May 1 2015

The Death Penalty in Australia – a poem

crosses

THE DEATH PENALTY IN AUSTRALIA
a poem by Simon Camilleri

I weep as lives are taken

By a law so cold and strange.

I wonder why the government

Has not done more for change.

I shake my head at such a waste

Oh, what their lives could give!

Who knows what good they could have done

If they were free to live?

I hope one day we’ll value

Every life as having worth,

And learn that killing will not solve

The problems of the earth.

So do you #standformercy?

And will you stand with me?

And will you weep as lives are lost

Due to this tragedy?

Well, just before you answer,

Let me clear something please…

I’m not talking about the deaths

Of Aussies overseas.

Though stopping the death penalty

In Bali’s a good cause,

We have a worse injustice

Right at home upon our shores.

It’s Australia’s own death penalty.

Abortion is its name.

And every single year

100 thousand lives it claims.

I weep as lives are taken

By a law so cold and strange.

I wonder why the government

Has not done more for change.

I shake my head at such a waste

Oh, what their lives could give!

Who knows what good they could have done

If they were free to live?

I hope one day we’ll value

Every life as having worth,

And learn that killing will not solve

The problems of the earth.

So do you stand for mercy?

And will you stand with me?

And will you weep as lives are lost

Due to this tragedy?

(1616)

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February 17 2015

QUANTUM – a word game

Quantum

One day, back in High School, someone (probably my best friend Daniel) explained Quantum Physics to me with the idea that everything is connected to everything else. Now, I have no idea about Quantum Physics, but from that basic idea I developed my own little word game, which I called “Quantum”. Back in High School I really liked word games. I was particularly into the game called “Word Morph” where you have to get from one word to another by just changing one letter at a time (if you’ve never heard of this game, check it here).  Quantum is similar to Word Morph, in that you have a starting word and you have to try to get to a finishing word, but it is different in that you use conceptual links to change the words, rather than simply changing letters. It is also different in that it is not a solo game. It can be played with as many people as you like, but it best works with two people. This creates the most fun and challenging part of the game as you each compete to link to your word without knowing what the other person’s word is.

I have made many games over the years (Mega Church, Treasure Island, Royal Rescue, Please Finalise Your Purchases, Back Story, Nukes Spies & Propaganda, Paparazzi, Whoever Has the Four of Clubs Wins). Some of these have worked well and some of these have failed miserably. Quantum is definitely a game that has worked. Even today, over 20 years after inventing the game, I still play it quite often with my wife when we go on road trips or are killing time waiting for something. I thought I’d write up the rules here so that you can enjoy it too.


HOW TO PLAY “QUANTUM”

AIM:
The aim of the game is to be the first player to create a legitimate link to your winning word.

THE BASIC IDEA:
All players think of (or are secretly given) a word that they will try to get to. This is their winning word. A starting word is chosen and then players take turns saying words that link to the previous word. So player 1 says a word that links to the starting word, and then player 2 says a word that links to the word that player 1 just said. Each player is trying to pull the game towards their winning word, but neither player knows which word their opponent is trying to get to. Thus the game involves using multiple tactics to both get to your word and avoid the other player guessing what you word is.

HOW TO MAKE A LEGITIMATE LINK:
In Quantum, words are linked conceptually, meaning the linking word must have some understood relationship to the previous word. Common relationships between words may be things like:

  • They are commonly together in use or just in how people know of them (eg. “bacon” – “eggs”)
  • They are similar (eg. “cry” – “weep”)
  • They are opposites (eg. “hot” – “cold”)
  • They go from general to specific (eg. “job” – “accountant””)
  • They go from specific to general (eg. “cow” – “animal”)
  • They have some other relationship that is understood (eg. “vampire” – “scary”, “ninja” – “Japan”, “beans” – “flatulence”, etc.)

If you suggest a word that is not a good enough link, the other player may contest its legitimacy. For example, if after the other player said “fish” you tried to link it with the word “Christmas” because you always have fish at Christmas with your family, the other player could dispute it. At which point, you can either try to convince them of its connection, or you can more productively, just suggest another word.

No matter how lame the connection is though, the other player has the option of accepting it and playing on. They would do this naturally because it served their efforts to reach their own word. For example, if your opponent’s winning word was “Holiday” they may be very happy with your offer of “fish / Christmas”, as it will allow them to say “Christmas / “Holiday” and go on to win the game.

GAMEPLAY EXAMPLE:
This is how a game may play out…

  • Player 1 and 2 each secretly think of a word. P1 chooses “tree” and P2 chooses “snow”. They do not tell each other what their word is.
  • One of the players (let’s say, P1) chooses a starting word. To be fair, they try to choose something that is not an easy link to their own word. They decide the starting word is “fish”.
  • The player who didn’t choose the starting word (P2), then begins the game. They firstly say the word they must link to and then they say a linking word. They say, “Fish – Water”. They choose the word “water” hoping that it may eventually lead to allowing them to link to their winning word, “snow”.
  • P1 accepts the link by playing on. The new word they must link to is “water”, and so they say, “Water – Nature”, hoping this will lead to something to do with their winning word, “tree”.
  • At this point P2 contemplates going straight from “nature” to “snow” as snow is a part of nature, but they worry this might be seen as not a strong enough link and they don’t want to give away what their word is. Remember, they would only win the game if the other player accepts their linking word by playing on. They decide to go with something half way. So they say, “Nature – Weather”.
  • P1 continues with “Weather – Wind”, thinking that may somehow connect with the wind blowing through the leaves or something.
  • P2 then says “Wind – Blizzard”, trying to get it back to snow.
  • P1 is at this point wondering how on earth they might get from “blizzard” all the way to their winning word, “tree”. They muse to themselves, “I reckon I might be able to get from blizzard to Christmas, with the whole white Christmas cliche and Santa in the North Pole. And if I can link to a Christmas tree I could get to my winning word.” And so, without any idea what P2 winning word is, they say “Blizzard – Winter”.
  • P2 then puts on their best poker face and says, “Winter – Snow”.
  • P1 naturally accepts this and continues with “Snow – Snowman”, hoping this will push it towards Christmas.
  • P2 then smiles and declares, “My word was ‘Snow’!” And with that P2 wins the game.

