Poetry

Grown Up

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I mean, am I actually,
Really competent at anything?
How does it feel to be a grown up?
To know, I mean really know,
That you’re not bluffing,
That you have a handle,
That you know how to read the map the right way round?
To navigate the maze and treat
All things in the proper way they deserve–
Tell me–will I ever master anything?
I keep hearing about potential,
But what good is it if it’s never realised?
Is authority–the right to speak and have others listen–
Just on the other side of that door?
I mean, I fear the floundering,
The floating through the world and
Doing nothing hitherto undone,
And of being content with that.
I’ve only got a couple dozen thousand days
To become someone!
But who am I becoming?
How am I becoming?
Through what means will I become this
Man you say I am?
I want it.
I don’t want to bluff.
I can’t afford to.
Maybe the world can’t afford me to.
I’m just sick of being pretty good at most things
And above average in others–
I want to excel.
I want to grow up.

10 April 2015

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Reflection, Theology

The Saturday Experience: Your Greatest Weakness as His Greatest Strength (Part III)

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“Come and have breakfast.”
John 21: 4-12

Picture Peter in particular the day after that Friday. Three moments were unbearably tormenting him, swirling round and round in his head. In one instant his mind was flashing to Thursday night when he had boldly declared to his friend and master, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” In the next he felt a stab in his heart, picturing himself just hours later by the charcoal fire, cow-heartedly answering the slave girl, “I am not his disciple…I am not his disciple…I am not his disciple.” And then, immediately after in the early hours of the next morning, the moment when his friend and hero had caught his glance and the caustic tears had begun to flow irrepressibly. Peter knew then that he was a failure.

On Saturday, the day when it seemed all had failed and all that was left were the questions, the disciples needed to wrestle and trust God based on his promises and his proven character.

But the most beautiful thing about this story is that Jesus stays with us even when we fail to do this. Think again on Peter and his story. He and the rest of the disciples really did fail. It wasn’t imagined. They really had betrayed Jesus and let him down. But on Sunday morning when Jesus returns, he isn’t out to get Peter. You would think he would be. No, Jesus knew his frailty and he had prayed for him just as he had promised (Luke 22:31-32). He said that somehow this would work for good, somehow Peter would be able to come out of this experience and encourage others. Jesus was going to take that moment of utmost failure and turn it into the moment of His utmost victory.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore… When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea… When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them…“Come and have breakfast.” (John 21: 4-12)

Jesus comes once again as a friend, right back to the place where they had first met–at the shore. Peter’s response is to dive into the water. Not proud, not hiding, but running to his Master. At this point, Jesus had already appeared to the disciples twice, but there was still a deeper work to be done in Peter’s heart. Jesus needed to go back to that moment of deepest betrayal, to the very same charcoal fire where he had denied their intimacy. Jesus is specific–in fact this type of fire is only mentioned twice in the entire scriptures: Peter’s betrayal and Peter’s restoration.

Peter had gone back to fishing, his old job. Jesus encounters him right back at the same place where they had met, as if to say, “Peter, it hasn’t all been worthless.” He had seen his very worst moment, but now he invites him to a barbecue on the beach. Where three times Peter had denied their bond, Jesus three times extends his hand in love and draws the words from Peter’s heart, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus takes Peter back to his greatest failure, heals it, and says once again the first words he ever spoke to him, “Follow me.” All was made new.

Through the Saturday Experience, Jesus turned Peter’s greatest weakness into his greatest strength. When Peter ran to him again, Jesus redeemed him and strengthened him so that he could in turn strengthen his brothers. It was after this full restoration that Peter would follow and never again deny him. His previous words about being willing to die, which seemed so hollow on Saturday, were ultimately proven true when Peter himself was later crucified for his Lord.

We may live in the Saturday time, we feel like everything has failed, us, God, the plan, and all we are left with are the questions. But cherish the questions, they are the tool that God will use to deepen your relationship with him. On your Saturday, think deeply about the truth: who God is and what he has promised. Trust him–it’s the only thing that makes sense. Remember that Jesus is with you, he is praying for your by name. If you will run to him, he will turn even your moments of deepest failure into a victory, using you to encourage others and build his church.

On your Saturday, thank him for what he did on Friday and trust him for what he will do on Sunday.

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Reflection, Theology

The Saturday Experience: Cherish the Questions (Part I)

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On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment…
Luke 23:56

What must the disciples have felt like on Saturday?

