Wednesday, 19 June 2013

That Was Surprising

There is One Person who is never surprised. I'm not He. When surprises rock my world, He remains calm - not the calm of not caring, but the calm of knowing exactly what's going on (and why). He never panicks. He never reverts to Plan B. Yet, He experiences the pain of other people's surprises and is, more often than He deserves, the object of their blame for these unwelcome surprises. Yet there are some who have learned that life's unpleasant surprises are best handled by looking to rather than at God. Like a prodigy watching his Master's every move, I gaze at the Unsurpisable and learn. Although I can't see what He sees, I can see Him. Unruffled, content, assured. I admire this.

The eyes of all look to you...
Psalm 145:15
It's surprising how surprising surprises are. You'd think that we would accept them as a normal part of our journeys. Alas. Perhaps the amount we are surprised is proportional to the amount we thought we were in control of our lives. Perhaps the extent of our surprise is due to the belief that God will ensure nothing painful ever happens to us. Perhaps the depth of our surprise is the related to the level of our self-absorption. Whatever the cause, we are all surprised.

Surprises can be pleasant. Last Sunday in church Kim and I were presented with a gift from the church to help us celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We were surprised by this. Pleasantly surprised. It enabled us to get away for a night. To enjoy a tryst. To experience a very surprising meal together in a restaurant, alone. But I'm not thinking of such pleasant surprises. I'm thinking about the kind of surprises that have paid some of us a visit this year. Surprised by loss. Surprised by cancer. Surprised by surgery. Surprised by breakdown. Surprised by divorce. Unpleasant surprises. Painful surprises.

King David was surprised that his sexual liaison with another man's wife led to her becoming pregnant. After he arranged the murder of her husband, he was surprised that God both knew and was angered by it. When he took the woman as his wife he was surprised that the child was born sickly. He was surprised to have Nathan the Prophet pay him a visit and charge him with wrong-doing. He was surprised that his son's health deteriorated. But then he looked to the Non-Surprised One and began to see things differently.

When David's son died, he was not overcome with surprise (the disappointment kind).
But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, "Is the child dead?" They said, "He is dead."
Second Samuel 12:19
Unwelcome surprises will come you way. When they do, you can shake your fist at God in anger, or, you can raise your open hand to God in surrender and worship Him.
Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate.
Second Samuel 12:20
The Apostle Paul began his journey with Christ by being surprised. While on the road to Damascus he encountered an all-too-glorious appearance of Christ and was knocked off his horse to the ground. His life story reads like an exposition of the art of surprises. He is initially surprised by the Church's rejection of him. He is surprised by Barnabas's acceptance of him. He is surprised by his countrymen's hatred of him. He is surprised by how quickly he understands the deepest mysteries of God's eternal plan. He is surprised by how the Holy Spirit transforms him from being a Pharisaical Law Keeper into a Grace-Changed Forgiving Follower of Christ. And one day he is preaching in Philippi and was surprised to find that he was now in prison for his obedience to God. But rather than looking at God he does what David did, he looked to God, and worshiped Him in the midst of his unwelcome surprises.
¶ About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them
Acts 16:25
Sickness, injury, loss, betrayal, will come our way (Romans 8:20). We can be overcome by such surprises, or we can worship the One who is Unsurprisable and begin to experience a new peace that comes from such worshipful trust.

Ps. Andrew

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Life - What It's All About

We were created for a purpose. There is a reason you are on the planet. It is no accident that you are who you are, where you are, and why you are the way you are. There are two great and humanly invinceable forces at work in your life. You don't have to be religious to experience these forces. Actually, you can't not experience them. The first and greatest is a force in your soul like that of a compass needle which always points north - but in your soul's case gravitates to True North. The second force is miniscule by comparison. But even a tiny magnet can, when brought close to the compass, distort the needle's rotation. Yet most people have had their souls distorted so that their soul's compass needle is no longer pointing 'True North'. Let me explain...

I'm surprised that people are surprised when they discover that most highly successful and driven people are empty and directionless. One of the main reasons highly successful people become highly successful people is because are inwardly so unsuccessful. They are empty. They are dry. They are frustrated. They are in pain. They often loathe themselves.Yet outwardly, they have adoring fans, nice toys, investments, and famous 'friends'. They are afflicted with a series of tiny magnets that have distorted their soul's compass. These tiny magnets involuntarily veers their soul's compass needle away from 'North' to 'South'. Despite the compass needle doing all it can, and despite the massive magnetic pull of True North, the tiny magnet's proximity to the compass steers the soul's ship away from its Northerly homeward bound journey.

