Monday, 15 September 2008

Waste not, want not.

Use every piece of God's armour to resist the enemy in the time of evil, so that after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the sturdy belt of truth, and the body armour of God's rightousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News, so that you will be fully prepared. In every battle you will need faith as your shield to stop the fiery arrows aimed at you by Satan. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Ephesians 6: 13-17
It struck me during Mick the Missionary's sermon last night, that we have been given all these things to use. We haven't been given the faith-shield to look pretty in the pool room, nor the Spirit-sword to hang over the hearth. They have been gifted to us as practical tools to be used.

This doesn't mean we should trash the peace-shoes, instead we should wear them, cherish them, get new laces, get them resoled. God has an infinite supply of peace-shoes to replenish the worthy wearer. I've always imagined the salvation-helmet to be battered but gleaming. Polish it with pride, so you can bear it with pride. The more you use it, the more comfortable it will be to wear.

There's a scene in a book or movie, where exactly it is from eludes me, but essentially it's a man explaining that while his inherited sword has had the blade replaced several times, has a new handle, has been rejewelled, it is still the same sword as has been passed through down the family for generations, because it isn't the parts that make the sword, but the spirit that goes with it. This is how I think we should treat our Armour of God, don't be scared to use it too much, because that's what we've been given it for.

No one (even Luke Skywalker) is great with a sword (or saber) the first time they use it. But with practice they can eventually use it against the evilest of beings, and beat them back.

But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Galatians 5:22-23
I find the juxtapositioning of the Holy Spirit to as being both a sword and bringing the fruits fascinating. The sword is weapon of war, and yet the fruits belong in the realm of peace. If our lives are controlled by the Holy Spirit, we will be in possession of these fruits, and yet expected to wield their giver (and therefore the fruits ?) as weapons.

My only conclusion here is that we are not to be anything but loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlling when we wield the mighty Word. The sword is in itself not a violent object, it is he who wields it maliciously that makes it so.

What are your thoughts?

Read. Reflect. React.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Have you ever wondered...

...what you would do with all the time you waste, if you got it back?

"Waste?" you incredulate. "I don't WASTE time! I simply misappropriate and exploit an opportunity that arises in the intercourse of everyday life." Or something like that.

So waste. What is it? Time. What's that? How do the two fit together with a handy preposition and what does it mean?

According to the poster on the loo door at church, the average westerner spends three years of their life on the loo. Three years! Now, personally, I do not consider bowel evacuation a waste of time (pun only sort of intended).

What about sleeping? Wiki answers reliably tell me, complete with bad grammar, that the average (American) human spends 1/3 of their life sleeping. I like being awake, and therefore I must accept that some sleeping needs to be done, and unfortunately cannot all be done at once, as Amelie believed. A third is a lot though, but that's still only eight hours a night. And who hasn't slept for 10 or 12 hours? Perhaps those extra hours spent dozing, lazing, dreaming in bed could be considered a waste.

Of course, the obvious one is television. I've recently bought the Hustle dvds for series 1 and 2. In the holidays I watched my way through both seasons of Dark Angel. I've seen them before, but who cares, let's watch them again, just because... I've been watching Arrested Development, Red Dwarf and Torchwood as well. And that isn't to mention the things I watch on tv. And the movies. Now, that I think is an arguable waste of time.

What is or isn't a waste of time is not my point. That's for you to decide. But what would you do if you could get the 31 hours you spent watching Dark Angel back? Or the 75 hours watching House. Or the 13 hours watching all the Star Wars'. Or the 4 hours a day you spend on Facebook. Or the 5 hours a week you spend drooling over dvds, cds or games in jb.

I'm not going to stop watching movies, tv or reading books. But I know there are far better things I could do with my time, and I'll try to use my time better, with less procrastination, and more proactivation. It's not going to come back, appear magically as the 53rd calendar week, but we should work harder at not misappropriating future time. It's easy to think, "yeah yeah, I'll start tomorrow", but seriously, tomorrow never comes. The time it takes to watch House s. 1-5 is more than the hours worked by some kids in developing countries in a week*.

