Looking for a Leader

Dialogue: it’s one of the most significant vehicles for sharing life with another person. Humans love to engage in conversation, from the weather and sport, through to personal successes & disappointments. It’s fundamentally how we understand our humanity, a piece of each heart and mind invested in the process of creating the exchange.

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The recent Federal election campaign & ensuing anti-climax of the vote result has caused the nature of our collective communication to turn from proactive, life-building dialogue to the more elementary arming and lobbing of thought-bombs across the sociopolitical divide; the chasm growing larger with each trip to the ballot box, again possibly resulting with the uncertainty of a hung parliament. As we anticipate the eventual composition of the group of Australians who will govern us, the general tone of the broader conversation underlines the expanse of our diversity…

“The Greens are godless, childish morons who can’t fund or sustain their ideas.”

“The Libs are only in it for themselves, on the payroll of the big banks.”

“Labor is held to ransom by the Union movement & only know how to spend.”

Such is the typical nature of commentary surrounding an election campaign as battle lines are drawn; nothing new here. However, there has been a new arrival in the land of rhetoric – an infant of thought to be sure, but rapidly growing in stature.

 “There’s no place in Australia for ideas such as the ones that XXXXX are putting out there.”

This may sound noble to some, but many Australians share those ideas and are part of the national conversation. If there is no place for an idea held by hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of Australians, what are we to do with such an idea? With such people? Silence them? Exclude them? Make them feel inferior in the shadow of our superior, self-righteous level of thought?

Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.

~ Albert Einstein

If conversation is the vehicle for understanding, and if dialogue requires more than one voice, how are we to expand our understanding – and ultimately our collective peace – through silencing, exclusion, or self-righteousness? Clearly this is a deeply flawed approach. We understand someone only when we allow them to speak, listening to their unique perspective with an open heart & mind, extending them the dignity we afford our own thoughts. After all, the best way to overcome a bad idea is to present a better idea with conviction, empathy, and a clarity of argument to withstand the most vigorous rebuttal.

It is true that some ideas, whilst sounding good to some, are such that would reduce us as a whole – usually ideas that are birthed out of fear. Fear of evil. Fear of others. Fear of the future. Fear of death. Fear of loss. Fear of failure. Oh for leaders who would start building our faith instead of pandering to our fears: faith for the future… faith in each other. We all have fears, so in the absence of external faith-driven leadership, we must lead ourselves in restraining our fears lest they ultimately rule us.

So, what are we to do with our (often-legitimate) fears? Sure, legislation can help to address real issues: societal order, protection, equality, welfare of citizens. But no government can address the fear that grips our hearts & drives our thoughts. There is only one antidote for fear: love.

All human actions are motivated at their deepest level by one of two emotions – fear or love. In truth there are only two emotions – only two words in the language of the soul…

Fear wraps our bodies in clothing, love allows us to stand naked. Fear clings to and clutches all that we have, love gives all that we have away. Fear holds close, love holds dear. Fear grasps, love lets go. Fear rankles, love soothes. Fear attacks, love amends.

~ Neale Donald Walsch

Rather than looking to our civic leaders alone for social leadership, we must realise that we play a greater role in both contributing to and solving our collective problems than we care to admit. Instead of waiting for politicians to take the lead, let’s start building a tone of conversation that includes everyone – whether we approve of their ideas or not – and that seeks the greater good of all. “Lead upwards”, as it were.

We have the amazing privilege of living in a country in which ideas can be fiercely exchanged without violence. As we are confronted with something that perturbs us, perhaps we could take a moment to ask ourselves:

“What specifically am I concerned about? Is it driven by fear for myself or love for others? Is there a way that I can respond with love so that everyone affected is enlarged & the situation improved for all?”

Then, let’s get about actively creating the world we envision: engaging in a life of love toward others – those with whom we disagree, or even loathe, included – instead of one driven by fear. We must proactively dismiss the seeds of fear that would embed themselves in our thoughts, for thoughts become beliefs, and beliefs become actions.

Imagine what we might create acting from faith, hope, and love! Apathy will see fear imagining the opposite for us, creating our world by default.

There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not yet fully formed in love.

~ 1 John 4:18, MSG

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Just for Today… and Every Day.

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Credit: Getty Images

Here we are, at the start of another fresh year: our hearts caressing hope and perhaps guarded anticipation for the turning pages of an untold story. If your New Years Resolutions record is as remarkable as mine, you’ll be at least as experienced in stumble & surrender as progress & proficiency.

Nevertheless, there remains inherent value in the enlarging of our hearts & minds so that we remain active as both the co-author & the protagonist of the unwritten pages of our evolving story.