You've probably met South-bound people. They hold back. Their lack of transparency is a clue that something has magnetically spun their compass out of whack. If you could hear their heart you would hear ache. Who am I? What am I doing? Why doesn't anyone really care about me? Where am I going in life? These are pained questions. These are the questions that a malfunctioning compass causes when it sends its victim 'South'.

God is our True North. Augustine wrote, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." When our Enemy first entered the First Garden and began to spread his magnetic lies, our representative (Adam) should have pulled the compass of his soul away. But he didn't. He went rogue and has steadily drifted South ever since. This Southerly drift uses magnetic lies to maintain the scam. "Life is about you" ... "You deserve more" ... "Your happiness in life is your most important purpose" ... "You have a right to feel positive about who you are and whatever you chose to do" ... "You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else" - all highly magnetic (attractive) lies that distort the God-created-and-designed- inclination of our soul's compass needle to True North.

The Sunday gathering of God-lovers ("Church") is quite repulsive to our Enemy's little magnets of sin. These little magnetic South Inclining Nodes find something quite repulsive about the strong True-North-Magnetic field present in the gathering of the Redeemed. When the Church gathers it is a reminder to each member about their journey toward True North because every otherperson is a physical declaration from God that life is not about me - it's about others. Our Northerly journey is marked by continual opportunities to model God's forgiveness to others (even our North-bound brothers and sisters can offend and upset us at times). Our Lord had to head North out of Jerusalem to die for us on Calvary, but not before He demonstrated forgiveness toward those who were hurting Him. His demonstration of the Father's love should both inform and inspire our own North-bound journeys.

The journey "South" is a journey of deception. It fools its victim into thinking that the journey is about them. The journey "North" however is the journey toward Christlikeness and increased servanthood. Thus, God. our True North, calls His children to represent Him and show His love to others by serving them. The person who feels that others don't serve them - even though they feel they are serving others, is almost certainly heading 'South' even though they think they're heading 'North'.
So you too, when you have done everything you were commanded to do, should say, 'We are slaves undeserving of special praise; we have only done what was our duty.'"
Luke 17:10
What's life about? It's about walking in the ways, Word, and will of God ('North') which leads to us having the little pesky magnets of the Enemy pulled off our soul's compass. The journey 'South' is one where travel alone - because it's about me. The journey 'North' can not be travelled alone - because it's about others. In yet another counter-intuitive truth, the more we bless and others, the better we feel!
Life? What's about it? It's about being God's blessing to others.
And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the great and first commandment.
And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

Matthew 22:37-40
God has made you. You are not an accident in His eyes. No matter what you've done or who you've done it with or how many times you've done it, God loves you and wants to forgive you. He wants you to live on purpose. And this purpose is to head 'North' by increasingly coming to know Him and making Him known by being His blessing to others.

Ps. Andrew

Friday, 7 June 2013

The Choice To Become Who You Are

It's a sad but all too common thing. For most people the journey to the start-line ends far too late. Yet for those rare souls who discover the shocking truth they are journeying toward, there is the priceless reward of sublime contentment awaiting them at the start-line. It's the journey before the Journey. It's meant to be the shorter of the two journeys. It can be. It should be. Discovering who you are. Andre Agassi reminded me of this.

Dr. F.W. Boreham said, "We make our decisions then our decisions make us." Choices. Sometimes they are made for us. Sometimes they need to be made for us. But there comes a time when we have to start owning our choices in order to be who we really are. When we can, and should, be making the choices that direct our lives, but are deprived from doing so, it causes us to live without integrity. Integrity comes from the word integer - meaning, whole, complete. If you can remember your school maths, a number could be a fraction, or an integer. When we don't (or won't) own our choices, we are a fraction of who we really are.

God wants us to become who we are. He has gifted us with particular opportunities. He has ensured that we are influenced by appropriate teachers. He has placed desires within us that motivate us to meet certain needs within a community. When we are children, we have two great factors shaping who we are. The first factor is the people who serve as our guardians - usually our parents. They make certain choices for us. The second factor is the limitations we are constrained by. A child does not realise who they could become partly because they haven't had enough experiences yet. A child growing up in today's world will probably work for a company that hasn't even started yet, and will probably undertake a job that has not even yet been thought of! Thus, in the meantime, his parents and guardians will make many of his choices for him. By far, most parents will make right/good/wise choices for their children. These benevolently imposed choices shape us as children into who we are becoming.

