April 13

“When Santa Shared the Gospel” – a sequel

“When Santa Shared the Gospel”

A sequel to “When Santa Learned the Gospel”.


When Santa shared the gospel, he went first to Easter Bunny.

He wasn’t sure how he’d respond – if he would find it funny.

He wasn’t sure if he would scoff, or if he’d turn his back.

In truth, he had just no idea how Bunny might react.

But Bunny was a friend of his and so what could he do?

The gospel had transformed his life. It could bless Bunny too.

The gospel had led him to Christ and he’d been born again.

So Santa knew he couldn’t keep this good news from his friend.

He loved his friend and had to share he was a new believer,

But he didn’t want to jeopardize their solid friendship either.

And so when Santa knocked upon the Easter Bunny’s door,

His heart was filled with hope and fear (but fear a little more).

The Easter Bunny greeted Santa with a smile of joy

“What brings you ‘round?” He laughed, “Or have I been a ‘naughty boy’?”

“Well funny you should say that.” Santa said as he sat down,

“I’ve actually had that whole system of thinking flipped around!”

“I’ve got something to tell you. I feel awkward. A bit scared.

I know I don’t know all that much, but what I know, I’ll share.”

So Santa shared the gospel. It was simple. It was short.

And when he stopped he couldn’t tell at all what Bunny thought.

He worried he had caused offense. Was their long friendship wrecked?

But then his friend said something Santa didn’t quite expect…

“That’s great.” smiled Easter Bunny. “Yeah, I’m really glad for you.

You probably didn’t know, but guess what? I’m a Christian too!”

“What news!” cried Santa joyfully, “This must be brand new, is it?

How’d you learn about the gospel? Did my elf friend pay a visit?”

The Easter Bunny laughed, “Nah, my folks are Christians too!

I was brought up with the gospel. I’ve always known it’s true.

I attend my local church each week, and mid-week Bible Study.

Hey! Now that you’re a Christian, we can be church-going buddies!”

At this Santa was puzzled. He’d known Bunny now for ages.

He’d never seen him go to church or turning bible pages.

He’d never heard him talk of Christ or sharing the good news.

And Bunny said, “Look Santa, I can see you’re quite confused.”

“See, I’m not much of a talker. Definitely no evangelist!

I’ll answer questions if I’m asked, but if not, I won’t insist.

My philosophy is simple. It’s a saying I once heard:

Preach the Gospel at all times. And if needed then use words.’”

“I like that motto. Words are hard! I’d rather preach through deeds.

And so instead of talking I’ve been sowing subtle seeds.”

“Like, you know how every Easter I make you a hot cross bun?

Well, I hoped that cross might vaguely point you the ‘Jesus’ one.

And the eggs I paint each year are symbols of the resurrection.

I guess I hoped you’d see the subtle gospel-rich connection.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me?” Santa asked, shaking his head.

“Well, I didn’t want to force my faith upon you.” Bunny said.

“I had really hoped to ask you if you’d come to church with me.

But for years I’ve just been waiting for the opportunity.”

“Oh Bunny”, Santa sighed, “I’m sorry that you felt that way.

I understand you feeling awkward but there was no need for delay.

The gospel has the power to save, you shouldn’t feel ashamed!

You’re the Easter Bunny after all. The gospel’s in your name!”

“When I first learned the gospel, I was told it by an elf.

Her example showed me all you need to do is be yourself.

There’s no need to be clever. Don’t have to try to sell it.

You don’t have to be subtle. All you have to do… is tell it.”

“Look, I’m all pretty new to this, so don’t think I’m comparing,

But if Jesus is alive, my friend, that’s good news that’s worth sharing!”

“You’re right,” said Bunny sheepishly, “I’ve wasted time I know.

I could have shared the gospel with you years and years ago.

“Well, no regrets!” smiled Santa, “Let’s go out and celebrate!”

The Easter Bunny grinned and said, “You know what? That sounds great!”

His bunny eyes were twinkling as fresh joy brightened his face,

“And while we’re out how ‘bout we go swing past Tooth Fairy’s place?”

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June 29

“Ministry in the Dark” Survey

 ministry in the dark

Fill out the survey below, or go to this link:
http://goo.gl/forms/nEqAo3pCTQ3ASnW03

Please feel free to share this survey with anyone you know in Christian ministry.

 

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September 1

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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March 8

Having Helpful Hard Conversations (Rules 6-9)

 

This is Part 2 of my 3-part post on “Having Helpful Hard Conversations”.

If you have not read Part 1, click HERE and go through it before reading on.

If you have read Part 1, before we tackle Rules 6-9, here is a refresher on Rules 1-5:

RULE #1: Love
Have an attitude of selfless love before engaging in conversation.

RULE #2: Choose the time and the place
Be wise and thoughtful about when and where you should talk.

RULE #3: “This is not going to come out right…”
Allow yourself and the other person freedom to talk it out.

RULE #4: Actively Listen
Really listen and make sure the other person feels you have heard them.

RULE #5: Be grateful that something hard was brought up
Before responding, thank them for their trust and honesty.

 

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Ok, let’s get back into it! Here are Rules 6-9 for having helpful hard conversations.

RULE #6: Trust their motives

If there exists little to no trust between two people, it is basically impossible to have a helpful hard conversation. If you believe that the other person is completely two-faced and you can’t believe a word that comes out of their mouth, then how will you be able to follow any of the other rules I have outlined? You may listen to their words, but your filter of mistrust will interpret them to simply be insincere, manipulative or deceptive. You will think, “Yeah, that’s what they’re saying, but I really know what they mean.” Both parties have to at least trust that the other person (deep deep down on their best day) is trying to engage in a helpful conversation. Without that trust, the whole thing collapses.trust-torn

Now, it is true that trust can be validly lost and that people need to work hard at earning trust when that happens, but I have also seen many times a hard conversation descend into an argument or not be able to start at all, simply because one person didn’t trust the intentions of the other. Now, in each of the situations I am thinking of, the non-trusting person had a valid reason to be skeptical of the trustworthiness of the other, but they fostered that mistrust and would not let it go. They were committed to not trusting the other person and this meant that the other person just didn’t have a chance. No matter how much they might try, the mistrusting person would look for any little sign that might justify their lack of trust and they would pounce on it! Lack of trust is poison to having helpful hard conversations.

Now, this may not be so obvious in your heart. You may need to reflect on whether you don’t really 100% trust the intentions of the person you are going to talk to. It may be subtle or rooted in deep pain or long term disappointments. It may be completely valid or it may be mixed with your own bias and self-defensiveness. Either way, it needs to be addressed if a helpful hard conversation is to be had. Firstly, you can be honest with the other person and share that you are having a lot of trouble trusting them. This may give them an opportunity to ask for a chance to just be heard out or to see what can be done to help build that trust before the conversation takes place. Secondly, you may need to repent of your lack of trust. That may sound a bit harsh, but if the person is not completely untrustworthy, you may be judging them unfairly by not giving them a chance. Not trusting someone is a defence mechanism – we use it to protect ourselves from not being hurt or mistreated. Sometimes it is very valid and sometimes it simply prevents us from moving forward and showing grace to people. Sometimes it is better to put your mistrust aside and make the conscious choice to trust the other person – or at least give them the benefit of the doubt. When you go into a hard conversation with a commitment to trusting the other person’s intentions, you will be allowing the other person to stumble through their words even if they potentially hit a nerve. You will think, “I can’t believe they said that, but I’ll trust that they are at least trying to engage”. This will allow you to have grace and patience and a listening ear.

RULE #7: Stick to the topic

bullseye

This is such a useful rule and one of the first ones I ever learnt – You can and must only have one hard conversation at a time. During a hard conversation, it is important to be clear about what you are talking about and ensure that any other issues that you may want to bring up – however important and valid – must wait for another time.

