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Never-ending Easter

Submitted to our local paper, the Border Watch.

The Easter weekend is now over. Seeing how many people were out and about on the day before Good Friday it seemed that lots of people were having a longer weekend than the four days from Friday to Monday. The wrench of returning to work was hopefully softened by a four-day working week until the next weekend.
Christians started preparing for Easter back on February 9, Shrove Tuesday. The supermarkets started preparing for it during the first week of January when the Hot Crossed Buns went on sale.
During the Easter week some churches held services on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For many Christians it’s the busiest time of the year.
More than a few folk will ask if we’ll be glad when the weekend is over.
It’s a funny question, really.
For while it is a good feeling when the Easter weekend is ended, for the Christian Easter never ends.
Every Sunday is just as much centered on the resurrection of Jesus as Easter Sunday. Every Sunday engages with the event of Jesus’ crucifixion as pivotal in the relationship between God and his people.
More than that, these events are central to every single day of a Christian’s life.
Many of us are familiar with family heirlooms, crockery and cutlery sets that are only used on special occasions like Christmas, birthdays or anniversaries. On ordinary days other ‘everyday’ plates and eating utensils are used. I suspect some of us even have special crockery sets that have never been eaten off because no occasion is ever special enough to merit their use.
Perhaps that’s how some people think about Easter: that on Easter Sunday and Good Friday the resurrection and the cross are central, but on the other weeks of the year focus can fall on other themes.
The reality for Christians is that the truths of Easter are for everyday. They’re not just special occasions.
Our everyday living is anchored in the life of the resurrected Jesus.
Our everyday motivation in love and service for others flows from an experience of the victory and transformation of the resurrected Jesus.
Our everyday hope is grounded in the reality of a life that lasts forever, stretching beyond the darkened times so many of us experience now into everlasting light because of the resurrected Jesus.
Easter is not just one aspect of Christian experience; Easter is not a part of our calendar; Easter is the power that instructs, enables, and fuels our lives as followers of Jesus.
Easter is past for 2016, but Easter never ends.


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The Story That Never Changes, But Always Shows Us Something New

An Easter reflection for our local paper, The Border Watch.

There are times when you revisit something from the past that reminds you of the changing nature of your own life.
Go back to the place where you first went to school; it’s likely you’ll think it’s so much smaller than you remember it. School hasn’t shrunk, but you’re a lot bigger than you were in first grade.
Along the same line, that teacher who seemed so old when you were in school was probably in their early to mid twenties. It’s always disconcerting to realise that you’ve had more birthdays than those people that you used to think were so old when you were a child.
Year after year I revisit the familiar narrative that is the Easter story. Four perspectives unify into multifaceted account of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The story remains the same, but each year different details seem to come to catch my attention. The details aren’t new; they’ve always been there. But they remind me that I’m changing as I pass through life’s seasons.
This year the part of the Easter story that grabs my attention is Jesus’ prayer ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’.
It seems our culture is more committed to justice and accountability, but less able to forgive. Judgment is quick, but the pathway to restored relationship seems absent. There is a readiness to condemn character with a harshness that does not suggest a pathway forward.
Difference becomes division.
Though he spoke about forgiveness, Jesus does not say ‘Father, I forgive them’. His anguished prayer is motivated by personal forgiveness, but asks for something more. In asking for God to forgive those who had put him to death Jesus acknowledges that our individual failings are part of a bigger picture.
The problem is in each of us.
In a culture that cultivates and demands a sense of outrage, we would do well to understand that outrage is a sign that something needs to be done, but it’s no solution in itself. The solution is bound up in recognising the same human weakness in ourselves that is shown in the failings of others. It should draw us together as human, not drive us apart. Jesus understands that weakness all too well.
His prayer also indicated Jesus’ belief, even as he was dying, that rejection of him was also rejection of God. He alone had no failings of his own to confess, so he confessed the failings of the rest of us on our behalf. The Easter message of new life is essentially the new beginning that is experienced when God forgives those who acknowledge their own failings in sorrow to him.
If you have the opportunity to hear the Easter story again this weekend, please take the time. Even if you think you know it all, you’ve changed and grown since the last time you heard it. Let it speak to you anew and reveal fresh understanding of yourself, others, and God.


