Monday, 31 August 2015

Living is a risky buisness

Life is need to know
how and where you are going to land
When flying in a plane you don't leave the ground without it being very clear what you need to do in the event of an emergency.  If you think about it, hundreds of people sit and listen to the stewards explain the worst possible scenario - falling from the sky and crashing, most probably dying. During this time no one objects to such a negative way to start a trip. No one questions if this is not the best way to keep customers. No one complains and refuses to listen (only those who have heard it so many times they just block it out). Most people who fly understand the risks yet I don't know of many other times that you pay a premium for something and the first thing to happen is that you are warned of a possible tragedy that could take your life by flying in this aircraft.

Why is it that we are happy to put up with these true and valid warnings and not complain that it is over the top yet in other areas of life the rule seems to be not to talk about risks lest we be viewed as negative or judgmental?  

I suppose it could be the way it is communicated. Maybe we could dress nicely, have a lovely smile and make a video with simple props and a fact sheet and explain the risks of living in certain way that can be bad for your health.  Wait.... I think have seen that, it sounds familiar. It happens in many churches on a Sunday all over Australia. But yet the world does not want to hear about it. In fact when we dress nicely, smile, make clever videos and be as relatable as we can, we are still accused of propaganda and brainwashing and of having a hidden agenda.

Maybe there is a better way to communicate it.  What about if we tried to focus on a better story, better options and present the facts it in a relatable story to our daily life. Would that help? I tried to do this with one of my kids this week and it failed miserably. My son has nearly finished year 12 and like many others he has given up, so close the end.  I knew he didn’t really want to talk about it, cause really who wants to listen to reason when we really just want any excuse to walk away; so I tried to be creative and relatable and present the issue in another way.  There is a room in our house that I am repainting, it was rundown and needed a complete overhaul. It is a big job and starting it was the hardest part. But once I got into the rhythm it happened very quickly and the resulting transformation looked great.  I found that once I got to the third coat I was getting a bit over it.  The room looked so much better than before, it was nearly finished, but that last coat was boring to do. I had to finish it this day and I was procrastinating on doing it while aching not knowing how to help my son to hang in there. I asked him into the room and said, "What do you think?”  He said it looked great. I said, "It does doesn't it, but it needs one more coat and I can’t be bothered.  It will be okay if I just leave it unfinished, don't you think?" He replied, "I agree Mum, just leave it the way it is, it looks good enough to me!" And he walked out.........Total backfire!!

I wonder if it is simply that no matter how something is presented, if we want to do it we will, no matter the risk, consequences or dangers and if we don't want to, we won’t.  Scary for  as a teacher, parent and minister.....I am challenged to know what I am called to do and how to do it?

It would seem that many times we would rather take the red pill, go down the rabbit hole and take our chances no matter what warnings are given it will not matter. This is not a new revelation; it has been the same since the beginning of time. Man has always wanted to be masters of their own fate even if that leads to disaster or death. At least they can say they did it their way.

So, should we speak of the risks or consequences? Is it worth it?  Would it a make a difference if they never gave us warnings on a plane? I often wonder after hearing the same message over 100 times now, would I really know what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency? Would anything that has been said beforehand really make a difference as the plane is going down? I know one thing, as much as I fear being in a plane crash it has never stopped me from flying, even with all the pep-talks before hand.

But I also know that every time I hear the pep talk on the plane I am reminded of my fragility, my desire to live, the reality of needing to trust the pilot and the plane and that it is out of my control and that my ultimate trust and peace is in my Father in heaven. It may sound macabre, but very rarely does a flight go by when I don't begin it by saying to God, "Lord, if this is my time I am ready to be with you, please look after the ones I love and help them though this to know and love you more"

But there are many greater risks than flying in a plane or not finishing the final coat of paint in a room. How open are we to the warning signs of a promiscuous life, a consumerist life, a self centred life, a dysfunctional life, a lonely and isolated life, an angry or an abusive life? All the warnings and clever videos in the world will not make a difference unless we want to listen, want to change and want to seek positive solutions. Jesus wants to speak into these risks, and give us an abundantly full life.  He wants to heal the broken hearted and set the bound up free. He wants to do it with love and grace, not judgement and negativity.  He wants to bring hope.