People bring up multiple issues during a hard conversation for three main reasons:

1. It may be that you actually have a few things you want to discuss (ie. The rude way your partner spoke to you the other day AND the fact that they’re always late). If that’s the case, even if all the issues are valid, it may be loving and wise to bring them up one at a time. Otherwise, the other person may feel overwhelmed and respond either by shutting down or getting aggressively defensive.

2. It may be that you only start with one thing that’s on your mind, but it is the catalyst that brings up all the other things you find frustrating  (ie. “You don’t help me when I’m tired. Like the other day, I came home with the groceries and you were talking to your mother. She bugs me sooo much! I can stand the way she always criticised me.”) Now the lack of help and the criticising mother may be both valid issues worth discussing, but you have to stick to one topic at a time. 

3. The third reason people bring up another topic is when they are wanting to defend themselves from the main issue being discussed. If the conversation is hard or is getting a little heated it is very easy for someone to raise a new issue in an attempt to strengthen their case, make the other person look bad and ultimately “win” the argument. For example, one person says, “I’m really worried about how much debt we’re in. We need to discuss your money management.” Then the other person says, “Money management? You’re going to talk to me about managing money? You can’t even manage your drinking! What was that the other night at my parent’s place? You were so embarrassing!” “Well, maybe I wouldn’t drink so much if your family was less awkward!” And with a few sentences, three completely different issues have been brought up and the hard conversation is going nowhere helpful. Often the change of issue is more subtle than this, but hopefully you get the idea.

At times, it may be very hard not to bring up a different issue into the conversation. Like if someone wants to talk about a petty issue with you, when you’re really upset about a much more important issue that you want to bring up with them. But the goal of these rules is making sure you have helpful hard conversations. There are exceptions of course – like if your partner wants to discuss your nose-picking habit after you just found out they were cheating on you – but generally, you must only bring up one issue at a time. This rule needs to be something you both really agree on, so that at any time in the conversation, no matter who is “in the right”, either one of you can say, “Now, that’s a valid issue but that’s not what we are discussing right at the moment.” When this rule gets broken (as it often will in a hard conversation), you both need to be free to alert the other to the fact and you both need to respect it when it gets alerted.

RULE #8: Avoid absolute language

When we are having a hard conversation we often express ourselves in an emotionally charged way. Sometimes colourful or exaggerated language can be useful to get across an idea to someone who is downplaying the issue. Jesus even used “hyperbole” in this way at times (for example, “If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.” – Matt 18:9) But exaggerated language can also be used unfairly and will often inspire people to become defensive.

The most common examples of absolute language is “You always”, “You never” and “You are”.

“You always/never” statements get used to express frustration about an ongoing behaviour (such as “You always leave the lights on!” or “We never go out any more!”). The problem with these sort of absolute statements is that they are just too easy to reject (ie. “If I always leave the lights on then every light in the house should be on now!” or “That’s ridiculous! We went out last month!”) It is wise to avoid these types of statements. Partly, because they just encourage the other person to feel justified in their behaviour because you’re obviously being over the top, but also because, when all is said and done, these statements just aren’t true.

If you want to be accurate and truthful, it might be best to say something like, “The last few nights, you’ve been leaving the light on” or “We haven’t gone on a date for a couple of weeks.” Even a statement like, “I feel like we never go out anymore” is much more productive because, although it is still an exaggeration, it is a statement about how you feel – which is something that should be acknowledged and addressed.Dunce-cap

“You are” statements are even more unhelpful. To bring up an issue and accuse someone of not just doing something, but being something, is an approach you want to be very careful about. Consider these statements: “You’re so lazy.” “You’re a liar.” “You’re so stupid sometimes.” “You’re disgusting.” “You’re a real dissappointment.” “You’re a terrible person to live with.” These are statements that can be easily thrown around during an emotional discussion, but they can hurt very deep. To say “you are” is to make a conclusion about someone’s character and identity. It is to define them. We may do this in order to strongly get our point across, but sometimes a lot more can be unintentionally communicated. The person you say it to may hear that you think that deep down they really are that type of person. You have now labelled them. The ironic thing is, once you label someone, there is actually a greater chance that they will continue in that behaviour. You see, they may actually believe the label you have given them, and once that happens, there will almost be a valid justification for them to act accordingly. If you call someone “lazy”or “stupid” or “disgusting” why would they change their ways?

The gospel has a completely different strategy. Those that turn to Christ are given a whole new identity. They become new creations! Who we are in Christ is defined, not by our present behaviour, but by the person God is turning us into. As Paul writes in Colossians 3:1-10…

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Do you hear how he instructs Christians to change their behaviour? Paul doesn’t say “you are sexually immoral, lustful, evil, greedy idolaters.” No, he says that a Christian’s “life is now hidden with Christ in God” and because that new identity is true, then we should live it out and “put to death” and “rid ourselves” of anything that doesn’t fit that new identity. Sometimes we think a person’s identity is defined by their behaviour, but often the exact opposite is true – people’s behaviour will be shaped by whatever they believe about their identity. Now this point may seem like a bit too deep theology or psychology for a discussion about how to have hard conversations, but it’s worth keeping in mind. Avoiding absolute language is a useful rule for keeping the conversation respectful, honest, kind and productive.

RULE #9: Allow absolute language

yellow card.jpgHaving said all that, you have to be gracious and allow absolute language now and then. Not in yourself. No, you should keep to this rule as much as possible. But if you’re in the midst of a heavy, hard, heated discussion and someone says, “You never listen to me!”, instead of pulling out the yellow card, you should probably just listen.

Go back to part 1 of this blog series and read the first few rules. If you are showing love (Rule #1) you won’t attack the person for breaking the rule about not using absolute language. If you accept Rule #3 you won’t expect it to “come out right” and so you’ll half expect the other person to use extreme or unreasonable words to try to express what they’re feeling. If you follow Rule #4 you’ll be focussed – not on the absolute language they just used – but on what they are trying to communicate and you’ll be doing more listening than reacting.

It’s funny to have a rule that straight up contradicts the one before it, but I remember that the Book of Proverbs – that ancient book of wisdom – often does the same thing. Like Proverbs 26:4-5…“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” There is often great wisdom in finding the balance between two rules. In regard to having hard conversations, it is wise to be very careful what words you use, and at the same time, be gracious with other people (and yourself) if this rule takes a little practise to do naturally.

That’s true for all “rules” really. Rules are important and they keep us from hurting ourselves and others. I am convinced that we all followed all 13 rules I will outline over the 3 blog posts I will write, we would have much more helpful hard conversations. But we all are imperfect and we all need time to grow into new patterns of behaviour. I know I still have a long way to go before all these rules become second nature to me. So make sure you have a bit of grace and patience with people and with yourself as you grow in all this.

Now, I think I’ve written enough for you to chew over this time.

Rules 10-13 are about how best to “finish” a hard conversation, so I might leave that for another post.

Here’s what I will be covering:

RULE #10: Be ok with ending the conversation unresolved

RULE #11: Respond with what you both understand and what you will both do

RULE #12: Pray

RULE #13: You both have to be more committed to the rules than the conversation

I hope some of these Rules you have found thought-provoking and helpful.

Please write your comments and thoughts below!

For a bit of a laugh, here is Brad Pitt explaining his “rules” for the art of conversation.

  (2009)

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October 27

Having Helpful Hard Conversations (Rules 1-5)

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For many years I have been interested in learning how to have hard conversations that are productive, respectful and helpful.

When a topic of conversation is “hard” it is usually very important to one or both parties and it is often emotionally charged. Because of this, it is easy for hard conversations to descend into a yelling match or a hurtful attack or one person just shutting down completely. A hard conversation can end with one or both parties feeling even more distant and upset and unheard. Is that your experience? Well, if it is, know that there are a few simple rules that you can follow to help you and your friend, colleague, housemate, partner or family member have helpful hard conversations in the future.

