5C’s To The Best Marriage Ever #2 – Cooperation

Weddings. Who doesn’t love a good old fashion wedding? They’re the best. Love is in the air, great people. great food, great drink. And the dance floor. Come on. It’s the greatest. But let’s be honest, the wedding is the easy part. Once you’ve made the exciting choice to marry, then you’ve got to learn how to do the dance. This is the idea of cooperation. A great marriage is one that is able to move from being all about ‘me to being about ‘we’. It is two individual people working together to become one. This is the view the Bible portrays of marriage. Before the first-ever marriage in Genesis 2, God outlined marriage in this way.

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Gen. 2:24-25

Jesus likewise confirmed this view

and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matt. 19:5-6

The word ‘one flesh’ Hebrew אֶחָד (echad) and Greek εἷς (Heis) are used to describe God in Deuteronomy 6:4 which says “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The picture is of one unit. A word you may be more familiar with is ‘shalom’, meaning peace and harmony. As God, Father, Son and Spirit is one, a husband and wife are to be so united to one another that it’s like they are one. Working in perfect harmony. What an incredible privilege we have as men and women to reflect the image of God through our marriages. Now for God ‘echad’ comes naturally, it’,s simply who God is. For us, it’s not so natural. Our natural disposition is to compete against each other rather than cooperate with each other.

Marriage is a covenant, not a contract. These two are very different from one another. A contract is built upon mutual distrust whereas a covenant is built upon mutual commitment. A commitment to cooperate. We commit work together to make each other more beautiful, more wonderful, more glorious and more holy. It is a daily choice to keep that commitment. As a wise person once said, ‘In the beginning, opposites attract but later opposites attack’. What often intrigued us in the beginning about our spouse can actually become something that leads to conflict later. It is important to identify and clarify these differences and learn how to make compliment each other rather than compete.

 

Below are 4 common areas of difference

 

HOW WE ARE ENERGIZED

Every person is energized differently and energy levels matter. When your emotional tank is low it has a significant impact on the way you communicate. Nothing affects your ability to cooperate more than energy. When you are well rested and your emotional tank is full, you are kinder, more patient and less selfish. You consider your words more carefully and are less tempted to respond out of frustration. Therefore understanding how each other is energized helps to create an environment where we are running on a full tank rather than on fumes.

 

HOW WE GIVE AND RECEIVE LOVE

Gary Chapman wrote a helpful book called “The 5 Love Languages – The Secret to Love That Lasts”. Its practical, filled with humour and stories to convey with clarity the simple idea that everyone gives and receives love differently (check out 5lovelanguages.com). In it, Gary highlights what he labels the five most common love languages – words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. Our natural tendency is to love others how we ourselves receive love. This is not a bad thing, Jesus told us to love our neighbour as ourselves. What separates a good marriage from a great marriage is the ability for a couple to give love in the way the other receives love. This is much harder than it seems. It’s unnatural and goes against our instinct. But it matters. In fact, this is one key to keeping those emotional energy tanks full. Life is so much more enjoyable and easy when you feel loved, respected and valued by your spouse. And it takes two to tango. Both spouses need to find ways to love the other in a way that actually hits the mark. Additionally, you need to learn how to receive love in the way your spouse naturally gives it. Because it will be more natural to them it will be a joy to love you in their own special way. So learn to accept it, rather than demand to be loved a certain way. Great marriages learn this dance.

 

HOW WE USE WORDS AND PROCESS INFORMATION AND EXPERIENCES

Some people are expanders. Others are condensers. An expander is self-explanatory, they expand … everything. They talk. A lot. And then talk some more. Expanders dominate a conversation. Provide all the unnecessary detail you don’t even care about. While you’re telling your story, they’re not listening. They’re thinking up a better story to trump your story. Expanders believe words are powerful and unlimited. So they use them. All of them. They tend to process verbally and need to talk things out

A condenser is straight to the point. No fluff. No bubbles. Just the point. Condensers believe words are powerful but limited. So they ration them. Just in case they run out. They tend to process internally and need to think things through.

One word really matters here. TIMING. You have to learn the skill of knowing when to use words and when not to. More on this in our next post.

 

HOW WE APPROACH CONFLICT

Nobody likes conflict. It’s the worst. But to have a great marriage you have to learn how you and your spouse will approach it. Two approaches are most common. The engager and the withdrawer. An engager is someone who always wants to fix everything and make sure everybody is ok. One of my favourite leadership axioms by Bill Hybels is, “when something smells funky, engage.” The big idea is to not let stuff fester. Unresolved issues can poison a relationship. Therefore they engage and go head on in, even if it’s the most inappropriate time. The engager wants to move toward their spouse in order to quickly resolve the conflict in which they hate. A withdrawer is someone who also wants the problem resolved but is fearful that engaging will only make it worse. Talking about it is like pouring fuel on the fire. Therefore they withdraw in an attempt to let things settle. The withdrawer wants to move away from their spouse in order to avoid increasing the conflict unnecessarily.

By now you’ve probably identified some of your relational differences. So what’s the secret sauce to cooperating? How do we cooperate when we are so different? It makes no difference knowing these differences if you don’t apply this last principle. This is the key to cooperation. This is the key to experiencing echad.

 

JUDGE YOU SPOUSE ACCORDING TO THEIR INTENTION, NOT THEIR ACTION.

 

Due to our differences, we instinctively judge each other by actions not intentions. Yet the intentions of the heart make all the difference in the world. When we understand the reasons and motivations behind the behaviour of our spouse it helps us to not only extend grace but also to receive those actions for what they really are – love.

Go ahead. Why don’t you sit down with each other and talk some of these differences through and ask the question, ‘when you do this what is your intention?’ Then listen and seek to understand and receive their love. Decide to begin to cooperate with each rather than compete against each other and experience God’s joyful design for your marriage to be echad and experience shalom.

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5C’s To The Best Marriage Ever – #1 CHOICES

Too many people are looking for “the one”. This is very common, but not limited to the Christian context. The concept is that there is one perfectly designed soul mate out there somewhere. Find them, marry them and live the happily-ever-after you always desired. Thank you, Jerry Maguire and every other romantic comedy ever produced.

In a couple of weeks, I kick off a new series at Life Centre Church called “Citizens – Living as God’s Kingdom People”, based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. I’m really excited to preach through it, as Jesus’ teaching is exceptionally relevant for today. As it relates to this topic Jesus had a few things to say about marriage, lust, anger, promises and divorce (Matt. 5:21-48). These are very practical and challenging. At the time of Jesus’ sermon, a large controversy about divorce and marriage was being conducted between two popular rabbinic schools of Hillel and Shammai. It was into that context in which Jesus spoke. What has been reinforced to me through my study is that God is far more for marriage than he is against divorce. God created marriage for our joy and God wants to elevate the blessedness of marriage in our eyes and to help a culture that is divorcing and separating left, right and centre how to experience joyful and fulfilling marriages.

So with this in mind I thought I’d do a short series called the 5 C’s To The Best Marriage Ever.

 

#1 – CHOICES.

The first principle to experiencing a great marriage is simply to make good choices. God has given us the means within our faculties to make choices. So choose well, before marriage and after marriage. Choose well.

Choices Before Marriage.

