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Identity Theft

We are not what we were meant to be, and we know it. If, when passing a stranger on the street, we happen to meet eyes, we quickly avert our glance. Cramped into the awkward community of an elevator, we search for something, anything to look at instead of each other. We fear to be seen.

In the book Sacred Romance, author John Eldredge talks about how we are mostly blind to who we really are. Mostly we live and see only a dim reflection of what we could be, as well as who we are. Sometimes we do catch a glimpse and it speaks to our soul. Then just as quickly it is gone but not forever.

Think for a moment about the millions of tourists who visit the ancient pyramids. Though ravaged by time, the elements, and vandals through the ages, mere shadows of their former glory, these ruins still awe and inspire. Though fallen, their glory cannot be fully extinguished. There is something at once sad and grand about them. And such we are.

Abused, neglected, vandalised, fallen—we are still fearful and wonderful.

We are, as one theologian put it, “glorious ruins.” But unlike those grand monuments, we who are Christ’s have been redeemed and are being renewed as Paul said, “day by day,” restored in the love of God.

Could it be that we, all of us, really possess hidden greatness? Is there something in us worth fighting over? The fact that we don’t see our own glory is part of the tragedy of the fallen world we live in. A sort of spiritual amnesia has taken all of us.

Our souls were made to live in the Larger Story, but as G.K. Chesterton discovered, we have forgotten our part:

“We have all read in scientific books, and indeed, in all romances, the story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember who he is. Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has forgotten who he is. . . . We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are. “

May you discover your identity- who you really are. May you believe the great story, that we all matter, we all are important and critical to achieve the plan – God’s plan to redeem and restore this world. May you know the difference between who you think you are and who you really are. Drop the pose and the mask if you need to. May you remember that God knows who you really are – your true identity as he made you in His image. What does this change for you?

True Identity

Don’t you know who I am?image
Self made success
Celebrity and influence
I shouldn’t need to tell you

Don’t you know who I am?
The car, the clothes
The air about me
Speaking for themselves

Are you so deaf, so ignorant?
Hours of toil and huge expense
Manufactured skin-deep skin
The mask (the wound, the true identity)

No one is listening
Now I’ll start again
Redefined by the latest fashion
Except, the mask, the wound, the real question…

I had no idea
Who I was
Until you told me
The Fearsome Truth

Who am I?
When you look at me
I see my true identity
The broken parts becoming whole

I am who you say
Not what I thought
When you called my name
It changed, everything

~ Cam Porter

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In the previous two posts we have looked at The Poser, and The Healed Wound. This post discusses the new name that God has given us to discover.

We need to fight for our name, to discover it, and then discover the purpose attached to this name. Most of the material in this post comes from John Eldredge’s book Wild at Heart.

The history of a man’s relationship with God is the story of how God calls him out, takes him on a journey, and gives him his true name. Most of us have thought it was the story of how God sits on his throne waiting to whack a man broadside when he steps out of line. Not so. He created Adam for adventure, battle, and beauty; he created us for a unique place in his story and he is committed to bringing us back to the original design. So God calls Abram out from Ur of the Chaldeas to a land he has never seen, to the frontier, and along the way Abram gets a new name. He becomes Abraham. God takes Jacob off into Mesopotamia somewhere to learn things he has to learn and cannot learn at his mother’s side. When he rides back into town, he has a limp and a new name as well.

Even if your father did his job, he can only take you partway. There comes a time when you have to leave all that is familiar and go on into the unknown with God.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name,
you are mine.
~ Isaiah 43:1-3

Saul was a guy who really thought he understood the story and very much liked the part he had written for himself. He was the hero of his own little miniseries, Saul the Avenger. After that little matter on the Damascus road he becomes Paul; and rather than heading back into all of the old and familiar ways, he is led out into Arabia for three years to learn directly from God. Jesus shows us that initiation can happen even when we’ve lost our father or grandfather. He’s the carpenter’s son, which means Joseph was able to help him in the early days of his journey. But when we meet the young man Jesus, Joseph is out of the picture. Jesus has a new teacher-his true Father — and it is from him he must learn who he really is and what he’s really made of.

This mission, this purpose, and this name come from God, it can come from nowhere else; yet first we must be broken. We must first have a false persona shattered, we must first be made to see the truth. When our self fails, God comes through: “The true test of a man, the beginning of his redemption, actually starts when he can no longer rely on what he’s used all his life. The real journey begins when the false self fails… God thwarts us to save us.”

May you come to realise the name that God has called you. May you seek this for yourself, and find in this name your purpose that God has called you to. May you realise your posing, your wound, and your new name. Pray and know that God hasn’t finished with you yet. Your journey has just begun.

Lionheart

Heart of my own heart
I’ve called you be name
Open your eyes20130508-205349.jpg
See how you’ve changed

Seeker of hearts
In men young and old
Find them you will
As their stories unfold

Defender of hearts
And collector of tears
Speak to their souls
And release them from fear

Fathered by God
Your wounds I will heal
Through my own Son
In his hour of zeal

So be strong and courageous
In the strength you impart
I’ve called you by name
Brave Lionheart

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Today’s slightly longer post follows on from last weeks reflection on The Poser. Most of the material for this comes from the book, Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge. A great read.

Am I Good Enough?

John Eldredge, author of Wild at Heart, suggests that two questions that most men seek answers to are, “Am I good enough?”, and “Do I have what it takes?”. The answers to these can generally only come from their father who provides the places and moments to answer these questions.

A boy’s passage into manhood involves many of those moments. The father’s role is to arrange for them, invite his boy into them, keep his eye out for the moment the question arises and then speak into his son’s heart yes, you are. You have what it takes. And that is why the deepest wound is always given by the father.

The Wound

The wound is inevitable, necessary and the wound hurts. Some fathers give a wound, merely by their silence; they are present, yet at the very same time, absent to their sons. The silence is deafening.

Imagine how Jesus, felt at that moment on the Cross when God, the Father, was silent.

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice ‘Eloi, Eloi, lamasabachthani?’ — which means, ‘My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me? (Matthew 27:45-46 NIV)

Even Jesus received a wound from His Father — and felt the pain of what it was like to be without the Father at a critical moment. Even with what Jesus felt and experienced, the bible reminds us of what was done for us, as sinners – by the sacrifice of a man taking on the wounds.

But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-6 NIV)

As men, created in the image of God — we are subject to the wounds which we receive and, paradoxically, can only be healed by the sacrifice of what Jesus did in taking the wounds — our wounds, my wounds, all the wounds.

The assault wounds are like a shotgun blast to the chest, Eldredge says. This can get unspeakably evil when it involves physical, sexual, or verbal abuse carried on for years. Without some kind of help, many men never recover. One thing about assault wounds — they are obvious. The passive wounds are not; they are pernicious, like a cancer. Because they are subtle, they often go unrecognized as wounds and therefore are actually more difficult to heal.

And so it has gone, men to men, fathers to sons — the wounds are given, and the wounds are received.

The Wound’s Effect

So, as a man, what can I do with the wound?

All men carry a wound. Most know it’s there but don’t know what to do about it. Some ignore it, acting out of its pain across their entire lives. Others discover the wound, name it, and go forth towards a path of healing.

So there is no crossing through this country, of the landscape between being a boy and becoming a man, without taking a wound. And every wound, whether it’s assaultive or passive, delivers a message. The messages feels final and true, absolutely true, because it is delivered with such force. Our reaction to it shapes our personality in very significant ways. From that flows the false self. Most of the men you meet are living out a false self, a pose, which is directly related to his wound.

We have a choice as men — either overcompensate and become driven or violent, or shrink and become passive or retreating in our masculinity. It’s because of the wound — not because of being a man. But Eldredge warns us, “The wound comes, and with it a message. From that place a boy makes a vow, chooses a way of life that gives rise to the false self. At the core of it all is a deep uncertainty. The man doesn’t live from a center. So many men feel stuck — either paralyzed and unable to move, or unable to stop.

Take a moment as a man and ask yourself: “Do I have what it takes? Am I powerful? If you can’t — or won’t — answer these questions, it is time to ask yourself this one:

“Am I ready to go into battle to win the war for my heart?”

The wound will be in your way. But there is a way through

Healing

A wound that goes unacknowledged and unwept is a wound that cannot heal.
~ John Eldredge

Only when we enter our wound will we discover our true glory. As Robert Bly says, “Where a man’s wound is, that is where his genius will be.” There are two reasons for this. First, the wound was given in the place of your true strength, as an effort to take you out. Until you go there you are still posing, offering something more shallow and insubstantial. And therefore, second, it is out of your brokenness that you discover what you have to offer the community. The false self is never wholly false. Those gifts we’ve been using are often quite true about us, but we’ve used them to hide behind. We thought that the power of our life was in the golden bat, but the power is in us. When we begin to offer not merely our gifts but our true selves, that is when we become powerful.

May you discover the wound that holds you back from the life that God has for you. May you know the One who was wounded for you – to heal your wounds and your heart. All it takes is a prayer. Will you dare to go to this place and seek healing?

Walking Wounded

By my wound consumed with zeal20130430-202740.jpg
By your wounds I am healed

Abandoned by the world today
Rejected in all I do and say

My wound trails me like a shadow
As it hunts me with its bow and arrow

Beauty and affliction haunt me still
Shot through my heart, but by your will

Enter my wound and set me free
Heal my heart, while I face my fear

Through my wound, set me free
From your wounds upon that tree

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The Poser

In his book Wild at Heart author John Eldredge gives us a glimpse at Adam, the first man. Adam is hiding.

‘I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.’ (Gen. 3:10)

Eldredge says, “You don’t need a course in psychology to understand men…We are hiding, every last one of us. Well aware that we, too, are not what we are meant to be, desperately afraid of exposure, terrified of being seen for what we are and are not, we have run off into the bushes…Most of what you encounter when you meet a man is a facade, an elaborate fig leaf, a brilliant disguise.” (p. 52)

So what about men? What are you hiding from?

20130423-214038.jpg

Ask yourself this: “What words would I use to describe myself as a man? Are words like strong, passionate or dangerous words you would use? Would the description be more like, passive, quiet, hides behind his newspaper or iPad?

We men all have our heroes don’t we? The ones who we long to be like, the star rugby player, the successful businessman. We want to be the hero in the movie, we want to be Maximus in Gladiator, Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, or Aragon from The Lord of the Rings.

There is a poser in each of us as men, that brilliant disguise, that “fig leaf,” is always in the way of the authentic masculinity that God hardwired into each of us.

The job of the poser is to take away something essential to the nature of being a man. It’s a mask, it’s a defence mechanism, it gets in the way of men discovering their true heart and the desires of their heart.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. ~ Ecclesiastes 3:11

So what’s your pose?

May you this week reflect and discover the masks that you wear. May you become aware of why you wear these. Ask God to expose your true self, and begin or continue to work with you to find your desires, the ones he has placed in your heart.

The Poser

How have I been hiding?
Where is it that I go?
Do you see me falling
Show me – I need to know

What is my role – my mission?
Give me eyes to see
Because those that I love to serve
Are right in front of me

Expose the lies I tell myself
That only serve to bind
Help me lower the masks
The ones I hide behind

And as we name these thick places
That have me trapped inside
Help me not to find more places
Where I’ll only run and hide

Jesus, only you can do this
I can’t do this on my own
Free, and save me from myself
Help me unlearn what I have known

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Last weekend I did something way out of my comfort zone and attended a men’s retreat at Ted’s Place, a farm in the Hawkes Bay. This retreat, run by Brand New Heart Ministries wasn’t just another men’s event. It was, in a word – Epic!

The reason most messages and retreats for men ultimately fail is simple: They ignore what is deep and true to a man’s heart, and try to shape him up through various forms of pressure.

Last weekend was an honest, no @#!*% journey into the deep passions and desires of a man’s heart, into the healing of the wounds taken in this battle, into the realm of Fatherhood, God and calling – life as it was meant to be lived.

The glory of God is man fully alive
~ St Irenaues

Through the sessions, the times of quiet reflection, the movie clips, the shared adventures and the free time, we discovered something profound about the heart of God and the heart he gave us as men.

It was an incredible blessed and powerful time. God showed up to fill our hearts and bring us his words of love over us.

It was a confronting weekend for me. I learned a lot and have some things to work on as a result of the weekend. It struck me after I left that I had spent the weekend not just with 11 other men after Gods heart, but in the company of kings.

This week’s reflection is a poem written by one of the men that captures the essence of the weekend. Thank you my friend for sharing your heart.

Company of Kings

Clothed by a garmentjesus-and-freedom-300x225
Purchased at great cost
Put on for battle
But given in love

More jealously sought than a coat of many colours
Pure white over wretched nakedness
Tightly woven threads
Impervious to stain

The wearer now in the company of kings
A garment of praise

~ Cam Porter

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Follow Me

A few years back I entered the world of Twitter. As I’m sure you all know it is a world where you ‘follow’ other people and are yourselves ‘followed’. Twitter was launched in July 2006. It now has over 500 million active users. I’m not an avid follower but I do use it as a push marketing tool for this blog. I must go have a look at my account some time.

Justin Bieber now has over 36 million followers worldwide. Many other celebrities also have huge followings. People follow their lives, words, and lifestyle. They want to know all about them, they want to interact with them and they want to be like them. They imitate them. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. It is natural to want to follow those we admire. Following celebrities on Twitter can be fun or even enlightening.

However, following people on Twitter is one thing; being a true follower of someone is quite another. It means imitating their lives and doing what they tell us to do. We need to choose the right people to follow. Unlike with Twitter, it really does matter whom we follow. Millions, for example, followed Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. Still today, millions follow evil dictators, terrorists and gang leaders.

Some people are sceptical about tradition and institutions and do not know who to follow. The traditional models, which often came from or were championed by our families, institutions and political leaders, have to some extent broken down. This leaves many people unsure of whom to follow.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
~ Luke 9:23

Jesus said many times, ‘Follow me’. Of all the people who have ever lived, Jesus has the largest number of followers. Over 2,300 million people in the world today profess to follow Jesus. Jesus’ followers want to know him and to be like him.

This week may you know the one who calls you to follow. May you walk in His steps, as He leads you into all your tomorrows. May the one who you follow lead you and guide you through your valley of life. May you choose to follow, and lead others.

Will You Follow

Where I go, will you follow
For today
And your tomorrows

Where I go, will you come
Learn from me
And my Son

Where I go, you will see
Another world
And be like me

Where I go, will you follow
For today
And your tomorrows

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“Waking the Dead” by John Eldredge, is a book title that grabs your attention. It’s even more of an eye-opener when you realise the author is not talking about the unsaved who have not yet found Jesus.  He’s talking about Christians.

“How can this be? ” you may wonder. Even though Jesus lives in us, all too often we’re swallowed up by the events of our day to day lives so that to a large degree we’re oblivious to the ‘other’ reality – the spiritual reality . We need to really wake up and smell the coffee.

Eldredge uses movie and literary references to help us realise that, just like Neo learned in The Matrix, just like Frodo learned in Lord of the Rings and just like Luke Skywalker learned in Star Wars, things are not always what they seem. There’s a much bigger reality playing out all around us. We have all seen glimpses of this, in the sunsets, in the laughter of our kids, and in those moments where we just know that we’ve encountered God, but can’t explain or understand why or for what purpose.

The book begins with a quote from Saint Irenaeus:

The glory of God is man fully alive.

Eldredge shows us ways to re-awaken spiritually, to become fully alive and enjoy more of the abundant life Jesus promised us in John 10:10:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Eldredge speaks of four spiritual ideas: Walking With God, Receiving God’s Intimate Counsel, Deep Restoration and Spiritual Warfare. He encourages us to develop a deeper relationship with God and explains how we are all broken due to various trials and circumstances of life. Jesus wants to come into our hearts and heal those broken areas, one by one. It starts by waking up.

God has created each of us to bring glory to Him. We each have talents He has given us and when we use them in a proper manner, it glorifies Him. At the same time we become alive – fully. Yet, many times we become discouraged from using our talents, perhaps even being criticised as vain for seeking to use what God has given us.

Oh the glory of God is man fully aliveimage
Oh the glory of God is man fully alive

There are so many ways to hide
There are so many ways not to feel

There are so many ways to deny what is real
~ Sara Groves

May you know what it is to come awake and be fully alive. This week may you experience the glory of God in your daily life. May you be aware of the one who meets you in the small places of life, who creates opportunities and the coincidences that are all planned.  This week may you open the eyes of your heart and see what God has for you. May your life encourage others to wake up to reality of living.  May you seize the day and know that everything is spiritual.

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He is Alive!

Consider the dark and solemn images of the days leading up to Easter. It was dark at Christ’s arrest on Thursday. It was darker at His crucifixion and burial on Good Friday. How dark and sorrowful it must have been for His followers as they observed the Sabbath and, in keeping with Hebrew law and custom, could not do any work, much less attend to the broken body of Christ.

But the mood changed rapidly on Easter morning. Christ’s friends and followers discovered that the body was no longer in the tomb. They learned from Christ and the angels that He is Risen.

HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN, INDEED!

What joy overwhelms us with these words! From what appeared to be the unbelievable defeat of God at Calvary we burst into the ecstatic joy of Christ’s resurrection.

Jesus’ friends arrive at his tomb and they’re toldimage
he isn’t here
you didn’t see that coming, did you?
he’s isn’t here
there is nothing to fear
and nothing can ever be the same again
we are living in a world in the midst of rescue
with endless unexpected possibilities

do you believe this?
that’s the question Jesus asked then
and that’s the question he asks now

– Rob Bell

The great hymn “Christ Arose”, by Robert Lowry came to his mind as he was enjoying his devotions one evening. He was impressed by the words of the angel at Christ’s empty tomb, who said to the frightened women, “He is not here, but is risen!” The tune he composed moves from the somber verse to the joyful chorus.

Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

May you today meet the risen Jesus.  May you today experience this victory, because he did this for you. May you reflect on what this means for your community and for yourself.  May you come to know this day is the first day of the rest of your life.

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Rusty Nail

The New Testament teaches that the resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of the Christian faith.  The resurrection established Jesus as the powerful Son of God.  God has given Christians a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Christians, through faith in the working of God are spiritually resurrected with Jesus so that they may walk in a new way of eternal life.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  ~ John 11:25-26

Everybody believes something, and everybody believes somebody. Jesus’ resurrection is an invitation to a different way of living – an eternal life. It’s easy to lose focus on the life in the rats and mice of the here and now.

Eternity is here and now, it just goes on for longer.  God placed eternity within our hearts. It’s what we long for, what we made for. Jesus rising from the dead invites us to this life.

Jesus invites us to trust resurrection
that every glimmer of good
every hint of hope
every impulse that elevates the soul
is a sign, a taste, a glimpse
of how things actually are
and how things will ultimately be
resurrection affirms this life and the next
as a seamless reality
embraced
graced
and saved by God
~ Rob Bell

This Easter may you glimpse this seamless reality of eternity, how things are and will be, the life between the now and the not yet. If you seek it you will find it.  May you trust and embrace the message of Easter. Jesus rose and is alive and is reaching out for your hand. Will you take it?

Rusty Nail

Rusty nail on a dusty roadimage
There’s a scar in the palm of your hand
There’s an empty cross and a vacant tomb
And a love that I’ll never understand

I guess my leaving you was much too hard
For your old soul to stand
So here I am, I’m right back here again
And I’m reaching out for your hand

~ Derek Lind

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When the storms of life cause you to lose faith, don’t forget who is in your boat.

Have a read of Hebrews 6:13-20

This week I read a great article from In Touch magazine on hope as the anchor of the soul.  Here’s a section of it.

Many people in the world, maybe even you, are facing terrible storms in their lives: broken homes, joblessness, loneliness, loss, world crises. These things slash at the very fabric of our hope in Jesus. It may even seem as though we are lost, adrift at sea in a small boat during a hurricane. How on earth will we be able to reach the shore safely?

The disciples faced this fear as well. While they were crossing a lake in their small ship, the weather took a frightening turn for the worse, endangering the vessel and, the men assumed, their very lives. In desperation, they went to Jesus for help, but were surprised to find Him asleep. They cried out

Lord, save us! We’re going to drown! – Matthew 8:25

When Jesus awoke, He rebuked them for their lack of faith. Then He proceeded to calm the storm. Through this dramatic demonstration of His power, He showed Himself to be Lord over all creation. It was also a clear lesson about where we are to turn when storms arise in our lives.

Sometimes people think their challenging circumstances mean that God isn’t paying attention. That’s what the disciples thought—until Christ rose to calm the turbulent waters. Nothing is beyond the control of our sovereign Lord.

Anchor me, anchor me
As the compass turns
And the glass it falls
Where the storm clouds roll
And the gulls they call

Anchor me, anchor me, anchor me, anchor me
In the middle of your deep blue sea
Anchor me, anchor me
~ Anchor Me by the Mutton Birds (click to listen)

When the world—or even just our own personal “world”—seems out of control, Jesus is still Lord of all. So what should you do when you think He is sleeping? The answer is simple: Thank God that He is in the boat with you. And then look at your situation through eyes of hope and trust.

So this week, may you come to know and understand more deeply the hope that anchors you. May this hope centre you and surround you.  May you walk in this hope, knowing that it goes before you, behind you, is above and beneath you.  May you come to know that the hope is closer to you than breathing, and is the very air that you breathe.

Anchor of the Soul

Anchor me
In the wildimage
And raging sea

Anchor me
Through the storms
In my cup of tea

Anchor me
On the truth
That sets me free

Jesus
Anchor me, anchor me
Anchor me

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Rescue Me

When everything seems to be going wrong in our lives – with our work, our finances, our health or some other situation it is sometimes very hard to keep trusting in God. David’s prayer in Psalm 31 is an encouragement to us to cry out to God to rescue us and then to put our trust in him.

David prays, ‘Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue’ (v.2a). He goes on, ‘I trust in, rely on, and confidently lean on the Lord’ (v.6b, AMP).

He says, ‘Into your hands I commit my spirit’ (v.5). These are the ultimate words of trust. These were among the last recorded words of Jesus prior to his death. ‘Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last’ (Luke 23:46).

In Psalm 31 we see the results of God’s love for us shown supremely through the death of Jesus for us.

The Lord is my refuge

The psalm starts with the words, ‘In you, Lord, I have taken refuge’ (Psalm 31:1a). Later he says, ‘Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge’ (v.4). There are many trials, tests, traps and temptations in this life. In all this, the Lord is our refuge.

The Lord is my rock

The psalmist writes, Lord ‘be my rock’ (v.2b) and ‘since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me’ (v.3). We can know God’s guiding and leading, by his Spirit. He is our security on which we can depend.

The Lord is my rescuer

He prays, ‘Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue’ (v.2a). He goes on to describe how God saw the ‘affliction and … anguish of [his] soul’ (v.7b). Yet God did not hand him over to the enemy (v.8a). He rescued him and has ‘set [his] feet in a spacious place’ (v.8b). In Jesus we receive the ultimate rescue.

This week may you know that you have been rescued from all my your enemies, from shame, traps, affliction and the anguish of your own soul. May you know that Jesus leads and guides you always. May you experience your own rescue and the security of His refuge, in the spacious place.

To The Rescue

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.

Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.

Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.

Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.
I hate those who cling to worthless idols;
as for me, I trust in the Lord.

I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you saw my affliction
and knew the anguish of my soul.

You have not given me into the hands of the enemy
but have set my feet in a spacious place.

~ Psalm 31: 1-8

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If you play Trivial Pursuit long enough you will know that “Jesus wept” is a phrase famous for being the shortest verse in the King James Version of the Bible, as well as many other versions. You can find it in John 11:35.

This verse occurs in John’s narrative of the death of Lazarus, a follower of Jesus. Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus of their brother’s illness and impending death, but Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus died. Jesus, after talking to the grieving sisters and seeing Lazarus’ friends weeping, was deeply troubled and moved. After asking where Lazarus had been laid, and being invited to come see, Jesus wept. He then came to the tomb and told the people to remove the stone covering the tomb, prayed aloud to his Father, and ordered Lazarus to come out, resurrecting him before the mourners.

Significance has been attributed to Jesus’ deep emotional response to his friends’ weeping, and his own tears, including the following:

  • Weeping demonstrates that Christ was indeed a true man, with real bodily functions (such as tears, sweat, blood, eating and drinking—note, for comparison, the emphasis laid on Jesus’ eating during the post-resurrection appearances).
  • His emotions and reactions were real; Christ was not an illusion or spirit
  • The sorrow, sympathy, and compassion Jesus felt for all mankind.
  • The rage he felt against the tyranny of death over mankind.

So sometimes we weep. We know that Jesus has experienced all the suffering and more than we will ever experience.  This can be helpful to us if we can gain the perspective we need to realise it. This of course isn’t very easy to do when we are in the middle of suffering. However this is exactly when God can seem the closest.

It is in these places where Jesus invites us to come to the water, rest a while and let Him guide us through the valley. All we need to do is accept His free invitation.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. – Isaiah 55:1

May you come to know that in the midst of your trials and suffering that Jesus is there, closer to you than your own breath. May you know that Jesus sees and counts each of your tears. May you know that it was for those tears He died and rose again.

