The Pursuit of Happiness

Hi Friends, David here

Nobel Peace Prize Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have survived more than fifty years of exile and the soul-crushing violence of oppression. Despite their hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—they are two of the most joyful people on the planet.

In April 2015, Archbishop Tutu traveled to the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala, India, to celebrate His Holiness’s eightieth birthday and to create what they hoped would be a gift for others. They looked back on their long lives to answer a single burning question: How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?

They traded intimate stories, teased each other continually, and shared their spiritual practices. By the end of a week filled with laughter and punctuated with tears, these two global heroes had stared into the abyss and despair of our time and revealed how to live a life brimming with joy.

joy

The Book of Joy, which I’m currently reading, offers a rare opportunity to experience their astonishing and unprecedented week together, from the first embrace to the final good-bye.

Joy is the net of love by which you can catch souls. I love this quote by Mother Teresa. It describes exactly what I believe joy is and should be. In the pursuit of happiness we seem to have lost the idea of joy. If we don’t have joy what are we using for a net?

Joy is the feeling of grinning inside.
~ Melba Colgrove

In the bible in Isaiah 55:12 it tells us to go out with joy and that the mountains and the hills will break forth before us in song and clapping. This is the joy of the Lord – pure joy. Often we don’t feel joyful, particularly when we are going through hard times – it is the last thing we feel like doing or being – joyful.

Having joy is not dependent on things or situations. In fact the bible says that we are to consider it pure joy in our sufferings. Perhaps this type of joy, it part of the mystery that we are all searching for.

So what about you my friend? Are you missing out on joy and peace? Do you know what the joy of the Lord feels like? Perhaps you could share your story here or somewhere this week.  You may just help someone to plant a seed of joy in their garden of suffering.

Grace and Peace.

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Beyond Assumptions

Hi everyone. Rob here.

A couple of times I have lived in the less desirable parts of my city. These areas have the reputation of being poor, high in crime, drugs and gang culture. The reality was quite different. Yes, families there were poorer than average. There were criminal elements and gang elements. I had to call the police a couple of times. But the vast majority of my time in these places was lived out peacefully and without incident. I just heard a report about Aleppo; the major Syrian city that’s been under siege for years. Yes, parts of the city are like a hell on earth, but there’s another part where people are still making a life for themselves. The point is that too often the stories we tell ourselves simply aren’t true or they are not true enough! communication-1082657_960_720

Assumptions are very dangerous things. They prevent us from discovering the real story behind the life that we’re living and the people we relate to. It’s amazing how often we do it. We assume our pastors never struggle with doubt or prayer. We assume our political representatives don’t really care about ordinary people. We assume that having lots of money is better than having little. Closer to home we often assume that our kids are doing fine or our spouse is happy. Assumptions often happen because we don’t want our lives complicated by the messy truth that emerges when we dig a bit deeper. This also applies to ourselves. We may assume we’re healthy when that lump really is an issue. We may assume we’re managing well even though we’re a little more irritable lately. We may assume that God is on our side even though we haven’t committed ourselves to him for a really long time.

I don’t want my life filled with assumptions. It leads to racism, sexism, flippancy and arrogance. They make you feel important and knowledgeable but it’s a false pride; a house built on sand. Humility is my greatest weapon against assumptions. It is a posture that says ‘I’m not the expert here.’ It makes me willing to listen, ask questions, do the research and get a fuller picture. It also says that God is the only one who knows all and I am willing to trust him with what I don’t know. Assumptions make us feel in control. Humility means we need to have faith.

Over the years I have loved sounding like the one with the knowledge. I started dying to that a number of years ago but I still find that I make too many assumptions. Now that I know that I do that out of convenience I can challenge that narrative. It takes trust in God to embrace complexity and humility. In ourselves we challenge it and look for simple and clear answers. But the human heart is a mystery and there is also mystery at the heart of God. Love sounds simple but it is not. Love honours the mystery and honours the story behind the person. It honours our own story. We bristle when people make assumptions about us because they don’t know our story. We are asked to extend the same love and courtesy to others.

May this week be a week when you resist assumptions.  May you find time and space to sit with someone’s story and have your assumptions challenged. May it be a time when lies are broken and truth embraced and may grace and peace be with you all.

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Weather the Storm

A couple of months ago, New Zealand was full of media hype and hyperbole about Cyclone Cook heading straight towards from New Zealand.  Sure, there were high winds, rain and flooding, but nothing more than usual.

Perhaps it’s because I live in Wellington that I consider winds above 140 km/h and driving rain, that sometimes doesn’t even hit the ground, as a fairly normal occurrence.  I live in the windiest city in the world – we always have our outdoor furniture anchored down. We had a trampoline once and we had it secured to about half a dozen railway sleepers – it wasn’t going anywhere, anytime soon!

Sunset

So Cyclone Cook, was officially downgraded to a storm before it hit. It made its presence felt in a few places, but soon ran out of steam.  It was hailed as the biggest weather event since Cyclone Giselle in 1968 that was, in part, responsible for the Interisland ferry Wahine to meet its watery grave on Barrett’s Reef in Wellington.

