Sunday, April 29, 2007

Cyclical Lessons ...

Sometimes we find ourselves learning lessons we thought we had mastered. In those times we often grow discouraged, feeling we have learnt nothing and grown little. Learning is not a one-time event. Life’s curriculum is cyclical. This means we revisit skills and lessons. Revisiting does not mean we have not mastered the initial lesson. In revisiting, we review the skills and then develop and extend them. As a teacher, I do this with my students all the time. Firstly, we build a foundation and then, we revisit and revisit again. If no foundation is laid, how can we develop and extend our students? The picture I see is that of an upward spiral. We need not fear we are going around and around the same mountain and beat ourselves up over it. Rather, see it as an upward journey. Sure we come around the same way multiple times, but each time we climb higher.

One of the life lessons that I seem to revisit again and again is that of trust. I blogged about it a while back. Over the past few weeks I have been thinking that abseiling is an excellent illustration of trust. (For the North Americans out there, abseiling = repelling!)

Throughout my life, I have had several opportunities to abseil. The first time I did it, I was belayed off a very high, disused railway bridge as part of a team activity in trust! It was scary dangling in the middle of space, spinning and twirling at the end of a rope with nothing to put your feet against and no control. I was determined not to show my fear and I must have done a good job. Suddenly the rope took off and I was plunged down a sharp drop at a rapid rate of knots until coming to a sudden stop again. This was only a few seconds but it was disconcerting to say the least! I heard shrieks of laughter up on the bridge and was asked if I was all right. I replied that I was and asked what happened. The girl belaying me laughed and said that as I was not showing fear she thought I needed an extra challenge and wanted to see if I would yell out. I was not very impressed (and no, I didn’t yell out). Her actions illustrate a point I will come back to later.

Lesson One. Commitment.
Trust and commitment go hand in hand. It is impossible to trust if you don’t commit. The hardest stage of abseiling is the initial stage of leaning back into empty space and committing yourself to your harness and rope. It’s a scary thing to leave the security of the cliff and lean out into the unknown with nothing solid under you. If you commit half heartedly, you scrape yourself up! Trusting God is like this. To trust fully, we have to completely give ourselves over to him – our lifeline. It is next to impossible to commit yourself without trust.

Lesson Two. Trustworthiness.
Ensure you place your trust in something trustworthy. Abseilers go over every inch of rope and check their equipment thoroughly. They look for wear and tear and anything that would prove the equipment untrustworthy. They don’t do this for fun. They do it because they know it can mean the difference between serious injury or even life and death.

The girl belaying me when I abseiled was untrustworthy. When I was counting on her, she breached my trust. Would I trust her again in a similar exercise? Probably not! However, this is not atypical of us as humans, sooner or later we blow it. We are human. We are fallible. The challenge is how do we rebuild trust when it has been shattered? (That’s another blog in itself!)

God has always proven himself trustworthy. When life takes me over the edge and my feet dangle in space, when I am out of control and paralysed by fear, I know that he is my lifeline. He has proven himself sure and he never lets me fall. The joy in abseiling is repelling off the cliff and soaring through the air. In this place between the cliff and the ground I find freedom. For a few seconds of each jump, I am free to fly. My senses are alive and I find freedom that is not available while staying in the comfort zone at the top of the cliff. I go to new places and levels that would be unavailable on foot. God loves us too much to leave us in our comfort zones … he wants us to fly! Will you trust him as your lifeline?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Suffer The Little Children ...

Tonight I was looking at my friend's photos. I really like his ideas and he does great portrait work. Tonight he showed me the picture above - a child in Honduras with his glue, and it haunted me. We got to talking about the plight of children in many countries. It made me remember back to my first trip to China. In Shenzen we were met by a girl not much older than 9 or 10. She was carrying a baby that was about 6 months old and both were begging. The baby had learnt to put its hand out. This was a really sad thing to see. Sadder still, was my return visit about 18 months later. The same girl was out begging and had another baby. I remember seeing her (her face etched in my mind from the first visit) and thinking, "That's the same girl. She must have been there every day for the past 18 months. This is her life. Begging." What kind of life is that for a child?

I am fortunate to travel a lot. 15 months ago I was in Egypt. Again, I saw children everywhere ... their life so different to the children I know at home. These children, some as young as 5 and 6, were working. I did not feel I could take pictures with my camera so I tried to capture it with words when I got home.


Little children
Belong at home
Loved and nurtured
Playing … imagining … creating …dreaming.

Poverty takes little children and
Steals their childhood.
No time for dreaming
They fight to survive.

Turn your head and you will see them

Little children
Tapping with persistent fingers on car windows
Faces pressed against glass
Immersed in in a sea of moving cars
Belching smog
“Strawberries miss?”