The above description shows a lot of the thinking behind each word, but this is how the game would sound:

  • P1: The starting word is “fish”.
  • P2: Fish – Water
  • P1: Water – Nature
  • P2: Nature – Weather
  • P1: Weather – Wind
  • P2: Wind – Blizzard
  • P1: Hmm… Blizzard – Winter
  • P2: Winter – Snow
  • P1: Snow – Snowman
  • P2: My word was “snow”
  • P1: Wow. I suck at this game.

Now, this is a very short example. It can be this quick, but usually, the game goes a fair bit longer and involves various attempts by each player to get close to their word before someone finally gets it.

SUGGESTIONS FOR CHOOSING WORDS:
The more complex or unique the word, the harder it will be to get to, so effectively you can choose the level of difficulty of the game by the word that you choose. Choosing the word “car” may be fairly easy, whereas choosing the word “chlorophyll” may be really difficult.

Also, think about how many ways you might be able to get to your word. If your word is “nail-clipper” you may be quite limited in getting to your word, but if your word is “bill” you could get to your word through, “electricity” or “restaurant” or “name” or “money” or even, “duck”. Even though all these words get to “bill” in a different way, they are all legitimate links.

If on the other hand you want to choose a completely random word (or you find it hard to just think of a word off the top of your head) you can use cards from a game like Taboo or Pictionary, or if you have your smartphone, you can go to wordgenerator.net and get a random word from there.taboo-cards

In choosing the starting word, you can employ any of these techniques as well, but if you don’t have those games cards handy and you don’t want to look up a website, you could ask a friend who is not playing the game to think of the starting word. Alternatively, you could think of some creative way of choosing a starting word, like the first word that you see on a car’s bumper sticker or the word you put your finger on when you randomly open up a book off the shelf. The starting word can be unique or complex and it won’t be a problem, so have fun with it! If you just have one of the players choose a starting word (like in the gameplay example above), they must try to choose a word that has no obvious link to their winning word, and the other player starts the game, to try to make it as fair as possible.

WINNING THE GAME:
The game is won when your winning word is said and accepted as a legitimate link. This can happen by your opponent suggesting your winning word as a linking word, although this is quite rare. More commonly, you will say your winning word as a linking word. You only win if your opponent accepts it as a legitimate link, and they do this by linking another word to your winning word. Once this has happened, instead of taking your turn, you declare yourself to have won.

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES & RULES:

  • Trust
    • The game relies on trust. It is very easy to cheat or just pretend that you have won by saying, “That was my word!” at any stage. Play by the rules and don’t be a douche and you’ll have fun.
  • Numbers of players
    • The game works best with two players but can be played with more people with no change of the rules at all. The only problem is that the more people you play it with, the less your turn will influence it in your direction. Any more than three players and the game becomes more about luck than strategy.
  • Game length
    • The game will take as long as it takes. It could be as quick as 2 minutes (like in the gameplay example given above) or it could take a whole day (yes, I have actually played it for a whole day once when I was in High School). Generally though, once you get the hang of it, an average game goes for around 5-15 minutes, which makes it great for a road trip, as you might get in a few games by the time you reach your destination.
  • Sounding the same but different.
    • In Quantum, with every link the meaning of the word could change. For example, if P1 said “Vacation – Break”, P2 could say “Break – Destroy”, even though the meaning of “break” was different for both players.
    • This is even allowed if the spelling of the word is different, but it sounds the same. For example, if P1 said “Vacation – Break”, P2 could legitimately say “Brake – Accelerator”. Even though “break” and “brake” are spelt differently, in this verbal game, the change of the word’s meaning is allowed as they sound exactly the same.
    • This does not apply if the word sounds similar, but not exactly the same. For example, P2 could NOT say “Brick – Wall” just because “break” and “brick” sound similar.
  • No repeats
    • You may not repeat a word that has been accepted in the game. This would create an annoying loop in the game. If a word was offered but then rejected as an illegitimate link, it could be used at a later stage as long as the link was legitimate.
  • Random direction strategy
    • There are many strategies you may discover while playing Quantum. Primarily, you must think of what words you need to get your opponent to say so that you could possibly link to your winning word, and you have to think of creative ways to push the game in your favour. But there is also something else you are trying to do at the same time – namely, prevent the other player from reaching their winning word.
    • If you sense your opponent is getting close to reaching their word, feel free to throw the game in a completely random direction. You can do this by employing the rules mentioned above about linking words that have a completely different meaning to the word offered by your opponent. Changing the topic of the game from “Vacation – Break” to “Break – Destroy” may totally throw off your opponent’s strategy and open up new opportunities for you to get the upper hand. Basically, the point to remember is, you can say a word for a strategic reason to work towards your word, or to prevent your opponent from reaching their word, or for no reason at all. As long as the link is legitimate, it is allowed.

So that’s it! Hope those rules made sense. Try it with a friend and tell me what you think!

In fact, if you record a game of you playing it with a friend and send me the YouTube link, not only will I post it on this blog (if you want me to) but I’ll also let you know the EXPANDED RULES for Master Quantum players!

Have fun playing and I’ll leave you with a video of me and my very generous wife playing a couple of games, so you can see it in action!
(Sorry, the sound and video goes out of sync after a while. Cat wants a rematch to do the video again, so stay tuned!)

(1897)

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Category: Game, Life | LEAVE A COMMENT
February 2 2015

One More Year – a poem

Simon 37

 

ONE MORE YEAR

a poem by Simon Camilleri on his 37th birthday


Today I turn 37
One more year closer to heaven
One more year further from birth
One more year of life on earth

One more year to live this life
One more year to love my wife
One more year to raise my baby
Four more months to get sleep… maybe

One more year to serve and bless
To write the scripts for GSF
To direct a great carols event
To help guys fight the elephant

One more year to know God’s grace
To grow in love and hope and faith
To each day live closer to Christ
And daily thank him for this life

I’m 37 for one more year
Yikes… 40 is now feeling near

(1506)

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January 3 2015

Why worry about baptism?

