The Best Rest

As I write this I am looking at several pelicans paddle past on the sundrenched water. It’s 7:45pm and the sun looks tired, almost thankful that it can drop beneath the tree line in search of rest. Two ducks are walking along the grass in in search of something tasty living amongst the buffalo.

I think true rest needs nature.

If you can’t hear the call of a Kookaburra in the trees and see the glisten of the sun on the water then it doesn’t count. It might pass as ‘time off’ but not rest.

I’m a city boy. I’m terrible at organising time away – even though we own a beauitful little house on the Crookhaven River at Orient Point. I’m glad I’m here now though. It’s reminded me exactly what I’ve missed.

As I write this Naomi is sitting on the deck reading her Bible. I’ve been getting up at 6:30am to watch the sun rise, the birds fly off to Greenwell Point and read my Bible. Four chapters of the Bible a day with a coffee. Reading of God’s holiness in Genesis, his faithfulness in Ezra, his total and complete presence in the person of Jesus and the boldness of the men and woman in Acts.

I think true rest needs God.

Not just a vague spiritual ‘feeling’ but a real, tangible reading of God’s character and his great acts of love towards us in the Scriptures. What better rest is there than being reminded that we are part of something must bigger than ourselves. That we are loved, that we have purpose and hope.

It was great sharing this time down south with Simon and Michelle Walker. A beautiful couple who share a great love of both nature and God. Michelle is pregnant and due any day but she and Simon made the trip down to share it with us. We took turns in making dinner, we drunk wine, we spoke of how to solve all the worlds problems and we played hours of Carcassonne – you know it’s holidays when you’re playing board games.

I think true rest needs community.

Real friends, who share your heart and love to suck the marrow out of life. Nothing is the same when you can’t share it. I’m so thankful for these guys.

It might surprise you but the concept of standing before the pearly gates and being welcomed into a cloud city called heaven is not really all that biblical. Rather, the Bible speaks of the new creation – a real, physical, beautiful creation ruled by Jesus and filled by his people. It’s a perfect place – there is joy, love and contentment.

This is rest.

I guess the best rest we can experience this side of heaven must involve all the things that will be ‘everday’ experiences in the New Creation.

God is pretty generous to give us a taste of the good things to come.

How Bible Plan’s Work

This week I began a Bible reading plan which aims to take you through the whole Bible in a year. I was inspired by my brother Scott who was asking around about the best plans and also by Dave Miers who has blogged about it recently (which you can read about here: http://davemiers.com/).

I have chosen Don Carson’s For The Love Of God, Volume 2.
For the Love of God volume 2

Each day you read 4 chapters of the Bible (following Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s plan). This morning I read;

Genesis 4
Matthew 4
Ezra 4
Acts 4

Now this is the cool part of how it all fits – This morning I read in Genesis 4 of the continuing wickedness of people who refuse to listen to their loving God. This was seen in Cain killing his brother Abel. Then in Ezra 4 we read of the opposition to building the temple that was thrown at the Israelites after returning from exile. Flip over to Acts 4 and Peter and John face great opposition as they are thrown in prison for declaring the name of Jesus and healing a lame man in His name. In other words – all the readings are about opposition to God and to those who seek to follow him.

But amidst the readings we have Matthew 4. Jesus going into the desert to be tempted by Satan. Jesus feeling hungry and lonely facing opposition to his mission from the greatest foe – tempting him with pleasure (food), power and control.
Yet at the height of the temptation, what do we see? Jesus resists. He doesn’t give in. And he returns from the desert as obedient and as Godly as when he first went in.

I take it from my 4 readings this morning that it isn’t easy to follow God in this broken down world. But there has been one who has done it for me already. Jesus, the righteous one.
It is He who is righteous, not me.
It is Jesus who will guide me through my own temptations, opposition, failings and victories.

Yesterday I reaped the bad fruit of some bad decisions and I was all to aware of my own limitations and failings.

This morning I am glad to read that Jesus has got it sorted for me if only I will listen, follow and celebrate his victory.

