Substitutions…

I was being looked after very well, I was answering some questions with a small group following a talk I had just given and this helpful woman had taken it upon herself to grab me some food so I didn’t have to break off my conversation. She arranged a nice little fruit platter for me and handed it to me without a word. It was nice fresh fruit and it was very welcome…a few moments later she returned once more and gave me 3 pieces of pineapple to top off my fruit platter – she simply leaned forward said “Pineapple?” and then placed it on my plate. I continued talking for a few moments and then ate a strawberry, a few minutes more talking and I ate the piece watermelon, a little more talking and I bit into the pineapple – but it was immediately obvious that there was something not quite right.

I was expecting a slight crunch, the sweet tropical taste, the slightly acidic flavour and the refreshment which comes from summer fruit – instead I bit into this somewhat soggy, smoky flavoured, chewy substance that for a few seconds was unknown. It looked like pineapple; its colour, texture and context suggested that it was pineapple; but it wasn’t – it was Swiss cheese.

It wasn’t that much of an issue – I like eating cheese with fruit but it was just a surprize, because I was expecting something else, it took a moment to adjust and then everything was fine.

It could have been worse I guess, if I was expecting a pineapple flavoured milkshake and had been handed a cheese flavoured one or maybe if I was making tuna mornay and the substitution went the other way…uggggh!

The woman who was looking after me was so apologetic, fearing that I may have been lactose intolerant or just generally intolerant but she didn’t really need to worry – it was no big deal.

Some substitutions are welcome – when you get an upgrade of a meal or a flight.

Some substitutions are disappointing – when you get the understudy at a show you have been looking forward too or an ingredient is changed in the meal because the kitchen ran out.

There are certain things that cannot and should never be substituted – when it comes to personal and spiritual help – substitutions are not welcome at all… because…

“No one is holy like the LORD, For there is none besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God.”                                          1 Samuel 2:2

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Unknown Assistance

Last night my wife took on an unwelcomed intruder who had ventured into our house. It was during the middle of the night that she first heard the intruder and then saw him – a large huntsman spider crawling up the wall of our bedroom.   At first she thought about letting the ugly critter remain but she knew that she would not have been comfortable nor able to get back to sleep if she did. So she stepped out of bed, put on all the lights and dealt with the problem…all of this happened with me blissfully ignorant and asleep in the bed.

If she hadn’t told me what she had done I would never have known and it made me think about what other things had happened for my benefit without me being aware.

I thought about the police force and intelligence communities who vigilantly keep our country safe from those who would seek to attack and spread terror; I thought of the researchers who are working behind the scenes to target diseases and make our crops more resilient to pests and rigours of our climate; I thought of the hundreds of people who do hundreds of little things to make our lives a little better and found myself amazingly grateful for them all.

It is so easy to take things for granted and remain unaware and unthankful – we live in a society that has so many benefits that we become callously attached to our comfort and we lament the loss of it loudly at the first sense of discomfort…

Being unaware of what someone has done for you leads to being ignorantly unthankful, this is not a great place to live – the person who has done the deed on your behalf can feel unappreciated and you as the recipient can appear unappreciative and entitled. The best answer to this problem is to regularly take stock of all the benefits which are present in your life.   Psalm 103:2 “Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all of His benefits!”

There are so many things that the Lord and others have provided for you – make sure that you are not ‘asleep in the bed’ just enjoying them. Take a moment today to list the good things that God has done and the good things that other people have done for you – approach your life with thankfulness – it is a lot more enjoyable than any other option.

The way of life winds upwards

It has been a dramatic four weeks and she is very happy to be finally heading home. My mother went to hospital to follow up on some tests and it became very apparent, very quickly that she was going to need immediate, significant, surgery. She underwent a quadruple bypass operation and she has been recovering ever since.

The operation went forward without incident, it was very successful and we again are thankful for the skill of the doctors and nurses and for the quality of care that is available in our nation.