WHY WORRY

Lately, I have been thinking lots about baptism. I am talking to people, posting thoughts on facebook, listening to talks and reading a really helpful book called, “Baptism: Three Views“. My aim is to reach a biblically faithful understanding of baptism and come to some conclusion as to which “camp” I sit in. There are many different understandings of baptism and people have debated it for centuries, but I am only considering three basic views – “pedo-baptism” (the idea that it’s appropriate to baptise children of Christian parents), “credo-baptism” (the idea that only professing Christians should be baptised) and “inbetweedo-baptism” (not a real term, but represents the view that either position is ok and there does not need to be uniformity between Christians on the issue).

But as the title of this blog asks… why worry about baptism? Why go to such lengths to think through an issue that may not be resolvable and is definitely not core to the gospel? Well, firstly I do want to acknowledge that I do think this is not a core gospel issue. Baptism is not necessary for salvation, a point that is most clearly shown by the story in Acts 10:43-48 where people respond to the call to believe in Jesus for forgiveness, are born again and given the Holy Spirit, and after all that are baptised. Only Jesus saves us and he does so when we put our faith in him, which is why Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Baptism doesn’t save us, so why worry about it?

great_commissionWell, baptism might not be necessary for salvation, but it is connected with salvation. All the views of baptism that I respect (namely the three that I mentioned above) acknowledge that baptism is an important ritual that Jesus commanded his disciples to perform as they spread the message of the gospel and made disciples. The final words of Jesus recorded in Matthew’s gospel record this command: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Any Christian that takes seriously Jesus’ authority and his command for us to make disciples and spread his teaching, has to engage with what he means when he commands us to “baptise”.

First and foremost, it must challenge all Christians to get baptised themselves. There may be much debate about whether or not we should baptise our kids, but if you are an un-baptised Christian, then the call and biblical expectation to get baptised is a no-brainer. I understand some Christians may want to think through exactly what it all means, or they may be unsure about the mode of baptism (dunk or pour), or they want to make the event something their friends and family can come to, but those concerns should not drag on too long. We should rather have the enthusiasm of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:36, who after comprehending the gospel, said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?” To put it off indefinitely or to simply ignore it, is I think, dishonouring to the beautiful ritual that baptism is supposed to be. At best it is a sign of being ignorant of the importance Scripture puts on it, and at worst it is an act of willing disobedience to the clear command of Jesus. So, if you haven’t done it and you’re a follower of Jesus, then get your bathers and get on with it!


MY JOURNEY WITH BAPTISM

So baptism is important to think about for all Christians, but why am I particularly engaging with this issue now? Well, the answer is in the blog I wrote before this one. I have a baby on the way. And so, I feel I need to come to some conclusion as to whether or not God wants me to get my child baptised. One thing I have come to realise is, I can’t do nothing. I can’t sit on the fence indefinitely. Basically, if I think about it for 20 years and then decide I believe that the pedobaptist view is correct, it’s a bit too late. It’s like someone driving towards a cliff as they are asking themselves “To be or not to be”. Once they hit the cliff, they have decided “not to be” whether they are ready for it or not! In the end, I do think there is some merit to the case for pedobaptism and so I think I should consider it before my child is too old and I have accepted the “credobaptist” position by default!

Even though my child’s impending birthday does create a sense of urgency (if you can call 6 months “urgent”), even before I was married I was interested in understanding baptism. You see, I was brought up in a Catholic family and so was baptised as an infant myself. For most of my childhood I didn’t contemplate my own baptism, but it did effect the way I understood Christianity. I was always taught that my baptism was like my ticket into heaven, and because of it, I was a child of God.

Baptism.146174950_stdAs opposed to what I now know the bible teaches, the Catholic Church’s position is that God uses the actual act of baptism to save us. The Catholic Catechism teaches: Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.” 

Due to this teaching, I always just presumed I had a relationship with God and so I did not engage with the message of the gospel or the call to put my trust in Jesus for my forgiveness. It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I started to question this idea. Despite being told I was right with God, I didn’t feel it. It didn’t ring true to my experience.

At aged 16, I finally heard the message that I could be freed from my sin and received this rebirth as a child of God, not through my baptism, but through trusting in Jesus’ death and resurrection. I heard this message through a pentecostal family, who were very much “credobaptists”. The daughter, who I was dating at the time, even told me how she accepted Jesus as her Lord and Saviour and was baptised at the young age of 5!

After becoming a Christian I developed a real disgust with the idea of infant baptism. After all, it was my infant baptism that lied to me that I was already right with God and prevented me from seeking the truth about the gospel. At least, that’s how I felt. I came to think that infant baptism was the primary thing wrong with the Catholic Church and was the cause of most of their problems. Also, I had such a wonderful example of “believer” baptism in this pentecostal family’s testimony and now, my own experience.

I would have happily remained a devout credobaptist if it wasn’t for the Christian Union. If you haven’t heard of them, they are a wonderful evangelical group that meets on University campuses around Australia, teaching, evangelising, training and mentoring students. It was through the Christian Union (or CU as we called it) that I really started to delve into studying the Bible. The pentecostal church I had started going to was loving and full of enthusiasm, but they were not good at bible teaching. It was the CU that helped me study the bible, write bible studies, ask questions, seek answers, engage in robust theological discussion and get a fuller and clearer understanding of the gospel.

The CU (and its parent organisation, AFES) is made up of lots of denominations, but clearly there was a dominance of Anglican and Presbyterian churches. It was through the CU that I started attending Bundoora Presbyterian Church (a church I have now been going to for around 14 years). It was also through the CU that I heard the crazy idea that some Christians who knew the gospel and studied the bible, also believed that you could baptise infants!

You can image how shocked I was. For nearly 5 years I had believed that infant baptism was the biggest poison to true Christianity. I was thoroughly convinced that no valid biblical argument could be made for pedobaptism, but, not wanting to be stubborn in my beliefs, I was willing to be swayed. I looked for a solid biblical article that would explain the position to me, and low and behold… I found one! I am very sad to report I can’t supply a copy of this article, but I can testify to it’s arguments being solid and biblically based. It didn’t completely convince me, but it did show me that there was more to this debate than just what I had experienced in my childhood and conversion.

fenceFrom that point on, I was pretty much “on the fence” on the issue. Over the years I have done some thinking and discussing on the issue, but nothing that would compel me to pick a side. I would hear one argument and find it robust and convincing, but then I would hear a valid rebuttle and a presentation of the opposing view that was also robust and convincing.

