Your Invitation to Live V

Your Invitation to LIVE through Difficult Times

In Romans 8:28 the Apostle Paul writes, “And we KNOW that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes.”

The Apostle Paul is not speaking from purely head knowledge rather this is a declaration of fact, firsthand experience time and time again.

Allow me to bring you several stories about living through difficult times.

1. Victor Frankl

Frankl was a determinist raised in the tradition of Freudian psychology, which postulates that whatever happens to you as a child shapes your character and personality and basically governs your whole life. The limits and parameters of your life are set, and, basically you can’t do much about it.

Frankl was also a psychiatrist and a Jew. He was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany, where he experienced things that were repugnant to our sense of decency that we shudder to even repeat them.

His parents, his brother, and his wife died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens. Except for his sister, his entire family perished. Frankl himself suffered torture and innumerable indignities, never knowing form one moment to the next if his path would lead to the ovens or if he would be among the “saved” who would remove the bodies or shovel out the ashes of those so fated.

Frankl determined to first of all survive, secondly to learn the lessons from these horrific circumstances and thirdly to look to the future.

One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called “the last of the human freedoms” – the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Frankl was a self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very involvement. His basic identity was intact. He could decide for himself how all this was going to affect him. Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom to or power to choose that response.

In the midst of his experiences, Frankl would project himself into different circumstances, such as lecturing to his students after his release from the death camps. He would describe himself in the classroom, in his mind’s eye, and give his students the lessons he was learning during his very torture.[1]

2. Fernando Flores

One person who knows all about transformation is Chilean, Fernando Flores. In 1970, at the age of only 29, Flores was named Chile’s Minister of Economics, later to become Minister of Finance as the country was undergoing a transformation from Dictatorship to Democracy. But in 1973, Augusto Pinochet’s fascist forces overthrew, and killed, Salvador Allende, the democratically elected President, and seized power. Flores was imprisoned for three years until Amnesty International negotiated his release. Released from prison, Flores had a new understanding of the connection between language and action,

“When I left prison I had to figure out how to embrace my past. Those three years represented tragedy that I used to recreate myself, not something that was done to me…. I never told a victim story about my imprisonment. Instead I told a transformation story, about how prison changed my outlook, about how I saw that communication, truth and trust are the heart of power. I made my own assessment of my life, and began to live it. That was freedom.”

Flores went on to begin a PhD in the United States, based on the work of Martin Heidegger and focussed on the link between words and the self. He now works with organisations around the world helping them to transform the way they do business.

Flores specifically focussed on the power of language to create our way of being.

The critical part of the work of Flores is the ability to distinguish between the three domains of communication – Past, Present and Future. Most people spend the majority of their time creating the Present form the Past instead of from the Future. To be able to transform our way of being we need to be able to learn to create the Present based on the Future we desire.[2]

3. Paul & Silas

Acts 16: 22-25

Both Frankl and Flores emphasised the importance of focusing on our desired future. The distinction between them and Paul and Silas is that the latter based their behaviour on a future that was KNOWN.

Our elder daughter in her speech at my wife’s birthday party acknowledged the things that her mother had given her, brown eyes, brown hair, the front row in her school photos, love for shopping, and a passion for children and young mothers. She went on to say she didn’t know whether her mother had given her Cerebellar Ataxia, and although it is a genetic disorder that increasing affects a person’s mobility, her mother had taught her that it does not need to define you. She had showed her that you need to mourn the loss of function, ensure you have lots of emotional support and professional advice, and continue to live life to the full.

Romans 8:28 explains that whatever the things we face, our circumstances, our situations, wherever they have come from, difficult as they may be they have passed the will of God for us.

I have fought against the difficult times, chosen to get angry and depressed, now I have learned to cooperate with God and to seek out His purpose. I look forward to each day because it may be the day the solution comes to that perplexing problem at work, strained relationship, financial dilemma…

The yachtsman knows it’s the set of the sail that is important…

Further readings: 2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14

Reflection: Have I Told You Lately That I Love You, Van Morrison

Prayer: In groups of three or four spend a few minutes in giving thanks to God.


[1] Covey Stephen R, 1991, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, The Business Library, Australia

[2] Ping Alistair C, 2001, The Second coming of Capitalism, Ricochet Productions, Australia

Your Invitation to Live IV

YOUR INVITATION TO LIVE ON THE GROWING EDGE

John 10:10; Romans 12:1-2; Romans 3:23; Romans 5:1-5; Romans 6:23; Romans 8:29; Philippians 4;13

Living on the Edge? If you’re not living on the edge then you are taking up too much room. People get involved in extreme sports to experience the adrenalin rush. This is an invitation to experience the deep-seated JOY of knowing God’s involvement in your live each day. Rather than the adrenalin rush that comes through DOING or HAVING it is a deep down joy that comes from BEING!

