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Finding Joy

Nobel Peace Prize Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have survived more than fifty years of exile and the soul-crushing violence of oppression. Despite their hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—they are two of the most joyful people on the planet.

In April 2015, Archbishop Tutu traveled to the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala, India, to celebrate His Holiness’s eightieth birthday and to create what they hoped would be a gift for others. They looked back on their long lives to answer a single burning question: How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?

They traded intimate stories, teased each other continually, and shared their spiritual practices. By the end of a week filled with laughter and punctuated with tears, these two global heroes had stared into the abyss and despair of our time and revealed how to live a life brimming with joy.

joy

The Book of Joy, which I’m currently reading, offers a rare opportunity to experience their astonishing and unprecedented week together, from the first embrace to the final good-bye.

Joy is the net of love by which you can catch souls. I love this quote by Mother Teresa. It describes exactly what I believe joy is and should be. In the pursuit of happiness we seem to have lost the idea of joy. If we don’t have joy what are we using for a net?

Joy is the feeling of grinning inside.
~ Melba Colgrove

In the bible in Isaiah 55:12 it tells us to go out with joy and that the mountains and the hills will break forth before us in song and clapping. This is the joy of the Lord – pure joy. Often we don’t feel joyful, particularly when we are going through hard times – it is the last thing we feel like doing or being – joyful.

I haven’t always been joyful, just ask those close to me. I’ve been negative, grumpy, irritating and generally morose for long periods of time. I’m trying to change – it’s fun, and I like it. In the process I have found peace – just like it says in Isaiah 55:12. Having joy is not dependent on things or situations. In fact the bible says that we are to consider it pure joy in our sufferings. I have finally found this joy, it is what I have been looking for.

So what about you my friend? Are you missing out on joy and peace? Do you know what the joy of the Lord feels like? Perhaps you could share your story here or somewhere this week. Why don’t you take a chance and be real? You may just help someone to find a seed of joy in their garden of suffering. Grace and Peace.

Pure Joy

In you joy
I am set me free
From the chains
That surrounded me

In you love
I am made whole
My heart fills
As you stir my soul

No longer black
Or white I see
For glorious colour
Has surrounded me

A couple of weeks ago, New Zealand was full of media hype and hyperbole about Cyclone Cook heading straight towards from New Zealand.  Sure, there were high winds, rain and flooding, but nothing more than usual.  I do feel for the people of Edgecombe though, who for two weeks now have been away from their homes due to flooding.

Perhaps it’s because I live in Wellington that I consider winds above 140 km/h and driving rain, that sometimes doesn’t even hit the ground, as a fairly normal occurrence.  I live in the windiest city in the world – we always have our outdoor furniture anchored down. We had a trampoline once and we had it secured to about half a dozen railway sleepers – it wasn’t going anywhere, anytime soon!

Sunset

So Cyclone Cook, was officially downgraded to a storm before it hit. It made its presence felt in a few places, but soon ran out of steam.  It was hailed as the biggest weather event since Cyclone Giselle in 1968 that was, in part, responsible for the Interisland ferry Wahine to meet its watery grave on Barrett’s Reef in Wellington.

The media coverage of Cyclone Cook was in my opinion over the top, perhaps even bordering on ‘fake news’.  One media report I read did mention in passing that the cyclone had been downgraded however they were sticking with the ‘term ‘cyclone’, as they believed some people weren’t taking the storm seriously. So now the media are meteorologists?

This tidal wave of public opinion got me thinking about when Job gave God a piece of his mind for all the trouble he experienced – he was probably justified, however God did eventually reply to Job’s tirade of complaints and asked Job early on to brace himself, for he was about to unleash a storm of questions himself for Job.

We often talk about the weather in our conversation, it’s the small talk that fills the small story in our lives, but what of the one who created the weather and the big story – isn’t this more interesting and worthy of reflection?

Storms will come and storms will go,
I wonder just how many storms it takes,
Until we finally know,
You’re here always.
– Amy Grant

I wonder how many storms it will take us to realise that the real message of the storm is who we focus on and hold on to.  It’s an opportunity to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author of our faith and see if we will sink or swim. May you my brothers and sisters, recognise the one who makes the storms and then causes them to cease.

Grace and Peace

 

Weather the Storm

So the wind came
And blew over the
Outdoor furniture of
The ill prepared

Then the sun came
And burnt those who
Forgot the hole in
The sky overhead

The rain that followed
Surprised some
And caught them off guard
From protecting their own interests

So were you there when the wind
Blew in  for the first time?

Did you experience the warmth
When light forced the shadows to flee?

Where you there when the clouds
Opened and the heavens rained?

Have you forgotten how the earth was created
In the most mighty poetic act of all time?

So that we may marvel
At how God breathed the land
Into existence

 

Technology has some wonderful benefits. I use it almost every day. It has become our way of life and how we connect with the world. We are wired for connection, but this is not the only way to connect.

