On building castles in the sand

US12_SUN0991.jpgI’ve always had a good imagination. Not that cool, creative dragons and unicorns kind of imagination, that could help me to be some kind of literary genius, but the sort of tragic kind. The kind that found me sitting on the floor of my room as a kid and suddenly realizing I was crying my eyes out because I’d imagined my parents had just died in a car accident and I was all alone.

As I’ve become older I’ve realized that my imagination combined with my slight control-freakish nature finds me lapsing regularly into fantasy. Imagining future scenarios and how I would act and what I would say and what-would-I-do-if-this-happened-and-they-said-this etc. etc.

God spoke to me about this recently. I’d worked myself into a bit of a state over something that was almost entirely in my head and all of a sudden God showed me what I was doing:

You’re building a castle in the sand, Sarah, and you’re planning on living in it.

That’s exactly (metaphorically) what I was doing. The scenarios in my head had little grounding in reality. I was constructing a falsified world, one that would be swept away with the next tide… and I’d been planning on living in it.

Following the apostle Paul’s instructions to think only on ‘whatever is true’ is something I find insanely hard, but I know it’s something I need to work on.

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Stephen Hawking: The tragedy of a wasted life

240px-Stephen_Hawking.StarChildA while back I went to see the movie ‘The Theory of Everything.’

A brilliant physicist, Oxford University and a love story: It was a recipe guaranteed to hook me, and it did.

I am far from the first to be captivated by the genius. To think that such extraordinary intellect can be trapped within such a broken body is both tragic and inspiring.

I am awed by men like Hawking, both past and present, who have walked and conquered the halls of the greatest universities on earth. I wish that ‘A brief history of time’ wasn’t something that would go entirely over my head. I admire Hawking for more than his intellect; for his perseverance, his fighting spirit and his sense of humour.

He is truly a man who will go down in history.

But that is all.

And I found myself wondering if that is enough.

If all we can hope for in this life is to do enough to be remembered, then Hawking represents the epitome of success. But what if it’s true that there is more?

What if it’s true that Hawking spent much of his life arguing against the existence of a God that he will one day face?

Then his brilliance was all for nothing, and his life was a tragic waste.

And suddenly the greatest minds of the halls of Oxford pale in comparison to the common man who sits with his Bible and knows the creator.

Programmed to respond to greatness

4-living-creatures

I was thinking yesterday about how God is surrounded by mysterious living creatures who never cease, day and night, to say “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.” (Rev 4)

Why do they do that? Are they just mindless, broken-record-like beings that God has programmed to praise Him? It’s easy to think of them this way.

Much as I know very little about them, I think it’s probably more like this: These heavenly beings were created to respond to greatness.

On their creation, when they first encountered God, their immediate and natural response was worship; constant, intense, passionate worship, because they were so captured by His glory.

It makes me wonder, what is wrong with us? Were we not also programmed to respond to greatness?

We were, but we were given a choice too. We have left behind the wisdom of the heavenly creatures and are captivated with things of far inferior worth. Through the fall of man, it became possible for us to be passionately captivated by that which is not great, while completely ignoring that which is.

Claiming to be wise, we have become fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Rom 1: 22-23)

We would do well to learn a lesson from the heavenly beings, and not waste our worship on that which is not worthy of it to the highest degree.

When I don’t get what I want and it feels like an existential crisis.

fussing-crying-complaining_2397598There’s something I want. I don’t need it, but the more I think about having it, the more I want it. It costs a lot of money, but last night, it looked like God was going to let me have it. It looked like I was going to be blessed with a really good deal, and like the spoilt child who suddenly finds a lot of love in their hearts for their parents when they’re getting what they want, I found it easy to praise God for His goodness to me.

Suddenly life was looking good. I felt myself basking in God’s favour. I saw God blessing me even though I didn’t deserve it.

And then this morning, it was all gone, and sadly so was my joy; and tragically so was my trust in God’s goodness.

It reminds me of this quote from the funny clip below by Louis CK, which is sadly far too relevant for my generation: ‘How quickly the world owes us something we knew existed only 10 seconds ago.’

How quickly my hope in God becomes dependent on Him doing things my way.

How quickly I allow material goods to have a defining influence on my happiness.

God has blessed me abundantly. But sometimes I don’t get what I want, even when it does seem that He has orchestrated all the stars to align to give it to me. How long will I allow my relationship with him to be dependent on His gifts to me?

Why prostitutes had an advantage with Jesus

382805_10150412644633143_1558372632_nSome time ago I watched a documentary by Louis Theroux about legal prostitution in America. What surprised me about these women was how broken they were. There were no pretenses. They are who they are and they know it.

Sure they have attitude and sass, and a lot of bravado, but once you get them talking, deep down, it’s not something they’re proud of.
It made me realize what it was that caused Jesus to hang out with them in preference to the religious elite of the time. While the prostitutes were under no false illusion about who they were and their need for a saviour, the rest of us spend so much time thinking of ourselves as good and trying desperately to cover anything that cracks the facade. The prostitutes of Jesus’ time knew they were seen as the scum of the earth, and came to Jesus in humility, recognising their true place before him.