As I said earlier, with a child on the way I feel I should once again pick up this issue and see if I can come to any settled position. Although I am an active member in my local presbyterian church, I feel no specific loyalty to agree with its position on this matter. My minister, Neil Chambers, is wise and very biblical, keeping our church focussed on the core issues of the gospel and not forcing people to agree with the official presbyterian position on an issue is not clear in Scripture. He definitely is a pedobaptist, but he would not expect I would have to agree with that position in order to be a member or be involved in church ministry. His focus has always be that Christian parents raise their children to love Jesus, whether they baptise them or not.

So, here I am, still on the fence. After years of reading and discussing, I feel I am getting a good grasp on both sides of the debate. In fact, if you are fully convinced of either position, I reckon I could happily and passionately argue for the opposing view. This doesn’t help me in my goal to reach some conclusion myself, but it does give me a respect for both sides, a humility when it comes to these issues, and an acknowledgement that neither side is “clearly” wrong or wildly unbiblical.

Now, I haven’t actually gone into the arguments for either position in this blog. This is partly because I am still reading the book “Baptism: Three Views” and wanting to solidify my thoughts a bit more. I will hopefully write another blog down the track to reveal and explain which position I have decided upon, when (or if) I eventually reach a decision. I just thought I’d write this blog to explain a bit of my journey so far and why I find it personally very stimulating, engaging and interesting to think about the issue of baptism.

To aid my journey, please feel free to do the following, either in the comments on this blog, or in an email to me personally:

  1. Share your own journey and questions relating to this issue.
  2. Pass on any articles, sermons or thoughts that you find explain either position well.
  3. Catch up with me to ask your own questions or to discuss or debate the topic with me. I’d love that!

 

Please also pray for me. This issue may be complex and both sides may have valid arguments, but I do want to be faithful to Scripture and the commands of Jesus, in how I think about this issue. At the same time, I don’t want to give this issue more time than I should. As my brother Tony advised me, I believe with the first child your primary thought will be “I must not drop you” until you relax. Just enjoy those early days.’ Good counsel.

So, why worry about baptism? Well, I don’t plan to worry too much. But I am looking forward to the journey. 

In the meantime, if you want a laugh, have a read of a funny post I wrote on this topic last year…

10 alternatives to “credobaptism” & “paedobaptism”

 

 

(2826)

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November 11 2014

God should NOT be number #1 on your list

Person Marking in a Checkbox 5722106

 

Is God number #1 in your life? Does God get first priority? Do you seek to worship God, serve God and love God before you get on with the rest of your life?

calculatorThese can be challenging questions. In fact, it was questions like these that got me thinking about God twenty years ago. I had always believed that God existed, but I realised that God had always been a small part of my life. I treated him like a calculator. I always had my calculator handy. I didn’t want to live life without a calculator. But when did I reach in my pocket and take engage with my calculator? Well, only when I had a problem to solve. I treated God in the same way. I had no issue believing God existed, but I didn’t really engage with God unless I was thinking about the meaning of life, or if I would ever get a girlfriend, or if I would be caught for doing something naughty. God was convenient, but no a big part of my life.

I came to see that if my life was a movie, I was the star and God was just an extra. The good thing was, as soon as I came to see that, I knew instinctively that that was wrong. If I believed in God at all (which I did) then he couldn’t simply be a bit part. He was too big for that. He was God! When it came to the meaning of life, God either didn’t exist at all or else he had to have everything to do with it!

So began a spiritual journey for me that would lead me to hear the gospel about Jesus and what he had done on the cross to reconcile me to God. At aged 16, I gave up my crown and let God take his rightful place as #1 in my life. That is, in very simplistic terms, what it means to repent and become a Christian. We say sorry for trying to rule our own life, we thank Jesus for dying for our sins so we can be forgiven, and we treat God as he deserves and we commit to following Jesus as “Christ” – God’s appointed king.

When I first became a Christian, this meant that on my list of priorities, God moved right up the top of the list. First came God, then came my family and friends, then everything else. This way of thinking, still challenges me and I hope it challenges you as well. As you get older and your life is filled with many more responsibilities, you have to keep considering your priorities. It is very difficult to assess whether God is #1 in your life. I work 40 hours a week, and only do around 6-8 hours of God-focussed stuff a week. Does that mean my job is more important to me than God? I only give away about a quarter of my wage to charities and gospel ministries. Does that mean I serve money more than God? I watch more YouTube than pray, I eat more often than I read the bible and I sleep for longer than I serve others. I only go to church one day a week and that for only a couple of hours! Does that mean that I worship myself for the other 166 hours a week? Well, of course not. In fact, I have never really thought like that. Fortunately, back when I was still a teenager and a baby Christian, I went to a youth event where I heard a speaker challenge that whole idea.

God should NOT be #1 in your life. God should not be at the top of the list of your priorities.

God is not #1 on the list…

God IS the list.

In Mark 12:28-34, when Jesus was asked by an Old Testament scholar about which was the most important commandment of all, the question was about what was #1 in the long list of rules that God had given in the law. Jesus blew that way of thinking out of the water with his answer. He pointed the man to the Old Testament law book Deuteronomy and quotes chapter 6, verse 4 and 5. These verses weren’t one of the laws. They were the premise behind all of the laws. This is what Jesus said to the man’s question:

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Jesus says the most important thing we must do is love Yahweh (the “Lord”) with everything you have – your heart, soul, mind and strength. Everything! God shouldn’t just be our #1 priority. If we are to follow Jesus’ words then God must be the one thing that ALL of our priorities are shaped by. We must love God with every part of our life. That means that every dollar I spend is God’s money, every hour I work I am doing ministry. Worship is not just something I do on a Sunday. Every category on my list is a form of worship. God is not #1 on my list, he is the paper that the list is written on. He is the pen that writes what goes on the list and what stays off it. God IS the list.

dv1395020The danger with talking about God as your #1 priority, is that you can fool yourself into believing that he has nothing to do with your #2 priority or #3 priority. That sort of Christian can go to church, give money to charity, even read his bible and pray or be involved in ministry, and yet cheat on his wife on the side. Or maybe it’s not so dramatic. Maybe he just likes to play computer games and resents his wife and children for invading that little bit of space that is just his own.