For Those Tears I Died

You said you’d come and share all my sorrows
You said you’d be there for all my tomorrows
I came so close to sending you away
But just like you promised, you came here to stayhttps://i1.wp.com/www.awwand.org/images/waterhands.jpg
I just had to pray

And Jesus said,
Come to the water, stand by my side
I know you are thirsty, you won’t be denied
I felt every tear drop, when in darkness you cried
And I strove to remind you, It’s for those tears I died

Your goodness so great, I can’t understand it
And dear Lord I know now that all this was planned
I know You’re here now and always will be
Your love loosened my chains, and in You I’m free
But Jesus why me?

Jesus I give You, my heart and my soul
I know now without God, I’ll never be whole
Savior, You opened all the right doors
And I thank You and praise You from earth’s humble shores
Take me I’m Yours!

Words and Music by Marsha J. and Russ Stevens

 

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The future is something which we speed towards at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, every hour of every day.   Every week there are 168 hours to use.  We cannot carry these forward, each future hour quickly become the past.

This the same for all of us, whatever we do, whoever we are, wherever we live.  It can seem sometimes that time just passes us by and that it was only yesterday that we were growing up, at school, at the beach, on holiday.  Time is the great level playing field.  We are preoccupied with time, the passing of, time, measuring time and time running out.

You’ll all recall the media coverage and hype of the end of the Mayan calendar on 21 December 2012. While some of us may have looked at the end of the world as a blessed relief, others were rushing around busying themselves with doing all the last-minute things – just in case.  As it turned out we’re all still here and still obsessed with time. We talk and write about time, all the time – literally!  Our language and culture are full of references to time – here are just a few:

  •  We can say it’s only a question of time
  •  We can have a whale of a time.
  •  We can work around the clock
  •  We can live day-to-day
  •  We can something from time to time
  •  We can decide to do something once in a blue moon, now and then, of if we’re really decisive  now or never

I don’t really have enough time to list everything, we’d be here all day and night, until the cows came home.  And then we’d still have time on our hands – you get the picture?  What does time actually look like on our hands?  Is it sticky like glue or like grains of sand?  I wonder.

So what to do with daylight?  How can we best use our waking hours to extend the boundaries, further the cause, and push out the boat.  How can we make sure that no time is wasted, every minute counts and we jam pack everything we need into the day for the glory of God – because isn’t that what this all about – for the glory . . . of . . . God?

The bible has a lot to say about time and how we should use it.  Unsurprisingly the bible defines time in an eternal perspective.  In the language and culture of the bible there is much more peaceful and relaxed sense of time.  There is a real sense that God does not see time as we see time and this is what we must learn.  Even Peter (yes Peter) figured this out.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.
~ 2 Peter 3:8

So let’s just stop the clock for a minute and look at a couple of key themes about how the bible deals with time

  • Time is marked by a created order– Ge 1:5
  • God is timeless – Ps 90:2
  • God’s perception of time is much  different to ours –  Ps 90:4

So that’s great but what should we do with our time.  How would God like us to use the daylight.  What should we focus our efforts on.  What could we consider the proper use of God’s time – our time?

Again the answers are found in we would expect to find them, but just don’t have the time to read.  There are four areas of focus that may be helpful to look at:

1. Human life is short – pray hard –  Ps 90:12
2. Seek God –  Isa 55:6
3. Look to eternal realities –  1 Co 7:29-31
4. Make the most of the opportunities – Col 4:5 See also Gal 6:10; Eph 5:16

If we focused on even some of these we may just start to fill up our day with things that matter to God.  Of course you may be doing this already.  I know I’m not – so I’m going to spend some time reflecting on these verses now.

This week may you come to know the timelessness of God.  May his eternal presence fill your heart this week, because this is where God has placed eternity, even though we may not release it.  May you be released from the busyness and boundaries of time are remember that God’s timing is perfect no matter how long it may seem.  May you rediscover what to do with daylight.

What to do with Daylight

What to do with daylight
Another day beckons near
Will I seek to save the lost
With the burdens that they bear

What to do with daylight
Will I choose you today
And will others notice
As they go about their day

What to do with daylight
Will I speak your word at all
There will be an opportunity
Even though it may be so small

What do to with daylight
I am small with faith so weak
But you are strong and mighty
Help me find you where I seek

What to do with daylight
For those who cannot see
For those that live in darkness
Let me guide them to your way

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Behind the Eyes

Behind your eye there is a place where your optic nerve connects to your retina, called the optic disc. Unlike other cells in your eyes there are no photoreceptor cells on the optic disc, so when an image hits that part of your retina, you just can’t see it.

This is your blind spot. Generally you don’t notice this blind spot in every-day life, because your two eyes work together to cover it up.  Our brain is wired to compensate for the part behind our eye where we just can’t see things.  It’s a fairly impressive part of human design when you think about it. Even more impressive that latest iPad retina display! Actually, not even close.

I’ve heard people say that it’s impossible to believe in something that they cannot see – God, for example.  It takes faith, sometimes a lot of faith to believe in God when you can’t see Him, and also when you can’t really see Him take action when you would expect it, or even not expect it.  For us to believe, we need to have faith, but we also need hope, because faith is what makes more certain and less doubtful.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. ~ Hebrews 11:1

Now I have also heard people say that doubt is the absence of faith or that doubt weakens faith.  I’m not sure that it’s that simple. Doubt can also be useful for us to test faith and to give us hope.

Doubt for me is my blind spot, it’s the one thing that really makes me question my faith.  Sometimes it helps build my faith by making me test and question. Sometimes this gives me more hope and more faith. Other times it erodes all the faith I ever thought I had.  Still it returns, faith, doubt and hope – it is a bit of a cycle really.

I’m glad I’ll only ever need faith as small as a mustard seed.  This is all I’ll ever need to move the mountain of doubts I have sometime.

Knowing I have this blind spot helps me to remember that I need only look to Jesus – the author and perfector of my faith.  In this I have no doubt.  We all have blind spots.  I wonder what yours is? Have you named it?

May you, this week, embrace faith, doubt and hope and rediscover how this cycle helps you to come back to Jesus with your questions, your fears, and your dreams.  May you name and embrace your own blind spots, and by faith, be confident and certain of what you hope for. May the God of hope and glory fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that you may abound in this hope.

Behind the Eyes

Behind the eyes
Forgotten by my mindEye
There is a growing doubling doubt
The persistent nagging kind

Behind the eyes
Not known here today
The doubt of many ages past
Light and dark at play

Behind the eyes
The battle lines are drawn
The enemy marches closer
In the darkness before the dawn

Behind the eyes
The war is already won
In the radiance of the sunrise
By the bloodshed of your son

Behind the eyes
God help me clearly see
That though my battle may be lost
Through you I claim the victory

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What is it about a sunset?  Why do we gaze expectantly at sunsets?  There are two really  interesting things about sunsets, they are always spectacular and they are always different.  There is a sense of wonder and awe when we look into a sunset.  We never really look at a sunset – we are often drawn in. Something or someone is calling us, reminding us that there must be more, so much more.  Is this just what we hope for and just cannot see?  Either way most people would agree that sunsets are a thing of awe, beauty and wonder.

When I admire the wonder of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in worship of the Creator ~ Mahatma Gandhi

I wonder then why we so quickly forget these moments of wonder and beauty?  Life has a way  of turning these sunsets into forgotten overcast memories.  As we grow up and grow old I think we can forget to wonder, look for wonder and experience it.

Perhaps wonder is God’s way of tapping us on the shoulder and getting our attention. Perhaps a sunset is God’s way of distracting us, and getting us to rediscover something – something buried and forgotten in the mists of life. Something important and critical.

Wonder demands questions of us. Questions like, What are you trying to teach me here?  What issues in my heart are you trying to raise through this?  What is it you want me to see?  What are you asking me to release and let go of?  Wonder asks us to respond.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. ~ Ecclesiastes 3:11

Wonder can also be captured, reproduced and repackaged.  Just walk into your favourite store and someone will try to sell it back to you.  How many pictures of sunsets have you taken?  Not really the same as the real thing is it? There is no accountability in a photo of a sunset.

So what to do with wonder?  Lately I’ve been challenged to re-discover wonder and just be thankful for the things that I have.  Perhaps wonder just needs to be enjoyed in the present moment.  It may just be about being present in the wonder.  Hard to do, but important.  Next time you set the sun set – see it change colour, experience the wonder and notice what this does to you, for you.

This week may you rediscover wonder, be present, if only for a moment and let it speak to your soul. There may be something you need to hear, something you need to see.

Rediscovering wonder

May you rediscover wonder
In the sunset of your years
May you choose to cling to hope
In the twilight of your fears

May you rediscover wonder
In the worship you have sung
May it remind you of your creator
Like in the days when you were young

May you rediscover wonder
Let it heal the hurts you hold
May you also forgive yourself
Before you grow too old

May you rediscover wonder
Let it flood your aching soul
Will you let His love astound you?
Will you let Him make you whole?

May you rediscover wonder
May it release you from your fear
May you rediscover beauty
In the twilight of your years

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Waiting is an inevitable, necessary and mostly boring aspect of life. We wait in lines in order to buy our groceries; to be served at the restaurant, to be attended to in a bank; at stop signs and traffic lights; at amusement parks; to see a play or film. We must also wait for flowers to grow and bloom; for babies to be born; for wounds to heal; for bread to rise and cheese to age; for children to just grow up; for friends to call; for love to deepen.

Statisticians have estimated that in a lifetime of 70 years, the average person spends at least five years waiting. So why can’t we just hurry up and wait?

The bible has a lot to say about waiting. The bible teaches that we must trust God and remain hopeful while we wait. God is good. He promises to never leave us or forsake us. God is always working in our  life –  even when we are waiting for Him.  God assures us there is comfort and hope when we go through tough times as we wait with Him, stand firm and continue to seek His ways.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
~ Psalm 130:5-6

Good things take time. Easy to say, easy to write about, and easy to give as advice for others right?

I think there is another way to look at this.  We are so obsessed with waiting and measuring how long we wait in minutes, hours, and years.  Why is it that things take so long?  Why is it that God sometimes takes so long to answer our prayers?  I have no answers. I just don’t know.

What I do know is that no amount of theologizing and explaining can satisfy us while we wait.  Perhaps, just perhaps there is something critically important that happens to us while we are waiting. Life is lived while we wait.  Faith is proved while we wait.  Hope is tested while we wait.

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!
~ Isaiah 30:18

In the song Willow Tree by The Waifs, there is a verse that has always stuck with me.  It’s about waiting – not us waiting – but Jesus waiting for us.  I think we may have this waiting thing all wrong.  Jesus waits for us, he waits for us to come back to Him.  We wait for Him while he waits for us.
WillowTree - Copy

Under the willow tree, that’s where I wait for you

To come back to me, but you’re so far away.
I just sit by here in the morning sun,
And I wait under the willow tree.
~ The Waifs (Willow Tree)

This week may you come to  know how Jesus waits for you, longs for you to come back to Him.  In your waiting may you know that Jesus waits with you and for you.  Will you spend sometime waiting with Jesus this week.  What might you learn?  What will be different? What will you be able to share?

Where I Wait

You asked where I went
As if you already knew
Here under the willow tree
Is where I wait for you

You felt abandoned
Like you had no clue
Here under the willow tree
Is where I wait for you

You thought I left
As fast as the morning dew
Here under the willow tree
Is where I wait for you

Will you come back to me
I can make all things new
Here under the willow tree
Is where I wait for you

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The Plan I Know

So it’s almost 2013 and many of us are thinking about New Year resolutions and plans for the New Year.  What will 2013 hold for us? In reality we have no idea what the future holds, but at least we know who holds the future.

There is an often quoted verse is Jeremiah 29:11 about what God holds in store for us:

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.

It’s a great verse and a great promise. It’s a verse that I’ve been running into a lot over the last six months. Perhaps God is trying to tell me something . . .

This verse comes from a chapter in a letter sent by Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon from Jerusalem. They have been taken to live in a land far away in a culture much different from their own. However, God assures them to live in hope, because their exile will not last forever. In fact,  God even tells the people to find peace in their current circumstances.

This message is as much for us today when we find ourselves right in the middle of the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’. Even though we may not realise it, God wants to use us where we are right now, no matter where that might be.

But I’m caught in between
The now and the not yet;
Sometimes it seems like
Forever and ever,
That I’ve been reaching to be
All that I am,
But I’m only a few steps nearer,
Yet I’m nearer

~ Amy Grant

Jeremiah 29:11 shows us the love of God for His people and the power of His plans. Paul writes in Romans 8:28:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Paul really captures the true meaning of Jeremiah 29:11 in his writings in Romans. Through the pains of this life, God has a plan. And his plan is not just another plan – it’s the perfect one.

God walks with us and leads us through life – the valleys and the mountaintops. When you find yourself in the dark of the valley, trust in God’s plan. When you find yourself with the wind in your face on the top of that hill, trust in God’s plan.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” –Psalm 23:4

So what about you?  Are your plans God’s plans?  How will you know and how will find out?

The Plan I Know

You may not realise
You will often forget
That I have a plan for you
In between the now and the not yet

I have so much more for you
You focus so much on your debt
I have plans for you to prosper
In between the now and the not yet

You’ll walk through the valleys
And fear to take your next step
My plans are not to harm you
In between the now and the not yet

If you’ll slow down and take a breath
Take time to watch my sun set
It’s my plan to give you hope and a future
In between the now and the not yet

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Momentum II

Over a year ago I wrote this post.  Last week  I met up with my friend again for coffee in the same cafe.  It was great to share another moment in time – just at the right time.  Thanks my friend.

Here’s the old post . . .

A good friend and I meet for coffee every couple of weeks at Soho Brown, a café in Wellington city. Over a couple of flat whites, we sit and catch up on what’s been happening in our lives, what we’d like to happen, and why other stuff just happens to get in the way. Like a lot of friends, we share some common views, opinions, and experiences. It’s probably why we get along so well.

A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walk out. ~ Walter Winchell

At our last coffee catch up, my friend mentioned that he had resigned from his job in Wellington and was heading off to another job in Dunedin (about 600km south of Wellington). I knew that he had been looking around for another job for sometime so I congratulated him on his new job and how I was really happy for him. I think I was reasonably convincing – at least on the outside.

On the inside at a completely selfish level I was going into shock. I was losing a good friend, my coffee buddy. We wouldn’t meet anymore for coffee. How would I fill this gaping hole every two weeks? I immediately began thinking of coffee friend replacements, but why? Do I have an abandonment complex?  I was really surprised at my inward reaction – it was really quite selfish and ugly. The stark duplicity of my reactions, both inward and outward was confronting.

I don’t make friends very easily. I’m good at having friends but not so good at being a friend.  I’ve found there is a big difference. I reflected on how the topics of our conversations always came back to me and my issues, rather than a 50/50 split of what a good friendship should be about. I have a lot to learn. Still, I am really genuinely happy for my friend, I’m sure his new life in Dunedin will be full of wonderful opportunities, and I do wish him all the best.

A true friend is one who thinks you are a good egg even if you are half cracked ~ Author unknown

I have really valued our coffee chats, and if I can learn anything about how to be a great friend – a real friend, it will be how my friend was a genuine and real friend to me. I really hope we stay in touch. I also hope that he doesn’t read this because he’ll think I’ve gone completely mad – perhaps I’ll be brave enough to email him a link and tell him how happy I am for him and how much I’ll miss our coffee catch ups. I guess that’s what a genuine friend would do, right?

Anyway, here’s my tribute to you my friend. It’s been a privilege getting to know you. Thanks for all the coffees, and don’t be a stranger. Go well my friend.
Momentum
We both meet here my friend
At this moment of time
In the words of this poem
We both share this same rhyme

The gift that we share
Some words in life’s sentence
A small part of our story
In one little parentheses

In this precious moment
Our souls greet each other
As part of God’s Kingdom
We meet here as Brothers

So let joy complete us
As we encounter and share
Let us carry each other
In our hopes and our prayers

Peace be with you my friend
Until next time we meet
Through this avenue of words
In the very same street

May the road rise up to meet you
And may God guide your feet
May the sun warm your face
Until next time we speak.

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Guiding Star

Be You a bright flame before me,
Be You a smooth way below me,
Be You a guiding star above me,
Be You a watchful eye behind me,
This day, this night, for ever.

~ St. Columba (c. 521-597)

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Abide With Me

Abide with Me, written in 1847, is a Christian hymn by Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte, most often sung to William Henry Monk’s tune Eventide.

Lyte was in­spired to write this hymn as he was dy­ing of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis; he fin­ished it the Sun­day he gave his fare­well ser­mon in the par­ish he served so ma­ny years. The next day, he left for Ita­ly to re­gain his health. He didn’t make it, though—he died in Nice, France, three weeks af­ter writ­ing these words. Here is an ex­cerpt from his fare­well ser­mon:

O breth­ren, I stand here among you to­day, as alive from the dead, if I may hope to im­press it upon you, and in­duce you to pre­pare for that sol­emn hour which must come to all, by a time­ly ac­quaint­ance with the death of Christ.

For over a cen­tu­ry, the bells of his church at All Saints in Low­er Brix­ham, De­von­shire, have rung out “Abide with Me” daily. The hymn was sung at the wed­ding of King George VI, at the wed­ding of his daugh­ter, the fu­ture Queen Eliz­a­beth II, and at the funeral of Nobel peace prize winner Mother Teresa of Calcutta in 1997. More recently it was sung by Emeli Sandé at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games.

The hymn is popular across many denominations, and was said to be a favourite of King George V and Mahatma Gandhi. It is also often sung at Christian funerals. In the aftermath of the sinking of RMS Titanic, survivors reported that the Titanic’s band played the hymn as the ship was sinking, although detailed studies have identified other songs played by the band.

What always strikes me about this hymn is its stark simplicity, and the way it just centres everything back to God. It’s also speaks of the challenge to above all else, remain attached to God.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
~ John 15: 5- 7

What are your thoughts on this? What does it mean to ‘abide in Him’? Where does this get you? Will you share your thoughts.

Abide in Me

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
ills have no weight, and tears not bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Finally here is New Zealand’s own Hayley Westenera’s version. Soak it up.

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Planting Seeds

My attempts at writing anything resembling good poetry has seemed to completely dried up for now.  It may be a temporary phase or it may more permanent – I really have no idea.  What I do know is that to be inspired you need to get inspired.  So while I’m writing nothing in particular I though I may as well revisit and share some poetry that have inspired me in the past.

Adrian Plass is a poet, writer and speaker who has produced over thirty books in the last twenty years. The best known of these is probably The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, a gentle satire on the modern church, which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide. This and other books have travelled to other countries and are translated into a number of foreign languages. Other books include biography, novels, short stories, a fictionalised account of the author’s experiences as a residential child care worker, and collections of poems and sketches. A bemused Anglican, Adrian lives with his wife and daughter in a small market town near the Sussex South Downs, England.

I like most of Adrian’s poems, but one that I have always loved is Growbag World.  It’s all about that elusive dream of doing something significant and inspiring and then how it all goes horribly wrong and you wake up and find that you really haven’t made the difference you had hoped for.

The poem also speaks of doing the small things well and making a huge difference, beyond your wildest imagination and never ever being aware of it.  Maybe life is all about planting seeds and never really seeing what they grow into. What do you think?

Growbag World

Upon this giant growbag world
I planted seeds of light
And dreamed a glowing harvest
That would penetrate the night
But as I toiled upon my knees,
They ringed me round with gloom,
Their pockets full of pallid hands,
Their voices full of doom.

‘We tell the truth, the truth is dark,
There is no light to save
Your seeds will never break the earth,
Your garden is a grave.’
And yet I work, I work, I work,
And now my seeds have grown,
I touch the cold and lightless leaves,
And love them as my own.

And will there come a morning soon,
When flowers from the shade,
Will bloom and break, and float, and light
The world that you have made?

How hard, how hard, to paint a dream,
For eyes that cannot shine,
For eyes too dulled by twilight skies,
To see the dawn in mine.

~ Adrian Plass

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Living Water

We all experience valleys at one time or another during our lives.  In fact, usually several times.  Life is a series of mountain tops and valleys. While we know God cares about our suffering, many of us wonder at times why He allows it.  No one likes the valleys of suffering. Most of us would rather spend our time on the mountain top.

Time in the valley can be a place of rest and solitude.  It may not be what type of valley we find ourselves in, but rather, what we do when we’re in the valley.  Do we complain, groan, and allow bitterness to enter our hearts – if we are honest then probably yes!  There is one unique thing however that we can only find in the valley – rivers.  Perhaps time in the valley is time to rest, drink and be refilled.

You restore my soul. You guide me in the path of righteousness for your name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Psalm 23:3-4

In the valleys of life, we learn that we need help, restoration and guidance.  Other people may be able to help, but they may also offer too much advice – remember Job’s friends? There is only one God who can provide full and complete restoration. It’s an issue of trust and of waiting.

So what about you? If you find yourself in the valley, take heart. God is up to something, because you’re worth it. If you feel like you are in an endless, uphill battle and can’t do anything right to get to the top of the mountain. Stop climbing. Breathe, and take in the fresh air from below and drink from the river. He has so much for you.  Here, or somewhere this week, be real and share your story.

Living Waters

They say that faith moves mountains
But do they really know
That it’s only in the valleys
Where your living waters flow

They say that words have power
And we all have seeds to sow
But have they walked the valleys
Where your living waters flow

They say just call your name
When you feel defeated by your foes
Do they know the valleys
Where your living waters flow

Their actions betray their words
So for now I’ll cling to you
For you are my living water
In the valley of my foe

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First Light

Plato’s Cave, is an allegory used by the Greek philosopher Plato in his book The Republic.  This is one of Plato’s  most well-known works.

Plato describes man’s condition as being chained in a cave, with only a fire behind him.  He perceives the world by watching the shadows on the wall.  He sits in darkness with the false light of the fire and does not realize that this existence is wrong or lacking.  It merely is his existence — he knows no other nor offers any complaint.

Plato plays with the notion of what would occur if people suddenly encountered the divine light of the sun, and perceived “true” reality. In other words, what would happen if people actually embraced the light and realised that shadows are darkness  caused by light.

Next Plato imagines what would occur in the cave  if the chained man were suddenly released from his bondage and let out into the world.  Plato describes how some people would immediately be frightened and want to return to the cave and the familiar dark existence. Others would look at the sun and finally see the world as it truly is. Any of this sound familiar?

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. ~ Jesus of Nazareth

Perhaps Plato was on to something here.  What is the reality we are living in?  Are we living our existence in a cave chasing shadows and accepting this as our reality, or should we turn around to see where the light is coming from and perhaps even venture outside the cave and experience the first light that made both me and you. What are your thoughts on this?

First Light

As I walk in this cave
The shadows dance on the wall
From Your light behind me
They grow narrow and tall

I stumble in this cave
Through the cobwebs I see
A shadow of my life
Far from Your reality

You reach for my hand
And with You I turn
To face Your pure radiance
I have so much to unlearn

You turn my world upside down
And my thoughts inside out
Let us walk out by faith
Through my shadows of doubt

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Churchianity

Sometimes it’s important to get back to basics.  Sometimes it’s important to de-clutter.  Sometimes it’s important to leave behind things to find things.  I’ve been thinking lately how church can get in the way of finding Jesus.  Lately I’ve been thinking that some churches just really put roadblocks in the way of discovering who Jesus is and what this actually means for those that want to follow him. I read a book last year called Mere Churchianity that explores this idea.  Here’s a summary of what the book is about:

Have you left the church in search of Jesus? Studies show that one in four young adults claim no formal religious affiliation, and church leaders have long known that this generation is largely missing on Sunday morning. Hundreds of thousands of “church leavers” have had a mentor and pastor, however, in Michael Spencer, known to blog readers as the Internet Monk. Spencer guided a vast online congregation in its search for a more honest and more immediate practice of Christian faith. Spencer discovered the truth that church officials often miss, which is that many who leave the church do so in an attempt to find Jesus. For years on his blog Spencer showed de-churched readers how to practice their faith without the distractions of religious institutions. Sadly, he died in 2010. But now that his last message is available in Mere Churchianity, you can benefit from the biblical wisdom and compassionate teaching that always have been hallmarks of his ministry. With Mere Churchianity, Spencer’s writing will continue to point the disenchanted and dispossessed to a Jesus-shaped spirituality. And along the way, his teachings show how you can find others who will go with you on the journey. (Source: Amazon.com)

I’m going through a season at the moment of being disenchanted with church.  I know it’s important to get together with fellow believers, but sometimes church just really still gets in the way, especially when it just becomes all about the speaker,  the music, and the coffee. I’m not advocating that people should stop going to church, but what would it mean if church stopped being a place and started being a way of doing things, a way of life?  After all, Jesus didn’t go to church?
So what do you think?  What’s your definition of church?  How do you church?


Churchianity

The church is one stagnation,
Its music is obscure.
It longs to heal the nation,
But it can’t find the cure.

