Why Using Your Gifts Is Heroic

excellently-written-paperI have struggled with the best way to use my gifts. Most people who really know me tell me I have a gift of writing. But I hate selling myself. This article by the gutsy Allison Vesterfelt has really helped me in chasing my dreams. The important thing is though that they are not just my dreams in terms of them being selfish. They are my dreams that I want to use to make the world a better place.

We have all been given gifts, and we have been given them for a purpose. That purpose is for the betterment of the world. If God has given me this gift, who am I to not give everything I am to glorify God with it. It is actually selfish of me to hide my gift.

I am currently going through a time of change in my life. Things have occurred in my life in the last six months that have brought me a lot of pain. They still do, but it is articles like this that genuinely get me excited about new possibilities.

Read Allison’s article here.

The People of God as a Positive Social Epidemic

Plague_victims_blessed_by_priestDaniel Clendenin at Journey with Jesus just wrote a magnificent article on the people of God as a positive influence in culture. It reminds me of Jesus talking about the yeast spreading among the dough. Here are a couple of my favourite quotes from the article:

  • Celebrate a unity beyond uniformity, and a diversity beyond divisions.
  • [Jesus] provokes us to move beyond outward ritual to inward transformation, to live with interior compassion for people instead of exterior compliance to a law. When that happens, he says, the people of God reflect the character of God. They spread all sorts of positive social pathogens that build a healthy community that’s nothing short of “perfect” (Matthew 5:48). And it’s perfect not because we always reach the ideal, but because above all things we seek to be “merciful” (Luke 6:36).

 

Is Australia a nation of idiots?

australia-flag-mapAs we come to another Australia Day and thank God for the public holiday, I think it would do us well to have a read of a couple of very good articles decrying the fact that we generally live in a nation of self-centred idiots.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald this week, Sam de Brito pointed out that “The ancient Greek word idiotes, from which the English version is derived, meant “one who put private pleasures before public duty and who was, for this reason, ignorant of everything that mattered”.

Is that the general perception you get when you watch commercial television in this country and listen to our political leaders spout three-word slogans? De Brito goes on to say that, in ancient Greek society, “the famous Greek statesman Pericles is recorded as saying: “We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say he has no business here at all.”

In the last decade or so, Australians have become very cynical of our politicians. And generally for good reason. Question Time in our Parliament is shown on overseas news networks as an example of the abuse and name-calling that a nation’s elected leaders can stoop to.

The other article that came to my attention was Corinne Grant’s piece in The Hoopla, pretty much saying the same thing as Sam De Brito. Calling to mind our tendency to want to pacify ourselves with mindless pleasures while the world goes to hell in a handbasket, Grant, in her own comedic way, gives the example of satirising our phobia of asylum seekers by saying “The sooner we send ‘em back to get killed in their own country, the sooner we can stop worrying about them taking all our car parking spots at the supermarket.”

Have we become a nation of self-centred morons who passively sit back in our comfy chairs and blame asylum seekers for causing us all this trouble as we flick the channel over to the next episode of Million Dollar Minute? While of course we can’t label all of us in this way, it is a general perception of many Australians that we just don’t care about asylum seekers, what’s happening in Syria, or anything that has to do with what really matters in life, as long as I’m alright.

So what’s with this selfishness? How can we be so blind to the genuine needs of others and so gullible, so unthinking, about what we are told by our media and politicians? I see it as largely about protecting a way of life. Twice in recent years, Credit Suisse has voted Australia, per capita, as the richest nation in the world. No one wants their comfortable way of life threatened, and as long as “I’m alright Jack”, I don’t really want to know about the bad news I see on TV.

When we are so rich, we can easily become blinded to the difficulties of people outside our circle of reference. And when the media encourages this attitude by furthering our demonization of people groups such as asylum seekers and outlaw bikers, an unthinking populace tends to go along with it.

Our political leaders are equally culpable. Our most recent Federal Election campaign was characterised by its negativity and lack of genuine policy discussion. And we the people have become numb to it. So, when our Prime Minister refers to the complex situation in Syria as a war between “goodies and baddies,” we barely bat an eyelid. After all, we’ve just thrashed the Poms in the cricket. That’s what really gets our adrenalin pumping.

Our comfortable lifestyle is also a result of our history since European settlement. We are a nation that has never had a civil war (you could say there was one against our indigenous people but that’s more genocide than civil war, and that’s another story), and we are not bordered by a host of other nations like Europe is.

People often question why Europe has had so much conflict over the years. Why can’t they just get along and stop fighting each other? When you consider the fact that most conflict is over issues of land, you can see why the fact that there are so many different nations and cultures in Europe has fed so much conflict. That plus the fact that some of those conflicts go back centuries, a good deal longer than the history we have known since European settlement. In contrast to Europe, we are a nation surrounded entirely by coastline – “girt by sea” as our national anthem puts it.

Our love of pleasure while trying to ignore those aspects of life that make us who we are is a reflection of a lack of a sense of what we think life should be about. It was 25 years ago this year that John Smith wrote his magnificent Advance Australia Where? (different to Hugh Mackay’s more recent book of the same title). Smith’s book was a brilliant analysis of why a country with such material riches has such a tragic rate of social statistics. The tagline of the book was “a lack of meaning in the land of plenty.” That said it all then and it says it all today.