Wedding vowsBut there is something else happening in a child that is attempting to shape a child. But this factor is not benevolent (kind and helpful). It drives the child to rebel. It drives the child to despise not just the choices being imposed on them - but also the ones making their choices. I've observed this since my childhood, not just in others, but mostly in me. But I was reminded of this as I read Andre Agassi's autobiography, Open, kindly given to me by Birchalls Bookstore Launceston (before it was released to the public). Andre Agassi describes the first part of his life as a search for who he really was. For the first 15 years of his life he was barely allowed to make any choices for himself. Our choices make us. Andre was not making his choices therefore he did not know he was. When he was sent to a Tennis Academy from the age of 14, he was lonely, confused, and frustrated. He did not want to be there. He did not want to play tennis. He grew his hair long, had it dyed outrageous colours, and given a punk spike. He did this, not to stand out, but "to hide". "I don't know who I am!" was perhaps Andre's defining statement during this period of his life.

At some point, we have to start making our own choices. But before we can, we have to start owning our choices that may be given to us. We may resent the choices imposed on us. Yet, they still make us who we are. God wants us to choose. He wants us to choose the right/good/wise. His choices for our lives might be imposed on us when we are children. Some children may resent their parents for this. Some children also resent God for this. There comes a point in every child of Christian parents when they must choose to make the borrowed faith of their parents their own, or to hand it back. God wants us to freely choose Him, His ways, His will, for our lives.

How do we know which choices are right for us? Some people own the wrong imposed choices. They are beguiled into believing that they are someone they are not. "You're a loser!" "You're an accident!" "You're a mis-fit!" "You were born that way - it's your genetics - and there's nothing you can do about it!" So grossly untrue are these imposed choices upon some people, that those who force them on others are continually battling the truth that -
  • every person is precious to God;
  • God longs for every person to honour Him with their bodies, minds and souls;
  • God has a beautiful purpose for every person that involves serving another;
  • we are created to worship the True God within the community of God's people.
For those imposing wrong choices on the vulnerable, they must go to extraordinary lengths to make their case seem remotely plausible. Extraordinary lengths. Legislation must be changed. Primary School curriculums must be developed. Movies must be made. Novels must be written. Songs must be sung. OAMs must be awarded to the 'right' people. Billboards must be erected across Brisbane promoting the blatantly false idea that some people cannot choose to actually be who God has created and designed them to be. Extraordinary lengths. Yet there's always a kid in the crowd who points at the king and whispers, "But he's got no clothes on!" It must frustrate those going to such extraordinary lengths, a similar frustration that the person trying to bail the ocean out with a tea-spoon must experience, when despite their best efforts to impose "you are born to rebel", "All Christians are haters!" "Christianity belongs to a by-gone era!" "All Churches are led by graying, old men, who are out-of-touch with reality!" "The Bible is full of is the opinions of bigoted narrow-minded unenlightened men!" Yet, people continue to discover that God loves them - but loves them too much to be destroyed by the false choices imposed on them. People told that they were "born that way" are discovering that this imposition was never true - something that their deep misery gave them a clue to - and that God can help them to become who they really are. People are discovering that God empowers right choices.

Andre Agassi eventually discovered a glimpse of who he was. It happened around that age of 16. He had already turned to drugs and hard liquor. At least these acts of rebellion allowed him to make choices. But they were the wrong choices. By the age of 36 having achieved what only a handful of people have ever achieved, Andre continued to wonder: Who am I? I wish I could have a few coffees with Andre and talk this through with him. I'd probably mention to him that we have a Creator who wants us to become who we really are by owning then making right/good/wise choices. I'd probably share with him my story. And I'd hope that as I shared he would detect the genuine contentment in my soul that has come from discovering who I am.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:16
Who are you? What defines you? What choices are you making that are making you. Have you been told that you cannotchoose to be anyone other than who people tell you are? Are being lied to that your 'genetics' make your choices for you and cause you to be dogged by guilt? Choose God. Choose the right/good/wise plan that God has for your life. You'll discover this plan in Romans 12. The choice is yours. If you make the Romans 12 informed choices, you'll become who you realy are. I'd choose to share that with Andre, if I ever had the opportunity. In the meantime, I'd like to share with you, and hope that you might choose to share it someone else.

Ps. Andrew