These rules are not psychological theories. They are tried and true practical steps that my wife Cat & I employ with great deliberateness every time we have a hard conversation. They are the reason that we have almost never had a fight. Sure we’ve had lots and lots of hard conversations (in fact our year long dating relationship seemed to be one big boot camp of hard conversations), and we’ve also had the occasional heated argument – some that didn’t go very well. But as we learnt and applied the rules outlined below, we got better and better at having hard conversations and now, nearly two years into our marriage, I would have to say it’s possibly the aspect of our relationship that we do best incommunicating-love

The best thing about knowing how to have helpful hard conversations is that it has a wonderful “snowball” effect. Every time you have a hard conversation that leaves you feeling closer and more intimate and positive about what was just discussed, your trust in the other person grows. You develop a confidence that you can share anything with them and that they could share anything with you, and even when you hit something really difficult (like talking about an issue of sin or something very personal) you can go into the conversation knowing that however hard it is going through it, you will get through it and be better off for it.

If you’d like to see that sort of trust and confidence grow in your relationships, then read on and try to start employing the following rules.

(Note: I have presently come up with 13 rules for having hard conversations. I will post them over three blogs to make each post easier to read and reflect on)

 

RULE #1: Love

If you need to bring up a hard conversation, check your heart and your motives. If you are a Christian, you know that you are commanded by Jesus to even love your enemies, so there is no excuse for bringing up something hard with the motive of hurting, shaming or condemning the other person.

20131027-134508.jpgConsider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6… “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Loving someone doesn’t mean you avoid hard conversations, after all, love rejoices with the truth! What love means is that you do so in a way that is marked by humility and selflessness. If you are just trying to pick a fight or get something off your chest, you will not be able to follow any of the other rules outlined below. As the first verse of 1 Corinthians 13 says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” That definitely describes what a loveless hard conversation can end up sounding like! Selfless love must guide all of our hard conversations, so before you bring something up, make sure you search your heart, test your motives and ask God to give you genuine love for the person you need to talk to.

Note: If, in the end, you can’t control your emotions or the topic of the hard conversation is so painful you just can’t think about acting lovingly, then consider bringing in a neutral third party (be it a mutual friend, pastor, or counsellor) to mediate the hard conversation. This in itself may be the most loving thing to do.

 

RULE #2: Choose the time and the place

There is no perfect time or place to have a hard conversation. By definition, hard conversations are… hard. In fact, in an effort to follow this rule, you can put off having a hard conversation almost indefinitely.
Having said that, in following the number #1 rule of Love, you will think about when and where it is most loving to have a hard conversation. In general, here are a few times or places that may not be the wisest to have a hard conversations:

  • When it’s late: This is a hard one to avoid, as you may have developed a habit of having deep and meaningful conversations ONLY late at night, but hard conversations during the day usually give both parties more time, energy and headspace.
  • When one or both of you are tired, unwell, stressed, angry or emotionally drained: Again, you may never be able to avoid these factors, but keep them in mind and see if waiting a day or two might be the best thing.willens_girlsfight_post
  • In public: Having a hard conversation when you’re out a a restaurant or when you’ve got friends over is just unfair. It creates opportunities for shaming and embarrassing that may feel satisfying, but do not come from a motivation of love. Also, if the hard conversation is stirring up emotions, the public setting will not allow either party to freely express themselves.
  • When you have limited time: It is unwise to start a hard conversation on the drive to an event or just before someone has to go to work. The pressure created by the limited time may easily make the conversation descend into an argument.
  • When you one or both of you needs time to think: You or the other person may not be great at having long conversations or articulating what you are feeling or thinking. It may be worth just flagging the conversation and it’s topic and asking if it can be thought about and talked about at another designated time. Yes, that may mean you say something like, “Darling, I want us to discuss how you spend your money. I know it may be a hard conversation, so I was wondering if we could talk about it tomorrow night.” Now, naturally the other person may have a few questions, and it may be fair and loving to clarify what you mean, but it still maybe good to suggest that the full conversation take place after you’ve both had time and space to reflect. If you start a hard conversation and you then realise the other person needs more time to think before they can properly respond, you would be loving to ask if they wanted to postpone the conversation til a later date. Putting the conversation on pause will take a lot of selflessness, as you probably needed a lot of courage just to bring up the hard conversation, but if may be vital for your conversation to be truly helpful.

TRY THIS: When there doesn’t need to be a hard conversation, ask your partner, friend or family member, this question: “If I ever had to bring up a hard issue with you, what would be the best way to do it? What sort of time and environment do you need to be able to hear me out and respond well?” Different people like different things. Some like physical space, some like their hand to be held. Some like it while relaxing at home, some like it while going for a walk. Now, of course, even this conversation may be a hard one for you to have if your relationship with the person is distant or strained, but when it is possible, learning the best time and place to have hard conversations may save you both a lot of grief.

 

RULE #3: “This is not going to come out right…”

When addressing a hard topic of conversation, one of the best ways of communicating properly is to “talk it out”. This means you have to just say whatever you can and then refine your words and your thoughts in discussion with the person listening. The problem is, the first few things we say may sound a lot harsher than we intend them to be. But the damage is done. The words are out there, and the other person has already begun defending themselves or attacking you back.

DemersOne of the main reasons we avoid hard conversations is we don’t know how best to explain what we are feeling and thinking. We worry that the person we want to talk to will not hear us out or hear us properly. We worry about communicating the wrong thing and hurting the other person unintentionally.

My solution to this is Rule #3. Before bringing up a hard conversation, you simply say, “This is not going to come out right…” and then you just keep going. What that opening statement does is give you permission to say what is on your mind before you have fully processed it. It allows you to get it off your chest. It opens up the discussion without an expectation that the words are going to be perfect or even completely accurate! It just gets the ball rolling.

It is very useful for the person being approached as well. It asks them to be patient and to not react straight away. It allows them to put down their defences a bit and just listen and allow the person to talk it out for a bit.

Now, it may feel a bit fake or artificial to start every hard conversation with the same 8 words, but if you both are aware of Rule #3, then it will remind you both of its purpose. Nowadays, my wife and I rarely use this rule as explicitly. For us now, it is often our “unspoken rule” where we both know when we begin a hard conversation that “this is not going to come out right”. But for the first year or two of our relationship we followed this rule, word for word. It served us very well and allowed us to have many helpful hard conversations. If you still feel like your working out how to have hard conversations with someone, I recommend allowing this opening sentence to be part of your agreed vocabulary.

 

RULE #4: Actively Listen

This rule is particularly relevant for the person who is approached, rather than the person initiating the hard conversation. If someone has asked, “Can we talk?” you’re probably a little nervous. If they then start by saying, “This is not going to come out right…” then you really will be worried. But hopefully you will also be patient and willing to let them talk it out. Your goal, before responding, before apologising, before defending, before correcting, before speaking… is to listen. As James (the brother of Jesus) writes: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20) That’s great counsel – quick to listen and slow to speak.

Listening-nowThis is primarily what most people want when they are bringing up a hard conversation. We all want to be heard and understood. Even more than we want people to change, even more than we want people to apologise, we want them to first simply acknowledge what we are feeling. We want to be known and we want to know that the other person “gets us”. During a hard conversation, both parties must put listening as the primary goal of the conversation. If both parties are just trying to fight for their own voice to be heard then the conversation will descend into a battle of words.

There are many techniques for what the communication books call “active listening“. The most common and most helpful is repeating back to the person what you have heard them say. Even if you simply repeat word for word what they just said to you, it can be helpful to make sure they know that you have heard them. Other times, the person will find it more helpful if you put it in your own words, so that it shows that you have not only heard them, but you understand what they mean. The danger of this, is when people get too interpretative or when they filter what the person actually said through their own insecurities or wrong perceptions. For example: Mel says “I think it’s time we started going to the gym together.” Then Sam says, “So… you’re saying I’m fat and you find me repulsive?” This is bad active listening.

Basically, you never want the other person to have to say, “No, that’s not what I said!” Make sure you listen – carefully, intentionally, actively. To me, active listening is not so much a technique, but an attitude. It is an expression of love for the other person. Even if they are saying something that sounds harsh or unfair or ridiculous, you want to hear them out without judgement. You want to listen and you want them to feel heard.

