Chasing Fantasies

EverestThese days my life seems to be pretty full on. I am a husband and the father of 3 energetic boys aged six, four and one. Words cannot express how deeply I love my 3 children. Words also cannot express how draining it can be at times to be the parent of three kids this age. This is especially true on weeks like this one where everyone gets gastro. I am also the sole Pastor of a Baptist Church in Country NSW. I am absolutely certain that God has called me to be a Pastor. Being a Pastor is one of the most deeply rewarding things I can imagine doing with my life. It is also the single most challenging and demanding thing I have ever put my hand to.

When I find time to relax one of my favourite things to do is to spend some time reading. When it comes to fiction my favourite genre is fantasy, like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. A good fantasy novel provides an opportunity to suspend reality for a moment and take a mental escape to a different world. If I am reading non-fiction, the kind of books I most enjoy involve climbing Mount Everest, or some other kind of extreme adventure. When I think about it, these books are real life fantasy stories that provide the same kind of momentary mental escape.

The wisdom of proverbs provides a warning about fantasies.

Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense. Proverbs 12:11

Reading a fantasy story as a short mental escape isn’t unhealthy. It’s important that we all learn how to stop and take a break. However, we need to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of spending our lives chasing fantasies. Life, especially as a follower of Jesus, can and should be exhilarating and spectacular. At the same time, it is often difficult, routine and ordinary. It is in the midst of the difficult, routine and ordinary that the temptation to chase fantasies can present itself. This temptation is more than the temptation to take a break and read a book. It is the temptation to run from our own lives to chase something more exciting and spectacular and perhaps easier. What this temptation actually looks like for each of us will be different. It is the greener grass, the get rich quick scheme, the shiny and spectacular programs, the temptation to constantly change careers, the bigger and better, the shortcut to success… a fantasy life.

Regardless of whether we have literal land to work or not, this proverb reminds us of an important truth. There will be many seasons when tending to the metaphorical patch of land that God has placed before us will seem far from exciting or spectacular. Most of the time it will be routine and ordinary. Often it will feel like hard and gritty work. The truth is that it is through embracing this very work, not running from it, that we find fruitfulness in life. If we are faithful to do the work set before us God will be faithful to provide the harvest.

God will certainly present us with new and exciting opportunities to pursue in life. His word encourages us that if we are faithful with the small things he has set before us he will set greater things before us. When we are evaluating a new opportunity the question we need to keep in mind is, “Is this a God given opportunity to embrace or a fantasy to steer clear of?”

To those who, like me, are sometimes worn down by the ordinary, the routine and the hard work of the life God has called you to, let me encourage you to keep at it. Don’t give up and spend your life chasing fantasies. Keep ploughing the soil, keep sowing the seed, keep watering the earth and above all else keep trusting that God will provide the harvest.

In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

 

 

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What is the fragrance of Jesus?

Aroma of Jesus

Out of all our senses our sense of smell is one of the most powerful and difficult to ignore. A strong smell will overwhelm our senses and turn our thoughts towards its source. The aroma of something cooking on the stove will drive our thoughts towards eating. The smell of food will arouse hunger within us. On the other hand, the stench of something revolting will have us running to another room to escape or removing the source of the offensive fragrance.

Recently I learnt about how our sense of smell is connected closely to our memory. The first time we smell something our brains will store a strong memory of our thoughts, emotions and the environment around us. This is why particular smells can trigger particular thoughts and emotions. The first time we smell something has an impact on our attitude and response to that smell for the rest of our lives. The connection between our memory and our sense of smell is an important biological feature. If you eat something that makes you sick, the next time you detect that same smell it will trigger the memory of how it made you feel last time prompting you to steer clear.

What has this got to do with Jesus? In 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 the bible says

“For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the stench death; to the other, the fragrance of life.”

If you are not a follower of Jesus and you happen to be reading this there is a chance that you think Jesus stinks. At some stage in your life you caught of whiff of something that you didn’t like and now your senses are telling you to steer clear of Jesus, the church and the whole Christianity thing. Perhaps to you Jesus smells like the stench of death. But maybe the thing that you smelled wasn’t really the fragrance of Jesus at all, maybe it was the stench of the brokenness and sinfulness of humans who claim to represent him.

Let’s face it, fowl smelling things have been carried out by people who claim to follow Jesus. Crusades, child abuse and judgemental behaviour just to name a few all produce an unbearable stench. Even with these big stinkers aside, us Christians have often behaved in generally stinky ways towards other people at times as well. Perhaps what you caught of whiff of isn’t how Jesus smells at all. Perhaps our own bad smell got in the way of you being able to perceive Jesus. We who follow Jesus are in the process of having God deal with the stench of our sin and brokenness so that we smell more and more like Jesus.