Living on the Growing Edge is the title of a book I read some years ago. The author, Bruce Larson, recalls meeting a remarkable teacher,

“…one of those gifted people who realises that she is not teaching subjects but persons. In her classroom young people not only mastered learning skills, but began to understand themselves and life. This teacher was able to consistently encourage her students and help them excel.

Her method, a concept common in education, was to discover the ‘growing edge’ of each of her students, where the student is ready and able to learn. Beyond that the student is not able to cope, and behind that the student is easily bored.[1]

Since launching into a consulting career in 1993 after many years of secure employment I have been acutely aware of my ‘growing edge’. From the outset I handed over this new career to God for Him to take it and use it to His glory. He has been my ‘teacher.’ It’s definitely never been boring; although at times I have thought I have extended myself beyond my ‘growing edge’ and have wondered how I would cope.

I have coped and more than that my professional practice has benefited. I never cease to be amazed by the events that transpire to bring me home.[2]

Romans 12:1-2 NIV is a Growing Edge passage.

We will examine this passage using the questions WHO? WHAT? WHERE & WHEN, HOW? and WHY?

WHO?

The Apostle Paul, Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy…

Paul was well aware of the depth of God’s mercy.

Throughout his ministry of reconciliation, spreading the Good News of Jesus he faced hardship and suffering and now his intention is to visit Rome and so he writes to prepare the Christians for his visit. At this stage the church hadn’t received the teaching of an Apostle. He wants them to know and to be secure in God’s plan of salvation and righteousness that is available to everyone.

In Romans 3:23 he states, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

In Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It’s Paul’s deepest desire that believers go on with their faith and experience the abundance of life that is available to them.

Jesus in John 10:10 states, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

It’s Paul’s desire that believers experience the fullness of life in Christ, not for it to be snatched away by circumstances, misunderstanding and misconceptions.

More than the suffering and hardship Paul was aware of the depths of God’s mercy when he came face to face with the living Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul, who was known as Saul at the time, was carrying papers of approval to arrest and imprison the followers of Jesus. Brought up in the traditions and teachings of the Pharisees was a vigorous persecutor of the followers of the Way. However, from that time on the PERSECUTOR BECAME THE PREACHER. He knew the TRANSFORMING LOVE of God in Christ.

And thus began a life of following Jesus, Living on the Growing Edge.

It’s out of this experience that Paul writes, Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy…

WHAT?

to offer your bodies as LIVING sacrifices holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship

What is involved in living on the growing edge? We need to put away, sacrifice old ways, old views of looking at things, old habits…

OFFER YOUR BODIES – put ourselves in the service of God, all the separate capacities of our being, our HEARTS, MINDS and the WILL

LIVING sacrifices – as opposed to DEAD.

SACRIFICE…As a result of what God has done in Christ…

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as LIVING sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

It involves CHOICE. Choosing to live on the growing edge, deciding to be involved..

WHEN and WHERE

Eugene Peterson in The Message puts it this way,

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around life

Our everyday circumstances at home, at work, on the sporting field, at college, at university, at church—wherever we find ourselves everyday. There is an urgency about Paul’s plea. This is a dynamic action prompted by the Spirit of God, a deliberate action day-by-day. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Paul is saying TODAY!

Roger Ross, an announcer with Good News radio, during a press conference with Jars of Clay, one of the overseas groups that played at the recent Easterfest in Toowoomba, asked about the dynamics in the group after being together for 15 years…

It would have been easy to say, OK guys, we’ve had a good run, let’s call a halt…We have learned to lean into the pain rather than let it hit us in the head unexpectedly.

The experience the Apostle Paul is taking about here is to be found in our relationships with others, ourselves and God and through the circumstances or events we find ourselves in at HOME, WORK, in our CHURCH, with ourselves and GOD.

In wrapping up the response to Rogers’ question, one of the band members said, “We have come to the place where we realise we need each other.”

HOW?

Can I live on the growing edge..

(1) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,

(2) but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.


The pattern of the world is SELF, the pursuit of happiness through ACQUISITION, POSSESSIONS, DOING, ACTIVITY, BUSYNESS, SUCCESS

The Christian’s JOY is not in what he possesses, nor in what he does, nor in what others do for him. It’s in relationships that abide amid the flux of possession and non-possession, of success and failure, of good treatment and ill treatment. The Christian can do with out anything on earth – even life on earth, for he has a permanent eternal life now which is rooted in eternity.

Joy is the strength of the people of God; it is their glory; it is their characteristic mark. It arise out of life of obedience, a life of service, a life that responds to God’s invitations

My attention has been on the renewing of my mind. My reading of the well known book, The Power of Positive Thinking reinforced this view that I needed to get my thinking right. I’ve since realised that that’s not an easy job. My mind had the capacity to wonder all over the place.