I visited my mum each day and, along with everyone else, I was greatly concerned as she initially came through the operation. People look so vulnerable in ICU and time seems to pass so slowly. But the next morning I found mum sitting up in bed and changing channels on the TV! Every day from there she showed improvements – it was not without its pain and challenge but each day she grew stronger. She was able to stand, to walk, her ‘foggyness’ departed and she slowly returned to her old self. She undertook rehab and it seems that she will be even better than she was before… it is a great and pleasing outcome.

Not everything in our life automatically and consistently improves, we have times that can be difficult and our circumstances can spiral out of control.  It is at these times we must careful not to give into despair and we must hold onto hope. The book of Proverbs tells us “The way of life winds upward for the wise, so that they may turn away from hell below.” (15:24)

It promises that if we are wise then our lives will ‘wind upwards’ – that doesn’t mean that our lives will be perfect and without challenge but it promises hope that better things are ahead.

The fact is that ‘this life’ is not just about ‘this life’.  Our time on earth is limited, flawed and filled with both good and bad…our response to this life, our response to each other and our response to Christ determine our eternity.

Your life may currently be on the ‘up and up’ or it might be spiralling downhill and out of control, or it may be somewhere in the middle….but wherever you find yourself, I hope that you are making a ‘wise’ response, because then your road will wind upwards. Yet another proverb caps it off… (9:10) “The fear and knowledge of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”

Maybe He is the wisdom you really need?

Difficult is the way…

There are two ways that you can get to the almost mythical ruins of Aguas Calientes which is more commonly called Machu Picchu. It is a ruined city nestled high in the mountains of Peru and is one of the world’s most famous heritage sites. Your two options are: a four day hike up the Inca Trail – challenging, breath-taking, tiring, thrilling, stretching and fulfilling or;

you can catch the train, step onto a bus and then take a 5 minute walk from the bus to the ruins.

Many people choose to complete the walk but even more people take the train and bus option.

I wonder how those people feel when they arrive – what do they recall of the experience?

The walkers have endured and conquered a challenge that seems fitting to the destination. The riders have possibly been a little uncomfortable on the trip but have had it pretty easy. I wonder if there is a bit of an ‘us and them’ attitude between the two groups?

When I think about experiences and journeys in my life the most valued and memorable ones have been difficult. I have walked through the highlands of New Guinea, taken small boats to remote Islands in the Pacific and ridden ridiculously under powered motor-cycles 800 km circumnavigating and Island in the Philippines. My observation is that, the more difficult the trip, the more I enjoyed the destination and the experience.

Very few things worth having in this life are easy – and yet we all tend to strive for an ‘easy life’. The reality is that if you want a quality life then a certain amount of challenge is going to have to be experienced.

In the book of Matthew in the Bible we find that Jesus said precisely this…

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

  • Difficult doesn’t mean wrong
  • Difficult doesn’t mean lack of blessing
  • Difficult doesn’t mean unenjoyable
  • Difficult means that there is something worth seeing at the end!

So don’t just opt to catch the train and bus – take the challenge to live your life the difficult way, the Christ-like way…

Believe me, the destination is worth it!

Tis the season…

A couple of weeks ago I wasn’t sure but over the last few days it has become obvious that it will be ready – right on time!

I have a number of well established trees and shrubs around my house and at different times throughout the year they come into their own and put on a display. In one corner of my garden there is a tree that is not much to look at for most of the year but as the year comes to a close it blossoms into white petals which then turn a beautiful pink-red, right on cue – last year this happened a week before Christmas and it looks like this year it is going to do the same – it is aptly named Ceratopetalum gummiferum or Christmas Bush.

This is only the second year we have been around to witness this display but already for me it has become a reminder of the ‘season’ we are in. At this time of year we erect and trim trees, we put out tinsel and baubles, we prepare cakes, sweets and treats, we hear (and probably sing) silly songs which remind us “Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la laaaa la la la la!”

It is called the “Christmas Season” and there are things that we expect at this particular time of year. We expect summer fruit, hot weather, afternoon thunderstorms and our grass to grow faster than we can mow it!

But what do we expect of ourselves?

I expect my Christmas bush to blossom right on cue but what should be evident within me during this special time of year?

What is it the season for?