The media coverage of Cyclone Cook was in my opinion over the top, perhaps even bordering on ‘fake news’.  One media report I read did mention in passing that the cyclone had been downgraded however they were sticking with the ‘term ‘cyclone’, as they believed some people weren’t taking the storm seriously. So now the media are meteorologists?

This tidal wave of public opinion got me thinking about when Job gave God a piece of his mind for all the trouble he experienced – he was probably justified, however God did eventually reply to Job’s tirade of complaints and asked Job early on to brace himself, for he was about to unleash a storm of questions himself for Job.

We often talk about the weather in our conversation, it’s the small talk that fills the small story in our lives, but what of the one who created the weather and the big story – isn’t this more interesting and worthy of reflection?

Storms will come and storms will go,
I wonder just how many storms it takes,
Until we finally know,
You’re here always.
– Amy Grant

I wonder how many storms it will take us to realise that the real message of the storm is who we focus on and hold on to.  It’s an opportunity to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author of our faith and see if we will sink or swim. May you my brothers and sisters, recognise the one who makes the storms and then causes them to cease.

Grace and Peace

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God-Given Personality

Hi everyone. Rob here.

You may have noticed that our personalities carry strengths and weaknesses. For example I am an introvert who likes to engage in deep thinking and reflection. This is great for blogging, preaching and sharing. However, every now and again, it turns into introspection or navel-gazing. This is where thinking serves yourself only. It ends up going around in circles and being fruitless. A friend of my sons is spontaneous. This makes him great fun but can also lead to sudden anger. Fun-loving extroverts can hide their issues behind the party. Servers can neglect their own hearts even as they seek to help others. And on it goes. Our personalities are gifts from God and he asks us to commit them to him for his purposes.morning-2257689_960_720

It is as we grow in connection with God that our personalities really emerge. So much of what we think is our personality is actually learned behavior that we used to cope with uncomfortable situations. In other words, much of what we thought was our personality was a pose. I love humour and a quick wit, especially a dry wit. But when I was younger it was just sarcasm and cynicism, borne out of trying to look detached and cool. It wasn’t me. I also value an even temperament and a healthy perspective, but when I was younger it showed as apathy and laziness. The problem lies when we internalize these poses. Our mind makes an agreement with these postures that aren’t us. They don’t belong. Like a car using the wrong oil we will sputter along for a while until it all blows up on us.

Our true personalities, like anything in the spiritual life, emerge when we fully surrender ourselves to God and find our identity as his sons and daughters. As we allow the cross of Christ to work within us we become able to put to death all that doesn’t belong. As we live in Christ the things that don’t belong become easier to spot. They lead us away from the fruits of the Spirit. They lead us away from relationship and community. They lead us away from vulnerability and trust. Sarcasm and cynicism became intolerable to me as I saw that all people are made in God’s image and worthy of honour. It hardened my heart so I let it go.

Our true personalities are beautiful. They shine and point to the God who loves us. They reflect his character and creativity. That’s why he puts them all together and calls it his temple. He dwells among us through our personalities as we give them over to him. Do you remember how Jesus described his personality in Matthew 11:29?

…for I am gentle and humble in heart…

I wonder how he would describe you? Describe me? I hope that it would involve my heart being gentle and humble also. I hope that it would reflect God’s heart for us. I hope that it changes over time as I learn to love well in his name. I hope that it becomes completely free of poses and self-defensive postures. I pray the same for you. May our personalities point to the redemption that has been won for us and the freedom that calls to us from eternity.

Grace and peace.

 

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Walk of Life

Hi everyone, David here.

There is a story in the Bible in Luke about two men who were traveling down a road toward a village called Emmaus. This was just after Jesus had risen from his grave. The two men were walking and talking about the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. They were very sad and depressed. Another man walked up beside them and asked them what they were talking about and why they were so upset. The two men explained they were talking about their friend Jesus and how he was such a wonderful preacher and prophet. The man who had just joined the other two listened and walked with them for a while. After a while he said goodbye and left them. Later on the two men turned to each other and each suddenly realized who this man was, it was Jesus.

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
~ Luke 24:31-32

Why did Jesus do this? Why didn’t he just jump out in front of them and exclaim, “Behold it is me Jesus, risen from the dead!”  Perhaps because the two men  just wouldn’t have believed him. Jesus was looking for a relationship, he was looking to impart something of himself to the two men. He wanted to walk with them, support them, comfort them, and then, when the time was right,  move on. Perhaps this is what he calls us to do for other travelers also.

walk-down-road

Sometimes, when there is no answer to our question the best answer is to go for a walk.  It may be that when we no longer know the answer then the journey is just about to begin.  Sometimes we never know who will appear on our journey.Here’s how the poet Wendell Berry described this journey:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

We all walk down the same road. Sometimes it seems the road less travelled, devoid of people, life, and encouragement. Whether we realise it or not Jesus is always there walking beside us, not ahead of us, and not behind us, just right beside us, quietly prompting us, guiding us, and loving us.  Is there something that Jesus wants to whisper to you today? What does he need to give you? What guidance do you need? Do you need to take a walk?

