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?”

(458)

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March 15

The Banks of the Yarra and the Kindness of God

When people ask what I do for a living, I usually answer, “I’m a Graphic Designer… for a Funeral Company.” It gets a good reaction. I go on to explain that if you go to a funeral and receive a thank you card or an order of service, or watch a photographic tribute on the screen during the service… that’s the sort of stuff I do. The snazzy title for my job is a “Tributes Consultant” and I work for Tobin Brothers Funerals.

I love the job. It not only uses my creative skills, it’s not only a stable full-time income with a good company, but it’s also an industry that really serves people in their time of need and deep grief. I’m very grateful for finding such a great job and now I’ve been doing it for exactly one decade. Yup, ten years ago today, I had my first shift at Tobin Brothers Funerals. So today, on my 10th anniversary, I thought I’d share the wonderful story of how God gave me this job.

God’s Sovereignty and Our Decisions

I say “God gave me this job” not because I think my boss had no part in the decision (I actually rang him today to thank him for employing me 10 years ago), nor because I think I had no part in getting it, but I believe that the decisions that we make are both our responsibility and simultaneously under the sovereign will of God. The bible teaches that God is at work in and through and over our decisions.

In Genesis 50:20, when Joseph confronts his brothers who sold him into slavery and faked his death, he says to them: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”  The same event is described as being born of two separate intentions from both the brothers and God.

Likewise, if you read the epistle written by James, Jesus’ brother, you’ll find this instruction:

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:13-15)

So we can make plans, but we should do it with the awareness that God’s will is ultimately the final authority as to what will happen. We are responsible for what part we play, but God is ultimately in control. Now, that idea may seem like a bit of a mystery or even a logical paradox, but when you’re talking about an infinite spiritual Being who created the universe and exists outside of all of its elements and limitations, then I am ok with there being a little bit of mystery in how the whole dynamic fits together.

Back in 2007

Ten years ago, I was in a very, very difficult place in my life. A year earlier (in early 2006), my wife had kicked me out due to my ongoing struggles with pornography. I was in the process of getting help to work through my addiction and grow up as a bloke and as a Christian, but her heart and trust in me was shattered and so after a year we were no closer to reconciliation. I didn’t know at the time that our painful separation would go on for another two and a half years before she would eventually file for divorce. At the time, I was literally spending every day agonizing about how I might win her heart back and prove to her that my repentance was genuine. One of the things I knew I had to do, was hold down a steady job. This was a sign of maturity and a quality important for a godly husband who was supposed to provide for his family.

At the time of the separation, I had just finished a directing job in my role with my Christian theatre company, The Backyard Bard. But once the separation happened, I took a step back from that ministry and so, I became unemployed. I got odd jobs here and there and eventually landed a 100% commission job doing direct marketing sales for a company representing various charities. This was bloody hard work. Some days you would work your butt off and not make one sale. And no sale meant no pay.

Fortunately, I became ok at the job and after 8 months I was still at it. I earnt pretty good money too. It was hard, soul-crushing work where every day I put myself out there and faced rejection after rejection… but that sort of mirrored what was happening in my marriage, so I guess it taught me resilience to some degree!

The problem was, the company I worked for was part of a pretty evil, money-hungry corporation that had a “pyramid scheme” type of hierarchy. I could see they were trying to groom me to step into leadership and develop my own team of sales minions, but I really wasn’t interested in turning into what I saw the managers became. So when the Christmas break of 2006 came (which was only a week), I knew it was time to at least consider looking for other work.

Seek and You Shall Find

I jumped on seek.com and looked at what was being advertised. I had an interest in graphic design, but I had two issues. One, I didn’t have any official qualifications. I didn’t even know how to use Adobe Photoshop at the time! The other problem was that, as a Christian, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work designing advertising for companies that I might morally object to.

So, I wasn’t all that hopeful, until I stumbled upon an ad from Tobin Brothers Funerals. They wanted someone to join their department called “Memories and Tributes” creating all the stuff I mentioned earlier.  They didn’t specifically require graphic design qualification (they have since changed that policy), and so I felt it was perfect! I never dreamed of working in the funeral industry, but hey, why not? I’d be serving people and doing some good in the world, and the work sounded creative and interesting. At least it was worth a shot.

So I filled in the form on seek.com and sent off my resume. Then, a few days later, my sales job resumed. I had gotten a confirmation email saying that Tobin Brothers had received my application, but after a week or two of hearing nothing I decided to show my interest and give them a call. This did not go well. The lady I spoke to abruptly said something like, “Yes, we have your application, and we will get back to you if we are interested.” This was really disheartening. I thought I would show them my enthusiasm and that might win me points, but it had backfired. She seemed more annoyed than anything. (I have since learnt that the person I spoke to gets hundred of phone calls a week from overly keen people wanting to work in the industry and so she just deals with interested people via email, but at the time I had thought I had blown it.) After that, the days went by and I heard nothing, which confirmed my suspicions. The hope of finding other work seemed dashed and so back to the grindstone I went.

