The Western dream… no servitude

I was in year 12 when I first heard about ‘The American Dream.’ We were studying Of Mice and Men and my teacher was explaining George and Lennie’s pursuit of land to call their own as the ultimate American dream.

This goal has become the veritable ‘pot at the end of the rainbow’ for much of western society; to own a piece of land has become both the American and Australian dream. We may have masters at work, but at home we are slaves to no one. Even our political systems are built on the premise that the common man does not serve the leader, but the leader serves the common man.

As a result, one of the greatest challenges I face is that of servitude to God. No longer does my generation feel any real duty to ‘King and Country.’ In fact, if I’m honest, the concept of truly living my life in servitude to anyone seems foreign to me.

There are many who have laid down their lives for our liberty, and for that I am grateful, but I am afraid that it has created a dangerous illusion. I struggle to lay down my life in full servitude to God, because I have been falsely led to believe that my life is my own. Not only to I fail to see that I am a slave to sin or self, but I have lost all comprehension of the honour it is to serve a great master.

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We all want the power

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There’s this great verse in Philippians 3 where Paul says “ I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection…” If you’re like me, your heart has a similar craving to Paul’s. Oh to truly know Christ in such a deep way that we daily experience the amazing power that flows through Him. A power that not only changes lives but that conquers death.

The idea of this kind of power is intoxicating, and, dare I say, very human.

See, Philippians 3:10 is a verse that, perhaps more than any other in Scripture, I like to leave incomplete. I like to pretend that that’s what it really says. Yes! I want to know Christ. Yes! I want to know the power of his resurrection. Stop.

But the verse doesn’t stop, and it is dangerous for us to pretend that it does. It continues: “…and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”

Wow. We all want the power, but let’s be honest, we don’t want it God’s way. God’s way says “my power is made perfect in weakness” (2Cor 12:9). It is in sharing in the sufferings, yes, even in the death of Jesus that we can truly know the power that has been bought through His resurrection.

We must not despise the suffering that God allows in our lives, nor suppose that we can truly know Him or experience His power apart from it.

Have you ever wondered if this Christian gig is the real deal?

the-sower-sower-with-setting-sun-1888As a kid, I never questioned my faith. I remember telling someone when I was a teenager that my salvation was the one thing I was most sure of in the world.

If you asked me that today, I’d probably give a similar answer, but my adult life has been far more fraught with questions and doubts than the decades before.

I guess it is inevitable that as we see more and more of what the world and its intellectualism have to offer, we question what we once knew.

I have had enough years now to explore the claims of my faith, and I have never found them lacking. Time and time again the Bible has stood up to the most rigorous of testing and my God has always proved Himself faithful.

And yet, still, I find myself wondering from time to time: what if?

It is during these times, that I am often inspired by Elisabeth Elliot’s quote: “Lord, I have said the eternal Yes. Let me never, having put my hand to the plough, look back. Make straight the way of the Cross before me. Give me love, that there may be no room for a wayward thought or step.”

It’s kind of like a marriage covenant. I’ve made my promise, and there is security in that. So, with my eyes fixed on Jesus, I continue the race, knowing that it is really the power of God and the strength of His promise that keeps me.

Jesus was never all about you.

proud_21072161Today I’m pondering the humanistic nature of… well… humans. We seem to believe that the whole universe revolves around us, which is, of course forgivable if you take God out of the equation. What bothers me though, is how much we still seem to believe it, even with God in the equation.

 As we approach Christmas, we do take the time to focus on the birth of Jesus, but I’ve been wondering – why do we think that Jesus came?

He came to redeem us (of course); because he loves us (He does)… but was it really all about us?

I think too often we think it was and we reflect that in the way that we attempt to emulate Him. Our mission on earth, in an attempt to reflect His, often becomes very human focused.

I’m convinced that Jesus was never all about us. He was all about His Father. His entire purpose on earth was to do the will of His Father; to serve and glorify Him, even to the point of death. The amazing thing about this was that it was the will of the Father that we should be saved; that Jesus should serve us and suffer and die for us.

As we aim to follow Christ, I think it is important that we follow him in this; that we realize that Jesus was all about glorifying the Father, and that his focus on humanity was a glorious byproduct of that.

How can I trust God when He gives no guarantee things will get easier?

cliff-drop-warning-sign--information_19-133742Anyone who has come face to face with the call to trust God in the midst of suffering will understand these feelings of trepidation.

The Christian, never having been promised an easy life, is still supposed to trust God, knowing that He may lead us into hardships. Sometimes it feels like you’re standing at the top of a cliff, fearfully putting your trust in someone who may well push you off, against your wishes and with no warning.

I remember wrestling with this during one of my most unwell times. ‘How can I trust someone who may allow me to go even deeper into this pit of suffering?’ It’s a very real question. If I can’t trust a God who loves me to protect me from what I fear most, then what can I trust Him for?

Sometimes I think we forget what it means to be a Christian. It means that we’ve been crucified with Christ. Crucified! We have given up all of our earthly rights in the hope that we can be restored to relationship with God; that we have a home in heaven; and that all things will, ultimately, work together for our good.

We do not chiefly trust in God to make our lives easier. We surrender our lives, to share in His sufferings, because we believe it is the greatest possible trade we could make. Our trust is in God, not for earthly pleasures, but for the glory that will one day be revealed.