I am convinced that meaning lies only outside of ourselves. The more we look for life inside ourselves and in the idea of “individual freedom” as it is thrown at us by popular culture, the more we are sucked into its vortex and the more we lose a sense of who we really are. What I have found through living life with its associated consequences, good and bad, is that real meaning and ability to cope with the vagaries of life is only found in following Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus lived in a culture that was in some ways very different to ours, but in other ways was very similar. People in 1st century Palestine wanted their good life just like we do.

The way Jesus handled this desire in people was not to criticise them for having the desire, but to accept them for who they were as people while pointing out better ways to live the good life. If we want to be first, he said, be first at serving. If we want riches, seek riches in heaven. That will give us what we are really after.

Thankfully the church in Australia is talking a lot more these days about issues of meaning and identity. Churches run courses on depression, addiction and other critical life issues. Despite the dumbing down that we generally see in popular culture, many Australians are searching for a genuine spirituality as they realise that something is drastically wrong in a country where we are told that life could be a dream if only we won that elusive lotto draw. In some ways, the church is answering the call.

The search for what really matters in life is one that lasts a lifetime. It is a journey of discovery, difficulty, joy and love, especially when we do it with others who are on the same journey with us and accept us for all our foibles. May this Australia Day be more than a celebration of (hopefully!) another win over the Poms in the cricket, but a genuine reflection of who we are and who we want to be as a nation. Our destiny depends on it.

If the poor are always with us, why bother trying to alleviate poverty?

Sight Magazine just posted my recent piece on Jesus’ oft misunderstood words when the woman anointed him with perfume.

Waiting on God is hard, and that’s ok

This is an excellent article. Some of the best pieces are:

  • “God’s plan is perfected in the wait, and we, His people are reminded throughout the course of redemptive history ?A professor once said, ‘The whole of Christian life is becoming what God has already declared you to be.’ The wait you and I experience is not abnormal to the Christian life, but is part of the very essence of the Christian experience.”
  • “To us, the best solution to a painful wait is to resolve it. Bring me my spouse. Give me children. Fix our family drama. Yet, God uses these periods in our life to break us. Like Moses in the desert, Paul with his thorn, Jacob as he wrestled with God.”
  • “He breaks us to bless us. He breaks us so we can see Him. Through times of suffering, God is crushing our self-dependence and awakening our soul to the persistent reality of our need and how only He has ability to give us true joy. Yes, children are good. Marriage is good. Sex is good. Promotions are good. Friendships are good. But God is better.”
  • “This question must be asked in the midst of suffering, not after the fact: Today, when you don’t have the very thing you’ve prayed, longed, yearned for, can you find joy in Christ? Is the Gospel sufficient? The answer to this question reveals the object of your worship.”

Challenging stuff. God give me the courage to believe that You are enough.

America the noisy

stress-CBT_1I am spending some time in the US this Australian summer. It’s my fourth time here. My first impressions this time are that, for most people, life is a daily battle to get everything done. It’s about making the bucks, working so hard that we no longer know what we’re working towards. No one seems to stop and smell the roses.

A culture that stops reflecting is a culture that doesn’t know where it’s going. This article is not a criticism of the US, because Australia, where I come from, is just the same. And even more so, I don’t spend enough time reflecting in my own life. But in this land where freedom and the individual pursuit of happiness is the guiding light that will lead us to the Promised Land, it seems to stand out more.

It has been said that we in the West have “noisy souls.” That is, we have so much going on in our brains that we are no longer able to take notice of the little things in life. We are so wired that we don’t know how to stop and notice the birds singing. Continue reading

Life won’t begin at your next milestone

Here’s a very wise article from Relevant magazine. I’ve been learning a lot in the last few months about living in the now. It’s about being mindful, being present. I have always struggled with what this article talks about. Real life is always in the future. If “_____” happens, all my problems will be sorted out. This has been my subtle belief about life. It reflects a restlessness, a dissatisfaction about the present. Richard Rohr talks a lot about this.

Someone said once that these are the good ol’ days. What he meant was that joy comes from living in the present, not in the past or future.

The wisdom of St Paul is pertinent here: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11-13).

Hope on earth

Joseph and Mary at the wallDriving home tonight listening to the ABC’s Newsradio, I heard about more fighting in South Sudan. In a country that is only two years old, tens of thousands of people are fleeing for their lives to get away from the conflict.

As I listened, first I felt somewhat numb. More bad news is nothing new, but at Christmas time it just hit me a bit more than it would normally. As I listened to the radio report, I recalled an image that is being spread around on Facebook of Joseph and Mary, pregnant with the Christ child, traveling to Bethlehem, but being blocked by the dividing wall that separates Israelis from Palestinians in that strife-torn land.

We live in such a world of conflict, hatred and self-centredness. Although official statistics say that the amount of conflicts in the world has dropped in recent years, there are still millions of people displaced, starving and being forced to do things against their will. And most of it is because of man’s inhumanity to man. Continue reading