The biggest ‘but’ in history

There must be numerous contenders for the most game-changing word in the history of the world, but today I’m going with this one: ‘but.’

Today I was reading through Mark chapter 14 and was meditating on the time Jesus spent in the garden of Gethsemane before he went to the cross.

The first half of verse 36 struck me like never before. Jesus was praying and said these words: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.”

In this are two profound things. First, Jesus knew that God could do anything. He knew that it was well within the power of his Father to pull the pin on redemption and instantly take His son back into the eternal glory from which He had come. Furthermore, Jesus asked for it. Such was his agony at the thought of what he was to endure, that he asked his Father to remove it from him.

The Father would not deny the Son. Except for one entirely game-changing word: ‘but.’

At the most intensely pivotal moment the world has seen, the Son surrendered his will to His Father’s saying ‘Yet not what I will, but what you will,’ and the Father, in that moment of Jesus’ submission, overruled the will of His Son. Together they endured the cross, despising the shame, for the redemption of mankind.

How grateful I am for Jesus’ submission to the will of His Father, and how challenged I am by my lack of it.

Why would God destroy a city?

Sodom and Gomorrah are two famous historical cities known for their destruction. The account of their demise begins in Genesis 18, when the Lord says to Abraham, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me.”

I was reading this passage as a part of our church’s Genesis study, and this question was posed: ‘Why would God be so concerned about the reports coming from Sodom and Gomorrah?’ I was stumped at first. Sure I know that God hates sin, but evil is just a part of our world, right? Why did He feel the need to destroy them so dramatically?

As I pondered this I was suddenly reminded of something Jesus said: “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.”

Sin is not static. It spreads like a cancer, sometimes slowly, but surely. It seeps into a culture until it moulds minds and consciences and lulls people into deception, saying, “You can live as you like” and “There is no consequence.”

God’s destruction is always characterised by two things: justice for evil, and protection of that which is good. Just like a cancer in the body must be killed, in order for the body to be saved, so has God worked throughout history to restrain the spread of evil, so as to protect his people and offer salvation to all.

What I would tell my student-teacher self

I’m working with a pre-service teacher at the moment, which has caused me to reflect on my own days as a prac student.

How far I have come!

My first teaching placement occurred in the fourth year of my degree, and I soon thought I’d made a terrible mistake. The enormity of the job overwhelmed me. I was staying at the school until after dark every night and then going home, anxious and feeling unprepared for the day to come.

I distinctly remember lying in bed one night, with thoughts and worries rushing chaotically through my head, praying for rest and sleep. I remember praying through Scripture, trying to get some rational perspective, reminding myself that the things of this world are temporary (lesson plans and unit plans would pass away!)

I didn’t sleep all night.

I feel for that young woman, all those years ago. I wish I could sit beside her on the side of the bed and tell her that I’m still in the job ten years later. That I can’t remember the last time I lost any sleep over work related issues, and that lessons flow out of me now with hardly a thought.

But I can’t tell her that. I can only remember, today, to trust Jesus better than I did back then. To take on the advice of Hudson Taylor, and, looking to the face of Jesus, determine that ‘whatever did not agitate the Saviour, or ruffle His spirit, was not to agitate mine.’

 

Do you want what’s good for you or not?

I took a sick day last week. It was a beautiful day outside, blue sky and sunny, with birds chortling, even though it was the first day of winter. I sat in bed with a stuffy nose and my cup of tea, and as I looked out the window I realised how full and whirring my mind had been over the last few days. What I really needed was to re-centre, to lay out several aspects of my life before God and work out what He wanted.

As I reflected on something in my life that I’d promised, only days earlier, to lay down before him, I found myself praying ‘Lord, you and I have been at cross-purposes on this one…’

Almost immediately, the thought hit me: If you and God are working at cross-purposes, then you’re working against yourself.

How is it that I consistently forget that God wants only good things for me; that His ways are perfect and that His burden is designed to be light, not heavy?

Only minutes before this thought, as I looked out into the bare branches of the tree outside my window, the song had come to mind, ‘be still my soul, the Lord is on your side.’

What a deep comfort this should be to me. How quickly I should hasten to line my will up with his knowing that he asks for no sacrifice or step of obedience that will not ultimately lead to my good.

Why shouldn’t I, in this moment, be perfectly, blissfully happy?