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Slow To Judgment

This is written for our local paper, The Border Watch.
Lately space concerns have seen these articles crowded out of the Friday edition, but they should appear some time or another.
Guess there are too many prize pumpkins, lost dogs, or the like to write about at the moment.

So, I’ve been watching My Kitchen Rules again this year. Unlike other television cooking competitions, MKR doesn’t seem to be content with encouraging its audience to imagine they may be better cooks than the competitors, but rather it invites us to assert that we’re better human beings.
Admittedly the producers of the program propel the whole process along with editing that makes it impossible to miss who are the villains of the piece. The only way they could make it more obvious would be to make them wear black capes and long moustaches that they could twirl.
Other programs of this type establish their contestant’s ‘narratives’, their life stories in order for us to identify with them. Everyone can find a contestant they identify with. What does it say about us when a program invites us to watch on the basis of wanting to see a detested archetype get their comeuppance? I’m sure lots of viewers are getting flashbacks to their days at high school.
We might be inclined to think that surely personalities so negative and so flawed would never exist in the real world. But then we change the channel to the United States presidential primary elections, take fright, and scurry back to MKR where the worst outcome seems to a meal of raw meatballs. If only real life was so benign.
But why would we rush to judgment on people that we don’t really know? As if the worst of people’s behaviour is the sum expression of all we ever were, are, or could be. Not knowing the history, the circumstances, or even the physical or psychological situations of others, but proceeding to make unilateral moral judgments about character is presumptuous and destructive.
It also tempts us into blindness about our own failings.
Jesus told a story about a man who had two sons. You may have heard it. One of the sons estranged himself from the family and went off and wasted all his money on wild living.
In time he came to the point of view that he was a sad, bad, and futureless figure. All that was left was to seek a menial position on the family property. After he arrived home he found his brother agreed with this self-evaluation. The brother thought he was a waste of time as well.
The only one who disagreed was their father. Having seen the estranged son in the distance he raced out to greet him and welcome him back into the fold. Rather than engaging in character assessment, all the father wanted to think about was that someone who was lost had been found. The father invited both of his sons to experience this joy.
The apostle Paul explains that those who are disciples of Jesus are no longer regarded on the basis of their failings, but on the basis of the acceptance that God has for his son.
Jesus invites us all to experience a relationship with God where condemnation no longer defines our thoughts about ourselves or others.


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Thinking Time

Another article for our local paper.

I spent most of Wednesday positioning myself near windows so I could see the rain falling. And, as boring as it is supposed to sound, hopefully I’ll be able to watch grass growing over the next couple of weeks.
Once upon a time rainy days were times to be dreaded, hours of lost opportunity. Now the sound of water running down the roof brings a feeling of reassurance about the continuity of life.
The thought of being eager to see grass, or any other plants for that matter, growing was far from my mind. It seemed to invoke the though of more time lost pushing the mower through a thick rich matt of ankle high kikuyu that had only been cut a week ago.
Now the thought of walking on grass and not hearing it crackle underfoot is an enticing prospect.
Time and circumstances can change perspectives.
Sometimes it takes a long dry summer to change your mind about a rainy day and lush grass.
But why should time and circumstances change our perspectives?
When you think about it, a half-year of parched surroundings only helps me to appreciate what I should have appreciated all along. It really brings me no credit to realise what I really should have known the whole time.
It would be better to develop the same appreciation without being forced to. It would be better if the appreciation grew from within instead of being mandated from outside.
In the thirteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel there is a troubling account involving some people who asked Jesus about his opinion of some people who had been subject to an atrocity. It seemed that the questioners were motivated to reflect on the tragedy in terms of what it might mean for themselves.
Sometimes we might do the same. We hear that something bad has happened to someone and we think about why that might have happened to them; we also think about what we might change about ourselves in order to avoid a similar occurrence.
There’s nothing really wrong with this in itself. It is good to learn positive lessons from other’s negative experiences.
It’s only problematic when this is the only way we learn about ourselves.
Surely our life and destiny are more important than to only think about it at times of bad news and funerals?
Jesus answers his questioners in a way that confounds their desires to exercise control in the situation, and, in effect, turns the question around on them.
The questioners wanted to know why the others had died, and what they could learn from that.
Jesus asks the questioners why are they still alive, and what could they learn from that.
It’s a harder question. The answer is not so obvious. It takes time to work out.
The weeks leading up to Easter serve many Christians as an intentional time to ponder issues such as what our continued years of life really mean, in this life and beyond.
These weeks of introspection culminate in Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, events in which God answers the question ‘What is my only hope in life and in death?’ by the death and resurrection of Jesus.