Death of a Salesman

In the sales company I worked at, you had to always be in a hyper-positive mood. It was one of those “high five everyone in the morning to get pumped” cliche environments. But with my marriage still in tatters and a major lack of job satisfaction, that became harder and harder to do. This took its toll and my sales began to suffer. Big time. I went literally a whole week without making one sale. That was crushing, and my boss wasn’t happy. See, after 9 months at the job, he used me as a trainer and an inspiration for the others in the team. So when I was flat, the others began to go flat as well.

One day, we were set up at Flinders Street Station, trying to get passers-by to stop and consider signing up to support World Wildlife Fund, and I was trying my best to keep my energy up, but it was like walking through treacle. It got worse and worse and eventually my boss, seeing how I was failing in my role as his model salesman, took my name badge and told me to go on a break.

Break I did. My heart was broken from my wife’s rejection and my spirit was broken from my constant failure, and so I broke down in an emotional sobbing mess as I walked away from Flinders Street Station and down by the Yarra River. I sat down on the grass by the water, praying to God, asking him what I should do.

You see, I used to have this principle that you shouldn’t ever leave a job, unless you had another one to go to. This was especially relevant to me at a time in my life when I was trying to woo my estranged wife. She already didn’t want anything to do with me, I didn’t want to also be unemployed.

I wasn’t sure what God wanted me to do. Should I leave the job because I knew I couldn’t stay there long term? Or should I buck up, get my crap together and work harder to get my sales back? Was this the job God willed for me, or did he have another? And how could I know what God’s will was? I definitely didn’t want to be out of step of his will. That would surely lead to more failure and misery. But if I didn’t know which path was God’s will, how would I avoid that disaster? These were the thoughts that were tearing through my heart and mind as I prayed in my own private inner Gethsemane – my soul overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death as I cried to God, “Yet not my will but yours be done!”

The Kindness of the Father

Eventually, I rang a guy who I had become friends with through the support group I was attending to work through my struggles with porn. I told him about my dilemma and my utter terror of living out of step with God’s will. I knew the fate of my marriage was ultimately in God’s hands and so I was afraid of stepping out of line or disobeying his will (even unknowingly). I thought that if I did everything God wanted me to do, then – and only then – would God bless me and my marriage.

After hearing all this, my godly friend said: “Simon! Don’t worry so much! God is your heavenly Father. You’re his child! He loves you no matter which decision you make. Even if he does have a plan and you make a wrong choice, he will use your mistakes. Just try to make the best choice you can and let God look after the rest.”

His words, honestly, were life-changing. They exposed my faulty understanding of God and how his will worked. The revealed to me my “works-based” confusion about who God blesses and why. And most importantly, they reminded me of the kindness of God. If I am in Christ, then God is my Heavenly Father and he is kind. I don’t have to overly stress about seeking his will if it is unclear. I don’t have to fear confusion or doubt or ambiguity. I just have to be his child, trusting him and walking with him as best as I can.

Now that I have a daughter (from my second marriage), I understand that message even more. She just needs to hold my hand and walk with me. If there are unseen dangers, I have her back. If she wanders off, I will look for her and find her. I don’t want her worrying about whether or not she is out of step with my will in order to secure my blessing and love. She is my daughter. I am God’s child. And knowing the Father’s kindness should give us peace. As Jesus said: Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)

The Leap of Faith

I was comforted by my godly friend’s council, but he hadn’t actually told me what I should do… other than trust in my Heavenly Father. So I walked back to Flinders Street Station, grabbed my name badge and tried to get back into work. My mind was still full though with questions and reflections, so the rest of the afternoon was a write off for sales. As I left for the day, my boss pulled me aside, clearly still disappointed with my lack of performance. “Simon,” he said, “I want you to go home and think about whether this job is really for you.”

All the way home and into the evening, I struggled with what to do. In the end though, I had to answer my boss’s questions honestly. No, the job wasn’t for me. I was happy to keep working at it if that was God’s will, but in the absence of a clear instruction from God, I simply had to make a choice.

I had to give up my principle of never quitting a job if you have nothing to go to. I entrusted my needs to the kindness of my Heavenly Father, grabbed my phone and gave my boss a call…

“Hi. It’s Simon. I’ve been thinking about what you asked me, and I think it’s not fair to you or me if I stay in the job.”

“So, you’re quitting?”

“Yeah I think that’s best.”

“Well, I thought you were better than that Simon. But if you want to just give up, then I agree. You should go.”

His harsh words stung as we ended the conversation, but I knew I had done the right thing. So that was it! I was unemployed! I’d taken the leap of faith trusting that God would provide me my “daily bread” and eventually guide me towards some other work. I also trusted that being unemployed would not railroad whatever God was doing in my marriage. God was my Heavenly Father and I placed my life in his hands.

So what was next? I didn’t know. I didn’t have any prospects or other options. It had been over two months since I had had that disheartening phone conversation with Tobin Brothers and I had not heard a peep since, so I had given up on that and faced an indefinite season of unemployment. How would I survive? Well, I had a little bit of money in the bank and so I thought, I’d have a break for a week or two and then I would get back into looking for a new job. It may take a while, but I knew other Christians facing long-term unemployment, and so I knew God could see me through it as well.

