Don’t trust first impressions…

It certainly didn’t look promising – my first impression was that I had made a mistake not booking somewhere a little more pricey. But it was late and I needed somewhere to stay and so I would make the most of it. I walked past the building site, down the long laneway, avoiding the rubbish and the various bits of debris and made my way to the nondescript front door. After a couple of attempts I managed to key in the pin number which had been texted to me and I found my room down the corridor – From there everything was just fine. Good room, clean, well appointed – perfect for a business trip – really it was just what I wanted but the first impression left me more than a little cold.

I suffer from the same malady that most of us face – we often make snap decisions based on ‘first impressions’ and those impressions can often be wrong. We make judgements based on how people are dressed, what car they drive, how they interact with their kids or partners, or how friendly they appear to be.

I have learned (through mistakes and prejudice) that my first impression can be very misleading; it does not take into account many factors which change the circumstances and the interpretation of behaviour we see with our eyes.

The frustrated parent who is under unseen pressure because of finances; the dishevelled individual who is struggling with mental illness; the quiet and reserved man who is almost completely isolated because of illiteracy; or the woman who is bitter and twisted because of the compounded grief of her last six months.

I have found that people are just like icebergs which only have about 12.5% of their mass above the water – most of the time you do not know what is going on below the waterline in people’s lives.

This should encourage us to try to get past our first impressions and look for more substance below the surface – just like my hotel room proved, there was more than meets the eye.

I am glad that the Lord does not deal with me based on first impressions because He would have written me off long ago.

I am glad that the following scripture is true…

“I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.” Jer 7:10

So don’t stop at first impressions today – and be glad that the Lord doesn’t!

Let me simplify it for you…

“You have 6 or 7 minutes – just tell us what has happened in the last 2 years and what you would like to do in the next 5…”

This was the brief I was given 3 days before speaking to a large conference – there were many people who wanted to get their message across, so any time was a bonus and I diligently prepared and limited my comments to the time available.   The day before, I received a text telling me that the time given was now 4-5 minutes and I would be on the platform as part of a group (each with a different story to tell). So I adjusted my notes and cut a couple of things out.

One hour before I was due to speak I was informed that we now had 7 – 8 minutes for the group of the four of us which meant I had 2 minutes at best – more culling and refining had to take place. Every word now counted more than ever and I had to chose which aspects would stay and which would go.

When I walked onto the platform I knew what I was going to say but I was positioned on the 4th stool from the interviewer. The first speaker took 4 minutes, the second 2, the third 1 and a half and so when it came to my turn, the interviewer said “In 30 seconds, sum up what has happened in the last two years…” So I chose the 3 highlights that quickly came to mind. And then the interviewer said “Tell us the 1 most important thing that you are going to do in the next 5 years”. I knew that I had 10 seconds left at most before the academy award style music started to play. I had to condense all my plans, goals and passion into a single phrase and so I did – and I think I did OK but it was really challenging to do so. Anything unimportant or confusing was removed; I was left with a single sentence, pregnant with potential.

This moment reminded me of a similar experience in Jesus’ ministry. One of the Pharisees (the teachers of the Jewish Law) asked Jesus to sum up the Old Testament in a single phrase. Jesus took over 600 specific commandments and brought it down to just one.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself” Luke 10:27

Such profound clarity is perhaps just what you need today!

You will leave a mark…

He certainly left an impression…but it was not a good impression. In fact it was a deep scratch over our fairly new floor which had only been installed a few months before.

The phone technician had crawled through the roof to fix our internet but to get to the roof he had dragged a desk across the room to access to the manhole.

Of course, he should have lifted the desk.

Of course, he should have asked for help.

Of course, he should have told us what he had done rather than rushing off hoping we wouldn’t notice.

It is a significant scratch, over a metre long – it will be difficult (if not impossible) to rectify. I am currently in negotiations with the phone company to have them come and assess the damage so that we can move forward to a solution but it is going to be an interesting road forward.

The truth is that we all leave marks wherever we go – the choice is whether those marks are going to be positive or negative. Are they going to be treasured like hieroglyphics or meaningless and selfish like graffiti? Are they going to shape the society in a positive way or are they going to leave annoying scratches depicting carelessness.

When you look behind you what do you see?

What is left after you have passed by?

Is there a positive influence where people are sad to see you leave or is it a negative one which has them silently cheering as you depart?

What you leave behind depends upon the attitude that is in your heart – I am sure that the technician that scratched my floor is a nice guy, but I could tell from the way he approached his work that not a lot of care was being taken. Because of carelessness he left a mark which is the only reason we will remember him.

Psalm 23:6 says “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life”.

I see that there are two ways of reading this: Firstly a promise of good things flowing to those who make room for the Lord in their lives; and secondly, an outcome of good things left behind us when we move on.

You will leave marks upon your workplace, your family, your friends and your community – are those marks going to be good or bad? The choice is yours…if you follow the Lord closely then good things will follow you!