Grace and peace.

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Humanity, Humility and Hope

Hi everyone. Rob here.

Last week there was a fascinating show on TV called “What Next?” It looked into what our country will look like in 20 years time and what can be done in problem areas like the environment, entrenched poverty, losing jobs to automation and the difficulty posed by an aging population. It was a very hopeful show. There are solutions to these problems. We are an adaptable nation that’s coped with radical change before. The questions are how willing are we to engage with these issues and how willing are we to take risks as we find the best ways to move forward? One thing bugged me though. In a country with a desperately high teen suicide rate, don’t we need our hope grounded in something more substantial than the human ability to adapt?begging-1922612__340

Now, don’t get me wrong. Human beings are capable of amazing things. I think that the Church has historically held too low a view of humanity. Remember that we were created glorious with a God-given mandate to reign on the earth. Our vast resources of creativity reflect the fact that we are made in God’s image. But creativity, intelligence and the ability to co-operate are value neutral gifts. They can be used for good and for evil; for many and for a select few; for the community or just for those in power. So we have nuclear bombs and antibiotics. We have laser technology that gets used in warfare and in the operating room. Social media gets used to bring people together and by predators out to do evil. Our hope can’t be grounded in adaptability and technological advancement. It can’t be grounded in human character with its mixed motives of altruism and self-interest competing against each other. To put our hope in humanity alone is to say that we alone are responsible for the future. It is to say that our kingdom is the future and not God’s kingdom.

I am not denying that humanity plays a central role in shaping the future. I am saying that redeemed humanity surrendered to the purposes of God is the promise of the future contained in Scripture. Christ came to achieve this very thing. He calls people to himself as the One who redeems us, rescues us and makes us truly human as we follow him into the world led by the Holy Spirit. His coming again is not the end of the story. Scripture ends with humanity reigning for ever and ever under the glory of God.

The paradox is that for us to achieve our God-given potential we need to take the lowest place; right at the foot of the cross where we die to our desire to be gods, to be autonomous, to be competitors with God. When we do that it enables us to see the so-called lowest people as people loved as sons and daughters just as we are. It sets us free to the demands of power, pride and ego. We can say no to the games of status-seeking and possession gathering. Dying to self-interest sets us free to come alive to kingdom-interest. We learn to live as ambassadors of a kingdom that has sacrificial love at its centre. It thrives when we’re willing to die for our neighbor just as Christ died for us. I wonder what creativity could be unleashed for the good of the world when ego plays no part in its creation and distribution? It’s happening already in many parts of the world where people are starting to reject old models that simply enriched a few at the expense of the many. But for there to be no ego involved we need to die to our own. The kingdom of God has the humility of Christ at its centre.

May we all lay our egos down at the foot of Christ’s cross and come alive to the humility that leads to creativity and life. As we give ourselves over to our Creator may his creativity flow through us for the sake of his kingdom and our world.

Grace and peace everyone.

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Excess Baggage

Hi Everyone, David here.

In classic Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman on earth. Legend has it that the gods endowed her with many talents: Aphrodite gave her beauty, Apollo music, Hermes persuasion. The gods also gave her the gift of curiosity. Her name Pandora means “all-giving.”  Of course, all this is just a myth, as Eve was the first woman on earth, but let’s continue anyway . . .

Pandora’s box is an artifact in Greek mythology, commonly thought to be a large jar . The “box” contained all the dark things of the  world. When Pandora opened the jar, the entire contents of the jar were released, she hastened to close the lid, but the whole contents of the jar had escaped, except for one thing that lay at the bottom, which was Hope.  Today, opening Pandora’s box means to create things that cannot be undone.

luggage-1950628_960_720

We all have excess baggage or our own Pandora’s box.  In my box are memories and feelings of rejection, failure, low self-esteem, along with others.  Some of these I have worked through and some remain.  I am torn between leaving them in my box and opening them and letting them out.  Either way there is usually some collateral damage. The only real answer is to give my box away to God and let him deal my burdens.  I will keep and hold on to hope, but I need to choose to ditch the rest.

What’s in your box?  Is it open or shut? Have you given it away? Here’s my take on what I need to give away.  Grace and peace.

Pandora’s Box

Deep in my heart I need to make
Some room for you once more.
As my feelings and emotions
Wedge themselves against my door.

I hear you knocking at the door
Of my heart today.
But what lies between you and me
Is all my baggage in the way.

My feelings have cost me much
All that I hold dear.
Some friends have come, but mostly gone
I’ll lose more face I fear.

So I’ve found my Pandora’s box
To pack all my feelings back in.
I’m sitting on that box
And tying it up with string.

I’ll leave that box outside my heart
And wait for you to call.
I’ve addressed my burden, ‘To my God’
Please come and take them all.

Open the door to my heart
Please fill the empty space inside.
Come in and make me whole
From you may I never hide.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
~ Matthew 11:28-30

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