That night I went to bed at peace with my decision, remembering my friend’s words: “Just try to make the best choice you can and let God look after the rest.”

New Every Morning

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'”
(Lamentations 3:22-24)

So I woke up the next day, staring into the great unknown. I had my breakfast and began to enjoy my first day of “holidays”.

That was when the phone rang…

“Hi, this is Wendy from Tobin Brothers Funerals. May I speak with Simon Camilleri?”

“Yes, I’m Simon.”

“Hi, Simon. Sorry that it’s taken so long for us to get back to you. You applied for a position a few months ago. Are you still interested?”

“Ah… yes.”

“Great! When would be free to come in for an interview? Do you have any time on Monday?”

“Actually, I have LOTS of time! I just quit my job last night!”

I immediately regretted saying that last bit in case it made me look bad, but I was so blown away I couldn’t help but express it! Literally the morning after I quit my job, I get an offer for a new one! I truly believe that God orchestrated the whole scenario. He could have easily gotten Tobin Brothers to contact me a day or two earlier and if he had, I would never have faced that spiritual dilemma on the banks of the Yarra River. I would have quit my job without ever needing to question whether I truly trusted God. But like a loving Father, God wanted to teach me something important. God let me get to a place where I would see my need and how dependent I was on his provision. God wanted to challenge and refine my trust. God wanted to teach me to rely on him as my Heavenly Father and to find my confidence and security in his kindness rather than in my employment.

So once that lesson had been learned, he could then let Tobin Brothers give me a call. True, I decided of my own will to apply for the job and I decided of my own will to quit my sales job three months later. True, Wendy from Tobin Brothers decided of her own will to give me a call on the next morning. But the fact that my quitting and her calling came only hours apart, was a message of God’s kindness and sovereign provision that I could not miss.

I Didn’t Get the Job

Now, just because God miraculously provides a perfectly timed job interview, is no guarantee that you will get the job. Just remember that if this same thing ever happens to you!

Over the weekend I had seen the Will Smith movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” which tells of a man who does not take his opportunity for employment for granted, and so inspired by this, I did everything I could to prepare for the interview. Not only did I put together a graphic design folio (as best as I could), but I even studied the philosophy of the company and committed to memory their company motto of the 6 C’s: Care, Competency, Contemporary, Creativity, Community and Celebration.

I went in prepped and I was called back for a second interview, giving me even more confidence. Though I didn’t have the graphic designer qualifications, I think I made up for it in my attitude and genuine desire to serve people in their time of need.

Despite this, I didn’t get the job.

It was between me and another girl and she had a bit more experience in graphic design than me, so she got it. Fair enough, I guess. But I was, as you can imagine, disappointed. Tobin Brothers was disappointed too actually, and they said, although they didn’t have a job for me in this department, they’d still like me to join their team as a Funeral Director’s Assistant. This would not be a creative job at all, but I thought, maybe this is how God was getting me to where he wanted me to be. So I said I was interested.

There was just one problem… They didn’t actually have a Funeral Director’s Assistant job available. They just would like to keep me on the books to consider me if one of those roles ever came up (which they did now and then). They understood that I was looking for work and that by the time there was an opening that I may have found another job, but they said, “That would be our loss.” What a nice compliment!

I didn’t help me with my unemployment situation though and I remember my parents quickly encouraging me to not be disheartened, to “get back on the horse” and to look for other work.

But I didn’t.

It wasn’t because I doubted the wisdom of their encouragement. I just sensed that God was doing something with this Tobin Brothers job. I just felt like God was saying, “Just wait Simon. I have something in store for you.”

I didn’t have to wait long. A few days later later Tobin Brothers called me back saying that the lady they hired decided that the job wasn’t for her and they asked if I could start pretty much straight away!

10 Years of Gratitude

So that’s how my job at Tobin Brothers Funerals began. I started my first shift on Wednesday, 14th March 2007, and I can honestly say after 10 years, I am still incredibly grateful to God for his provision.

In the last 10 years I have faced a lot of experiences that have challenged my faith and deepened my trust in my Heavenly Father. The most devastating came around 2 and a half years into my time at Tobin Brothers, when my wife eventually decided to file for divorce. That event raised many more questions for me in terms of the sovereignty of God in the midst of our suffering, but that is for another blog another time. What I can say is that as I went through the divorce, I did remember that moment on the banks of the Yarra and the way God had provided for me with such wise timing.

The wonderful way God had provided my job at Tobin Brothers taught me about his sovereignty, his wisdom, his comfort and his kindness. Lessons that I think God knew I needed to learn before greater trials than unemployment came into my life.


Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 12:22-34

  (1104)

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May 28

Being on the Wrong Side of a Parallel History

PARALLEL

 

Imagine an alternative Victoria in a parallel universe.

In this reality, a hard-line fundamentalist Christian political party has just won the state election by a landslide and takes power, having the numbers to ban, endorse and enforce what it deems to be true and right and healthy for the state.