Holdiay Reading 1: Broken-Down House, Paul Trip

This is a simple, straight forward book that gives honest reflections on living the Christianbroken down house tripp__13905 life.

We live in a world of distraction and hype. Death is not discussed, pain is to be avoided at all cost and anyone who gives an honest reflection that this hyped up, online, fast paced world is actually not all that great is treated like a heretic.

That’s probably why I enjoyed reading this book. Tripp just calls it as it is. There are not theological twists, there are no ‘new’ ideas put forward, it is just a simple discussion about what the Bible says about life in this world – To live productively in a world gone bad

As the title suggest Tripp uses the metaphor of a broken down house.

Both our world and our own lives are not as they are meant to be. We are broken. There is still much good in life but it is constantly interrupted by the brokenness that surrounds us and resides within us. Tripp describes the Christian journey as a difficult one as we seek to live in a house that God is in the process of restoring. In committing ourselves to Jesus we commit ourselves to his lordship and restoration of our own lives – but this is never easy.

“The fact that you live in a broken-down house in the midst of restoration makes everything more difficult. It removes the ease and simplicity of life. It requires you to be more thoughtful, more careful. It requires you to listen and see well. It requires you to look out for difficulty and to be aware of danger. It requires you to contemplate and plan. It requires you to do what you don’t really want to do and to accept what you find difficult to accept. You want to simply coast, but you can’t. Things are broken and they need to be fixed. There is work to do.” P.19

Tripp does not call us to work by simply trying harder, but rather by giving a vision and providing an understanding of God’s plans for this world and his plan for our life through his Son Jesus. In this way we work with God in the powerful process of bringing restoration to broken places.

I admire Tripp’s ability to be honest about the difficulties of the Christian life without leaving us in despair. His focus is on God’s love for the brokenness and His plan to restore that which he loves. The burden is not on us, but we are called to partake in his beautiful rebuild.

Part One is all about Knowing.

Knowing how broken this world really is

Knowing how broken we as individuals really are

Knowing our limits and our weaknesses

Knowing God has ultimate control

Knowing why placing our trust in God’s control works

Knowing how to have an eternal focus and to seek to do good whilst also giving ourselves permission to be angry at the state that sin has left our world in.

One particular section stood out where Tripp highlights how limited we really are as human creatures;

“You can only be in one place at a time. You can only be in one time at a time: You cannot propel yourself back into the past or launch yourself into the future; your existence is permanently anchored in the here and now.

You cannot think things into existence or alter what has already happened. You cannot remove a conversation from history or redo a disappointing day. You cannot know the details of tomorrow, let alone know exactly where you will be in five year!

You cannot decide you are bored with gravity and want to be free of it. You cannot make a personal commitment to do without oxygen and remain alive. You cannot read or reliably predict the thoughts of another. You cannot control thoughts, desires, words, or actions of another human being. You cannot keep yourself from aging, as hard as some of us will try.

You cannot release yourself or your surroundings from the effects of the fall. You cannot assure that your body will be free of disease and sickness. You cannot independently free yourself or another from sin. You cannot reach in and alter the content of your own heart, let alone the heart of another. You cannot plant faith, courage, and hope into the soul of another person. You cannot assure that your government will have integrity or your community will be safe. You cannot make your acquaintances respect you, and you cannot assure your family members will treat you with love. You cannot keep yourself free from natural and environmental disaster. You cannot control the economic environment, making sure that it does not alter your financial health. You cannot lay out a personal life plan and know it will unfold without interruption. You cannot assure that your life will be easy and satisfying.”

Rather than depressing his readers, Tripp see’s our limitations as a powerful entry point towards trusting the one who is in control in such a broken down world.

Part Two is all about Doing.

Reject Passivity

Pursue Community

Determine to love

Celebrate grace

Minister everywhere

Examine your legacy

This back half is all practical. Tripp gives 3 pages of examples of ways you can actually love others; from being willing to live with an open house to being willing to endure tense and uncomfortable situations lovingly.

He suggest that to live with an eye fixed on grace is actually a battle we have to fight in a world that is saturated in merit.

