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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Resolution of 2014

So, 2014 has approached the end of its short life and we're going to be welcoming in 2015 shortly. And this generally provides a great opportunity for looking back at a whole year in retrospect. Which is precisely what I plan to do in this blog post. But rather than just reflect and make a resolution I wish to share some of the key adventures in 2014 and the lessons God has taught me.

I don't really believe in 'New Year's Resolutions'. While I do understand that the end of a year provides a great opportunity to try and resolve to do something new or different, I believe that everyday should provide us that opportunity. God is always doing something new: or rather he is always redeeming the old to make it new once again. And that is what 2014 will stand in my memory as: a year of redeeming the old to make it new. I hope for 2015 to be an even greater year of following and serving him.

So then, what have I learnt...

2014: The Year that Was

In 2014 life continued on its merry way. I finished my third year of university, watched as many films at the cinemas as ever, and read over a hundred books once again. But 2014 also had its unique ups and downs for me. First there were some downs with people deciding that they needed to return home for a season (my good friends John and Redj in particular) and the loss of close loved ones (my Grandma) or family friends. Further down moments included my best mate Victor decided he needed to head off for a time, meeting many friends at YWAM who also needed to return to their homes and seeing a moment of antagonism towards my pastor at Uni. 

However God is always good and despite such let downs he also raised me up and showed me more about my leadership potential with my Life Group and the ability he has given me to counsel friends and speak prophetically into their life. He also enabled me more and more to use my communicative abilities for Him while gave me a position with my friend Martin in a revamped club. This enabled us to be able to build community on the University campus and give hope to students who want that sense of unity and friendship love! 

I won't deny also that God answered some secret hopes and prayers of mine, bringing special people into my life in this moment and time. I love you very much and I cannot wait to see what the future will hold for God's desires here but I know it's a great and beautiful thing he is doing in my life. 

Knowing God Truly

Hosea 6:1-3 
1“Come, let us return to the Lord.He has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us.He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds.2 In just a short time he will restore us, so that we may live in his presence.3 Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him.He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.”

This is probably the biggest, truest thing God has taught me across this year. I may have only started to properly grasp it in the second half of the year but it was something He was teaching me from the beginning. All of my hopes, desires and dreams of love, outreach, finding my role - I hadn't realised that in the past so many of these things I had tried to do in my own strength alone. But as God showed me that I was doing this, he prompted me to return to gifts that I knew he had given me: prophesy, teaching, encouragement, positivity etc. and use them for his glory.

But more than just this he provided mentors who could point me in the right direction and remind me that God is not meant to be just another aspect of my life of our lives: He is the center. And I learnt through this such an important thing that I want to hold onto more and more: knowing God is different from knowing about him. There is a power that comes in true intimacy with God and that has lead me on to discovering other love, finding outreach and becoming more and more the man I know he wants me to be.

You Gotta Have Faith

To be fair he began teaching me this in 2012 when I needed work to get me on a trip I believed he wanted me on. He taught me more and more about this throughout 2013. But again He continues to remind me about the importance and power of faith.

This year He has taught me about the practicality of faith: about living in faith and not by sight. It's been a real encouragement for me to help me overcome various minor fears and worries, and it's been powerful for me as I have talked, prayed with and counseled friends.

You are going to get things in life wrong. You might get them so wrong that you fear you've lost the opportunity - that you've hurt someone beyond resolution. You might have worries and doubts that threaten to crush your dreams. But you have to life by faith - because something that God has given you or put before you? He won't let that slip away and when you have faith and step out despite circumstances: well He will be even more faithful for you.

It's easy to believe when everything is going well. It's easy to love when there's no adversity. But it's hard to follow when you can't see something going on in the natural though and when life is tough and that's what God has taught me about faith: to have it no matter the circumstances.

God's Timing And Will Are Perfect

There are things that have happened this year which have made me doubt God's timing. For instance the loss of my Grandmother and then the loss of a family friend within a short space of time. Add to that the various issues of friends and myself and I was starting to wonder...