They roll out an “abstinence only” sex ed program called “Sacred Schools” and say it must be used in every public school whether the teachers, students or parents want it or not.

They are advised by the federal government that the program should be amended so it is an “opt in” program to allow parents the right to choose whether their kids attend, but the state government says NO because some kids have bigoted atheist parents who can’t be trusted and every child deserves the right to hear their abstinence message.

They also won’t make any of the recommended edits to the program or remove its links to fundamentalist Christian websites.

Then, it comes out that the co-founder of the program has a scary political agenda, publicly stating they want to replace the Australian flag with a giant cross signifying that the rule of Jesus has been enforced by law across the land.

If all that was happening, I can image that the parallel universe Simon, if he was still a Christian, may be more blind to the dangers of such a system of government because they were playing to his demographic and proclaiming a message that he might find some sympathy for.

I mean, parallel Simon believes in Jesus and he agrees with abstinence. He doesn’t want it to be enforced as the only perspective kids get taught about, but he reasons, if only one idea is going to be taught he is glad it’s an idea that he agrees with.

Christians in this parallel universe would easily be blind to the way this government got bigger and bigger and slowly forced itself and its beliefs on everyone else.

Non-Christians would try to speak up but would be shouted down as anti-religious bigots by the government , and their blind Christian fellow citizens would just laugh at them as over-exaggerating the problem.

In this parallel universe:

  • non-Christian charities would lose their tax exemption status,
  • there would be “safe zones” set up to prevent people from protesting anywhere near churches,
  • school chaplaincy – which in this universe was mostly run by an agnostic organisation – would be completely defunded,
  • and specifically atheist organisations would be told that they now had to allow Christians to work as part of their staff if they wanted to avoid being sued for discrimination.

Even the tiny opt-in “evolutionary biology class” called SRE (Scientific Reasoning & Evolution) that only ran weekly for half an hour for kids who wanted it, would be banned from all public schools. The Christian state government claimed that for those 30 minutes, it disadvantaged the creationist kids who chose not to attend.

If all this was going down, I wonder if parallel Simon would speak up?

Would he defend the rights of views being systematically silenced?

Or would he just be silent himself, blindly happy with the way his views were now seemingly on the right side of history?

 

 

  (1335)

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July 21

What would Jacob do? (a story to think about baptism)

what would jacob do

There is a long and beautiful biblical tradition of exploring ideas through stories. From Samuel’s “you are the man” hypothetical that he uses to confront King David in 2 Samuel 12, to the parables of Jesus, stories have always been used to draw people in and help them think about how spiritual beliefs might play out in the real world.

This is a story I have written to try to explore how I think about baptism and whether or not Christians should baptise their kids. The question that is left hanging at the end will answer for me whether I sit more comfortably in the credobaptist or pedobaptist position. It may or may not help you also if you are thinking through this issue. Either way, I hope you like it.

 

WHAT WOULD JACOB DO?

Jacob loved and followed Yahweh, the God of his ancestors, all the days of his life. His parents poured the scriptures into his heart from the moment they held him in their arms. He can not remember a time that he had not had the promises of God, the stories of God’s great works and the songs of the psalms filling his ears and mind. He knew the prophets as well, and longed for the day that the promised Messiah would come to establish God’s kingdom and bring the great shalom that this world so desperately needed.

Now in his late 20s, Jacob was a father himself. Sadly, his wife had died giving birth to their first daughter Mariah, but Jacob had promised her that he would pour the scriptures into the heart of their daughter in the same way that it had been poured into him. As Jacob has learnt from Deuteronomy, Yahweh wanted him to do just that… Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-19)

And so that is what Jacob did. Every day, he sang to Mariah the psalms he knew, told her the stories of God’s great acts of salvation and reminded her of the promise that God’s Messiah would one day be sent and that they should be ready. “Yahweh has made a promise, little Mariah,” he would say to her. “And when our Lord makes a promise, he never breaks it. You will see. The Messiah will come and make all things right again and like our father David, we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

—————————–

Now, Jacob lived with his daughter in a fairly isolated village and although he had relatives in Jerusalem, he rarely visited them. Consequently, he knew little of the great events that had taken place there only a few weeks earlier. Over the last couple of years, he had heard rumours about the Nazarene man, Jesus, and his claims to be the Messiah, but he had never seen him and so didn’t give him too much thought. There had been people claiming to be the Messiah before Jesus and there were sure to be ones after as well. Also, the latest rumours were that this Jesus had now been arrested and killed by the authorities for being a trouble-maker and so any hopes that God’s promises were now being fulfilled were put to rest in Jacob’s mind.

As Mariah had been sick, Jacob had not been able to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover meal with his relatives there. Fortunately now she was better and so he decided to make the belated journey for the feast of Shavuot.

Jerusalem Via Dolorosa1 Crucify ChristAs he travelled through Jerusalem, with Mariah strapped to his back, he marvelled at the crowds of people from all walks of life. The sounds of different languages buying, selling and trading, the interesting colours of clothing and the smells of food and animals were an exciting feast for the senses.