But if the communication method doesn't really make a difference cause we will do what we want to do anyway, then maybe our greatest gift to the world around us is to pray for a change of heart and to live as one who brings peace and love to everything they do and everyone we encounter. We can live in a way that death is not final and not an unknown to be feared and that every day we live is a gift and an adventure to be enjoyed to the full.

Andy Stanley says “As leaders, we are never responsible for filling anyone else's cup. Our responsibility is to empty ours.”
Andy Stanley, Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend .

We need to be ready to have a response when people are really asking.....because it is often when one is actually falling from the sky that one wants a steward beside them guiding and leading them toward safety with a light to direct their path.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

It is "Mary AND Martha"

Whenever the Bible speaks about these two ladies ... it is always MARY AND MARTHA, and yet when there is teaching is it often addressed as ‘Are you are MARY OR MARTHA?’  There is often teaching that speaks about Mary being more spiritual than Martha. I myself have been guilty of presenting the spiritual choices of Mary as being the right choice based on the Luke 10 passage. This has always been a challenge to me personally as I am a Martha type and am always challenged to be more like Mary, but secretly want to ask ...”well who is going to get the work done then?”
Just recently as I was reading the book of John and as I re-read their story yet again, I was faced with the perspective of reading across the whole book and seeing that the story of Mary and Martha is not just one story but a number of stories that show other sides to both of these women in Jesus’s life. Of course there is always a danger in making a principle or judgement of a person based on one story. It is evident that Jesus and Mary and Martha, along with their brother Lazarus, were good friends so there is more than one opportunity to learn from their interaction.  
So in John 10-11, yes Mary is the one that anoints Jesus feet with expensive perfume, while Martha is again preparing the meal. Once again we can quickly say one act is more spiritual than the other, but why can’t both acts of service be just as valuable?  Not long before this meal, when Lazarus had died, it was Martha who ran out to see Jesus first. Yes, she was the one who liked to MAKE things happen, but she was also the one who spoke to Jesus and said that even though her brother was dead, if Jesus came sooner that might not have happened but she continued to say ... “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” She had a strong faith and was a prayerful person as well. All this was happening while Mary was sitting in the house, being consoled by her friends (John 11:17-20). According to The book of John, Mary only went to Jesus when she heard He was “asking” for her. (John 11:28). She asked the same question that Martha did, and they both went with Jesus to the tomb. 
I see that they BOTH loved Jesus, they were BOTH faithful servants, they BOTH had compassion and desired to serve others; they simply did it in different ways.
So it is NOT a question of Mary or Martha, but rather Mary and Martha, the BOTH/AND principle again.

Sometimes we have to be careful when we put people into boxes and say they can only do some things. God wants us to be BOTH/AND.  For example, two of the Here2stay pillars are “Serving in Mission” and “Responding with Compassion.” This is one of those times that the BOTH/AND approach is important. Many people have thought both “pillars” are talking about the same thing. It is true they are similar, but like Mary AND Martha, one without the other is incomplete.  If we respond with compassion without serving (DOING) something about it, we can be guilty of paying lip service to a real need.  If we serve in mission without being compassionate we may end up doing it for the wrong reasons. Mary AND Martha remind us that at any time, Jesus challenges us that BOTH/AND are important for us to keep in balance.
SCKC is a camp we run in the school holidays for children from challenging backgrounds. We desire to create a week of safe, happy memories for these kids. Some come on team to serve because it makes them feel better about themselves. They often need some sort of reward or thanks for the privilege of their service. Some come on team as a response to the compassion they feel for the kids, but very quickly they come undone emotionally and can’t do anything because they are too upset. The team members who truly make a difference in this ministry are those who come to serve in whatever capacity is required, with a compassionate soft heart for the kids and with the faith of MARY AND words of MARTHA when she said to Jesus I know that whatever you ask God He will give you.”(vs 22) “All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world” (vs 27).
It is not a question of ‘are you like Mary OR Martha?’ It is the balance of the BOTH/AND that makes the Mary and Martha story so powerful. I want to be like BOTH Mary AND Martha.