So if you think Jesus stinks I urge you to have another smell. What is the fragrance of Jesus really like?

He is the aroma of life.

Through him is life to the full

Through him is life eternal.

And If you are a follower of Jesus doing your best to present Christ to the world with your words and your life, don’t lose heart. There will be those that smell Jesus and think he just stinks. Allow God to continue to work your own stench out and the aroma of Christ in. Keep doing your best to present the aroma of life in Jesus to the world.

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Learning to STOP

STOP SIGNSome time ago I was driving with a friend of mine who is a driving instructor. During our conversation she gently pointed out that I didn’t come to a stop at a stop sign, I just slowed down. In that moment I made a decision to reform my driving ways. I would ensure that I came to a complete stop at every stop sign. Once I had learned to stop again my eyes were opened to something that surprised me. Hardly anyone ever actually stops at a stop sign. At best people just slow down. It was even quite common for the drivers behind me to beep their horns when I stopped.

I think that as a society we have forgotten how to stop, and I am not talking about driving anymore. Now I am talking about the way we live our lives. I think we have forgotten what it means to genuinely come to a stop for rest and to simply breathe. The moments we have the opportunity to stop we fill with something and anything. Instead of stopping we just slow down a little and coast through the stop signs of life. I believe this failure to stop is making us unhealthy. I believe that we need to learn to stop all over again.

In the Bible we are told that God instructed his ancient people Israel to work 6 days and to take a day of rest on the 7th day. This day was called the Sabbath. There are a few different reasons given for this instruction to stop and rest. Firstly, God himself rested after 6 days of creating and so as people shaped in God’s image we are formed to follow a pattern of work and rest. It is how we were designed to operate. You could say that the need to rest is built into our DNA. All work and no rest makes us sick, burnt out and dysfunctional. We need to rediscover this rhythm of rest for our own health and performance in life.

Another reason for the instruction to rest was that the people had been set free from slavery in Egypt. This seems a bit odd at first but when you think about it makes sense. As slaves in Egypt the people of Ancient Israel were forced to work without any hope of rest. Taking a day of rest was a reminder that they were free. There is something about freedom that means that it is ok to stop and rest. If we are not free to stop and rest, then we are really slaves to something. We were not created for slavery but for freedom. We need to learn to stop and rest because it protects us from becoming someone or something’s slave.

The third reason for the Sabbath day was that it reminded God’s people of the need for trust. The day of rest reminded Israel that they could trust God to provide for them even if they stopped and rested for a day. And so rest reminds us that we too need to trust. We need to learn to trust that there will be enough and that we will be enough, if we don’t force ourselves to work every moment of every day. The Sabbath rest is a reminder that ultimately we trust not in our own strength and abilities but in God for our needs and self worth.

Researcher and author Brene Brown describes a prevalent theme within western society as a “culture of scarcity”. What she means by this is not that there is not enough to go around but that in the midst of plenty we never feel like we have enough and we never feel like we are good enough. So we respond by striving harder and harder to do more and be more. We try to squeeze something out of every minute of every day. The result is not more, better and more significant. The result is diminishing returns, while all the time still never feeling enough.

So I believe we need to learn to stop again. We need to learn to take moments to rest, to breath, to pray and to simply take in our surroundings. We need to learn to trust that we will be enough and we will have enough even if we don’t squeeze something out of every moment of every single day.

When was the last time you came to a complete stop?

Maybe the idea of a whole day of rest is so far away from your current reality that you can’t even imagine how you would begin to do that. My encouragement is to begin by finding the little opportunities where you can stop, even if only for a moment. And instead of reaching for something, anything, to fill that space and keep your wheels spinning, instead simply…

STOP

BREATH

PRAY

BE

I am convinced that you will be at least a tiny bit rejuvenated. I am convinced that you will begin to find the value of Sabbath in your own life.

Will you join me in learning to stop again?


Want to explore more?

Check out Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly 

Rob Feeney, Pastor of GracePoint has a lot of great insight into Rest. He hasn’t written a book about it but he probably should.


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Giving like a child

photoA few weeks ago I went to the supermarket with my youngest son Caleb. After we had been through the checkout he said, “put money in puppy daddy!” Maybe you have seen the plastic dogs they have outside of supermarkets to raise money for guide dog training. My boys love to put money in them. I pulled out the few coins I had in my pocket and gave them to Caleb. If the look on his face was anything to go by, putting money in the puppy was about the most exciting moment of his day.

There are some things that my boys won’t give away to anyone. Like their favourite toys. But they love to give away money. They love to put money in the puppy at the supermarket and at church they love to put money in the offering. After the supermarket with Caleb I began to think about why giving is so easy for them. As far as they can tell their mummy and daddy have an endless supply of money. Why would they worry about giving it away?

