He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:3-5
Yesterday was ‘Harmony Day’ – a day to celebrate the successful integration of migrants into our country and communities. A day to recognise that nearly 50% of Australians were born overseas or have a parent who was, to celebrate that in the last 70 years more than seven and a half million migrants have made Australia home. It’s a day when we proclaim, ‘Everyone belongs’.
How ironic, then, that lurking in the shadows of the ‘Harmony Day’ glow was the news story of the week – the racial taunt by a spectator on NRL and Rabbitoh’s star Greg Inglis. We may pride ourselves on our high rate of multiculturalism (only behind Switzerland and Luxembourg) and yet disharmony and exclusion are daily realities for many. Yesterday I sat with an Filipino woman at a Cultural Diversity workshop who has lived in Australia since the age of 8. Eighty percent of her life has been lived in this country. Two days ago, a random person walked up to her in a shopping centre on the Central Coast, pulled a face and changed the shape of her eyes and told her to ‘Go home where she belonged.’ In this woman’s own words, “My head tells me to just brush it off as an ignorant comment, but even after 32 years in this country, it breaks you down. It wounds your spirit.”
I wonder…we may not spruik racist slurs overtly but what messages do we subtly send to others in our homes, communities and churches that echoes, “You don’t belong here?’ How do we devalue people by assigning them worth simply because of the colour of their skin, what they look like or do? How do we unintentionally exclude people by our own unwillingness to extend a hand of welcome or open up our home for hospitality? How often do we remain silent and fail to call out those who make jokes that generalise or denigrate others based on where they come from or what language they speak?
Over 2000 years ago, Jesus experienced what it was like to be on the receiving end of taunts and rejection; to be despised and told that ‘you don’t belong here’. He was stripped, vilified, beaten and ridiculed. He was led from the city as an outsider to a cross where he was dehumanised and shamed. But here’s the thing. Jesus allowed his spirit to be crushed. He intentionally bore your shame. He willingly gave up his life on the cross so that you could experience real harmony and full inclusion. On the first ‘Harmony Day’ Jesus declared from the cross that there is nothing in all creation that will ever separate you again from his love. He has done everything, so that you can belong to him forever. That’s worth celebrating every day.
To Ponder: In what ways are my words, actions and behaviours valuing or devaluing the others around me today?
Lord Jesus, as you have freely opened up your arms on the cross to welcome me into your home forever, help me to open my arms and my home to embrace people with your inclusive love. Amen.
Jesus said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. John 21:6
It wasn‘t quite the 153 that the disciples pulled in – but if boat limits allowed, we would have got close! It was certainly a day to remember.
We had ventured out to the Grange Tyre reef, about 4km offshore to a spot Dad had marked on his GPS to do a bit of fishing with the kids. The anchor was down, the first Gar rig was attached, baited with gents and thrown overboard to drift out behind the boat. I reached for the next rod to set up and Alex yelled, ‘Got one’! Less than 30 seconds in the water and the first Gar was in the esky. For the next two hours, all we heard was ‘Fish on’ as they pulled in garfish after garfish over the side including more double headers than I had ever seen. Dad was on one side, myself on the other taking fish off the hooks, and rebaiting the line to throw out and catch the next one. It seemed that as one fish took the bait, it stirred up the rest and within a few seconds, we would hear the familiar refrain, ‘Got one’. “Me too.” In two hours, we had bagged our boat limit, and added a couple of crabs and Tommy Ruffs too.
Right time…right place….right bait. All we had to do was turn up and throw the lines over and we ended up with a boat full of fish. But here is the amazing thing; the tides weren’t right but we caught plenty anyway. For as we discovered later when cleaning them, there was no food in their belly’s. They were hungry. We just happened to show up at the right time with food and they went for it.