But God told me quite clearly when I was questioning if His timing really was perfect, or whether my heart was just being its deceitful attracted self, He reminded me first about living by faith and not sight and then told me clearly to 'Seize the moment.' That is something I want to continue to do.

And sure, following and trusting Him that the moment is right, that what He is doing is right can be tough. I've had to have a few tough conversations as a result, but they were what was needed and they were beautiful in the end. So yes...I guess I'm seeing that God really is good all the time.

And One Final Lesson: The Future Is Now

If you're like me then you probably had things in 2014 that you put off or that you couldn't commit to like you wanted. God has shown me throughout this year that even if His promises and plans for your life are not being met this year then they are being prepared this year for the next year or the year after.

It's hard to be patient. Particularly when you really want something and you know it's right there. But God has everything worked out perfectly for the right time. The most important thing as I have learnt is to come to know Him more and more intimately. As that happens everything else falls into place as it has for me this year with work, uni, love, family, friends etc.

And though I say falls into place that doesn't mean that everything just becomes easy. Not at all. In fact sometimes the things God does makes your life harder. It's hard to be a Christian in a secular society where so many people have hurt deep within their hearts. It's hard to love someone who hates you for your beliefs. But just because it may be difficult doesn't mean it's not right. It is more than right because in the end, this time on Earth that I have right now is only short and in the end God will redeem it all for an eternity to be with Him,

1 Corinthians 4:20: "For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God's power."

That's what I want to do in 2015 and onwards more and more: live by God's power fully, knowing that I have the authority to live life on the edge for Him and with the people He places around me. I'm looking forward to that in fact. And it's that perspective that makes all the little ups and downs truly worth it: the knowledge that in the end everything will work out. Here's to an even better 2015 with some new adventures for us all!

Monday, 22 December 2014

The God I Don't Agree With

I had an interesting discussion on Saturday with a friend. He was talking to me about the fact that he struggled with the idea that salvation wasn't for everyone: that you have to accept what Christ does for you. I answered him with the metaphor that it's like all of us are hanging off the edge of a cliff and basically while Christ is someone reaching out to us - God is reaching out to us - that we have to also reach out and accept that gift of salvation. He still told me he didn't really agree with that which I said was fine.

It is fine to not agree with God. It's a human reaction - but it's also somewhat problematic. Take a look at the following two cartoons:  and Each of  the cartoons makes an interesting point about how we can approach the Bible and Christianity. In response to how people can approach God let me say one thing. I have read a lot of different apologetics works and a lot of different scientific stances on God that argue about what we should take as literal from the Bible or who needs to prove the existence of God or not. Let me make this point: you can choose not to believe in God, you can choose what God looks like for you, you can put him in any box or so on you choose - you can even say he doesn't exist. But here's my point: it doesn't matter what you choose to say about Him or believe about Him if as I believe, He is the Creator of it all. 

Imagine if I was God. Just imagine - using me as a literal figure - and here I am, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. Then you start to debate whether or not I exist or what kind of power I have if any. But really, despite any debate, what does it matter? I do exist and I do know what kind of power I have. Shouldn't it make sense that if there is an all powerful being that you call 'God' that he isn't defined by our laws or rules? That you can't measure him scientifically or define his power in such a way? In fact, perhaps that's the single greatest reason people refuse to believe in God: because really, His existence is a weighty thing. It means that there is a right and wrong not defined by personal morals but by His standard. It means that what you agree with might not be correct.

In Exodus 3:14 God really compounds this to Moses: 'God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'"' God names himself I AM as a powerful statement that despite any Egyptian gods, despite anything that comes against Moses or anything else: that He remains all powerful and all sovereign.