We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much – if at all. —Steve Jobs

However, that being said, it is becoming increasingly obvious that our world is developing an unhealthy attachment to technology. A recent study showed that:

  • 84% of cell phone users claim they could not go a single day without their device.
  • 67% of cell phone owners check their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating.
  • Some mobile device owners check their devices every 6.5 minutes.
  • 88% of U.S. consumers use mobile devices as a second screen even while watching television.
  • Almost half of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls.
  • Traditional TV viewing eats up over six days (144 hours, 54 minutes) worth of time per month.
  • Some researchers have begun labelling “cell phone checking” as the new yawn because of its contagious nature.

How then, in our ever-connected world, might we take appropriate steps to find balance and intentionality in our approach to technology? If you need help getting started, try one or more of these:

  • Choose to start your day elsewhere.
  • Power-down for one period of time each day.
  • Better manage the time-wasters.
  • Take one extended break on a regular basis.

grand-2096938_960_720

Of course there is a deeper issue here than just disconnecting.  Technology affords us so many options not to take the gaps we need in the day to just pause, reflect, and re frame our thinking.  If we miss too many of these gaps then we miss something important.  Rob Bell, on his podcast calls this, ‘The Importance of Boredom’.  It’s worth a listen.

 

I’m aware of the irony of writing this on a computer, to post on a website, so that you can read this on a screen somewhere.  My sign off and prayer below is for me as much as it is for anyone.

May you my brothers and sisters, find a way this week, to unplug, be present in the gaps between life, and use these times wisely.  May you be still and know that there is more, so much more, that waits for you if you take the time to listen to the music that you may not have heard before, and begin the dance.

Grace and peace.

The Eucharist of Life

I will be still
And not fill the gap
For I choose not
This dance of despair

I will be calm
And celebrate the pause
For I choose not
To fill my mind with emptiness

I will go off the grid
And find the spacious place
For I choose to listen
And not hear or speak

For the Eucharist of Life requires
The empty to become full
The calm before the storm
The rest between two notes

Then and only then
Can the music begin
For the dance of freedom

A Plan for You

It is far too very easy when thinking about God’s plan for our lives to have the attitude: “it’s all about me.”  Yes, it’s true that God cares about every intricate detail in our lives.  In fact, Jesus said that even the hairs on our heads are numbered. We can also mistakenly think that God’s plan is always going to be a “feel good” plan with the intent to make us happy. 

Sunset, Trees, Landscape, Mountains, Nature, Sun

Jeremiah’s message in this verse is radically different.  He’s writing to a group of people who are being held captive, and are in exile from their homeland.  He’s writing to let them know that although they’re not where they would have expected, nor where they would have asked God to place them, God has not forgotten them and He still has a plan for their lives. Even in the midst of a difficult situation, God wants them to know His plans.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ~ Jeremiah 29:11

In the preceding verses we see that a big part of God’s plan is for them to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:7).  In other words, God wants them to know that His plans are not just to benefit them personally. God is also telling them that He is not removing them from the situation immediately.  He does promise to eventually restore them, but it’s not coming quickly (70 years out when many of them will be dead).  God is letting them know they can move forward, because in the eternal picture, God’s justice will prevail and everything will even out.

Today, in the midst of difficult situations, God wants us to know He has a plan for us all and for you.  He also wants us to know that as we submit to His plan that He desires to use us to bless the world around us.

May you this week rediscover part of the plan that God has for you, you may not know the whole plan, but parts of it will be familiar.  Be encouraged that all of your plans that have come to pass, and all the plans that haven’t are still part of His plan for you.

Grace and peace.

A Plan for You

The forgotten dreams
Lay shelved among
The chapters of my life
On the old dusty bookcase

The great plans that I had
Have been used to wrap
My ideas so they keep safe
In the boxes of my mind

In the calm still waters is where
My hope and future is kept
Like a ship that is moored
For too long in the harbour

Yet the ship
Is not made
For the harbour

Unrealised hope
Cannot be anchored
To the soul forever

Dreams and plans
Need to fight
For their freedom

Then I remember that my
Plans, hopes, and dreams
Have eternal character and
An unrelenting destiny

For you know the plans
You have for me
Plans to prosper me
And not to harm me
Plans to give me hope
And a future

It was the message that has become all too familiar as I get older.  When I was younger it was the common events of life that I celebrated with my friends – birthdays, turning 21, graduations, engagement parties and then weddings.

The common event that seems to keep reoccurring now with the stench of regularity is people I know that are taking the dangerous unexpected journey through hell – cancer.

We all take journeys, sometimes even dangerous journeys, however we usually choose these journeys and accept the risk.  Sometimes journeys choose us.

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door, he used to say. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to. – Frodo Baggins
Someone I know, my mentor, coach, and fellow poet (among many other things) is walking this road.  I know he has great support, a loving family, and many friends that are supporting him in many ways, but my heart aches for him for he is my friend.

What can I do?  I can craft words of encouragement, I can express my deepest empathy, I could even send money – however none of this can take away the burden and the road he has to walk.  To his credit he is re framing his hell – his cancer, as a journey where he is learning more about who God is and leaning more into him.