They were a failure. The probably blamed themselves personally, wondering what they could have done, regretting haven fallen asleep at such a key moment. They locked themselves away, huddled together in fear. They were so dejected they didn’t even stay for Jesus’ burial. Only the women did. The men must have felt so unmanly and worthless they didn’t even feel worthy to watch the burial. It felt like everything had been lost. Everything they had placed their trust in, worked for, and staked their lives and reputations on was lost. Their fearless leader had been killed, their friend, and in his moment of greatest need they had all abandoned him.

Not only was the cause lost, but all that they thought they had achieved in their own characters was lost. Peter, along with all of Jesus’ closest friends and students, had completely turned his back on him when he needed him most. Betrayal. Imagine your best friend, the one you’ve gone through thick and thin with, had hundreds of meals with, travelled with, lived with, who swore he always had your back and would even die for you if it came to it, at the moment you need him most, denies that he even knows you. He completely stabs you in the back. Peter must have been absolutely inconsolable. Judas’ was a sin of commission, but Peter’s was a sin of omission: failing to do what he should have done. And sins of omission are the ones that people often regret most after someone dies: “I wish I had told her I loved more often”, “I wish I had spent more time with him.”

But come Saturday, it wasn’t only the disciples that had failed, but it seemed God himself had failed also. How could Jesus die? How could the Messiah, the Son of God, the chosen one die? The disciples are in a very unsure place. They are in the ‘in-between time’. The time where they have no idea what God is doing. They are put in the position where they are forced either to trust him, or abandon hope altogether.

This is the Saturday experience. The time in between the horror of the Crucifixion and the joy of the Resurrection where God’s plan is a complete mystery.

It was a Sabbath, the day when they were commanded to rest and acknowledge their lack of control. They are forced to not try to make things right, but just rest. They are powerless.They are in the place where they have to wrestle, and what they are wrestling with are the tough questions. Both their own questions and the questions the accuser is throwing at them. Who was this man? Was he the one, or were they duped? Were they wrong? What do they do now? The disciples seem to be left alone with these haunting questions.

But they were used to questions. Jesus had been a man of deep questions. This was his usual way of teaching, not by spoon-feeding easy, understandable answers, but cutting to the heart with difficult, uncomfortable questions. Sitting and reading the questions of Jesus is a penetrating exercise. On the other hand, of the 183 questions that others ask Jesus in the Gospels, he only directly answers three. Clearly his job is not to give us neat little answers that will satisfy and put all our queries to rest. On the contrary, he wants us to cherish the questions, to wrestle with them and learn their value. This has been God’s way since he struggled with Jacob in the process of making him Israel. By asking he makes us search our own hearts and realise the answers for ourselves. We have to fight for it, but the effect is a change in our character. This is excellent teaching. As good teachers know, by coming to the realisation yourself the lesson sticks with you more profoundly, changing not only your knowledge but your being.

Cherish the questions.

God puts us in the Saturday experience so that we are forced to turn to him. To know him. To have relationship with him. To really rely on him. This is part of the essence of relationship. If every conversation were simply Q and A, there would be no back and forth, no personal communication and fellowship. We would get our answer and say, “OK thanks, bye.” Information could be shared, of course, but not intimacy.

Ultimately, Jesus leaves us to wrestle with the questions so that we can learn that he is the answer.

To get to Sunday we must go through Saturday. On the Saturday in between, the extent to which we will become like him is measured by our willingness to wrestle with the questions and yet still decide to trust him.

 

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Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

Learning From the Master

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Do you think Jesus knows anything about the life you actually lead? Or do his teachings seem nice and beautiful, but distant and unrealistic when it comes to your daily existence?

In other words is Jesus a really nice guy, but a bit naive when it comes down to it?

You can only learn from someone as long as you think they know more than you do. As soon as you think you know better you immediately stop listening. Have you ever gotten to the stage with someone who was training you where you realised, “I actually know more than this person,” or, “I’m actually smarter than this person”? Whether it’s true or not, rather than learning, you begin to patronise them and, if not simply annoyed at the waste of your time, pity their ignorance as well.

The teachings of Jesus are universally acknowledged to be among history’s highest moral ideals. But are they only that: ideals? Unattainable perfectionisms? Pretty words which hold little to no value in the tough reality of life?

Turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? Forgive the same person 490 times at minimum? Doesn’t he know the world out here? That kind of weak, pushover mentality will get you no where.

Now, maybe you’ve never thought that. But this is only one way to disconnect Jesus’ words from having actual, real-life significance. Christians don’t tend to be that flippant. But there are plenty more ways to effectively invalidate the Master’s words.

For instance, maybe you believe his teachings are good, but that they are simply impossible to carry out. Isn’t this proven by experience? I mean, have you ever seriously tried, even for a single day, to live out his principles? And so we come to the conclusion that we are not able to obey, or at most that we can only obey in some vague, spiritual manner. We think we have tried and it hasn’t worked.

