Thursday, 26 November 2015

I get knocked down, but I get up again

The song “I get knocked down but I get up again’re never gonna keep me down” (Tubthumping by Chumbawamba) – as fun and catchy as it is – on the surface can feel like a vitriolic song that states that we are strong, because no matter how many knock backs we get, we will keep getting up. I do resonate with this, and yet often I feel like life has thrown curve balls at me, for which I would like to stay down and simply give up.  Still, I have certainly learned more from choosing to get back up. There’s an emptiness in lost dreams and disappointments that is hard to escape, but again I am learning that is is more about the way we view the things that happen to us and around us more that the actual events. For me a “statement” that can and has been a “limiting belief” in my life is … “I am a failure.” It is easy to start blaming circumstances, other people, the fact that “life sucks” or even God for where we find ourselves or what we don’t have, our lost dreams, our disappointments, our failed “salvation projects.” But instead I have chosen to sing, “you’re never gonna keep me down”... with an English accent, and try to continue on being brave, or maybe listening to wise people like Nelson Mandela when he says,
“Don’t judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

There are times when this is a great help.
But when we look deeply into the silly song I began with, we see that the song is loosely based around a short story about a boy who beat all the odds in life and never let things get him down. Yet, the approach to “keeping on” reads like it is one big night on the town, where the singer seems quite happy about the fact that he keeps getting knocked down, because he is so drunk on whiskey. I am not passing judgement here, I am simply reminded that a lot of the times when we get knocked down in life, we can’t blame anyone but ourselves, our own poor choices, our mess ups. This reminds me that I have probably deserved at times to get knocked down, that there are many times when the failure lies squarely on my shoulders.
I was encouraged as I sat with a dear friend a while ago as he shared… “I desperately wanted to be empty so Jesus could fill me, but I never expected He would really do it.”  We laughed together and I appreciated his honesty as we reflected on the past 30 years of ministry and where we are, where we thought we would have been by now, the “failed salvations projects” as we have sought to serve Him, but have found ourselves lacking and needing to come to His feet again, simply to surrender and acknowledge our emptiness.
Another colleague said to me recently, “There is no such thing as failure...only feedback” (Brett White, 2015)
Viewing failure as feedback is probably really important, but it is still really hard. The pragmatist in me says, “let’s be honest and call it what it is.” But Brett is also talking about a mindset here. Whether you want to use the word “failure” or “feedback,” the mindset is really important. The scary thing for me is whose “feedback” are we listening to?  Richard Rohr gives us another “f” word. He would call this “falling” and says that somewhere in our western mindset we have lost the spiritual value of “falling.” In fact, the “falling” is actually necessary for any sort of growth.
“We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central message of how spiritual growth happens: yet nothing in us wants to believe it” (R. Rohr, ‘Falling Upward”, pg XXII)
It is one thing to get back up again in your own strength and sing with gusto, because you are so strong and amazing or maybe just plain stubborn. It is quite another to see that when we are knocked down through life’s events, some beyond our control or some due to our own wrong choices,  it is there in the “falling” that we often find a new truth from God’s perspective. In fact it is only because of the “falling” that we can discover His truth.
It is a change in mindset, a God-set, if you will. This mindset change is so freeing. He changes our perspective and we are not the same again. The courage comes in getting back up again and choosing to view each life event that has or hasn’t happened in a way that we might have otherwise viewed as a “failure” as a chance for growth and transformation to be more like Him.
“The genius of the gospel is that it included the problem inside the solution. The falling became the standing. The stumbling became the finding. The dying became the rising. The raft became the shore.” (R Rohr, “Falling Upward. Pg 159)
2 Corinthians 12: 10 – “It is when I am weak, He is strong.” I get knocked down, and He helps me get back up and I am stronger for the experience. Thank you, God, for in my “falling” your feedback says ... I can be stronger for it because I surrender to who You are and what You have done.

Monday, 16 November 2015

The Bus Stop

It is a beautiful spring morning, the sun is shining, I drive my 15 year old daughter to the bus stop which is maybe a 10 minute walk (at most) so she can catch the bus to school. As I drive up two other cars come from other directions at the same time to converge onto the bus top where more high schoolers jump out. I say out loud, “Oh, look at all of you cotton wool kids” ... to which she smiles, jumps out of the car, looks back and says “Well, whose fault is that? Bye. Love you, mum.”
And again she is right. Whose fault is that? I ponder this as I drive the 2 minutes home. Well it is my fault. I know the answer. I ask myself, “Why do I drive her to the bus stop when she she is old enough to walk and it would be good for her on so many levels?” 
There is this challenging fine line between loving your kids and loving your kids too much! There is the deep desire to want to do things for them, because you can, and then the deep desire to see them want to do things for themselves and others, because that has been modelled to them. As a parent, I find myself asking this question daily. How do I prepare my kids to be all they are created to be and yet show them the unconditional love that hopefully models “love” in a way that helps them see how much their HEAVENLY Father loves them.  And in the everyday matters of life, when does tough love kick in and where do you simply love because He called us to serve?
Man, it is only 8.44 am in the morning ... probably all a little too heavy for one small 2 minute drive to the bus stop. My daughter would be rolling her eyes right now saying “Please, Mum, don’t write a blog about it?” But it is in these times when we stop, even for a moment, that helps us recalibrate the “whys” the “whats, the “whens.”  Why do we do what we do as parents? What is really important here? What do they need to learn? What is the end in mind?  When do they need to learn certain things? When do we stop doing things for them and start doing things with them, to then watch them do it themselves? When do we make changes to help our kids grow up into all that they are created to be?
For every parent the whys, the whats, the whens will be different. There are some guidelines which are helpful and there are definitely wiser people around who can help you along the way, as well as a million books you can read. But no one can parent your child, or can help them grow up like you, because this is the charge you have been given for the short time you have them in your care. The important thing is to actually think about it, re-think and recalibrate, have a plan, scratch the plan, make a new one and then re-think again. It is a moving target, one with no sure answers, but worth the daily effort.
This is you playing a part in developing a “fulfilled life,” a created being, in your care for a short time to nurture. Parenting is the daily walk that sometimes seems like a life sentence and then in a moment you look and your child is 15, wearing your clothes, making the evening meals for you and having deep conversations about what she wants to do with her life.
As a parent I must accept the blame for “cotton wooling” my kids many times. The question is when to take the cotton wool off, bit by bit, until they are exposed and ready to face whatever the world will throw at them. Surely that is worth stopping for moments to check if we are on track? It is not about blame or judgement; we are all guilty of falling short.
“Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” (Winston Churchill.)  So, you might want to ask the question of me.  “Will you drive your child to the bus stop tomorrow?”
My enthusiastic response is, “What do you need to stop doing for your children, to start doing with them, to then watch them do themselves in your own parenting?” Only you can answer that for yourself?