After we put money in the puppy we walked past a man who was asking for money to go towards children’s cancer research. I avoided him. I didn’t want to give away any of my money. I thought about how this guy is probably getting paid and that he probably doesn’t even care about kids with cancer. I thought that maybe not much of the money that gets donated ever makes it to funding research. I thought about how I don’t even know what kind of research they are doing and if it is likely to ever make a difference to kids with cancer. I thought about how we don’t have a lot of money to spare right now. I thought about a lot of things that made me feel better about not giving away any of my money.

Then I thought about Caleb. He never asked what the puppy was going to do with the money that he put in it. He is too young to know anything about blindness and guide dogs. My boys never ask what the church is going to do with the money they put in the offering either. For them it is never about what happens to the money after they have given it away. For my boys the act of giving is the joy.

In the Psalms God says that he owns the cattle on a thousand hills. The point is that God, our daddy, is not poor. If my boys find it so easy to give because they believe that their daddy has an endless supply, why do I find it so hard when my daddy created and owns everything that ever existed? A while ago a man in our church said that giving is in our DNA because God is the greatest giver of all and we are his children.

I thought of a lot of things to make me feel better about not giving away any money. None of them felt as good as pulling a note out of my wallet and walking back to give it to the guy. I began to understand that I, in a tiny way, was living out of what it means to be created in the image of a giving God. I began to understand that I don’t need to be afraid about giving because my daddy has plenty.

Giving is meant to be simple, I have made it so complicated. Jesus needed no assurances of return on his investment when he gave himself up for us. He didn’t demand a guarantee that we would accept his sacrifice for us. He just gave. It’s so easy to find lots of reasons   to not give. If you are anything like me you have practised this a lot. On my trip to the supermarket with Caleb he taught me something. When I refuse to give, the person who misses out the most is me. I rob myself of the unbridled joy of being a giver, just like my daddy.

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Maybe you are thirsty

imageLately my wife and I have been trying to improve our health. We read somewhere that sometimes when you think you are hungry that you are really just thirsty. So it is best to drink a glass of water or two and wait a while to see if the hunger goes away instead of finding something to snack on. We think our bodies are saying ‘I need food’ but what they are really saying is ‘I am thirsty.’ Now when one of us says that we are hungry the other person will sometimes say ‘maybe you are just thirsty.’

A while ago I realised that I was fairly disengaged spiritually. I decided to build some routines into my life that would help me remain spiritually engaged. I started fasting once a week, just for breakfast and lunch. There is absolutely nothing heroic about my fasting. I only skip breakfast and lunch. Often it doesn’t seem very ‘spiritual’.

But the thing with not eating breakfast and lunch is that eventually I get hungry. Fasting gives me a chance to think about what I am really hungry for. Sure, I am hungry for food, but there are things in life that I desire more than a meal. Fasting helps me to remember this.

When I am not fasting my normal impulse is to immediately satisfy my hunger. If I am hungry for food I eat. If I am hungry to be entertained I watch TV, or trawl through Facebook. The thing is, I’m often still hungry after I have eaten or I am still bored after having my fill of entertainment. There are a lot of things I try to fill my hunger with. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much I consume, I still feel empty. It occurs to me that I have never really stopped to ask what it is that I really crave.

In Ephesians 5, Paul says not to get drunk on wine because it leads to debauchery but instead be filled with Spirit. Wine will never fully satisfy us, it will just get us drunk. It is only the Holy Spirit that can leave us filled, satisfied. Likewise food will never satisfy us fully, we fill our stomachs but they empty again. TV, Facebook, sex, sport, whatever it is that we try to fill our emptiness with will never fully satisfy. Only the Holy Spirit will leave us full.

In Psalm 42 the psalmist wrote these words,

‘As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?’

What if instead of immediately satisfying my desires I stopped to question them? And not just when I am fasting. What if I am not actually hungry? What if what I perceive as hunger is really the deep thirst of my soul to meet with God? What if all my hungers and desires all point to this one great thirst?

Are you hungry? Do you feel empty? Are you searching for something that will satisfy for more than a few passing moments? Maybe you’re really just thirsty.

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I am the lost coin

Lost CoinSometimes I upset people. Sometimes people upset me too. Sometimes both of these things happen at the same time. When something like this happens I want to pursue the other person to ‘fix’ the relationship. It might sound noble of me, but it is motivated by fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of losing love and affection. The truth is that I desperately want the other person to pursue me. But I am afraid that they won’t, so I pursue them.