I often make the somewhat controversial statement that “It is not who you marry it is what you marry!” This may seem somewhat simplistic and even redundant yet it is such an important piece. Much of what leads to a great marriage exists well before the wedding day. Consequently, if you marry well, you immediately alleviate half the obstacles. A great marriage takes a great amount of work. It requires all sorts of compromises and adjustments that are not always easy. This highlights even more reason why choosing well before you marry is of such importance.

Too many people are looking for “the one”. This is very common, but not limited to the Christian context. The concept is that there is one perfectly designed soul mate out there somewhere. Find them, marry them and live the happily-ever-after you always desired. Thank you, Jerry Maguire and every other romantic comedy ever produced. While I do not wish to discount some couples experiences or the notion of compatibility altogether, I do find the concept of “the one” fraught with problems.

The first is a shaky foundation. Beneath the concept of “the one” is a subtle selfish agenda. That is, you are looking to get from someone rather than give to someone. Whether it is meaning, security, affirmation, identity, respect or love. You have an expectation that when you find this person these are things you will receive from them. Now, none of these things is wrong. In fact, they are all necessary in some sense to have any sort of meaningful relationship. The issue comes with only seeking to receive these things rather than giving these things. Many a couple got married, expecting their spouse would humbly serve them, only to find out that their spouse was expecting the same thing. If this is the foundation of a relationship then when times get tough, which they will, the relationship will collapse and you’ll be tempted to believe that maybe they just weren’t the one after all. It just wasn’t the right fit. But the problem isn’t the fit the problem is the foundation.

A great marriage requires both. Both parties need to feel valued, understood, loved and respected by the other. In order for that to be a reality, both have to prioritise the giving of these not just the receiving of them. If two people seek to receive, no one receives. If two people seek to give, both give and both receive. It’s beautiful and it is joyful.

The second is a misguided focus. The focus becomes to find someone and then marry someone. These are the ultimate goal. To be sure, no relationship exists without finding someone. Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord.” You have to go looking, whether physically or digitally, in order to find a spouse. You have to take some risks, put yourself out there, and give it a go. But marriage is more than just finding someone; it’s about finding a spouse. Someone you will unite and covenant with for the rest of your life. And marriage is more than just about a wedding day. It’s about building a life together.

Now I hate to inform you of this truth, but the unfortunate reality is that the external fades over time. I turn 40 this year and my body is only moving in one direction and that’s south. So yes find a person you are physically attracted to. That’s legitimately important. But it’s really easy to get caught up by someone’s highlight reel without examining their behind the scenes. What are they like behind closed doors? The attraction needs to be both externally and internally. A great example of this can be seen in Genesis 24 where Abraham’s servant is sent to find a wife for his son Isaac (thank goodness I didn’t grow up in those days). The servant notices two things about a woman named Rebekah. 1) She was very attractive in appearance (Gen. 24:16) and she had a servant heart (Gen 24:20). Not only did Rebekah offer Abraham’s servant water, which she had to draw herself from a well. She also drew water for the servant’s camels. She was generous. She was kind. She was beautiful inside and out.

Sure he might be a really cool guy, or she might be a hottie but are they secure or insecure? Are they givers or takers? Do they use words to build others up or pull people down? Are they humble or arrogant? Are they personally growing or stagnant? Do they have the same faith as you or a completely different worldview? These things matter. It’s not just who you marry, it’s what you marry.

You need to like more than what you just see on the outside. As part of our church pre-marital counselling, I often say to young couples, “you’re going to talk a lot more than you are going to have sex. So make sure you actually like each other.” I don’t say it to be provocative. I say it because it’s true. You need to like the person you marry. You need to be attracted to the whole person, inside and out, including their mind and their heart. I can honestly say that I am far more attracted to my wife now, 15 years in, 4 children later, than on the day I married her. We are better friends than ever Why? Her character has continued to blossom. Her internal beauty shines brighter and brighter each and every day. In my view, I married a hottie not just externally but internally. And one day if God grants us the time we’ll be in our 80’s not looking like we did in our twenties but we will be far more satisfied, fulfilled, complete and joyful than even on our wedding day.

Choices in Marriage

The choices before you marry are important and the choices in your marriage are important. While a happy marriage may begin when we marry the one we love, a happy marriage blossoms when we love the one we marry. A great marriage is a result of thousands of little choices each and every day, week, month and year to love one another and do all you can to make the other even better than they would be on their own. Therefore make choices that not only benefit you but benefit the other and coincide with God’s plan for their life.

Tim Keller sums up a Christian vision of marriage.

Within this Christian vision of marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of what God is creating, and to say, “I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!”  Tim Keller

As you reflect on the quote above consider the choices you can make in your marriage to make it the best marriage ever.

4 Ways To Make 2018 Great

Happy New Year!!! 2017 has been and gone and 2018 is here. I don’t know how you approach a new year. I love it. I reflect. I dream. I imagine. I plan. I pray. And then I go about life hoping some of those dreams and plans become a reality and that the year is great.

Here are four ways to make 2018 a great year.

 

1. MAKE DECISIONS RATHER THAN GOALS

We all love a fresh start. Sometimes I think God created time just so we could have the possibility to say goodbye to the past and anticipate the future. 2018 is simply that. It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life… wait that’s Michael Buble’. Sorry, I’m still in Christmas mode. You get the point. 2018 is a fresh start. Take advantage of it. It’s a gift. Say goodbye to 2017 with all its joys and sorrows and begin to dream about 2018. As you reflect on the past and dream of the future proceed to make some decisions. Dreaming is good. It gets the good vibes flowing. We feel inspired and energised. But in order to capitalise you’ve got to crystalize. (I literally just made that up). But you get the point. You’ve got to do more than just dream and set goals. You have to make decisions.

Goals tend to be generic, something out there and afar off. Decisions are here, now and specific. Goals refer to what I want to achieve at the end. Decisions designate want I will do right now. Goals are about desire; decisions are about discipline. Goals are about dreaming; decisions are about achieving.

For example: Rather than setting the generic goal of eating healthier, make a decision as to what you will cut from your diet and what you will add, RIGHT NOW. Rather than setting the generic goal of taking a holiday with friends or family this year, make the decision. Pick the place. Pick the time and pay the deposit. Make the decision now.

 

2. BUILD YOUR RELATIONAL NETWORK

This sounds so formal, ‘Relational Network.’ Eww! What even is that? By relational network, I mean a diverse community of both encouragers and equippers.

Encouragers are our friends. We all need friends. We need people that we do life shoulder to shoulder with. We laugh with friends. We share experiences together. We help each other and enjoy being in each other’s pockets. We rub off on each other. Make each other better.

17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Prov. 27:17

In 2018 you need friends. Good friends. But friendship is a two-way street. Having good friends is a result of being a good friend. So commit this year to build friendship around you by being a great friend to others.

 

Equippers are our mentors. We need those that are out in front of us. People that we may not have a whole lot in common with but are vital to helping us learn and grow. These are the people that speak into our lives. These people are ahead of us in the game. They have insight. They have wisdom. They have experience. Learning from personal experience is the slowest and most painful way to learn. Life is far more enjoyable when you are able to avoid slipping into ditches along the way. So pursue specific growth relationships. Ask certain people if you can buy them lunch and pick their brain about something. Invite yourself around for dinner at their house. Oh and a little secret… you pay for everything. Pay for the coffee, pay for the food. Pay the time and do the drive to them. Pay the cost and reorganise your schedule to suit them. The best way to get the most out of a mentor is to make it as low a cost to them as possible. This reveals to them that you value them. The more a mentor feels valued by you, the more likely they will add value to you.