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A Question Of Motivation

Prepared for our local paper, The Border Watch.

Peak-hour traffic is relative.
In Mount Gambier it’s the seven or eight cars in front of me waiting at the Jubilee Highway – Wehl Street roundabout. In Brisbane it’s nose to tail traffic for kilometres for three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening.
And yet the experience of Brisbane peak hour doesn’t alleviate the frustration I feel when waiting for the cars in front of me on Wehl Street to get through the roundabout in Mount Gambier. I still think they’re too slow and miss gaps in the highway traffic.
Knowing that someone somewhere else is doing worse than you doesn’t always help you in your current experience. Perhaps you were told to eat the dinner you didn’t like for the sake of starving children in Africa. Despite a childish inability to truly empathise with that tragic reality, the prompt to think of others worse off never made dinner taste any better.
The tendency to find comfort or motivation for our own situation by thinking of worse situations is a temptation that seldom offers satisfying fruit.
It doesn’t develop our own sense of empathy for others, and depends on negative emotions such as guilt to compel us to our action. This won’t deepen relationships with those around us, nor will it grow our own senses of responsibility and self-discipline.
Instead we need to ask ourselves what our impatience points out about ourselves. What sense of privilege encourages us to believe we should be free of frustrations that are common to all? Why would we want to exert power and influence over others on the basis of negative emotions instead of investing the time to motivate them through trust and conviction?
The answers to these questions might cause us some discomfort, but they point the way to areas where we need to grow. Our own growth will then equip us to better serve others as we focus on their needs rather than seeking to influence their behaviour in order to make us feel better.
Those who are specially focussing on following Jesus during the weeks leading up to Easter can reflect on this principle as well.
It wouldn’t be helpful to think of activities being done, or other activities refrained from, in terms of wanting to make Jesus happy or being in fear of disappointing him.
It’s true that Jesus told his disciples that their love for him would be demonstrated in keeping his commandments; he also bid them to take up their crosses and follow him. But in doing so Jesus was not implying that a life following him was lived in fear of his frown; or that those who follow him should be mindful that whatever they’re going through Jesus went through worse.
Jesus doesn’t need validation from his disciples’ obedience or reassurance that their actions seem to hold him in high enough regard.
Christian faith holds that Jesus has done everything needed to bring forgiveness and freedom to his disciples. He bids those who follow him to do so for their sake, not his.


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Remembering The One Who Gave Up Everything

Prepared for our local newspaper, the Border Watch.