Turn your head and you will see them

Little children
Fanning painted papyrus
Ducking past the man with the stick
Scuttling around tables
Where tourists relax

Turn your head and you will see them

Little children
Girls with covered heads
Sitting in rows
Deft fingers pulling silk through canvas
Tying knots in intricate patterns
Learning a trade.

Little children
Belong at home
Loved and nurtured
Playing, imagining, creating, dreaming.

Poverty takes little children and
Steals their childhood.
No time for dreaming
They fight to survive.

If you want to make a difference you can. Partner with an organisation like Tear Fund, Compassion International or World Vision. They make a huge difference in the lives of children and their family. A small donation from you changes lives. Even better, sponser a child and get involved in making a difference in their life and the lives of their family.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Word Up!

“Break open your words and let your light shine out …” (Ps 119:25)

The bible is a book that has been around a very long time. As long it has been around, it has inspired many different reactions. In his article Making Being Made, Rich Mullins said that people …
- Speculate on it
- Pontificate in view of it
- Adulate it
- Attack it
- Adapt it
- Systemize it
- Criticize it
- Theorize it
- Ponder it
- Practice it

Maybe you see yourself in one of these? The best thing Rich says is this: “of course, what we make of the bible will never be as great a thing as what the bible will – if one lets it, make of us”.

I love that quote … how has God’s word transformed my life? Has it made a difference to who I am and how I think? This is the core difference between Christianity and hobbies. God is not this thing out there that I occasionally contemplate. Church is not a club that I stroll off to (well at the moment my church is Starbucks but you get the point!). My faith is not a hobby I indulge in from time to time. My faith is not an external thing. I cannot pick it up and put it down. It is internal and it shapes and defines the very essence of my being. It continues to shape who I am becoming.

My faith is based on Jesus who is the incarnate word of God. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the word of God is living and active. It is this that is alive in me and is continually working to shape me and mould me and lead me in his ways. This word is my life source. King David knew this well. Psalm 119 reveals many facets of his relationship with the word. Perhaps a favourite verse I like is found around 113-114 (Message Translation) … “I love your clear cut revelation. You’re my place of quiet retreat. I wait for your word to renew me …”

I love the idea I opened with … “break open your word and let the light shine out” … This is a very evocative scripture for me. It makes me think of fresh baked bread … perhaps a French baguette. The smell leads you along … pulls you and draws you in …(remember the old Disney cartoons of fresh pies on window ledges …) Baguettes are lovely … fresh and crusty. The smell draws you and then you break open the loaf! The crust is light, crunching and crackling as you break it, revealing tantalising fluffy bread inside. Then you put it in your mouth … texture and taste collide … Ohh yes!

The food we eat either sustains us or damages us. It breaks down and becomes part of the very fibre of our being. It is like this with the emotional and spiritual food we eat. When I was 14, I met a man who knew the scriptures inside out. It seemed you could not throw any situation at him that he didn’t have insight from the Bible for. He had a window into God’s perpective on life. I remember at the time thinking, “I want that”. So I read and studied and looked to see what God could have to say to me. When I was 15, a youth leader came back from seminary in the States. He said the thing that most changed his life, was being taught how to break open scriptures. He used a very simple formula …
- What does it say?
- What does it mean?
- How does this apply to ME in my life TODAY?
For 6 weeks he mentored me and helped me to do this. I would journal and he went through it each week, helping me take it deeper and find the treasure within.

These days I meet many people who say, “the Bible is so dry. I just can’t get anything from it … but I read really good books that have scripture in them so that feeds me”. I am saddened when I hear this. There is nothing like getting your own revelation from scripture. As I mentioned above, David nails it when he says, “I love your clear cut revelation” … and when we go through those dry spells, we can pray as David did … “provide me with the insight that comes only from your word” … Over the years I have heard thousands of sermons, and read thousands of books. I will remember a few things from those but I have NEVER forgotten anything I dug out of scripture. If it was revelation, it has stayed with me, shaped me, moulded me and anchored me.

If you need any more convincing, here are just a few things David knew from Ps 119. The word …
- leads us in his way (vs3)
- keeps our way pure (vs9)
- counsels us (vs24)
- preserves our life (vs 25)
- strengthens us (vs28)
- frees us (vs32)
- delights us (vs35)
- helps us have correct focus (vs 36,37)
- provides an anchor for trust (vs 42)
- provides hope (vs 49)
- comforts us (vs 52)
- provides wisdom and insight (vs 98,99)
- illuminates our way (vs 105,106)

God’s Word. Get to know it. Get to know the author of it. In the words of NIKE …