 

3. EXPAND YOUR CAPACITY

Personal growth is one of the most satisfying accomplishments. There’s just something about being able to look in the mirror, figuratively or literally, and see that progress has been made. But it takes effort. Everybody lives life with a lid or a ceiling. This is your capacity or competency in any area of your life. You have a knowledge lid. A limit of what you know. You have a skill lid. A limit of what you can do and how well you can do it. You have a character lid. A limit of what type of person you are. Unlike God we have limitations. We have capacities and competencies that exist with a lid. Yet at the same time, because we’re not God we can grow. We can improve. We can expand.

 

Three important principles to consider:

Pace Yourself – Don’t go crazy and overdo it. Life’s a marathon so pace yourself. Be patient. Give yourself grace and go for the long-term result, not the short term. A few years ago I decided I wanted to expand my knowledge capacity. So I committed to reading one hour a day from 10 pm – 11 pm. I loved the first few months. I really grew and enjoyed it. By the end of the year, I read 40 books. The problem was I fried my brain. Instead of increasing my lid for knowledge, I lowered it. The next year I struggled to read at all. Since then I’ve found my pace of a book a month.

Narrow The Focus– Don’t try to improve every area of your life all at once. Pick a few things to work on, not everything to work on. We’ve all got areas we need to grow in. Sometimes we don’t grow at the rate we hope for is because we’re trying to grow everything at the same time. But what if you just grow by 5% every year. I’ve taken this approach to building my character. My focus every year is two of the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control). I figure if I focus on two I should be able to grow in at least one. So narrow your focus. Pick a couple of things this year that you want to grow in and make those your focus.

Work on your strengths – Often when we consider personal growth we begin with weaknesses. This is ok. But God has also given you strengths and it’s probably your strengths that have got you to where you are today. You can’t be all things, to all people. You can’t be good at everything but you can be great at something. So get at it. Look at your gifts, your skills your personality and character and keep expanding in those areas.

 

4. INVEST IN PEOPLE

I am asked constantly how I remain so passionate about God and church. My simple answer is I do something with what God has given me. If you want to see personal growth on steroids, just look at new parents. Becoming a parent forces you to grow up in a really unique way. Why? You are forced to invest in someone other than yourself. You are forced to give away what you have for the benefit of another. You are forced to sacrifice and serve in a way you have never done before. And you’re all the better for it. You don’t lose your life, you increase it.

Isolation and stagnation poison the soul. If you don’t do something with what God has given you, your soul becomes stale, stagnant and even callus. It’s just how life works. When your life remains about you, it shrivels. When your life is about others it grows and blossoms. God’s made it this way. As we give, we receive. As we sow, we reap. As we bless, we are blessed.

So live a blessed 2018 and use whatever God has placed in your hand. Whether it be money, possessions, time, words of encouragement, opportunity, whatever it is. Use it to invest in someone else and I guarantee you, the reward is worth it.

 

Now go get it!!!

My Story by Bethany Bruce

Anxiety tells me that nothing is secure. Depression tells me that there is no hope. Jesus tells me that I am safe in Him.

From my first interaction with Beth I knew she was awesome. She is kind, she is brave, she is my friend and this is her story…

To avoid a very scripted introduction, I will stick with basics: My name is Bethany, I am 20 years old, and I have an experience that likely resonates with most. Whether it be your personal journey, or the life of someone close to you, I pray that what I am about to discuss is of some benefit, wherever you are at. Let’s have a conversation.

In 2014 I was diagnosed with severe depression and extremely severe anxiety. I had only just graduated high school and, after 12 years of routine, no longer had anywhere to be. I didn’t have to wake up at 6am, so I slept. I didn’t have to do assessments, so my brain was never engaged. My behaviour slowly dissipated and became unpredictable. I wouldn’t sleep at night because that was a waste of time, but sleeping throughout the day gave me an excuse to avoid interacting with the people around me. I lost 10kg over the space of one month, because the thought of getting out of bed and preparing a meal was overwhelming. My face and skin were pallor in appearance. My hair was thin and began falling out. My body was not healthy and longed for even the slightest touch of the sun; a healthy meal; an established diet. I began to question things that had been secure in my life for so long. Do my friends really like me? Am I a burden to my family? Will my boyfriend get sick of this? These thoughts continued on until I finally realised things weren’t normal. It was Christmas morning when I woke up absolutely deprived of energy or emotion. My mother asked me what was wrong, and all I could say was “I don’t know, but I feel nothing.” I imagine my parents could tell things weren’t right, but waited for me to come to this on my own terms. I am grateful for that and was supported from the onset.

I started therapy and was initially seeing a Christian psychologist. While this was not a positive experience for a number of reasons, I came to understand the severity of my condition. I taught myself how to cope. My safe place became my bedroom, and art became an outlet. Mind you, I wasn’t good at art — but art was good for me. It was a distraction and meant I didn’t have to deal with things right away. I started on anti-depressants, eventually went on a higher dose, and continued on medication for about 2 years. It cleared the fog and I found a therapist who really did help me, and continues to. My brain was balanced and I could think rationally and address the issues I had. I still can’t understand how some believe that antidepressants are incompatible with the Christian faith. The ability to see and feel God, even for the shortest time, was the most comforting thing throughout this time, and this was only possible with the corrections my medication had made. I treasured those moments — thanks to my newfound clear mind.

I started university at the start of 2015 and my structure was back. I had a place to be, I had a purpose, and my brain was being engaged. Things were better, but they still weren’t good. Why was my emotional stability placed in earthly routine? It was a false dawn, and I began to slip again. The biggest unfamiliarity was that I was no longer in control (not that I ever was). God liked to remind me of this, which was painful and confronting. I did all the things that people said had helped them. It was of no benefit as the issue was that I had tried to control the condition I was facing, rather than relying on God’s grace and trusting that He knew what would eventuate. The less I tried to control things, the better they became. It was okay to have a bad day. It was okay to spend some time on my own. I allowed myself time to heal and rest.

I went off medication at the end of 2016. I didn’t want to do this, and it was uncomfortable for me. What I had constructed as my safety net for the past 2 years was about to be taken away, yet I knew it was the right decision after much prayer. My fiancé (who has continued to love me and trust God throughout this season) and I are now apart of a church community who have accepted us as family. I have implemented healthy boundaries and routines. I still have depression and anxiety, but know how to manage these conditions. Therapy continues to be important. Trusting in God’s plan gives me peace.

My therapist has taught me one lesson that has never left me: if a tiger is not physically waiting to attack you at this very moment, then you are safe. Nothing or no one can ever take God away from you. People can say and do awful things. However, there is security in God. No one can make God love you less, or alter His plan for you, or love you better than He does. Regardless of what happens, so long as there are no tigers, you are safe in this very moment. You are held so tightly and safely within his righteous right hand. Anxiety tells me that nothing is secure. Depression tells me that there is no hope. Jesus tells me that I am safe in Him. God may choose to heal me completely, or He may not. His timing is always perfect and His ways are good. I am so thankful for suffering as it has shown me more of my Lord’s character, and I yearn for more knowledge of Him. His ways have been revealed to me through my pain and my hurt.