But have we tried it the correct way? What if Chesterton is right, that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, but rather it has been found difficult and left untried. What if we are completely misunderstanding the nature of Jesus’ teachings and how we are supposed to go about obeying them?

Imagine Jesus’ words were not simply commands to obey in the moment of the situation, but descriptions of a certain kind of life, a kind of character in which turning the other cheek, or loving one’s enemies is the most natural response.

Let’s take a real life example. Suppose I commanded you to run a four-minute mile. Suppose you are morally required to do it. So, taking the command seriously you go to the track and you try your absolute best. You give it everything you have. But you don’t make the cut. Not by far. Does that prove that my command was impossible? Or might it suggest your method was slightly off?

The ability to run a four-minute mile does not only come from the direct effort of the athlete in the moment, but from an entire life dedicated to training for that moment. The athlete has engaged in the right practices and lifestyle so that when the moment comes they can actually do what they want to do. In fact, when this kind of lifestyle is pursued at length, it becomes just as unnatural to run in any other way as it once was to run in the right way.

Of course, this analogy is very incomplete. There are many of us who could never run a four-minute mile, no matter how hard we trained. But could we learn to be the kind of people who obey Jesus naturally, simply because that’s the kind of person we are? Should we expect to be able to simply obey him when the moment arises, when our life disciplines have not prepared us for this?

God wants to bring us to the place where we obey him naturally because it’s part of who we are.

This can only come through instilling the character of Jesus in us so that we unthinkingly act in the same way he did. The central question therefore goes from “What Would Jesus Do?” to “What would lead me to being the kind of person Jesus was?”

He really is smart you know.

Think of what it’s like in the teacher’s shoes? Have you ever been in the position of trying to teach someone who thinks they already know everything? They say they know, yet you see what they do and immediately realise how mistaken their self-conception is. You, as the teacher, know in an instant how far the reality is from the imagination or pretension. You know that they need to go through a process of shaping in their skills and character before they will be able to complete the task correctly.

Have you ever seen this happen? It’s embarrassing. Everyone can see. The charade is pointless. It’s paper thin. I wonder if this is how we look much of the time, in our ignorance and pride, to our loving Master.

The only answer is to let go and learn to do the things he did which made him the person he was.

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Poetry

Am I Building My Babel?

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On a hope deferred.

Am I building my Babel?
Brick upon brick
Constructing an edifice
Of my own achievement,
A monument, a stairway
Ascending by the effort of my own might.

Am I building my Babel?
A ziggurat or articulate
Profound, impressive thought,
Words are it’s stones,
Thoughts it’s mortar,
The materials with which a man
Makes his mark on the universe,
Though veneered with a sparkling
Coat of praise,
A dialect which aggrandises the speaker
And not the Subject.

Am I building my Babel?
Am I building my Babel?

Am I building my Babel?

Unawares, an effort to reach heaven
Which in truth tries to
Become it’s equal.

May this tower be decimated.

Am I destroying my Babel?
Am I rebuilding Jerusalem?

January 2013

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Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

The Person You Want to Be

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What God cares about is not exactly our actions. What he cares about is that we should be creatures of a certain kind or quality–the kind of creatures he intended us to be.
C.S Lewis

When I call someone to be a Christian, what am I calling them to? To be like me? I hope not, even if God has done great things for me. To adopt a Christian lifestyle? This is not attractive to most people because they think it means the end of their fun. Of course, it will mean the end of some things they currently do, think and feel for pleasure. But part of the process of learning the depths of what we’re meant for is learning that those things are actually faint replicas of what they promise to be. The child plays with the toy cars and will not let them go only because she cannot imagine the joys of driving a real car and the places it can take her. 

Instead of this, what if we point to Jesus? The call and the end of being a disciple of Jesus is to become like him. To reflect his image, to bear his character. To become the kind of person that he is. Cut from the same cloth and sculpted from the same marble. To be called as a Christian is to become a new kind of person. The Christian life is then learning to live your life as He would if he were in your shoes. 

Is Jesus a good person? If you could, would you like to be a person like him? Free from addiction, worry, anxiety, vice, hatred, violence, envy, greed. Free to love, bless other people, enjoy the world and the people in it, heal the sick, comfort the sad, seek justice, be merciful, be kind and gentle. Free to be and live the way you were always meant to be. This is wellbeing. 

You can be. Come to him and he will help you. Learn from him. He will make you his child, and as you live as his disciple following him, you will be put on a path to becoming exactly like him. Your character will be completely changed. Your thoughts, actions and feelings will be transformed so that you naturally do the kinds of things he did. For you will gradually become the kind of person he was. This is the aim and goal of your existence.

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