Goals are the links in the chain that connect activity to accomplishment.  ~ Tom Ziglar

We are mistaken to dismiss New Year resolve & goal-setting as folly. However, it is equally foolish to set achievement-based goals exclusive of intrinsic values. In his book Today Matters, John Maxwell lists twelve commitments we should make today… and each day of our lives. Whilst audacious, Maxwell’s list of commitments provides us with inexhaustible opportunity to grow into a life of stability & favour, living present within each day: free from both condemnation of the past & worry for the future.

Just for today…

1. Just for today, I will choose and display the right attitudes.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others.
Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.
Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Philippians 2:3-5

2. Just for today, I will determine and act on important priorities.

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.

Ephesians 5:15-17

3. Just for today, I will know and follow healthy guidelines.

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

4. Just for today, I will communicate with and care for my family.

But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith.

1 Timothy 5:8

5. Just for today, I will practice and develop good thinking.

Get wisdom; develop good judgment. Don’t forget my words or turn away from them. Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you. Love her, and she will guard you.

Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.

If you prize wisdom, she will make you great. Embrace her, and she will honour you. She will place a lovely wreath on your head; she will present you with a beautiful crown.

Proverbs 4:5-9

6. Just for today, I will make and keep proper commitments.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.

No, dear brothers & sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Philippians 3:12-14

7. Just for today, I will earn and properly manage my finances.

Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth – except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers! People who work hard sleep well, whether they eat little or much. But the rich seldom get a good night’s sleep.

There is another serious problem I have seen under the sun. Hoarding riches harms the saver. Money is put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one’s children. We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us. And this, too, is a very serious problem. People leave this world no better off than when they came. All their hard work is for nothing – like working for the wind. Throughout their lives, they live under a cloud – frustrated, discouraged, and angry.

Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-20

8. Just for today, I will deepen and live out my faith.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him. Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

Colossians 2:6-7

9. Just for today, I will initiate and invest in solid relationships.

Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.

And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom He gives.

Sings psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

Colossians 3:12-17

10. Just for today, I will plan for and model generosity.

Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

People curse those who hoard their grain, but they bless the one who sells in time of need. If you search for good, you will find favour; but if you search for evil, it will find you!

Trust in your money and down you go! But the godly flourish like leaves in spring.

Proverbs 11:24-28

11. Just for today, I will embrace and practice good values.

Teach me your decrees, O Lord; I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart. Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found.

Give me an eagerness for your laws rather than a love for money! Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word. Reassure me of your promise, made to those who fear you. Help me abandon my shameful ways; for your regulations are good. I long to obey your commandments! Renew my life with your goodness.

Psalms 119:33-40

12. Just for today, I will seek and experience improvements.

So get rid of all evil behaviour.
Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

1 Peter 2:1-3

Yes, it’s a list painted in broad brushstrokes, expansive as the sky. No, it’s not definitive or measurable. It is, however, a resolute framework – just for today – upon which extrinsic ambitions will rest & build over a lifetime of being fashioned into the image of Christ… a sure foundation.

But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have,
we must wait patiently and confidently.
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.
Romans 8:25-26a

In whichever ways our lives are enlarged this year, let us extend the same measure of love & grace to ourselves – and those around us – as God does.

Love Indeed Wins

“It was not Jesus’ present purpose to condemn men. He would come to condemn the guilty at a future time. At present He came to save them. Hence He did not now even pronounce decisively on the condition of those who rejected Him, but still gave them an opportunity to be saved.”  ~  Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

It might be a poignant time for us Christians to take some time to remind ourselves exactly what the gospel, the good news, is. 

It’s pretty clear to each of us that none of us is perfect. We’re all the same – all flawed. But what is God’s solution? More rules to follow? Indeed, eternal & civic laws apply universally to all of us & choices will always have consequences. But again, what is God’s solution to our inability to attain perfection – His once & for all time solution? For a wholly deficient humanity, it is very good news! 

It wasn’t Christ’s present business to be concerning himself with judging civic matters. The Pharisees had that well & truly covered.

No, Christ’s sole concern was in redeeming humanity.
And in providing the way for that redemption, according to His own words recorded in John 12:47, He amazingly offered himself to the world unconditionally. In this age of grace that has since followed, the door of opportunity remains open.

Mark Yarhouse articulates our mandate for redemption well in the article Understanding the Transgender Phenomenon:

Most centrally, the Christian community is a witness to the message of redemption. We are witnesses to redemption through Jesus’ presence in our lives. Redemption is not found by measuring how well a person’s gender identity aligns with their biological sex, but by drawing them to the person and work of Jesus Christ, and to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us into His image.

As Christians speak to this redemption, we will be tempted to join in the culture wars about sex and gender that fall closely on the heels of the wars about sexual behaviour and marriage. But in most cases, the church is called to rise above those wars and present a witness to redemption.