The cross is forgotten silver,
Its steeple is too high
And the problems to its answers,
Will keep the church at night.

Perhaps church is not a building,
Maybe its walls are just our lives.
The good, the bad, the ugly,
And all we are to do is try.

To love God with every fibre of our heart
To pray until we weep.
To worship with our searching soul,
Maybe then we’ll find what we seek.

Maybe in our eternal wandering,
We’ll reach the final goal.
Then unity will bind us,
So God might make us whole.

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Heaven on Earth

William Blake would have to be my favourite poet of all time.  His depth of poetry is without equal.  What I really like about Blake is that he is the master of the poetic form and content. Blake’s poems inspire me. I have many favourites, one of them is Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is a short poem written in 1804  from William Blake’s collection of writings known as the Prophetic Books. Today it is best known as the hymn Jerusalem, with music written by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916. Check out he video clip at the end of this post.

It has been said that the poem Jerusalem was inspired by a legend that a young Jesus, accompanied by his uncle Joseph of Arimathea, a tin merchant, travelled to the area that is now England and visited Glastonbury during Jesus’ lost years. The legend is linked to an idea in the Book of Revelation (3:12 and 21:2) describing a Second Coming, where Jesus establishes a new Jerusalem. The Christian Church in general, and the English Church in particular, used Jerusalem as a metaphor for Heaven, a place of universal love and peace.

In the most common interpretation of the poem, Blake implies that a visit of Jesus would briefly create heaven in England, in contrast to the “dark Satanic Mills” of the British Industrial Revolution. An interesting story.  Could it be possible that like William Blake, we could invite Heaven to Earth?

Because with every action, comment, conversation, we have the choice to invite Heaven or Hell to Earth. ~ Rob Bell

What do you think about this?  Could Heaven really be a place on Earth, not now – but sometime? What’s your view of Heaven?

Jerusalem

And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land

~ William Blake

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The Last Word

There are only three things that are important in a story. The beginning, the middle and the end. Simple really when you think about it.  In Christianity, endings are important.  It’s important to finish well, particularly at the end of a church service and send people out in hope. A flippant “that’s the end of service – let’s be careful out there”, just doesn’t cut it. It’s about farewell, it’s about wishing people well, it’s about blessing.

In many churches the ending of the service includes a benediction. The word benediction is made up of two words.  Bene meaning good, and diction meaning saying.  So, the benediction is meant or used as a blessing

In the Bible a benediction is used as a short form of a petition, an assurance, a promise or principle. It’s about protection, comfort, and abundance. It is the essence of genuine, heartfelt joy and commitment. It is personal, it is positive, it is healing, it is eternal.

Here are some of the most familiar benedictions or blessings in the bible:

May the Lord bless you and keep you; may He make His face [cause his spirit] to shine on you and be gracious to you; may He lift up His countenance [smile] on you and give you peace. ~Numbers 6:22-27

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. ~ Jude 24-35

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. ~ 1 Thess 5:23

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, So that you may abound in hope By the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.~ Romans 15:13

I think we have lost something when we send people out, when we farewell people, when we say goodbye.  Perhaps we have missed an opportunity in the church, and in our lives to bless people and to leave them with a blessing.

So what about you?  How will you bless people this week – how will people find hope and comfort in your words?  Here or somewhere this week share your story, it may just help someone to feel more than just blessed.  Here’s my take on a benediction for you.  May these words bring you comfort, hope and peace this week.

The Last Word

When heartache and trouble
Clamber like monkeys on your back
And your shoulders slump
With the weight of unexpected burden
May your long road rise to meet you
And clearly direct your path

When all hope seems lost
And your soul becomes dim
Behind your grey eyes that forget to sparkle
May a rainbow of bright thick colours
Splash over the canvas of your mind
And awaken you to choose life again

When you struggle on your own
With burdens too common to share
Because others have won medals
For burying their burdens
May you reach out
For we were always meant to
Share each others burdens

When someone pulls your thread
And you feel so unravelled
So tied up in knots and pulled apart
May you catch a glimpse of the other side of
Your tapestry of life
See it taking shape as a
Beautiful landscape

May these words dance around you
On a gentle warm breeze
May love surround you
And weave a cloak
Of hope and character
Around your life

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Surrender

Surrender is when people stop fighting . In war, a white flag is a common symbol of surrender, as is the gesture of raising one’s hands empty and open above one’s head.

I was listening to a video clip by Rob Bell the other day (and no I’m not a universalist – I just like his style) and he talked about how most of us walk around with white knuckles, desperately holding onto to things and people.  He advocates that we should walk around with open hands, because only in an open hand can we release things and have things placed.  Perhaps this is what happens when and after we surrender.

Surrendering is not merely a once-and-for-all experience. It is continuous, day by day. When our soul struggles to live and preserve itself, that is a call to a deeper relationship with God.  It means more opening to Him with hearts, hands and arms wide open. Surrendering is not just the act of denying the self. It is an interruption of the motions of the life to connect with God.

Don’t seek God in temples. He is close to you. He is within you. Only you should surrender to Him and you will rise above happiness and unhappiness. ~ Leo Tolstoy

By surrender we find rest in our souls (Matt. 11:28-30). Our soul  exists for God – He put it there – to contain Him, to be filled with Him, and to express Him. His resurrection life and power  passes through every battle that we may experience.  We have access to this divine power in surrender and letting go.

I have a lot to learn here.  I’m still walking around white knuckled.  I need to open up and trust God more.  It’s not easy – but I know it’s important.  One day I’ll get there.

So what about you?  What does surrender mean to you, and what do you need to hold less tightly and open your hands to?  Here or somewhere this week will you share your thoughts?  You may just help someone let go and receive something.

Surrender

In these timber trenches
In darkness, I dig in
God protect me in these killing fields
And save my soul, from sin

In this war I am blind
And deaf from friendly fire
Protect my heart with Your shield
Be my Jehovah Jireh

These trenches are my prison
The enemy marches near
God, my rock of ages past
Break me out of here

So I wave my flag of dirty white
At Your feet, I fall
To my Jesus and my King
I surrender all

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Last year I stumbled upon the great book, Anam Cara, by John O’DonohueAnam Cara is Gaelic for soul friend.  His book includes ancient teachings, stories, and blessings of Celtic Christianity.  The contents provide profound insights on the universal themes of friendship, solitude, love, and death. In Anam Cara,  John O’Donohue, poet, philosopher, and scholar, guides you through the spiritual landscape of the Irish imagination. His book begins with this quote:

It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone. Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world exists. A world lives within you. No one else can bring you news of this inner world.

A lot of O’Donohue’s writings and indeed Celtic Christianity focuses on the describing the deeper aspects of the soul and the heart.  This is a brave new world, and venturing into it challenges us to think in a different way.  While some may write this off as New Age thinking, there is  element of his work that may just go to describing the concept how eternity is placed in our heart by God.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet  no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. ~Ecclesiastes 3:10-12

A lot of Celtic Christianity focuses on perspective, frames of vision and looking through the ‘windows of the soul’.  It’s an interesting place to dwell, reflect and meditate in.  It’s about being still and knowing God.

So what about you my friend?  Have you considered your point of reference that you use to frame your faith and belief?  What would in mean to look out a different window and broaden your horizon? Maybe this is where understanding begins and blinkered thinking ends. Here or somewhere this week will you share your story. It may just help someone open the window of their soul and experience eternity.

Open Window

If my mind is a tower of windows
That reaches toward the sky,
Why do I sit at the same one
And hope to wonder why.

If I stare out the same window,
And view the same scene each day,
Will it grow and shape my world,
Or will is set me in my ways?

Shall I step back and turn around
And find a different view,
Another window for my soul
To glance at vistas new.

Through different windows of my soul
I am no longer blind,
Complacency, habit and regret,
I leave them far behind.

So much hangs on my frame of vision
To build Your world, my view,
And with fresh eyes I see Your plan
Your way, Your life, Your truth.

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No Wonder?

Since departing Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids,  and relocating to Los Angeles, I haven’t heard a lot from author and poet Rob Bell.  Last week he released a new video, reminiscent of his Nooma series.

In this video Rediscovering Wonder, we find Rob Bell strolling through some back alleys in what could be his local neighbourhood.

One of the interesting points about the video, though, is that it seems to be a direct response to his critics. Since the release of Love Wins in early 2011, Bell has sustained several attacks by his critics. The constant criticism leveled at the book Love Wins brought with it accusations by some of heresy, including claims of universalism and complete rejection of classic Christianity. I bet most of these people had never read the book.

While I didn’t necessarily agree with all his points in Love Wins, what I do recognise is that Rob Bell has an exceptional gift in communicating in person, through video and in the written form.  He is without doubt one of the most brilliant communicators of all time.

The last time I read of such criticism, and calls for heresy was probably in the Bible – just before Pilate decided that Jesus should be crucified.  Interesting isn’t it?

Whatever your views of the work of Rob Bell, this video clip challenges us to rediscover our sense of wonder and awe.

I’m not even going to try to come up with a poem this week on wonder.  There is no need.  This video about wonder and awe is pure and simple poetry in motion.

So what about you my friend?  What is your response?  What will you do differently to embrace wonder and awe?  Here or somewhere this week share your story.  It may just help someone rediscover wonder.

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It is quite possible that this post may get me into more hot water that I’m currently in. It may end up with more people passing me by, more silent stares, more head shaking, and even more people trying to get their hands on me – to lay hands on me and pray out my spirit of unbelief and rebellion.

What have I been up to? Well it all started with a simple email.

I wrote an email to one of our leaders at our church and asked what I thought was a simple question. “Why don’t have an empty cross in our church?” I had noticed the absence of one and the comparative starkness of our auditorium and had wondered why.

I have to say the response shocked me. It was not anticipated, it was strange and bizarre. His response is also shared with a few others in the leadership team and among some of the elders. Once I had picked myself off the floor – because this response had floored me. I responded and thanked him for his views and explained mine, and how that would we need to agree to disagree on this. After a couple of weeks I was still troubled and decided to write a letter to the elders of our church to perhaps open a dialogue on the empty cross.

I haven’t had a formal response from them yet, but I have had lots of informal responses, from leaders, some elders, other people, and a feeling that I have been put into a box. You know the one, the box that’s labelled, “handle with care and grab him when he next comes to church so that we can pray with him and cure him of his rebellious nature”. It’s a long label, but then so was my letter.

Here are some of the responses I’ve received so far about my email and letter about why we don’t have an empty cross in our church:

  • “Why we would want an instrument of torture on display in our church?”
  • “Why, David, do you need a symbol [crutch] for your faith?”
  • “What does this say about how much faith you have [or don’t have]”?
  • “If we put a cross up people will leave”
  • “It’s a pagan symbol”
  • “It’s takes the focus of the speaker, and the worship team”
  • “It would be too distracting”
  • “Lots of people came to this church because we don’t have a cross”
  • “It’s not important – it’s not central to Christianity and what we believe”
  • “I think it’s really about time we had a coffee and a chat . . . MATE”

Remember – these are the responses from the people in leadership and governance roles at our church. They are views of some of the leaders, and not all the leaders. Some of the leaders and elders have equally strong opposing views – this is encouraging, but also divisive.

I’m appalled, disappointed, angry, upset, but most of all sad, very sad about all of these responses.

At some level I may have a deep need, a desperate need to look at the cross, to cling to the cross with every fibre of my being, maybe it is a crutch for my faith – but oh what a support it is, what hope it represents, what life it symbolises, and what courage it gives me.

Courage to speak to gospel, courage to share my faith, and courage to take a stand about what I believe in the face of such opposition – opposition from those who would take away the cross, take away the symbol of life, light, and hope. Take away the symbol of the resurrected Christ – the cross.

So why the cross and why would it be important to display one – in a church?

For me, the empty cross represents belief that, after his death by crucifixion, Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and that his atoning work is finished and complete. Therefore, the empty cross does not depict emptiness, but quite the opposite. It proclaims Christ’s victory over death, for which the cross was the instrument not of torture – but one of eternal and relentless hope.  It proclaims hope and assurance, for Christ is risen and lives today.

An empty cross is common as a point of reference, of focus and of attention, not as an idol, but as a symbol of Christian events. The image of an empty cross is symbolic of Christ’s death and resurrection. Without the resurrection the life and death of Christ is of no use to anyone. Everything Jesus did and said make no difference if He didn’t rise from the dead.  A dead Christ can’t save anyone.

For these and many more reasons many churches choose to use an empty cross as a symbol of Christianity’s highest ideals. Therefore the empty cross symbolizes the risen Christ. Throughout history, the cross has been the common and central faith focus of Christians, not because of what it is, but because of what it represents.

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering and shame;
and I love that old cross where the dearest and best
for a world of lost sinners was slain.

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it someday for a crown.

~ George Bennard, 1913

So later this month, I’ll get a response to my letter, I expect that we still won’t have a cross in our church. I expect that I won’t be able to sit, stand or worship at the foot of the cross in our church. I may do what I did this week, and go to our National Museum and visit the war memorial display, sit down on the comfy seat, pray, reflect and meditate and set my gaze on the white glowing cross they have on display there. How I wish I could do this at our church.

Here’s what the cross mean to me. What does it mean to you? I’d love to hear your comments on the cross, the symbol of where life and faith intersect.

Lift High The Cross

At the cross I bear my soul
The emblem to which I cling
Your life, my hope, my legacy
My all, Your everything

At the cross I bear my heart
The symbol to which I sing
O Jesus you have saved my soul
To you my life I bring

At the cross I leave my sin
The sign to which I kneel
At your feet I fall down
I am covered by your seal

On that cross you paid it all
The hope for all to see
That empty cross, the sign of life
For you, for us, for me.

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Designed and fashioned within each of us is a giant-sized God Hole in our heart. This hole is really more of an abyss.  God put it there for Himself. All of us have this hole whether we care to admit it or not.  Most of the movies we watch, the songs we listen to, the books we read all speak to us of this hole, this gap, this abyss.  We all know this to be true if we are brutally honest with ourselves.

We all define this space in different ways.  This empty abyss goes by many different names. Some call it restlessness, emptiness, longing, rawness, sadness, frustration, depression, neediness. I wonder what you call it?

If we are completely honest we all try and fill this hole with different things work, sport, hobbies, church, TV, Facebook, blogging, and especially the busyness of life. 

Over time we come to realise that as much as we shove things into this hole it just doesn’t fill us up.  It was set there for a purpose, for God and his eternal shape:

He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
~ Ecclesiastes 3:10-12

Perhaps it is not up to us to discover, find, or realise this desire, this aching need to fill our heart.  Perhaps it is us to wait, rest and allow God to create in our heart His desire for us.  It may just be important, actually vital, to set this space aside for God, and just guard our heart.  Our God is a jealous God, he desires to dwell in our heart and create our desire.

God owns that space and He’s not renting it out to anyone else. It’s set apart. For Him and Him alone. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV).

So what about you my friend? Do you have this hollow space? Will you let Him fill the space and create something new, something beautiful in your life. What have you got to lose?  Here or somewhere this week will you share your story.  It may just help someone discover the desire that God has set in their own heart.  Stories are powerful.

God Shaped Hole

In my heart there lies a hole
Shaped by my God within my soul

In my soul there is lack
Shaped by my mind when painted black

This black is only cast at night
As shadows only fall from light

As I craft my words of royal blue
They fall on my colour palette new

God makes me whole within my heart
And creates in me his work of art

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Beyond Belief

Everybody is following somebody. Everybody has faith in something and somebody. We all believe in something or somebody.  Even atheists believe in something which they call nothing, if indeed that is actually possible. 

Why is it then that we find it so hard to talk about what we believe in or, God forbid, share our beliefs?  What is it about our beliefs that is so personal, so sacred, and so mysterious that we are reluctant to share them with others? Perhaps that is just it.  Our beliefs are personal, unique, our certainty of what we hope for and what we do not see – our faith.

I was chatting to a friend of mine last week about an experience he had a few years ago when he met someone who he didn’t know.  This man said he could see my friend’s aura – a presence around him and that he had a heart problem.  Sure enough, after getting a check up with his doctor, my friend did have a heart problem, went on medication and now lives a normal life. 

My friend asked me how this could be.  I don’t much about auras, but what I did share with him was what I had experienced as giftings that some people have, and how God uses people to speak to and heal them.  This is what I believe and I felt comfortable sharing this.  I felt comfortable because I had built up a relationship with my friend.  He is not a Christian, maybe one day he will look at his beliefs and make a choice, maybe he won’t.

Knowing what we believe and sharing our belief is important and it should be a really natural experience.  It takes courage, and confidence but it is so important.  It also takes a decision and a resolution to decide to believe.

I have decided,
I’m gonna live like a believer,
Turn my back on the deceiver,
I’m gonna live what I believe

And when the world begins to see you change,
Don’t expect them to applaud.
Just keep your eyes on Him and tell yourself,
I’ve become the work of God.
~ Amy Grant

So what can you expect when you decide to believe and then go beyond belief and share them?  You can expect no applause, no standing ovation, and no bouquets of flowers.  You can expect some silence, some hostility, some confusion and some significant discussion.  You can also expect God to call you on your beliefs. 

It’s easy to sing the songs, to pray the prayers, to do the random acts of kindness – these are all important.  However be prepared to be called by God on your beliefs and challenged to believe more.  This will take you deeper into knowing God, loving others and walking together. 

Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe in the God idea, not God himself. ~Miguel de Unamuno

Recently I felt called to re-express my beliefs and have started a Facebook Group – i believe.   It’s really just a place to remind myself of what I believe.  It helps me challenge myself.  I hope that it is useful to others too. Have a look and join if you want.  It was easy to start a group – too easy – now I need to start the conversation – want to help spread the word?

So what about you my friend?  Have you decided that you are going to live like a believer, you may be doing this already.  What is it that you believe, will you share it here or somewhere this week.  You may just help someone to express their own belief.

i believe

You sing your carols
How you believe
In my Son
On Christmas eve

So I called you
On what you believed
Did you hear me
On Christmas eve

I heard you pray
Down on your knees
To my Son
On Easter’s eve

So I called you
On what you believe
Did you hear me
On Easter’s eve.

I know your heart
What you believe
What will you resolve
On New Year’s eve

This year I’ll call you
On what you believe
Learn from my resolve
Seek to receive

Images: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Holy Ground

Something stirred uncomfortably within my soul as I sat and listened to a speaker at church a few Sundays ago.  What was it I found confronting?  Why was I squirming in my seat?  Every Thursday morning I meet with a few close friends for coffee before work.  We all go to the same church. In between our flat whites we share stories, talk about life and about God.  Last week I felt the same feeling again .  One of the guys was sharing a story about healing, and how God chooses to heal because it’s about the healing, and more importantly, about the Healer.  As I listened to this story I once again felt this uneasiness – this uncertainly. I searched my feelings – what was similar, what was different?

Early in the morning, on the very next day I was walking down the hill to the train station.  I usually take this time to pray as it’s quiet, I have few distractions, and it’s downhill – which somehow is important!  Try praying when you walk up a hill – it’s really difficult.  Half way through my usual  prayer time I felt it again.  “What is this Lord?”  It felt a bit like guilt, it felt like I had misplaced something, it felt like I had failed to make a connection, an important connection.  It felt just the same as the other two occasions. 

Along with the slowly creeping sunrise it slowly dawned on me what it was. 

It was holiness. 

Holy, holy, holy!  Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love and purity.
~ Reginald Heber

This is what I had felt – that strangely familiar yet uncomfortable feeling of approaching a Holy God, through worship, through conversations with friends, and through prayer.  For many years I had mistaken this with guilt. 

Along with a lot of things I have recently realised, I am not the centre of my own universe, it is not about me, it never was, and it’s all about God.  This revelation has taken me some time to realise. What it has done though has taken me much deeper into God – just another aspect of God’s character to experience. It’s a great place to be.

Our God is a Holy God – it should make us uncomfortable, it should challenge us, and sometimes it should shake our world, and shake our concept of self.  The good news is we can approach our Holy God, by the blood of Jesus.  He made this possible.  We do not need to be afraid, God can be our friend, our brother, and our comforter.  Through Jesus we can have a personal relationship with God, however we need to know that God is Holy. We stand on Holy ground each time we connect with God – we need to acknowledge this and take off our shoes of indifference.

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
~ Reginald Heber

So what about you my friend?  Have you experienced this holiness and mistaken it for something else?  What do you need to do differently?  What does a Holy God mean to you and how will this enhance your relationship with God?  Here, or somewhere this week, share your story.  It may help someone go deeper with God.

Holy Ground

Take me to the Holy Temple
With those who seek you face
Take me in your cloud of glory
In God’s speed and not my haste

For Holy are you Lord
And Worthy is your name
As I seek your face
I’ll never be the same

Take my past the outer courts
Into your Holy place
Past the burning altar
Lord I long to seek your face

For Holy are you Lord
And Worthy is your name
As I seek your face
I’ll never be the same

Take me into the Holy of Holies
I enter by the blood of the Lamb
Take me into your Holy of Holies
Cleanse my soul, heal my heart
Here I am

 

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There is a mystery hidden deep within every heart. This beautiful mystery beckons us.  It cries out in our discontent, from the depths of our dissatisfaction. It softly whispers in the fog of our forgotten dreams. Dreams once full of purpose, desire and greatness. It captivates us and suggests that there must be more to life, so much more. We often catch fleeting glimpses of this mystery, but struggle to put words to it. This mystery quietly moulds and shapes our lives, day after day.

Many seasons may pass until this mystery resurfaces again. At times it haunts you, other times it sets your heart on fire. What you do know is that each time it returns you recognise it as your nemesis, the unfulfilled longing in your heart.  This hidden secret, this beautiful mystery is your search for your own meaning that has been set and formed in your heart from the beginning of time.

Do you want to live the life you have been designed for? Have you been seeking this life you were born for, but it eludes you?  Do you want to discover this secret? Do you dare to believe in your own beautiful mystery?

There is good news. You are not alone.  Everyone is searching for their own beautiful mystery; everyone is longing to discover the secret desire of their heart.

He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the human heart;
yet no one can fathom what God has done
from beginning to end.

~ Ecclesiastes 3:10-12

Our lives are full of twists and turns, long straight roads, mountains and deep valleys. You will recognise this journey as it is has all the familiar signposts of faith and doubt, of opportunity and regret, of hope and failure.  It is a journey of paradox. We all travel this same road.

This week my friend, sit back and let God whisper softly to you of his extreme and relentless love. Your heart will open. God will lead you closer to the desire of your heart, your own beautiful mystery. This is God’s desire for you.

Lose and find yourself in God’s words. Dare to dream and experience this secret mystery. Discover the beautiful mystery of what God has set in your heart. You will never be the same.

The Secret

Brace yourself and I shall speak
Listen when your heart is weak

There is a mystery I long to share with you
A secret that it’s time you knew

Search you soul and you shall find
Your deep desire – it is your time

In your heart – a gift from me
I set it there for eternity

My treasure’s hidden deep in your heart
It’s time to create your work of art

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The morning was dark, bleak and had not yet broken. Even in the relative warmth of the 6.45am bus to the city you could see all of this weather – bleakness, cold, and not yet broken mourning on the faces of my fellow travelers. It was difficult to see any joy, hope or wonder about to face these people. Why had they bothered to get up and go to work at all?

Plato would say that each of these people are fighting their own battle, and therefore it is our duty to be kind and compassionate to people we meet each day. It would be hard to argue with this. Kindness and compassion go a long way. Being salt and light are also important. It is important to challenge people in what and why they believe in the hopelessness of their own existence. Life is so much more than survival – it is about living. Sure, we all have bad days and feel our inner brokenness – our own decrepitude. This can be done to us by others, or we can do it to ourselves. I think we can do better and we can do better by others.

In Wellington City there is the ‘Wellington Writers’ Walk’. This waterfront walk is set in one of the world’s loveliest urban land-and-seascapes (I’m biased!). It combines a stroll along Wellington’s waterfront with the discovery of sculptural quotations from New Zealand writers – like a series of intriguing pronouncements – often in surprising and unexpected places. The concrete plaques have been designed intentionally. The walk celebrates and commemorates the place of Wellington in these writers’ lives, and their place in the life of Wellington.

The walk currently commemorates nineteen authors, both past and present, including poets, novelists, playwrights and writers of prose. Besides providing recognition to some of New Zealand’s top literary authors, the walk promotes New Zealand literature to a wider public, including tourists and visitors to the capital. International comedian and raconteur Billy Connolly featured it recently in his televised tour of New Zealand.

My favourite sculptural quote is by Patricia Grace, a Wellington writer of novels, short stories, and children’s books.

I love this city, the hills, the harbour the wind that blasts through it. I love the life and pulse and activity, and the warm decrepitude…there’s always an edge here that one must walk which is sharp and precarious, requiring vigilance

If you asked me to describe what I saw on people’s faces in our windy city it would be this warm decrepitude, the walking wounded, people living in their own brokenness. So why are there so many broken-hearted people, and what is our response? Do these people just need to hope a bit more, buy a ladder and just get over themselves, and wait for an answer?