For a Christian, there is not time that is “just our own”. There is not one cent in our bank account, not one second of our day, not one breath in our lungs that is not God’s. We are completely his. As Paul says, You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

We must not compartmentalise our Christian lives. God is not simply the most important one of our various priorities. He is not simply the one we attend to first, before going off to engage in our other pursuits. We should love God with everything we have. He is not just #1. He is #1 to infinity.

Or, as God himself puts it in the very last chapter in the bible: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

He IS the list.

So reflect on this… Where is God in your life? Is he on the list at all? Or do you treat him like a calculator or an extra in the movie where you are the star?

Maybe you need to flip the whole thing around. That what the word “repent” actually means. Stop ignoring God and stop feeling guilty that God should have a bigger role in your life. Don’t just “prioritise” God. Give him him everything. Give him the crown. Give him your heart, soul, mind and strength. Give him the pen and the paper and let him be more than just #1 in your life. Let him be your life.

pen-and-paper-890x342

 

 

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September 9 2014

How the Virgin Mary led me to Christ

Rosary

 

Becoming a Christian was for me a bit like getting married. I can remember the a specific day, the specific moment that I put my trust in Christ and was reconciled to God. But, like any relationship, there is often a long relational process before a commitment is made. The process that takes us from being a stranger (or even enemy) of God to being a friend, is often a very interest journey of wooing and being wooed, of exploring and asking questions. Every Christian I have ever met has an interesting and unique story of how they came to know Jesus. God brings people into our life and circumstances along our path in order to lead us to understand and respond to the gospel. I definitely had that experience. One of the interesting things God used in my journey was… the Catholic Rosary.

I was brought up going to Catholic Mass every Sunday and was sent to both a Catholic Primary and Secondary School. I didn’t know much about the finer points of Catholic theology, but I did come through that time with an understanding that God existed, that he was all powerful and that he loved me. In regard to Jesus and the gospel, I knew some of the very basic elements of the story, but that was it. If you had asked me “Why did Jesus die?” I would have responded faithfully with the answer, “He died for my sins.” But I would have had absolutely no idea what that meant, why that was necessary or what impact that should make to my life.

monty-python-meaning-of-life-god-and-earth-terry-gilliamAround the age of 16, God began to prompt me and I started asking some of the big questions about the meaning of life. I started to wonder what the point of everything was and if God had anything to do with it. I had no problem believing that God existed, but it started to seem odd to me that, if he existed, why didn’t he feature more prominently in my life? Wasn’t God the biggest thing there was in the Universe? How could he just be a small character in my story – almost just an extra in the background? I concluded in the end, if God existed and there was a meaning to life, then those two things HAD to be inextricably linked. God had to be what it was all about, or else, God wasn’t really God.

Now, I know, many people who are brought up in the Catholic Church take that last option and conclude that the God that they were taught about as a child was just a fairy tale like Santa that you should just grow out of. That was not my story. My own experience didn’t include God, but my worldview did. I thought then, as I still think now, that the world makes much more sense with God than without God. Some see this inconsistency with worldview and their personal experience as a sign that their worldview is faulty. For me, it was a sign that what needed to change was my personal experience.

So I began to explore more about God, asking questions, talking to people and generally being more interested in spiritual things. I could share all the things that God brought into my life during this time, but I want to share just one of the key moments that was quite a turning point for me.

At the Catholic High School I went to we did Religious Education (or RE as it was called). Now we didn’t always learn about Catholic teaching and practises, but during this season of spiritual rosary002searching I remember one class where we were learning about the Catholic Rosary.

If you don’t know what the Rosary is, let me try to explain it to you. It’s a set of beads linked together in a necklace, that is used as an aid for prayer and meditating. There is nothing magical in the beads themselves, it’s just that each bead represents a prayer and so you feel along with your fingers one bead at a time and pray the appropriate prayer as you go. You travel around the circle of the necklace which is broken up into five sections. Each section has ten beads in it and is called a “decade”. There is also one single bead that separates each “decade”. Every time you come along to one of these single beads, you pray the “Our Father” (or “The Lord’s Prayer” as it is otherwise known). Then you move through the “decade” and for each one of those ten beads, you pray the “Hail Mary“.

Now, I’m not going to comment here about what I think about the Hail Mary prayer, or about devotions to Mary in general, even about the dangers about repetitively praying the Our Father (other than to say that I obviously have problems with them all). At the time, during this RE class back in High School, I was more intrigued by what you were expected to do during each decade. Apart from praying the Hail Mary 10 times, you are also meant to meditate and reflect on a particular religious story. These are called “Mysteries”. Every time you do a circuit of the Rosary, you think about five different Mysteries. In Catholic tradition there are four different types of Mysteries – the Joyful Mysteries, the Luminous Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries and the Glorious Mysteries. You can see what they all are HERE.

So, to conclude (in case you’re losing track), to completely pray the Rosary, you will go around the necklace 4 times, each time reflecting on 5 different Mysteries, so that in the end you have thought about 20 different religious stories (and prayed the Hail Mary over 200 times!) Now, as a teenager just starting to look into the bible, I was interested in these “Mysteries”. I wanted to look up these stories and investigate them myself.

I remember I had a little pamphlet which included all the Mysteries next to a religious picture depicting the story. Underneath each one was the Bible reference where you could find the story recorded. It looked like the picture below…

 

mary card

 

I was going through them all and noticing how each bible passage clearly referred to the Mystery. This was, until I got to the last two “Glorious Mysteries”. You can see them above in the bottom right hand side of the picture and from the bible passage listed there, you might be able to see what I mean. These two stories are called The Assumption and The Coronation.

The Assumption is the idea that Mary didn’t actually die, but was assumed into heaven. This stems from the Catholic idea that Mary was sinless and so could not have died – as death is a punishment or consequence for our sinfulness. The Coronation is the idea that because Catholics see Mary as the Mother of God, after she was assumed into Heaven she was then crowned as Queen over all creation. This is how the Catholic Catechism puts it: Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things”.