I had a great little chat yesterday with Jay at Church which pointed out to me that really sin is not about merely disobedience: it's about unfaithfulness. Sin is about not trusting, not having faith, in the most powerful, most perfect, being in all the universe and beyond. From that, disobedience comes, but sin itself is found in a lack of faith, hope or love. It's the opposite of all that I have been learning this year: that when you place God first and foremost in your life everything will fall into place.

As I have said before, earlier in the year in some things I didn't place my faith in God, but in my own strength. God has slowly been shifting my attitude around to placing my faith back in Him, and making him the center of what I do. I say slowly because it is still a process that I am learning. I am so far from perfect that it makes me marvel at how good God is everyday that I reflect upon it. God has truly placed people in my life as answers to prayers and in ways that I didn't even realise.

I was reflecting on this today because I was thinking about how many people approach life. God might bring an answer to prayer to them that doesn't fit their criteria. In fact, no answered prayer ever has for me. I didn't ask God to be working nightshifts at a fast food store! I asked him for work - and really asked him for work elsewhere. But you know what I said to him when I prayed? Your will be done. And his will has been done and his will has taught me the lessons I have needed to make me the man I am now.

My faith isn't about getting everything perfect. It's not about getting a perfect career, perfect job, perfect wife. It's about seeing God be faithful in providing the life for me which is stamped by His Will. That doesn't mean that God won't provide things for me which are 'perfect'. It's simply that His idea of perfect might very much differ from mine.

And the reason for this is because human views of perfection are weak. Human ideas of perfection are imperfect. There's no such thing as a 'perfect career, job or partner'. But there is a perfect God who loves perfectly and unites all things together with his love. Our idea of perfect is for there to be no troubles, worries or human blemishes. For everything to be smooth sailing. God's idea of perfection is all about redemption. It's about purity through Christ and that is what I realise He taught me long ago without me even knowing.

This is where it all returns again to the idea of not agreeing with God. We choose not to agree with God often because we want to believe we have a better idea - or that blasphemously enough, we shouldn't need God to fulfill our own moral codes and be good people on this Earth. Well maybe that's true, but tell me: are you one hundred percent following your own moral code? I'm not. I cannot be good enough to follow my own code: no human effort can cause me not to fall to even the pettiest of blemishes.

And that's the problem: God is the absolute judge of moral codes and he demands nothing less than 100 percent perfection. The kind of perfection that humans can never meet on their own. In the NLT it states in Romans 3:23 "For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard." Yet the following verses deliver some great news in Romans 3:24-26.

"24 Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus."
By ourselves, we can perhaps make it to the 99 percent mark of being 'good enough' by our own standard (I'm yet to meet anyone who is anywhere near that). But yet that 1 percent means that we could never meet God's standard: given that he is eternal and all powerful. You might be white, but only as white as snow, which despite its appearance has a tiny microscopic spec of dirt at the core. Which is why the Psalmist in Psalm 51:7 asks God to "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow."

So yeah, it's fine to not agree with God but if you don't agree with God you also must accept that God might not agree with you. In fact, God won't agree that you are good enough to keep to your own standard. He won't agree that you alone can decide your best destiny. And he won't agree that you don't need Him.

Psalm 139:13 "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb."

God for you might be the God you don't agree with. I still don't always agree with God when he drops gifts or people in my life. Sometimes it just adds extra difficulty, with me being unable to see the bigger picture of my own life. And that's where faith comes into it all. Unfortunately I was never promised that life would be easy or fair. But I never got to choose where I would be born or as whom either. It is a fallacy to think we have any real control over our own lives - as great a fallacy as it is to believe that we have any right to disagree with God - because in the end God is always good, He is always great and He is above and beyond anything we can imagine or dream. 

My friend may have been struggling with why God doesn't just save everyone. I'd like to believe it's Him giving us the chance to realise that we truly need to agree with His Will and that our limited human free will is best aligned with His in true, glorious worship. 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Life Is Pain, Highness...

One of my favourite movies is The Princess Bride, for its one liners and overall charm. There are simply too many quotable moments from that movie but one of those quotes is "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." It's a quote that highlights for me how the humour of the movie rests in the truth of statements made throughout it. Truly, life is full of pain.

