Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Start the way you mean to finish

Sam in the temple at Capernaum where Jesus taught
As a parent I am always asking myself, “Are we teaching our kids about what is really important in life?”  As a pastor I have always struggled with children growing up in the faith and being involved in so many wonderful things in the Christian community and then when they get to their HSC year, they pull out of everything to concentrate on study.  Then they get their car, their freedom, a job and a girlfriend and all these things take a very quick priority over the things of God.  We then find ourselves asking, “Why are they walking away?” I have seen it happen over and over again.  I hear the conversations and the reasoning and have always felt helpless as I watch wonderful kids walk away from it all. What are we really teaching our kids about what is important in life? Isn’t this is an imperative question we all must confront as adults?   In this western, consumerist, achievement focused, self-gratifying, lucky country, what are we modelling to our children and the children of our communities?

 I hear these types of statements from young people:
·      I need to stop serving in ministries or going to church so I can focus on my education so I can get a good job and live comfortably.
·      I will get a good job and make sure I have security and then I will follow God in my spare time.
·      I want to chill with my friends and just relax. Life is to be enjoyed, there’s plenty of time for getting serious later. 

My son is doing his HSC this year.  We have always tried to teach him to “start the way you mean to finish.”  I am encouraged to read in Luke 9: 57-62 that Jesus has an answer for these tough questions. When something is repeated in the Bible three times I always feel it is something we should take note of. In Luke 9, three different people state that they want to follow Jesus. Jesus responds very strongly each time in a manner that is still very relevant still today and would be received just as poorly today as well. In all three responses he was saying, “If you are really serious about following me, then start like you mean to finish”.   We hear excuses being justified by the busyness and pressures of modern 21st century, but actually they are excuses that have always been around. It is heartening to think that the same issues that arise today were issues in Jesus’ time too.

Excuse #1:
Luke 9: 57-58 reads On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.   Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

In another book of the Bible, the “someone” in this passage was described as a learned scribe.  This infers that he was someone who was highly educated. Jesus sensed that he was looking for personal comfort and responded by asking for self-denial. I wonder what Jesus would say to, “I need to stop serving in ministries or going to church so I can focus on my education so I can get a good job and live comfortably.” Would Jesus encourage our kids to abandon everything to focus on study? Of course, I am not saying that being educated is not valuable but when it becomes the main focus and the top priority of our life, leaving following Jesus as a low priority, is that how we are meant to finish?  My Son turns 18 in a few months, so we are feeling like this is the last year we can really help him establish good rhythms in life and actually “start the way you mean to finish”.  If studying for the HSC is a good reason to stop everything, then there will always be something else to replace study when study is over.  Relationships, jobs, leisure, travel, marriage, children etc... there will always be something else we think we must do if we are seeking comfort, stability and status or adventure ahead of Jesus.  In his response I hear Jesus saying, “Following me is tough and challenging and it is a different track than the traditional, worldly values in life; are you ready for that?” Are we as parents modelling a life that seeks Jesus over everything else?

Excuse #2:
 Luke 9: 59-60 reads -Jesus said to another, “Follow me.”  He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.”  Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”

This response of Jesus seems harsh and heartless, unless you really get what the person was saying to Jesus. This person was saying, “Can I go back home and wait for my inheritance – so I will have a good fall back plan? I will stay at home until father has passed and then I will get my inheritance and then I will follow you!” This could have been 10-15 years away. Jesus says, “Your business is life, not death.”  Jesus was trying to help him understand that to say, “I will follow you” means to do it NOW. Life is not about accumulating for yourself and/or waiting around for someone to die, for you to get your inheritance.

This is so true today! We think we have all the time in the world to do what we want to do in life. We always want to accumulate more and we just don’t have time to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. The truth is we will never have enough time to get all our affairs in order and to be free enough to serve him, unless we make it our top priority.   It is no wonder we hear our children saying:

I will get a good job and make sure I have security, and then follow God in my spare time.

Jesus says, “Leave secular matters to secular people, spiritual matters need to be first if you want to follow me.” I am not suggesting they don’t need to be attended to but we all know how easily they take the place of following Jesus. It is not about what to do and don’t do but more about what needs to come first. Start the way you mean to finish. As our kids begin to think about study, a career, a relationship, an adventure, as they are becoming adults, how do they mean to finish? After all, is it your business life or your eternal life that really matters at the end of this short life?  What are we doing in this life that has eternal value?