10 Things the World Needs to Know About the Church

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  1. You can try to squash us, but you will never succeed, because even the gates of Hell will not prevail against us.
  2. You can hurt us, embarrass us, and bring out the worst in us, but you can never take our lives, because they are hid with Christ in God.
  3. You can try to discredit us with academics or human reasoning, but we’ll believe the God who created the brain.
  4. You can accuse us of hypocrisy or the most grievous of sins, but you cannot shame us into hell, because we were never trusting in our own righteousness to keep us out of it.
  5. You can hang around us, and sing with us, be loved by us, and pray with us, but only accepting Jesus as the sacrifice for your sins and the Lord of your life, makes you one of us.
  6. You can despise us and reject us, but you will not surprise us, because it was done to Jesus first.
  7. You can scatter us, but not one who belongs to Jesus will be lost.
  8. You can tell us that our God does not exist, but we know Him in whom we have believed.
  9. You can come to us, and we will embrace you, because despite our unworthiness, Jesus embraced us.
  10. We will not always get it right, but we serve the One who cannot get it wrong.

 

Halloween and the Australian Christian’s Dilemma

pumpkinThe commercialization of Halloween is gradually sucking Australians into a celebration we once considered to be purely ‘American.’

While many Australians may be willing to embrace this trend, the question must arise concerning the stance of the Christian. Just last week someone came to me asking my advice on what should be done regarding a teenage girl’s invitation to a Halloween party.

Of course each person must follow the convicting of the Spirit in their own hearts, but as the body of Christ, I truly believe that there are some things we should stand against as a community.

Having spoken to several teenagers in the past who have had terrifying experiences delving into the occult, it seems clear to me that as Christians we must be careful not to align ourselves with a festival which, despite its supposed ‘Christian’ roots, has become known for its associations with witchcraft, death, spirits and horror.

So what is a teenager to do, when it will not be well received by their friends if they do not participate? My heart aches for them; I remember how painful it was to make choices that were unpopular. But as Christians we were never called to do what was popular; we are called to be different, even when it means sacrifice. The greatest thing we can do for our children is to teach them how to make a stand while they are young, so that when they are older, the narrow road is not foreign to them.

What is the Immaculate Conception?

mary-figure_21252044If you’d asked me yesterday if I believed in the Immaculate Conception, I’d have said ‘Yes, absolutely.’ But that was before last night.

Following up from a conversation about the apocrypha with a Catholic friend, I was doing a quick browse of the internet. I kept noticing the phrase ‘Immaculate Conception’ coming up, but something about the way it was worded wasn’t sitting right.

Finally, for the first time in my life, I actually looked up the meaning of the phrase. And I was very surprised at what I found.
Like many people, I was familiar with the term. It seems to be used particularly often in regards to unwed girls getting pregnant: “Well this was hardly the immaculate conception!”

Everyone knows the Immaculate Conception refers to the Virgin Mary becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit, right? Wrong.

According to Wikipedia (the fount of all knowledge, though I did cross check with other sources) the Immaculate Conception refers exclusively to “a dogma of the Catholic Church maintaining that from the moment when she was conceived in the womb, the Blessed Virgin Mary was kept free of original sin.”

Immaculate Conception has nothing to do with the deity of Christ, but rather the perfect nature of his mother; and in that, I don’t believe.

It has reminded me to be careful before laying claim to a belief, because if I claim it, I have a responsibility to know what it entails.

When Depravity Makes Me Mad (and it’s a good thing I’m not God)

I have to admit, sometimes depravity makes me so mad. When I talk to someone who openly loves everything that God hates; who blatantly scorns His word and mocks His name, I sometimes feel a deep, bubbling anger rise in me.

Some would call this righteous anger, and sometimes it is; but sometimes it’s not too. Sometimes I feel aggressively angry, sometimes I wonder why God still offers these people grace.

foggymorning_2201323A couple of months ago I was flying over one of Australia’s cities at night. I remember looking down and seeing the tiny cars zooming along the highways like glowing ants, and I thought about how small we all are when viewed from afar. I thought about how easy it would be for God to reach down and squish us with as little thought as we give to stepping on an ant that has bitten us.

And then I encounter depravity and I wonder why He doesn’t; sometimes I even wish He would. It’s a good thing I’m not God.

When faced with total depravity, God’s grace abounds even more. I should know, because He’s bestowed it on me. When I look at someone who curses God’s name, I must remember that ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’

And those who continue to despise and reject Him must remember that ‘today is the day of salvation,’ and they cannot assume that there will always be a future chance for repentance.

The Precious Gift of Having Suffered

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The other week, I had a chance to talk to a group of students about of my journey with Chronic Fatigue. I talked about the darkness, the grief and the sometimes overwhelming feelings of despair, but I also talked about the hope and joy I have found through my relationship with Jesus.

At the end of the lesson, I was surprised when one of the students stayed behind.

“I just wanted to talk to you” he said, “because you’ve been through the same thing that I’m going through now.”

He then went on to tell me about what was going on in his life. Indirectly, he was dealing with issues of death and divorce, sexual abuse, neglect, overwork and worry. His circumstances were overwhelming, and poles apart from anything I had ever experienced.

I couldn’t understand why he was talking to me as though I’d been there too. Suddenly I realized: for perhaps the first time, an adult had opened up about being in dark places and finding a way through. My comparatively small affliction had given me credibility in a world of suffering and pain.

My illness has tattooed into me the exclusive pass code to a world where hurting people need hope. People come to me, and listen to me, because they see in me someone who has been there and survived. It is a privileged position to be in.

May God grant me the grace to see the blessings of suffering shine more brightly than the pain.