And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see. There will be an answer, let it be
~ The Beetles

I think more than agreement is required. Action is what is required. David in the Psalms had this to say about God and brokenhearted people.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
~ Psalm 147:2-4

The challenge and question for us is what is our role in this? What do you think my friend? Here or somewhere this week will your share your story of how you have been or how you hope to be salt and light to these brokenhearted people. You will help others more than you realize by sharing your story.

Warm Decrepitude

In this city of sorrow
Where empty faces stare
Have they lost all hope
In the burdens of their care

In this city of Angels
Where hope freely abounds
Do they see the wonder
Are souls lost or found

In this city of the sun
In Southern latitude
Heal the hearts and minds
In their warm decrepitude

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Early one morning, from the 11th floor of my office building, I watched the sun rise over the harbour. I noticed how slowly and surely the light began to paint all the shadows of the landscape, from the valleys and into the hills. The darkness retreated silently as the brilliant light invaded the hills, valleys and the streets. The sun rose and blinded everything in its path. The sun set the clouds on fire in a swirl of red and orange, and everything reflected and basked in its glory.

C.S Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else”. What a great way to see how the sun restores our world each day.

I work in an open plan office and have moved desks a few times in the last five years, to make way for more staff, and more progress. I feel a sense of comfort in knowing where my desk is and knowing that it will be in the same place each day. When I move I take some time to adjust. Soon we will be moving again. When I looked at the new floor plan I noticed that our team will be moving back to the North side of the building to a place where we had come from about 12 months ago. To the place where I took this photo.

I laughed at the irony of coming full circle. As soon as the thought came to me, another thought replaced it – fully restored. This was not my thought, it was placed in my head.

Change, even as trivial as moving desks, can be a great metaphor for life. I believe that over the last 12 months God has brought me full circle and into a place of rest and restoration. From this place, the view seems different. Everything seems to reflect the glory of God, particularly the sunrises and sunsets.

God wants to supersize your dreams. He can do more than you can even ask or think!  ~ Joel Osteen

God wants to bring us all to this place. In this place God reveals Himself and His plans for us. To be fully restored is to be fully engaged with what God has in store for us. It is a place of determined dreams and vast visions. God can do so much more than we ever dream, imagine or ask. What an exciting place to be. Sure, life still goes on – the hills and the valleys. In the place of restoration, a hill is where we can see and dream, and a valley is where we can rest and drink. The valleys are the only places where the sustainable rivers flow. It is a journey and a destination all at the same time.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. ~ Psalm 51:12

So what about you my friend? Have you been to this place of rest and restoration? Are you searching, have you found what you’re looking for? Will you share your story of searching or finding here or somewhere this week? Your story may just give life, light and hope to someone travelling this road.

Fully Restored

Through the furnace flames
By the light of my sword
I brought you home
Fully restored

Through the darkened room
I unlocked your door
I bring you here
Fully restored

Through your brokenness
Forgiven and flawed
I brought you here
Fully restored

Through all your days
By my accord
I’ll light you path
Fully restored

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Loose the Change

Benjamin Franklin once said that there are only two things in this world that will never change – death and taxes.  It is true that these things will always be with us and that they are constant, but they do change – taxes change, death happens to us all but not at the same time.  There is really only one thing that will never change – God.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

For I, the Lord, do not change
~ Malachi 3:6

There is constant change in our own life, our home, our community and our workplace. It is comforting to know that we can hang our faith on the one thing that will never change. 

When we really think about it, none of us mind change as long as we are in control.  We happily buy and sell houses, change jobs, add children to our family, lose weight, go to a new church, get involved in the community.  As long as we are doing the change and are in control we are happy to change.  

Some people believe that going through change is something that happens to them, like a cork bobbing up and down in the ocean.  It’s expected and part of life.

The years are rolling by me and they are rockin’ evenly
And I am older than I once was and younger than I’ll be
That’s not unusual
~ Simon and Garfunkel

This should not be unusual. What is difficult and challenging about change is when we are not in control, when our house is sold in a mortgagee sale, when we get laid off, when children leave home, when we gain weight, when our church splits, and our community changes.  This is when we choose to either resist, or accept change.  This is a process.

If change is a house and the stages of change are rooms in the house, they could be, in no particular order, described like this:

·         The contentment room
·         The sun lounge
·         The renewal room
·         The denial room
·         The confusion room
·         Wrong direction door – leaving the house
·         Paralysis pit
·         The dungeon of deniel

Have you spent anytime in these rooms when you were going through change?  Depending on whether you accept or resist change will depend which room you choose to spend your time in. 

Resisting change for too long ends up in bondage and chains.  Accepting change is all about loosing chains and choosing to be free.  This too is a process.  We cannot force the change process. We need to cultivate an attitude of acceptance and ownership.  It is up to us and it is our choice.  It is us that must change first, not others.

Be the change that you want to see in the world ~ Gandhi

So what about you my friend?  What changes are you facing?  Which room will you choose to spend time in?  Here or somewhere this week share your story, you may just be able to be the change that others are desperate to see in the world. 

 

Loose the change

Yesterday you were
The Immortal God
While mortality rises
In the land of the lost

Today you are
The invisible being
That we can just glimpse
In our dim reflection

Tomorrow you will
Be our wise hope in ages past
And today in your unchanged presence
You shape our future

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Out of the blue it came, like a lightening bolt.  They had prepared their slings and arrows fashioned from their outrageous fortune and had used them with intentional force.  It was premeditated.  It was a set move.  It was nasty. 

Unless you have been living in the Amazon jungle for the last month, you may have noticed that I have published a book. I’m no marketer and you may have already been the subject of my social networking book promotion more than once. Sorry about that, but this is all new to me. You’ll see a copy of the book if you glance quickly to the right. Have a browse later on and buy one.  All the proceeds go to a micro financing project in Cambodia.

In this book I describe my journey of faith through poetry.  It is my story and it is personal.  I had expected some criticism and some push back from those who just don’t get why I would do this.  Why I would bear my soul in a book, then promote it and sell it for a worthy cause.  I get why people wouldn’t get this.  I also get that they would share there opinions – some more directly than others.  I expected this and I was prepared. 

I have often been persecuted and insulted for my faith.  Mainly the subtle stuff – the blank looks, the whispers, people apologizing for swearing in front of me (what’s with that?) and the scattering of people when I walk in the room.  All this is good.  Really.  It means that people maybe just recognize something in me that looks a bit like Jesus.  This is what I’m aiming for and it helps me to know that I’m on the right track.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
~ Matthew 5:11

What I was totally unprepared for was a trident of three premeditated and planned attacks from people I had a huge amount of respect for.  These people are Christians, followers of Jesus.  We have similar beliefs and values.  We are all writers and express our faith and actions using words.  I admire these people.  These are the people who sent me separate but clearly joint attacks about my book, about my over promotion of it, attacks about me as a person, and that I should just go back to where I have come from and be quiet. All of this of course, they claimed was in love.  Strange way to show love. 

Initially I was stunned.  Then I slowly began to recognize this for what it was.  The messages, not the people, were the evil one’s attempt to derail me, doubt myself and my God, and doubt what I was doing. 

It. Did. Not. Work. 

Sometimes as a Christian I despair, I think we need saving from ourselves. No wonder people don’t see the point of going to church. No wonder they see such hypocrisy.  It’s because it’s there and it’s real. None of us are perfect, I’m sure not.   I really believe that Christianity needs saving from religion.  I have prayed for these people, that they would see through their words and use the eyes of their heart.  This is what Jesus calls us to do.

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ~ Matthew 5:44

Will they be on my Christmas Card list?  Probably not.  Do I still admire their work and think they are great writers?  Absolutely.  Do I or should you be surrounded by these type of people? No.

What I do know is this.  We are blessed when we are persecuted – it means that we are on the right track.  We are blessed because we serve a very big God.  We are loved by God and that is all that matters.

So what about you my friend?  Have you been persecuted lately?  Here’s a harder question. Are you a follower that people need saving from? If you are, what will you do? Maybe sometime this week, here or somewhere share your story, it may just help someone recognize that they are blessed and that they are on the right road – just maybe with the wrong people.  Perhaps you could pray for those who you know that are on this journey.

Lord, Save us from your Followers

I expected persecution
From those who have no tomorrows
But not from those who shoot their arrows
Lord, save me from your followers

I expected misunderstanding
From those trapped inside their sorrows
But not from those who sling their stones
Lord, save me from your followers

I expected slings and arrows
From those with who never lend nor borrow
But not from those who serve you God
Lord, save me from your followers

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It occurred to me the other day that I had been harbouring some unforgiveness for some time, in fact a long time, actually for over 20 years. I recall an incident with a friend of mine almost three decades ago that ended our friendship abruptly. I’m not sure who was at fault or who was to blame. It was probably me – I started it. I’ve noticed over the years how this unforgiveness, this unwillingness to let go has shaped my thinking about friendships. It’s faulty thinking. Like a short-circuit. Through a series of recent events I now recognize this for what it is. I recognize that I need to forgive, let go, and move on. It’s a gift I need to give to them and myself.

Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself
~Suzanne Somers

Forgiveness is no small thing. It is a brave thing to do. It requires courage, facing fears, feeling the flawed thinking and reaching out. Reaching out to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. With forgiveness comes healing, insight and understanding. This is what I hope and what I’m looking forward to. So today I’m asking for forgiveness from an old friend. I’ll be sending my friend a link to this post. In this act I hope that the cost and waste of time will be no more.

Forgiveness is the economy of the heart… forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits. ~ Hannah More

This story may be mine. You may see yourself or a friend in this story. We are all faulty, flawed and forgiven because Jesus paid the price on the cross. You can do the maths as well as me: 1 Cross + 3 Nails = 4 Given.  So what about you? Do you need to forgive, do you need to let go and move on? Here or somewhere this week be real – it may just help someone break free from their faulty and flawed thinking. Will you?

Forgiven

Forgive me
I never knew
How much our friendship
Meant to you

I never knew
How much your thought
For many years
The cost I bought

How much our friendship
Meant to me
More than you know
But now I see

Meant for you
This I know
Will your forgive
How much I owe

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At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. So said Albert Schweitzer, theologian, organist, philosopher, physician, and medical missionary. Albert may just have been on to something here. Gratitude or being thankful is a necessary posture in order to see who we really are and how we are affected by others.

We can be thankful for lots of things, we should be thankful for a whole lot more, and a lot of us take a lot of things for granted. Why should we stop? Why do we need to slow down and be thankful? I would suggest that only from a place of rest can we be thankful. Thankfulness is a reflective activity – it requires us to stop, think and reflect. It requires a great level of thought. Being thankful does something to us. It increases our happiness and it creates possibilities and opportunities. It is a wonderful thing to do.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~G.K. Chesterton

I have a lot to be thankful for, and I’m lousy at it. Why? Because I take too much for granted.

Here’s what I’m thankful for:

  • I’m thankful for my beautiful wife, that she stills loves me despite and because of myself. I love her so much
  • I’m thankful for my amazing and talented children, for their joy and laughter. I love them deeply, despite being a grump.
  • I’m thankful that we can eat food – regularly, and that we can continue to do this. I love to eat!
  • I’m thankful that we live in New Zealand, a beautiful paradise. I love the autumn sunsets and sunrises
  • I’m thankful that I can share my faith, and that God uses me to make a difference, I love that about God.
  • I’m thankful that you have got this far and are still reading this, I love how you reading this brings these words to life.

Now, I feel different. I feel happy. I feel a warm glow. Why do I not do this more often? I may just do this more regularly. I think we were designed to be thankful, it is our answer in a world of questions.

If you see the moon,
Rising gently on your fields.
If the wind blows softly on your face.
If the sunset lingers,
While cathedral bells peal,
And the moon has risen to her place,

You can thank the Father
For the things that He has done.
And thank Him for the things he’s yet to do.
~ Amy Grant, Doubly Good To You

So what about you my friend? What to you need to be thankful for? Have you been thankful? Will you set aside five minutes now to make a list – your list. Here or somewhere this week, be bold, be thankful. It may just help someone – someone who you need to thank. Perhaps by being thankful your happiness will be doubled by wonder. So here are some words to you, for you – thank you.

Gratitude

Thank you for the music
Your words and notes
Create loving harmony
In way you may not realise

Thank you for your comments
Yours words give life
To my dreams in the
Sunset of my rhyme

Thank you for sharing
As these words are not mine
But part of a greater message
That needs to be heard

Thank you my friend
May God whisper words
To you, of life, light,
Hope, faith and love.

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Once upon a time a family of letters were walking along and tripped over a mis-related participle that someone had just left lying around. The letters fell onto a fresh clean sheet of paper. It so happened that on this day they formed words – lots of words. It just happened that they all fell into line – stanzas to be precise. The words, by chance, formed poetry and all those who read were amazed, but not at all surprised at the evolution of the poetry book. It really was no mystery.

Nice story, but a bit of a fairy tale. Books are created, written by a creator and an author. Art imitates life and in this process ideas are formed. Ideas are the content of the creative process. Some form and structure is required to ever get words, ideas, and thoughts into a book. This is also a creative process. It is sometimes a painful process.

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
~Ernest Hemingway.

Today is a bit of a milestone for me. Today by the world’s standard is the day I have become an author as I have published my first book. The truth is I became an author a long time ago because I believed in a dream, a dream that God placed in my heart so many years ago. I had the faith to become an author because of the author who created this process in me, the author and perfector of my faith – Jesus.

All of this is a bit of a mystery to me, an enigma wrapped inside a riddle, to paraphrase Winston Churchill. It’s a beautiful mystery and yet at the same time very elusive. This week I launch my book – Beautiful Mystery. Actually, God is the one who will launch it, I am just privileged to hold the pen. I am no different to you. You each have your own beautiful mystery, because God placed it there in your heart. If you haven’t found it you can if you choose to believe and dream.

This book will help you believe and dream. This book describes elements of this beautiful mystery. It is a roadmap. You will be able to use it to plot your course, but God is the only one who can determine your steps. In that gap between planning and waiting is where you will find your desire – your beautiful mystery. This is God’s desire for you – to find it and then go and do it.

So what about you my friend? You may be living your beautiful mystery. You may still be on a journey to find it. Will you share your story? Here or somewhere this week be real, you may just find what you are looking for.

If you would like to preview the book – Beautiful Mystery click anywhere in this sentence. Proceeds from the sale of this book support The Rock Church’s (Wellington, New Zealand) mission programme in Cambodia.

Beautiful Mystery

Take me into your perfect love
The love that never ends
Take me back to your mystery
Where we were forever friends

Take me into you mercy
Where its whiter than the snow
Take me into the beautiful
Where your living waters flow

Take me into your perfect grace
And remind me I am free
Take me back to your mystery
Lift the fog so I may see

Take me into your presence
Here I stand with open arms
Take me into the beautiful
And protect me from all harm

Consume me in your perfect love
The love that casts out all my fear
Take me back to your mystery
With arms wide open I am here

In your beautiful mystery
In faith we walked before
In your beautiful mystery
Lead me back to you once more

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The woman approached the mirror with fear and trepidation. Will the truth show on her face this time, or will she continue to believe the lie. The one whispered to her long ago that she took to heart.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? Once again the mirror lied, “You, my queen are fair, it is true, but Snow White is a thousand times fairer”.

I’m no Snow White, I have been known to be Grumpy, Sleepy, Bashful and Dopey though. Usually not at the same time or on the same day. I wonder what Snow White saw when she looked in the mirror? Someone of significance and purpose, someone of divine intrigue and destiny? Did she perhaps glimpse this and then somehow decide that she looked more plain, mostly vanilla, and just like the rest of the girls. Snow White was a thousand times fairer than the wicked queen, but did Snow White believe this? What about us? How do we stack up in the ‘fairest in all the land’ stakes? God knows I guess.

Actually it’s not a guess – it’s a fact. God does know. God knows that He created us in His image, male and female he created us. The bible tells us a lot about our image. We are wonderfully and fearfully made. It says that God knitted us together in our Mother’s womb. God designed us for a purpose and for a destiny.

The trouble is, we generally don’t believe it, we discount it and we discount God. We are satisfied with a marked down, cut price, shop soiled image of ourself. This is the lie that we believe. This is never what God intended.

Too often we see ourselves with the eyes in our head, not with the eyes of our heart. Paul wrote a letter to the Ephesians about this. He wrote them a prayer. A prayer about seeing ourselves as God sees us:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
~ Ephesians 1:18-21

This is how God wants us to see ourselves, and others – with the eyes of our heart. This is not just Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians 2000 years ago. It’s his prayer for us – you and me, today.

Do you believe this – this prayer from Paul? Do you dare to look at yourself in the mirror with the eyes of your heart? What does this mean? What does it change? Sometime this week – be real, share your story here or somewhere. It may just help someone see themselves as God sees them – someone of purpose and significance. Made in His image – imagine that. You don’t have to image it, it’s no fairy tale – it’s the truth.

Mirror Mirror

In your mirror
What do you see
A reflection of how
Things used to be?

As you stare back
Through the years
Do your memories
Overtake your fears?

In the mirror
What do you see
An image of what
You ought to be?

As your eyes
Stare back at you
Do you see who
Has created you?

In His image
We find identity
His work of art
Priceless and free

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Ode to Joy

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?

Some people have told me that I can get a bit excitable. I often overdo things. My friends tell me that I’m always on Facebook, commenting on everything and anything that moves on my news feed. I post a lot of comments, perhaps I feel I have a lot to say. Perhaps I need the approval of others.  Either way, I feel the need to spread joy. A lot of what I post are pictures and quotes that I think may be helpful for people. I like to think this is one way I can spread joy. Joy can go viral, it is contagious and more people need to catch it.

Interestingly, in the process of joy spreading, I can annoy people. I can be irritating, flippant, and just, well, a real pain in the butt. I know this – I get feedback. I have lost friends for doing this. Why don’t I stop? You would think that I would have learnt by now. The problem I have is that I have joy running through my veins – the joy of the Lord. It doesn’t look like it, it doesn’t show on my face, I keep it in check, most of the time. Every now and then though I let it rip – usually in social networking circles, commenting on posts, blogs and other stuff. Some people find this encouraging and uplifting, some find it irritating, and some probably just wish I would go away. I dance with joy on the inside.

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. Will you?

Pure Joy

You shall go out with joy
Like a fire in the wind
Like a storm closing in
It is my joy says the Lord

You shall be led forth with peace
Like a dance in the rain
Like the sun streaming in
It is my peace I leave with you

You will move your mountains
Like a mighty explosion
Like a burning breakthrough
It is your mustard seed of faith

Even the trees will clap their hands
For my joy is yours
My everlasting peace is yours
And your faith completes my joy

For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
~ Isaiah 55:12

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As I drifted out of my slumber on a sleepy Sunday morning I could smell the fragrance of coffee beans slowly percolating in the kitchen.  About 10 minutes earlier my seven-year old had whispered – actually shouted something in my ear about making me a coffee.  I clearly must have mumbled ‘Yep’ and so I woke up to smell the coffee.  Nice.  Coffee wakes me up and gets me going.

For the next 40 days I’m participating in an online experiment – The Lazarus Experiment.  We are all posting one thing each day, one thing that we have done intentionally to come alive, just like Lazarus would have done after he came alive.

Here’s some more details if you’re curious, maybe you’d like to join us?

Come Awake! We’re living as if we just came back from the dead. For forty days, starting on Easter Sunday, we’ll do one thing each day that reflects new life because of Jesus. And we’ll share about our experiences here. Read an article about the Lazarus Experiment here.

Have a look at our Facebook group page here.    

We even have a theme song – have a listen:

I’m looking forward to 40 days of intentional living.  What about you my friend?  What do you do to make you come alive?  Here or somewhere this week, be real, share your story, you may just help someone wake up and come alive – fully alive.

 

Live Like Lazarus

Courtesy of Ron Benson

Through your breath
You formed my life
In your rest
I no longer strive

As I am still
Before you now
In your sweet presence
I humbly bow

You pour out
Your love on me
In a beautiful exchange
You set me free

Through my belief
I trust in you
As my faith grows
Make my heart brand new

Raise me up
Like Lazarus woke
Let me come alive
In my faith – your hope

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On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame; and I love that old cross where the dearest and best, for a world of lost sinners was slain. You may recognize this first verse of the classic hymn by George Bennard, The Old Rugged Cross. This sums up for a lot of people, the Easter message. To a lot of people Easter is about Jesus and how they approach the cross, from a distance, from far away, from a position of intrigue but without intent, at arms length and not with arms wide open. This is not wrong, it just is.

The Easter message is a message of hope, of life, of power, of comfort, of salvation and of grace. It fulfills our aching longing in our faithless heart, the space where Jesus can live and create and liberate, if only we would let him in. If only we would have the courage to tell others. Why are we so afraid? What scares us? What am I afraid of?

This Easter I have the honour and privilege of talking with a whole bunch of young people about Jesus at an Easter Camp in Waikato, New Zealand. I hope to talk to them about my relationship with my Jesus. How he is the breath we breathe, how he is the rest we need for the rest of our life, and how if only, we would believe in him, we would enter into the best part of the rest of our life, his rest, and his eternal hope of glory.

This is what I hope to talk about. God of course, may have other ideas. I’m open to this. Actually I’m not open to it – I’m really scared. I’m a planner, it’s my job, it’s what I do, it’s how I approach life. Plan it, then build it, and they will come. I’m trying really hard not to plan my message, but I have. Now I need to be prepared to throw it all away if this is what God wants and talk about something else – God’s plan – not mine. More of him, less, much less of me. How will I do this? By faith I guess. I’m so excited and so scared and afraid all at the same time.

All I really know for sure is that God will be with me, because:

  • I dare to believe in a God I cannot see.
  • I dare to put my faith in a God that is way bigger than my ego, and my selfish ways
  • I dare to stick with my faith, when things get tough – when I can’t explain why people die of cancer or are about to, when I can’t explain why I might be next, when I have no answers left. When I have so many questions.

I need to be true in what I believe, whatever that really means. I need to believe in a God so much that it aches in every fibre of my being. Because in that moment, in that moment of truth where my faith crashes into my life  –  a strange and beautiful exchange happens. This is what Easter and the cross means to me. And so:

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.

So what about you my friend? What does Easter mean to you? Will you share your experience – your message, your story. Why not be real and share it here or somewhere this week. Dare you. Your words may be the difference for someone who deperately needs to hear the greatest story ever told – the message of Easter.

Wishing you a blessed Easter my friend.

The Message

For my death you gave me life
For my gain you took my loss
For my fear you gave my joy
Upon that rugged cross

For my affliction you gave me beauty
For my gain you took my loss
For my sin you gave your son
Upon that rugged cross

For my friends you gave your life
For my gain you took my loss
For my world has ever changed
Because of the rugged cross

So as I speak your word today
As you seek to find the lost
For my king and my Lord
Let me speak about the cross.

Do you know that Jesus loves you?
For this I know is true
All you have to do tonight
Is believe –  he died for you

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Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.  This is the first verse in the poem Hope by Emily Dickinson.  I really like the metaphor of hope as a tiny bird – a thing with feathers.  It’s also a great description of how we can approach faith, through hope and be certain of something that we really cannot see.


Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
~ Hebrews 11:1

Faith and doubt have often be described as two opposites, one cannot exist without the other.  Doubt can build or destroy faith.  This is not a bad thing or something to be ashamed of, it’s just what it is – being human.  We are a mix of doubt and faith, good and bad, light and dark, spirit and flesh.  It is the just the way God made us. 

God did make us different though. He made us spiritual and physical.  In this way I believe we are unique, special, and made in his image.  So what does this mean about our faith?  How should we hope to have faith in what we cannot see?  Maybe, what we cannot see is physical, and what we have hope in is spiritual.  Maybe.

I have the privilege to live in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city.  With the exception of a remote part of Iceland, Wellington is the windiest city in the world.  Yes – even windier than Chicago!  To me, God is like the wind, I cannot see the wind, but I can feel it.  I really don’t know where the wind comes from, but I believe in it.  I have faith that when I fly my racing kite on a windy day, the wind will lift it and it will soar to great heights.  I believe God is in the wind.  It’s what I hope and what I cannot see, but I know it’s true.

Jesus Culture in their song, How He Loves Us describes it this way:

He is jealous for me
Love’s like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy

That image has stuck with me.  That’s my God, my King.  A mighty and powerful wind and, oh my God how he loves us.

So what about you my friend?  What do you hope for through faith?  How are you certain of what you do not see?  This is what faith is all about.  Sometime this week will you share your story here, or somewhere.  Let’s rest a while and soak up this truth.  We may just be able to help someone see a bit further, and release their faith, through hope.