Click here to read more about here2stay.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Frog in the Kettle

I sat in a movie theatre just recently with my 15 year old watching “Paper Towns.” Unfortunately, there was a large group of youth in front of us who didn’t stop jumping up and down and talking the WHOLE movie, clearly unsupervised, which was somewhat distracting.

It was your typical teen movie, nothing new ... or was it? As they finished High School the main plot was about a rebellious, troubled girl (yet the cool one) who discovered her boyfriend had “cheated” on her and so decided to get back at him and his friends and then left town without telling anyone. Of course her parents didn’t seem to care. So the neighbour, a friend at school, seeks to find out what happened to her by taking a road trip with his parents’ car. His best mates go along, hence the adventure begins. One of the characters is saving himself for the prom – so it would be “special,” but clearly couldn’t wait for that SPECIAL event, and instead ends up having his first sexual encounter in the bushes along the side of the road, which was of course celebrated by all his friends.

These kids were “good” kids and their purpose was valiant, their friendship real and genuine. There was respect for his parents and family, value for school and learning. The story wasn’t a fairytale ending and there was very little swearing or violence, so for a “teen” movie it was a good one, but I still wondered as I left the theatre …what has become normal, that wouldn’t have been considered normal when I was 15 or my mum was 15?”  As a result, what have we become desensitized to? 

Normalization refers to social processes through which ideas and actions come to be seen as "normal" and become taken-for-granted or 'natural' in everyday life.

“As far as desensitization is concerned, the medium is the message of normalcy.”

What I do know is that TV, Movies and the media are a STRONG medium of the message that portrays what is so called “normal”. When I “googled” the best teen movies that were out like “Paper Towns” when I was 15, I had never seen any of them them. I wouldn’t have been allowed to be exposed to them, let alone be able to go to the movies with all my friends unsupervised. And if I did I would NEVER have run around the theatre and talked the whole time. (Yeah, I know I was a good girl, but even my daughter was disgusted last night with their behavior).

When I was a “teen”- The troubled, rebellious girl was not the cool one at school, “cheating” meant your boyfriend more than likely “made out” with someone else, not had sex with them. When someone said they were “saving themselves so it would be special” – it meant saving themselves for marriage, not the prom. When you “hooked” up with someone, it usually meant kissed them, not slept with them. I could go on...

I know I may have not been the “normal” teenager in my day for when I looked at the movies (medium) that were out when I was 15, they clearly addressed similar issues, just a little more subtly.  But it is interesting to go back then to the era of when my mother was a “teen”, the movies that were big at that time were “Gidget goes to Rome”, “Beach party” and “Hairspray.” Young people were exploring the teenage years but in a very different way, which was considered “normal” then.

How quickly things change. Only 40 years and “normal” has changed in nearly every facet of life, family, marriage, parenting, how and who we spend our time with, education, sexuality, the workplace, mobility, what we consume, what we believe and what is truth. It is not a very long time for so much to have changed, for a NEW normal to be now taken for granted. Stephen Covey in his Book “The 7 habits of Highly Effective Families” says that the top disciplinary problems at school 40 years ago were gum, noise, dress code, littering, running in halls as compared with today they are drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, suicide, abusive language, robbery and assault as a small example of some of the changes.

There are so many other such sources that show that over the past 40 years change has increased exponentially. Here in Australia, we follow American trends so much, it’s reasonable to assume our figures would be similar.