And he calls us to seek to break down the walls in our lives between ‘ministry’ and the ‘rest of life’. “Remember, in this broken-down house that we all live in, every room of life is at the same time a forum for ministry. You will never face a day that is not filled with ministry need and opportunity. The questions are, Are your eyes open to the need, and Are you capturing the God-given opportunities?”

There were not a lot of new ideas in this book for me. But it is helping me see that I have doubted God’s plan of restoration. I have felt more of the broken down nature of both my life and my world and it’s just left me flat.

To engage the heart we need a vision and a mission and to be honest the best vision and mission is right there in the pages of scripture. It is right there in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is honest about our world and hope filled about our future.

I welcome your criticism (and the flowers in my backyard need a good working over).

It appears to be the case that criticism is unwelcome in the Australian culture.

It’s not part of the fabric of our way of doing things. And when it does arise in the public realm it looks and feels so out of place.
I suggest the reason for such criticism of criticism has blossomed from the soil of good intention. Criticism has often been used as a veiled form of hatred or rejection. The popular definition of tolerance shifted from loving disagreement to merely the need to accept all views. If I just accept that you believe something different to me and my loving response is to remain silent then it follows that anything other than silence towards an alternate view must be unloving.

This view of tolerance seems on the surface to make sense and it also allows us in the short term to avoid conflict – which in a society of 22 million is surely a good thing! However, as time moves forward something less attractive starts to take place. Our society ends up as merely a collection of smaller communication units. These units (or homes of thought) interact smoothly within themselves but also establish tall fences, keeping them safe from ‘the outside world’. Unfortunately differing thoughts and beliefs between these homes take on the form of neighbourhood dogs that never get let out of the yard from fear that they will dig up another’s garden bed. Once again, on the surface this seems good. It seems safe. My thinking is protected by the family home and I am never at risk of being shaken up by another’s view of the world – my flowers stay intact.

 
In fact it matches the larger shift of our physical neighbourhoods which view our homes as castles where ‘what happens behind the front door’ is no one else’s business.
Just like our suburban homes, our society becomes less a society and more a collection of closed-off thought communities. Such communities include the Christian church, the gay community, the Islamic mosque and the deep green movement to name just a few. Whilst this breeds a feeling of safety for those inside it masks a much greater problem, namely this is not how societies work best!

Just as neighbourhoods used to be places where everyone knew everyone and the kids all played together in the street, on a grander scale societies have always worked best as places where smaller thought communities could move in next to each other and learn from each other.
That has often been the attraction of cities. Cities have involved the crashing together of differing communities coming in from the outlying areas and learning to live together, ideally in a society that is better than the country towns because ideas and beliefs have been sharpened by interaction with others. This was my experience when I moved from the leafy and somewhat isolated North Shore of Sydney to the hustle and bustle of inner city Newtown.

In order to sharpen, challenge and deepen my own view of the world I need to be criticised. In fact I welcome criticism by those with differing views because no man is an island and I rely on others to help me grow and change. This is the basic value at the heart of political liberalism which, in the past, the Western world has celebrated.

Unfortunately our fences have become so high and our doors so tightly deadlocked that ‘meeting the neighbours’ in these communities of thought have turned into acts of war. To voice an alternate view is not welcomed as an opportunity for thoughtful reflection but rather a criticism which is assumed to be fuelled by hatred. As a result fences are strengthened and everyone inside the home gives each other a pat on the back for how much better their home is to the one next door. This is a fabulous structure from which to breed arrogance and self-righteousness but a terrible structure from which to build a real, thought provoking society.

Historically, tolerance was never based on the virtue of silence but rather the virtue of love. It was built on the concept first introduced by Jesus that we should “love our neighbour as ourselves”. Fence lines were lower and conversations could be had between the ‘neighbours’ that didn’t result in shouting or hatred. You could go back to your home thinking the guy next door was strange, but certainly not someone worthy of your contempt.

Perhaps in Australia it would be good for us to unlock our doors and lower our fences – for differing communities of thought to speak with each other and learn from each other. This will certainly involve disagreement and criticism but every good society always has. The only common thread that will need to run across our country is a desire to love our neighbour as our self.