This past month we have seen two different types of pain in the Australian community. Firstly the pain for the cricket community with the freak accident that took Philip Hughes. Secondly the pain in Sydney with the Sydney Siege event just this last Tuesday. I myself have experienced personal pain this year with firstly the loss of my Grandmother and secondly the loss of a family and church friend. Life really is full of pain.

To use another movie, The Lion King, "Oh yes, the past can hurt, but from the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it."

I was busy camping when I heard about the Sydney Siege. I could also tell you where I was when the other tragic events happened for me. There's something about tragedy that etches itself in your mind - I can still remember the exact moment when I walked into the living room to see the Boxing Day tsunami roaring across the television screen as a news update.

The thing that touched me however about the Sydney Siege is this: here I was in the beautiful serene natural environment and yet I knew that in the world around me there was chaos and pain and tragedy. It was an interesting contradiction for my mind to think about - but it was also a revelation for me about God.

You see the humour of The Princess Bride is that it takes a variety of nonsensical, tragic and laughable moments and weaves it into a narrative of sparkling romantic beauty. It's a tale that despite death and hardship becomes a 'happily ever after' story in the end, while poking fun at such fairytale stories. Similarly I think that's what our world is like: despite the pain everything is woven together into something more beautiful in the end.

As I stood on a mountain on Wilson's Promontory, I became aware that yes, indeed, my God is a great and powerful God. He is a God who holds an entire universe together and yet bothers to care about my life - about your life on an individual level.

Romans 8:28 (NLT) "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them."

I saw the Australian Cricket community bond together tightly over Philip Hughes with #putoutyourbats. I have seen the general Australian public bond together over the Sydney Siege with shows of support such as #Illridewithyou. I love that people bond together when this happens: it's a strength of Aussies to rally together as mates in tough times and it's a wonderful thing.

I was lead to reflect however that I need my life to be more than just a single series of hashtags or signs of support: not that I don't want to support a hashtag campaign, just that I want to live a life of support. I want to ride with all people regardless of what events are going on. I want to stand with those who lose a loved one regardless of whether it's a big event in the media or not. One thing that disappointed me about both situations are some people I know complaining and questioning 'what is the big deal.' The big deal is that it's people in pain and no one should ever belittle someone else's pain because it's a personal deal. What you can do is stand and support.

We're almost at the end of 2014, Christmas is in one week's time. My challenge to myself and anyone reading this is to remember if you are a Christian that you carry the eternal restorative power of God himself within you. The power to redeem a fallen world around you: live that out, practice it, live an example of love to the people around you this Christmas. Be like our Saviour was in John 3:16 (NLT) "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." Be an example of eternal life through love. And as for anyone else? My challenge still stands also to be an example to the people around you: show others that despite life being painful and full of tragic moments that it truly is worth it in the end.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)
"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

Life is pain: but it is also beauty and love. What are you going to live out this Christmas and New Year?

Please feel free to comment, share and let me know if you did read this! I appreciate it everyone :)

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Love Is The Evidence

Anyone who knows me closely should know that I get different topics, ideas and songs stuck in my head. The song above is one that has been running through my head in connection to things God has been sharing with me in general. I love the lyrics to this song, particularly when it says something like: "Mercy and Grace and Compassion. They're only words without action."

1 Corinthians 4:20 states that, in a context of Paul warning the people of Corinth not to just speak arrogantly and not listen to the apostolic leadership he brings, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power." Bam, the Bible again pretty much speaks for itself. I get frustrated when people get caught up in talk about different little doctrines or 'church politics' or so on. We are meant to be living examples - living evidence - of the Kingdom of God, to walk in power and authority.

That is why I love this song: because love - true God-inspired love - is meant to be the evidence for those around us that there is something more to life than just existence, pain and death. That the very world around us is all a sign that God truly has placed eternity in the hearts of all men.

