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.

Advertisements

What was Arnott’s really doing?

Original-Barbecue-175g-300-x-240-300x240I am far from an expert when it comes to the world of marketing (my experience is limited to analysing advertising techniques with high school students) but there’s been something that’s been bugging me and I’m surprised that no one seems to be talking about it.

What was Arnott’s really doing when they launched their new Shapes?

Perhaps everything we’ve been reading is true. Perhaps they did a lot of market research and really thought they’d come up with a better product. Perhaps it was a shock to them that the general public hated it. But I find it kind of hard to believe.

It’s not the first time that a market leading brand has screwed up a change. In fact, it happened just recently. Gladwrap changed the location of their serrated cutting strip and the public went wild. I bought a box of it, not knowing what I was in for, and suffered through inconvenient tearing for months. I had an idea of what they were trying to do. Get people used to the change, and then they’ll only want to buy your brand. It didn’t work. Or did it?9-2652612-nat210115wrap2_t620

Glad seemed to turn their mistake around by showing that they ‘care.’ They ‘listened to their customers’ and the original tearing strip came back. Now lots of happy customers return to buying glad brand.

Hot on Glad’s heels, Arnott’s has changed their iconic shapes brand, and not only do people hate it, but they’re publicly raving about it. It’s hard to believe, but The Sydney Morning Herald and The Herald Sun and others have run articles about it, not to mention the slather of social media posts. Arnott’s hasn’t had this kind of publicity since… well maybe ever!

Apart from the fact that ‘any publicity is good publicity’ what is the real value of consumers slamming Arnott’s for ruining their favourite flavours? Well Arnotts’ seems to have an ‘insurance plan.’ They haven’t actually discontinued the old flavour. What?? If a flavour is so new and improved, why would you have the old flavour, in very similar packaging, still on the shelves? Actually it’s brilliant. It’s fear marketing and intrigue all wrapped up in one. The scandal of the ‘inferior BBQ shapes’ has caused hundreds of people to go out and buy said Shapes just for the novel experience. Everyone wants to judge for themselves. Surely they can’t be that bad? Surely Arnott’s couldn’t have ruined our beloved flavours while leaving the less favourite ones the same?

tumblr_nd0ktnttzW1tm0icro1_1280Not only have hundreds tried the new flavour, but I imagine that hundreds have also rushed out to buy the old flavour like squirrels storing for winter. The real BBQ and Pizza shapes have become endangered species, and for the first time in decades we are afraid that our iconic snack could be pulled out from under us at any moment.

Arnott’s have had a market leading brand with iconic flavours for a long time, and the consumer has become complacent. Innovation is a necessity when you’re in business, but what do you do when you’re already nailing it? Looks like you create something new. An epic, newsworthy failure that sends the country into a hexagonal shaped spin. Far from a tragedy, they’ve just bought themselves months worth of free publicity, even if it is largely negative.

Can they turn it around? Of course they can. They are a company made ‘for the people’ after all. They’ll listen to their customers. They’ll repent for their wrongs. They’ll give us what we want like a bogus reinvention, and we’ll be so, so happy. We’ll reflect on how we made it through the Shapes disaster of 2016, how it was such a close call. We’ll look with love and relief on the aisles full of original flavoured Pizza and BBQ shapes, and we’ll buy them with renewed vigour, with the knowledge of what could have been, what almost was, if we had not banded together as the Australian people to save our beloved Shapes.

The post that pulled 2,677 views

Today marks 3 years to the day that I’ve been blogging.

Three years ago, when I began, my friend and pastor asked me this: “Sarah, do you really think you can come up with enough content to sustain a blog?”

My response: “Andy, since when do I struggle to find things to say?”

Three years on, it looks like I’ve found stuff to say.

In blogging spheres mine would hardly be considered successful, but I thought people might be interested in some stats.

In the last three years I’ve published 192 posts, had almost 63,000 views and been read in over 130 different countries.

surpriseWhat’s even more interesting to look at is which posts draw the most views. I never would have guessed which posts would become my top 5, let alone which one would take the lead.

 

 

Far and away my most read post is My Anchor within the Veil, with 2,677 views to date.

Following that, here’s the rest of my top 5.

1,681 – What it feels like to jump off a cliff

1,303 – A few things you shouldn’t say to skinny girls

1,237 – How do you know if it’s a date?

809 – Why is the message of Christianity offensive?

 

It’s not the stats, however, that keep me going.

What keeps me going is the individual people.

The people who read my blog every week; those who read it sporadically but take the time to mention that they enjoy it; those people who I didn’t think would have known I had a blog, but suddenly mention that they liked a particular post; It’s the people, and their willingness to read, and the fact that I keep finding things to say.

Thank you.