Now, even as a teenager who didn’t know the bible from a bar of soap, that seemed to be a bit of a stretch to get to from the passages referred to in the Rosary pamphlet. Look at the passage that get used as a “proof text” for The Assumption. It says: “You are the glory of Jerusalem … You are the splendid boast of our people … God is pleased with what you have wrought. May you be blessed by the Lord Almighty forever and ever!” (Judith 15:9-10)

Now, not only is Judith an Old Testament book (and so is not a story about Mary), it is one that is disputed as to whether it is actually part of the Bible (Protestants refer to these books as “apocryphal“, meaning “obscure” or “non-canonical”). Also, look how many time the quote uses an Ellipsis (the three dots “…”). This refers to the quote being majorly edited.

judithI noticed this and so looked up the passage in the book of Judith in my Catholic bible. The whole section reads: “The high priest Joakim and the elders of the Israelites, who dwelt in Jerusalem, came to see for themselves the good things that the Lord had done for Israel, and to meet and congratulate Judith. When they had visited her, all with one accord blessed her, saying: ‘You are the glory of Jerusalem, the surpassing joy of Israel; You are the splendid boast of our people. With your own hand you have done all this; You have done good to Israel, and God is pleased with what you have wrought. May you be blessed by the Lord Almighty forever and ever!’ And all the people answered, ‘Amen!'”

You can guess how amazed I was when I saw that the passage wasn’t about Mary, but about about a woman named Judith in the Old Testament! And even Judith wasn’t being assumed into heaven due to her sinlessness. She was being congratulated for her assistance in winning a battle. This was a very poor proof text to use, I thought.

The passage used for The Coronation story wasn’t much better, but at least it was from a non-disputed book from the New Testament. The verse was Revelation 12:1 which read A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Well, that at least sounded like it could fit a picture of a coronation with the whole “crown of twelve stars”. But as I read the passage and the verses around it, I realised it was a prophetic vision and that the woman being talked about wasn’t referring to a real woman like Mary, but, as the verse calls it, a “sign”. There was no crowning ceremony taking place, no bestowing of Queen-like authority over all creation. 

I was very confused. Surely, I had missed something. Clearly, I just didn’t know my Bible well enough.

I went to my RE teacher and asked her about it. I said, “The verses given don’t really talk about Mary being assumed into heaven or crowned Queen of all things. If it’s not in the bible… where did the story come from?”

Without a hint of concern, my RE teachers casually said, “Oh, they’re things the Church developed later.”

I was floored. A little bubble of trust burst in my 16 year old brain.

“Developed later??” I thought to myself, “So, they’re not in the Bible? Why should I trust it then? Why did they even try to use a bible verse to back it up? What else do I believe isn’t in the Bible? What else have I been taught isn’t actually true?”

It was like a reversal of the epiphany that Martin Luther had about Romans 1:17 which was the catalyst for the Reformation. For Luther, he discovered something that was in the Bible which he hadn’t been believing. With me, I discovered that something I had been believing, wasn’t actually in the Bible.

And with that, my own journey of reformation began. It involved a lot of questions and hours of conversation and lots and lots of reading the bible.

group-prayerA few months later, this journey led me to a point where I turned to the Christian I was sitting next to at a Christian event and asked, “Ok… So what do I have to believe in order to be born again?” This guy, who I didn’t really know that well, calmly and clearly took me through a few passages in the book of Romans (which I have since learned is something called “The Romans Road“).

With each verse I nodded and said, “Yep, I believe that” and when he got to the end I said, “Is that it?” “That’s it.” he replied. And so, that very night, I sat around a kitchen table in Coburg with a small group of Christian friends and I thanked Jesus for dying for me and asked him to become the Lord of my life.

My life has never been the same since.

Now, nearly 20 years later, I reflect back on that RE class and my little “reformation” moment. During that whole journey, I never felt like I was rejecting the Catholic Church or the faith I was brought up in. In fact, quite the opposite. I was discovering the Jesus that I had always been taught about, I was learning what it meant for Jesus to “die for my sins” and I was beginning a real, personal relationship with the God I always knew existed.

And even though I do believe the Catholic Church has many things wrong with it, including some of its unbiblical ideas about Mary, the only reason why I questioned that Rosary pamphlet was because, even as a teenager, I had a deep conviction that the Bible was where the truth about God would be found. I thought, if it wasn’t in the Bible, then why should we believe it?

Now, where did that idea come from? Well, it came from the Catholic Church, of course. The Catholic Church instilled in me such a respect for the Bible as God’s Word, that in the end, it challenged me to read the Bible for myself and it led me to the gospel of Jesus.

And for that I will literally be eternally grateful…

 

 

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September 1 2014

Pain, grief and the muck in the lake

Recently, some of the deep pain I experienced during the breakdown of my first marriage has resurfaced and I am going through a journey at the moment to process some of this pain and see what God has for me to learn through it. It has been over five years since my divorce, and it is around 8 and a half years since my first wife and I separated. God has done great healing in my heart over many of the griefs associated with the end of my first marriage, including providing me with forgiveness and grace for my sinful part in what caused it to collapse. Even so, many years later, I am still working through the pain, trauma and wounding that the long period of separation brought into my life and heart.

I once heard an analogy about pain and grief that has stuck with me and continues to ring true to my experience. I thought I’d share it with you.

Pain is like muck in a lake. As the waves settle after a traumatic event, it may seem like the water becomes clear and still, but often it is just that the muck sinks deep down to the bottom of the lake and rests there for a while. We might know it is there, but the clarity of the still waters is so refreshing it is better for a time to let it be.

Digging worms2Sometimes we might be tempted to go digging around in the deep part of our lake looking to dislodge the muck that needs to be dealt with. We might be worried that we are simply avoiding pain and keeping it repressed and that that would be unhealthy. Sometimes that may be true, but generally, I would discourage digging around in your pain. God knows the right time and season that we are prepared to work through our grief. The most important thing to do is keep seeking God and listening to his Word and letting his Spirit convict you and teach you and guide you.

Psalm 139 is a great reflection for this. Verses 1-4 says: You have searched me, Lordand you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.” God knows our hearts so much better than we do. He knows everything that is going on at the bottom of our lake and he knows when and how we should deal with it. Rather than digging around trying to dislodge something you might not be ready to deal with, the best thing to do is to pray the words at the end of Psalm 139: Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Seek God and always allow him to search and lead you. God knows when it is the right time for the muck to be brought up from the bottom of your lake. He may do that directly through the prompting of his Spirit, or he may do that through life circumstances. God is sovereign over every part of your life. He will use an event or a conversation or some interaction as a stick that goes down into the water and stirs up the muck at the bottom. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, you may suddenly feel overwhelmed with the pain and emotions you thought were long gone, or at least, deeply buried.