We live in a world where people are empty of hope, starving for purpose and meaning and ready to latch on to whatever dangles in from of them that has a whiff of promise. But not every promise is life-giving. Not every bait will satisfy. Jesus does. He has called us to be fishers of people, but many of us have never caught any fish. Most of the time, it’s because we have never ventured out into the sea to go fishing. Maybe we think we don’t have the right equipment or experience. Maybe we just have too many things on our “to-do” list. Perhaps even, deep down, we are scared that should someone take the bait of the gospel and we actually hook one, that we won’t know what to do with the fish. It could get messy!
If I learnt anything that day, it was that sometimes turning up ready to fish, and being willing to bait the hooks and throw in a line is enough. God will do the rest. So don’t be surprised if the fish start jumping over themselves to get to the hook first! It doesn’t have to be the best time, just God’s time. You already have the right bait. The good news of the Gospel which you have received. The story of how Jesus has been at work in your life, changing you. Who knows, maybe just dangling that story over the edge of the boat will have you yelling out, ‘Fish on!’
How willing are you to turn up and throw the line in the water and bait the hook with the story of God at work in your life? What fishing spot is Jesus calling you to throw out the line in today?
Lord Jesus, fill me with courage today to bait the hook and throw the line in right where I am today, trusting that you know the spots where there will be an abundant catch. Amen.
P.S. If you want to learn more about fishing for people, come along to the Missional Masterclass at Epping this Sunday from 12-3pm as Rev Dr Noel Due and Dean Eaton equip us in our calling to fish for people.
7 March 2018
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you,nin a dry and parched land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1
Our family seems to have a love/hate relationships with maidenhair ferns. When they are thriving, they are stunningly beautiful with their vibrant green, lacy leaves. They immediately brighten a room with their presence. Yet they can be so fickle and finicky. If conditions aren't perfect, they can go from beautiful one day, to dying and wilting the next. Let them dry out for even a few hours and they suffer. Put them in the wrong environment - too close to air conditioner vents, or draughts from windows, repot them in too big a pot, or let their roots get too wet - and they will frustrate you no end. They need constant tending and continual care. On more than one occasion, we have had to cut the fern back to the soil and tend it so that it can re-shoot and bring joy again.
Is the disciple's heart any different? When a disciple is at their best, their very presence brings joy and beauty to every relationship, their willing service brightens lives like nothing else can. Yet when a Christian's roots dry out even for a few hours, signs of wilting can be seen as brown spots develop on the leaves of our soul.
When our lives are stressed or the conditions and circumstances that we face are harsh, it's easy for our roots to dry out. It doesn't take long for the signs of wilting to become visible in our life - short tempers, irritation, a judging spirit, struggling to pray, just to name a few.
Just as a maidenhair fern needs constant attention and care so do our lives as Christ followers. If this is a season of your life where you are seeing or feeling the sign of dryness, if you are thirsty and are longing for renewal or revitalisation, seek Jesus. Let him soak you in the living water of his grace. For his Word can renew the most wilting spirit and even resurrect dead plants so that they flourish and beautify this world with their presence. May the life of Jesus in you bring joy and beauty to the people you meet this week.
Are you well-watered in the Word and thriving as a disciple of Jesus, or drying out and in danger of wilting at this present time? What needs to change so you can flourish and make a beautiful difference in the lives of those around you?
Lord Jesus, cut off any dead fronds in my life and tend my heart so that I might add colour and beauty in every situation you place me in. Amen.
28 February 2018
Above all else, guard your heart for everything you do flows from it.- Proverbs 4:23
'Dad, there's a problem with the shower. The water's not draining and there's a horrible smell in there.' It was my daughter on the phone while we were away on holidays. "It eventually goes down but it sits there for a few hours at least."
There wasn't much I could do while away, but when I returned a few days later, she was right. There was a stench and the water was just sitting on the floor of the shower, pooling around the drain hole. A few minutes later, the cause was obvious as I unscrewed the drain grate and pulled out a dark, stinky mass of hair that had accumulated over years. It was preventing the water from flowing through the floor waste gully. With the obstruction removed, the drain could work the way it was designed.