Excuse #3
Luke 9: 61&62 reads -  Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home”  Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”

Jesus says, “What God thinks needs to be more important than your family and friends.”  You can’t please everyone and ultimately you are answerable to God for what you do with the time and resources he gives you. Maybe this person might have been a people pleaser needing to make sure that his family was all okay.  Or maybe he was the type of person that would have gone home to make a list of things that needed to be done before he could really commit and we know what happens then! The list never ends and the years roll on and he is still saying “Hmm I really want to serve Jesus with all my day”. For our kids it is often about enjoying the ease that the Australian life brings us.

I want to chill with my friends, and just relax. Life is to be enjoyed. There’s plenty of time for getting serious later.
Jesus tells us that we can’t have it both ways.  We can’t keep putting it off; we must seize the day because we don’t have as much time as we think.   We are modelling this to our children by the things that take our time, by the way our home runs, by the things we value and stand for.  Does what we are modelling say, “I follow Jesus?”  I remember when I was 18 years old; it was a great time in life.  I thought life was all ahead of me and there was nothing I couldn’t achieve. I was fortunate to have parents who modelled a Christ-centred life. They were and are successful and talented people who have given their life to honour and follow Jesus. They live in a way that models the way they wanted to finish. It doesn’t mean they don’t struggle with all three issues and more. They are certainly not perfect but I am thankful for the way they have lived their lives.
Sam with his Pop, someone finishing well.

The window of opportunity we have to mould and shape our children is not long.  I don’t know where the past 18 years have gone. We don’t know if the three talking to Jesus listened and made the right choices but we do know that the same questions keep coming up even today and we know that Jesus’ answer has never changed. 

Matthew 6:33. ‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

We must teach our children to live in a way that they mean to finish. We must begin as early as we can teaching them that the choices they make really matter. If we want to follow Jesus...every choice, every thought, every day we must live in the way that we mean to finish.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Hey Mum, My front teeth can finally touch together!

It's a proud moment when your child says - "look, mum, my front teeth can finally touch together." You just don’t expect to hear them say it when they are 14 years old.

There are things as children grow, that we sometimes take for granted will just happen. Things like learning to walk and talk, teething problems at the age of 1 and then teeth growing and touching so they can chew food.

We always knew our daughter had a large tongue, because when she was born her tongue was sticking out, which we thought was so adorable. As she began to speak,  I was sad that she didn't say the word "mum" for years, but she was very cute as she always seemed to have her tongue protruding out of her mouth, which meant that words with the letters "m", "p" “v” and "b” in them, didn’t come out quite right. In fact the gap was so large she could put her thumb through the gap sideways.

She would say “let’s watch a Bideo”, which was so adorable. And because she was always so talkative and full of life, we thought she would simply grow out of it.

By about 3 years of age we wondered why Georgia still refused to eat meat, until we worked out it was because she couldn't bite down and actually chew it.

It was then that we started the speech lessons, dentist appointments, there were talks of major surgery, or braces etc. She was such a trouper, facing each challenge with determination and courage, often astounding doctors and therapists with how well she accomplished what she was asked to do.

I still remember the day she got her first mouth brace with a steel gate to keep her tongue back. At first she couldn't talk and had trouble breathing when it was in her mouth. Initially, she stopped smiling, for she was embarrassed and very self conscious. It broke my heart to see her struggle and I was afraid that she would potentially shut down. But it didn't last long. As they say; you just can't keep a good kid down.

So last year, on the 21st November, 2014 at 14 years of age, when Georgia said "mum my front teeth just touched" it was a momentous moment for us all. It was the first time in her whole life that she was finally able to feel her front teeth touch together.

I say all this to point out that, other than being proud of my amazing daughter, there would be very few people who know anything about this burden that she has quietly carried for her entire life.

It is something that could have stopped her, shut her down, squashed her spirit, but it never has. My daughter is known by many to talk, sing, speak and use her voice in many crazy ways that continue to make the world around her laugh, cry and be inspired.