Even though the date changes from year to year, the name ‘Ash Wednesday’ gives rise to powerful memories that abide more that thirty years after the fires raged through the affected areas of South Australia and Victoria. Having moved to this region over a decade ago it is impossible to miss the way the events of that tragic time cast a shadow over lives and events today, especially at this time of year.
Over the next week as the actual anniversary date passes many people will pause and take time to reflect on how their lives changed because of that day. There will be expressions of grief for loss, expressions of thanks for support received and for new lives forged after extraordinary ordeals, and a continuing determination to be vigilant against such danger in the future.
Those of us who were not there stand alongside them, and learn from their reactions to that ordeal.
It is fitting that this bittersweet anniversary often falls during a time of year when many Christians engage in a prolonged season of spiritual reflection.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a period of time that culminates in Easter. Over that time Christians remember what Jesus experienced on their behalf, think about what he has done for them, and recommit themselves as his disciples.
The Bible teaches that Jesus underwent a particular time of trial in a wilderness. He was sustained during that trial by faith in the Scriptures, faith in God, and faith in the promises made by God. His resistance of temptation is understood to be central to his capacity of being the Saviour of God’s people.
In remembering Jesus in this way the primary focus is not on emulation, but commemoration and celebration.
Remembering what others have been through develops empathy into their situations and insight into our reactions in our own circumstances. It doesn’t mean we’ve gone through what others have gone through, or share the credit what they’ve done.
In a similar way, the various activities leading up to Easter don’t mean we share responsibility for Jesus’ work.
Rather we are encouraged to recall that Jesus has done what only Jesus could do. We draw instruction from his focus, inspiration from his tenacity, and reassurance from his success. Again and again we learn that he successfully walked where we could not; and because he has the consequences of our own inabilities are overcome.
We remember the past well if we are determined to be informed by that which we’ve experienced rather than have our past experiences define us.
For those grieving past losses, even those from decades ago, be encouraged to look for future renewal. May those who will stand with you in support and empathy surround you.
For those seeking to remember the faithfulness of Jesus during these weeks, remember not to find your confidence in your own acts of devotion, but rather in the finished work of our Lord emphatically declared on your behalf in the resurrection.


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The Sense Of Home

Prepared for our local paper, The Border Watch.

Sometimes the grass really is greener. Spending a week away in Sydney the grass is so lush and green everywhere. The trees throughout the suburbs are so large and foliage so dense. Watered by the abundant summer rain and encouraged by sunshine and humidity the plant life strives to fight back against the never ceasing encroachment of human dwellings and other places of activity.
The experience makes me look forward to home, and to a time when the grass under our feet will be thick and green, not brown and crunchy.
It also reminds me of the place where I grew up; the humidity, the brightness of the sun. But the differences in architecture and the multicultural array of faces on the streets brings me back to the here and now.
Thinking of home takes more than one form.
Home is a sense of place. The international flight touches down in the land of your birth and the attendant says ‘Welcome home.’ The town, suburb, or house where you spent the memorable years of growing up always evoke a sense of home, not matter how long you may spend away from them. Even decades later you can return to walk those streets and feel a strange sense of familiarity, though so much has changed.
Home is the people we love. With this sense of home it doesn’t matter where we are, as long as those who are family to us are there. If you’ve moved around you may have experienced this. After the international flight has landed, after you’ve been told you’re home, you walk through the exit door at customs and see the expectant waiting familiar faces of your loved ones. And then you feel at home.
There is a sense of home that is primarily a form of nostalgia. It expressed in fond memories of a time of life that is past. When our senses experience something that evokes those memories we feel a flood of security that we may not have even realised was absent in our lives.
There is a sense of home that is primarily expressed in expectation. The love we give and receive in family life both strengthens and nourishes us. We invest our love in others and become part of their sense of home. We receive the love of others and they become part of the fabric of our identity. Our present experiences bid us look forward with hope.
Home is where nostalgia and expectation intersect.
This is why our hearts are broken for the refugee.
That which is behind has to be escaped, without thought of return. That which is ahead is uncertain in terms of relationship; those to love and be loved by. All that can be hoped for is a future when place and the bonds of love will again be part of life.
Christians are called to identify with this experience.
In different ways throughout the Bible God bids his people seek their lasting security in him through Jesus. In doing so he calls on us to support those who have no earthly home. In affording the refugee a sense of place and partnership he grows our own understanding and expectation of a home that will last forever.