What I Cannot See

Full of questions
At the end of your rope
Stay and rest a while
With faith comes hope

Full of confusion
Just think you can’t cope
Stay and rest a while
With faith comes hope

Full of yourself
Awash in your opera of soap
Stay a rest a while
With faith comes hope

Full of fear and doubt
Just step out of your boat
Walk towards my rest
Your faith – My hope

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“Have you no daughters?” “No,” said the man. “There is a little stunted kitchen wench which my late wife left behind her, but she cannot be the bride.” The King’s son said he was to send her up to him; but the step-mother answered, “Oh no, she is much too dirty, she cannot show herself!”  But he absolutely insisted on it and Cinderella had to be called. She first washed her hands and face clean, and then went and bowed down before the King’s son, who gave her the golden slipper.  Then she seated herself on a stool, drew her dainty foot out of the heavy wooden shoe, and put it into the slipper, which fitted like a glove.  And when she rose up the King’s son looked at her face, he recognised the beautiful maiden who had danced with him and cried, “This is the true bride!”  The step-mother and the two sisters were horrified and became pale with rage; he, however took Cinderella on his horse and rode away with her into the setting sun.

What a great story!  To see the heroine unveiled in all her glory.  To see her lifted up to her full height.  Once mocked, spat upon and forced to work as a slave.  Now a bride of a prince and one day a bride of a King.  Cinderella – a true, beautiful and glorious bride.

I was sitting in church the other day listening to our Pastor talk about the bride of Christ.  As a man, I find it difficult to relate to being a bride of Christ.  Our Pastor made an interesting comparison.  He was also talking about sonship – being an heir of the Father.  He suggested that if women find it hard relating to being a son of God, think about how difficult it is for a man to be a bride of Christ!  It helps to think about the bride of Christ as the church (a collection of men and women).

Here are a couple of thoughts on this glorious bride of Christ which we can all relate to:

  • We are the ransomed church, we are the bride of the King’s Son. “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9)
  • We are the object of His love.  “You have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes” (Song 4:9)

So maybe, just maybe the fairly tale of Cinderella is true!  The King’s Son insisted that she come out of her hiding.  “Come out you are mine now. Let your glorious beautiful light shine”.

So what about you my friend?  Are you in a Cinderella moment?  Have you been hiding?  It’s unnerving considering coming out of hiding.  This is what Jesus calls us to do and to be – his glorious bride.  Is it time to act your age and not your shoe size?  Here or somewhere this week share your story – it may just help a Cinderella discover his or her glory.

Glory Days

Show me your glory
I need to break through
Break my afflictions
Lead me closer to you

Show me your glory
As your light shines through
Release my afflictions
Lead me into you

Show me your glory
As this world fades away
Eclipse my afflictions
Through my worship today

Show me your glory
Let your light fill my heart
As your face shines on me
Create in me your art

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The Game of Life

One fine day in the middle of the night myself and five of my good friends were playing the board game Life (also known as The Game Of Life).  At the time we were poor students and we had little to amuse ourselves with on Saturday nights, so what better that a free rousing game of Life. 

If you haven’t been fortunate to play this game let me give you a brief run down:

Originally created in 1860 by Milton Bradley, The Game of Life was America’s first popular parlor game. The game simulates a person’s travels through his or her life, from college to retirement, with jobs, marriage, and possible children along the way. Two to six players can participate in one game, however, variations of the game have been made to accommodate a maximum of only eight or ten players.  It has a cool plastic spinning number wheel too.

So, one winter’s night five of us sat down huddled in the lounge of my good friend John’s drafty house. We began the game.  Along with being a player I was also fortunate enough to be the elected banker.  About half way through the game things weren’t really going my way.  I had just lost my house, two kids, my wife had walked out on me, and my retirement plan has just been cashed up to pay out my wife. Not a true story – it was just part of the game.  I was bored and rapidly losing interest so I began sneakily stealing money from the bank and giving other people money on the side.  I didn’t give any to John, as he was winning and was displaying some serious smugness .  John had recently acquired my house, including my wife and two kids and a generous retirement plan.  Remember this is JUST a game it wasn’t real life, or so I thought.  I was envious, jealous, and out for revenge and others were also after him as their life stories were equally sad and pathetic.  Remember this is JUST a game. 

In a scene reminiscent of something form Lord of the Flies, John discovered what I was up to – redistributing the wealth.  In a fiery fit of rage he leapt to his feet, while at the same time sending the Life board spinning into the air, the plastic bits and funny money flew up into the air and landed in a mess on the floor.  John exclaimed in my direction, “Get OUT of MY HOUSE, you thief, you evildoer, you spawn of Satan!”  “Steady on old chap, it’s ONLY a game, keep your hair on!” I replied in a soothing voice, as John was very bald.  Everyone else was silent with their mouths wide open at John’s fiery tirade. He was very serious and he wouldn’t back down. 

Not knowing quite what to do I left, as he stood holding the front door open with a stern look on his face.  “Same time next week then?” I suggested.  Again, silence.

While I walked home alone, I reflected on the night’s events and how I began a friendly game of life and then had somehow turned into the spawn of Satan.  I brushed it off.  I knew that John was quite competitive and I also knew had board games can bring out the best but usually the worst in people.  John rang me the following morning and apologized profusely for his outburst and apologized to the group the following weekend we we met for a game of monopoly.  I was not elected banker.

Why is it that our own life gets in the way of what God calls us to do and be?  Why do we get distracted and turn friendship into war?  How is it that the trivial injustices in our world escalate rapidly into situations that end up on the front page of the newspaper?  What is that all about?

Jesus died on the cross to offer us a chance at eternal life.  All we need to do is believe – just believe. 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
~ John 3:16

Notice that Jesus only asks us to believe and we will receive eternal life.  We often complicate life (here and now and for all eternity) by the games we play.  We all play the games and we all get what we deserve.  We have missed something.  Something so simple and so beautiful.  What is it?  Grace – God’s grace.  It is what we are saved by, not by game playing and posturing.  We don’t need to play any more games of life.  Jesus came to give us life in abundance.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. ~ John 10:10

So what about you my friend?  What games are you playing?  Are you overcomplicating life?  Whether you are destitute or a millionaire, or anyway in between, Jesus’ message is the same – through grace you are saved, and not by works (or games).   Will you take a moment to share your story, here or somewhere this week?  It may just help someone pack up their game and get real.

The Sweet Life

If all the world’s a stage
And the men and women merely players
Then – how do we play
And have we won or lost?

Who sets the game plan
And selects the teams?
Is it the luck of the draw
Or do we draw from something else?

In the game we call life
Who ends up destitute?
And who becomes the millionaire
Just by throwing the dice?

Whether life is a game or a production
Milton Bradley and Shakespeare
Would probably agree

That the game of life is
Never called off on
Account of darkness

 

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It was pitch black, and silent as I crawled along on my hands and knees. I could smell the rising damp and feel it seeping into my bones as I pulled back the cobwebs to find what I was looking for. As I flicked on my flashlight the crawlspace under our house was illuminated and I spied the rotten floorboard that needed replacing. This particular floorboard had been subject to at least ten winters of relentless northerly rain. The only way to properly get to it was from underneath our house. The crawl space, a space shared by old forgotten toys, a couple of broken guitars and an increasing number of spiders and other creeping things. Not really my favourite place.

Our house is built on two levels and has two different types of foundations. The top level is build directly onto a concrete slab, the second level, the one I was crawling underneath, is on wooden piles and while the foundation is rock solid, it is really only compacted dirt, cobwebs, spiders and other creeping things.

Our house also sits on a hill made of bedrock. Last weekend we had a great autumn storm, lots of driving rain and wind, and hence a perfect time to have a close encounter the spiders under the house. We are quite happy that the foundation of our house is built on rock. It’s weathered 50 winters so far and hasn’t moved an inch so if I have to replace the odd floorboard I can live with that. I still don’t like spiders though.

In the bible in Matthew 7:24 is the parable of the foolish man who built his house on the sand, and the wise man who built his house on the rock. You can probably guess what happened next. The storms came, the rain came, the streams rose and the house built on the sand got swept away. The house built on the foundation of rock still remained and did not move. I’m not sure what happened to the spiders.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. ~ Matthew 7:24-25

Getting up close and personal with the foundations of my house got me thinking about what type of faith we build our lives on. What do we really believe and hold to in the storms of life? There are parts of my life built on rock, parts on the dirt, and parts probably built on sand or even less. I’ve been replacing a few floorboards of faith lately, ripping out the rotten stuff and nailing back in stronger and more durable material to create a firmer foundation. It’s a good start, but the foundation is more important. Have I built or rebuilt may faith on rock or sand? Will it stand the next storm? What happens when our faith is shaken? Where are the spiders? So many questions.

In Matthew 16:8 Jesus tells Peter that he is the rock that he will build his church on. Peter’s faith was that solid – rock solid. So what about you my friend? What does Jesus want to build with your life, your faith?

Do you need a faith lift? What is the foundation of your faith? Is it time to check? Do you need to do some home improvement? What are you standing on?

Here or somewhere this week, share your thoughts. You may strengthen someone’s faith with just a few words.

Rock Solid

You took me
From the miry clay
You placed me on the rock
That is greater than I

I hear you speak today
So I’m building my faith
Upon the rock
That is greater than I

Be the storm, open the floodgates of heaven
Let it rain, let the streams rise
Let the wind beat against my faith
On the rock is greater than I

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Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by, and it has made all the difference. This is the last verse in the  famous poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken. The poem is all about choices, the roads we choose to take, those who walk beside us, the roads we don’t take because we are too afraid, and the opportunities we may miss.

Our family were out exploring a couple of weekends ago. We were driving along a long windy road in the hills around Wellington. We hadn’t been down this road for a few years. Of course, being a male, I didn’t need a map and convinced my wife that I would follow my nose and my keen sense of direction. My wife offered to read the map for me. I thought about this for a while and was just about to offer some witty reply when I was interrupted by our 7-year-old, “Daddy are you taking us the scenic way again?”  There were few cars on this road, it was clearly the road less travelled, and it took some time to get back to civilization. Was it worth it?  Judging by my wife’s expression,  probably not. I felt certain it was the right road, it was like I was being guided down the road, but by what? Perhaps by my own stubbornness and pride, rather than letting the one beside me guide me by using the map.

There is a story in the Bible in Luke chapter 24 about two men who were traveling down a road toward a village called Emmaus. This was just after Jesus had risen from his grave. The two men were walking and talking about the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. They were very sad and depressed. Another man walked up beside them and asked them what they were talking about and why they were so upset. The two men explained they were talking about their friend Jesus and how he was such a wonderful preacher and prophet. The man who had just joined the other two listened and walked with them for a while. After a while he said goodbye and left them. Later on the two men turned to each other and each suddenly realized who this man was, it was Jesus.

 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
~ Luke 24:31-32

There are many wonderful names for Jesus in the Bible, I think perhaps the two men had just found another one – Jehovah Sneaky.

Why did Jesus do this? Why didn’t he just jump out in front of them and exclaim, “Behold it is me Jesus, risen from the dead!”  Perhaps because the two men  just wouldn’t have believed him. Jesus was looking for a relationship, he was looking to impart something of himself to the two men. He wanted to walk with them, support them, comfort them, and then, when the time was right,  move on. Perhaps this is what he calls us to do for other travelers also.

We all walk down the same road. Sometimes it seems the road less travelled, devoid of people, life, and encouragement. Whether we realise it or not Jesus is always there walking beside us, not ahead of us, and not behind us, just right beside us, quietly prompting us, guiding us, and loving us.

Is there something that Jesus wants to whisper to you today? What does he need to give you? What guidance do you need?

Here or somewhere this week will you share your story? It may help a fellow traveler take another step on the road less travelled.

The Road Less Travelled

Shall we walk together
A little along the way
Will you let me speak
Hope into your life today

Shall we talk together
As we walk today
I know your deepest desire
Before you even pray

Shall we sit together
And rest a while today
Let me take you further
Through me, the only way

Did you feel me fill your soul
As we walked today
Did you heart burn within you
While you walked on your way

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“Run, run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!” It’s funny what goes through your head when you’re running up a steep forest track really fast, flat out of breath, and lacking the sufficient oxygen to make your brain function properly.

Mt Victoria, Wellington

I’ve just come back from my usual lunchtime 40 minute mountain run up and down Mt Victoria. Technically it’s a mountain, but it’s really just a very steep hill in the middle of Wellington. By the time I get to the top I’m usually mildly delusional, bent over double and huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf. There is really not much else I can do at this point, my heart is racing, my muscles, both of them, are screaming out, “What have you done!”, I can’t talk back, all I can do is breath in and out. After about 3 minutes everything is back to normal, and it’s time for the big downhill part, my favourite part.

Scientists tell us that the normal breathing rate for adults is around 12 breaths per minute, at rest. Most people take shallow breathes at around 15 – 20 breaths per minute. Ideally the best respitory rate for maximum brain and body oxygen levels is around 3 – 4 deep breaths per minute. This is the rate we breathe at when we are asleep.

With all that goes on in our day we usually don’t stop to think about our breathing from a health perspective. Even more rare is to stop and think about your breathing from a spiritual perspective. Breathing is the one thing that is common to all of us. We all started life the same way – with one breath. We will all, one day, take our last breath. God is at work here.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground,
And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being
~ Genesis 2:7

The name LORD appears in the bible over 6,000 times. Of course it wasn’t originally an English word. In Hebrew the name LORD is basically four letters, Y, H, V, H. In English this has come to be known as ‘Yahweh’. In Hebrew it is pronounced, ‘Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh.’

In the Hebrew culture the name of the Lord was considered so sacred that it should not be used at all. Ancient Rabbi’s believed that the letters Y, H, V, H represented breathing sounds. Could it be that the letters when pronounced together is essentially the sound of breathing?

Is ‘Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh’  really the sound of breathing?  Is this why we often refer to God as closer to us than breathing? Perhaps God is even closer than we thought. I’m not sure of the answer to this. If this is true how does this change your view of yourself as a living ‘God-breathed’ human being?

Try this for a couple of minutes:

Inhale and say ‘Yod’ for 3 seconds, exhale and say ‘Heh’ for 3 seconds, inhale ‘Vav’ for 3 seconds, exhale ‘Heh’ for 3 seconds. Repeat and see if you can do this at a 3-4 breaths per minute rate. Then, try doing the same thing without moving your lips or your tongue. Interesting huh? Sounds very much like the sounds we make when we breathe to me.

‘So what?’” I hear you ask. Good question.

In the Bible, the word for ‘breathe’ is the same word for ‘spirit’. In Hebrew this word is ‘ruah’, in Greek the word is ‘pheuma’. The bible says that when God takes away the ‘ruah’, the breath of all living creatures, then they die and return to dust. But when God sends the ‘ruah’, the Spirit, they are created. Perhaps this leaves us with more questions than answers.

What we do know is that God created us, breathed life into us. We have His Spirit, our breath drives our words and directs them. God may be closer to us than breathing, or he may just be in our breath.

So what about you?  What do you need to breathe in or out today?  Here or somewhere, share your story.  It may just be the breath of life for someone today.

Live and Breathe

Breathe in me
Fill my soul
Not a space
Would I withold

Breathe in me
Fill my heart
More of you
How great thou art

Breath in me
Your tounges of fire
Let me speak
Your heart’s desire

Breathe in me
Your life today
All this is yours
Yod Heh Vav Heh

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It was another misty morning in Hamilton. Apprehensively I approached the office clutching my packet of candy bananas dressed in my gorilla suit. Would I have the nerve to go through with this or would I climb into a leafy tree and eat the candy by myself?

“What the flip?” I hear you ask. Let me back up the truck.

A while go I met with our CEO. She was lamenting that the office lacked joy and laughter and people were getting a bit too serious. At the time we had around 200 staff and we were approaching some looming deadlines. “What would you do David?” she asked. Rather flippantly and far too casually I replied, “How about I hire a full gorilla costume and spend a day at work as ‘Gerald the Gorilla’ handing out bananas?” . “Great idea! How does tomorrow sound?” joyfully replied Bev. And Lo! Gerald was born.

Nek minute I became rather worried, I rang my wife. She laughed so hard she hung up on me. On the way home I picked up a gorilla costume, and spent a small fortune on candy bananas. I did a bit of a dress rehearsal at home and managed to make my then 3-year-old son burst into tears and run to his room. My wife frowned and told me to go outside and stop scaring the children. Outside the neighbors kids quickly spied me and had a similar reaction, “Mummy! There’s a very large ugly hairy man next door, shall we call the police?”

The next day I felt slightly sick, but I was determined to inject some joy and spread some much-needed laughter around the office. You really have no idea how hot it can get in a full latex lined gorilla suit.

I approached the main glass door to our office – I could see some very concerned people inside. They were not smiling. I ‘gorillaed’ past them, grunted at them and went to my office. At least no-one would recognise me as it was a very convincing costume. At the time I shared an office with two of my colleagues. I walked in, grunted at them and threw a banana at each of them. Without looking up and at the same time the said, “Oh Hi David, you’re a bit late this morning!”. How could they possibly know it was me?

For the rest of the day I leapt around the office, burst into meetings and hugged Executives, hung (literally) out in the café and generally made a monkey of myself. I even sat outside with the smokers and smoked a cigarette and just about caught on fire! It was one of the best days I had ever had in the office. It lifted people’s spirits and spread some much-needed joy around. People were talking about it for weeks. Most of them were convinced it was one of the other senior managers who was the gorilla. Of course he denied it, but no-one believed him. I got a lot of milage out of that.

Jesus wants us to have joy, his joy. He wants to fill our hearts to the brim with laughter and have a heart full of joy. This is easy when things are going well, when things are going our way. Jesus also wants us to have joy in our suffering. It’s more of the upside-down inside-out kingdom thinking. It makes so much sense but as the same time it doesn’t. This paradox of joy is possible.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  ~ James 1:1-3

Jesus eclipses out afflictions by his beauty, by his glory – his joy. That is why we  should consider it pure joy when we are in the midst of something tough. Easy to say, hard to do? I’ve been working on this myself lately – it’s really all about attitude and about choice. It’s about choosing life. It’s about choosing to be joyful.

What will you do this week? How will you spread his joy? Here or somewhere be real and share, it will help someone find the joy of the Lord.

Here’s some more thoughts on this:

Pure Joy

Like a fire in the wind
Your joy consumes my heart
In my heart you exchange
My afflications with glory

Like a storm rushing in
Your love reigns
In my mind you transform
My afflications to glory

Like a walk in the rain
Your peace fills my soul
In my soul you trade
My afflications for glory

Then as the rains stops
Here in my quiet heart
I realise you’ve eclipsed
My afflication with beauty

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I’ve been underfed, I’ve been overdrawn, I’m tired of walking this fine line for so long, I’ve been looking for you in all the wrong places. So who will come to the aid of a man like me.  This is one of the verses from Derek Lind’s song A Man Like Me.

Life is busy, there are many things that keep us occupied and distracted. Most of this ‘busyness’ wears us down, and tires us out. We need someone or something to come to our rescue.  Sooner than later we start to long for that wonderful time of year where we can sit on the beach, climb into the hammock, close our eyes and drift away while the sun warms our soul. Paradise.

While this is the experience of many of us, something seems wrong with this picture. Something seems very wrong. Is this really all there is to life – waiting for the next break, the next holiday to relax and rest? Is this what the rest of our life looks like? Is it the best we can hope for?

We have an opportunity to turn all of this upside down. Imagine for a moment what it would be like to find a place of rest and then operate our lives from this place. I’m not talking about sitting on a beach with a laptop. I’m talking about getting away with Jesus, taking a rest, and getting (as my American friends would say) the heck out of Dodge.

Jesus wants us to experience his way, his rhythm of life, his rhythm of grace. From this place we can still achieve all the things we need and want to do. Actually it’s more what Jesus wants us to do and be. It’s a change of attitude and mindset. It’s a change of culture.  Here’s how the band Jesus Culture describes it:
 
Come away with Me, Come away with Me
It’s never too late, it’s not too late
It’s not too late for you
 
I have a plan for you
It’s gonna be wild
It’s gonna be great
It’s gonna be full of Me
~ Come Away by Jesus Culture

How do we do this? How do we come away? – we choose to, we ask Jesus for his rest, and we believe it. It’s really that simple.

So what about you? How will you spend the rest of your life? What do you need to stop doing. Will you take up Jesus’ invitation to come away?  Maybe you’re doing this now.  Would you share your experience, here or somewhere. It may help someone find their place of rest, for the rest of their life.

Finally here’s my take from Jesus’ view on rest – his unforced rhythm of grace.

The Rhythm of Grace

Are you tired and weary      
Sick of running this race
Come away with me
Learn the rhythm of grace

Are you weighed down
By the burdens that you face
Come away with me
Learn the rhythm of grace

Are you over religion
Has the salt lost its taste
Come away with me
Learn the rhythm of grace

Do you need real rest
But can’t find it at your place
Come away with me
Learn the rhythm of grace

I can set you life free
Watch me, seek my face
Come walk with me
Learn my rhythm of grace

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.  This is the first line in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  It is probably one of the best opening lines of a book of all time. 

What strikes me about these words is that they describe some of the reasons why people, armies, and countries go into battle.  Wisdom, foolishness, freedom, justice are some of the reasons and excuses for waging war.  Some wars have started over much smaller things. 

War is hard to miss.  There is often bloodshed, death, explosions, and countless casualties.  The media beams the images into our homes on a daily basis.  Somewhere it seems there is always a battle being fought.  War is obvious, blatant, and graphic.

Behind our eyes there is a battle going on.  Some call it spiritual warfare, some call it the battle between good and evil.  Whatever you call it is a real battle, although it is not immediately obvious. It’s a Holy struggle.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
~ Ephesians 6:11-13

What we need to remember is that this battle had already been won for us by Jesus.  He counted the cost, paid the price, and won the victory for all time.  This means we can be at peace.  It doesn’t mean we can be complacent, but we can stand in the knowledge that we have peace in the battle for our soul. When Jesus died on the cross, Satan thought he had won. He was mistaken.

Then came the cross; you thought you had won
You thought you had conquered God’s only Son
“So much for Jesus!” you said in jest
Then you got a visit from an unwelcomed guest
~ This Means War, Petra.

Simone Weil,  French philosopher, social activist and Christian once said, ” There are only two things that can pierce the human heart, beauty and affliction“.  I think it’s possible for both of these to happen at the same time.  Perhaps this is a useful way to think about our Holy struggle, our spiritual warfare, our beautiful battle.

This week I had the privilege and honour of having one of poems feature as part of an online book launch of Mary DeMuth’s latest book Beautiful Battle.  You can view it be clicking anywhere on this paragraph – I’d be a shame to miss it!.  It’s a great book – You can win a signed copy by visiting Mary De Muth’s website via this link.

Here’s my reflection on this beautiful battle.  What are you battling today?  What have been your experiences of your worst times and your best times?  You may like to share your story here or somewhere this week.  It may just help a fellow battler in ways you could never imagine.

Beautiful Battle

In this beautiful battle
Where you contend for me
In a war behind my eyes
That I often fail to see

In this beautiful battle
Remind me I am free
As I put on your light armor
Darkness stops then flees

In this beautiful battle
I am safe from all harm
You shelter me with your love
And hide me in your arms

In this beautiful battle
You speak to me from above
You tell me I am beautiful
I feel your extravagant love

In this beautiful battle
Where you captivate my heart
Your love and grace define me
As I become your work of art

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Apollo 13 was the 1995 American drama film directed by Ron Howard. The film stars Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton. The film dramatises the 1970 Apollo 13 lunar mission. Howard went to great lengths to create a technically accurate movie, employing NASA’s technical assistance in astronaut and flight controller training for his cast, and even obtaining permission to film scenes aboard a reduced gravity aircraft for the realistic depiction of the “weightlessness” experienced by the astronauts in space.

Astronauts James Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise are launched aboard Apollo 13 for America’s third Moon landing mission. Three days into the mission Swigert is told to perform a standard housekeeping procedure of stirring the two oxygen tanks.  When he flips the switch, one tank explodes, emptying its contents into space and sending the craft spinning.  This explosion deprives their spacecraft of most of its oxygen supply and electric power, forcing NASA’s flight controllers to abort the Moon landing, and turning the mission into a struggle to get the three men home safely.

Houston, we’ve a problem ~ Jack Swigert

This part of the film, when Swigert stirs the tank, is a defining moment.  Nothing is the same after this point.  The mission is aborted and the astronauts and the flight control team scramble to find a way to get Apollo 13 home safely. 

This week I’ve been thinking about how God stirs our soul and reminds us of how he has set eternity in our hearts.  Sometimes we forget, but there are those fleeting moments when we realise that we are part of something much bigger than our own lives.  It can often be confronting.  Just like Apollo 13, it can send us spinning out of control. 

Perhaps God stirs our soul (our spiritual tanks) occasionally to bring us back on track, and to focus us on what’s important.  I’m not sure about you but when God stirs my soul it knocks me sideways and forces me to choose.  To choose to see it as a problem and continue spinning or, to look for the opportunity to realign myself with the one who created me – for a purpose, for a reason, and with a plan in mind.

Perhaps you’d like to share your thoughts or experiences about how God stirs your soul.  If not here, then somewhere this week.  It may encourage someone who’s in a flat spin.  Will you do it?