If you know I've updated my blog, you are probably trawling the internet, or have an rss feed that tells you everything that's going on in the world. Now I love to see all the news that comes in over the day, to see what's happening in the world, and I would love to be able to help where I see pain, but it's not going to happen if I just keep saying "tomorrow, I'll stop just repeating what I've already done and go and do something new." Have to make a move now, or else it will never happen. Now is always there, so it can never be too late to change now, but don't leave it till later, because that ain't gonna show.

*If you're an avid House watcher, don't be offended, I could have picked something else like Lost, but then this disclaimer would read "If you're an avid Lost watcher, don't be offended, I could have picked something else like House, but then this disclaimer would read....."

If you like some of the words created for this entry, please feel welcome to adopt them and circulate them in the wider community. There is no copyright on 'incredulate' or 'proactivation', and while I generally disagree with 'verbation' (the creation of verbs from nouns or adjectives), there is a time and a place, meaning, here and now.

Little time was wasted on this entry if it makes you think about how you spend your time. Do not force me to be a hippocrit by not doing so, thus making it a waste of time spent writing.

Read, Reflect, React.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Reflecting on Contemplation

Ok, so I haven't written for a while, but life's been busy flowing around me, so I haven't had much of a chance to collate the bundle of thoughts whooshing in my brain. I have however had time to read a lot of books, and one of them has been Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practising the Presence of Jesus by Mark Yaconelli. I heard him talking at Greenbelt and he's an inspiring guy. His dad was pretty famous for pioneering youthy stuff in America, and it is so reassuring to read that his son has exactly the same worries and problems as those of us who have merely risen through the ranks, without inherited knowledge. He describes how he nearly burnt out at the beginning, because of the expectation that he would be his father's son, and because he tried so hard to create successful programs, relationships, groups and to do it all himself.

This book however is about his experiences with using silence and contemplation as a tool of spiritual development at youth groups. "What?" I hear you say, "silence, contemplation with my rowdy bunch? They can't sit still for 5 seconds, let alone an hour!" And that's exactly what I've been thinking as I read it - sounds good in theory, perhaps great for the leaders, but with the youth? Really? You've read my previous post, you know how I crave silence to get God's peace, and should understand that I really appreciate any opportunity to sit with God and try to listen to what he's telling me. But do others? Especially people with endless energy, who can't sit still, who've grown up channel surfing, flicking through magazines, requiring excitement to keep them interested.

Hang on. That's me! I'm like that. I am a fidgeter, I have too much energy, I channel surf when I'm bored with the ads, I rarely read an entire article in a magazine, and I have trouble reading books that don't capture my attention through fast plots or interesting characters. But I also need quiet sometimes. Hmmm.

Every week at school we had to sit in silence for 50 minutes, to make up to-do lists, imagine what we would like for dinner, learn sign language and giggle behind our hands. At least, that's what I did at first. Slowly though, I got the hang of what the Quakers were about with their sitting in silence thing. That was when I started to enjoy the chance to reflect on God's work in my life, pray a bit, and listen. I usually got pretty distracted quite easily, but it planted the seeds of appreciation. My memories of those weekly gatherings are of forced silence, with a few muffled giggles or occasional snores, but generally I remember them as being silent.

And that is why, on reflection, I believe silence at a youth group could become accepted and an appreciated part of our journey with Jesus. I've been praying about what I've been reading, and looking for inspiration for how to use it. I would like to implement some form of contemplative reflection at our grade 11-12 group or the 7-10 Bible study, and will keep praying about it.

In the meantime, however, I think God's been sending me messages again. I read this article today, after Mum thought it might interest me, unaware that was the book I was reading. It gave me real hope - the book is written by an author, and I have an inherent distrust of the advice in books, something to do with the person seeming to be more professional, with far greater resources, larger numbers. But the article is by an Australian, on the ground, in a familiar environment, with the same hesitations as me. And it worked for him!

