.

In the end, all we’ve ever really wanted is to be loved. “Love comes from God,” writes St. John. We don’t have to get God to love us by doing something right-even loving him. “This is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Someone has noticed, someone has taken the initiative. There is nothing we need to do to keep it up, because his love for us is not based on what we’ve done, but who we are: His beloved. “I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me” (Song 7:10).

May you this week take time to consider how ‘in shape’ your soul is.  Know that in this broken world our soul takes many arrows and is need of restoration.  May you know that God is interested in restoring your soul now. Will you invite him?

Grace and peace

Restore My Soul

Spirit shine through my soul
Like the sun through an
Old stained glass window

Where the colours highlight
The elements of a soul
Barely used

For the part I have used so far
I have only defined by
Making you in my image

As many colours of the rainbow
Are multiplied by the kaleidoscope
Of your Spirit

They colours show each element
As their number are counted
By the stars in the sky

No wonder my soul feels
So large that only large deserts
And oceans can contain it

After all your Spirit and my soul
Reflect the kaleidoscope
Of you who define all that I Am

So restore and renew my soul now
So that I may be prepared
For the expanse of Heaven

As nothing is worth more
Than a soul fulfilled

Great wide open

Into the Great Wide Open was the eighth studio album by American rock band Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, first released in 1991. The album was the band’s last with MCA Records. The album was the second Petty produced with Jeff Lynne after the success of Full Moon Fever.

Interestingly the music video for the song starred Johnny Depp, who had moved to Los Angeles as a teenager to seek rock stardom, along with Gabrielle Anwar, Faye Dunaway, Matt LeBlanc, Terence Trent D’Arby and Chynna Phillips.  I wonder how this opportunity shaped the careers of these actors and where there desire took them?

God knows the danger of ignoring our hearts, and so he reawakens desire. You see a photo in a magazine, and pause, and sigh. You see someone with a life that reminds you of the life you once thought you would live. You’re channel surfing one night and see someone doing the very thing you always dreamed you would do—the runner breaking the tape, the woman enjoying herself immensely as she teaches her cooking class. Sometimes all it takes is seeing someone enjoying themselves doing anything, and your heart says, I want that too.

 

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God does this for our own good. He does it to reawaken desire, to stir our hearts up from the depths we sent them to. He does it so that we don’t continue to kill our hearts and so that we don’t fall prey to some substitute that looks like life but will become an addiction in short order.

He sometimes does it so that we will seek the life we were meant to seek. Isn’t this just what happens to the prodigal? He wakes one day to say, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!” (Luke 15:17). “Look at their lives,” he says. And he is stirred to head for home.

May you this week notice what awakens your desire that God has placed in your heart and follow its lead.  In the process may you be restored, renewed, revived, and redeemed.  Grace and peace.


Great wide open

Restore to me
All that was lost
In between our last conversation
And our encounter this morning

Renew my mind
With those thoughts
That left me after we last talked
And our chance meeting today

Revive my soul
With your Spirit
Like how it used to be
When we talked every day

Redeem my life
As I set my eyes on you
From this day and always
Into the great wide open

The sleepy seaside town of Bluff, 20 minutes drive from Invercargill, New Zealand, is the oldest European town in New Zealand. Bluff is renowned for the world-famous Bluff oysters, a much sought after delicacy, which were first commercially caught in the late 1870s.  Bluff has long summer days with friendly locals and a warm atmosphere.

Bluff is set at the base of Bluff Hill, with an excellent harbour and a rich history of whaling, sealing and shipping. Captain William Stirling purchased and cultivated the land around Stirling Point (where it got its name) to service whaling bases.

I visited Bluff a couple of weeks ago and found this memorial to William Stirling:

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I had probably read this Psalm before, however it seemed to hold a special place in the context of the wild oceans of Bluff.

May you this week remember that Jesus rides in the boat with you through the storms of life. May you find grace and peace in these words today.