Thursday, 5 November 2015

The quest for "Happily Ever After"

Why is it that in movies and books we want to see the “happily ever after” and when it doesn’t happen we are disappointed?  Or when it does happen, we still feel disappointed because it is over and we wanted to see more.  We want things to finish up “happily ever after” but are disappointed that the end has come. It is a case of “the grass is always greener.”
I am reading Revelation (the final book of the Bible) and it is a difficult read, yet it talks of heaven and how it is all going to end well.  The visions that John describes in Revelation probably don’t even come to close to what it will actually be like.  One one hand I trust that if God says that He will live among us, that it will be perfect like the Garden of Eden, with no suffering, pain or  sadness.....then it will be so. But on the other hand because I can’t imagine living like that for eternity (which in itself being perpetually happy is so foreign to me), there is a part of me that wonders and doubts at times that it is it even possible.   I want the happy ending but then even when it has been promised to me I am already feeling a little disappointed.
Am I the only one who gets conflicted in this way?
I don’t think so because...   There are many people who simply cannot believe in a “happy ever after” because they cannot fathom it.  They would rather believe that we simply eat, live, have fun and die and that’s the end.
I don’t think so because... Look at the number of movies that keep pushing our ideas of the end times and what happens when the earth is destroyed. i.e A band of warriors inevitably rise up to start again and make things better.
I don’t think so because.... How many people spend their life trying to find answers in science, nature, spiritualism?  They are seeking to work out the answers themselves, thinking they must be able to do a better job than anyone has done in the past.
It is interesting that the book of Revelation was written in a time when the Roman Empire had claimed itself as the divinely intended ruler over the earth, with Caesar Augustus’ rule proclaiming in both political and religious terms:
“it has been ordained that the most perfect consummation for human life is by giving it to Augustus, by filling him with virtue for doing the work of a benefactor among men and by sending him, as it were, a saviour for us and those who come after us, to make war to cease and to create order everywhere.”  (The Books of the Bible, New Testament, Biblica Inc, 2011,pg 425)
Not much has changed and for us to be surprised by the changes in government and culture in Australia today as it heads towards changing the foundations of what is considered “true”, “ethical” and “moral”, is naive. We can be sad about it but not surprised.  In the light of this John wrote to the Christians who acknowledged a different saviour to the world.  John speaks about a God who’s plan has always been for a “happily ever after”. He encouraged the believers that God has the “happily ever after” all sorted out and to hang in there when times get tough and when the culture of the day brings pressure to  compromise or walk away from His truth.
We all know that as a story draws to an end, the final challenge is often the hardest to endure even for those who do get their “happily ever after”. We applaud this in movies like the "Hobbit"  and "Hunger Games". In God’s Big story it is even better because the happy ending will not be because of anything we have done, but rather what Christ has done for us.  It is a GIFT and yet so many still won’t accept it. 
We love to watch the climax unfold on the big screen and squirm as it seems impossible that any good can come from the tragedies and situations and yet by the end of the movie all is well with the world. We love to read about those that overcome and those that we consider heroes and quickly forget that to walk a mile in their shoes during the time when all seemed lost, would be too much to bear for many of us. We want to hear all about the “happily ever after” and yet God has been revealing this “happily ever after” from the beginning of time. Why is it that so many would rather ridicule the concept of a “prefect heaven” and choose to make their own plans rather than to see the HOPE that has and always will be there for those willing to accept His love?  Is it because we can’t imagine what a “happily ever after” really looks like? And if we can’t imagine it or see it then we find it challenging to believe!  He is calling us to simply have faith and trust Him that the “happily ever after” is more than we can even imagine.
John had seen Jesus which is why revelation is so HOPEFUL for him.  Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."  (John 20: 29)
“Then Jesus spoke; I am coming soon! I am the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Anyone who wants to can come to me and they will be forgiven; and those who are forgiven will be happy. They will live in the city of God and enjoy life. Anyone who wants to can come and drink freely for the water of life. I am coming soon”  (, Anno Domini Publishing, 2013, pg 318)