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!

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.

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

Made herself ready…

Six months of preparation culminates in a single day… invitations have been sent and answered, people are travelling in from far flung places, venues are booked and paid for, flowers and decorations are in place, dresses and suits are hanging in readiness, place-cards, table settings, music, cars, speeches, bonbonnieres, food, wine, and all manner of trimmings are all set and ready to go…

All that is left is for us all to get dressed and show up at the appointed time and I will have the incredible privilege of walking my daughter down the aisle and joining her hand in hand with my new son-in-law.   It is going to be a great day and one the whole family has been waiting for.

Whilst it has not been the only thing going on, this wedding (like all of them) has dominated its far share of time and effort. You want a wedding to be just right, to reflect the nature of the couple being married and to give it a sense of occasion and gravitas. Because of this, lists are written and re-written, checked and double-checked and finally it comes down to the moment where everyone just has to do what they are meant to do.

I have never been to a ‘perfect wedding’, there is always something that doesn’t go slightly to plan, someone forgets something or technology lets you down. But no matter what little things go wrong, the outcome has always been the same, the couple who walked in as ‘two’ leaves as ‘one’.

This wedding reminds me of another wedding we are all invited to attend…

“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:7

Just like a normal wedding, there is some preparation involved; ‘The Bride’ (the people who choose to belong to God) has to make herself ready. It is inconceivable that my Daughter would forget to put on her dress, smudge her makeup and walk into the service in a pair of dirty, ripped jeans and a tee shirt.

I know the effort she has put in and how carefully she has prepared herself to look radiant for her husband. She will be ready…

So the time has come – our wedding is here and we are ready… but the question is, for the wedding which is yet to come which signals the culmination of the age – are you ready?

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.

Time to grow up!

I had a moment last weekend where the chaos subsided and I realised just what was happening. I stood next to my son as his eyes lit up and then started to glisten as his new bride walked down the aisle to meet him. It was a beautiful day, in a fantastic location, surrounded by friends and family, who all seemed to be having a wonderful time…and I also had the privilege of conducting the service.

This is the first of our children to be married and so it starts a new era for our family and so many things change – we have not lost a son but gained a bedroom! No really…we have gained another daughter. A new family unit has started and they will (I’m sure) do things differently, reach for different goals, experience different things and that is what makes it fantastic!

Life is all about growth and with growth comes some pain – it is bitter sweet to watch your children launch out on their own, especially when you have been so focussed on their safety, comfort and development – but to not allow them to grow would be terrible, to not see them become all they could be would be such a waste.

I did find myself looking at my son throughout the day and recalling the child he was, his growth, his challenges, the times he was sick and the times that he really needed me and I confess that it made me ‘misty’ more than once – but those feelings were balanced out but the fact that I know he is now a fine young man with a great future and a great partner to share the road with.

I have no doubt that they will do well and I look forward with expectation to what is ahead.

‘Ahead’ is a good place to look, looking ‘behind’ is fun and nostalgic but you can’t achieve anything if you dwell there.

Remember, ‘growth’ is the right option to choose no matter how old we become.

In the great ‘love’ passage in 1 Corinthians, that was read at the wedding, it says at the end

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became adult, I put away childish things… Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” 1 Cor13:11–12

Maybe it is time we all ‘grew up’ and get to know Him who already knows us so well.

Everything Changes…

In the next few days an event is going to take place that will change the dynamic of our family from that moment on. As incredible as it seems to me, my son is getting married and a new season is about to begin. I say ‘incredible’ not because I am surprised that he has found someone who is willing to have him, or because I didn’t think he would step up to make a commitment but because I don’t know if I am quite ready to be the father of married children…

I am not suggesting that I am against the wedding – far from it – I can’t wait to celebrate such a great day but it is a change that will be felt in many different ways: A new family is about to be formed; we are gaining a daughter (not losing a son); our house will be quieter (at times); a new generation steps up and we are ‘promoted’ to the next level and so on…

I have always been available to my son and will continue to do so but this step sees him launch into a different place where they will want to do things their way and that might be totally different to how we would have done it… and that’s ok.

The Bible talks about marriage like this…

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matthew 19:5–6

To achieve this type of outcome takes total commitment – commitment to openness and honesty – commitment to love and devotion – commitment to change and adaptation. Without these, no marriage can survive.

If you are married then perhaps today is a good opportunity to do a quick inventory on how you are travelling and to flag things that need improvement in your own marriage.

Think of the advice you would give a young couple starting out on that journey and maybe just follow it yourself!

The best advice I can give my son is to invite the Lord’s strength to play its part in his relationship with his wife – he is determined to do this and I know that he is well on the road to success.

So married or not, that same advice is available for you…why would you refuse that, which could change everything?