REFLECT: One of the main reasons why people don’t bring up hard conversations is because they don’t feel like the other person will really listen. Are you that person? Think of your loved ones, your family members, your work colleagues. Do they possibly avoid talking to you about hard issues because you are prone to being quick to speak and slow to listen? Maybe ask someone if that’s true of you.

 

RULE #5: Be grateful that something hard was brought up

Try this next time someone brings up something hard with you… Thank them. Thank them that they told you about your bad breath. Thank them that they want to discuss your porn use. Thank them that they brought up the issue of your inappropriate parents. Before you respond, even if the hard topic has pushed all your buttons, make sure you take a breath… and thank them.

Why? Well, think about it. Bringing up the hard conversation with you would have been quite nerve-wracking. They would be worried about how you’ll react, worried if it’s worth bringing up, worried if they should just let it go, worried that you’ll misunderstand them. They may even be worried that bringing up this hard topic, whatever it is, might jeopardise your relationship with them. They faced all those worries and in the end decided that honesty was the best policy. They decided that you were worth it. And they also decided that you could take it. They put a lot of trust in you to bring this topic up. In fact, you could see their efforts to have this hard conversation as an incredible compliment! That’s right! Telling you that your breath stinks could actually be a compliment!

Get-Rid-OF-Bad-Breath

I keep bring up the “bad breath” example, because that is actually a hard conversation that Cat & I had a few months into our dating relationship. I’d like to say I wasn’t the one with the bad breath, but unfortunately that’s not true. Cat was terrified about bringing it up, but it was a real issue for her and so she awkwardly, nervously and bravely started the hard conversation. Now, of course, I was embarrassed and in the moment I would have preferred for Cat to simply endure my face-melting halitosis rather than to have to talk about it, but even back then, I knew the principle of Rule #5. Very quickly I said, “Thank you Cat. That would have taken a lot of courage to bring that up. Bad breath is one of those taboo topics that no one talks about, so it really shows that you value this relationship to want to talk to me about it. It also shows that you trusted that I wouldn’t fly off the handle. Thank you.” Immediately, Cat let out a sigh of relief and we began a conversation that was a little less hard and much more helpful.

 

Now, that’s all I’ll give you to think about for now. I will leave the other rules for another blog post.

But if you’re curious as to what they are, I have put them below.

RULE #6: Trust their motives

RULE #7: Stick to the topic

RULE #8: Avoid absolute language

RULE #9: Allow absolute language

RULE #10: Be ok with ending the conversation unresolved

RULE #11: Respond with what you both understand and what you will both do

RULE #12: Pray

RULE #13: You both have to be more committed to the rules than the conversation

 

Try putting them into practise. Read through this blog with your partner or friend and discuss, how you can implement them. That itself may be a hard conversation!

If any of them are helpful, please post a comment (I always appreciate them) and feel free to share this blog with others.

Finally, here’s something, just for a laugh!

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June 2

Living “Free-to-air” Free

Break glass BLOG

I’ll never forget how my Year 10 Media Studies teacher described television: “TV is a series of programs to keep you watching in between the commercials.” It may have been a bit of a cynical view (I’m sure there are many artistic purists in the television industry), but from that point on I began noticing how much advertising was on television.

TV+addictAn average prime-time show on tv has about 20 minutes of advertising PER HOUR! That means 1/3 of your viewing time is filled with companies telling you that you need to buy their product or service. That is why “free-to-air” TV is not really free. You have to pay in time and brain space as your mind is filled with messages of materialism, greed, dissatisfaction and the woes of “first world problems”. And the hope is that you will continue to pay when you step into your nearest shopping centre or drive past your local car yard. If the marketplace was a church, then TV commercials are their never-ending sermon!

For many years I wanted to try an experiment… to live “free-to-air” free. I realised that free-to-air tv did not hold much interest for me. This was not always the case. When I was young, it was a real family treat to sit down and watch “Hey, Hey it’s Saturday” or “Murder She Wrote” or even “Neighbours” when it first came out. But over the years, as more and more “reality television” shows filled the time slots and it became easier to purchase tv series that I liked on DVD, I came to realise what tv had become in my life – Plonkvision. It was the thing I turned on in the morning as I had my breakfast and it was the thing I turned on when I came home from school or Uni or work as I plonked on the couch. It was mindless background noise.absloute-reality-tv

I wondered what my life would be like if I didn’t have free to air tv. I wasn’t so radical as to consider getting rid of the tv altogether. No way! My dad had brought me up on a staple diet of classic movies and my love for cinema is something I really enjoyed. I also had purchased a playstation 3 and a nice tv, so the bold move of getting rid of all that was probably not on my radar! But I did muse about whether I really needed the aerial. That little cord that connected me to the plonkvision world of two thirds reality tv and one third commercials. Would I really miss it?

Well, at the beginning of 2012, as I was moving into the apartment where my soon-to-be wife and I would live, I asked my then-fiance Cat what she thought of the idea. She liked it, as she also wasn’t really interested in tv shows other than the ones she had on DVD (which she had heaps of). So when we got married on the 21st of January 2012, we tried it as an experiment. It has been 16 months since then, and I thought I might share some of our findings so far.

 

1. IT’S NOT EASY TO WEAN OFF IT.

Despite the fact that I didn’t really have an interest in the actual shows on tv, I discovered that I had developed a habit of turning on the plonkvision whenever I had some down-time. In the first few days I literally became anxious and agitated, like a smoker trying to give up nicotine. And really, that’s what had happened – I had become addicted to free-to-air tv.

tv-brainThe consistent practice of turning on the tv when I got home and plonked on the couch had trained my brain to expect that stimulus. It became a soothing and relaxing practise. A way of winding down. Not because of any content that was on the tv – that was almost incidental – but it was the action itself, the bright colours and the familiar noise of brainless programs and commercial that my brain had grown dependant on.

So initially, when I took it away, my brain craved it like a baby crying out for its security blanket. I was actually surprised by this at first, as I hadn’t realised it had become such a habit in my life. But my commitment to the experiment forced me to find other things to do. Fortunately, I loved to play the piano, practise magic tricks, write blogs and do lots of other things that relax me, and those other hobbies were not filled with commercials! Imagine if they were. Imagine if every 6 minutes of me playing the piano, someone came into my house and told me to buy stuff for 3 minutes and then left for another 6 minutes or so. What hell that would be!

Weaning off free-to-air tv has helped me develop lots of other healthier and less time-wasting ways of relaxing. I still plonk for an hour or so at the end of the day, which is a habit I also may need to break (especially when I have kids), but there are other reasons why I am glad I don’t use free-to-air tv to do it.

 

2. CHOICE RATHER THAN DISCOVERY

The main benefit that I have found in living “fre-to-air” free, is this one powerful reality: If I turn on the TV I am choosing rather than discovering what is going to go on the screen.

The TV is no longer a portal to the free-to-air tv world. It is simply a monitor. It is plugged in to my playstation so I can watch a movie or play a game of my choosing  It is also plugged into my Apple TV device – which we most often use for its online radio function and to bring up what’s on my iPad on to a larger screen (for example, I use it in Bible Studies, to bring up the text we are working on or to show relevant YouTube clips).

I still use the tv heaps, but now it is simply a screen. I choose the quality and the appropriateness of the content that it will display, not a television network that has less than my best interests at heart.

In regard to relaxing, this does require a little more effort as you have to actually think about what movie or game you are in the mood for. But that’s a great thing I find! Consider this senario… Cat & I are in the mood for watching a movie after dinner (or during dinner if we’re feeling more lazy). Now, whenever we feel like this when we’re on holidays and we’re in a hotel room with free-to-air tv, we say “Well, let’s see what’s on tv.” We turn it on and discover the only thing half worth blurayswatching is a trashy 80’s horror flick which we inevitably get sucked into and then HAVE to watch it to the end just to see how the stupid plot concludes. Cat is left feeling crap (she doesn’t really like horror) and I am left feeling like we paid all this money to stay in a hotel room to pay for 90 minutes that I will never get back!