Time for change…

It was not altogether a sensible thing to do and that is why it caught my attention. I was stopped in traffic at a pedestrian crossing when a young woman crossed the road…this of course was nothing exceptional, but half way across she stopped, took two steps back and reached down to pick up a leaf…and this is what got my attention. She smiled and excitedly showed it to her friend who was crossing the road with her.

It was a perfectly formed Sycamore tree leaf with its distinctive shape and it was not green but a perfect shade of orange.

At this point I understood what was going on – it was not that the woman was a ‘forensic botanist’ but she was just an individual who had noticed the first ‘autumn leaf’ of the season. I watched for just a few moments as she discussed this with her friend as they finished traversing the crossing. Once it was clear I drove off but my thoughts were captured by what I had just seen. It was great that a change of season could evoke such a response, but it raised some questions – was she a person who loved the colour orange? – was she excited by the fact that winter was coming?

I wondered how that same woman might feel in a few weeks’ time when all of the trees in that particular street had turned orange and shed their leaves? Would she still notice a single leaf?

The truth is that winter is on the way and that change is in the air – but how are you when it comes to change? It is said that ‘change is as good as a holiday’ but I believe that this is only said by people who do not know how to have a holiday!

Change can be painful and even frightening, it can leave you off balance and uncomfortable.

It can seem great at first – like the first leaf of autumn but it can be challenging when you are raking leaves in the weeks to come!

Our lives are not meant to be static but they are destined to change, different seasons will be reflected in them and it is best to embrace the changes and enjoy them for what they are.

The Bible says that “…we shall all be changed” (1 Cor 15:51) what we have the potential to be is not yet what we are… perhaps you are set in our ways and have been resisting change – perhaps the time has come for you to notice the option that is in front of you and reach out for it.

Have you been diluted?

Everything was running just like normal and yet, each day, it was becoming more and more green.

We are coming to the end of the swimming season and I have been trying to keep my pool looking nice and clean so that we can make the most of it whilst the weather holds but the last few weeks have proven difficult because of the massive amount of rain that we have had.

During the last month my pool has overflowed at least 4 times and for a while there I wondered if it was ever going to stop, but eventually the clouds cleared away and the sun came up but my pool was left looking decidedly green.

So, with the first fine day, I skimmed of the leaves, vacuumed the pool, threw the chemicals in that usually fix things and waited – still green.

So I made a trip to the pool shop with a sample of water and their analysis told me that everything was fine except for the salt level;

I needed to put in 150kgs of salt to balance my pool. This seemed like a lot but the expert assured me that this was the case… The problem was that the rain had diluted all of the salt content of the pool and left it vulnerable to the algae that makes a pool turn green. The more it rained the more diluted the pool became, and the more diluted the pool became, the more green.

So I added the salt, mixed it all in and within two days the tide had changed and the water started to turn clear – The pool is now back to normal – at least until it rains again!

As I was loading the many bags of salt into my pool I pondered the concept of dilution and the different types of ‘rain’ that could affect my life… I thought of the enthusiasm that I often start a task with and the ‘dilution’ which comes through disappointment and difficulty; I thought of the love and commitment which is present in a newly-wed couple that can be diluted through familiarity and the breaking of promises; I thought of the passion with which people approach their initial relationship with God and how time, challenge and grief can dilute it to mere ritual and form rather than vibrant relationship.

Jesus said “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned?”         Matthew 5:13

The question is…Have you been diluted?  

Why I celebrate Easter

Everyone is looking forward to the extended weekend and the opportunity to ‘down tools’ and take a break. Thousands of people take the chance to head out of the city and into the bush to camp for what is the last opportunity before winter kicks in. People spend more money than they were expecting at the Easter Show and carry home more trinkets and fairy floss than they really need. Others catch up with family or just take it slow enjoying hot-cross-buns and chocolate eggs…

But as with all holidays, the trimmings often overrun the reason for the break and the message of the moment – it seems like the central themes of Easter become less and less mentioned and less and less relevant to the people who are happy to have the 4 day holiday.

The fact is that Easter has the potential to be the centrepiece of your calendar: above all other celebrations, it depicts the reason for real hope and answer to all the issues that plague our society.

At Easter we remember that Christ came, that he lived and that he gave his life as a substitute for us so that we do not have to be separated from God and we have the opportunity for peace with each other. Christ demonstrated his potential for influence by the fact that even though he died a hideous and vindictive death, that death could not hold him! Early Sunday morning the tomb was empty, the stone was rolled away and the world changed forever!

“But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.”                    Matthew 28:5–8

 

This is why I celebrate Easter – this is what runs through my mind as I relax, eat chocolate and eat hot-cross-buns. Because of Easter I have hope that lasts forever and joy that cannot be taken away! That is message worth running to deliver!

Have a great Easter!  

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!