2 Corinthians 12:8-10: Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Depression and anxiety are both battles I come up against daily, allowing me to help others who struggle with similar issues. God has not caused me to suffer and then abandoned me, but rather He has allowed my suffering to glorify His name. Mental health is a very predominant struggle for so many Christians today — more common than most tend to think. It is not a measure of the quality of your faith. It is not an issue of salvation. It means you are a human, born into sin. Today, I thank Jesus for promising me eternal life with Him. Until then, my chemicals might be a little unbalanced, yet His word will continue, steady and unshaken.

Beauty and Being a Dad – Lessons From Beauty and The Beast

My daughter is longing for this world. Every time she gets a glimpse of it her heart springs forward as for a brief moment as she encounters God’s true kingdom… It’s there in the sunset. It’s there at the dinner table filled with friends and family. It’s there at the park as the breeze whistles through the trees. It’s there when she laughs, when she cries and when she lays down her head to rest at night. God’s kingdom is here and it’s all around her, everyday, in everything and it’s all pointing to her great God that loves her and promises that he’ll bring her into that kingdom with all the colour, with all the life, beauty and joy. On that day her heart will rejoice and behold like no other.

 

I am not a nursery rhyme, fairy tale kind of guy. Don’t ask me why but they just didn’t stick with me from my childhood. I know we grew up with them because my other siblings remember my mum reading us the stories. But for some reason I just don’t remember any of the stories or rhymes. This became apparent after I got married and began having children. My wife would sing the songs and tell the stories and it was like I was hearing them for the first time. She would always look at me with disbelief wondering how it was possible to be an adult with little to no recollection of the stories and characters in the most famous of fairy tales. Maybe I was more interested in other things. I don’t know.

Since having children however fairy tales are commonplace in our home. Children love stories. They never tire of them. There is something about a good story that captures their hearts attention. The more I learn about the power of a story, the more attentive I am to what stories I allow to shape my kids.

Now this is not an over-reactionary Christian blog post about the semi homosexual innuendos portrayed by Lefou. Sometimes my own team disappoint me with their unreasonable expectations of secular culture or their impetuous opinions voiced with a veneer of hypocrisy. While I can sympathise with parents concern over Hollywood’s willingness to continually push the boundaries, I cannot validate their grievance of a homosexual agenda in Hollywood when staring them in the face is an explicit story of a female falling for an animal. We call this bestiality. For me, if you are not offended by this component of the story, you shouldn’t be offended by anything else. Anyway, enough venting on my part.

This post is rather some lessons I learnt from watching this fairy tale for the first time. I took my oldest daughter and for the record I loved it. She gave me running commentary throughout, constantly nudging me, pointing out whom each character was before they had even been properly introduced. Watching her captivated by this story prompted me to consider what it may tell me. Here are 4 things I learnt about my daughter.

 

  1. My daughter is looking for more than just physical provision.

Gaston is attracted to Belle and wants to marry her. Unfortunately for him Belle is not interested in marrying him. Unfortunately for her, this is partly what makes her so attractive to Gaston. Belle knows what she wants and she is unwilling to settle. Gaston approached Belle again attempting to manipulate her into marrying him pointing out his ability to provide for her after her father passes in the future. Belle emphatically assures Gaston that she will never marry him and breaks out into song singing, ‘I want more than physical provision, I want adventure and I want love.’

Sure, Belle is singing about the man she wants to marry but it still applies to me as the first man in my daughter’s life. She wants more than just a roof over her head or food on the table. She wants adventure. She wants to be cherished. She wants to have a man in her life that is aspiring to provide emotionally, relationally and spiritually as well as physically. She wants a man that will pursue her heart and go beyond what Gaston is offering to provide Belle. While I want my daughters to find men like this, the reality is that I set the standard. If I become this type of man for them now, then they’ll have a higher chance to be as Belle was – unwilling to settle.

 

  1. My daughter needs the weapon of hope

At one point in the story, Belle is perplexed as to how the living household objects are able to maintain hope in spite of their dire circumstances. While not having a full comprehension of the situation, Belle empathised with them. In her mind there was no hope. Yet hope shone through. This is the nature of hope. Rick Warren often says, ‘you’ve got to have hope to cope.’ It’s so true. Hope is essential to perseverance.

As a dad this leads me to consider what my kids are putting their hope in. Can it deliver? Will it last? What part do I play in shaping this? I’m not sure I have all the answers to these questions but I do know hope is one of the great weapons for overcoming adversity. In the Christian worldview hope is more than wishful thinking. It is a certainty that is secure in God’s nature. God can’t lie, therefore when God says something will be, it will be. It’s certain, it’s sure. This is the hope I want my daughters to have. A hope that is beyond an imperfect father or future husband and in a perfect unfailing God whose promise is sure and true.

 

  1. My daughter needs a soft heart not a hard heart.

The moral of Beauty and the Beast is that a soft-hearted girl named Belle is able to soften a hard-hearted angry beast. As a dad it’s important to remember that while discipline is necessary in developing my kids, nothing is more important than my heart towards them. If my heart is hard, my discipline will be hard and more likely to produce another hard heart. On the other hand if my heart is soft then the necessary discipline will be in love and able to produce the desired outcome.

Additionally I want my girls to have soft hearts. While I want them to have thick skin and to be secure women, there’s nothing more unattractive than a hard heart. This is where I’m really grateful I have a God that has a perfect heart towards us. God can change my hard heart. God can soften my daughter’s hard heart. This is really good news especially as my heart is often hard.

 

  1. My daughter loves extravagant beauty

There were three scenes in particular that made my daughter and I gape with wonder. The first was when the beast introduced Belle to the library. It was incredible. If you know me, it won’t surprise you that my I was filled with envy. Even my daughter turned to me and said, ‘Dad imagine if that was your library and it was just filled with Bibles.’ She knows me well. It was amazing. The second was the ballroom in which Belle and the Beast first danced. The room, adorned with polished marble floors, lavish crystal chandeliers hanging from the high domed ceiling was exquisite. The third was near the end of the movie after the curse had been removed and everything had been restored to its original beauty. The colour returned, life restored and joy filled the entire kingdom once again.

All three scenes reminded me that we have an innate proclivity towards extravagance. Leaving aside the actuality of the greed and financial disparity within the world we live, I believe our hearts are designed for wonder and beauty. It’s why we gaze; it’s why we esteem; it’s why we treasure; it’s why we behold. There is something within us that is drawn to extravagant beauty. The Bible would tell us that this is the deposit of the eternal placed within each human soul. We are longing for a kingdom not of this world but of another, where colour is returned, life is restored and joy is unending.

My daughter is longing for this world. Every time she gets a glimpse of it her heart springs forward as for a brief moment as she encounters God’s true kingdom. As a Dad I want to help her to see the beauty of God’s kingdom all around her every day. It’s there in the sunset. It’s there at the dinner table filled with friends and family. It’s there at the park as the breeze whistles through the trees. It’s there when she laughs, when she cries and when she lays down her head to rest at night. God’s kingdom is here and it’s all around her, everyday, in everything and it’s all pointing to her great God that loves her and promises that he’ll bring her into that kingdom with all the colour, with all the life, beauty and joy. On that day her heart will rejoice and behold like no other.