What this passage is suggesting is to take action in accord with God’s direction and transformation will take place AND the mind will be renewed!

Let me explain. I recall travelling to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne to attend a business meeting to review the performance of a training program which I had been conducting for the employees of this particular company. The outcomes for the employees were not as pleasing as expected or desired. I knew the company representatives who would be attending the meeting were SHARKS and not just Bruce the shark in Finding Nemo. I was nervous, anxious and by the time I neared Bacchus Marsh my mind had decided that a picnic would be a desirable alternative to attending the meeting. After all it was a long away across the other side of Melbourne. Anyway why shouldn’t I just go with the steering which clearly wanted to take the off ramp to Bacchus Marsh. I chose to attend. A constant growing edge for me was learning to act responsibly no matter my feelings rather than avoiding the difficult.

The anticipated slanging match didn’t eventuate and a plan was soon hatched to improve the outcomes for the employees

Let me tell you another story. In the middle of last year we moved house to Invermay Park before that we had lived at Brown Hill for 37 years. It takes about an hour to walk from the centre of the city to our home in Gracefield Road, Brown Hill. There have been two occasions over the years where I have made that trek in anger.

One was after an argument with my wife, and I can tell you that while I was extremely angry. I can’t recall the reason for the dispute with my wife. Later this year we will register 40 years of marriage. We need each other.

The second occasion occurred after taking an early exit from an Elders meeting. Again I was extremely angry. On this occasion I can remember, I felt left out of the decision-making. On my arrival it was announced that the then minister was leaving. My impression was that this decision had been arrived behind closed doors !

And after the second occasion… I remain worshipping with the same congregation!

Then I’ve wanted out!

But God has used occasions like these to work out His purposes in my life. Anger is another of my growing edges among many others. May be for you it’s an invitation to learn, to risk, to rest or to change.

Now I want in!

And I find myself working with people in situations where there is dispute, frustration, anger, hurt, stress, and strain. A field of service where under God as a privileged child of His, He allows me and directs me to exercise the gifts He has given me.

My mind has been renewed. I no longer fear these situations rather I see them as God’s opportunities for transformation.

Situations where if people choose to cooperate with God, we can bring about lasting change, TRANSFORMATION!

The pattern of the world suggests that stressful situations, suffering and hardship are the enemy and should be avoided at all costs.

Wherever an event may have come from, by the time its gets to us it has passed the will of God for us AND IS a source of blessing.

The Christian perspective sees theses situations as opportunities for growth and equipping for ministry.

What does this mean for me? What does God want to teach me, about myself, about Himself, about others and their needs? What resources do I have?

Philippians 4:13 I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.


WHY?

Why does God want me living on the growing edge?

Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.

God’s will…

(1) JOY

Fullness, abundance of life, GLADNESS rather than GLOOM, WONDER rather than WOE, AWESTRUCK rather than AWFUL

(2) TRANSFORMATION

Romans 5:1-5 NIV

We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us , because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.

God’s purpose in the transformation is to shape us into the likeness of Jesus.

Romans 8:29 NIV

God knew what He was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the very outset to shape the lives of those who love Him along the same lines as the life of His Son.

(3) RELATIONSHIP

And most of all God wants us to know the security, the goodness, the extent of the relationship we have with Him


Read Romans 12:1 -2 The Message


What are the opportunities that God is placing before you…to live on the GROWING EDGE?


Rather than a North South face step into them with an East West face….


[1] Larson Bruce, 1968, Living on the Growing Edge, Zondervan Publishing House, Michigan

[2] Adapted from the movie, Apollo 13, distributed by Universal Studies, 1995. Words ascribed to Commander Jim Lovell portrayed by Tom Hanks.

Your Invitation to Live III

An Invitation to Live

My friend Mark conducted the third session at the Men’s Camp. He used the same groups that had been arranged for the previous session.

Activity #1

Read 1 John 3:1

Discuss together your understanding of this verse and what it means to be a child of God.

Activity #2

Prayerfully consider the four invitations listed below and highlight how you think Jesus may be inviting you to respond.

What is Jesus inviting you to learn? Matthew 4:18-20

How is Jesus inviting you to rest? Matthew 11:28-30

How is Jesus inviting to risk? Matthew 14: 5-31

What is Jesus inviting you to change? Matthew19:16-22

Activity #3

Join with 1 or 2 others and pray for each other.

Your Invitation to Live II

Your Invitation to Be Secure


This is the second session of the Men’s Camp. After a brief introduction the campers were divided into groups of five. In true Aussie fashion the groups were named after Australian birds and animals, dingo, kookaburra, magpie, emu, platypus, kangaroo, koala and wombat. Each group was then provided with the following instructions.