Here’s my reflection on this.

Stir My Soul

I’m found in your perfect faith
For your faith
It stirs my soul

I’m found in your heart of hope
For your hope
It stirs my soul

I’m found in your eyes of joy
For your joy
It stirs my soul

I’m found in your arms of love
For your love
Has made me whole

He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Ecclesiastes 3:10-12

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Often it’s easy to get lost in the many demands that life places on us.  All of us have different roles that we occupy ourselves with.  Many people are shaped and defined by the roles they play in life.  Some people have accepted that this is ‘just the way it is’.  Even William Shakespeare in As You Like It once commented

All the world’s a stage and all the men and woman merely players. They have their exits and their entrances.

While I like this quote, are we really just merely players?  Is that all there is?  Is there nothing that really defines us, gives us meaning and hope? 

I have many roles – husband, father, brother, son, friend, worker, writer, poet, butcher, baker and candlestick maker.  Well – the last three I made up but you get the idea.  Which of these roles define me?  Which role gives me meaning and purpose?  Actually they all do.  If I’m really honest, like most men – I let my work define me way too much to the point where it starts to get really counterproductive. Changes at work start to alter the way I look at things – my attitude and my self esteem.  It shouldn’t be like this – it can make me very grumpy and difficult to live with.

So I’m embarking on a journey to re-discover what defines me.  I’ve always known the answer –  it starts with who created me, for a purpose, for a reason, and to give my life meaning, hope and destiny.  That someone is God.  Because God created me and you – he is the one who defines us and gives us our identity and he is the only one who we should let define us. 

This is what I know about the one who defines me and you:

  • We are loved ~ 1 John 3:3
  • We are accepted ~ Ephesians 1:6
  • We are children of God ~ John 1:12
  • We are Jesus’ friend ~ John 15:14
  • We are joint heirs with Jesus ~ Romans 8:17
  • We are united with God ~ 1 Corinthians 6:17
  • We are redeemed and forgiven ~ Colossians 1:14
  • We are complete in Jesus Christ ~ Colossians 2:10
  • We are free from condemnation ~ Romans 8:1
  • We are new creations in Christ ~2 Corinthians 5:17
  • We are chosen by God, holy and loved ~ Colossians 3:12
  • We are anointed, and sealed by God ~2 Corinthians 1:21
  • We are God’s co-workers ~2 Corinthians 6:1
  • We have direct access to God ~ Ephesians 2:18
  • We are chosen to bear fruit ~ John 15:16
  • We can always know the presence of God ~ Hebrews 13:5

Believe it or not – that’s just the short list!.  If you want to see more have a look at the Father’s Love Letter to You.

I think we need to regularly choose to believe what God says about us – particularly about our identity and how he has defined us. Too often we are living out a mistaken identity.  To live an effective life we need to know and believe who we are in Christ. Why? Because God wants to do more with us in our lives than we can ever imagine – he designed and defined us for this purpose.  It’s about belief but it’s also about freedom – if we let God define us we are free.  If someone else or something else defines us then we become slaves.

As for me – I have a lot to learn here.  I need to stop being defined by things, particularly my work, and remember who defines me.  I’ve known this in my head for a while, but what I have realised lately is that this is not enough. It’s a  journey of the heart. I hope after a while people will notice a difference.  Here’s my reflection on what God says about my identity and what defines me. 

Chosen

I am chosen
I am free
You defined me
For eternity
Free now forever

I am loved
I am your child
You defined me
With just your smile
Free now forever

I am redeemed
I am restored
You defined me
My Sweet Lord
Free now forever

I am yours
You are mine
You defined me
For all time
Free now forever

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At the height of my short-lived career as a busker I once made $60 in one hour on the streets of Wellington.  Just me, my bright yellow basket ball boots, my John Lennon reflective sunglasses,  my Grandad’s green hat, and my acoustic guitar.  Believe it or not the combination worked!  That was 20 years ago, while I was a studying at University.

I had a standard set of songs that I’d learnt which included a few well-known numbers by Dire Straits, Don McLean, Tom Petty, Simon & Garfunkel – The Boxer was my favourite, and even the odd Christian song just to mix things up a bit – that makes it evangalism, right? Just as well I’m saved by grace rather than works.

Now it’s 20 years later and I’m 41 – the same age that my Dad was when I was born, unsurprisingly he’s now 81.  Where did those years go? Reminds me of a verse from my favourite busking song:

Now the years are rolling by me
They are rockin’ evenly
I am older than I once was
And younger than I’ll be and that’s not unusual.
~ The Boxer (Simon & Garfunkel)

One of my son’s is now 10, he plays the guitar and is fast learning a selection of busking songs.  After regailing him with my many busking stories, he’s keen to go out and earn some money –  he wants me to go with him.  I’m quite excitied about the idea and getting back into the busking groove, and besides, kids are great to take busking because you always get more money – we’ll still have to split it though.  

It’s interesting to pause and reflect on how life moves on, the beginnings, middles and the endings, and how the years just seem to disappear in the busyness we call life.  Sometimes life can feel like a rollercoaster and then other times it can feel a bit like Groundhog Day.

Despite how will feel about life, I believe no experience is wasted and each experience teaches us something new, whether we realise it at the time, later or never.  We may not use all these learnings in our lifetime but it may just help us prepare for the next life.  Perhaps our journey through life is really just preparing us for our new beginning.  Here’s some  of my thoughts on this. I hope it strikes a chord with you.

New Beginning

In the end
every tear is collected
dried and pressed into the book
by the one who cried with us

In the end
we are not forgotten
by the one who remembers
how he made us to love him

In the end
we are saved by grace
even though we use deeds
to work out our faith

In the end
every sacrifice ignored
is noticed by the one
who matters most

In the end
our journey is not in vain
as we step in his footprints
that will lead us home

In the end
we will all find our place
where life completes us
for our new begining

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Tūrangawaewae (pronounced too-rung-are-why-why) is a well-known and foundational Māori concept. Literally tūranga (standing place), waewae (feet), is often translated as ‘a place to stand’. Tūrangawaewae are places where we feel especially empowered and connected. They are our foundation, our place in the world, our home.

As a Pakeha (a New Zealander of European descent) I often admire how Maori are so connected to their turangawaewae and to their ancestors.  As for me, I trace my roots back to England and Scotland and to be honest I haven’t done a lot of research about where I’ve come from. 

What strikes me about the concept of turangawaewae is the unwavering belief of empowerment and connection.  There is a beautiful Maori proverb that captures this:

Māku e ringiringi ki aku roimata nga ara e ahu ana ki te kāinga …
(I will water with my tears the trails that lead to home.)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where I stand with what I believe.  As a Christian I believe that I am part of God’s Kingdom and that’s where I stand and what I most strongly identify with. 

I’ve spent some time putting some words together to describe my turnagawaewae  –  what I believe, my creed, and my place to stand.  These are my words that lead me home now and into eternity.  Maybe you can identify with some of these words too.  Perhaps you’d like to share your place to stand as a comment on this post. I’d like to hear your thoughts.

A Place to Stand

I believe in God the Father
Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ
Conceived by a virgin birth.

I believe Jesus came to earth
To baptise and to heal.
I believe He died for my sin
This much I know is real.

I believe in the resurrection
On that third and glorious day.
I believe in the empty tomb
That He rose from and walked away

I believe He went to heaven
Where He sits at God’s right hand.
I believe he sent me his Spirit
This much I understand.

I believe that nothing
Can seperate me from His boudless love
No creature from the dark below
Or any from above

I believe that one day He will return
With a call for me to heed.
I know He’s prepared a place for me
This is my steadfast creed.

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For three very long days now, I have had that old Bee Gees song – How Deep is Your Love going round and round my head and I just can’t get rid of it. Hopefully writing about it here will get it off my mind. The left side of my face is really starting to ache after repeatedly having to make the necessary facial expression to hit those classic falsetto notes. I really don’t know how they sing that high, it’s just – well – unnatural. 

So I’ll admit it, I like the occasional Bee Gees song.  Actually, just between you and me,  I really like their music.  You know, in the same way your friends really like ABBA music but they will never tell you. It’s OK if you like ABBA and the Bee Gees too. People just should come out and be honest about their muscial proclivities.

How Deep Is Your Love was recorded by the Bee Gees in 1977  (when I was seven). It was made famous as part of the soundtrack to the film Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta – the man in the white tuxedo.  In the United States this song topped the Billboard Hot 100 on 24 December 1977  and stayed in the Top 10 for a then-record 17 weeks.

One of the verses of this song really speaks to me about my deep love for God and how often that I don’t show it to him or others.  It’s so easy to forget that maybe one of the reasons that God made us was to love him, and to have an intimate relationship with him.  I think that’s what God would want, and he would want us to say something like this:

I believe in you
You know the door to my very soul
You’re the light in my deepest, darkest hour
You’re my saviour when I fall
And you may not think I care for you
When you know down inside
That I really do

God’s love for us is so very deep.  He loves us in a way that is so immense, so unconditional, and with no strings attached.  I know that he loves me in spite of and because of myself, just because he made me and he doesn’t make junk.  I love that about God. Perhaps that’s why God is love. 

The familiar song that has been in my head for three days is still there but now it sounds so different.

Here’s my attempt to reflect on how deep God’s love really is.  I know I’ve only just scratched the surface.  What will your reflection be?

Deep Love

Long is the reach of your arm
As You hold out your hands from above
As I grasp your hands to pull me up
I recall the great length of your love

Deep is the well of your concern
As it fills from the rivers in flood
As I drink from your living water
I recall the great depth of your love

Wide is your circle of influence
Like a king with a crown and a robe
As I submit my life to your will
I recall the great width of your love

You took the sins of the world
Upon your shoulders so broad
How wide, how long, how high and how deep
Is your love –  my living Lord.

How wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ
~ Ephesians 3:18

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God With Us

Everyone loves a good story.  It’s Christmas and it’s an excellent time for a story.  This story isn’t new,  it’s a very old story.  You may have heard it several times before, but it’s worth telling again.  It’s the story of how Christmas began and the story of how God is always with us.  So let’s begin.

Once upon a time, in a land not so very far away there was a woman named Mary.  Mary, a virgin , was living in Galilee of Nazareth and was engaged to be married to Joseph, a Jewish carpenter. An angel visited her and explained to her that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. She would carry and give birth to this child and she would name him Jesus.

At first Mary was afraid and troubled by the angel’s words. Being a virgin, Mary questioned the angel, “How will this be?” The angel explained that the child would be God’s own Son and, therefore, “nothing is impossible with God.” Humbled and in awe, Mary believed the angel of the Lord and rejoiced in God her Savior.

We all know how the rest of the story goes but I want to pause here and focus on how Mary experienced God.  Amy Grant in her song Breath of Heaven (see video clip below), captures the humanity of Mary’s experience.

Breath of Heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of Heaven

Breath of Heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me, your holiness
For your holy Breath of Heaven

Surely Mary also reflected with wonder on the words found in Isaiah 7:14 foretelling this event, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Here’s my reflection on Mary’s story, the beginning of the story of Christmas, and how God is with us in all our beginnings.

May God be with you and all those you love this Christmas.

Immanuel

God with us
Walk beside us today
Just like you walked with Mary
As she walked along her way

God with us
Hear our silent prayer
Just like you heard Mary
In between her fightened tears

God with us
Draw us close to you
Just like you did with Mary
Make our hearts brand new

God with us
In our hearts you dwell
Just like you were to Mary
Be Our Immanuel

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Two Flat Whites

A good friend and I meet for coffee every couple of weeks at Soho Brown, a café in Wellington city. Over a couple of flat whites, we sit and catch up on what’s been happening in our lives, what we’d like to happen, and why other stuff just happens to get in the way. Like a lot of friends, we share some common views, opinions, and experiences. It’s probably why we get along so well.

A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walk out. ~ Walter Winchell

At our last coffee catch up, my friend mentioned that he had resigned from his job in Wellington and was heading off to another job in Dunedin (about 600km south of Wellington). I knew that he had been looking around for another job for sometime so I congratulated him on his new job and how I was really happy for him. I think I was reasonably convincing – at least on the outside.

On the inside at a completely selfish level I was going into shock. I was losing a good friend, my coffee buddy. We wouldn’t meet anymore for coffee. How would I fill this gaping hole every two weeks? I immediately began thinking of coffee friend replacements, but why? Do I have an abandonment complex?  I was really surprised at my inward reaction – it was really quite selfish and ugly. The stark duplicity of my reactions, both inward and outward was confronting.

I don’t make friends very easily. I’m good at having friends but not so good at being a friend.  I’ve found there is a big difference. I reflected on how the topics of our conversations always came back to me and my issues, rather than a 50/50 split of what a good friendship should be about. I have a lot to learn. Still, I am really genuinely happy for my friend, I’m sure his new life in Dunedin will be full of wonderful opportunities, and I do wish him all the best.

A true friend is one who thinks you are a good egg even if you are half cracked ~ Author unknown

I have really valued our coffee chats, and if I can learn anything about how to be a great friend – a real friend, it will be how my friend was a genuine and real friend to me. I really hope we stay in touch. I also hope that he doesn’t read this because he’ll think I’ve gone completely mad – perhaps I’ll be brave enough to email him a link and tell him how happy I am for him and how much I’ll miss our coffee catch ups. I guess that’s what a genuine friend would do, right?

Anyway, here’s my tribute to you my friend. It’s been a privilege getting to know you. Thanks for all the coffees, and don’t be a stranger. Go well my friend. 
 
Momentum 
 
We both meet here my friend
At this moment of time
In the words of this poem
We both share this same rhyme

The gift that we share
Some words in life’s sentence
A small part of our story
In one little parentheses

In this precious moment
Our souls greet each other
As part of God’s Kingdom
As we love one another

So let joy complete us
As we encounter and share
Let us carry each other
In our hopes and our prayers

Peace be with you my friend
Until next time we meet
Through this avenue of words
In the very same street

May the road rise up to meet you
And may God guide your feet
May the sun warm your face
Until next time we speak.

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The Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) from Earth.  In the photograph, Earth is shown as a tiny dot (0.12 pixel in size) against the vastness of space The Voyager 1 spacecraft, which had completed its primary mission and was leaving the Solar System, was commanded by NASA to turn its camera around and to take a photograph of Earth across a great expanse of space, at the request of Carl Sagan. Subsequently, the title of the photograph was used by Sagan as the main title of his 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.

This is the “Pale Blue Dot” photograph of the Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft on July 6, 1990.The Earth is the relatively bright speck of light in the blue circle about halfway across the uppermost sunbeam.

Here’s the caption from the photo:

This narrow-angle color image of the Earth, dubbed ‘Pale Blue Dot’, is a part of the first ever ‘portrait’ of the solar system taken by Voyager 1. The spacecraft acquired a total of 60 frames for a mosaic of the solar system from a distance of more than 4 billion miles from Earth.  From Voyager’s great distance Earth is a mere point of light, less than the size of a picture element even in the narrow-angle camera. Earth was a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size. Coincidentally, Earth lies right in the center of one of the scattered light rays resulting from taking the image so close to the sun. This blown-up image of the Earth was taken through three color filters — violet, blue and green — and recombined to produce the color image. The background features in the image are artifacts resulting from the magnification. (Source: NASA)

One word from this caption stands out for me – “coincidently”.  Really?  What are the chances of coincidently capturing an image of earth suspended in a sunbeam four billion miles from earth?  How could this be coincidence?  I think this famous photograph was captured just at the right time, in the right circumstances to make us think about our world. Let’s take another look:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. – Carl Sagan

Here’s my take on our home, our world, our earth, our pale blue dot.

Our Pale Blue Dot

On a pale blue dot
In a sunbeam of light,
Our tiny earth
Spins day into night.

Our dot is so small
In a universe so vast,
We think we’re immortal
Forever we’ll last.

We live and we die
In peace and through war,
We all exist on this dot
But do we love any more?

So who made this dot
And moved space through time,
To make the earth spin
On no more than a dime?

It’s so easy to forget
To remember it seems,
Our mote of dust
Suspended in a sunbeam.

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Salt and Light

Salt and light are metaphors used by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, one of the main teachings of Jesus on morality and discipleship. These metaphors in Matthew 5:13-16 immediately follow the Beatitudes and relate to Jesus teaching his disciples. 

Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

~ Matthew 5:13-16 (The Message)

I’ve been thinking about what this means for me.  When I unpack these verses there are four key themes that come out.  I can clearly see my shortcomings.  I’ve written these points mainly to challenge myself.  Maybe there’s something in this for you too.

1. You are the salt of the earth.

Jesus emphasises to us that we have both the calling and the responsibility to be influencers in the world.  

2. Salt which loses its saltiness is useless. 

Jesus’ teaching is challenging.  There is little wriggle room for those who are Christians, but who have lost their saltiness, or their “edge”.  Without the testimony of lives lived out with integrity and consistency with the principles that Christians claim to follow, the testimony of our lips is next to useless. 

 3. You are like light for the world 

Light shines on dark things and exposes what is there. This is a call to the church to challenge evil within our society, however uncomfortable this may be. The light that we bring, is not our own light – it is not who we are in ourselves, but rather the light of God shining through us. This doesn’t mean that we have to refer to God in every other sentence, but when the opportunity arises, we can share with another person the light that God has given us. Challenging?

 4. Don’t hide your light

We hide our light when we stay silent in the face of discussion which is contrary to that which we believe. We hide our light when we fail to accept and conform with behaviours that are not in line with Jesus’ teaching. We hide our light when we don’t care for the needs of others, and walk by on by.

Jesus challenges us all to be salt and light – to influence the world, and to be seen to be doing so.  I’m still learning how to do this. What about you?

Salt and light

Yesterday, you were my God
I saw you, in the eyes of a stranger
I heard you, in their indignation
And I felt you, in their sorrow
And I did nothing

Today, you are my God
I saw you, growing my garden
I heard you rustling through the trees
And I felt your warmth, on my face
And I smiled

Tomorrow, you’ll still be my God
I will see you, if I dare to look
I will hear you, if I am still
And I will feel you, working within my heart
For you are the same God
Yesterday, today, and forever

Help me to be salt,
to those who need to taste
And light,
to those who are lost in their own darkness
And compel me to act,
today.

 

 

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Lighthouse Man

A couple of years ago I discovered a new band – The Waifs.   They hail from Western Australia.  It’s hard to describe their genre. The closest I can come to describe their music is a  curious combination of blues, jazz, roots, gospel, and world.  It’s a fairly unique blend and not everyone’s cup of tea.  For me the integrity of their lyrics and melodies are confronting.   

One of my favourite songs is Lighthouse (click to view YouTube video).  The imagery and story of the song has left a lasting impression on me.  It’s a common story – the story of seeking and finding.  My favourite part of the song is this bit:

We all need a lighthouse of our own
It gets so dark I can’t see which way I’m going
Lighthouse man I’m all at sea
Shine a little lighthouse light on me

Somedays we all need a lighthouse man – someone to guide us and remind us where to go and bring us safely back to land.  Someone to guide us, someone to lead us, someone to bring light to our dark places.  Here’s my take on the imagery of my lighthouse man – my Jesus.

Lighthouse Man

Your face outshines the brightest star
Your eyes search back and forth across the ocean
For the sailor on the stormy sea

Your voice rolls like roaring thunder
Your words crash like mighty waves
For the sailor on the stormy sea

Your arms hold back the raging waves
Your hand stops the spinning compass
For the sailor on the stormy sea

Your heart shines for me like a lighthouse
Your love draws me to the sheltered shore
For a sailor just like me

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Beautiful Mystery

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to get closer to God and understanding more about his nature and character.  To be honest, I haven’t come up with any grand theories, ideas or potential ministry opportunities.  What I did discover though through talking about this with a couple of friends is that it is all about your relationship with God.  Sounds obvious I know.  It’s always the really simple things that tend to escape me.  It’s also about worship (not necessarily singing) and crying out to God. 

It’s about a beautiful mystery.  It’s a very elusive mystery.  I’ve tried to understand it and figure it out, but as soon as I think I have it, it slips through my fingers again.  That sounds like the beautiful mystery of God to me.

 I’ve written a reflection on this which is where my faith and relationship with God is right now.  It’s not where I want to be but it is where I am.  I think it may just be time to get out the guitar and write some music for it too.  I hope you may find something in this that may help you to reflect on this elusive beautiful mystery.

Beautiful Mystery

Take me into your perfect love
The love that never ends
Take me back to your mystery
Where we were forever friends

Take me into you mercy
Where its whiter than the snow
Take me into the beautiful
Where your living waters flow

Take me into your perfect grace
And remind me I am free
Take me back to your mystery
Lift the fog so I may see

Take me into your presence
Here I stand with open arms
Take me into the beautiful
And protect me from all harm

Consume me in your perfect love
The love that casts out all my fear
Take me back to your mystery
With arms wide open I am here

In your beautiful mystery
In faith we walked before
In your beautiful mystery
Lead me back to you once more

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Stop All The Clocks

Wystan Hugh Auden who published as W. H. Auden, was an American poet. He was regarded by many as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. His work is noted for its stylistic and technical poetic form, the engagement with moral and political issues, and its variety of tone and content.

The central themes of his poetry are love, politics and citizenship, religion and morals, and the relationship between unique human beings and the anonymous, impersonal world of nature.

Throughout his career he was both controversial and influential. After his death, some of his poems, particularly Stop all the clocks became widely known through films, broadcasts and popular media. This poem is a ‘favourite’ at funerals and was also made known in the classic movie Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Now, for those of you who don’t have pets this is going to sound really trite, for those of you who do have pets you will completely understand.  Our 19-year-old cat Archie Andrews passed away this week .  Our whole family are very upset and are grieving.  I’ve discovered that the death of a family pet is much more than just the grief around losing a pet – it requires us to confront our own mortality and feel things that we just don’t want to face.  We’ll work through this and our grief, but for now it’s really painful and really raw.  Here’s W H Auden’s classic poem – I don’t really agree with where he ends up with it – but right now it’s pretty accurate. 

Stop all the clocks

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

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I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For  is a song by rock band U2. It is the second track from their 1987 album The Joshua Tree. The song was a hit, becoming the band’s second consecutive number-one single on the US Billboard Hot 100 after “With or Without You” . I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For was well-received by critics. It has subsequently become one of the group’s most well-known songs and has been performed on many of their concert tours. The track has appeared on several of their compilations and concert films.

Like much of The Joshua Tree, the song was inspired by the group’s interest in American music. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For exhibits influences from gospel music and its lyrics describe spiritual yearning, searching and seeking.

I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you

I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

To me this song is about the search for spiritual fulfillment and the lifelong struggle of seeking and finding God, feeling like I’ve lost Him and then seeking and finding Him all over again.  I suspect the pattern will continue.  It’s a common pattern and one you too may be able to relate to. 

I may not have found what I’m looking for, but I know that while I’ve been seeking, God has found me.  Maybe, just maybe it’s possible to be lost and found in God all at the same time.  Here’s my reflection:

Lost and found

seek me in the sky
in my sunrise
way up high

find me on the road
as you wander
with your load

seek me in your day
as you work and
toil away

find me in the sky
in my sunset
way up high

seek me with your heart
then we’ll
never be apart

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart
~ Jeremiah 29:13

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Angel is a song by Sarah McLachlan that originally appeared on her 1997 album Surfacing. The song is about the Smashing Pumpkins touring keyboard player Jonathan Melvoin, who overdosed on heroin and died in 1996. 

The song has had enduring popularity. It has often been used to highlight emotional scenes on television shows and has been featured in a number of soundtracks (including the film City of Angels and TV’s Alias, Cold Case, Dawson’s Creek, Early Edition, Felicity, General Hospital, and The Pretender).  Is was also a song of comfort and healing following the April 1999 Columbine High School massacre and the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks.

On September 10, 2011, McLachlan performed the song to close the ceremonies at the dedication of the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, commemorating the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 who fought the hijackers and brought down their airplane in the September 11 attacks.

The song made its début on the New Zealand Singles Chart on the 6 July 2009 at number 36. 

Something about this songs really gets to me.  It’s a combination of the music and the way the melancholic words dance through the song.  The theme of the song is one we can all relate to at one level or another. Many have found comfort in the words and the music.  Sarah McLachlan’s lyrics are superb.   Here’s my reflection and a link to this amazing song

Angels

Did you see the angel, with a rainbow in her hair?
She held a flower in her hand, did you see it there?

Did you sense the angel, looking right at you?
Do you have enough faith, to see her too?

Did you feel the angel hold you, with a rainbow in her hair?
She held you while you thought of troubles that were not even there.

Do you believe in angels, do you sense them near?
Do you feel them holding you, when no one really cares?

Whether you believe or not, your angels still will care,
And whether your heart is open or shut
They still know you’re there.

 

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The Tyger is a poem by the English poet William Blake. It was published as part of his collection Songs of Experience in 1794. It is one of Blake’s best-known and most analyzed poems. The Cambridge Companion to William Blake (2003) calls it “the most anthologized poem in English.”

