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?  

Can’t get no satisfaction…

I was listening to a mother recount a story about her son – she told me how proud she was when her 9 year old stood up to a shop assistant and said, “Well I am not satisfied! Can you please get me your manager!”

I am not sure if I would be proud of a nine year old standing there with their hands on their hips being somewhat petulant, but the mother was adamant that it was a good trait – “You have to stand up for your rights and it is no good to go home unsatisfied!”

This statement made me start to think – the truth is that it is not only Mick Jagger who “Can’t get no satisfaction” it seems to be a consistent malady which impacts the whole of our society. People seem unsatisfied with much of the content of their lives – they are unsatisfied with their car, their job and their current phone plan. People seem to change careers faster than they change their hairstyles and they often express their dissatisfaction in subtle ways… even the default answer to the question “How are you today?” is revealing… “Not too bad” is the common response…what is this, if not a statement of dissatisfaction?

When you look at your life – how do you feel?

If you had to tick a box which varied between: Extremely Satisfied; Somewhat Satisfied; Satisfied; Somewhat Unsatisfied or Extremely Unsatisfied which would you choose?

The problem is that we tend to base our satisfaction upon things which are going to let us down… Influence and strength; wealth and possessions; sex and pleasure; other people; and our own knowledge… The issue is, that none of these are guaranteed and at some point, all of them are going to fail and we are going to be left unsatisfied.

Hedonism is defined as – the pursuit of the ultimate pleasure or indulgence – After years of searching I have found an interesting and delightful truth – the ultimate hedonism is knowing and living responsively to the Lord.

If I seek Him first – everything else I need or want flows out of that.

“As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.”                      Psalms 17:15

When I looked at my face in the mirror this morning I realised that I have not yet arrived at my destination but I am at least on the way – how about you?

Let’s head towards satisfaction together!

It takes a village…

I was watching my birds the other day and I observed that, whilst it was clear that there was one pair of birds raising the newly hatched chicks, a number of other birds were getting involved. At one point several birds were gathered around the breeding box and at other times different birds were contributing nesting materials. They even took turns in feeding the young chicks who have such voracious appetites. The whole ‘flock’ seemed to be involved and it reminded me of the old adage which states “It take a village to raise a child”.

Raising children is a challenge and an opportunity like no other…you have the opportunity to guide, shape and launch an individual into what is hopefully a successful and meaningful life. But it is not a job just for the parents – we live in a culture that is not as ‘connected’ as it used to be. Many people are dislocated from family, busy at working multiple jobs, and challenged by the demands of our consumer and technological society.

We can easily find ourselves alone, even though we are surrounded by people.

The fact is that we need to take the opportunities that are afforded us – we need to be involved (appropriately) in the lives of our grandchildren, nephews, nieces, cousins, friends and neighbours – I am not talking about ‘butting in’ and imposing your values or attitudes upon them, I am talking about being available, being supportive, listening and understanding when that help is needed.

I learnt so much from my parents but if that was the only input I received I would not be the man I now am. I am thankful for others who had the courage and the determination to speak into my life and help me navigate through the various choices and twists I have taken.

When was the last time you made a choice and a determined effort to be a positive impact upon someone else – especially a child? It might be that this is a common pattern in your life or it might be something you used to do, or perhaps you have never thought about it…

My birds are all busy making sure the new chicks have every good thing they need.

Maybe it is time for us to share the load and help someone else become what they are destined to be. The Word of God challenges and calls us to… “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”     Galatians 6:2