Here’s to another year!

Why I don’t think people returned from Heaven.

My last blog post (When Heaven is for Real becomes a movie- and it’s my final straw) raised some questions that I think it would be remiss of me not to address.

While I am committed to keeping my posts short, and am not afraid of raising questions, there is always the risk that with such a concise amount of words I will be either misinterpreted or unclear in my meaning or the thinking behind my posts.

I think it is dangerous to criticize the experiences and motives of fellow Christians, but I also believe there are times when it is equally dangerous not to.

I am no great Bible scholar, in fact I’m a novice, and I may stand to be corrected, but I would like to take this opportunity to convey the basis for my conclusions.

First, I’d like to address the comment that I’ve received that if these stories cause people to think about Heaven, then they’re beneficial. I don’t agree with that reasoning. There is no doubt in my mind that God can use them for good. In fact, we live in a world in which God is daily using all manner of things for good and for his purposes (Rom 8:28). That doesn’t mean they’re right (God’s use of Solomon as a great King and part of the lineage of Christ does not justify David and Bathsheba’s sin).

Yes, these books may give some people hope, and cause others to re-consider the reality of heaven. But that does not by definition mean that the experiences conveyed are scriptural or accurate. God may use them for good, but it doesn’t alter the accountability of the ‘preacher.’

Second I’d like to address my specific gripe with the book that I began reading, “Heaven is so Real” by Choo Thomas. (Different from that which is being relased as a movie, which is “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo)
I’ll admit straight up, that it has been a long time since I read the book, and while I do recall the description of heaven being different to that described in Scripture, I don’t have specific memories of it. There are a few things, however, that I distinctly remember. First, the relationship between the author and Jesus was not one consistent with John’s visit to heaven in the Bible (more on that later) and was very human focused. The author was frequently referred to as Jesus’ ‘special daughter,’ which after a few visits began to have quite worldly and humanistic applications including promises of earthly prosperity, which culminated in the promise of an elite red sports car (soon after this I stopped reading).

I will mention as an aside that the feeling of oppression and (dare I say) demonic presence that I felt as I was reading this book was unparalleled to almost any other book I’ve read. I say that as an aside though. I believe it is important that my argument be based primarily on Scripture rather than personal experience or feelings.

Finally I’d like to address my Biblical reasoning for being sceptical of these ‘heavenly visit’ stories.

My first point comes from the Gospel of Luke and Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazurus. (Luke 16:19-31) Jesus (through the character of Abraham) makes an interesting point at the end of the story. The rich man is begging Abraham to send Lazarus back to his family because if ‘someone goes to them from the dead they will repent.’ Abraham refuses his request saying that ‘They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them’ and that ‘if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’

Jesus himself was later to die and rise again and appear to many, and yet many have still not believed. The world has Moses, and the prophets and the Son of God who returned from the grave. If people will not hear them, I cannot see, from this Scripture, that God would be sending others to them from the dead. Let them believe the testimony of Jesus.

There were several people who were raised from the dead at the time of Christ, the most prominent of whom was Lazarus (not to be confused with the Lazarus from the parable.) On none of these occasions was there any testimony of them having experienced heaven (even though Lazarus was in the grave for several days, far longer than any of the people in these books). The focus was completely on Jesus and his work. Furthermore, Jesus did say to Nicodemus in John 3:13 that ‘no one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.’

My second point comes from the testimony of John, Jesus’ disciple, who, in Revelation chapter 1, was given a vision of heaven for the purpose of scriptural revelation. While Jesus was on earth, John was his closest friend. If anyone knew Jesus it was him, and yet, when John was taken ‘in the Spirit’ (read- not dead), to Heaven, he saw Jesus as he now is, in His glorified state, and ‘fell at his feet as though dead.’ Meeting our glorified Lord in heaven is no matter of pleasant conversation, camaraderie or even comfort. It is the experience of coming face to face with the living God, who said himself to Moses that ‘man shall not see me and live.’

My third point follows from this and centres around the focus of those who supposedly went to heaven. From my quick perusal of the synopses of these books, much of the focus (and validation) of the experiences concerns meeting people in heaven who they once knew. While I have no doubt that we will be reunited with loved ones who had accepted Jesus as their saviour on earth, my problem with these recounts is twofold. First, in any biblical description of any person ascending to heaven (to my knowledge, always in the spirit or a vision, never dead, eg: John (Rev 1) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6)) the person concerned was always completely captivated by the Glory and majesty of God. There was no mention of anything secondary, and no mention of meeting loved ones. From my understanding, meeting loved ones was a primary focus in this book. (For an interesting unpacking of this, see my post entitled ‘What if you got to Heaven… and God wasn’t there’

Furthermore, there is almost no scriptural evidence that anyone can meet with people who have already died. In fact, the scriptural evidence is quite to the contrary. In Deuteronomy 18:11 it refers to communication with the dead as an abomination to God. The only accounts I can think of where anything akin to this took place in the Bible was first when King Saul used a sear to call on Samuel (things didn’t work out too well for him) and the presence of Moses and Elijah in the transfiguration (clearly a very different situation to what we see today.)