At home on the other hand, where we live “free-to-air” free, instead of saying, “Well, let’s see what’s on tv”, we ask each other, “What sort of movie are you in the mood for?” It gives us both the opportunity to love and serve each other as we offer suggestions and try to find a movie that will both enjoy. Some nights we watch “Sister Act”. Some nights we watch “Die Hard”. And because Cat doesn’t really like scary movies, we almost never watch horror. A movie night becomes a way of consciously choosing for the sake of the other, rather than simply discovering what is being offered to us by someone else.

 

3. IT’S GOOD FOR PURITY

Apparently, due to a recent study, it’s said that men think about sex around 19 times a day (much better than the myth of “every 7 seconds”). Whatever is the case, one thing I know is that for a Christian guy in this sex-saturated world, the thing you have to think about  – is purity. Christian guys (and increasingly girls) are getting sucked into, shaped by and addicted to this pornified culture and although internet porn is probably the biggest problem, tv can also be a particular trap.

1156296_vector_warning_sign copyI used to find late night tv a real danger as I was getting tired and my other housemates had gone to bed. I’d start thinking, “It’s late. I need to get to sleep” as my zombified brain would be mindlessly flicking channels. Suddenly, I’d come across something that warned me of the nudity and sex scenes that would be featured in the upcoming movie. My mind (and the Holy Spirit) would say, “turn it off now”, but like the fool described in Proverbs 7:22-23, my lustful heart would be stirred and the weakness of my lack of discipline would be proved once again as I get led off “like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose.”  This scenario is not uncommon for Christian guys and all Christians who care about avoiding it and other areas of sexual temptation should consider what they can do to simply reduce the chance that they will be exposed to it.

In regard to the “forbidden woman” being talked about in Proverbs, Solomon’s advice is “Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house.” (Proverbs 5:8). Jesus gives an even more radical teaching on the subject of sexual purity, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-29)

The message is, don’t put yourself in temptation’s way. Run from even the potential of sexual immorality. Be radical! Walk on the other side of the street, gouge out your eyes, or if you struggle with sexually explicit stuff on free-to-air tv then why not like me, get rid of the aerial. Living “free-to-air” free does not change the lust in my heart – that is a cooperative work between me and the Holy Spirit over time – but what it does do is removes a source of temptation, which is always a wise thing to do. Like I mentioned in the second point, having to choose what you watch on tv rather than just discovering what’s on, may be good for you and your marriage in more ways than one.

 

4. YOU’RE NOT LOCKED IN

As Cat & I weaned ourselves off of watching free-to-air tv, we compensated it by watching a lot of tv shows on DVD. I know that illegally downloading tv shows is pretty common nowadays, but as Christians we didn’t want to do that and so we would either watch online shows on something like ABC iView or we would buy the series we were interested in.

We’d often wait for a sale at JB HiFi and pick up a few and then work our way through them over many months. Or, we’d give ourself a prize or a treat for some other area of discipline that we were working on by buying a BluRay of a tv series from Amazon UK (If you didn’t know, the UK has the same BluRay region as Australia and Amazon can sometimes be a lot cheaper).

2012-07-30-Olympic-wrestle-for-the-remote-600

Now a lot of people don’t want to spend money on buying tv series that they could watch on free-to-air tv, but we have found the financial investment is not all that huge and in the end it’s really worth it. The lack of commercials chopping up the show is fantastic and the addition of special features is also pretty cool, but one of the major things I like about watching a tv series on DVD is that you are not “locked in” in the same way you are on free-to-air tv.

What I mean is, when it comes to watching a show on free-to-air tv, even if you are not in the mood for it, you feel forced to watch the show because the time it is on is set. The potential of missing a show actually causes some people a fair bit of anxiety and can cause arguments between those who live together. Some people solve this conflict by buying a tv recorder, but that can sometimes create an even worse scenario. You then have the freedom to record every show that you want and I know Christian married couples who now fight over making time to watch all the shows that they have now recorded!

Also, different shows create different types of moods. Some shows are light and fluffy, others are heavy and disturbing. Watching a show on DVD allows you to turn the show off or put off watching it if you don’t feel it would be helpful to you or those you live with.

Breaking-Bad-S1

For example, Cat & I love “Breaking Bad”. We have bought the first 4 seasons of it and we think the performances and scripting is amazing. But the show is really intense and the themes are very heavy and at times quite unsettling. Cat & I watched the first two seasons and began watching the third but found that we were being left in a dark place after watching the show. It even was causing me to have bad dreams about divorce, marital conflict and infidelity (some of the side themes in the show). It was so interesting and captivating to watch, but we were finding it not healthy for our marriage or our personal mood, and so we stopped watching it. We now haven’t gotten back to watching it for months and are contemplating getting back into it. We couldn’t have made that choice if we were locked in to watching it on free-to-air tv.

Living “free to air” free has allowed us to continue to watch the shows we love, but with the freedom of choosing when they would be good for us to watch. It gives us an another opportunity to serve each other and our marriage and that makes the financial cost of buying a series when they come out on special, worth the money. Also I expect, when we have children, this ability to choose will be even more beneficial.

 

5. CATCHING THE NEWS

Some people watch free-to-air tv in order to catch up with the news. When I was living at home my parents used to watch news on tv from the 6:30 Report to the “current affair” shows which finished at 8pm! It was painful as they all contain fluff pieces to fill it out and the actually important news was repeated on every show.

online_newsWhat I have learnt by living “free to air” free is that if the news is important enough, you will hear about it on social media. When Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female Prime Minister, came into power, I found out while sitting with my brother Tony in a cafe in Bendigo as I looked at Facebook on my phone. In fact, even the news programmes on free-to-air tv sometimes get their news from a tweet or a facebook post they they find. Social media is a powerful and unfiltered tool for communicating important news.

Due to this reality, I don’t feel like I will ever miss any important news that I need to know about. I also read the newspaper when I can and keep an eye on a lot of online news from a variety of sources, so that keeps me on top of the topics I am interested in. Also, some of the topics I am interested in will never she shown on free-to-air tv, but I can learn lots about what is happening from a variety of perspectives online. On the internet, news is instant, varied and world-wide. The ability to access this news is a freedom and a privilege of our modern world, and it means that the corporately owned free-to-air news programs don’t have to be my only source of information.

 

6. KEEP THE AERIAL HANDY

25oscar-best-speech1One last thing to point out is that Cat & I keep the aerial handy. It’s actually plugged into the wall and tucked under the couch so that whenever we want we can plug it into the tv. We do this for the rare occasions that something special is being shown on free-to-air tv that we want to watch – the Grand Final, the Oscars, the Melbourne Cup, an Election Night, etc.

The aerial is not something we see as “evil”. Rather we treat it like a projector. Many people have a projector that they bring out on special occasions, but that generally lives in its case in the cupboard. That’s why I used the picture at the heading of this blog. The aerial is something that we use “in case of emergency”.

The key thing is that we know the cost. Free-to-air tv is not free. It is not free of commercials. It is not free of dangers. It is not free of a culture of consumerism and apathy. It has a cost. On occasion we are willing to pay that cost, but we do so knowingly and rarely.

 

FIRST WORLD SOLUTIONS TO FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS

I do realise that to find alternatives to free-to-air tv also includes a cost. We have bought DVDs, Blurays and an Apple TV device to fill the space that free-to-air tv used to occupy.

FIRST WORLD PROBLEMI want to acknowledge that this whole conversation is really about me suggesting “first world solutions” to “first world problems”. Bloody hell! There are heaps of people in Australia who can’t even afford a tv and on a global scale, only 20% of people own their own tv.

If you so have a tv, but you’re doing it tough or you don’t want to waste money on DVDs and the like, then please accept my apologies and enjoy free-to-air tv to your hearts content! Or give us a call and you can borrow some of the DVDs we have purchased! Either way, I definitely hold no judgement against those who choose to watch free-to-air tv. I just want to suggest a slightly alternative lifestyle for those that like the idiot box, but feel like free-to-air tv may be making them too much of an idiot.