A couple weeks ago I upset someone close to me. To be honest I was upset with them as well. My response was to sit down and sink into a puddle of anxiety. With my anxiety puddle developing into a large lake, I urgently tried to work out a way to ‘fix’ the relationship. Instead, I found myself thinking that it would mean the world if they came to me instead. Then I would know that I was loved.

I have been hooked on an old Hymn called ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing’ for a couple months. It has this line that has captivated me. ‘Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God.’ As I sank deeper into the anxiety of a broken relationship these words filled my heart.

I became a Christian when I was very young. I have never really felt lost. I have known at an intellectual level that without Jesus I would be lost, but I have never really felt lost. This is a great thing. I am not complaining but at the same time you can’t really appreciate what it means to be found unless you know what it means to be lost.

In Luke 15 we read three stories that Jesus told about lost things. A Lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. I have always felt like these stories were about other people. These stories are about how valuable the lost are but I was one of the 9 coins, sitting on the shelf. I was the 99 sheep safely in the fold. Was I as valuable to Jesus as the lost coin? Would he pursue me if I was the lost sheep? I had always thought I was supposed to just sit on the shelf and be thankful that I wasn’t lost and help find the other coin.

 In my ocean of anxiety, feeling the weight of distance, I tasted at some level what lost feels like. And I discovered the truth. I am the lost coin. I am the lost sheep. I am the lost son far off on the road that the father ran meet. I am the older brother outside the party that the father left to find. I was these things and Jesus found me. I am these things still. I am found but there are parts of me that are lost. There are parts of me not yet fully reconciled in relationship with God. Jesus pursued me and he relentlessly pursues me still. He seeks out every part of me and brings it safely back to God.

 We are all the lost coin. We are all the lost sheep. We are all lost sons and daughters. We are found in Jesus, celebrated by the Father. He sought us when strangers wandering from the fold of God.

 I was afraid that if I wasn’t the one that pursued, I would never be pursued. But all along Jesus has pursued me. He pursues because he is love, not because he is afraid. I want to learn what it looks like to pursue healing in relationships driven by love and not by fear. But more than that, I want to be part of Jesus’ pursuit of all the lost sheep, the lost coins, the lost sons and daughters in this world.

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I have destination disease

I have destination disease. This is a self diagnosed condition. What it means is that I often spend so much time thinking about the destination that I miss the journey.

I am part of a very courageous church. We have a courageous senior leader who dared to ask if pursuing our vision meant that we would need to move from the location the church has called home for over 70 years. A courageous congregation responded that they were prepared to let go of the familiar and the safe and step into the unknown for the sake of pursuing greater Kingdom impact. I am proud of my church.

So, my church has sold its building and we don’t know exactly where we are going just yet. Since we decided to move I have thought and said that I can’t wait until we are in our new building. It is great to be excited but the ‘I can’t wait’ part. Is that a good thing?

I remember watching an Adam Sandler movie called ‘Click’. It was about a guy who had a remote control that allowed him to fast forward through the parts of his life that he found boring or uncomfortable. If I had that remote control I think I would fast forward through the journey and process parts of life. Adam Sandler’s character found out that by fast forwarding through the parts of his life that he didn’t like he threw away all the valuable things in life.

God has been teaching me that he is not just the God of the destination but also the God of the journey and the process. God delivered Israel from Egypt so that they could live in the Promised Land, but he didn’t lead them straight there. God could have teleported Israel to the Promised Land, he did it for Phillip in Acts. Instead, even before Israel failed to trust God and enter the Promised Land he lead them on a journey through the wilderness.

Israel had a powerful encounter with God at Sinai on the way to the Promised Land, not just after they arrived. Israel’s journey was about learning to trust God, encountering him, establishing worship at the heart of the nation and learning to live as his people.

I am convinced that our church’s decision to move isn’t just about moving to a better building. It’s about God leading us on an amazing and beautiful journey. I am convinced that it is an opportunity to learn to trust in him for something big and to establish trust in God deep within the heart of our church. The value of that will far surpass and outlast any building.

I often tell myself, and sometimes other people, that I dream of writing a book. But I have been lying. I don’t dream of writing a book. I dream of being someone who has written a book. It isn’t the process of writing a book that I think about, it is the end point. It is obvious that I will never reach the end point unless I embrace the process of writing. I think that God has planted the dream of writing a book in my heart not only for the end but for the process. Maybe God has some amazing and beautiful things to teach me through the process of writing. Maybe God knows that as I lean into the process we will share some beautiful life changing moments together.

The irony of destination disease is that it often prevents you from arriving at all. Sometimes the process is ignored or the journey isn’t even started. There are destinations that I care deeply about reaching. So, I choose to wait with anticipation, to embrace the journey and lean into the process. God is with me on the way, not just waiting for me to arrive.

What are you waiting for?

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