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!

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

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!

Mount up with wings…

This week I had the opportunity to watch one of my newly hatched budgies take the awesome leap out of the nesting box for the very first time. I had been observing these young birds for the last few weeks, ever since they hatched and I have been amazed by just how fast they have grown. The previous two days I found two young birds flying about the cage but yesterday I happened to be present as the last of the clutch suck its head out of the box, stepped onto the ledge and then took its first flight.

It was not very impressive, it didn’t last long, the landing was less than perfect but the second attempt was better. Within half an hour the young budgie was exploring the whole cage and was being welcomed by the other birds.

Throughout the course of the day his flying improved even more and it is more than likely that he will never return to the nest.

In the last few months I have been coming to terms with two of my own children ‘leaving the nest’. My son was married in September and my daughter is getting married in February. I am excited to see them ‘take flight’ but I am also a little conflicted, as I will miss the way things were. Life presents opportunities for growth but growth leads to change and change is a mix of exciting and uncomfortable.

Some of the birds in my aviary are very young and others (of course) are much older – for some, flight is a new thing but it is normal and even passé for the others. Flight is to a bird as walking is to us – you don’t even think about it until you cannot do it.

But if a bird gets too tired to fly, if weariness grounds it so that it cannot move, then it is in danger: Danger of predators; danger of starvation; and danger of separation.

Weariness has the same effect upon us all and tiredness can make everything seem hard and fraught with dangers, which can hinder us.

 

“Even the youths shall faint and be weary…but those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”           Isaiah 40:30

 

So whether you have recently flown the coop or if, like me, you are an older bird – be refreshed as you wait upon the Lord!

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…

What is your label?

“I don’t think that is your name!”

“It certainly doesn’t suit you!”

I was at a conference this week along with hundreds of other people but I had the privilege of sitting up the front in a seat that had been set aside for me – as I sat down the sticker on the chair must not have been attached properly because it stuck itself to the centre of my back and so, for about an hour, I walked around with the word “Reserved” stuck prominently for all to see.

During the hour that I walked around with this label on me, it is possible that no-one else saw it, it is far more probable that several people chuckled to themselves and it is even possible that a couple of people may have been confused by it – but one thing is for sure (from my perspective) it was a label that didn’t suit me at all.

I have been described in many different ways – some are flattering and others not so. Some people like my personality but I know that there are some who view me differently. There are many adjectives that I would use to describe myself but ‘reserved’ is not one I would claim.

I would accept ‘enthusiastic’, ‘excitable’, ‘thoughtful’ and even ‘careful’. ‘Driven’, ‘passionate’, ‘impetuous’ and ‘spontaneous’ would even be acceptable. However, the title ‘reserved’ doesn’t do it for me – it suggests ‘holding back’, ‘timidity’ and a ‘lack of action’ and this is not who I am comfortable to be.

The person who took the label off my back was a friend who saw the funny side of that name being upon me but often we have ‘labels’ put upon us which we do not deserve or which are inaccurate.

People place labels on us because of our ethnicity, our belief structure and our place in society. Labels limit us to a narrow life and lead to nothing but misunderstanding. Labels cut us off from one another and segregate us.

So you probably have many ‘labels’ just like I do – some you are happy with, others you would like to remove but I have found that there is only really one label that matters at all. The Bible says that we have the opportunity to have the ultimate label – it is one which changes our future and defines our actions and responses. It is a label worth wearing and worth living up to!

“They shall see Jesus’ face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.”            Revelation 22:4

How do you smell today?

“What is that horrible smell???”

These were the first words that my wife spoke to me last Saturday…I had been up early to fulfil my what seems to be weekly ritual of heading to Bunnings to purchase those items I need for working on the house but also to pause and to ‘save the world one sausage at a time’!

This trip was in response to my horticulturist brother-in-law’s suggestion that the plants in my garden needed ‘a feed’ – I purchased 3 large bags of fertiliser and gave a generous spring-feeding to all of the plants surrounding my house. To me the smell was ‘earthy and wholesome’ but this was not a view held by the rest of the members of my household.

They were not as generous in their descriptions and in fact were filled with complaints about the fragrance that was now wafting through the open doors and windows on a bright and sunny weekend.

I tried to explain that the garden would be healthier because of the fertilisation – I mentioned that the plants would grow, they would be more colourful and that it was short-term pain for long-term benefit – but all my wife said in response was “I don’t care…it stinks!”

Plants are amazing things – they have the capacity to turn waste and refuse into blooms, growth, flowers and fruit. Thankfully the flowers and fruit they bear do not smell or taste like the waste they convert – but inside the plant is the capacity for changing negative to positive. The benefit comes from the processing of negatives.

Not everything in our life has a positive fragrance. We encounter negative attitudes, behaviour, emotions and experiences – often, these smell really bad and they leave a bad taste in our mouths – but the question is, ‘What do you do in response?’

Do you let the smell of the incident just remain on the surface and impact and infect others?

Or do you allow the negative to be internally processed where you can witness it change into something different which actually can be beneficial?

I have found the joy in ‘processing’ the negatives in my life – it is better than the only other option!   What about you? How do you smell today?

“Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.”

2 Corinthians 2:14