The Tyger is the sister poem to “The Lamb” (from “Songs of Innocence”), a reflection of similar ideas from a different perspective, but it focuses more on goodness than evil. The poem also presents a duality between aesthetic beauty and primal ferocity. The author  wonders whether the hand that created “The Lamb” also created “The Tyger”.

William Blake is by far my favourite poet.  I marvel at the way he can make words dance and come alive.  His use of the metaphor is legendary.  If you read it a few times you will begin to see the imagery about creation, the lamb of God, and good and evil. Enjoy!

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

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Your Move?

The game of chess is a game of strategy and careful planning. Each move has a consequence and meaning in how the game will develop and what the overall outcome will be.   Life can be like a game of chess. To some extent you can predict what will happen in the future by what moves you will make.  

Have you ever played chess, stood up and walked around to see the game from the other side?  Sometimes it’s worth seeing life from other viewpoints and angles. Try the unknown, test things, learn, discover, like Geri (see the movie clip at the end of this post).

The other thing about life is that you are not the only one who is making the moves.  What moves has God made and what moves will he make. In life, we need to make room for God.  This may mean moving or waiting for you turn to move or be moved. Have you experienced this ? What happened? Here’s my thoughts on chess –  the game of life. 

Your Move

Does God move us
Like chess pieces
Across the board
In his game of life

Which piece are you
A king or his castle
A queen or her bishop
Or are you a single pawn

We are all unique
And move differently
But we work and play
On the same board

We may be black and white
Or different shades of grey
What’s your strategy
Perhaps it’s your move?

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Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894) was an English poet who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional, and children’s poems. She is best known for her long poem Goblin Market, her love poem Remember, and for the words of the Christmas carol In the Bleak Midwinter.

Rossetti was educated at home by her mother, who had her study religious works, classics, fairytales and novels. Rossetti delighted in the works of Keats, Scott, Ann Radcliffe and Monk Lewis. The influence of the work of Dante Alighieri, Petrarch and other Italian writers filled the home and would have a deep impact on Rossetti’s later writing. 

In her poem A Better Resurrection Rossetti asks us to look beyond our current troubles to Jesus and the resurrection of the body – the moment when our bodies and souls become new.  I’ve often reflected on Paul’s words about the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15:35-38.  This poem is a great reflection on this subject.

A Better Resurrection

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb’d too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall–the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish’d thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

~ Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894)

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I See You

Avatar is a 2009 American epic science fiction film written and directed by James Cameron. The film broke several box office records during its release and became the highest-grossing film of all time, surpassing Titanic.  Avatar was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won three, for Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, and Best Art Direction.

The film is set in the mid-22nd century, when humans are mining a precious mineral called unobtanium on Pandora, a lush habitable moon of a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system.  The expansion of the mining colony threatens the continued existence of a local tribe of Na’vi—a humanoid species indigenous to Pandora. The film’s title refers to the genetically engineered Na’vi-human hybrid bodies used by a team of researchers to interact with the natives of Pandora.

One thing that struck me about the Na’vi was their greeting, “I see you.”  As explained in the film, this greeting is translated as “I see the image of God in you”.  What a great way to greet and engage with people.  It got me thinking about how we ‘see’ others. How we ‘see’ God is all about how we ‘know God’ and then how we make him known.  Here’s my reflection:

I See You

To You who hung the stars
And know each of them by name
I see You –
In the starry night
As you guide me home again

To You who walks beside me
Along this narrow way
I see You –
In your Word
As it lights my path today

To You who moves my mountains
When my faith is weak and small
I see You –
As you shape my world
Let me hear You when You call

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Tears in Heaven was an iconic song written by Eric Clapton and Will Jennings about the pain Clapton felt following the death of his four-year-old son, Conor, who fell from a window of a New York apartment, on March 20, 1991. Clapton, who arrived at the apartment shortly after the accident, was visibly distraught for months afterwards. This song is one of Clapton’s most successful, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in the U.S.

Clapton stopped playing it in 2004. He was reported saying; “I didn’t feel the loss anymore, which is so much a part of performing those songs. I really have to connect with the feelings that were there when I wrote them. They’re kind of gone and I really don’t want them to come back, particularly. My life is different now. They probably just need a rest and maybe I’ll introduce them for a much more detached point of view.”

I’ve been a fan of Eric Clapton for a long time. I can’t imagine the level of pain and suffering Clapton went through with his experience of losing his son.  I can imagine that there were plenty of tears in heaven.  The song gets me every time.  There are plenty of examples of people who have suffered more than they should, where there is no explanation, where people point their finger at God and say, “Where were you?” At the time there are no answers, God is always there, but at the time, it is usually of little comfort.  Often it is only later that we find God was there in the middle of it all.

I came across this in Psalm 56: 8:

 You keep track of all my sorrows.
 You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
 You have recorded each one in your book.

I’m not sure why God would collect our tears in a bottle and record each one, but it is somehow comforting.  Here’s my reflection on how I believe God is there with us through the hard times.

Collect Your Tears

For all those times
As you held your fears
I held you tight
When you wept your tears

For all those times
When you felt so scared
I drew you close
As I always cared

For all those times
When you felt alone
My angels comforted you
And led you home

In all those times
I wept with you
In all your tears
I cried them too

So just be still
And know I am here
I know your sorrow
As I collect your tears

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One Light Shining

In this land of the walking wounded
In this valley of endless sorrow
I shall cling to your hand today
And fear not for tomorrow

 In my heart I proclaim this promise
With all my soul I declare this choice
I will walk where your Spirit leads
And hear no other voice

In my life there is one light shining
 You guide me along the narrow way
I will travel your path of truth
All of my living days

 

 

 Your word is a lamp to my feet 
and a light for my path.
~ Psalm 119:105

 

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Sometimes in life everything you do seems to go wrong. Your faith may be strong and your commitment deep, yet trouble will come knocking on your door. Try as you might you may not just be able to pray these troubles away.

It may be that God has a purpose for not allowing you to be on top of your game and successful all of the time. Growth requires seasons of struggle as well as seasons of success. Seasons of struggle destroy pride and dependence in your own strength and ability, and increase your dependence on God.  These experiences can be very hard and humbling experiences, but I think we may just need them.

Life can sometimes be a bit like a tree,  in winter it lies dormant renewing its strength, preparing for the next season of fruitfulness.  As you look back on your life’s successes and challenges you will notice that they are seasonal. There are seasons of rain as well as sunshine, seasons of despair and as well as hope. Each season serves a purpose.   Sometimes the situation doesn’t call for any action, it calls for patience and trust and falling into God.

God’s ways are not our ways. Perhaps in ways we cannot understand, God uses these times to work on us.

Open Season

There’s a tree outside my house
The branches are all bare
It shivers in the cold
And aching midnight air

In winter the tree is pruned
It looks so different from before
Some would say so broken
So desolate and poor

The pruning now has finished
Its wounds are weeping sores
But deep within its restless soul
Its heart has been restored

It knows the seasons well
And that winter leads to spring
New life, new growth, a brand new hope
Death has lost its sting

 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,  while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.  ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

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Band of Brothers

Band of Brothers was a television World War II mini-series based on the book of the same name written by Stephen E. Ambrose.  The episodes first aired in 2001 and are still run frequently on various TV channels today.

The story centers on the experiences of Easy Company of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment assigned to the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army. The series covers Easy’s basic training, the American airborne landings in Normandy, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of Bastogne and on to the end of the war, including the taking of the Kehlsteinhaus (Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest).

The title for the book and the series comes from a famous St. Crispin’s Day Speech delivered by the character of Henry V of England before the Battle of Agincourt in William Shakespeare’s Henry V. A passage from the speech is quoted on the first page of the book, and is also quoted by Carwood Lipton in the final episode.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
~William Shakespeare

Turn the clock back about 2000 years and there was another man, with a band of brothers.  Location: Garden of Gethsemane.

The garden at Gethsemane, is located on the Mount of Olives just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. A garden of ancient olive trees stands there to this day. Jesus frequently went to Gethsemane with His disciples to pray (John 18:2). The most famous events at Gethsemane occurred on the night before His crucifixion when Jesus was betrayed.

As the evening began, after Jesus and His disciples had celebrated the Passover, they came to the Garden. At some point, Jesus took three of them—Peter, James and John— to a place separated from the rest. Here Jesus asked them to watch with Him and pray so they would not fall into temptation (Matthew 26:41), but they fell asleep. Twice Jesus had to wake them and remind them to pray so that they would not fall into temptation.  Jesus moved a little way from the three men to pray, and twice he asked His Father to remove the cup of wrath He was about to drink, but each time He submitted to the Father’s will. He was “exceedingly sorrowful unto death,” but God sent an angel from heaven to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43).

The events that occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane have reverberated down through the centuries. The passion Jesus displayed on that momentous night has been depicted in music, books, and films for centuries. From the 16th century, when Bach wrote two magnificent oratorios based on the gospel accounts of Matthew and John, to the present day with the film “The Passion of the Christ,” the story of this extraordinary night has been told again and again. Even our language has been affected by these events, giving us such phrases as “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword” (Matthew 26:52); “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38); and “sweating drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). Of course, the most important impact of this night was the willingness Jesus to die on the cross in our place in order to pay the penalty for our sins.  This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the Good News.

I’ve always wondered about the band of brothers though – Peter, James and John.  They fell asleep, just when Jesus needed them the most. Jesus must have despaired that his closest friends, his band of brothers were not there for him when he needed them.

We have all had our own experiences where our friends, brothers, or sisters have not been there when we were in need.  We can relate in some small way with Jesus’s experience of loss, loneliness and betrayal by people who really should have been there in our hour of need.  We have all had our Gethsemane experiences, we may never had wept tears of blood, but sometimes we fell we could have.

No man or woman is an island. Do you have a band of brothers or sisters?  Are you accountable to them?  How can they help you in your hour of need?   Do you know someone who you need to check up on?  Today?

Band of Brothers

Where were you when I wept tears
In the garden of my fears
When I needed you like no other
Where were you my band of brothers

Did you not hear what I couldn’t say
Why did you forget to pray
When I needed you like no other
Where were you my band of brothers

Why do you never call on me
When you could help to set me free
When I needed you like no other
Where were you my band of brothers

Are you awake or too blind to see
That maybe you could rescue me
When I needed you like no other
Where were you my band of brothers

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping.  “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”
~ Jesus (Matthew 26:40-41)

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The Passion of the Christ is a 2004 drama film directed by Mel Gibson and starred Jim Caviezel as Jesus. It shows the Passion of Jesus largely according to the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Passion of the Christ covers the final 12 hours of Jesus’ life beginning with the Garden of Gethsemane and ending with the resurrection.

The New Testament teaches that the resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of the Christian faith.  The resurrection established Jesus as the powerful Son of God.  God has given Christians a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Christians, through faith in the working of God are spiritually resurrected with Jesus so that they may walk in a new way of life.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  ~ John 11:25-26

I remember watching this movie. It made me stop and realise what Jesus actually went through for us, and how the events leading up to his death and then his resurrection changed absolutely everything.  Here’s my reflection on this verse in John’s Gospel.

Your Resurrection

Through the wreckage of my life
Let me climb to You,
The one who moved my mountain
To create my faith anew.

For to me You are My Rock
In the rubble of my strife,
Through Your resurrection
By grace, You saved my life.

I believe You came to save me
When You hung at Calvary,
Let us walk this road together
From here to eternity

 

Recently I came across a clip on YouTube on the resurrection by Rob Bell.  It explores what the resurrection means for us more than 2000 years later, and continues the theme of belief, life and ressurection in John 11.

So what does the resurrection mean to you? 
What do you believe? 
What will you do with it?

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What will heaven be like?  The Bible mentions heaven quite a bit, but is very short on the detail. Maybe one of the reasons for this is that it is just not possible to understand the full nature of heaven from a human perspective. Since heaven is where God is, it must contain more physical and temporal dimensions than those that exist on earth. We cannot see or even imagine, what these extra dimensions might be like.  Recently String Theorists (a special breed of Physicists) believe that they may have discovered be up to 11 dimensions, some of which we can’t see or even experience. 

Sometimes  I think I’ve caught a glimpses of these dimensions.  How?  I’m not sure, maybe in connections with others, maybe in those experiences that I know just can’t be coincidental.  Those times when I know I can see something, but have not seen it.  I hear something, but can’t quite make it out. Sometimes I  just know that I have had an encounter with God but am unable to explain what it was to someone else.  Sound familiar? 

I believe that God wants us to show us glimpses of himself and heaven to remind us that we are spiritual beings, to remind us that he gives us hope,  to remind us that he made us in his own image, and to remind us that one day will be with him in heaven.

 
Eyes To See 
 
Let me show you something
As I paint my sunset in the sky
Do you have eyes to see
Have you stopped to wonder why

Let me show you something
Through the thunder and rain
Do you have ears to hear it
Have you heard me call your name

Let me show you something
As I shift your world today
Notice how space departs from time
As I create a brand new way

Let me show you something
As I speak light into your soul
Do you feel me beat your heart
Do you want to be made whole

Open the eyes of your heart
Align your soul to me
Let me transform your mind
Then you will have eyes to see

However, as it is written:
What no eye has seen, 
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived 
the things God has prepared for those who love him
~ 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)

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With a career spanning more than 30 years, Amy Grant is one of the best-selling Contemporary Christian music singers to date. Not only is Amy Grant known among Christians, but she’s also a legend in mainstream music as well. In 2006, Amy Grant received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, after selling more than 25 millions records worldwide . 

Somewhere Down the Road is Amy Grant’s 22nd album, released in 2010. It is a unique album featuring six brand new songs, two previously unreleased songs, a new recording of the classic 1982 song “Arms of Love.” The album also includes three previously released songs.

The album title is taken from the title track, Somewhere Down the Road.  The painting featured on the cover of the album is a painting by Amy Grant, with the inscription Somewhere Down the Road.  This part of the song really speaks to me and gives me hope.

Somewhere down the road
There’ll be answers to the questions
Somewhere down the road
Though we cannot see it now
Somewhere down the road
You will find mighty arms reaching for you
And they will hold the answers at the end of the road

I’ve followed Amy’s journey of music for about 25 years.  Her music has been a great source of strength and encouragement to me as I have walked and continue to walk down my own road of faith.  It’s great to know that in my journey of faith, God is always walking beside me and leading me to him (in the good times), and back to him (in the hard times).

So what about you?  Who leads you and who leads you back? 

Lead Me Back

As I walk this road called life
I’m learning something new
Every road I travel
Leads me back to you

Through the darkest valley
From the highest mountain view
Every road I travel
Leads me back to you

Even in the wilderness
Where the travellers are few
Every road I travel
Leads me back to you

So when I think I’ve lost my way
Please lead me back to you
For every road we travel
Teaches something new

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Love Always Wins

Rob Bell in his book Love Wins addresses one of the most curly issues of faith – heaven and hell.  Bell asks the question, would a loving God send people to eternal torment forever?  Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is quite hopeful. Eternal life doesn’t start when we die – it starts right now. Really?

Bell has attracted a lot of criticism about this book and his overall theme of universalism – the belief that all people will eventually be saved, given enough time.  There are a lot of reviews, good, bad and very ugly about what Rob Bell has to say about heaven and hell.  It seems to me that most of the people who claim that Rob Bell is a heretic are the same people who have never read his book.

I’ve read his book.  I think it’s great.  I’ve asked these questions, and I still don’t think I have the answers.  I do believe God has the answers, and that God is love, and that love wins.  I have many favourite parts of the book but this quote struck me:

May you experience this vast,
expansive, infinite, indestructible love
that has been yours all along.
May you discover that this love is as wide
as the sky and as small as the cracks in
your heart no one else knows about.
And may you know,
deep in your bones,
that love wins.

This book really got me thinking. here’s my reflection:

Heaven on Earth

in between the now and the not yet
we live here on earth
waiting for heaven
where on earth is heaven

in between today and tomorrow
we live on earth
day after day, some days
seems like hell on earth

perhaps eternity
is set in the hearts of men
perhaps the kingdom of heaven
is within us

perhaps, just perhaps
heaven is a place on earth
not now, but here
sometime, someday

a new heaven and a new earth
one day, in God’s time
because God is love and
love will always win

Finally, here’s a video clip about Rob Bell’s book (by Rob Bell), view it, read the book and then judge for yourself.

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What Dreams May Come, directed by Vincent Ward, won an Oscar in 1998 for its expansive and impressive visual vistas depicting heaven.

Chris Nielsen (Robin Williams), a doctor, with his artist wife Annie (Annabella Sciorra) suffered through the loss of their children, who were killed in a car accident. Although Annie’s all-consuming depression nearly destroyed their marriage, the couple rebuilt their relationship and are now living out a comfortable middle age.

Stopping one night to help a motorist in a wreck, Chris is hit by a car and killed. At first confused about where he is, Chris meets Albert (Cuba Gooding Jr.), an Angel guide who helps him to realise he’s passed away and that he must move on to Heaven. After trying with  limited success to communicate with the devastated Annie, Chris moves on and discovers Heaven can become whatever he visualises.

Chris’s creates his paradise as the paintings of his wife, and he awaits the day when Annie will eventually join him. Tragedy strikes again when Annie commits suicide and goes to Hell. Although it is rarely done, Chris insists on traveling there, risking his eternal soul to save the woman he loves. Accompanied part of the way by Albert and another guide called The Tracker (Max von Sydow), Chris finally reaches Annie in Hell, and must convince her of the truth in order to release her from her dark prison, before he himself is also trapped with no way out.

This movie is one of my all time favourites.  I like the idea of Heaven being a colourful landscape , that’s my kind of paradise. I also believe that hell is a place without God.  Again the movie is pretty accurate to my idea of hell.  It also reminds me of how we can paint our own heaven or hell on earth.  It’s our choice which world we live in. 

So what about you?  Where are you living? I watched this movie again a few months ago and felt inspired to write about it.

Colour your Heaven

If you asked me to paint my heaven,
I’d choose colours of red, yellow and blue,
And create a vast vivid landscape,
Of a place I somehow knew.

If you asked me to play my heaven,
I’d use the key of G.
With a minor fall, and a major lift,
To sustain life in harmony.

If you asked my to write my heaven,
I’d use words of depth and rhyme,
To draw you in to my Maker’s world,
Where space departs from time.

If you asked me to share my heaven,
I’d speak the greatest story ever told,
Of Jesus who died for me and you,
So we could walk the streets of gold. 

So what colour is your heaven?
What is the best musical key?
To write and paint your heaven,
For those who need to see?

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Frances Ridley Havergal (1836 – 1879) was a Christian writer, poet, hymn writer and musician.  She was brought up in a Christian family in Worcestershire, England.  At the age of 3  Havergal could read.  At the age of 4, she began reading and memorizing the Bible, and at age 7 she began writing poetry.

Havergal was a devoted Bible student, memorizing the New Testament as well as the Psalms, Isaiah, and the Minor Prophets. Although highly cultured and educated she maintained a simple faith and confidence in her Lord. She lived a disciplined prayer life and it is said that she never wrote a line without first praying over it.

Havergal’s most famous hymn Take my Life and Let it Be is an extraordinary poem and is a great example of rhyming couplets

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.

Havergal had this to say about writing:

Writing is praying with me. You know a child would look up at every sentence and say, ‘And what shall I say next?’ That is just what I do; I ask Him that at every line He would give me not merely thoughts and power, but also every word, even the very rhymes.

If you’re a writer what does this say to you?  Will you do anything different?   Here’s my relection, I’m working on moving the words from my head to my heart, and from understanding to belief.


Ever, Only, All for Thee

More of you and less of me.
This is how my world should be.

Less of me and more of you,
Shift my world and change my view.

Use my talents and my skill,
Mould me to your perfect will.

Transform my mind, renew my soul
Fill me up and make me whole.

Take my worry and my fear,
Hold me close when night draws near.

Cast my shadows into the night,
Turn me toward your brilliant light.

Cover me with your peace today,
This to you my Lord I pray.

Take my life and let it be,
Ever, only, all for thee.

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Jesus, Lover of My Soul

Charles Wesley (18 December 1707 – 29 March 1788) was an English leader of the Methodist movement, son of Anglican clergyman and poet Samuel Wesley, the younger brother of Anglican clergyman John Wesley and Anglican clergyman Samuel Wesley (the Younger), and father of musician Samuel Wesley, and grandfather of musician Samuel Sebastian Wesley.

Charles Wesley is mainly remembered for the many hymns he wrote. One of my favourite hymns is Jesus, Lover of My Soul . Its stirring words speak of a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. It reveals Jesus as Lover, Protector, and Provider.

Actually, it’s really the title of the hymn that strikes me most. It just really speaks to me of the intimate nature of Jesus and his love. 

About 300 years later Hillsong wrote a song  by the same name.  Everytime I sing this song it gets me.  It’s only two verses but it’s one of the most powerful songs I know. You can find the Hillsong version here on YouTube

I may never be able to write a hymn like Charles Wesley or write lyrics like Hillsong, but I do know that Jesus is the Lover of my Soul.  Here’s my reflection:

Jesus, Lover of My Soul

In the shadow of my mind
You cast your brilliant light,
Your love has found my burdened soul
As it worries through the night.

Jesus, your perfect love
Casts out my deepest fear,
Once more I realise you never left,
You’ve always been right here.

Please remind me when I forget
That you are the lover of my soul,
Transform my heart and renew my mind
As you work to make me whole.

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Overcomer

I will dwell in Your shelter
I will rest in Your shadow.
You are my refuge and my fortress,
You are my God, in whom I trust.
 
Surely You will save me
Your angels will cover me with their feathers,
And under their wings I will find refuge.
You are my God, in whom I trust

For You have commanded Your angels concerning me
To guard me through all my days
They will watch over me
You are my God, in whom I trust

Because You love me, You will rescue me
You will protect me and deliver me
Because you overcame
I am an overcomer

 

 

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A Break for Freedom

Fear.  For me this word is both difficult to write and look at. It is only recently that I’ve been able to name it.  Fear is not actually what it’s called.  It more the fear of fear.  I know this because occasionally I go there and visit this house. It’s like a house that is overgrown with vines that twist and curl.  A house that has no windows and doors.

Amy Grant described this house in her song Come Into My World off her latest album. She also describes the meaning behind the song (see YouTube clip at the end of this post). 

What I do know now, is that I am only a visitor and I don’t live at this house, or in the neighbourhood anymore.  It may look the same, and the feelings of  fear are just the same.  The difference is that I choose to visit and then I choose to leave.  Why can I leave? It’s because I know someone who is much stronger than my fears, and he protects me and he sends his angels to walk with me. I also have developed a great support network. Why do I keep visiting?  That’s the question I’m working on.

So where do you live?  Are you a visitor or a lodger?  If you can’t relate to any of this consider yourself blessed. If you live here, be brave (you already are), seek the counsel of friends and wise people. They will know what to do and they will be able to help you. 

Remember there is always hope, this is what you must find and hold on to. Here’s a clue about hope. Hope often takes the form of light. Turn your face to it and let your shadows fall behind you.

A Break for Freedom

In the cell block of my mind
My thoughts lie captive still,
They circle inside the prison cell
Like they have lost their will.

The walls close in, it’s hard to breath
My palms they drip with sweat,
Oh how I wish time would fly ahead
But still it hasn’t yet.

I’ve placed my fears in a big box
And sent it to the one who cares,
But I keep worrying then back
And in my heart I feel such fear.

Some days I wish I had no thoughts
Or feelings of such fear,
But that is the way I am made
So I’ll write about them here.

I pray right now, release my thoughts
Direct them far from me
Heal and transform my mind
And let my heart be free.

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C.S. Lewis was a close friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, and both authors attended Oxford University. In his memoir Surprised by Joy, Lewis mentions he was baptised in the Church of Ireland at birth, but fell away from his faith during his teenage years. Owing to the influence of Tolkien and other friends, at the age of 32 Lewis returned to Christianity.  His conversion had a profound effect on his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity brought him wide acclaim.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a  novel written by C. S. Lewis. It was originally published in 1950 and set in the 1940s. It is the first-published book of The Chronicles of Narnia and is the best known book of the series.

Some have said that the main plot of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is an allegory of Christ’s crucifixion.  The Lion, Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund, a traitor who may deserve death, in the same way that Christ sacrificed Himself for sinners. The cross may be suggested by the Stone Table. As with the Christian Passion, it is women (Susan and Lucy) who tend Aslan’s body after he dies and are the first to see him after his resurrection. The significance of the death contains elements of both the ransom theory of atonement and the satisfaction theory: Aslan suffers Edmund’s penalty (satisfaction), and buys him back from the White Witch, who was entitled to him by reason of his treachery (ransom). In Christian tradition, Christ is associated with the Biblical “Lion of Judah”, mainly on the strength of Revelation 5:5.

C.S. Lewis was a literary genius.  Through his stories he has painted images of earth and heaven that have shaped my thinking about my faith.  He has inspired me to develop my own writing and poetry.

What about you?  Who has inspired you along the way in your journey of faith?

Here’s my reflection on the writing process and my version of heaven.