He had not gotten too far, when suddenly out of nowhere, the sound of a great wind came racing through the streets. It started off as a whispering breeze, but eventually thundered as a gale that raced past the crowds of people and disappeared around a building. Everyone ducked to the ground and Jacob reached for his daughter to shield her from the roar of the tempest. After it had gone, everyone stood up slowly, stunned and confused as to what had just happened. People began talking amongst themselves and it didn’t take long for people to follow where the wind had gone. The trickle of curious people became a river as the crowd moved down the dusty road, everyone chatting away in their own tongue about what it could mean. Was there a dust storm on its way? Why did the wind travel in such a curious manner? Where was it going? And is it crazy to even think that wind could be “going” anywhere?

Jacob checked that his daughter Mariah was ok before joining the swarm of people as it moved down the street, following the path of the wind. As they turned the corner, Jacob could hear people shouting praises to Yahweh and speaking of the Nazarene Jesus. This confused Jacob as he thought all interest in Jesus was as dead and buried as Jesus was himself, but what was even more confusing was the discussion that began to spread through the crowd. Somehow, it seemed, everyone could understand what these men were saying as if they were speaking in their own language! Amazed and bewildered, the crowd started to realise that something supernatural was happening. A stranger, standing next to Jacob looked at him and said, “What does this mean?” “I don’t know.” Jacob replied, “But the Spirit of Yahweh is at work here!”
As he said this, a couple of sceptical men stood up on a cart and began making fun of the men who were praising God. “Ahh, stop your crazy yelling!” they hollered mockingly, and then turning to the crowd they said, “Let’s get out of here. These men are clearly just drunk.”

Then one of the men who had been praising God motioned for his friends to stop. He climbed up on a ledge so that he could address the crowd. “Fellow Jews” he began, “and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you… listen carefully to what I say.”

His voice boomed with a sense of earnestness and strength, and Jacob hushed those who stood near him so that he could hear what the man was about to say…

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“These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of Yahweh. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him: ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!”

—————————–

This last word, “Messiah”, rang out and echoed across the crowd as everyone stood in stunned silence. For Jacob, this word cut straight through to his heart and rested there like a seed falling on good soil. God opened Jacob’s heart so that he could receive this word and all at once Jacob knew it was true.

“Mariah! Mariah!” he cried, taking his daughter out of her sling and holding her up to his beaming face, “Jesus is the Messiah! Jesus is the Messiah!” Jacob’s heart filled with joy as he realised that all the promises, all the stories, all the songs and prophesies had finally come to pass! The Messiah that he had longed for and spoke to his daughter about every day, had finally come and his name was… Jesus.

People in the crowd were responding in a variety of ways. Some scoffed and walked away, some were debating passionately amongst themselves, and others were pushing forward, wanting to speak to the man who had made the speech. Jacob was one of this last group and he moved through the crowd, his daughter in his arms and his mind racing. So Jesus was the Messiah. Now what? What should we do now? God’s Spirit was poured out on these people. What does that mean? How do I receive this? And how could I? These and many more questions raced through his mind, but instead of doubt or fear holding him back, the joyful opportunity to embrace the Messiah compelled him forward.

When he finally reach the front of the crowd he stepped forward and knelt before the men, holding Mariah close to his heart that was racing in his chest. “Brothers,” he asked them earnestly, “What shall we do?”

peter speechThe man who had spoken earlier, who people nearby were calling Cephas, looked at Jacob and smiled. He then looked around to all those who were standing there wondering the same thing and invited them with joy, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit! The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom Yahweh our God will call.”

For all whom Yahweh our God will call. Jacob looked down at his daughter Mariah and whispered to her, “Mariah, that is us. Yahweh is calling us to follow the Messiah Jesus.” Mariah, looked up at her dad, squinting in the sunlight and looking around at all the sights and sounds that she wasn’t used to in their small village. Jacob knew Mariah had no idea of the significance of this day, but he also knew they were forever changed. They had always been a family who worshipped Yahweh, but now Yahweh had sent his Messiah and nothing would ever be the same.

For a few moments Jacob was lost in thought, staring into his daughter’s face and wishing his wife could have been there with them this day. When he looked up, the man Cephas had climbed back up onto the ledge, trying to appeal to those in the crowd that were still unconvinced or had began to walk away. He pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation!” Some stayed to hear more, some left shaking their head, but a large portion of the crowd, like Jacob, had heard Yahweh’s call and wanted to respond.

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They journeyed to the edge of the city where a spring of water formed large pools. The men who had led them there waded into the water and began to baptise those who had accepted Cephas’ message about Jesus. Jacob stood at the edge of one of the pools, as person after person stepped forward to accept Jesus as the Messiah. They each went in differently. Some joyfully, some solemnly. Some with a weary heart and some singing psalms of salvation.

baptism manJacob watched them wade in and watched them wade out and he thought about what this beautiful ritual meant. The water of these springs was not magical, but they were powerfully symbolic and it evoked for Jacob the many images of water throughout the Scriptures – The waters of creation, the great flood, the parting of the Red Sea, the waters used in ritual cleansing. It reminded him of God’s promises spoken by the prophet Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ezekiel 36:25-28). In this simple ritual, all of these promises and images were being embraced as being fulfilled, just as much as Jesus was being embraced as the Messiah.