The “frog in the Kettle” illustration tells us that if you drop a frog in a kettle of boiling water it will jump out immediately in reaction to the pain. On the other hand, if you put the frog in water that is room temperature, slowly heating it, the frog will remain in the kettle and eventually cook to death. Like the “frog in the Kettle” syndrome, sometimes if we don’t stop and think about where we are and what we think is normal, we may end up with “fried brains” from the heat as it creeps up on us.

I find that nowadays it is harder to have conversations about my concerns for these changes in society with my kids and peers, as we live in a culture that says ...

“anybody who doesn’t agree with you—we have a derogatory name to call you” (T.J Jakes)

I really believe that we have been de-sensitized so much that to “have a different opinion is to be judgmental and unloving” which makes it very hard for any discussion to happen at all.  So, how long to do we sit as a “frog in the kettle,” hoping it will all work out, until we look up and find ourselves and our children in a society that we no longer have a voice in, let alone God’s voice as TRUTH?

That night, I must say, I endured the youth running around and talking through the whole movie. I blocked it out and decided to not let it affect me. I didn’t want to be one of those “judgemental, killjoys.” I decided to talk to someone about it as I left the movie theatre, to complain about it after the fact. The steward apologized and said if I had come to her during the movie she would have done something about it, but it was too late now. She was right. It was too late. But for me there are more important issues than whether young people sit quietly and respectfully in a movie theatre.

It is not too late to do something about the NEW normal which the secular world and many other parties with strong agendas would like to see in Australia today.

I quote from a paper written by a group of the community that has a strong desire to make their message the NEW normal. Their strategy is to

“Talk about it as loudly and as often as possible. The principle behind this advice is simple: almost any behavior begins to look normal if you are exposed to enough of it at close quarters and among your acquaintances.”

I am not talking about necessarily talking loudly or as often as possible, but within the close quarters of relationships and in love what are we talking about?  God is calling us to be HIS VOICE, to share HIS TRUTH, to not sit like a “frog in the kettle” or a “passive watcher in a movie theatre” and let others dictate the NEW normal for the way we choose to live our lives. Rather, we need to hold onto the truths we hold dear to our heart because we believe God has a plan and knows THE TRUTH and the best way for us to live. We need this for ourselves, but mostly for our children, who are growing up being exposed to, and being fooled into taking for granted, a NEW normal ... for family, gender, friendships, dating, marriage, being a loving respectful citizen and whatever you want to add to the list.
The challenge I have for myself is ... What does jumping out of the kettle look like for me in my family, my faith community and the world around me?

Monday, 10 August 2015

Intentional Parenting

To be intentional simply means to be done with intention or on purpose. The irony is that whether we realise it or not, what we spend our time and money on, what we always talk about, what consumes our thoughts, actually shows us what is important in our lives. We will find the time, money and energy doing what we WANT to do and be very INTENT on seeing that it happens. SO, when parents say they just don’t have the time, money or energy they would like to have to be intentional with their kids, maybe it is an opportunity to stop and think … “what am I intentional about?”
I believe this is one of the very powerful “tools” to use when parenting with the end in mind. When we know what goal we are heading towards as we parent, then the tool of intentionally is key.
A website worth looking at is called “Intentional Parents.” They have as their opening statement, “The average parents follow the crowd. Intentional parents follow the goal.” It is so true.
As my husband and I have tried to be intentional parents for the past 18 years, we know we have fallen short many times, but we have not given up and will continue with INTENT and PURPOSE to do the best we can to help our kids hit their goals and most importantly God’s goals for them. We believe that we as parent have been called to do as much as we can to be INTENTIONAL in 4 areas. We aim to be intentional daily, weekly, on special occasions and in those once in a lifetime moments. And having a goal, an end in mind, has helped us to be Intentional in all these areas.
This started for us before the children were born and it has not stopped on a daily basis for the past 18 years. I’m not sure if it ever stops, it just keeps changing what is required from  us to walk with the kids we have been blessed to parent.
SO what does that mean in practical terms?