If you’ve had anything to do with a Christian similar to me, I’d guess that the message of redemption has not always been one clearly resonating with singular focus. For that I apologize unreservedly, and as an ambassador of Christ, I offer His words to you today, wrapped in luxurious grace, delivered with the smile & the embrace of unconditional love:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  John 14:6

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  John 11:25-26

The apostle Paul summarizes the gospel clearly:

“… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once…”  1 Corinthians 15:3-6

As a Christian, I am a witness to the message of redemption. If you are interested in checking out this radical, real, redeeming love, I would be delighted to chat with you more about it. And if not… no worries!

Pursuing best-practice OHS {Obedience Health, not Safety}

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A long life would be nice. I would most certainly enjoy it.

But I have no interest in making safe arrival at old age my goal. For though the two are not mutually exclusive, what is to be gained from length of life trumping expanse of spirit? What value is height without depth?

I am no thrill-seeker; quite the opposite. And indeed, much of significance is built tediously, in the mundane. Yet as I am given this gift of life – with its joy and its sorrow – may it be lived at full extension: breadth of heart, of mind, of spirit, of courage, of passion, of kindness, and of love.

No, not safety. The goal instead becomes a life of obedience: imitation of Christ, defying doubt, shaking off stumbles.

And if in living such a life I should miss out on the golden years, celebrate with me for I will not be disappointed to have graduated.

And so, I press on…

~ Philippians 3:13-14 ~
… but I focus on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

My political party

At the height of the recent Queensland state election, a politically-engaged friend & I were discussing the apparent dearth of voting options: according to ABC’s Vote Compass tool, no major parties fell within the quadrant in which I found myself pegged. Passing off his suggestion of me starting my own political party with a revolver-to-the-head emoji combo, I wasn’t expecting his reply. “What would you call it?”
Despite my avid observation of politics & political sport, the idea that I might start my own political party is as plausible as The Greens voting in favour of lower taxes. However, those five words have distracted my consciousness on a semi-regular basis ever since. What would I call it? I have no idea; but I do have an idea about the kind of world in which I want to engage…
_____
I want to live in a world of both/and… an expanding world; a world of order.
A world where free speech finds vigorous defence, offence is taken slowly, & slower still our urge to hastily opine.
Where children are loved and valued, no more at the expense of mastering critical qualities such as risk management, bravery, resilience, and responsibility.
Where business is esteemed for the risks it takes & the opportunities it provides, yet workers are valued as integral to successful operation.
_____
Where leaders compel by example and retain their fortitude with gracious empathy, and great leaders are encouraged to emerge because the citizens honour those in authority over them.
Where sense is returned its currently-stolen “common”, whilst courting the capacity for extraordinary thought.
Where individual achievement is celebrated instead of benchmarked mediocrity, still not at the expense of community.
Where marriages are built up & strengthened, without tearing down individuals who stand beyond the scope of our myriad of variations on the word “normal”.
Where women & minorities pursue equal rights without promoting the degradation of those of different colour or creed.
_____
Where we are able to express empathy and sorrow, yet not be paralyzed by victimhood.
Where passionate expression of differing opinion is welcomed, void of sanctimony.
Where truth and compassion coexist.
Where grace toward our fellow man is less precarious than a snowman in summer.
Where pragmatism is alive, yet kindness & a sense of humanity is not sacrificed on the altar of being right.
Where everyone knows they belong.
_____
So, what would I call this party that I’m not starting? “The Future Party” perhaps… because with eternity set in my heart, the country I long for is impossibly difficult to achieve; it’s a better one – a perfect one – a heavenly one. I am a foreigner and stranger on this earth, with my eyes set on things above & not on earthly things.
We are called to a life of love: of God, our brother, our neighbour, even the unlovable… and I’ve found it’s remarkably easier to focus on loving others when you’re not constantly arguing with them.

24 Days of Christ

It’s the Christmas season!… Truly the most wonderful time of the year, for many reasons: longer days, warmer weather, nostalgic music, delightful decorations, extended school holidays, family visits, gifts, festive food. What’s not to love?

Well, to begin with there’s Over Extended: that feeling which is known to commence visiting its host toward the end of November. Unintentionally invited, of course. Then by mid-December, one might reluctantly welcome house-guest number two: Over It. The parties, the food, the expectations, the to-do lists, the obligations… as if Over Extended wasn’t enough to entertain, Over It pushes you to your known limit, leaving you wondering if the dam walls of Keep It Together will hold again this year. And of course, the star at the top of this tree: Over Indulged. The abundance of food, the myriad of presents, the absence of sincere, overwhelming gratitude: elements very often found in many homes, overshadowing the most important elements of the Christmas season. Or maybe it’s just my house.

It certainly begs the question: is this God’s best for me, my family, and my community?