I read somewhere recently someone saying that 'the Bible is the greatest cause of conflict in the world today.' I had a little laugh at that, because to me that's like saying 'the machines that manufacture guns kill more people than any other kind of machinery.' Okay yes it's a poor analogy but bear with me on this: the point I'm trying to make is that it's not machines that make guns that kill people, it's not even guns that kill people - it's guns in the hands of the wrong people that kill and cause war and destruction. The same goes for Christianity - the Bible in the hands of the wrong people has unfortunately been used to cause a lot of destruction and that's because we live in a fallen, broken world where people love to twist things to their own ends. The point to me in all this, however is that it's a continuing challenge to me to reflect on one simple aim: am I living a life of Godly faith, hope and love? Or am I twisting those to suit my own agendas.

I watched Exodus: Gods and Kings yesterday and found it an average film with some highlights such as the whole idea of God not just testing Ramses as Pharaoh, but of God testing the heart of Moses at the same time. I also found the angel of death scene to be one of, if not the most, powerful versions of that scene on film. Probably to me though what I found to be the most interesting (and yes that can be a loaded word I know) was the idea of Moses trying to do various things in his own strength rather than in his faith in God and God leading him to a point where he was able to trust. Now, I definitely can't say what proceeded from that was Biblical but it was an interpretation that made me think - that in the end yes God wants to save his people as a whole, but he also wants to save, redeem and raise up that one pivotal person: Moses.

The same goes out to all of us: God loves his people as a whole, but he loves you as an individual. The encouraging reflection for me today is that from this personalised love God has for us: we can know him intimately. In the Old Testament God spoke through miracles and chosen people - today after the arrival of Jesus Christ he speaks personally to each one of us and through each one of us. And that makes the fulfillment of the law through Christ a truly special privilege. And the evidence of this love is the outpouring of love in my own heart.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Active Love

I previously wrote a post that suggested  something along the lines of 'love should be active'. I think I was a little mistaken in my phrasing because here is what I have been reflecting on this past night: love shouldn't be active, love is active. And even if that is a minor semantics argument I think it's an important distinction to make: to say that love is active rather than that it should be is to talk about love as a current force, rather than a passive, potentially active force.

Why is this so important to distinguish? Because as 1 John 4:8 says "8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." (NIV) God is love: so if love is active, then God is active and vice versa. It's an important distinction for me to think about in terms of serving a God who is always doing something new or different - or possibly rebirthing something old. It would be tough to serve a passive or dead God in my opinion.

I have often heard of people talking about 'falling in love' or particularly that they couldn't 'help but fall in love.' I know that romantic love - eros - is a different type of love, yet I think the entire metaphor isn't entirely correct. To say that anyone just 'falls in love' denies one crucial element - and it is that element that to me makes love so very active. The element of choice.

Sure, with romantic love there are passions and desires that are hard to overcome but at the end of the day human choice plays a key role in everything: how you choose to act on your passions determines whether you truly act in loving manner, or merely a shallow lusty way.

God however is not a man that he should ever be ruled by passion and that is what makes his love so powerfully active: he chooses the un-chooseable. As Romans 5:8 points out: "8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (NIV)

I was thinking last night about the power of celebrity and how so many people in society want the fame, money or lifestyle of a celebrity. However, they don't want the cost - the paparazi, the hours of public appearances or the various signings and fan favours/requests. The same goes for modern love: so many people want the euphoria and energy that comes from being in love or from having friends and family to love - the acceptance - but they don't want to put in the hard work. They don't want to make the tough choices.

Fortunately for all of us the love of God is so much greater and lasting than any romantic love - which is why I need it. All the other forms of love are great to have in my life but true agape - Godly - love is what binds them all together in my life. Following Christ is a tough choice to make, it costs nothing but everything in a divine paradox, but when you do, as with how Godly love binds together all other kinds of love, it binds all your life together with purpose.

Colossians 3:14 "And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." (ESV)