When this happens, don’t fight it. In fact, see it as God’s kindness as he has sovereignly allowed for this muck to be stirred up at this time rather than any earlier when you may not have been able to deal with it. When the stick of life stirs up the muck in your lake, know that God probably has some healing in store for you. The important thing is to not ignore it. Let yourself feel the pain and be free to express it without embarrassment. The water that just recently looked so clear and still, now is swirling around with brown muck. It is unpleasant. In fact, it is really shitty. You may just want the pain to end, but don’t ignore it. This is just a season that you have to go through. Give read-holy-bibleyourself some time and make space in your life to allow God to do his work. Spend time in prayer and the study of the Bible, seeking God for what he wants you to reflect on or realise. Journal, draw, write, paint or even blog about what you are feeling. Talk through it with a wise and godly friend who can sit with you in your pain and continue to point you to the truths of God as they become relevant. It may be worth seeking professional counselling or meeting with your minister to give yourself the time and space to work through the pain.

Most importantly, keep bringing your muck to God. As it is dislodged from the bottom of the lake and comes to the surface, scoop it out and give it to God. Allow the truths of his Word to speak into your pain – to vindicate injustices done, to correct lies we believe about God, ourselves and others, and to remind you of the promises of God’s redemptive work, both in this life and especially in the New Creation, where God says, He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

Then, as God brings you healing, insight, comfort and redemption, eventually that season will end. The waters will calm down and once again they will become still and clear. God will not have removed all of the muck. He knows us and knows how much of the process we can take. As he allowed the muck to come up, he will also allow some of the muck to sink back down. Be content with this. Not everything will be dealt with at once, and even if you spent your whole life in daily counselling, not everything will be dealt with in this lifetime. Pain and loss are a part of this broken world, and it is only when Jesus returns that this “old order of things” will have fully passed away.

Pain is like muck at the bottom of a lake. It is messy and unpleasant. It takes time to work through. It makes us long for the New Creation.

For me, in this season of swirling, muddy waters, I am daily feeling the pain of griefs that hurt me years ago. But I am also going through this season with great hope. I know that God loves me and will walk me through this time. I know God will not allow me to face anything that would completely crush my faith and joy as I keep putting my trust in him. I also know that God will do powerful and redemptive things through this time. I’m actually looking forward to it. The healing may be small. It may not deal with everything. But it will be exactly what I need for this time and this season. In that hope, I can walk through the pain rather than avoid it.

In fact, in the midst of this pain, I can scoop out the muck in my lake with joy.

a-man-looking-across-a-lake-into-dawn-kish

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Corinthians 4:6-18)

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August 12 2014

A Poetic Reflection on Robin Williams’ Death

robin_williams_img_704

Robin Williams (1951-2014)

Another sad and tragic case
Of outward smiles and funny face
Hiding a pain no one could hear
Over the laughter, praise and cheers

Two times divorced would take their toll
Depression, drugs and alcohol
He slipped into a darker hole
He’d gained the world but lost his soul

But wipe away the comic mask
And deeper questions there you’ll ask
Is what this world will call “success”
Enough to cover up our mess?

The crowd’s applause his talent brought
His breathless death has now made naught
He has escaped only to run
Before an audience of One

Farewell Robin, you made me laugh
But now I’ll weep on your behalf

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July 19 2014

The Gift of Magic

magic night cropped

 

Magicians love magic for all sorts of reasons. Sure we all love that feeling of being able to amaze, impress and entertain, but magicians are not just in it for themselves and the stroking of their ego. Most of the magicians I have met love magic not simply for what they get out of it, but for how they use it to give something to others. As I meet more and more magicians, I have enjoyed discovering that different magicians like to give different things. There was one magician that used a dji mavic pro which is a drone with really awesome features. Some like to give their audiences a moment of pure wonder, where they lose a sense of what is real or what is logical and they return to that childlike state where anything is possible. Some go the other direction and present their magic as a sort of logic puzzle, challenging their audiences to try to work out how the illusion is accomplished.

nickSome magicians, like my friend Nick Kesidis, are fast and funny, displaying their magic with high energy and incredible skill and slight of hand. With this sort of magic, there is a sense that you know that you are missing something but that the magician is being too fast and clever for you to catch what they are doing. A magician like Nick pulls this off without making you feel like a fool, by being likeable and inviting. This sort of magic is more about impressing your audience and leaving them smiling and shaking their head with amazement, rather than filling them with magical wonder.

Another magician friend of mine, Simon Coronel, is different. Instead of giving his audience a 45 minute rollercoaster ride of an experience, he looks to give moments. His illusions are more individual and have more patter as they build up to a moment of amazement. He often makes the comment through his shows that your mind is being blown. That’s what he loves to give. He creates impossible objects like a rubik’s cube in a bottle or a printed image of a spoon that seems to bend before your eyes. Despite his ability to create these magical moments, he also does not try to convince you that he possesses any real magical powers, but rather that he is trying to capture your imagination and give you a mind blowing moment of illusion.

There are magicians who try to convince you that they really are magical, but I find they are not as interesting or popular. At least, not as much as they used to be. We live in a very cynical age and our society (especially in Australia) is not as impressed by someone who claims supernatural abilities. Even with mentalism magic, where the magician claims to read the spectator’s mind, people are very skeptical. Most magicians I know don’t fight this social trend though – they use it. Knowing their audiences are skeptical, they play off that. They openly and honestly accept the audience’s beginning premise that they are not really magical, and then they go and do something that totally defies that premise. They give the audience the opportunity to doubt their own scepticism, or at least they give their audience a puzzle that can’t be solved by their sceptical minds.

As an audience member of a magic show, we go into this relationship willingly. We want to know how it is done, but we also want to be fooled. We want to feel clever by working it out, but we also want to feel humbled by the world of the unknown. Some audience members truly do want to believe in magic, but nowadays, I think they are not the majority. Most simply want to be entertained by something amazing. Like going to a movie about talking apes taking over the world (guess what I’m going to see tonight?), we know there’s a lot of CGI special effects, but we want to lose ourselves in the magic of it all.