  • DAILY ………over the year that has meant things like … prayers at night  with the kids when they were young, reading stories that become favourites, being open to the God conversations that can happen at any time,  meal times  together where we say grace and share the “best part of your day.”  I used to sing Georgia a song I wrote her as a lullaby as she went to bed.

  • WEEKLY – over the years that has meant things like ... technology FREE family night, serving together regularly in ministry, jobs around the house, a special squeeze or shake that is between you and your child, a crazy song that my husband and daughter sing on Friday night because it is the weekend, and many conversations in the kitchen with all of us sitting on the benches. 

  • SPECIAL OCCASIONS – over the years that has meant things like ... key holidays/road trips where we read a book of the Bible a chapter each day and discussed it, dates of one parent and a child doing something special together, yearly family mission trips to Cambodia, creating traditions at Christmas like cutting down a real Christmas tree and decorating while listening to Mariah Carey, watching the “The Passion” at Easter together, camping and water skiing every summer holidays,  birthday mornings where the kids jump onto Mum and Dad’s bed.

  • ONCE IN A LIFETIME – over the years that has meant things like ...Time capsule at 1 year of age to be opened at 18, celebrating starting School with a fun meal, a year of empowerment at the age 13 where key older spiritual people speak into our children’s lives culminating with a celebration of them and a gift symbolizing them moving into adulthood, offering an alternative to schoolies where they can go on a special trip with a parent to conquer a challenging walk, family spiritual journey to go to Israel to walk where Jesus walked and to be Baptised in the Jordan river.
If you are INTENTIONAL and PURPOSEFUL about it you might be amazed how God can use this to create a solid foundation for your kids to walk into the rest of their lives.  Of course there are no guarantees, it has to be their journey, but INTENTIONAL parenting is what we are called to do at the very least.
Here are some other ideas which a small group of parents brainstormed together as we gathered to INTENTIONALLY talk about how to parent with the end in mind.

·         Kisses and Hugs
·         Meals together daily
·         Morning Devotions
·         Pet names
·         Pray before the walk to school
·         Nightly Blessing
·         Debrief from the day over dinner
·         Play board games/puzzles with young children
·         Massage / Shoulder rub
·         Homework @ the bench
·         Taco Tuesday
·         Kids choose what we have for dinner
·         Park / Beach outing
·         Saturday night board game
·         Pyjama Day
·         Tea party Tuesday
·         Friday night movie night/ dinner in 
front of the TV
·         Dinner and movie night OUT
·         BBQ Breakfast
·         Prayer for our sponsor child
·         Pancakes Saturday morning
·         Friday night sport watching
·         Family camp/weekend away 
·         Cooking together
·         Lunch together to celebrate end of school year
·         Annual extended family holiday
·         “You’re a star” plate to celebrate achievement
·         Theme park adventure once a year
·         Pizza @ the lighthouse on the shortest or longest day
·         BIG family Christmas
·         Scrapbook memories / celebrate milestones
·         School rewards – coffee/hot chocolate after school
·         Pupil free days – make them special days with the family.
·         Special Dinner on report night
·         Birthday treasure hunts
·         Homemade advent calendars at Christmas
·         Passover with friends and family (food, candles etc)
·         Eat whatever you want on your birthday
·         Favourite dinner on birthday
·         Night before Christmas – read a particular story
·         Christmas light hunting around the streets
·         Camping family recipes
·         Road Trips
·         Celebrate Milestones with friends and mentors
·         Coming of age holiday with parent of choice
·         Do a challenging hike with each child at a 
certain age
·         Dinner out with Mum or Dad to celebrate 
first great school report
·         Coming of age for daughter – pamper 
night with Mum and Grandma
·         Shared experience eg. Back to parent’s 
home country, Israel – walk where Jesus walked, 
special place for parents to share with kids, 
a place everyone 
has wanted to go.
·         Take you first drive on “L”’s
·         1st Bike – celebrate it
·         Special holiday with someone close e.g. Grandparent.
·         Road trip when they get their “L”s
·         Finishing school celebration with family
·         Big weekend away @ 10 – special time to 
talk about puberty
·         Letters from extended family
·         Celebrate engagement and marriage well
·         Climb a mountain and pray together at the top.