It’s Saturday morning. I’ve slept in and I’m sitting in bed with my porridge and a cup of tea that is teetering on being tepid as I forgot about it while I was scrolling through Facebook. It’s still warm enough to be pleasant though, and as I raise it to my lips I look out my window to see birds fly behind barren winter tree branches. I hear them chirping and cooing and suddenly the question pops into my head: Why shouldn’t you, in this moment, be perfectly, blissfully happy?

It surprises me, because I don’t feel like that, but as I think about it, I have no reason not to. Right in this moment, I don’t need to think about the school marking I have to do, or the cleaning, or whatever pressures I may have in life. In this moment I am free to be abundantly content.

How many ‘this moments’ exist in a day? Hundreds of them; thousands even. I remember hearing once that anxiety and worry are almost always concerned with the past and the future. Rarely do we have anything to seriously concern ourselves with in this moment.

This truth can be liberating. As I drink my now-lukewarm tea, I am going to choose, for this moment to be perfectly, blissfully happy.

Everyone’s awesome… so everyone’s inadequate

I spent my afternoon at a SACE clarifying forum. I always manage to leave feeling inadequate.

At the forum, year 12 teachers get together in a room with paper cups of instant coffee and read exemplars of student work.

There are two types of people that scare me in these groups – the innovators and the ‘I-wouldn’t-have-graded-it-that-high’ experts.

We had an innovator at our table. Fresh out of University, new ideas and perfect English literary lingo flowed from his mouth. He spoke with the authority that only a new grad or a thirty-year veteran can.

I spent my time between feeling impressed, indignant and inadequate. Clearly this barely-even-an-adult was more competent than me. Thank goodness he didn’t know I’m running the faculty at my school.

The ‘experts’ were also out in full force. Irrespective of the piece, they always thought it was about two grades worse than I had. No matter that they were technically wrong, their air of superiority made it clear that their standards were higher than mine. I felt my insides wilting with the knowledge that I wouldn’t even know how to teach to their standard.

Many times I’ve felt a niggling feeling that I’m an imposter in this word of academics.

I wondered after, though, whether we’re all playing the same game. For all I know Mr. University left feeling inadequate next to the experience of the others on the table and the experts left wondering how, after so many years, they could still be marking too hard. We all put our best foot forward. We all want to look awesome. And, no doubt, we all struggle with feeling inadequate.

Do cultural norms overpower sexual attraction?

Sexual attraction is surely one of the strongest forces intrinsic to humans, but is it possible that the external force of cultural trends can suppress, or even eliminate it?

This is one of the tangents my year 12 class and I found ourselves on today during a discussion about themes of identity and family in a play we have recently seen.

We noted that, with the exception of a minority that feeds the pages of New Idea magazine, sexual attraction between consenting, adult family members, in Australia, is rare. We could be led to believe that this is because it is fundamentally immoral, but historically and cross-culturally this is not seen to be the case.

Marriage of first cousins is, in fact (and unbeknownst to me until today) legal in Australia, the UK and 19 states of America. It is however, highly stigmatized. My class and I noted that this cultural stigma is so powerful that if we were to meet and be attracted to someone, and later find out that they were actually our cousin, the attraction would immediately subside.

I found it interesting to read that the “practice of marrying your siblings is now archaic (not to mention extremely icky)” and I wondered where this ‘ickiness’ comes from.

Of course genetic concerns regarding procreation play a role in the social stigma, but I found it interesting to consider the idea that a person’s sexual attractions can be curbed or influenced by the trends of their culture.

 

Celebrating Weakness as a Key to my Identity

 

Wow, this is making me feel inadequate!
I’m still shocked that these words came out of my mouth, but they did, before I even had time to think.
I was talking to a friend about owning property. Like me, they’d been very circumstantially blessed in this area and, despite the humble way that they spoke about it, it was clear that they were sitting on some very valuable investments. My instant feeling, when faced with someone in a ‘better position’ to me was inadequacy.
This was further highlighted to me this week as I realized how often I do a self-appraisal of how ‘successful’ I am at life. Ironically much of this centers around how I think my life looks to other people.
Here’s some embarrassing examples of what goes through my head:

Ok, so I’m single. I’m basically failing at the most significant thing in life, so I need to make up for it somehow. I need to prove that my life is still awesome enough to justify being alone.