Thinking about all this and observing different magicians, has led me to reflect on what sort of magic I am interested in. As a magician, what do I want to give my audience? Wonder? Amazement? A puzzle? A laugh? Do I want them to feel frustrated? Impressed? Blown away? In awe? Confused? Amused?

As I have contemplated this, I have thought about what tricks I gravitate to. Not simply what tricks I enjoy watching, but also what tricks I naturally like to develop myself. What I have observed is that many of my original magic routines involve a rather silly premise. I often begin my tricks by making a ridiculous claim, which is obviously too silly to be believable and yet has an element of realism to it. A perfect example of this is my “Human Microscale” trick, where I claim to be able to detect the minute difference between the weight of each card. Check it out below if you haven’t seen it. It’s not a very sophisticated trick, but it’s still a bit of fun…

 

A trick like this is not supposed to make you believe in magic. The premise is supposed to be ridiculous. But on the other hand, it’s not too ridiculous, like claiming I have supernatural powers. It’s just enough for a small part of your brain to think, “Yeah… I could see how that might work” while the rest of your brain is going, “What? That’s stupid!” When I’m doing tricks like this, I love the look on people’s faces as I explain the premise. Some just laugh at the absurdity of it all, but others have this sceptical smirk as if they are saying, “Really Simon? Do you really believe you can do that?” I love that! It shows that I have achieved what I want. You see, I don’t want them to think that what I am claiming is possible, no matter how seriously I explain the idea. I want them to think it’s ridiculous. I want their natural, healthy scepticism. It makes it all the more fun, when I actually pull it off.

You see, when something impossible happens in a magical presentation, our brains are looking for a way out – a way to understand what just took place. Our modern sceptical brains are committed to not concluding that real magic just took place, so we look for the next best explanation. The principle of “Occam’s Razor” in philosophy says that when you have to choose between explanations, the simplest one is the most likely. So what is the most likely explanation in magic? Well, if you don’t give your audience an explanation (even if it is ridiculous) what they most likely will just think is “I missed something there” or “Wow! What an impressive magician!” Now if that’s your goal, then that’s fine! For me though, I like the idea that the brain is left battling with itself. That small part of the brain that believed my ridiculous premise is vindicated and laughs at the rest of the Memory-Puzzle-Brain-300x300sceptical brain saying, “See! I told you it could work!” while the rest of the brain is saying (as some of my friends actually do say) “Nup. I got nuthin’!” When there’s no logical explanation, the brain gravitates to the next best thing, which in my tricks is the ridiculous premise I opened the presentation with. The brain is then left fighting with itself, between the sceptical part that knows it’s right and that small part that found the premise believable.

This for me, is the sort of magical experience I want to give people. It sound weird when I articulate it, but I think it comes down to my interest in philosophy, neuroscience, belief systems and yes, even faith. You see, I am a Christian, and a fairly traditional one at that – in that I believe in God and the Bible and the deity or Jesus and the resurrection and the afterlife. I believe in lots of the things a modern sceptical society find doubtful. But I also like to challenge myself on why I believe those things. I like being challenged on my beliefs and being forced that have to justify or articulate them. I also know that most people – religious or not – begin with premises that rule out possibilities and we often go to the explanation that we have been told to believe or that we find the simplest. I like to explore that in my own mind and so I guess the sort of magic I like is the sort that plays with some of those ideas.

Magic is a wonderful, creative and entertaining art form. It is full of the visual spectacle of juggling, the humour of stand up, the curiosity of an optical illusion, the puzzle of a Sudoku, the wonder of CGI special effects and the amazement of a miracle. I look forward to continue on my creative journey in this art form – learning from other magicians and thinking about not only what I get from magic, but also what I love to give.
Write in the comments below what sort of magic you are interested in – whether you be a magician or just a spectator.

 

 

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June 30 2014

On the Road – What God cares more about

on the road

 

Think of the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. Imagine there are three points in the story – The Father’s house, the pigsty and the road in between the two.
At one point, the son is in the pigsty, far from his father’s house, and at another point he is closer to his father, on the road.
Which of these two is a better place for him to be, do you think?

“On the road” you might say, because the closer you are to the father’s house the better.

Well, it would be understandable to think that, but you must consider this most important question… Which way is the son facing?

You see, at one point of the parable he was on the road, quite close to his father’s house, but he was walking away from the father. Being close to the father was no help to him because his direction was leading him further and further away.

But in that moment in the pigsty, when he came to his senses and turned back to begin his journey back home, he was in a much better position. He had repented. His direction was set and even though he was far from the father’s house, bankrupt, hungry and covered in mud, he was better off than that point on the road when he was facing away from his father.

wrong wayJesus uses this story as an analogy to the moment when someone turns in repentance back to God and he says, “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)

There are many stories throughout the gospels where Jesus makes the point that the most important thing to God is not your position (how “good” or “close” you are to God), but your direction (which way you are facing and the direction you are travelling in). He often challenged the outwardly “good” religious leaders of his day about how God was actually more pleased with “bad” people who had turned to God in repentance. He’d say things like, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” (Matthew 21:31-32)

It’s not that God doesn’t care about how godly we are. It’s not that he doesn’t care about whether we lead a sinful or a holy life. It’s just that he cares about our DIRECTION more.

If you didn’t know, I run a little ministry called Elephant Room, where I have the privilege of supporting Christian guys as they journey out of an addiction to porn. The truth that God cares more about the direction they are travelling than exactly how much progress they have made, is a great encouragement to them. They can feel so overwhelmed by their failures and so far from where they know they should be as a Christian. It is important for them to be reminded that every time they repent, all of heaven throws a party! Every little step walking in the right direction is worth it, no matter how far the journey seems and no matter how small the step. God is glorified greatly by us facing the right direction. As King David wrote as he repented over his own sexual sin: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

Back in 2007, I came to learn this great truth on my own road out of an addiction to porn. To express it, I wrote a song called, “The Road”, which has these words in its first verse:

“When I wonder whether I am travelling fast enough I just remember, I am on the road.
Cos speed is not the key to be freed, the priority’s the direction that you go, there on the road.
I might fall and I might stumble, but I am on the road.
And my hope it won’t crumble, if I am on the road.”

 

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