I, like everyone else in this country, belong to a community of thought. But I’m tired of not being able to play with the kids next door and I miss the random dog wandering in my yard.

When the adults look more like the children.

Let’s be adults about adultery.

Could Bettina Arndt see the irony in the title of her SMH article today? Her article is here

She was responding to a new book by Catherine Hakim which proposes a ‘radical rethink of fidelity to take advantage of internet dating sites for married people. These new sites offer opportunity for discreet liaisons that Hakim feels can enhance a marriage. Saying; Here the impact of an affair can potentially be almost entirely positive.’

Now, I have not done any research into this specific area and am unqualified to make any judgements about social trends or psychological responses to marital affairs. Instead I simply want to make one observations on the article at hand.

According to Hakim and Arndt the main reason for extra-marital affairs in men is a lack of sex in the relationship. For woman, it is a husband who is disconnected – either always at work or unwilling to spend the time needed to become a better lover.

Ok, so faced with these two potential problems what do you think the ‘adult’ response would be? Yes, you guessed it – find someone else to have sex with and fulfil your own physical desires with them. This is of course the most mature way forward and “it’s insane to throw away a marriage for something as ephemeral as sexual dalliance” (Hakim).

I teach in High School. I see Year 7 children who can’t get what they want, unable to communicate what is bothering them, throwing a hissy fit. These students are selfish, without empathy and as of yet unable to communicate clearly what they are feeling and why they are frustrated. But that’s ok Because they are only 12 years old! Over the next 6 years we help them to see that selflessness is powerfully liberating. We help them understand the other person’s position and we guide them as they learn to communicate adult concepts and feelings through words.

May I suggest what the ‘adult’ response to the initial problem may actually be?

Loving, self-sacrificial compromise.

The adult response is the husband realising that his wife is not merely ‘sex-on-tap’ and that indeed no one will be such a thing for him. It involves (on the other end) him realising he cannot hide behind his work and avoid meaningful relationship with his wife. It is a willingness in him to give up some of his ‘sexual rights’ for the good of his wife and to do the whole thing through clear and regular communication.

The adult response is the wife realising that her husband is a sexual man who will flourish if he is allowed to express that with her. It is a willingness in her to give up some of her ‘sexual rights’ for the good of her husband and to do the whole thing through clear and regular communication.

This is not easy. Growing up never is.

It requires a relationship to deepen, to move forward, to struggle through uncertainty. It requires two selfish people (which we all are) fight the fight of selflessness as they consider the needs of the one lying next to them in the bed. Yet over time it also becomes liberating.

The truth is, Hakim’s ‘adultery’ solution and Arndt’s support of it is certainly one way forward. But it is a childish and overtly selfish way forward. There is nothing ‘adult’ about it.

Perhaps I should invite them to join my Year 7 class and they can both spend the next 6 years learning what it means to grow up.

Should a fish have the same value as my grandmother?


In the recent week a controversial commercial has been aired by the PETA organisation. In seeking to push the rights of fish it compares a fish on a chopping block to a woman facing domestic violence, an elderly lady being mugged and different children screaming at the violence they are witnessing. Its catch phrase is “some screams can’t be heard”. The commercial has sparked outcry, especially from organisations seeking to bring an end to domestic violence.
Tonight on the Channel 10 program The Project, a representative from PETA defended the commercial as a deliberately shocking yet much needed protest against violence to fish. Her point was that every day we treat fish in a way that we would never treat humans and it was about time that it ended. The interesting aspect of the interview was that the panel interviewing her seemed to think it was an unfair comparison, yet they could provide no good reason why it was an unfair comparison.
Why the controversy?