How am I going at life? Actually I’m doing okay. I have property. Lots of people my age don’t, and I’m going to nail this whole mortgage thing.
I have a career that I enjoy and I’m in leadership now and…
I’ve traveled…
I have lots of friends…
I give to missions and charity…
I have…
                        I can…
                                                I do…
                                                                        I am…

Successful.

I have a decent personal resume. Most of the time it’s enough to make me feel okay about being alone. Most of the time I feel that my strengths are outweighing my weaknesses.
But.
Sometimes they don’t help at all. They offer no answer when the ugly question rears it’s head ‘Why, despite all this, does nobody want me?’

Most of the time I also know that the successes I’m counting aren’t actually the things that matter; that they’re all superficial things that can be lost in an instant.

It really hit home the other day as I was crying out to God to speak into my life and He took me to James 1:10-11.
“[Let the rich boast] in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away… So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.”
What does it mean, I asked, to boast in my humiliation? I was reminded of the way in which the Apostle Paul boasted in his weaknesses and counted everything he had gained in this world as loss for the sake of knowing Christ, and I knew… it is in my weaknesses, not my successes, that my true greatness lies, because my true greatness does not come from me.

I thought of my ‘humiliations’ in life and discovered that in each of them lay a truth about my identity that was far more significant than any house, or job or travel. Here are some:

I am single – I am pursued and loved by God
I am dust – I am a new, eternal creation
I am weak – I have the strength of the Almighty
I am sometimes socially awkward – I am safe in God’s sovereign plan
I am alone – I am hid with Christ in God and am never alone.
I am sinful – I am forgiven and made righteous
I am overlooked – I am found and known and cherished.

So there are my greatest weaknesses; the yucky parts of who I am; the ones I try to cover up with the more glamorous looking list. But there also, in Christ, are my greatest strengths. As I reflect on who I am, and how I’m going in life, may I always remember that my boast is in these things, not the other list to which I cling so tightly. Because the other list? It is as fleeting as a spring flower.

Christian, turn the cheek on Facebook

Today I woke to news of another terror attack, this time targeting Christians as they celebrated Palm Sunday in Egypt.

It is tragic and frightening and naturally created an emotional response in the Christian world.

We live in an unprecedented time in which a person’s opinions and responses can be publicly proclaimed through social media, and it makes me wonder… how are we using it?

I question sometimes, as I see Christians around the world taking to Facebook as a soapbox to remind the world of our rights, whether we’re getting it wrong.

I was reminded yesterday of Jesus’ command to ‘turn the other cheek;’ of the promise of persecution and of the cross we all vow to bear. What happened in Egypt is a human rights tragedy, but I wonder whether the response of Christians stems more from fear for their own future safety, than from a true understanding of what it is to live the Christian life.

Christians in Australia have experienced peace for generations, and we must admit that we have sometimes used our high and favoured position to look down at, and isolate others. Now, as the tables turn, we take to social media and condemn those who are against us. Maybe it’s time to turn the other cheek. Maybe it’s time to take up our cross with the meekness of our Saviour and use any words we have to preach His Gospel of salvation, even to those who persecute us, rather than asserting our rights.

The number ONE reason we should follow Jesus… isn’t to get eternal life

Why do we invite people to come to Jesus?

This questions was raised in my lunchtime Bible study group today, which amazingly, this year, includes two atheist students. I see reflected in it many mistakes of my own evangelical history.

Over the years I have invited people to come to Jesus for many a reason, some more flawed than others:

To some I promised a more purposeful life

To others, increased happiness.

At times it was because they were at risk of hell

And on the flip side, who isn’t enticed by the promise of heaven?

Shamefully, I admit, there were also times when I merely wanted to recruit allies; people who would see the world from my point of view and not oppose me.

Today, however, I was reminded, as I studied the Word with these students, that the number one reason that we should invite people to come to Jesus is because He is worthy.

If God is as powerful as he must be as creator, and Jesus is truly Lord of all, then people should come to him in humble worship, simply because He deserves it.

The beautiful paradox of Christianity is that God invites us to come, and then blesses us with every spiritual blessing and life eternal when we do.

It is His kindness that brings us to repentance, but we must never forget who He is or how worthy He is. We must call people to worship the giver, not come for the gifts.