Winter’s Heaven

Beyond the frontier
Of our temporal world,
We dare to dream and
Say the unsayable.

In this break for freedom
Form and substance are forged,
In the furnace of our heart
And beaten into a badge of honour.

This emblem of courage is worn
When we use words,
To describe a journey
To a destination unseen by our eyes.

In this winter Narnia
Reality and perception,
Blend into a heavenly forest
That we still pine and search for.

Poetic grace creates an open door
Through which we can all enter,
And experience Aslan’s kingdom
Where the streets have no name.

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. 
~  C.S. Lewis.

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I like poetry and I believe all poems are good. Some poems are a badge of honour or an emblem of courage.  Most poetry  I write is my  attempt to say the unsayable.  Some of  my poems really hit the nail on the head, with others I just hit my thumb, and some are just a collection of words that may never see the light of day. 

What I have found with poetry is that it is possible to write something that is universal, something to which everyone can relate to, yet at the same time address some personal desire to express emotions and feelings.  Poems are really just doors between the soul and the outside world.  There is something unique and humbling about writing a poem that opens a door for other people to walk through and see something previously unseen. This is an experience that can never be undone.

Here’s my story of how I write poetry and how fortunate I feel to be able create and open doors for people to walk through. Poetry challenges us as it requires us to let go of  reason and lose ourselves in words. During this process we can sometimes find parts of ourselves that we may have misplaced somewhere along the jorney of life.  What is it that you have misplaced?  How will you find it?

The Poet’s House

At the edge of reason
Inside the poet’s house,
There lies a walnut writing desk
With dusty books upon its shelf.

Through the dreary window of his soul
He feels the maddening wind,
The trees that bend and break
The leaves of paper fall in his bin.

The wind whispers as it wanders
As it walks around the room,
It’s pockets full of pensive hands
It’s voice is full of doom.

We speak our lies, the truth is dark
There is no light to save,
Your words will never blossom
Your garden is a grave.

Will the poet listen
Or turn towards the light,
At the edge of reason
On this wild and windy night.

An angel breathes life into his words
He rolls them around his mind,
The musings of his restless heart
Will make it out this time.

The words fly fast
His pen scrawls across the page,
Back from the edge of reason
The poet has centre stage.

The poet is finally complete
Exhausted, he feels so blessed.
A smile forms on the poets face
His heart and soul at rest.

The poet lives and writes at the frontier between deep internal experience and the revelations of the outer world. There is no going back for the poet once this frontier has been reached; a new territory is visible and what has been said cannot be unsaid. The discipline of poetry is in overhearing yourself say difficult truths from which it is impossible to retreat. Poetry is a break for freedom.
~ David Whyte

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Once upon a time I worked as an auditor in the education sector.  It was my job to audit training organisations against the standards set by government.  I used to ask people to provide evidence.  They would usually respond with, ‘Don’t you trust me, all the paperwork is in order’.  My reply to them was always the same, “In God we trust, everyone else has to bring evidence”. 

That was about as funny as it got working as an auditor for the government.  In most cases if the client couldn’t provide evidence, then there was something out-of-order or missing.

It got me thinking.  If God was to give us an audit of how much we put our faith and trust in him, how much evidence could we provide?  Really? If I had to go to court and was on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me?  God’s message is simple.  Two words, trust and obedience.  As the old hymn goes:

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.
~ John H. Sammis, 1846-1919,  Daniel B. Towner, 1850-1919

So what about you?  Where are you at with trusting God?  What areas do you need to entrust to God?  How much evidence is on your  ‘trust and obey’ file? Here’s some words on trust, fear and obedience:

In God We Trust

Trust in me
I will be your guide
Along the winding road of life

Trust in me
Feel your fears
Then give them to me in a box

Trust in me
I have your box
No you can’t have it back

Trust in me
Just be obedient
You are part of a bigger plan

Trust in me
Seek not to understand
Choose me, trust my way
I will direct your steps

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On Monday 13 June another huge aftershock shattered many Christchurch landmarks already damaged in the February earthquake.

The collapsed Christ Church Cathedral rose window cannot be fixed, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament dome is more perilous than before, the Arts Centre has suffered major damage and the timeball from the destroyed Lyttelton Timeball Station was thrown 15 metres downhill.  Boulders the size of houses crashed down Sumner cliffs again, narrowly missing houses and people.

The Canterbury Museum collection was thrown into disorder again by the aftershocks, just days after staff had finished reordering hundreds of artefacts since the February quake.

The people of Christchurch have had enough.  A lot of people have moved out and are moving on, burdended with debt from houses that have been consumed by the earthquakes and aftershocks.  The city will never be the same. 

Many are questioning why God let this happen, not once but over and over again.  Many people believe that this ‘Act of God’ is not an act of a kind and compassionate God.  Indeed how could it be.  So where is God?  This is what the Dean of Christ Church Catherdral, Peter Beck,  had to say about this:

This was not an act of God, it was the earth doing what the earth does. The act of God is how we love each other and support each other through this.

I have friends and relatives who live in Christchurch.  I can think of no advice, no pity comments, and no words to give comfort.  I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to live in this city of ruin.  I do know, however that God knows.  I hope that people may draw some strength from each other and remember that people are more important than the situation.

Maori have a phrase to describe this:

He aha te mea nui? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!
Ask me what is important, it is people, it is people, it is people.

He Tangata

Ask me what’s important
It is people, people, people.
Not the church, not the pastor
And not the fancy steeple.

Buildings do noy cry and mourn
They do not contain our heart,
It is only by the grace of God
That a church can even start.

The centre of our church is Christ
We’ve found this in our search,
God help us rebuild our ruined lives
In your city of Christchurch.

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The Crucible

Fire, according to Wikipedia,  is the rapid oxidation of a material in the chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products. The flame is the visible portion of the fire and consists of glowing hot gases. If hot enough, the gases may become ionized to produce plasma. Depending on the substances alight, and any impurities outside, the color of the flame and the fire’s intensity will be different.

The bible has a lot to say about fire and how it is used to refine, purify and test our faith.

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed ~1 Peter 1:7

Sometimes my faith has been tested, in fact it often feels like more of an ordeal.  I heard someone once describe it as the ‘crucible experience’.  You probably know what this is like, it’s the dark tea time of your soul when it just feels like you and a tiny bit of faith.  Fortunately faith only needs to be that small and tiny. About the size of a mustard seed. 

How has your crucible experiences made you stronger?  How has you faith been honed and refined? 

The Crucible

In the fireplace of my heart
I’ve screwed up paper thoughts,
I’ve stacked my wooden feelings
Into piles of different sorts.

Light the fire in my heart
Let in burn with holy fear,
Draw me closer to your flame
I want to be so near.

As your fire dies in my heart
Let your embers start to glow
May your spirit wind blow on me
Fan the flame and make me whole

In my heart let there be light
As you burn in me your flame
I pray that I and those I meet
May never be the same

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A way out in space lies the Whirlpool Galaxy (also known as M51). It has been described by scientists as an interacting  grand-design spiral galaxy that is estimated to be 23 million light-years from the Milky Way Galaxy  in the constellation Canes Venatici. It is one of the most famous galaxies in the sky.

The Whirlpool galaxy was discovered in 1773 by Charles Messier.  In 2005, the Hubble telescope noticed something strange. In the middle of this Galaxy is a strange formation. That formation, is a cross. Some may think it looks like an x, but take a closer look:

That looks like a cross to me. One reason that it does not look like an X to me is because the vertical part is bigger than the horizontal part. It seems like its meant to be viewed from an angle, as if the camera was below the direction that the formation was facing. Either way, I see a cross.  Actually I see something more. I see heaven.

So what? (you may be asking).  I just think that the odds of an object (M51) in space 23 million light years away looking like a cross is quite remarkable. 

I believe that this galaxy and the rest of the universe was created by an intelligent designer.  His name is God.  He knows the name of every star in the universe because he created them and holds them all in the palm of his hand.  He is a big God.  He is beyond words. He is indescribable. He was there in the beginning, he is here now, and he will be around forever.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep,
and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
~ Genesis 1:1-3.

 So what does this mean to you?  Do you see an ‘X” or a cross?  What’s your point of reference?  Here’s my reflection on this:

The Celestial Cross

In a galaxy far far away
I’ve seen heaven in the sky,
A long long way out
Then a long large way up high.

At the far end of the universe
Did God place heaven there for me?
Beyond the reach of human eyes
One day for us to see?

Set in this celestial galaxy
There lies a perfect cross,
Beyond the gamble of chaotic chance
That evolution has won and lost.

So look to the sky and count the stars
I wonder if you can?
Find your heaven, then join the dots.
It’s all part of the Master’s plan

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No Comment

Like many writers I crave comments and feedback on my work.  When I get a comment on my blog I am quick to reply.  I try to stop myself writing a novel of how much the comment meant and how I appreciate it, usually I understate and just say ‘Thanks for your comment!’ and do a little dance.  I’m never happy with my response to comments but I don’t want scare people away.  Apparently it’s very good etiquette to respond to comments so I do.

I am an ‘overcommenter’ and when I read a blog I really like I tend to ‘go for it’ with my comments, sometimes they go on and on, sometimes I try to keep them brief (not really).  I think it’s part of my personality, having a desire to be liked, accepted and belong.  Most people I guess are like that. They are after all basic lower order human needs, as Abraham Maslow would say.

Lately, I made a big social networking faux pas.  I posted what I thought was a very deep, wise, clever, super-spiritual and helpful comment on a blog that I read each week. The author, whom I greatly admire and respect, replied with a comment that cut me down to size, and probably not before time. I was being arrogant. It made me think. I haven’t finished thinking about it yet but I’m trying to learn from it.

I don’t get a lot of comments on my blog.  I think poeple read my posts. Comments to me, mean that I have said something that has made someone think. Mission accomplished.  Good, bad, or indifferent comments to me are a gift, and I treasure them.  It is the big wide empty silent desert of no comments that gets to me. As a writer no comments is my biggest fear, as it means I haven’t connected.

What do you think?  Do you have any comments?   

No Comment

Comments to a writer
Is like an oasis of discussion
In the lonely desert
Of their words

Some comments are refreshing
Like clear cool water
Some comments are heartless
Like a merciless mirage
Still they are an oasis

Travelling through the desert
Your comments direct my path
Your response encourages me
But still silence confounds me

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In classic Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman on earth. Legend has it that the gods endowed her with many talents: Aphrodite gave her beauty, Apollo music, Hermes persuasion. The gods also gave her the gift of curiosity. Her name Pandora means “all-giving.”  Of course, all this is just a story, as Eve was the first woman on earth, but let’s continue anyway . . .

Pandora’s box is an artifact in Greek mythology, commonly thought to be a large jar . The “box” contained all the dark things of the  world. When Pandora opened the jar, the entire contents of the jar were released, she hastened to close the lid, but the whole contents of the jar had escaped, except for one thing that lay at the bottom, which was Hope.  Today, opening Pandora’s box means to create things that cannot be undone.

We all have our own Pandora’s box.  In my box are memories and feelings of rejection, failure, low self-esteem, and other feelings.  Some of these I have worked through and some remain in my box.  I am torn between leaving them in my box and opening them and letting them out.  Either way there is usually some collateral damage. The only real answer is to give my box away to God and let him deal my burdens.  I will keep and hold on to hope, but I need to choose to ditch the rest.

What’s in your box?  Is it open or shut? Have you given it away? Here’s my take on what I need to give away:

Pandora’s Box

Deep in my heart I need to make
Some room for you once more.
As my feelings and emotions
Wedge themselves against my door.

I hear you knocking at the door
Of my heart today.
But what lies between you and me
Is all my baggage in the way.

My feelings have cost me much
All that I hold dear.
Some friends have come, but mostly gone
I’ll lose more face I fear.

So I’ve found my Pandora’s box
To pack all my feelings back in.
I’m sitting on that box
And tying it up with string.

I’ll leave that box outside my heart
And wait for you to call.
I’ve addressed my burden, ‘To my God’
Please come and take them all.

Open the door to my heart
Please fill the empty space inside.
Come in and make me whole
From you may I never hide.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
~ Matthew 11:28-30

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A few months ago a good friend and I created  Brand New Heart Ministries.  It’s a forum to look at what it means to discover God’s heart. We’re really not sure where it will go or what it will turn into, but we both felt that we should just do it, so we did.  We’re running a 30-day Open Heart Challenge on Facebook.  The challenge is a reflective one.  Each day group members are reflecting on their feelings and emotions, talking to God, listening, and posting the result or no result.  Interested in finding out more? Want to join?  Have a look at the group page (just click on the second link above). If you’d like to join us we’d love to have you on board.  Just click on the ‘Ask to join’ button on the group page.

Through participating in the group I’ve felt challenged to commit my life to God, again.  I’ve been walking with God for 27 years now, but it’s always good to recommit sometimes.  I wrote this poem below and then prayed it.  If you feel challenged to recommit your life to God maybe you might like to pray it too.  If you’re not walking with God and want to here’s what to do. Read this poem and believe it – it’s really that simple. Then find someone close by who knows God and ask them to help you in your new-found faith.

At the end of the day we’re all the same, we’re all sinners and hypocrites.  The odds are stacked in the favour of God existing.  So live a little, take a gamble, choose life. You stand to gain everything and lose nothing.

Open my Heart

I know that I have sinned
Against you the only way,
And that my sin separates me
Far from you today.

I am so truly sorry
From my sin I turn away,
I ask for your forgiveness
I want to follow you today.

I believe in Jesus Christ
He died for all my sin,
He was raised from the dead
So that I could be alive in Him.

I invite you Jesus
To enter in my heart today,
To rule as Lord of my life
This, right now I pray.

Please send to me your Spirit
To help me when I stray,
Remind me to pray to You
And listen to all you say.

I promise to grow in grace
And knowledge of your way,
My greatest purpose in my life
Is to follow your example today.

Amen.

Belief in God is a wise wager. What harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists. ~ Blaise Pascal

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Lord of the Dance

I’m going to step right outside my comfort zone and write about something you may not expect I’d write about – dance. Yes, that’s right, dance.   Luckily for you, I know a bit about dance (a little bit). 

Believe or not I once had Rock and Roll dance lessons, I actually became quite good on the dancefloor.  It’s really easy for a man to be good at Rock and Roll dancing, it’s a simple box step and that’s it. A friend of mine, let’s call him Tony, as that is his name, had a real problem with the box step and had to go to a special box step class to catch up.  He got it eventually.

Life is a lot like dancing.  You grow up watching and learning, then you practice it, then you get quite good at it.  Sometimes you fall over and then have to pick yourself up and start dancing again, or maybe even learn  a new dance.  It’s all very fluid, creative, and there are generally no rules. 

Jesus also danced upon this earth. His life has been compared to a dance in the hymn Lord of the Dance, written by English songwriter Sydney Carter in 1967.

Dance then wherever you may be
For I am the Lord of the dance, said He
And I’ll lead you on, whenever you may be
And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said He.

When I get to heaven I think I’d like to dance for Jesus.  Just like Mercy Me in their song Imagine,  I can only imagine what that would be like. 

So, if life is a dance ,what type of dance are you doing right now?  A slow waltz, a fast jig, a crazy hip-hop, or maybe a belly-dance?  Spend some time today thinking about your dance. Here’s my reflection on dance.

Lord of the Dance

I have no idea
What my eyes will see
When I stand in your presence
When you cast your eyes on me

Will I dance for you Jesus
As my heart and soul are free
Will I lose myself in you
For all eternity

Will I hear you speak
As my questions all run out
You will be my answer
As you chase away my doubt

Will I dance for you Jesus
As my heart and soul are free
Will I lose myself in you
For all eternity

Will I will fall at you feet
As you love flows over me
At last we’ll be together
For all eternity

Finally, here’s a great version I found of  The Lord of the Dance – be inspired!

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For the last 40 days I have been part of an online group called The Lazarus Experiment.  Each day we share something that has made us feel alive, really alive, just like Lazarus felt when Jesus raised him from the grave.  I have been privileged to share the joys, sorrows, and miracles of all those who have contributed their ‘Lazarus (Laz) moments’.  As our group draws to a close we have been challenged by our group leader to reflect on what it means to live dangerously with God.

This reflection is dedicated to all of you who were part of The Lazarus Experiment.  You have helped my faith come alive.  The experiment has proved a success by our live and alive experiences.  Thank you all.

It can be very dangerous to follow Jesus.  In some places it will get you killed.  In other places you will be persecuted for your faith.  In the Western world you’ll most likely be faced with apathy, indifference and being largely ignored. because of your belief.

The clear and present danger we face as Christians lurks in our mind.  Our logic will tell us that we cannot believe in something that we cannot see.  It also equally dangerous to intellectualise God and bring him out only at Easter and Christmas. This is a very convenient Christianity. 

The ever-present danger is that we start shutting God out of our heart and stop developing and growing our relationship with Him.  Our heart is really the only place where we call experience the relentless love of God.  It takes bravery, trust and a lot of resilience to open our heart to God.  It’s a dangerous place to be, it’s our battlefield of faith.

So what about you?  How dangerous is your faith?  How’s your battle going?  Who has your back? 

A Dangerous Faith

There is danger in our lives
So will we dare to see,
The near misses and close calls
Of our life in reality.

There is danger around the bend
So do we look before we leap,
Have we awakened our seed of faith
Or are we still sound asleep.

Would would Lazarus do
After 40 days alive,
Would he get complacent
And continuously forget to strive.

As for me I’ll walk
The dangerous and narrow way,
With God’s relentless love in my heart
In his presence I will stay.

You have left me with your stories
I treasure each word you say,
May the grace of God be yours
Until we meet again one day.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short,but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. ~ Michelangelo  
 

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A New Zealand Christian musician, Jules Riding, wrote a song called The Blessing.  In this song Jules sums up each verse by describing how close God is, “closer to you than breathing.” You can listen to it here.

Sometimes I think and feel that God is very far away and not very close, particularly in the hard times.  It’s easy for my mind to do the logic.  A) If bad things are happening to me or the ones I love, then B) God must be just be busy with someone else, therefore, C) God must be far away. A + B = C.  Simple and logical. Fortunately for me and you, God defies the laws of reason, logic and physics all at the same time.  His ways are not our ways.

One thing I have learnt in my walk with God – that’s such a  cliché, let me let me try that again. One thing I have learnt in my personal and intimate relationship with the Creator of the Universe, the one who flung the stars into space, and the same Creator that lives in my heart and is tinkering away creating stuff is – that He hasn’t gone anywhere. God is closer to me than breathing, it’s me that has left and created the distance. 

While heartache, hard times will always come and go, God is always there right in the middle of it and so close to us.  The challenge is for us to see, feel, and experience the unrelenting love of God that is closer to us than we are to ourselves.

So what about you?  What can you do today to close the gap, to experience the closeness of God?

You don’t have to be in a happy space to do this.  You may be in the middle of some heartache and doing life hard.  Try this – focus on your breathing and also focus on the life behind your breath.  That my friend is our God. He is closer than you think.

Here’s my reflection:

Closer to You Than Breathing

Today I missed your smile
In the sunset of your sky
The dark clouds all rolled in
As day turned into night
 
You’re closer to me than breathing
Closer to me than my heart beat

Through the night time of my dreams
You placed a vision in my mind
Of a burning desire in my heart
To which I had been blind

You’re closer to me than breathing
Closer to me than my heart beat

In the sunrise of my life
Your knew me before I was born
I was wonderfully and fearfully made
Like a brand new day before the dawn

You’re closer to me than breathing
Closer to me than my heart beat

As the sun reaches its zenith
Your love shines down on me
And while the sun is so far away
You’re closer than I can see

You’re closer to me than breathing
Closer to me than my heart beat

For you created my inmost being;   you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;  your works are wonderful,  I know that full well.
~ Psalm 139: 13-14

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I think I may have mentioned before that I am a huge fan of Amy Grant.  I know that Christian music has moved on, but I have always liked Amy’s music.  I spoke at a leadership event last week and I did a quick poll of who was a fan of Amy Grant.  Out of the 100+ people there, there were a grand total of  two fans, me and one other bloke.  We had a great conversation afterwards about our favourite songs, and whether Amy has lost too much weight and needs to eat some more cake.

Anyway, one of Amy’s songs, El Shaddai has always struck a chord we me (pun intended).  I learnt the chords and all the words and can still play it on my guitar.  It’s a fairly tricky song to play but great to perform to an audience. 

Hearing this song was the first time I realised there are a whole lot of different names for God in the Hebrew language. Each name describes a different characteristic of God. El Shaddai is conventionally translated as God Almighty.

Wikipedia had this to say about the origin and meaning of El Shaddai:

The term may mean “God of the mountains,” referring to the Mesopotamian divine mountain. The term was one of the patriarchal names for the tribal god of the Mesopotamians. In Exodus 6:3, El Shaddai is identified explicitly with the God of Abraham and with YHWH (Yahweh).

I was reflecting on the different names of God, and how I use the word ‘God’ far too generically.  I think I might try a different approach and think about the character of God I need to focus on when I pray and worship.  What about you? Do you think the term ‘God’ is far too overused?  Let me really stick my neck out on the line.  Do you think the word ‘God’ has become a cliché?

Here’s my thoughts on the names of God wrapped up in a poem about surrender:

At Your Feet

At Your feet we fall
El Elyona, Lord of all
Restore us, by Your love
As we look to Your light above
          Forgive us Lord
          As at Your feet we fall

On Calvary’s hill
El Shaddai, we exalt You still
Guide us, with Your hand
Help us seek then understand
         Forgive us Lord
         As at Your feet we fall

On Your cross of strife
We surrender our broken lives
Convict us, of our doubt
Turn out faith inside out
         Forgive us Lord
         As at Your feet we fall.

We give our all to You
Lord, mould our hearts anew
Align us, to Your will
May we learn to seek You still
        Forgive us Lord
        As at Your feet we fall

If you’re interested in finding out more about some different names of God, this YouTube clip is a really great reflective introduction

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The Angel

I read a book recently, The Final Summit, by Andy Andrews.  It’s a story of one man, David Ponder, who meets the Archangel Gabriel and is taken on a journey to a place where he is met by a whole lot of great people from history.  Their task is to come up with the solution that will save humanity from itself.  Throughout the story Gabriel talks with David and it reminded me of how I’ve been talked to and with by Angels and by God.

I believe Angels are messengers from God. I’ve never seen an Angel, but I think I have heard one or two speak to me on a few occasions.  It’s not so much what they said, it’s how they said it.  It reminded me of how God speaks to me, indirectly yet directly, patiently yet urgently, kindly yet with clear instruction.

I was reflecting on faith, hope and love the other day, as you do, and I’m sure I heard a voice just like Gabriel’s.  Here’s what I heard:

 

Step Out

Step out in faith, the Angel said
When you are called to lead,
Just be obedient to the call
And plant your mustard seed.

You will plant hope, the Angel said
In someone’s life today.
Will you take the opportunity
At work, at home, at play?

It’s not too late, the Angel said
To share your heart today,
It will take faith, and then some hope
But love is the only way.

Have you heard from God or from an Angel lately?

What did you hear and what will you do?

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
~1 Corinthians 13:13

For He will order His angels to protect you wherever you go.
~ Psalm 91:11

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Alright I admit it. I just love 1980’s Christian Hard Rock music.  There I said it. I love everything by Petra.  I saw their On Fire tour a long long time ago (1991 I think) in Auckland with my mate Rob.  It was an awesome experience!

Part of one of their songs ‘Stand in The Gap’ has always stuck with me:

Stand in the gap
Coming boldly to His throne of grace
Stand in the gap
He will hear you when you seek His face
Put your weapon to its use
And believe it will produce
Stand in the gap

I haven’t spent much time in the gap. I’m the first to admit that I’m not really that good at being present.  I find it hard to stop and be fully present. I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it’s easier to live in the past or dream about the future. Sometimes being present, really present, is something that is necessary.  Even when I write this I’m thinking about what I will do tomorrow, and replaying what I did today. It probably shows in my rambling.

Over the last few months I keep running into this verse in the bible. It just keeps appearing everywhere, like when you buy a new car (OK a used car)  and keep seeing the same car everywhere. 

In their hearts humans plan their course,  but the Lord establishes their steps.  ~ Proverbs 16:9

So I’m trying to be present in what this verse means to me.  I’ve been standing in the gap between planning what I’m doing (particularly with my writing and poetry) and waiting for God to direct my steps. It’s a curious place to be and a new experience for me. By being there and being present I’ve discovered God there too and found some opportunities for my hopes and dreams for the future, shaped by my past experiences, and honed by my present presence – in the gap.

Do you have a gap you need to explore between the now and the not yet? 

Here’s my reflection on minding the gap.

Stand in the Gap

In the gap
Between the bound and the free,
Help me see more of you
And much less of me.

In the gap
Between the now and not yet,
Let me plan my course
But Lord direct my steps.

In the gap
Between heaven and hell,
Draw near to me
As I draw from your well.

In the gap
Between souls lost and saved,
Stand with me Lord
As I live through your days.

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