One thing I do want to say is that over time, Cat & I have even stopped watching tv shows and movies, and I almost never play playstation games any more. The effort to choose what we want to view on the tv has encouraged us to spend more time doing other things that don’t involve the tv at all… Now if only I could do the same for YouTube and Facebook! (Hmmm. Maybe that’s another experiment to try!)

 

TRY THE THREE “FREE” FREE EXPERIMENT!

If you’re in the same-ish demographic to me and you find free-to-air tv is wasting a lot of your time or causing conflict in your relationships, why not try it for yourself! I’m calling this challenge the THREE “FREE” FREE EXPERIMENT! The idea is that just for three weeks you pack up the aerial cord and put it away. See what happens! Maybe you’ll hate it. Maybe you’ll enjoy it. Maybe you’ll go mad and realise you have an addiction! Or maybe you’ll want to try it for longer than three weeks.

It’s not that extreme really. I’m not saying throw all your technological devises out the window and join a commune! It’s just an experiment. If you’re married or you’re living with housemates (or even if you’re still living at home with your parents) why not talk to them about the idea and suggest giving it a go. If you want to be even more hard-core, you could make the “THREE” represent three months rather than three weeks.

If you try it (or if you’re already living “free-to-air” free), please tell me and post your comments below. I’d love to hear what you have discovered along the way.

Who knows… over time, we may actually be able to get out of this culture of just plonking infront of a screen altogether and begin using our down-time to pick up a book or play a musical instrument or… shock horror… even just talk to the person sitting right next to us on the couch.

couple-talking-on-couch

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May 20

The Summit (a short story)

helping-hand

 

The icy, fresh wind blows in my face, gliding over my eyes making them cry. I squint through the tears and take in the view before me.

Epic.

The rising sun spreads its blanket of warm light across the vast landscape like butter being slowly spread on morning toast. The view from the summit gives you a unique perspective. Everything else looks small. Accomplishable. You can see further and wider than ever before and the beauty of God in the face of nature is breathtaking.

My guide stands beside me. We huddle together keeping warm, enjoying the view. She squeezes my shoulder in a silent expression of pride in what I have accomplished. I squeeze her shoulder back in a silent expression of humble gratitude. I could not have reached the summit without her help. She knew how to read the map, she planned each leg of the climb, she told me where to put my feet when the ground threatened to give way and I fear plunging to the bottom of a cliff. She was my guide, my companion, my help mate.

I had not wanted to do this climb, really. I was happy living at the bottom of the mountain. I was happy living in its shadow just trying to ignore it. But then she came along.

“The view!” she’d tell me. “You’ve got to see the view up there! It’s spectacular!”

She’d tell me of how the wind blows in your face and you can see for miles. She would try to inspire me with descriptions of how wonderful it would be to not live in the mountain’s shadow and how the sun stretches it’s blinding yellow hand across the plains making the darkness run and hide. She would speak of the peace and the silence at the summit and the satisfying exhaustion you felt as you collapsed at the top.

All that didn’t sound pleasant at all. I knew that the beauty of the view of the summit came at the excruciating cost of the climb to get there. I hadn’t seen the sunrise for a decade and I knew why. I knew that the gigantic shadow that I was living in was caused by an equally gigantic mountain. She could try to lure me in with visions of the achievement I’d feel, but the only reason why I’d feel that sense of achievement is because it was going to be so hard. I had lived long enough at the bottom of the mountain to get used to its shadow and if it took something that hard to get out from under it, I could put it off for a little longer.

The problem was, the mountain wasn’t getting any smaller. Every year that went by, the mountain grew a few metres. Every year I avoided facing it, it because a little harder to face. The summit got a little further away. The shadow I lived in grew a little bigger.

The one reason that convinced me to make the climb in the end, was the road.

There was only one road and it led straight to the mountain. It travelled up it’s rocky cliffs, winding past dangerous outcrops and through terrifying caves, leading always up to the summit. Over the summit I had no idea where the road went, but I presumed it went down again and then continued eastward towards the horizon that I never saw.

Many years ago, I had stopped at the base of the mountain. It wasn’t really a mountain back then. It was more like a small hill. I wasn’t very good at travelling on the road at that age. I often lost my supplies and ran out of water. I was a pretty annoying travel companion and I often twisted my ankle or stubbed my toe, making everyone who walked along with me have to slow down and wait for me to catch up.

When I got to this hill, I just stopped. Not sure why. It was a long time ago. But I stopped and set up camp and didn’t move on.

tallest_mountains_291538I managed to distract myself for years as the hill became steeper and steeper, and one morning – I don’t know when – I couldn’t see the sunrise any more. I looked up at the incline before me and I shuddered. The hill had become a mountain. I got back into my tent and there I stayed… until she came along.

I knew that if I wanted to travel with her, the only road I could travel on was the one that headed right up the mountain. It was either that or stay in this tent forever. She didn’t want that. She wanted me to see the sunrise again. She wanted to travel  much further down the road, past this mountain and off into the horizon. She was patient and she was wise and she was a bloody good mountaineer. She was a gift to me. But if I wanted to have her as my travelling buddy, I knew I had to leave the tent and face the mountain.

 

It took nearly two years to climb to the summit, but together we did it. And now, as I stand next to her, squinting through my tears and marvelling at the view, the memory of the painful journey to this point is slowly slipping away. Fading like the shadows that retreat from the sun’s warm glow. Drowned out by the soft whistle of the wind and washed away by the tears and sweat that cover my face.

I could tell you of the caves that we had to crawl through, the mounds of earth we had to dig through and the confusing rock formations we had to navigate. I could tell you of the dark demons we had to face and the cold and lonely nights we had to endure. I could tell you of the exact path we took and what we met at each stage of the climb.

But none of it would help you.

If you have a mountain to climb, the road will be different. The mountain will be different. The obstacles will be different.

The sunrise might be the same though. And so that is what I will speak of. The clear, rich, beautiful sunrise that I long since learned to live without.

After what seems like hours, I begin to look at the path down the mountain. It seems easy and well lit by the morning glow. There are clear steps and a handrail and the road continues at the bottom.

I follow the road with my eyes across the plain and notice that a way down it, its path comes across a small hill. A little further, it hits another hill, and then another and another.

My heart sinks.

It seems, every few hundred kilometres or so the road hits a hill and from what I could see, this carried on until the horizon.

I point it out to my guide. “What’s with that?? It took me everything I had to tackle this mountain! I thought it was all over! I thought it would be a clear, level path from here on!”

“They’re not that big, you know.” she encourages me. “Just one small hill once a year. And as long as you don’t let them grow, that’s all they’ll ever be.”

She squeezes my shoulder again, realising that, though I had climbed to this great height, I still had a way to go to learn how to travel this road. I’m grateful for her patience. Grateful for her wisdom and her grace.

I turn away from the landscape and stare at her beautiful face. It glows with the morning sun as she smiles at me, her lip quivering from the icy wind that blows across her face, messing her red hair.

The view is breathtaking. God is on display everywhere I look.

We grab our backpacks and help each other put them on, taking a final swig of water before walking towards the staircase that leads down from the mountain’s summit.

I don’t look back. I don’t need to. The view all around is too beautiful.

couple-walking-pentland-hills-regional-park

This story is dedicated to my wife, best friend and sister in Christ,

Cat.

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March 3

“It’s a Phoney, Phoney World” a song

Mobile copy

IT’S A PHONEY, PHONEY WORLD

an original song by Simon Camilleri

This song has been a fun piece to write. It’s a challenge to me to engage with real life and real people and to unplug myself from the online world.

I still struggle with this daily as I realise my dependance on (and addiction to) technology.

I only hope this tune is so catchy that I start to follow it’s advice to “put your phone away”!

Download the words and chords here!