Just now, while watching The Bill, a character has just said "Silence can be so uncomfortable. But they say I'll get used to it after a while". Isn't that such a common attitude. I've heard it said that the quickest way to be fired from a job in ministry is to suggest 10 minutes of silence be held during a service, but why? Jesus spent a lot of time sitting, listening to God (some examples are Matt 26:36, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, but there are heaps of others). Why do we reject that particular aspect? In an alternate reality, could Christians be scared of sermons and shun them as an important aspect of worship?

Think about it, and consider why you might not encourage contemplation in your area of ministry. There are a lot of different ways to 'do' contemplation, and Yaconelli talks about quite a few, but there are a lot of others too. Look into it, don't be afraid to give those in your team a chance to listen and reflect, without time pressures or other distractions. And let me know how it goes. I'll be reporting back on our adventures.

I pray that God will bless your socks off if that's what you truly require, but will knit you a new pair when that's what is necessary.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Nourishment in flowing water

It's been a while, and for that I must apologise. I don't know what happened, but suddenly writing on my blog just didn't seem as interesting as it has previously. But I currently have the urge to write something about something, and I don't really know what... In the last week water has been a large part of my life, both a lack of and an over abundance. But it got me thinking about the significance of water to me as a Christian.

BayWest has been renamed Wellspring, meaning the place where the river starts to flow. In other words, it's where people will be raised up to follow God, before flowing out to nourish the community around. But do you think the spring could cause a flash flood? Is it possible to have too many Christians in the community? I don't think that's possible, but I do think there is always a risk of a spring flowing too fast, not allowing enough time in between welling up and spreading out - sending out the people ill-equipped to fight the every day demons of the secular world. Some might argue that anyone who follows Jesus is capable of nourishing the community with their knowledge, but another might say that new Christians only have enough vitamins to nourish themselves, and not others, that as they develop their faith, trust and knowledge, they gain the resources to share. Hmmm, I don't like this second theory, but I feel there may be some truth in it, although I also believe that any Christian, old or new, should be able to spread some nutrients to the community through which they flow, and should be able to rely on God to renew their resources, to keep giving.

People today focus on serving oneself first, and others later. The Christian community has responded by serving others first, and oneself second, a sentiment with which I agree wholeheartedly. But what about spiritual renewal? It is very hard to renew one's own spirit while giving out to others - it's like having a pipe through which the water flows, without stopping to benefit the middle point. We have been trained to believe that taking some time out is selfish, and unnecessary.

I recently experienced what could only be described as spiritual starvation. I was leading on a camp, and was struggling to show God through my actions, to a group of campers who were infuriatingly blasé about responding to kindness. Over the week I could feel myself becoming more exhausted, and grumpier, finding it harder to reach down for kindness and godliness to give. But my exhaustion wasn't just physical. I was pining for some time with God, and had to admit defeat and take time out. I had never required time out for such mental exhaustion before, and it was disturbing. Was God not feeding me? Had he abandoned me to rely only on my own meagre resources, without renewing them? No he hadn't, but what he was feeding me was going straight through the pipe, out the other end, to the campers. I had no chance to absorb what I was being given, before giving it out again, and it was killing me.

God will never ever put you, me, anyone in a situation with which they cannot cope, but sometimes he will require you to stop and listen to his plan for getting through. Pushing on, without stopping for directions, is like running through a minefield without looking at the map. It is dangerous, foolish and can cost you your life. Of course, God could make sure you follow the safe route through, but that's not what free choice is about - his gift to us is the requirement that we make our own decisions, and he can only place markers to show us his way. But we need to stop and look out for them. And THAT is what time out with God is about. It's not a selfish time away from giving God to other people, it's stopping at the service station to get petrol, directions and clean the windscreen of all the stuff you drive through, for a better view of the road, so you can get your passengers to the destination safer and faster.

I hope that makes sense to someone. I hope someone reads this. I'll be praying for everyone who reads this, that you will learn to stop at the service station, and not run the tank empty every time before stopping to refuel. I pray that you will learn to put a dam up within you, to retain some nourishment that flows through you to others, that you won't be forced to remove that dam simply to keep up with supply, but I also pray that you will not become a blocked pipe, from which nothing leaves, and into which nothing new enters.