Thunder of the ocean

As waves break over my head
Where the storm breaks my will
There remains an enduring hope
The anchor to my soul

Storms will come and go
I wonder how many more
Will it take to know that you
Are always in the boat with me

Mightier than the
Thunder of the great ocean
Mightier than the
Breakers of the sea
The Lord on high is mighty

How to Be Here

The popular pastor and New York Times bestselling author Rob Bell, of Love Wins and What We Talk About When We Talk About God, shows us how to pursue and realize our dreams, live in the moment, and joyfully do the things that make us come alive.

Each of us was created for something great—we just need to figure out what it is and find the courage to do it. Whether it’s writing the next great novel, starting a business, or joining a band, Rob Bell’s book How to Be Here encourages us us make those dreams become reality. Our path is ours and ours alone to pursue, he reminds us, and in doing so, we derive great joy because we are living our passions.

 

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“Are you breathing? Are you here? Did you just take a breath? Are you about to take another? Do you have a habit of regularly doing this? Gift. Gift. Gift. Whatever else has happened in your life—failure, pain, heartache, abuse, loss—the first thing that can be said about you is that you have received a gift. Often” – Rob Bell

How to Be Here lays out concrete steps we can use to define and follow our dreams, interweaving engaging stories, lessons from biblical figures, insights gleaned from Rob’s personal experience, and practical advice. Rob gives you the support and insight you need to silence your critics, move from idea to action, take the first step, find joy in the work, persevere through hard times, and surrender to the outcome.

Being here is really the only place we can be.  May you this week remind yourself how to be present if only for 10 minutes, and notice the lack of striving.  May the present gift you back your life in all its fullness.

 

Grace and Peace

 

Being Here

Have you walked to the edge of today
Only to find that tomorrow
Is still a unformed dream
Of history about
To repeat?

At the edge of today did you
Achieve all that you had hoped
While regret held you back
From your dream of the
Future

If tomorrow’s friend never called
Would the end of today
Be any different than
The past failed
Friendships

It seems always the same
Forever unchanging regret
Betrayed by hope
Abandoned through
Rejection

Perhaps then the present
Is the only gift of today
Worth opening now
And spending time
With

For the one friend today
Yesterday and forever
Is here now with
His arms wide
Open

Introductory content adapted from GoodReads.com 

Living Colour

In Joni Mitchell’s 1969 hit song Both Sides Now, she describes how there is never really only one thing going on in the story of life, what we see, and what others see. She describes one way of looking at clouds:

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way.

Clouds can look this way, however at sunset they look quite different as the sun reflects light off them. The transformation while short lived, is nothing short of miraculous. Then the clouds go back to be grey. I often wonder during the magnificent process of a sunset if there is something else going on that is unseen, yet experienced. I think I’ve looked at clouds this way, however there are other clues that we see every day.

Sunset

Reminders of the greater story are everywhere—in film and novels, in children’s fairy tales, in the natural world around us, and in the stories of our own lives. In fact, every story or movie or song or poem that has ever stirred your soul is telling you something you need to know about the world that God created. Even nature is crying out to us of God’s great heart and the drama that is unfolding. Sunrise and sunset tell the tale every day, remembering the Garden of Eden’s glory, and predicting Eden’s return.

Perhaps sunsets are the trumpet calls from the “hid battlements of eternity.” Our response is to notice and capture them like precious treasures, and hold them close to our hearts and perhaps even been transformed if only for the length on a sunset.

Living Colour

I bask in the warmth
Of the sunset at the end of the day
As you transform the clouds
Yellow to gold, and red to crimson

The colours deepen
While gaining significance
That attract the attention
Of us heaven gazers

We feel the work of sunset
On our faces yet never realise
Your mastery as you colour us
With the same brush strokes

The sunset works on us and paints
Our hearts with deep colours
That are yet to be named
As they settle within our soul

Help us to gaze into
The mirror of the sunset
As we fix our eyes on you
So we can become living colour

May you notice the sunset, and experience all it has to offer. May you feel the warmth as you face the sun, and may you shadows fall far behind you.

Grace and peace.