Perform your own version of the song, post it to YouTube and I’ll embed it below!

technology

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October 27

My Statement of Unfounded Beliefs

Businesses, organisations, clubs and even individuals often get to a stage where making a clear decisive statement of what they truly believe can be helpful. This is called their Statement of Beliefs. My theatre company, The Backyard Bard wrote up our Statement of Beliefs many years ago (you can read it here).

On this blog, I often am trying to explain, defend, explore and articulate my beliefs. I hope the testimony of this blog is that they are founded on Scripture and my own experience of life and God. But I also acknowledge that I hold many unfounded beliefs. Beliefs that I hold to dearly, that are founded on very little if anything other than my own imagination, superstition or paranoia.

I thought it good to state my unfounded beliefs (the ones I am aware of, or at least, the ones I could think of in the last few hours). May they be recorded for posterity, reflection and understanding. May I live my life admitting and uncovering the beliefs that I hold without foundation.

 

SIMON CAMILLERI’S STATEMENT OF UNFOUNDED BELIEFS

 

1. DAIRY PRODUCTS WILL IMMEDIATELY GO OFF IF LEFT OUT OF THE FRIDGE FOR ANY MORE TIME THAN ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.

I think this one was instilled by my father who insisted that the milk be put away immediately after use. I also have many distinct and fond memories of mum or dad coming home after a big shop at the supermarket and as soon as you heard the car horn beep it was all hands on deck! We all had to run out to help bring in the bags of groceries and re-enforced every single time was the important principle that all the fridge stuff had to be put away first and as quickly as possible.

As you can imagine, every time I go on a church camp I experience great angst when during breakfast the jug of milk is just sitting on the table for the hour or so while everyone eats. Every time I can hear my internal Statement of Unfounded Beliefs screaming “PUT IT BACK IN THE FRIDGE!!”.

 

2. SPIDERS WILL JUMP ON YOUR FACE IF YOU LOOK DIRECTLY AT THEM, AS OPPOSED TO RUNNING PAST THEM WITH YOUR EYES DIVERTED.

You would think that this arachnophobia was caused by some traumatic experience as a child when a spider jumped on my face, but no, a spider has NEVER jumped on my face, but I would put that down to the fact that I never look at them directly and I run past them with my eyes diverted. See! It works! Just like I save myself from being eaten by sharks by not spending to much time in the ocean and I avoid being attacked by bears by not going to Russia. It all makes perfect sense to me.



3. GETTING THE PERFECT SEAT IN THE CINEMA IS VITAL TO AN ENJOYABLE MOVIE GOING EXPERIENCE.

Dad, I must once again attribute this principle to your training. You know how when you go to the movies they rip your ticket and then you go to find your particular cinema, well, back when I was a boy you used to have to line up outside of your cinema before they ripped your ticket and let you in. My dad loved (and still loves) the movies and we would get to the cinema as early as humanly possible in order to be as close to the front of the queue as possible to get the best seats in the cinema. On the tragic occasions that we arrived at the cinema after a long queue had already formed, I distinctly remember on more than one occasion, my dad would instruct me to sneak to the front of the queue so that I could get in and save seats for the rest of the family. I would have to have only been around 6 or 7 years old at the time.

So there I was, a young innocent child carrying four large jackets ready to claim seats for my parents and my two older brothers (and maybe my baby brother, I can’t remember). Not conspicuous at all! Well, I sort of felt less than convincing as I tried to sneak in to near the front of the queue. So, of my own cunning, I developed a technique. I used the fact that I was a child standing alone and I simply stood near an adult so the everyone else thought I was with them. If the adult or family I was standing with got suspicious, I would simply lean a little closer to another adult and their suspicions would subside. So my life of crime and deceit began, and so Number 3 on my Statement of Unfounded Beliefs was written in stone.

My friends (and especially my wife) know that if you’re going to a movie with me then you’re going early or you’re booking online. If there’s a big group of friends meeting before the movie, I will abandon all the social catchup and unhelpful human relationship building that traditionally goes on as you wait for everyone to arrive. I will grab my ticket, get into the cinema and save the best seats for everyone. I think in my entire life (which must involve around 1,000 movie-going experiences) I can only remember 3 times that I have had to endure crappy seats – “The Witches” in 1990, “Twister” in 1996 and “Paul” in 2011. I guess 3 out of a 1,000 ain’t too bad.

 

4. I CAN DO FULL-TIME WORK, PART-TIME MINISTRY AND PART-TIME THEATRE, WHILST MAINTAINING A HEALTHY MARRIAGE AND AN ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE… AND HAVE TIME TO BLOG.

Back in my twenties I seemed to be able to juggle all these things… or at least that’s what I believe as I look back with nostalgic eyes at the “glory days” when I had so much time and energy and could do so much. But come to think of it, even that is an unfounded belief. I never worked full-time in my early twenties. I worked part-time as a checkout chick at Safeway for most of it! I did do part-time theatre, but that was my main involvement in ministry, whereas now I lead the Bible Reading Ministry at my church, run a support group for guys struggling with porn addiction and am getting my “Elephant Room” ministry off the ground. I also hope to co-lead a Bible Study in my home with my wife next year and am getting more involved in various leadership roles as my church stretches its legs in its new church building. As for my marriage, well I was married at 23 and it ended in divorce! So I guess I shouldn’t really look on my twenties as my “glory days”. They sorta sucked. 

I am older and more overweight than I was, but I’m also a lot more busy with more important things, and now that I am married again, I want to invest in it and prioritise it. So I do need to realise I can’t do it all. I sometimes think of it like I’m driving on the freeway of my life, and parallel to my freeway is another freeway, where another Simon is driving a different life. At some point, I made a choice at some junction and now I am on this path. There are multiple freeways all travelling along next to each other. On one freeway I travel the world doing storytelling. On another freeway, I moved to the US to study to be a psychologist. On another freeway, I spent my days single, pursuing reconciliation with my first wife. On another freeway, I went back to Uni to study to be a teacher. I can not live every possible life and then at the end of them all see which one glorifies God the most. I must chose a freeway. And I have. And I love the freeway I’m on. So, when I’m reminded of all the things I could be doing and I look across at the other Simons driving on the other freeways, I can just smile, give them a wave and keep driving. 

 

5. A CHICKEN SCHNITZEL SANDWICH IS A HEALTHY LUNCH BECAUSE IT HAS SALAD IN IT.

My efforts to eat healthier are full of unfounded beliefs and the world of marketing is full of lies from “Mars Bar Lite” to Nutra Grain being “Iron Man Food”. Over the years, I have worked jobs that have required me to eat at a shopping centre food court, which has always kept me looking for the newest top rated weight loss supps – but enough is enough. I have come to believe that if I can avoid KFC and the Fish n Chips outlet and stick to the healthy Sandwich Bar, I am safe… not matter what I buy from them. I have a particular fancy for Chicken Schnitzel sandwiches, with swish cheese and mayo… oh, and lots of salad as well, which clearly makes up for all the fat that I consume from the other stuff.

I recently saw at my regular lunch venue, just how they fry up the chicken schnitzels that I love so very much. They guy lathered on at least a centimetre or two of pure margarine across both sides of the crumbed schnitzel and chucked it on the hot plate. After witnessing that, this unfounded belief just became a little more unfounded!

 

6. IT’S GOING TO BE A STRUGGLE FOR CAT & I TO LIVE ON JUST MY WAGE NEXT YEAR.

In 2013, Cat & I will try to live on just my wage and have all of her wage going into savings. This is partly because we want to save but mostly because we’re hoping to start a family in the next year or so and Cat wants to be a stay at home mum for the first few years. If that is going to be our life, we thought it best to start getting used to living on only one wage. This seems hard. It’s going to be a real challenge. It will take a lot of budgetting and financial planning and luxury sacrificing to pull it off.

What a load of first-world baloney! Here in Australia, we have very little concept of real poverty and real struggle. When we think of the poor, we think of people who have a beat up old car, live in a crappy high rise apartment with mould on the walls and who are unemployed. But (not to diminish the suffering of anyone who is in those circumstances), on a global scale that is still incredibly wealthy. Half of the world’s population lives on around $2 a day. 