Why does this commercial make us feel uncomfortable? Primarily it is because it has highlighted a confusion we face in Sydney about where to place value upon living creatures. Should a fish have the same value as our grandmother?
The PETA organisation would suggest yes. However the twist in this tale is that this recent commercial has made a crucial mistake which distances it from the very philosophy PETA is based upon.
Peter Singer has written much about our need to revalue our natural world. The compass Singer uses to navigate this question of value is based upon giving equality to all sentient beings. A sentient being is any being that can feel pain and pleasure. Since animals (such as fish) can feel pain we should treat them with the same equality we give to humans. For a long time Singer has given a philosophical spine to PETA and was the basis of their campaign some years ago against using animal fur in fashion.
However one of the nuances of Singers view is that there are different levels of suffering due to the individuals awareness of what is actually going on. He wrote; “Humans have much greater awareness of what is happening to them, and this makes their suffering worse. You cannot equate the suffering of, say, a person dying from cancer, and a laboratory mouse undergoing the same fate.”
I wonder if he would also say you cannot equate the suffering of woman being beaten by her husband to a sea bass on a chopping block?
PETA failed to follow its underlinging philosophy in order to give some punch to their message. This simplifying is irresponsible. This failure may also answer the controversy.
And yet when I consider whether a fish should have the same value as my grandmother a problem still lingers.

To be continued……………….

Dear 16 year old Me & the book of Proverbs

This video has been doing the rounds the past few months. It became viral pretty quick and this particular youtube version has already had over 4 million hits!

I love this video. I know that probably sounds kinda lame, but I do. This morning I was reflecting on why it is so engaging? Lots of things come to mind; it’s real, it’s emotional, it’s surprisingly funny but the real kicker is one simple line; “Dear 16 year old me”.

And there it is.

It’s the fantasy of the future self being able to send a video back to the 16 year old self.

Just the idea of that almost brings a tear to my eye.

 

All the things you would say.

 

Underneath the whole concept is a recognition that at 16 you think you are the fullest version of yourself. At 16 you cannot conceive of yourself as an adult. You know that you want to be an adult, but the idea of you being 32 is just not a concept that can be grasped.

And so here you are, as the 32 year old – the same man, the same woman who 16 years earlier could not even conceive of your present reality – talking to yourself.

A message that life exists beyond school. That life exists beyond youth. That one day you will need to grow up and one day you will wish you had done some things differently.

 

All the things you would say.

 

I would tell myself to be more confident with girls. To not be SO afraid of rejection as if my whole life depended upon it.

I would tell myself to harden up in year 12 and play through the virus  – to skip the Knox match and play the Alloy’s match – where the selectors were watching!

I would tell myself to never walk away from Jesus, even when you’re angry at him – because with him is real life.

I would tell myself to not bother with the whole hemp clothing thing in my early 20s.

I would tell myself that rebellion can cause deep wounds and that purity is powerful and beautiful.

I would tell myself to ditch the ‘flat-top’ haircut – it never did anything for anyone.

I would tell myself to never let go of someone you are genuinely in love with.

I would tell myself that everything the Bible says about life and death, blessings and curses, the way of the flesh and the way of the Spirit are absolutely 100% true.

I would tell myself to save money.

I would tell myself to spend money.

I would tell myself to love.

 

Yet here is the reason why this video has gone viral and drawn so many millions of hits.

I can’t say any of this to my 16 year old me.

My 16 year old me is in a garden blocked off by the angels of time and no matter how much or how little I want to reach him, I can’t.

The complexity of life is that the decisions we make which affect our future lives – that shape our future lives – are rarely decisions that we think through, that we meditate upon, that we consider the consequences of. Primarily because you can’t live life that way! You don’t know what choices will stick and which ones will not. Life is a messy mash of decisions and it is not until you reach the future that you look back and see with such clarity which 10 of the 10,000 choices were the game changers for your life.

 

I guess this is why we really need the book of Proverbs.

Daily life is full of choices and there is no way of ever knowing what will stick and what will not.

Proverbs is the ancient version of Dear 16 year old me written by an older man to his son, written by the older to the younger.

It is written by someone who knows the complexity of timing, the long term destruction of short term lust, the way of life and the way of death.

Throughout the book, I can’t help but feel a deep yearning from the author to have these words when he was 16, but since that garden is blocked the wisest thing he can do is speak now of all the things he has seen and heard and knows.

Someday you will wish you could tell your current self a whole bunch of things.

Why not get a head start on this and have a read of Proverbs. Hear the musings of the wise, hear the words of God.