As Jacob watched the crowd filing in to be baptised, waiting for his turn, he also noticed an interesting thing. Some waded into the pools with their young children in their arms. There were even some whole families with infants who came forward to be baptised. But Jacob noticed that others didn’t take their children. Jacob saw one man who had just come out of the pool after his baptism, go to his wife, take their baby from her arms and then she went in to be baptised.

This perplexed Jacob and made him wonder, when it came to his turn, what he should do. Should both he and his daughter be baptised together, signifying that Jesus was their Messiah and they would follow and love him as they had followed and loved Yahweh? Responding to Jesus as the Messiah seemed to him the most natural thing for a Jew. If only he was baptised, would that mean that his daughter and he were separated in a way that they had never been? Would it mean she was no longer a Jew? Or that he wasn’t?

But on the other hand, should he only be baptised, to signify that he had received the forgiveness and cleansing that the Messiah offered. He could tell God had moved his heart to respond and although he knew the call went out to his daughter as well, it was he who was consciously responding to it. If little Mariah was baptised, what would it mean? Would it be meaningless? Would it be a lie? Would it be offensive to Yahweh? Or would it be the right response for a Jewish family embracing the Messiah? In fact, would it be offensive to Yahweh if he did not baptise her?

His head was filled with questions and confusion. In his arms, Mariah began to cry. As Jacob calmed his daughter he thought to himself, “This is ridiculous! Today is a day of good news! Where has my joy gone? A moment ago I was in awe that Yahweh had fulfilled his promises and shown my family such kindness, and now, I am stressed about causing him offence?” Then he prayed this prayer, “O Lord, please forgive my lack of faith in your compassion. Some people are taking their children with them to be baptised and some people are not. I am not sure of your will. Help me make the right choice with joy in this great day.”

When Jacob opened his eyes, it was his turn to step into the pool.

And so, Jacob stepped forward his daughter in his arms…

baby lake

I looked at Jacob as he waded through the water, towards the apostle James who stood in the middle of the deep pool. James was smiling and speaking to all those who came forward briefly before baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had commanded. I was very curious to see what Jacob would do when he reached the front of the line, but suddenly, my view was blocked. At first I was frustrated, but I couldn’t stay that way. Stepping in front of me was a group of newly baptised converts, dripping wet and singing praises to the Messiah with laughter and tears and dancing and joy. “God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah!” they cried, echoing the words Cephas had spoken to the crowd earlier. I looked around at the crowd that was full of others doing the same – praising God and declaring the gospel. All those who had accepted this message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

—————————–

This story was inspired by the record of the events on the Day of Pentecost,
which you can read for yourself in Acts 2.

 

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December 10

The New Camilleri

FullSizeRender

10th October 2014
The test was positive!

We got a blood test done later that day to confirm the test. We fortunately got the results for the blood test the very next day, on the morning of Saturday 11th October. As a wonderful turn of events, this was also the morning of the March for the Babies that Cat & I attended to make a stand for all the unborn children aborted in Victoria.

As you can imagine, this day was especially significant for us!

cat Simon march

 

20th October 2014
This is the 6 week ultrasound showing our little baby’s heartbeat.

At this stage it is only 5mm big

CAMILLERICATHERINE20141020100006409

20th October 2014
The very next day, we told Simon’s mum & dad (Vic & Bernadette) the news.
But of course, we couldn’t tell them like normal people!
Simon used a magic trick to give them a cryptic clue…

23rd October 2014
We hosted a belated combined birthday celebration dinner for Cat and Clive (Cat’s dad).
Clive likes nice wines and so we bought him a bottle of Grandfather port, as a way of breaking the news.
This celebration was especially wonderful, because both of Cat’s nans were able to be present.

(Now, skip ahead a bit over a month)


5th December 2014
On this day we got our 13 week scan.
It was very exciting, because it marked the end of the first trimester.

We were so grateful to God that everything is looking healthy and on track.
At this stage our baby is nearly 8cm big.

baby 13 weeks

It is crazy and very sad that at this stage they encourage you to do a test to see if your baby has down syndrome. In fact, the “12 week scan” that gets done at this stage is purely to check for signs of this, so that you can abort the child if the test comes out positive.

We have been adamant that we would not consider killing our child even if they were found to have down syndrome and so we did not get the blood tests done to check for it. We did however get the scan because we were keen to see our new family member and we are happy to have the scan picture above.

It is amazing how much has developed in such a short time and our baby has a fully formed body and organs, arms, legs, fingers, toes and detailed facial features. At this stage our baby is also sucking its thumb and moving around as its bones grow and get stronger.

It is devastatingly sad that 1 in 4 abortions happen when the baby is around this age, encouraged by the myth that the child is not human, valuable, or even “alive” at this stage. It boggles the mind and breaks the heart to think about the millions of children, as developed as our baby at this stage, who have been killed due to this lie.