It is always a choice, isn't it? What we do with the things that we carry. They can define us either way, and they either deflate us or make us stronger. We all have something that challenges us, something we have to live with daily. Each day we must decide; are we going to let it hold us back or will it make us more determined to thrive anyway?

My daughter amazes me every day. She is a big inspiration in my life. I know that mouth of hers has only just begun to change the world around her. Watch out world, here she comes!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Filling the Valleys and removing the mountains.....

Filling the valleys and removing the mountains to become smooth plains and straight roads

A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight paths for him, every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation (Luke 3:4-6 / Is 40 3-4)

Luke 3: 4-6 is such a visual statement and very poetic. I have often read over it as a pre-cursor to the important part of the message and a reminder of the reference to Jesus being the fulfilling of Isaiah prophecy. And while it is all that, today God opened my eyes to so much more. As always you should be careful what you pray for as I just finished writing in my journal “Lord help me to trust you for all the things in my life that are not clear, that don’t make sense” and then I opened to Luke 3.

Then this morning, I am struck by the visual of the valleys that need to be filled, the mountains that need to be leveled, the ground that needs to be smoothed, the paths that need to be straightened. What was once a poetic introduction suddenly jumped out to me as an important lifelong discipleship plan to make way for God to bring salvation to the 1000’s we are losing? Of course, Jesus has already done what is needed for salvation, but our message, our call, like John and Isaiah still remains so important.

As a parent and a Pastor, there is one thing that doesn’t make sense to me at the moment and that is why we are losing our kids?

“Despite all our incredible children’s, youth and young adult programs, we have not been able to stop this mass exodus from our churches. We have not just lost one generation, we are losing several” (David Sawler, Goodbye Generation, USA).

I feel like among the young people that surround me, I hear either one of these two statements.

“I just don’t understand...I have too many unanswered questions!” or “I just want to go out and enjoy my life.”  The result of these unanswered issues is they are walking away from God.

When someone says “I just don’t understand …too many unanswered questions” often means that “they lack faith.” For them the valleys are deep holes of nothing.  When the valleys are empty, they can be filled with so many things today.

Paul J Bucknell says “Doubts lead to all kinds of fears, stress and anxiety which in turn take a great toll on our bodies. These doubts then rule our lives rather than confidence in Christ. The typical fear or worry has a person scurrying from here to there for some kind of confidence only later to be dashed. (Understanding the Heart of Discipleship, Living Commentary Series, Paul J Bucknell)*

The result is that they end up having no hope or faith in God.

Then there are those who say today  “I just want to enjoy my life.” These are the ones who basically want to do what they want to do, when they want to do it and don’t want to listen to what anyone has to say about it. These are the mountains we create for our life, often becoming so high and wide some can never get over them.

“The problem is not confidence but mis-directed confidence. God wants us to have confidence or faith in Him and His promises. Instead of thinking we can handle our own problems, we ought to trust God to work out solutions to our problems by simply obeying Him in everything...  The hill has to be flattened out because there is no room for the glory of God as long as man seeks honour for himself.”  (Understanding the Heart of Discipleship, Living Commentary Series, Paul J Bucknell)*

This is not new. Since the beginning of time the prodigals have always thought they have known better. Such is the patience of God as He watches History repeat itself. We read about it over and over again in the Bible, but for me the most painful thing is to watch someone you love walk away, knowing this must be their journey to work out their own salvation.

As a parent, as a minister, as one who longs to prepare the way that many might come to a deep relationship with the only true Saviour, we are called to fill the gaps and remove the mountains. It seems at any age, we are called to help build faith in others and help minimise the mountains people build that block them from HIM.

But I believe with all my heart that for the young, the environments we create can help the valleys to not become too deep and the mountains to not become so high. This can make a HUGE difference. How are you preparing the way for your children? Is Christ the place your kids turn to first when doubts and fears begin to create valleys in their lives? When the mountains of misdirected confidence begin to appear, where do they turn? What are we modelling as parents and how can help them with these challenges? It is a daily surrender to Him. This must be lived out daily. We cannot wait for “Sunday School” every 7 days for 1-2 hours and simply think it is enough to prepare the way. This is why we are losing our kids, our people.