 

P.S. Keep an eye out for the upcoming posts from my friends on mental health conditions. I’ve read a few of them and they are going to be really helpful. Thanks for reading. Thanks for sharing.

Living With Mental Health Conditions

However you define it, mental health is paramount to one’s quality of life. When someone suffers with any type of condition and to any degree it has the ability to affect his or her whole life. According to Beyond Blue over 3 million Australians are currently suffering with some form of anxiety or depression. That’s a large number of our fellow countrymen and women struggling with their quality of life.

In the coming weeks a number of my friends have agreed to be guest bloggers and share their stories of dealing with mental health issues. This is something I am personally passionate about as in 2015 I was diagnosed with having post-traumatic anxiety. This has made life more difficult and complicated for me as well as my family. My goal through these series of posts is to help lift the lid of mental health and encourage those that may struggle or have a friend or family member that struggles. I’d love it if you would consider sharing these upcoming posts through your social media with the hope of encouraging as many people as possible through the stories of my brave friends.

In this post I’d like to start the conversation with a general overview of mental health and take a snapshot of different approaches people take in dealing with mental health conditions. In the coming weeks a few of my friends will share their stories and insights in the hope it encourages many.

 

MENTAL HEALTH DEFINED

Mental health is often defined as, ‘a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.’ Additionally ‘Beyond Blue’ (a mental health support organization) points out on their website (https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/what-is-mental-health),

“According to the World Health Organization, however, mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

So rather than being about ‘what’s the problem?’ it’s really about ‘what’s going well? So when speaking of conditions such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and the like, Beyond Blue would categorize these as ‘mental health conditions’. However you define it, mental health is paramount to one’s quality of life. When someone suffers with any type of condition and to any degree it has the ability to affect his or her whole life. According to Beyond Blue over 3 million Australians are currently suffering with some form of anxiety or depression. That’s a large number of our fellow countrymen and women struggling with their quality of life.

 

APPROACHES TO MENTAL HEALTH

Weakness – People with this approach completely dismiss mental health conditions as genuine. Rather they consign them as weakness on the part of the person struggling.

Warrant – People with this approach view mental health conditions as an excuse used by many to avoid dealing with real issues of life or even to escape hard work. Anytime something of significant effort comes up the person claiming mental health conditions throw the, ‘anxiety or depression’ card down.

Whatever – People with this approach may not necessarily look down on someone claiming mental health issues rather they simply wipe their hands of acknowledging its legitimacy due to their lack of understanding. They may not rule out these conditions from the realm of possibility, but have not experienced themselves and therefore they ‘just don’t get it’.

Warmth – People with this approach sympathize while not experiencing mental health conditions first hand. They readily acknowledge the struggle is real and difficult and move towards those struggling with compassion. Often they are close to someone dealing with these conditions or have previously struggled themselves.

Wrestle – People with this approach have been or still are in the heat of the battle. They personally wrestle with these conditions on a day-to-day basis. The wrestle is real.

Regrettably I used to fall into the first approach. While not vocalizing my opinion publically, I definitely thought those that struggled just needed to toughen up mentally. They were just weak. Looking back I can see this came through in my approach when counseling others. My motivation was good, my overly simplistic approach was uninformed and naïve. I’ll leave my personal story for a later post but in short, one day in 2015 everything changed for me as I came crashing down. Hopefully I now sit in the ‘warmth’ approach as I continue to wrestle with my own struggle each and every day.

I guess we call this being humbled 🙂

Up next will be my friends and their stories. I hope this either helps move you towards warmth and compassion to those that struggle or helps you to continue your wrestle with hope.

5 Lessons From Being A Stay At Home Dad

This made me think of my wife. How often does she lay her head on the pillow at night thinking not only about everything that needs to be done the next day but also what was still left over from this day. Yet I rarely hear her complain. She handles herself with so much grace.

This year my wife heads back to part time work. This means I’m a stay at home dad one day a week. I know I know, one day no big deal right? Well to me it is. I’m a little nervous and excited at the same time. It means I’ll be doing school drop-offs and pick-ups, lunches and all the housework that Monday but the best bit is looking after my youngest daughter Keller. Heaps of cuddles and playtime. It’s going to be fun. So after my first day here’s what I learnt.

  1. My wife seriously rocks.

By the end of the night I hopped in to bed pretty tired. It surprised me. One day in, and mild exhaustion was setting in. How soft am I? Here I was thinking about how much I achieved or didn’t achieve that day. I got the washing done but didn’t get the floors mopped. I got my daughter down well for her first sleep but not her second. So my day was filled with a sense of accomplishment and yet I still felt like I didn’t get everything done. This made me think of my wife. How often does she lay her head on the pillow at night thinking not only about everything that needs to be done the next day but also what was still left over from this day. Yet I rarely hear her complain. She handles herself with so much grace. If anything she beats herself up for not doing a good enough job, which is just plain ridiculous. My wife rocks.

 

  1. Rhythms matter

My housework on a Monday will essentially set up the rest of the week for my wife and family. This is why I’m a little nervous about the whole thing. I don’t want the week to begin on the back foot. So getting a good rhythm to my day will be essential to our family rhythm. I’m not sure how long it will take to get in our groove but I’m looking forward to finding it.

 

  1. Washing takes a while in a house of 6

I’m not exactly sure how many loads of washing I folded this week but what I do know is that it takes much longer than I anticipated. A pile of washing always seemed a pretty simple job to me but its always been a task my wife took care of. I normally do more of the floors and washing up but rarely touch clothes other than putting my own away. This is probably an intelligent strategy from my wife, as I’d have a good chance of stuffing something up. But now it’s part of the role description. So washing it is. Come at me. I got this!

 

  1. Netflix is a good washing friend

So here’s my goal. And don’t judge me. After one day of stay at home dadding I think I just may be able to rhythm bubs sleep time with some washing and netflixing 🙂 So while washing may take some time I just may be able to make it enjoyable time. Now this may sound like I’m a terrible parent, or maybe this is a secret that all stay at home parents’ keep on the quiet. All I know is that I’m going to pick a new show and see if I can watch one episode a week while folding. So what new Netflix show do you recommend?

 

  1. One on One time is pretty special

Georgia, my #3 child started prep this year. I had the privilege of taking her to meet her class and see her in a different context. What I saw blew my mind. I saw a completely different person than the girl I knew at home. She was far more confident than I had ever imagined. No longer under the sway of her older brother or sister, she spread her own wings and was soaring. It was awesome. I was so shocked that when I got home I told my wife that it felt like I didn’t really know her. In one sense I felt saddened. Almost like I had neglected my relationship with her. In another sense I was delighted and wanted to get to know this girl even more. Either way I was reminded that being a big family is awesome. It’s fun, it’s loud, it’s crazy busy and it’s an absolute blessing from God. It’s also really easy to let the individual slip through the cracks. We are a family, we are a community and we’re also individuals. This is a tension I’m learning to balance. How do we as parents create a family culture whereby the one doesn’t rule the whole and at the same time the one doesn’t get lost amongst the whole.

I’m reminded that it’s super important to have the one on one. This year I’m really looking forward to my one on one time with my youngest. I hope to build my friendship with her and get to know who God has made her to be. I’m also looking forward to making a more concerted effort to do the same with the other three kids and especially my wife. She has given so much of herself over the last 8 years and joyfully. I also know that she’s going to blossom even more this year. Because like I said in the beginning – she rocks.