Scotland, Landscape, Scenic, Mountains, Hills, Sunset

My friend is choosing to take a journey with God, and has accepted that there will be weeping and laughing, pain, and joy, learning and unlearning.  His approach is a tribute to life, living and all that is pure, noble, true, right, admirable and excellent.  It causes me to pause and think on these things.

I’ve adapted the words of a well known song for my Brother Andrew and sent it to him as his approach reminded me of his servant heart. He has been this friend to many others. I wish that I could be this friend – I have some work to do.

I hope these words are more than just words and that they bring life, light and healing in some way.   These words are for you my Brother.

Brother Andrew

Brother Andrew, let me serve you
Let me bring His hope anew
I pray that I might have the words to
Speak Christ’s healing light in you

We are two travellers on a journey
I’m your companion on this road
I am here to love and serve you
Walk these miles and bear your load

I will hold the Christ light with you
In the night-time of your fear
I will pray with hands stretched towards you
Speak His peace you hope to hear

I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh I’ll laugh with you
I will share your pain and heartache
Till we’ve seen this journey through

Brother Andrew, let me serve you
I pray you feel his love right here
These words are Christ’s gentle whispers
As he listens to your hopes and fears

Till Heaven

A couple of weeks ago, Craig McConnell from Ransomed Heart Ministries left this world and went home to Heaven.  I never met Craig, however he was a man who I admired and was an inspiration to many.

A couple of years ago I was in Colorado Springs and I met with the Ransomed Heart team and we had a personal tour through the ‘Outpost’ (their offices) and then went rock climbing in the Garden of the Gods.  I remember standing in Craig’s office and thinking that where we stood was a holy and sacred place.  Sure, it was just an office. It was also a place where a man who loved God did his work in humbleness and holiness.

The team at Ransomed Heart described Craig’s passing in a way that was full of grief and joy – in a way that would seem strange to some, but familiar to others. The paradox of death is that it is also the beginning of life and it is not the final word.

This morning, Craig was completely healed. He is in the Presence of God and seeing Jesus face to face. He has moved from glory to glory. He was at peace, surrounded by his beloved family. – John Eldredge

In a note to his daughter Craig say goodbye to his friends and allies.  He signed off ‘Till Heaven’.

I will miss Craig’s humor and humbleness, his words of wisdom, and his way of connecting with people in a genuine and gentle manner.  I never knew Craig, but I knew the impact of his life.

My friends, may you reflect on those that you know that have left this world and now live in paradise. May you grieve their loss, remember their legacy, and know that you will meet them again one day soon.  Grace and peace.

Till Heaven

 

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Craig McConnell

Till Heaven
Where we’ll met those
Who have come before us
At the great banquet table

Till heaven
Where those we know and loved
Departed and left us longing
We will feast with you once more

Till heaven
Where we will see Jesus
The author of our story
And the finisher of our lived faith

Till heaven
Where out goodbyes
Regenerate into joyous greetings
We will drink to our full health

Till heaven
We wait expectantly
For our redemption
The final restoration of all things

(photo by Ransomed Heart Ministries)

 

Everyone trusts in something. We even make good things — like our jobs, our families, or even our passions, hobbies and ministries — into idols.

Trusting in things other than God can have devastating effects upon our lives. If we think what we do will make us totally fulfilled, we’re setting ourselves up for deep disappointment. The Bible reminds us of this in Jeremiah: Those who make idols are disillusioned” (Jeremiah 10:14)

Sadly, idols don’t just stop after they’ve disappointed us though. Eventually, they enslave us, too.

treasure-chest-full-of-gold-coins-Gainesville-Coins

Whatever you value the most in life, you’re going to become like. If you value money, you’ll eventually become a materialist. If you value pleasure, you’ll become a hedonist. If you value works, you’ll become a pragmatist. If you value above all else Jesus Christ, you’ll become a Christian. It all about the becoming.

So if putting something else first in our lives bends us out of shape, why do we do it?

We want a god we can control. We want to be able to manage him. If we make money our god, we feel as if we can control it. If we make other people our gods, we set out to control them. It makes us feel better.

When we are content that we have God worked out and that his values match ours, and that his morality is our morality, we are no longer dealing with God – we are dealing with an idol. – Peter Rollins

We can’t control God. He says, “Don’t reduce me. Don’t try to fit me into your lifestyle. Don’t try to control me.”

May you this week notice and identify the idols that you may have. May you come to know that these – even what seems good – may be coming between you and the Divine.  Talk about these with God and may you reorient yourself to the one whom you trust above all else. Perhaps then everything else may just fall into place. Grace and peace.

The things between us

These things between us
Admiration disguised as envy
Respect dressed up as jealously
Love where special conditions apply

These things between us
Living vicarious lives
Coveting others success
Expose the naked truth

These many things between us
Dripping with platitudes and cliches
Are like a Trojan horse
Of well presented polished idols

Take these things between us
And scatter them as
Far as the east is from the west
For they are just the dust of our inequity

Will you open your arms
Freely once more
I only want and need you
Other things can wait