My third point concerns the human focused nature of these heaven stories. My knowledge of them is limited, but the focus does seem to be on reassurance to people of the existence of heaven and the care of God, and the promise of earthly blessings. I would argue that any ‘trip to heaven,’ (which I believe, based on the above scriptures is unlikely if not completely unscriptural in our time), should be characterized by complete awe and worship of God, together with an unrivaled mantra of ‘worthy is the Lamb that was slain,’ and ‘holy, holy, holy is the Lord.’

I’d like to finish by qualifying what I’ve said with a few short points.

I do believe in the value of personal testimony that testifies to the outworking of the promises of God, as outlined in the scriptures. I do not believe in further revelation from God, to a particular individual, that adds to the words of the Bible.

I do believe that God (in His triune form) does convict, lead, guide, impress upon, and, by his Word, individually communicate with His people. I do not believe that He takes them to Heaven and then returns them to earth, with the mandate to share their experiences.

I do believe that it is possible that God, may give a person a vision, dream, angelic visit or even near death experience for the purpose of leading them or bringing them comfort, but that any such experience will not bring them face to face with the living God, nor will it give them any message that adds to, contradicts or goes beyond the revelation of Scripture, nor is it to be used as a method of doing so.

Finally I’d like to finish with what may be the most controversial comment I’ve made so far: As Christians, we must be careful not to be deceived. We must not look at something that appears innocent, pleasant and harmless and assume that it is so. The Bible tells us that the devil himself masquerades as an angel of light, and that we are to be careful of wolves in sheep’s clothing. The doctrines and stories most dangerous to the church are not those that are blatantly opposed to it, but those that work their way in under the disguise of something that is good. If the experience of ANY person contradicts the teachings of scripture, we are to disown it, not tolerate it as harmless. I’d argue that the most harmful divisions in the church (including the development of cults) have been caused by those who add to the teaching of scripture with their own experiences and ‘words from the Lord’, and by those who have tolerated it.

I hope that this helps clarify some of my thoughts on this topic.

As I said, I’m no scholar, and I’m sure there is much to be said on this topic that I’ve missed. It is also not my job to judge the hearts and minds of these authors, but rather to be discerning in what we accept as from God and what we reject as not of Him.

May God be glorified always above all things, and may His word be given the place of authority that it deserves.

What I learnt at my first Passover

window-2_277174

Last night was Passover. The full moon shone on me as I drove across the city to the home of a man I’d never met. A friend of mine had invited me to come and share Passover with a group of her Israeli friends, and I happily accepted.

As I drove, I felt the weight of what I was about to do. I was about to participate in a ceremony that has been passed down generation after generation for thousands of years; a ceremony instituted by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; a feast steeped in tradition, but not just any tradition, tradition that is close to my heart because of the people who carry it and the God who gave it.

When I arrived, I was (strangely) expecting Australians with a bit of Jewish heritage. I got Israelis. I was instantly captivated by the elegantly set table, and the babble of Hebrew language around me. They were fabulously friendly, and quickly welcomed me, an outsider, into their circle.

Close to 9pm everyone had arrived and we sat around the long table and began the Passover feast. For the first half hour, we didn’t eat. We read in Hebrew from a book (reading right to left) that fortunately had English translations. Sometimes they asked me to read it for them in English and then exclaimed in delight over and over about how good my English was and how great it sounded.

Sometimes they sang the lines in Hebrew, quite disharmoniously, and everyone would laugh and argue and say ‘stop, it’s my turn!’ It was quite clear at times that they had no idea what they were doing, but we ploughed on until finally we were allowed to eat something. First a stick of celery (bitter herbs- not sure of the connection) and then some unleavened bread with raw Chinese cabbage and a ball of what tasted like walnuts mixed with dates and spices.

After the first lot of formalities were finished (we’d passed wine, dipped wine, broken bread, hidden bread, sung and read, all with a good amount of laughter and shouting) we could finally eat the meal. There was fish in a buttery garlic sauce, and eggplant with tahini. We ate potato salad, tuna salad and green salad, and some kind of mince wrapped in onions. We ate and talked and ate and argued and eventually everyone was full. Some people went outside to smoke and others started to clean up. The rest of the ceremony was forgotten as people lay on couches and ate fruit. The rest of the ‘cups’ were never drunk, and the hidden bread was never found. And that was that.