Leader

We are going to take a few minutes to get acquainted. In order to do this we are going to ask ourselves several questions. The questions aren’t ‘loaded’. They simply provide a way for us to get to know each other in a short time.

Step 1

The leader can get the ball rolling by reading out the first three questions and proceeding to answer them first. Then each person around the circle can respond to the questions.

(i)
What is your name?
(ii) Where did you live between the ages of seven and twelve years?
(iii) What stands out most in your mind about the school you attended during that time?

Step 2

Proceed to the next the next two questions.

(iv) How many brothers and sisters were in your family during the ages seven to twelve years?
(v) During your childhood, how was your home heated? Can you remember anything humorous about it?

The leader in telling how the home was heated should try to think of some humorous or vivid incident, perhaps a particularly cold morning, and the central heating didn’t work because of a power outage, getting up to fetch the wood or smoking out the house.

Step 3

(vi) During that time where did you feel the centre of human warmth was? Was it a room or a person e.g. the kitchen, parents’ bedroom, dining room, etc? Or it may not have been a room at all; it may have been a person around who in retrospect you sensed a safeness or warmth.

After providing the group with the question the leader can explain that we are tracing the human experience of security. Security is first known by a child in terms of physical warmth. As our horizons broaden outside of our immediate selves our sense of security is found in the warmth and acceptance of the people around us. This may not be the experience for some. They simply cannot recall a centre of human warmth in their home or in any person.

Now allow each person to respond.

Step 4

Direct this final question to the group as a whole so that people can volunteer answers if they have any. No one needs to feel compelled to answer.

(vii) When, if ever, in your life did God become more than ‘a word’? When did He become a living Being, alive in your own thinking?

This transition in one’s thinking may have taken place gradually, listening to a piece of music, watching a sunset or during a conversation with a friend.

The leader can close the conversation by summarising and pointing out that, according to Christian belief, although the experience of security and acceptance begins with physical warmth and graduates to human warmth, we are so made that our security is never complete until we find it in God.

Step 5

If there is time the group may wish to spend some time in quiet prayer centred on the conversations that have occurred.

Ask the question of each person, “How can we pray specifically for you?”


Adapted from Mallison John, 1976, Keeping Group Life Vital, Renewal Publications, Sydney

Your Invitation to Live I

YOUR INVITATION TO LIVE

This posting is the first in a series of study sessions conducted during an ESA Men’s Camp held at Norval Conference Centre in Hall’s Gap among the magnificent Grampians mountain ranges, Victoria, Australia, over the weekend, 13 – 15 June, 2008.

My wife recently celebrated a major birthday. 100 invitations were sent out and 75 people were able to join our family to celebrate the achievement of her milestone. It was wonderful day spent with family and friends over lunch in the function centre at Narmbool, a farming property owned by Sovereign Hill and located between Ballarat and Geelong.

The central theme of the gospel, the good news, is invitational.

Across the course of this weekend I want you to LISTEN to God’s invitations. His invitations are personal. They are extended to you personally. He desires your company, and just like the invitations to my wife’s, a response, an action, an RSVP is required.

Let’s get the ball rolling by reading John 11 from The Message.

This passage is rich in characters who respond to the Jesus in different ways.

The disciples when Jesus announced, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

“Rabbi, you can’t do that. The Jews are out to kill you, and you’re going back?”

Thomas, the one called the Twin, following Jesus’ explanation, to his companions,

“Come along. We might as well die with Him.”

Martha when she went out to meet Jesus when she heard He was coming,

“Master, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now I know that whatever you ask God He will give it to you.”

Mary, who jumped up and ran out to Jesus when she heard from Martha that He was asking for her,

“Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

The obedient response among the crowd of mourners when Jesus instructed,

“Go ahead, take away the stone.”

The response of Lazarus to the invitation of Jesus,

“Lazarus, come out!”

The caring response of the crowd when Jesus told them,

“Unwrap him, and let him loose.”

A whole series of invitations, but it was the command of Jesus, an awe-inspiring declaration that He, Jesus, was the Messiah, the Promised One of God, “Lazarus, come out!” that presents us with an amazing INVITATION TO LIVE.

The subsequent command, “Unwrap him and let him loose,” presents us with an INVITATION TO GET INVOLVED.

Throughout the weekend we will explore other invitations of the Gospel.

  • YOUR INVITATION TO LIVE SECURELY
  • YOUR INVITATION TO LIVE ON THE GROWING EDGE
  • YOUR INVITATION TO LIVE THROUGH DIFFICULT TIMES
  • YOUR INVITATION TO LIVE THROUGH DEPRESSION

Adapted from Coleman L, 1974, Beginnings, Serendipity House