How true that is of our hearts too. In baptism, we are given new hearts, clean hearts that are free to love God fully and the people around us expansively. But over years of simply living, there can often be a slow build-up of accumulated gunk that restricts us loving the way God designed. It may be a harboured grudge that has caused us to become bitter, a regret on continuous replay in our minds, a painful hurt whose ache won't ease, a worry that seems to grow with each passing day or even a critical spirit that is quick to condemn. We may not think much of them at the time, but left unattended, they can build up layers around our heart that stop both the inflow and outflow of love in our lives. Sometimes we are not even aware of the stench that our life has become. That's why the wisdom writer tells us to guard our hearts, for everything we do flows from it.
Lent is a gift for the heart - a time to do some periodical maintenance on the plumbing of our soul to check if there is any accumulated scale and muck that is blocking the flow and causing a putrid odour. When we confess our sins, we acknowledge the gunk that accumulates around our heart and let the Master Plumber, God himself, clean the blockage, remove the build-up of scale, and eradicate the stench that his love and grace may freely flow into and out from our lives.
And while you are at it, it may be worth spending five minutes cleaning your own shower drains!
Have you noticed any strange odour in your life? How freely is God's love flowing into and out of your life?
Lord God, remove any build-up of sin and gunk in my life, that your life and love may flow freely through me. Amen.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7
It’s not the carols in the stores that tell me Christmas is coming. Neither is it the Christmas trees or the lights that illuminate homes all over Sydney in this season. What announces that Christmas is here more than anything else is the breaking new stories that we hear on the airwaves every hour.
‘Fatal Accident on the Hume Highway’. ‘Seven car pileup in Harbour Tunnel.’ ‘M4 at standstill as Paramedics race to scene of multi-car accident’.
More than anything else, these headlines signal the approaching Christmas celebration. They herald the beginning of the season of stress. They announce the time of personal struggle, aloneness, pain and suffering that so many feel at this time of the year. As December 1 ticked over, it’s like someone flicked a switch and everyone’s stress level increases, patience decreases and anxiousness intensifies. It’s so evident on the roads and I haven’t even ventured near a shop yet.
It is a busy time of the year. There’s end of year celebrations and performances at schools to attend. Speech nights and ballet performances, musical concerts, carols events, and break up parties that have to be fit in and ticked off. There’s high level family ‘negotiations’ about where Christmas lunch will be held, and who will buy presents for whom. Then there’s the financial worry that results from trying to fulfil expectations of others and give them the ‘tis the season to be jolly’ fix. On top of that, there is still the pressure to finish off everything at work and meet the deadlines before offices shut down for a few days or weeks.
This is the season where people are pulled in every which direction, being stretched further and further emotionally, relationally, financially. It’s a season where people’s minds are so full of what needs to happen that we should not be surprised by the diminished concentration levels. There’s no time to process, no space to find perspective, no rest for overloaded lives and consequently lives which are frayed at the edges begin to completely unravel, tempers flare and lives are filled with suffering and pain as people reach breaking point.
This is a time of the year when we need peace more than any other time. When anxious minds need stilling, when frazzled lives need calm, when busy lives need rest, when distorted lives need perspective.
Our God gives us exactly what we need n this time of stress. He gives the gift of peace. Peace is like a rubber band which holds our lives together when we feel they are unravelling or coming apart. God’s peace is what brings us back to rest when we feel we are being pulled and stretched in every direction. God’s peace keeps us safe when our lives are overloaded and calendars full. His peace enables us to find perspective when we are consumed with the grind of daily living. It turns our hearts and minds into fortresses which protect us from the assaults of stress, fear and anxiety.
Are you longing for that peace in your life? Are you sick of living with stress and needing a different perspective to live by?
You will only find that peace in the promised Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. If your life is in danger of unravelling, come and let Jesus bind you with his everlasting love which will never break, no matter how stretched your life feels. Let him draw you into his presence where you can fully rest in his peace. Let him bless your life with perspective by showing you what truly matters and let him calm your worries and fears as he declares his love for you again. In his presence, all your Christmases have already come!
Prince of Peace, come and fill my life with your unending peace. Amen.