For as long as we’ve been parents, we have aimed to focus on what is important to us at Christmas: the person at the centre of the birthday celebration. That is, Christ. It’s not always easy to create a meaningful Christmas amidst a flurry of exciting & exhausting distractions & we don’t always get the balance right, but it is possible. Being purposeful & turning our focus towards Christ is unquestionably an enriching experience for our family.

This year, we are embracing a fresh way of approaching the festive season with our 24 Days of Christ advent calendar.

24 Days of Christ

Each day includes a chocolate (of course!), a name of Christ, a Bible reference for that name, and a Christ-like heart-state or kind deed in which the whole family may participate.

24 Days of Christ insert

In addition to the fun, festive frivolity of the Christmas season, this is how we are choosing to ensure it’s a meaningful one & to incline our hearts towards Christ, but it’s certainly not Pinterest-perfect: the idea wasn’t planned weeks in advance & as a result we’ve only commenced the calendar on the 3rd of December. (Does that then make it 22 days of Christ??)

There are a variety of ways through which families choose to put Him at the centre of their lives & communities, despite the silliness of the season; no one idea trumping another. After all, relationship with Christ is never about the specifics of a rule, but rather the condition of our hearts.

I’d love to hear how your family chooses Christ at Christmas…

A word from Isaiah Berlin…

“If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter. Lenin believed this after reading Das Kapital, and consistently taught that if a just, peaceful, happy, free, virtuous society could be created by the means he advocated, then the end justified any methods that needed to be used, literally any.

“The root conviction which underlies this is that the central questions of human life, individual or social, have one true answer which can be discovered. It can and must be implemented, and those who have found it are the leaders whose word is law. The idea that to all genuine questions there can be only one true answer is a very old philosophical notion. The great Athenian philosophers, Jews and Christians, the thinkers of the Renaissance and the Paris of Louis XIV, the French radical reformers of the eighteenth century, the revolutionaries of the nineteenth—however much they differed about what the answer was or how to discover it (and bloody wars were fought over this)—were all convinced that they knew the answer, and that only human vice and stupidity could obstruct its realization.

“This is the idea of which I spoke, and what I wish to tell you is that it is false. Not only because the solutions given by different schools of social thought differ, and none can be demonstrated by rational methods—but for an even deeper reason. The central values by which most men have lived, in a great many lands at a great many times—these values, almost if not entirely universal, are not always harmonious with each other. Some are, some are not. Men have always craved for liberty, security, equality, happiness, justice, knowledge, and so on. But complete liberty is not compatible with complete equality—if men were wholly free, the wolves would be free to eat the sheep. Perfect equality means that human liberties must be restrained so that the ablest and the most gifted are not permitted to advance beyond those who would inevitably lose if there were competition. Security, and indeed freedoms, cannot be preserved if freedom to subvert them is permitted. Indeed, not everyone seeks security or peace, otherwise some would not have sought glory in battle or in dangerous sports.

“Justice has always been a human ideal, but it is not fully compatible with mercy. Creative imagination and spontaneity, splendid in themselves, cannot be fully reconciled with the need for planning, organization, careful and responsible calculation. Knowledge, the pursuit of truth—the noblest of aims—cannot be fully reconciled with the happiness or the freedom that men desire, for even if I know that I have some incurable disease this will not make me happier or freer. I must always choose: between peace and excitement, or knowledge and blissful ignorance. And so on.

“So what is to be done to restrain the champions, sometimes very fanatical, of one or other of these values, each of whom tends to trample upon the rest, as the great tyrants of the twentieth century have trampled on the life, liberty, and human rights of millions because their eyes were fixed upon some ultimate golden future?

“I am afraid I have no dramatic answer to offer: only that if these ultimate human values by which we live are to be pursued, then compromises, trade-offs, arrangements have to be made if the worst is not to happen. So much liberty for so much equality, so much individual self-expression for so much security, so much justice for so much compassion. My point is that some values clash: the ends pursued by human beings are all generated by our common nature, but their pursuit has to be to some degree controlled—liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I repeat, may not be fully compatible with each other, nor are liberty, equality, and fraternity.

“So we must weigh and measure, bargain, compromise, and prevent the crushing of one form of life by its rivals. I know only too well that this is not a flag under which idealistic and enthusiastic young men and women may wish to march—it seems too tame, too reasonable, too bourgeois, it does not engage the generous emotions. But you must believe me, one cannot have everything one wants—not only in practice, but even in theory. The denial of this, the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion. And then to destruction, blood—eggs are broken, but the omelette is not in sight, there is only an infinite number of eggs, human lives, ready for the breaking. And in the end the passionate idealists forget the omelette, and just go on breaking eggs.”

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/oct/23/message-21st-century/