So if you are the praying type I’d love some prayer as a Dad and husband to be able to meet the emotional and relational needs of my family as individuals.

Thanks in advance.

 

 

2017 – New You Same God

So live a life of effort this year but put behind you a life of earning.

As you’ve probably already experienced there are hundreds of blog posts going up about how to be a better you in 2017. The goal of these posts is to encourage people to move from where they are to where they could be. This is a good thing. The problem however is that they can be overly generic, moralistic and tend to have an unhealthy focus on self. So while I wish you a great year and hope it is filled with joy and success, the reality is many reading this will not have a great year and not due to any fault of your own. Some will get that job; others will lose that job. Some will gain a loved one; others will lose a loved one. Some will get into that uni-course; others will miss out. Some will begin a new relationship and others will end a relationship. Welcome to life in a broken world.

Rather than trying whip you into an emotional frenzy by boosting your ego I thought maybe I could help take the weight off you trying to be God’s gift to mankind and point you to the one that truly is great. Here are 4 truths based off Tim Chester’s book ‘You Can Change’ that can change your year.

 

1. GOD IS GREAT – Therefore you don’t have to be in control!

You will stress out this year. You’re going have moments when everything feels out of control and it’s going to freak you out. That’s ok. It’s normal and we all experience it. The question is – why do we freak out so much? Well it’s because we believe the lie that we’re supposed to be able to control everything. I always like to say, ‘Worry is the worship of self gone bad’. What I mean by this is that we make ourselves the centre of the universe. We become convinced of the cultural narcissistic narrative that we are able to be all things and do all things. In other words we worship ourselves. We prop ourselves up as though we were God. This would be ok if we could pull it off but we can’t. Nor are we meant to. Worry is the emotion that cries out from inside to highlight to us that we’re unable to achieve this immaculate standard. Our self-worship has gone bad because we are not living up to the standard we hold for ourselves – GREATNESS! We want to be great which in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. We have great value and worth as human beings but we were not designed to be able to control everything. You worry and stress because you hold yourself to a high expectation that you cannot meet. You say to yourself, ‘hey you’re supposed to have everything under control and you’re not doing a very good job of it. I can’t trust you with this’

So what do you do when you begin to lose control? How do you respond when the uncontrollable plunges itself right into your lap? One thing you can do is turn to the one who is great and is able to control all things. Take the pressure of yourself this year by worshipping God rather than yourself. Turn to Him in prayer and supplication. Acknowledge your inability and your need for help. Put your trust in the God that is great. (Ps. 86:8-10; Ps 145;3; Ps 115:3; Ps 147:4;  Job 23:13)

 

2. GOD IS GLORIOUS – Therefore you don’t have fear others!

I don’t know about you but I’m a people pleaser. Nothing makes me feel better about myself than having the approval of friends and family. It’s an unfortunate truth but it’s the truth. I’m insecure and constantly need affirmation. The Bible calls this the ‘fear of man’ (Prov. 29:25). Throughout scripture fear is closely tied to the idea of glory. To glory or to fear is to place value and worth onto someone or something. The greater the value or worth something is to you the greater the glory you give to it. Another way to think of it is that the more glorious something or someone is to you the more weight they carry. The more influence they have on you.

A simple example of this for me is my wife. Her opinion of me carries far more weight in my mind than that of my neighbour down the street. Why? She is more glorious! Her thoughts are more valuable to me. They are worth more. They have greater influence.

What about God’s thoughts towards you? How valuable, worthy, influential are they on your life? Maybe this year rather than giving more weight to what others think of you, you allow God’s words to be more glorious to you. When you feel unloved and rejected what if you consider the fact that the one, who holds the universe in His hands, loves you with an endless love? Rather than reject you, He has ransomed you, pursued you, adopted you, and is committed to you unconditionally forever. When you can’t forgive yourself for past mistakes, allow God’s forgiveness to reign supreme. God is glorious! You don’t have to allow the words of others or yourself to define you in 2017. (Ex. 15:11; Ps. 8)

 

3. GOD IS GOOD – Therefore you don’t have to look elsewhere!

You are designed to experience pleasure and you live with a sense of dissatisfaction. God’s desire is that you would pursue that which He made to truly satisfy. The problem is in our brokenness we often run to the wrong things. Ecclesiastes tells us that God has placed eternity into our hearts (Ecc. 3:11). You may have heard it put that there’s a ‘God shaped hole in your heart’. I agree it’s a little Christianese cheese, but it’s true. God wants you to pursue that which is good, that which truly satisfies your soul.

The Bible portrays following Jesus as a life filled with joy. Jesus is not the prison warden making sure all the rules are being followed and everyone is kept locked up. Rather He is the rescuer setting everyone free. He breaks the shackles that bind us and he brings the true and lasting satisfaction our soul longs for. This year turn to Jesus to satisfy you. Don’t look to greater prosperity; don’t look for increased power; don’t look for more pleasurable experiences or growing popularity. These things aren’t necessarily bad. But they can be if we pursue them to satisfy – because they can’t. God is good. He satisfies. Therefore you don’t have to go elsewhere. (Ps. 16:11; Ps. 135:3; Ps. 100:5; Ps. 34:8)

 

4. GOD IS GRACIOUS– Therefore you don’t have to prove yourself!

The human default position is to earn and prove. We spend our lives trying to earn approval and love from others and proving we are worth something. When we speak of God being gracious we mean that God gives to us unconditionally. It is impossible to earn His love or prove to Him that you are worth something. It doesn’t matter what you do, how hard you try or how much better you can be. He loves you and is for you. You don’t have to prove yourself because God is gracious. He doesn’t change. He is no more happier with you on your best day or unhappy with you on your worst day. It’s what makes Him God. We may be up and down and all over the place with people depending on the circumstances. Not God.

This means you don’t have to beat yourself up every time you stuff up. You don’t have come under the weight of trying to impress everybody else, crossing your fingers and hoping they actually like you. Rather you can rest that God loves you, is for you and with you. You can live in His grace that gives strength, security and a solid foundation to build your life upon. So live a life of effort this year but put behind you a life of earning. When you live from a place of earning you’ll always be bound because you are seeking to get. When you get what you want you’ll be happy but when you don’t you’ll be miserable. However when you live from a place of grace you already have what you need and are now free to live a life of giving. There’s no subconscious strings attached. You’re truly free. No more proving, no more earning, just more freely giving. God’s grace is that good. It’s why we Christians call it good news. (Ps. 86:15; Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8-10)

All the best for 2017

 

Check out some further resources below from Tim Chester and others on the 4G’s

https://timchester.wordpress.com/2009/09/01/the-4gs-truths-to-set-you-free/

https://saturatetheworld.com/resources/4-gs/

http://www.gcmcollective.org/the-4-gs/

 

Christmas – Sacred or Secular?

They began to celebrate what C. S. Lewis calls ‘the grandest miracle of all time’ the incarnation of God, the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas was birthed out of a pagan context but it was not pagan. It was Christian. Christians decided to Redeem a date, 25th of December and honour the birth of our saviour, not Mithras or any other pagan God. Christmas was sacred not secular.