If Intentional parents follow the goal …what are you aiming for? The way we spend our time, money and energy shows what we are intentional about. How can you be more intentional?

Monday, 3 August 2015

To "change or not to change?"

I have lived in Wollongong the majority of my life and the local place that I shop at has been the same for many years. So, when they decided to change the entrance and exit and remark the paths to get into the parking lots, I have been surprised how hard it has been for me to change.  It feels like every day I keep driving up the wrong lane and as a result disobey the arrows on the ground. I get stuck and can’t get to where I want to go, because the way I have gone for so long is imprinted in my brain and I can’t seem to retrain my brain to change. I find myself getting frustrated, thinking to myself, this is not logical, questioning why they changed this because I can’t see how it is better and then being a little head strong and doing it the old way anyway! This does go against my deep desire to be obedient and do the right thing, so each day as I drive up the wrong lane, against the arrows I think to myself, change is really hard !

Change is hard when you have been doing something for so long a particular way, your pathways in your brain are marked out very clearly and to retrain or make new pathways is a hard process. And that is even when you want to change!  When it comes to obeying the arrows at my local shopping spot, clearly I don’t want to change. So the theory of “28 times to change a habit” is not working for me yet.
But when it comes to something that really matters, it has reminded me how important it is to make sure we get the right foundational pathways in our brain to start with. One, because if we get it wrong, change is so much harder later on, and two, because if we get it right in the first place, it creates a firm foundation that helps us NOT to change and go with whatever new fad the world wants to try and convince us is right at the time.
In a shifting world of values, rules, behaviours and TRUTH, one can become very unbalanced very quickly without a firm, strong foundation which I believe is BEST when it is based on God’s truth and worldview. Even within Christendom today I have been disturbed by the shakiness of peoples’ interpretation of God’s TRUTH and the constant change in worldview that is in our face daily. As a parent and Christ follower I am struggling with the changing view of what is God’s TRUTH as I hear biblical scholars I have loved and respected now changing their view of God’s TRUTH.
I am someone who sees the value of CHANGE, having been an agent of change in my ministry field for many years, but I do believe when it comes to God’s TRUTH, it (HE) has never changed. How we deliver the message must always change, but His truth always was, always is and always will be TRUTH. It is firmly embedded as a foundation upon which I base my daily life,  yet I acknowledge I have changed and grown over the years, which I am hoping is maturity, as God teaches me more and more deeply who He is and who I am in HIM. 
But given how clearly stubborn I am when it comes to changing the way I drive into a parking lot, it has caused me to step back and make sure I am not being open to change that is simply a part of life and necessary or being sure of some changes that we must resist in order to live in a way that HONOURS God’s truth?
It begs the questions......
Q: When is change necessary and when is God’s TRUTH, as the foundation by which we make our daily decisions, the key to helping us navigate change?
                Q: What never changes and what is always changing and how do we know the difference?
I think someone much wiser than me has prayed that for some time now.  American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) penned this prayer in the 1930’s.
This prayer is still our prayer today, in the rapid times of change....

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference

As a parent I want to ground my children in God’s foundational TRUTH that never changes, so that when the winds of secularism blow through, they know when NOT to change and when to be OPEN to change.  As a Pastor and Leader, I long to know when God’s foundational TRUTH gives me strength to hold onto what is important, when to show grace and love and when to stand firm.  In my own personal faith walk I long to know GOD’s foundational TRUTH in such a way that I know when to be silent and listen, when and how to speak of issues which arise daily that we can no longer avoid or sit on the fence about.
To "change or not to change?" that is a REAL question.