Anyway! On a lighter note, here is something you might be interested in. Here are…

THE TOP 5 FAQ’s
that we get asked as we tell people we are pregnant!

1. “When is the baby due?”

The baby is due at this stage on the 11th June, 2015 (subject to change without notice).

2. “How’s Cat feeling?”

Cat has actually been feeling pretty good with only a few of the dreaded pregnancy symptoms.
She’s had a little nausea and heartburn, but nothing too bad.
Mainly she’s just been exhausted and pretty drained, emotionally and physically.

But we’re only starting the second trimester, so who knows what fun symptoms await us!

3. “Where are you having the baby?”

We were thinking of going public, even though we had private health insurance,
but sadly we weren’t zoned for the Mercy Hospital, so (for a few reasons) we then decided to go private.
We’re having the baby at North Park Private, which is only 10 minutes south from our house in Mill Park.

4. “Will you find out the gender?”

Yes, we plan to, though we will have to wait til our 20 week scan in late January.
Some people like to find out the gender when the child is born, which is fine,

but we think it will be more personal to call our child he or she (rather than “it”).
We do not consider that we are “having” a baby. We have a baby. 
We have considered it a person and a member of our family right from the beginning.
We think relating to and referring to our little girl or boy will help express this reality for us.

Having said that, we are conscious of how children are boxed or narrowly defined by their gender
and we want to be conscious about not contributing to that. We believe gender is real and God-given,
but we do not think it is the most important aspect to a person’s identity.
Our child will first and foremost be a precious human being made in the image of God.
All other aspects, like the fact that they are our biological child and their gender,
will be secondary to that primary foundational aspect.

5. “Have you chosen names?”

Yes, believe it or not, we had agreed on a boy’s and girl’s name before we were even pregnant!

The question then arises, if we are finding out the gender,
will we name our child before it is born?

The answer to that is no. We will wait til after the child is born, before we give it its name.
If you’d like to know the names we have in mind for our child,
then you’ll sadly have to wait til they’re born as well. We’ll keep it a secret til then!


Please keep praying for us both and the health of our little new Camilleri,
and keep an eye on this blog page if you want to see more of our scans as our baby grows!

 



20 WEEK SCAN UPDATE!

22nd January 2015

We got the 20 week scan and everything is on track and both baby and mum are very healthy.

20 weeks baby scan

They even did a 3D scan which didn’t come out great (in fact our baby looks positively depressed),
but it’s still pretty cool.


3D 20 WEEK SCAN

We can also now happily announce the we are having a girl!

This is wonderful and allows us to talk about our daughter and call her “she” rather than “it”.

Below is an edited version of the amazing 20 week scan (the full thing went for around 40 minutes).

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September 9

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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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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August 26

The Blind Men & The Truth of The Elephant

 

Seven blind men were on a quest to discover the truth of the elephant.

One day, the first blind man bumped into something. “I’ve found the elephant!” he yelled with excitement.

The group cheered and asked, “What is it like??”

The first blind man felt around and replied, “Hmm. It’s long and thick like a big snake!”

The second blind man reached out his hand and felt the elephant that was infront of him. “No” he said, “It’s sharp and pointy, like a spear!”

The third blind man bent down and grabbed the elephant. “You’re both wrong! An elephant is wide and round, like a pillar!”

The fourth blind man described what he was touching and said, “Well you’re close, but an elephant is actually wide and flat, like a huge fan.”

The fifth blind man said, “You guys are fools! An elephant is clearly large, rough and flat, like a brick wall.”

The sixth blind man said, “Heresy! I know for a fact that an elephant is long and thin, like a piece of rope. You should all be burned at the stake!”

The six blind men continued their heated arguing, each one convinced that what they were touching told them the truth of the elephant.

The seventh blind man simply shook his head. “Silly men!” he said with a sigh. “Don’t you realise that you are but holding one part of the elephant and that in truth, all of you are right!”

The six blind men stopped their arguing and asked, “What do you mean?”

The seventh blind man continued, “Well, you…” addressing the first blind man, “…are simply touching the elephant’s long trunk which feels like a big snake.”

He then addressed the other men, “You are touching its tusks which feel like a spear. You are touching its leg which feels like a pillar. You are touching its ear which feels like a huge fan. You are touching its side which feels like a brick wall. And you, my fiery friend, are holding its tail which feels like a piece of rope. You can not see or feel the whole elephant. You can only experience the part you feel. You must not judge or condemn others for knowing the elephant to be different from you. You are all right! Each one of you should share your knowledge of the elephant with each other and together you will come to true enlightenment. Only when all of your truths are combined will you fully discover the truth of the elephant.”

“You are clearly a man of deep thoughtfulness…”

“Why thank you!” the seventh blind man replied. He then paused, confused. The voice he had just heard did not sound like any of the other blind men. “Sorry, who said that?” he asked.

“I did.” the voice replied. “I understand you didn’t notice that I’ve been standing here the whole time. I can see you are all blind.”