Christmas is one of the great celebrations of the year. Trees go up, ridiculous amounts of money are spent, gifts are shared, food and drink consumed as family and friends gather together in a joyous occasion. There’s so much love and joy in the air that even Michael Buble’ and Mariah Carey are allowed to be played on the open air. However Christmas can also be a time of war. A wave of online debates begins between Christians with regard to the nature of Christmas. Is it a secular or sacred holiday? And should Christians participate in something that has pagan roots? The debate sometimes goes even further as some overly precious Christians feel they have the monopoly on Christmas voicing their displeasure that the secular culture doesn’t put enough Christ in Christmas. So which is it? Is Christmas secular or sacred and how should we interact with it as Christians.

In a previous post on Halloween (http://wp.me/p1gDan-oO) I highlighted a filter we use as a Christian family to help determine how we interact within our secular culture. The same can be used for Christmas. Do we receive it? Do we reject it? Or do we redeem it? I’ll use the same outline for Christmas.

 

REJECT IT!

Those who reject Christmas often do so with a desire towards obedience and devotion to God not culture. They seek to avoid entanglement to the so-called pagan roots of Christmas. This should be commended not ridiculed. Even if you disagree with the premise, the motivation can be right. The argument is made that since the Bible doesn’t instruct us to celebrate Christ’s birth nor is the date of his birth definitive Christians should therefore reject Christmas.

While I sympathise with this position I do not necessarily hold to it. Let me ask a series of questions in order clarify why. What cultural days do you participate in that the Bible doesn’t prescribe? Do you celebrate Australia Day? Anzac Day? Father’s or Mother’s Day? Thanksgiving? Festivus? My guess is you do. Ah but Christmas began as a pagan holiday and we are forbidden in scripture from participating in pagan practices? I’ll show why I believe this claim to be misplaced a little later. But again lets ask some further questions. Do you sing along to secular music? Have you ever attended a Coldplay concert? Are these secular or sacred? So before we reject Christmas entirely because of its so-called pagan roots lets consider what other paganisms we may already be participating in.

I meet people in café’s all the time. I’m yet to meet the Christian who refuses to meet with me on a Thursday because it’s Thor’s Day. In Norse mythology Thor is the deity of thunder and the eldest son of Odin, ruler of the God’s. He had a magic hammer and thunder was supposed to be the sound of the rolling of his chariot. It is called ‘yom chamiyshiy in Ibriy’, meaning “fifth day” or “day five.” What about the other days of the week? Sunday (day of the sun); Monday (day of the moon); Tuesday (Tyr’s Day), named for the Norse god of war; Wednesday (Woden’s day), named to honour Odin, or Woden, chief deity in Norse mythology; Friday (Frigg’s day) is named for Frigg or Frigga the female deity of the sky and wife of Odin, the chief of the deities; Saturday (Saturn’s day). Let’s continue…

What about a wedding ring? The ancient Romans believed that a vein ran from the ‘digitus Annula’ris’ or ring finger to the heart. The ring was a way of putting a chain on one’s heart. Have you ever blown out birthday candles? ‘No don’t tell me.’ Yep. Pagan. Sorry. People would seek a necromancer who could tell one’s fortune from the pattern of smoke after blowing out the candles. Let’s just admit that there are many aspects of the culture in which we find ourselves that has pagan roots. So it’s a little more complicated than just rejecting whatever is pagan.  If you’re going to reject Christmas because of it’s pagan roots then I applaud your devotion and likewise encourage you to be consistent. And maybe the question isn’t what did it mean then, but what does it mean now?

 

 

RECEIVE IT

Those who reject Christmas often make the claim that those who receive it simply do so in ignorance. While this can be true for some it certainly isn’t for everyone. So should we receive Christmas? Well it depends I guess. Which Christmas? We live in a context where there really are two different Christmas’. What was once a largely Christian country is now essentially post-Christian. So while Christmas still exists as a holiday, it doesn’t exist as a purely Christian one. Shock horror it’s secular. This is only a problem for those Christians who expect those non-Christians to act like a Christian. We’ve got to keep Christ in Christmas they say. This is true, but only for the Christian. A non-Christian doesn’t believe in Christ but they do believe in family and friends. They do believe in celebrating. That’s what Christmas is for them and these are good things. Let’s stop expecting those that aren’t Christians to act as such.

As for the Christian there can be two common problems with Christmas. 1) For some, Christmas (and Easter) is the time of year to give Christ a token thought. Then they go on forgetting him the other 363 days of the year 2) for others, Christ just gets replaced. Santa and other secular aspects of Christmas take the prominent focus. Both are errors. For the Christian we should seek to celebrate and worship Christ at every possible opportunity not just couple days a year.

‘I can’t think of anything more pleasing to Christ than the church celebrating His birthday every year…While the New Testament doesn’t require that we celebrate Christmas every year, I certainly see nothing wrong with the church’s entering into this joyous time of celebrating the Incarnation, which is the dividing point of all human history.’ R.C Sproul

 

REDEEM IT

As a family we have chosen to neither reject nor receive Christmas. Rather we seek to redeem it. For us there are some untenable aspects of Christmas in our secular culture. For example we have chosen to reject Santa. We have explained to our children the truth about Santa and ask them to not ruin it for all the other kids. So far so good on this one. We felt that we in good conscience could not lie to our children about Santa (Easter bunny, tooth fairy etc). We also felt that the spirit of Santa is the antithesis of Christ and the gospel, the very heart of Christmas. Unlike Santa, God loves you and gives to you even when you don’t deserve it. Unlike Santa, God isn’t checking his sin list twice over to see if you’ve been naughty or nice. Rather Christ came and lived a perfect life on your behalf because he knew you couldn’t always be nice. Jesus offers you a better gift than Santa ever could in that he offers you forgiveness and true eternal life.

As a whole however we seek to redeem Christmas. We seek to make Christmas as sacred as we can. We put up a tree (secular) and seek to use the tree to remind our children that one day this baby Christ would choose to die on a tree for our transgressions (sacred). We give gifts (secular) with the intention of reflecting God’s nature (sacred) as he gave himself to the world in love (Jn. 3:16). We seek to redeem Christmas because it is the very position from which Christmas arose. When the ‘Rejecters’ state that Christmas has its roots in paganism they are claiming that it is secular and not sacred. But I’m not sure this is exactly accurate.

The 25th of December was the final day of a weeklong celebration within the Roman Empire. During this celebration they worshipped secular and pagan gods such as Mithras. Christians within the Roman Empire were devoted to Christ and in good conscience rejected participation in the festivities. They could not worship their gods. Rather than just reject this celebration outright they chose to redeem the day. Rather than remaining in their homes avoiding the secular culture they decided to celebrate something that was essential to their faith. They began to celebrate what C. S. Lewis calls ‘the grandest miracle of all time’ the incarnation of God, the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas was birthed out of a pagan context but it was not pagan. It was Christian. Christians decided to redeem a date, 25th of December and honour the birth of our saviour, not Mithras or any other pagan God. Christmas was sacred not secular.