I’m pretty sure that as far as Passovers go, mine wasn’t particularly ‘Kosher.’ But I did learn a couple of things:

First, I’d somehow always imagined that everyone in every other religion was devout. I knew it wasn’t strictly true, but I’d kind of believed that Christianity was really the only one that had multitudes of people who claimed it by name, but really had no idea what it was about.

These people were certainly Jewish. They had Jewish mothers and Israeli citizenship, but I didn’t get the impression that they really understood what they were doing. They knew I was a Christian and assumed I had been born that way and were confused when I said that my belief system was basically Jewish except that I believed that Jesus was the Messiah. I’m not convinced that some of them realized that they were waiting for a Messiah.

The second thing I learnt was that Jesus was so much more the Messiah than I’d ever realized before.
The Jews are (supposed) to drink 4 cups at Passover. The first is called the Cup of Sanctification, the second the Cup of Judgement or Deliverance the third the Cup of Redemption and the fourth, the Cup of Restoration.
When Jesus was celebrating Passover with his disciples, he came to the third cup and said ‘This is my blood.’ His blood was our redemption. He then said that he would no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until he drank it with his disciples in His father’s kingdom. He didn’t drink the fourth cup. Restoration was still to come.

At the beginning of the Passover ceremony, three pieces of unleavened bread are taken. The middle one is broken in two. Half is placed back between the original two, and the other half is wrapped up and hidden away somewhere in the house, for the children to find later. While this may be a somewhat strange ritual for the Jew, for the Christian the depth of the meaning is amazing. When Jesus broke the bread he said ‘This is my body.’ He is the second piece of bread between three, broken and hidden away.

My experience of Passover is limited to a rather unorthodox rendition of the feast. It didn’t have the weight of tradition and sanctity that I was expecting, but to me it was profound.

I may disagree with them on my most fundamental of beliefs, but I have a deep respect for these Jewish people, who, sometimes without even knowing it, have faithfully passed on and preserved the laws and traditions of the God who led them out of Egypt. These are the same people, and the same God, who brought forth our Messiah, so that we, irrespective of race, may be brought into the family of God. May they one day see their Saviour for who He truly is: Their Passover lamb, the broken bread and the cup of redemption.

When A Student Makes It All Worth It. (But it’s too small a thing)

Living with a chronic illness, and being a teacher are giant tasks in and of themselves, but combining them, for the last six years has been the challenge of my life.

higher-1_21205205Though I only teach part-time, there have been many times, weeks, even months on end, when the task has seemed insurmountable. But I push on, and one of the driving factors is that I work at a school where I’m allowed to share my faith with my students. I’ve often said that if I saw even one student in heaven, if even one got saved as a result of my ministry, it would make all these years of struggle and fight worth it.

Last year I had a stand-out student in my Religion class. She loved coming to class and she’d hang off every word, but she was broken. On several occasions she stayed after class to ask me questions, often crying. I shared Jesus with her, over and over, but she just couldn’t seem to grasp it. I prayed for her, and bought her a Bible. Still she struggled, and at one point she ended up in hospital as a result of severe depression. Not long after that she left the school. I worried for her and I prayed for her, but it was out of my hands.

Last week I attended our school’s musical. During the interval a young lady ran up to me and hugged me. It was the girl from my Religion class the year before. She looked so happy and vibrant and she said she was doing well. I asked her what she was planning on doing next year, when she’s finished school. With shining eyes she told me that she was going to Bible College! I could have fallen over! What?

As I asked her about it, she shared what has happened over the last year; that she’s at church all the time now; that she’s found God and He’s changed her life. Then she said some things that really impacted and humbled me. She told me that she has so much love for me; that I’m her inspiration. That it was those Religion lessons and chats that led her to God. I was lost for words. After six years. Finally, a life changed for eternity.

All credit and glory goes to God. He does the saving; He gave me the strength to get through days when I had nothing and he gave me the privilege of being used for His greatest purpose. Even more, He let me know. So often we hope that lives are changed or impacted in ways that we’ll never know about, but what a privilege and blessing to actually be told. To actually have that student chase you down and tell you they’ve been wanting to get in touch with you for months. It’s rare.

So, I’ve had my one. The one who was going to make it all worth it; but you know what? It’s not enough. I was reminded of the passage in Isaiah when God says that reaching the Jews was too small a thing, He was going to save the Gentiles too. This is my conviction: I’ve been privileged to be part of a divine miracle; a soul brought from death to life, but to rest at one? It’s too small a thing. I see hundreds of teenagers every day who need Jesus, so for as long as I’m in this job, as long as God gives me strength to do it, I’ll be sharing the gospel with any who are willing to hear it.