To fill the gaps and remove mountains we need a daily, life long, all age, family based lifestyle that allows us to all walk together, understanding that Christ wants to be at the centre of all we do, say and live. Imagine if we lived like this. I wonder if the valleys might not be so low and the mountains not so high?   Then lifelong discipleship would be more about smoothing the rough edges and helping them stay on the straight path, a much easier task than flattened mountains and filling large valleys.

"Let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley" (Isaiah 40:4b).

Yes it is a journey that never ends. Any guidance and support is valuable and necessary at times. As a parent, when called to prepare the way for our children, I know what I would rather be doing in my own life and with my kids. When Christ is the foundation who has smoothed the mountains to an open plain and has filled the deep valleys to a broad valley, then the hard work can be reduced, and it is more about adjusting and readjusting on the broad valleys and open roads throughout life as we keep Him in the driver’s seat and enjoy the ride. Not that the sole motivation for me is about reducing our hard work as parents. It is more about helping our kids to have a smoother and straighter road to travel towards a lifelong deep relationship with God. Then we might stop losing so many to this world. 


Thursday, 5 February 2015

It is not always ROSIE!

 This Christmas our little Aussie family UNIT decided to travel to the USA for a White Christmas. 2 adults, 2 teenagers, 1 room, 2 double beds, 1 bedroom, 5 weeks.  This is not the first time we have done this type of thing, but the kids are growing up and getting older and bigger and suddenly sharing two double beds in a small room, in a different Hotel every second night, was set to be a challenge. It was certainly had the potential to test the limits or reach new heights.  I have always believed with any awesome highs comes some challenging lows, so here’ s my chance to test my beliefs.

During this trip, I decided if my family UNIT was to be described by a colour it would be “red”.  When I think of the colour red, I think of roses and the beauty of them, the fullness of colour, the sweet smell and the specialness of flowers.  Our family UNIT is so many ways is that. When we are together in a confined space on the whole we get on pretty well, in fact we seem to get on better and better as time goes on. We experienced some major highs and there was a beauty to be savoured, or course with much laughter involved. That’s when all was ROSIE and we were all in a GOOD space.

Then, the colour red, also can represent heat, electricity and fire.  And boy, we had some of those moments.  All four of us have been known to be a little “Firey” at times.   When you are in a confined space, this seems amplified. These moments stung, but fortunately there were only a few of them.

It is certainly not comfortable, but if you want the highs, you can’t avoid the lows.    I understand why people just don’t do it, travel I mean, besides the cost involved, travelling with 4 people, and 2 being teenagers just opens you up to really tough challenges.  

When you drive into a new town, you don’t know where you are going to stay for the night, you are hungry and you can’t find anything you all agree on that you are all willing to eat, and for the right price. When each person has a different idea of what they would like to do with their day and no one can agree on what attraction to go to first.  Even driving somewhere, there at some point has to be some agreement on the music we listen to.  This is when it is not always ROSIE ! But I will add… In American country towns, where the only option is country music, on this matter we ALL agreed, even silence is a better option.

The sad thing is that most people’s response to challenging times, is to avoid it at all costs. To separate, give space, isolate, stay comfortable.  This has become easier and easier. Now more than ever before 4 people can be in a confined space like a car and yet be truly separate. With technology, earphones, Ipads, computers, it is really easy to check out. I understand this response but it is so sad that people don’t understand we are meant to push through the challenges, even grow through them, rather than do all we can to avoid them.

In the end it is in that place where we truly learn who we are, who God can be and what really matters!  And what matters is that it is not always ROSIE, and it is not meant to be. Whoever said that REAL LIFE and LOVE never had a sting, is living in LA LA land… I want our kids to know, when it gets heated, those who grow and last are those who hang in there to work it out.
I am glad our RED family has been willing to grab the bull by the horns and go for the adventure, because what we gained by being together, far outweighs the bruises along the way.  The memoires we have created, the chats we have had, the laughter we have shared, the things we have seen, the ways we have grown together, the talks about God and life cannot be replaced or recreated. It is not always ROSIE, but when the ROSE blossoms, it is BEAUTIFUL.