Now the Christian Christmas has certainly been overtaken by secularism and consumerism. However we must remember that we live in a secular context. Do we really need to get our nickers in a knot when Westfield put up ‘Happy Holidays’ rather than Merry Christmas? The early Christians within the Roman Empire did not expect the Romans to participate in Christmas as they did. They expected them to continue to celebrate their own way. Rather they chose to lift up Christ and use the celebration as an opportunity to share about Christ being the true and living God-man that came into the world in order to redeem the world. They used Christmas as a means of contrasting Christ with their false gods. As my good friend Adam Ramsey noted in his post (https://adamramsey.org/2013/12/18/3-tips-for-sharing-jesus-with-others-this-christmas/) rather than blowing Santa up why don’t we do the same as the Christians in the secular Roman context and use the opportunity to contrast Santa with Christ.

If you’re not a Christian may I apologise to you for expecting you to act as a Christian. May I also wish you a merry Christmas and encourage you to consider the Christian perspective of Christmas this year. If you are a Christian may I likewise wish you a merry Christmas and encourage you to consider the words of the Spurge!!!

“Remember, young believers, that from the first moment when Christ did lie in the cradle until the time when he ascended up on high, he was at work for his people; and from the moment when he was seen in Mary’s arms, till the instant when in the arms of death he bowed his head and gave up the ghost, he was at work for your salvation and mine…You have as much to thank Christ for living as for dying, and you should be as reverently and devoutly grateful for his spotless life as for his terrible and fearful death.” Charles Spurgeon (A Treasury of Spurgeon on the Life and Work of Our Lord, Volume II, 216).

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!!

Busy Is The New Happy – Our Ultimate Rest

It’s more than just a rest from something; it’s a rest in someone. He doesn’t just take your burden off you, he gives you his peace, he gives you his strength, he gives you his grace and mercy, his encouragement, his friendship. Jesus gives you his life. Recieve from him and he will give you rest. Ultimate rest. Rest for you soul.

Deep down we know we need something more than just physical rest. A day off each week and a family holiday each year is a good thing. But it’s not enough. Not long after the weekend roles around you’re back at it. Mondayitis hits you square in the face… Again! The two week break is great. You get some sand under your feet, the fresh salty breeze across your face and unlike me you may even be lucky enough to get a bit of a tan. But you and I both know it doesn’t take long before you’re back at work and you’re tired all over again. The day off, the couple of weeks of holiday don’t last. It’s not enough. We need something more. We need something deeper.

Science has provided vast amounts of information about the human body and mind. In the area of sleep, an activity that occupies roughly 30% of our lives, it’s no different. The science of sleep has taught us that sleep has implications for our cognitive abilities, memory levels, physical performance and just overall health. Thomas E. Scammell of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, states, “Our bodies require sleep in order to maintain proper function and health. In fact, we are programmed to sleep each night as a means of restoring our bodies and minds.” And here you were thinking that this was the role of coffee in your life. Our bodies and our minds need sleep. We need rest. But what sleep scientists also point out is that it’s not just about the quantity of sleep that’s important but the quality. We need more than lengthy sleep. We need depth of sleep.

For the mums reading this – you know exactly what I’m talking about. Those first few months of broken sleep… well maybe it’s best I don’t remind you too much of those days. But we know it to be true and we experience it as such. What if the same is true for our soul? What if it’s not just a quantity of rest we need but a quality? What if it’s not the length of rest, but the depth of rest that really makes the difference to our life?

ULTIMATE REST

There is an interesting passage of scripture in Matthew 11:28-29 that shows us Jesus’ desire to give us the rest we need. Here he states,

“28 Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This is a rest that Jesus offers you – ‘Rest for your souls’.  This is the deep rest we need. But notice there are two components to it.

  • Rest 1 – Peace with God – Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ 

Jesus is inviting you to come to him in order that you may ‘REST FROM’. He wants you to rest from labouring, from carrying your burdens. Essentially Jesus is offering to take something off you. Whatever it is that you carry. Whatever it is that is weighty and heavy on you. Jesus says – ‘come to me I’ll take that off you. I don’t want you to carry it any more.’ It may be bitterness and unforgiveness. He wants to take your burden. It may be guilt and shame. He wants to take your burden. It may be fear and anxiety. He wants to take your burden.

In the immediate context Jesus is offering rest to those who are under the heavy religious burden of the Pharisees and religious elite. The Pharisees had taken God’s law and turned it into an impossible to do list that inherently became an oppressive burden upon people. Jesus hated this. This can be clearly seen in Matthew 23, which is known, as the passage of ‘Jesus’ 7 Woes’. If you’ve ever felt this unbearable weight of moral expectation put on you by religious people like me, I’m sorry.  This is not the heart of Jesus. He wants to take that off you.

The wider implication to you and me is what Jesus is ultimately offering. He’s offering rest from having to work your way to God. It’s a rest from religion. Religion says you’ve got to work your way up to God. Jesus says NO!!! ‘You don’t have to prove yourself to me. You don’t need to clean yourself up before me. You don’t need to pretend everything is ok when it’s not. You don’t have to work your way up to me by doing enough good deeds.’ Jesus simply offers for you to come to him in order that he can give you peace with God. Jesus takes something off you. He wants to give you an eternal rest within your soul that comes from receiving forgiveness of your sins. He wants to free you from the crushing weight of despair of trying to earn God’s love and acceptance by simply doing more good works. Jesus wants you to experience a deep sense of rest in your soul that you are right with God not because of what you have done but because of what he has done for you. Come to him and he will give you rest!

  • Rest 2 – Peace of God – 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Notice in this verse that Jesus doesn’t offer to take something off, rather he wants to put something on. That is his yoke. A yoke is not something that us urban and suburban foke are too familiar with. But our rural friends are more likely to get the imagery. A yoke was a big wooden beam with two metal rings, rope or leather placed around the necks of two oxen linking them together. This allowed them to pull in unison a plough, cart or other heavy load. Typically one animal would be stronger and the other weaker. The stronger animal would essentially carry the bigger load and bring along with it the weaker animal.

However the Bible uses this term more often in a metaphorical sense rather than literal. It was used figuratively as a symbol of severe bondage, affliction, hardship and subjection (Lev. 26:13; 1 Kings 12:4; Isa. 47:6; Lam. 1:14; 3:27). A good example is in 1 Kings 12 where the people of Israel ask King Rehoboam to lighten their heavy yoke that his father Solomon had placed on them. Rehoboam responded by declaring that he would make their yoke even heavier (1 Kings 12:14). Likewise it is used often to illustrate how the religious elite would put their heavy burden of the law onto people (Matt. 23; Acts 15:10).

Jesus says that he doesn’t just want to take something off you and give you peace with God. But that he also wants to put something on you and give you the peace of God. He reminds you that you are not alone in this thing called life. He wants to put his yoke around you, not to bear you down, but in order that you can begin to walk with him and do life together. He’s the bigger animal and he’ll carry the heavy load. You can trust him. You can follow his lead. You can learn from him. The difference between Jesus and religious people is that religious people point out where you fall short and tell you to pull yourself up. Jesus puts out his hand, helps pick you up and invites you to live your life with him. And he promises he’ll never leave you alone in the fight. He’ll be right there with you all the way. You don’t have to do it all on your own anymore.

It’s more than just a rest from something; it’s a rest in someone. He doesn’t just take your burden off you, he gives you his peace, he gives you his strength, he gives you his grace and mercy, his encouragement, his friendship. Jesus gives you his life. Recieve from him and he will give you rest. Ultimate rest. Rest for you soul.

10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Pet. 5:10