“Yes, we are. So.. you have the gift of sight then?” the seventh blind man asked curiously.

“I do” the voice replied. “Would you like me to share what I see?”

“Oh, yes!” the seventh blind man said with a smile. “You see, we are on a quest to discover the truth of the elephant, and we have finally found one! Please, tell me what you see!”

“Are you sure you want to know? By what you said to the others before, you seem to already possess great wisdom about the elephant.”

“But that’s exactly the point of what I was saying!” the seventh blind man said encouragingly. “All of our perspectives are valid and important. Please share the truth of what you see and then your truth can be added to our truths.”

“Fair enough.” the voice replied. “Although I’m not sure you’re going to like it. What I see is quite different to what you may think is before you. The first blind man bumped into one of the other men and grabbed on to his companion’s arm. His blind friend seemed used to this and so wasn’t aware that when he spoke of the elephant feeling long and thick, like a snake, he was actually talking of his arm.”

“His arm??” the seventh blind man exclaimed, “So the elephant isn’t there at all?”

“Oh the elephant is there. He was not far off in fact. But, being blind, he didn’t know where to reach and he just grabbed for whatever he could find. An arm is as good as an elephant to someone who can’t see any different. The next three blind men made a similar mistake. One man is touching the pointy end of a tree branch and it feels to him like a spear. Another man is reaching up and touching the tree’s broad, flat leaves which feel like a fan. And the third man is kneeling in front of the tree and hugging its wide pillar-like trunk. You were right that the elephant’s leg is very similar in shape. You were also right that these three men should stop their fighting and realise they are simply holding different parts of the same object. You just couldn’t see that their squabble is over the truth of the tree. Sadly, none of them are actually holding the elephant.”

The seventh blind man was stunned and confused. “And what of the others?” he asked.

“Well…” the voice continued, “There is another man who is, believe it or not, literally touching a brick wall. It feels exactly like a brick wall, but he so desperately wants it to be an elephant his imagination compliments his desires. He can not accept the truth that is right in front of him. I do so wish he could see. He might be disappointed at first, but walls are rather lovely to look at up close and eventually he could continue on his quest to find the elephant that is actually standing so close to him. As it is I fear, he may well be standing in front of a brick wall for years, thinking his quest is over.”

“How sad,” reflected the seventh blind man. “But what of the man holding the tail that felt like a rope? He was so confident! So quick to condemn the others! What is he really holding? A tail? A rope? A vine from a tree?”

“Nothing.” said the voice. “This blind man is holding absolutely nothing in his hands. He simply heard the other men claiming knowledge and felt like a fool when he reached out and couldn’t feel a thing. See, he wasn’t standing near the tree or the wall or the elephant. He was facing in completely the wrong direction. But his pride and his fear could not leave him empty handed, and so he claimed to hold the truth of the elephant, knowing no one else could prove otherwise.”

“Other than you, of course.”

“Other than me.” said the voice, sadly. “I see all too clearly his pride and his lies and his fear, and yet he will live his life and never see me.”

The seventh blind man and the voice went silent for a long while. Eventually, the man swallowed hard and asked, “Sir, please… Can you tell me who you are?”

“Haven’t you guessed already?” the voice replied with a smile. “I am the elephant.”

“The elephant??” the seventh blind man said, now more confused than ever. “But elephants can’t talk!”

“How do you know? You are on a quest to discover the truth of the elephant. How do you even know that an elephant has a trunk like a snake or ears like a fan or a tail like a rope? You cannot see. You are blind to the truth of the elephant and you are also blind to the truth of yourself. You claim wisdom and insight that all truths are right and everyone is just holding different parts of the elephant, but you do not know. You are as blind as everyone else. But maybe… you don’t have to be.”

“What do you mean?” the seventh blind man said, a little worried.

“Well, I am a talking elephant. I quite possibly possess other magical qualities that you are unaware of.”

“You mean…” the blind man stammered. “Can you heal my eyes?”

“Do you want me to?” the elephant asked curiously. “Do you realise what that would mean? If I gave you your sight, you would see things as they really are. You would see where I am and what I look like. You would know the truth and the truth would set you free. But there is a downside.”

“How could there be a downside to knowing the truth?” the blind man asked.

“Well, when you see the truth, you also see the lies. You would see your companions and be able to point them away from their false “elephants”, but they will still be blind. They will not believe you.”

“Of course they won’t, but they’ll believe you!”

“They will call you arrogant and narrow-minded for claiming to know the truth.They will rather you continued to teach what you taught before. That each of their truths are true. That message is one of peace and tolerance. The real truth divides and causes conflict. Why don’t you simply stay blind and continue n the path you were on when I found you?”

“But how could I? Oh, please let me see you! My quest was for the truth of the elephant… no matter what that turned out to be.”

And with that, something like scales fell from the man’s eyes and the brilliance of light pierced his vision. As his sight slowly came into focus, there before him was the scene of his six blind friends, exactly as the elephant had described them. And next to the tree, there was the elephant. Grand and magical and bright green. With a huge trunk and two glorious wings and smiling eyes that twinkled in the sunlight.

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