I don’t have any concept of what it means to live without clean drinking water, access to a toilet or to actually feel real hunger that could endanger my life, and the truth is, it is almost impossible in Australia that I could ever be in that position. Even if both Cat & I lost our jobs tomorrow, we would realistically never end up living on the streets. I enjoy the luxurious benefits of material possessions, money in the bank, University education, a wide social circle, and general health (despite the chicken schnitzel sandwiches). But even if I lost all those things, I live in a country that provides water, sanitation, education, health services and employment assistance to anyone. I am truly rich. I am filthy rich. I have no right to complain about the potential “struggle” I may face by living off only one income. That income still puts me in the top %1 of the entire world, and if I have to make some petty sacrifices to adjust to a slightly lower income, they will be very superficial on a global scale.

It is so so easy to compare your plight with the wealthy around you. As we may shake our head and laugh at someone who thinks he is doing it tough if he has to travel business class rather than first class, I would look even more ridiculous to the majority of people in the world. I must always keep that in perspective and my blindness to my own privilege and wealth has earned this unfounded belief a place on the list. 

 

7. I CAN MAINTAIN A HEALTHY, INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD WITHOUT READING THE BIBLE REGULARLY.

This is actually not something I consciously believe. I mean, I would never say this or teach this or encourage this, but I guess the real test of what we believe is not what we profess with our mouths but what we actually do. Like the guy who says, “I love you honey”, but treats his wife like crap, our words are pretty shallow expressions of our beliefs if they are not backed up by action. The Bible is full of this principle. Like Isaiah 29:13 where it says, “The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.'” or 1 John 3:17-18, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”, or if you want it from the mouth of Jesus himself, check out the challenging passage in Matthew 7:15-28, where Jesus warns that it’s not enough to call Jesus “Lord, Lord” and listen to his words, you have to put them into practise.

God doesn’t want just lip service, he wants wholehearted discipleship, and it is by our fruit that we will be known. If you say you believe that God hears our prayers and that he is powerful to act, and yet you do not pray, then something is very wrong. As Samuel Chadwick, the Methodist preacher said 100 years ago, “Prayer is the acid test of devotion”.

Well, I find the same hypocrisy in my own life when it comes to Bible reading. I very rarely read the Bible to commune with God. I read it often to look up something, or to prepare for a study I’m writing, or for a biblical storytelling performance that I need to practise. But the Bible is not simply a text book of useful information. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. What that means is that although the words of the Bible were written down by ordinary people, God’s Spirit had a hand in guiding and at times even dictating directly what they were to write. As Peter wrote, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21). So the Bible is a collection of writings that are inspired by God. They are, as Paul puts it, “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16)

But they aren’t simple a record of things that God once said (or wanted to be said). They hold ONGOING truths. Truths that are unchanging and must be engaged with by all people. The greatest example in the Bible of this truth is found in Hebrews 3:7 where it talks of an Old Testament scripture as something that the Holy Spirit “says” not “said”. The tense is present/continuous not in the past. Now, you have to be careful to seek wisdom as to how you understand and apply scripture and Christians may disagree profoundly on this, but what we must not disagree on is the fact that the Bible is Scripture – it is sacred. It is God speaking.

Now all that is fine and dandy to write in a blog with such confidence, but what do I actually believe? If I actually believe that God is real, and I have a relationship with him that is real, and the primary way in which he communicates with my Spirit is through the Bible, then why on earth aren’t I reading it more often?? Does it simply come down to a lack of discipline? Is it laziness? No, not really. I seem to fill my days with lots of other stuff I deem important enough to fit in. Is it because I find the Bible boring or difficult to understand? Not at all! My years of doing and teaching Biblical Storytelling has given me great tools for enjoying and understanding the Bible, along with my involvement with the Christian Union and my own church, Bundoora Presbyterian, both of which have helped train me in how to study and interpret the Bible. Is it actually a sign that everything I just wrote about the Bible being God’s Word is a big lie – an unfounded belief? I don’t think so, but I have to test my heart closely on that one, because as I said earlier, a person’s true beliefs are shown by their actions.

I actually think one of my problems is pride. I have read the bible lots over the last two decades and I have studied most of its books in depth. I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of Scripture and so I go to the Bible with a sad expectation that I have heard it already. I know God will speak to me if I read the Bible, but I also arrogantly think I will know what he will say!

I recall my first few months as a new believer at age 16. I consumed the Bible like a starving child that had been just given a banquet to eat! I read it with passion and real spiritual hunger. Have I lost that hunger? Do I just feel full and think it now not all that necessary to feast. Maybe a snack now and then, but I’ll rely on what I took in yesterday to get me through tomorrow. In the end, if that is the source of my lack of regular bible reading, I really need to wake up. 

I can maintain a healthy, intimate relationship with God without reading the Bible regularly just as well as I can maintain a healthy, intimate relationship with my wife without ever communicating with her. Or imagine if I just wanted to talk to my wife Cat, but I made no time to listen to her (don’t ask Cat if that is ever her experience… please). In the end, we may still be married, but our relationship would definitely not be healthy and intimate. But I want a healthy, intimate relationship with my wife, and I want a healthy, intimate relationship with God. And so, I must talk and listen to Cat, and I must pray and read the Bible with God. Let’s hope I will learn this lesson, be shaken out of my pride and my true beliefs (backed up by action) will be revealed.

 

 

So, that’s my list… so far.

I’m sure there’s lots of unfounded beliefs I still hold. Some petty, some profound.

Why not reflect on your own life and bring out into the light some of your own unfounded beliefs. You may not have to throw them out (I think I’ll always try to get a good seat at the cinema, and I’m not going to start staring at spiders) but you can at least own them for what they are. It also has been a lot of fun and it has helped me identify those beliefs I hold that I actually do think have a foundation.

 

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September 27

Porn – The Elephant in the Room

Porn

Most Christian guys struggle with it.

Many are stuck in it.

Hardly any talk about it.

For countless Christian guys (both married and unmarried) their struggle against pornography is turning into a losing battle.

Believe it or not, porn addiction is the number one sexual issue that the church is facing today. It is destroying marriages, hijacking ministries, and slowly but surely making the majority of guys feel weak in their faith, distant from God and disqualified from useful service.

Porn itself is ridiculously accessible, powerfully addictive and full of lies and illusions about men, women, sex, God and where we can find our identity and ultimate fulfillment.

One of the biggest problems as I see it is that although porn is the “elephant in the room” for most guys – we very rarely talk about it. Even with our close friends or mentors, how we are going in the area of sexual purity outside of marriage, and sexual faithfulness inside marriage, is one taboo that we often steer clear from. It is often too full of shame, regret and confusion and we convince ourselves that we don’t need help or we can do it alone by sheer will power.

We need to develop a culture where we can easily talk about this issue, not because like the rest of society, we don’t think it’s a big sin, but because we have experienced the grace of the gospel, and so that grace can be extended to all those who trust in Jesus. We should have no shame in bringing our sin into the light and when we do we should experience no condemnation from our brothers in Christ, because as Romans 8:1 says, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 

Helping Christian guys who struggle with porn and building a culture of grace in the church is one of my greatest passions.

If you didn’t know I also run a ministry and a website (that needs a lot of work!) called “Elephant Room”.
Check it out here.

I thought I could also put on here links to the talks I gave at a recent “Elephant in the Room” Night.
It includes my own journey with porn, some advice in tackling it in your life and an extensive “Question and Answer” session.

Feel free to download them for your personal use.

If you wish to use them for ministry purposes or to publish any quote from any of the material, please contact me first at: simon@elephantroom.info

TALK ONE: The Elephant and My Story.  (7MB,  45 minutes)

TALK TWO: The Five A’s of Battling Pornography.  (6.6MB,  49 minutes)

TALK THREE: Question & Answer Time.  (4.4 MB,  36 minutes)

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