When Jesus came to earth, the first message the angels sang was filled with joy saying “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all mankind”.  It ushered in a time of hope, possibilities and freedom for all – it demonstrated that in the middle of the darkest times there is a season for hope and light and the opportunity to believe again that there is a future that is worth looking forward to.

My Christmas Bush is doing what it is supposed to do in this season – my question for you is are you?

This Christmas you should be blossoming with love, with joy and with hope – not in yourself, and your personal circumstances but in the confidence that the central message of Christmas– Jesus available for you – is still current, potent and present in your life.

Tis the season – are you ready?

Like it or not…

Markets dropped rapidly and then they rose, maps started out blue but progressively changed to red, some people were jubilant and others were covering their crying eyes, commentators and pundits were busy explaining this and that – and the world ended up with Donald Trump as the next President of the United States.

All this week I have been listening to people’s reactions. Like you, I have watched as some people in America have started riots and other people have headed for their homes feeling more secure than ever. For some it is being seen as the beginning of the end of the world…I heard someone say, “This is how the Hunger Games started!” But others have expressed that it has been a long time coming and “It was time that somebody finally said what I was thinking!”

No matter what side of the political debate you find yourself upon there is no doubt that this was one of the fiercest fought Presidential campaigns in history and has left huge rifts in the fabric of American society. It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming months and whether those ‘for’ or ‘against’ are proven correct.

What people want is security, stability and growth and so much attention has been focussed upon just one individual that I fear, no matter who was elected, the task is too large.

Many people are saying and hoping that Mr Trump will do better than expected, that he will move to a more moderate stance on certain issues and listen to the concerns of some who feel that they have been shouted down.

The fact remains, that there is a fundamental flaw in putting all your faith in just one man or woman, no matter who they are.

I love people, but the truth is we let each other down, we fall short of the mark, we fail to live up to expectations – that is our common curse and our common limitation.

Whoever sits in the Oval Office impacts the world for sure but we do have the opportunity (with respect) to place our hope in something more reliable. So when you think of what impacts you and who are you relying upon, what do you come up with?

“Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the LORD our God. They have bowed down and fallen; But we have risen and stand upright. Save, LORD! Answer us when we call.” Psalms 20:7–9

What is your first memory?

The mother asks her rather energetic two year old son who had a concerned look upon his face…“Hi darling, what’s wrong?”

The child answers and says…

“I have a peanut up my nose!”  

“Don’t be silly – we don’t have any peanuts”

“I have a peanut up my nose!”

The mother, getting exasperated asks the child’s father to take a look…

“Guess what?” The father says..

“He has a peanut up his nose!”

This is a well worn story of an event which happened precisely 50 years ago aboard the HMAS Ellennis as we migrated from England to Australia. It is, in fact, the earliest memory that I can recall. I probably remember it because of both the quirkiness of the event but also because it has been retold so many times.

The next thing I remember is a doctor, in a white coat, leaning towards me with (what seemed at the time to be) a huge pair of scissors who, after a bit of prodding and poking, managed to extricate the offending obstruction before pronouncing me fully functional once more.

This is the closest I have ever come to a peanut allergy and it was probably much easier to address than an anaphylactic shock. However, an epi-pen would not have helped no matter how many times I jabbed it in my leg!

When you cast your mind back in time – what is your earliest memory? Is it something significant, something frightening, or was it something that was out of the ordinary?

My memories of my childhood are getting limited – I tend to only recall the big events, like watching the moon landing whilst I was in kindergarten, things like that…

The truth is that there are many things I have forgotten, many experiences, conversations, acts of kindness and love which have fallen prey to my ‘forgettory’ and may never again be recalled. Many of these would be superficial or unimportant but I am certain, just like you, that there are things I should remember which I cannot. Occasionally, when I am talking to my parents, they will recall an event or circumstance and it will trigger something out of the ‘fog’ and bring it into clear focus for me once more.

So my challenge for you today is to allow me to urge you remember something that you have forgotten.     The Bible says… “Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:”

Psalms 103:2

Maybe there is some act of His kindness and goodness that you should recall…