Jesus had a lot of time for these people. And their humility was their great advantage. As He said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” It is our great disadvantage that many of us who think we are morally healthy by the world’s standards, are dying of pride on the inside, while the humble are receiving Jesus’ forgiveness and grace.

Why did God require such strange things to be offered to Him?

straws--straw_19-126743I was reading the other day in the Old Testament about some of the offerings the Israelites were required to bring before God. Not just animals, but bread and olive oil and incense and all sorts of seemingly trivial things. I found myself wondering: ‘Why on earth did God want them to bring bread with olive oil?’

I’m sure there’s a deep theological answer about its significance and symbolism, but just as I was pondering it I was suddenly hit by something profound: it’s not that hard to make bread.

God had many reasons for instituting the sacrificial system. The minute details that had to be executed with perfection emphasized God’s holiness, but I also found within his decrees an amazing degree of grace. His requirements were detailed, but they were all doable.

It didn’t require great skill or wisdom. You didn’t have to be the smartest or the bravest, you just had to obey and be faithful.

God could have required his followers to scale the highest mountain or walk through fire to demonstrate their devotion to Him, but he’s not that kind of God.

He’s the kind of God who sees that we are dust, but wants us anyway. He does not require more than we can give, and He sacrificed himself because He knew that the blood of bulls and goats would never be enough.

He is full of grace, right down to the bread and oil.

When ‘Heaven is for Real’ becomes a movie (and it’s my final straw.)

‘The time I went to heaven’ books have both captivated and divided audiences in recent years.

 I’ve avoided the debate, but yesterday something inside me clicked. I noticed that ‘Heaven if for Real’ is coming to cinemas. With something akin to anger, I decided ‘enough is enough’ and I wrote the title of this post.

 Then I chickened out.stairway-to-the-sky_18-6364

 But I’m back.

 Because sometimes we have to call it as we see it.

 A while back a friend loaned me the book ‘Heaven is so Real.’ I was a skeptic, but I started reading anyway. I was not prepared for what I found.

 Her stories were interesting, but they just weren’t right. Not only did they differ from the teachings of Scripture, but they became narcissistic. I felt a real sense of oppression in my spirit, and I had no doubt: This message was not from God.

 It’s the only book I’ve read on the topic, so I can’t speak for them all, but I can say this: Scripture must be our authority on Heaven and nothing else. I take offense to people returning from momentary ‘death’ and proclaiming triumphantly “Heaven actually IS real!” as though their experience gives it more credibility than the promises of Christ.

 I’m not here to judge the motives of those who wrote these books, but I would exhort those who consider reading them: On the topic of Heaven, consult the Bible and make that your authority, not a few people with some weird experiences.

My follow up Blog ‘Why I don’t believe people returned from Heaven‘ articulates my reasoning for this viewpoint in more detail.

Jesus didn’t come from Burnside

Every city, I imagine, has their ‘posh’ and ‘derelict’ areas. In my city, one of the most stereotypically posh suburbs is Burnside. This is where housing prices exceed a million dollars, people drive Mercedes and shop at the ‘Burnside Village.’ Living in Burnside is a symbol of success.

About thirty kilometers to the north of Burnside lie a collection of suburbs with the worst reputations in the whole city. Rather than Mercedes and foie gras, these suburbs are stereotypically known for beat up Commodores, crime and drug abuse. There’s a lot of socioeconomic stigma surrounding the northern suburbs, as if not much good could come from there.beautiful-home-interior-picture-material_38-6251

The other day in Church, one of our pastors reminded us that people said that of Jesus’ home. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” they asked, surprised that the Messiah would originate from such a place. And it hit me: Jesus didn’t come from Burnside.

If my city took the place of ancient Israel, Jesus would have come from the northern suburbs. He came and dwelt amongst those who could most clearly see their need for him. He came to those who were broken. He came to give grace to the humble, and he opposed the proud.

It’s easy for the wealthy to imagine that Jesus would have been just like them. That he would have lived amongst them, and seen the world through their eyes. But He didn’t. He saw it through his Father’s eyes, and the father looked at the heart, not the suburb.

Who’s Building Your Life?

This is one of the big questions that I wrestle with often in my life.

A pastor at my church once asked me something that I never forgot, and that has come back to mind many times since: “Sarah, whose kingdom are you building?”

engineer-plans-913660-mSo often, in fact I’d even say on a daily basis, I am consumed with building my own kingdom. I find myself orchestrating things to make my life better, to achieve some kind of greatness of my own.

But you know what? That’s not what I was saved for. I was saved to be a living sacrifice, to be a faithful worker in the building of His kingdom. I was saved to lay down my life and let Him build it as He desires.

I was convicted this morning about laying down my own plans for my life. It is so easy to become reliant on self and to become proud of what we achieve ‘on our own.’ (As if we could do anything on our own!) It’s so difficult to humble ourselves before God, but, as one of my pastor’s said yesterday, when we give everything up for the sake of His kingdom over our own, we discover that He knows how to bless us far beyond anything we ever could have constructed for ourselves.

Let God build your life, He’s guaranteed to do a better job.