The Living God

How to read for transformation

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. Ps. 1.1-2.

Introduction

We’re entering the third month of lockdown. Even the most resilient of us are starting to feel the stress of living in such a strange world. Besides depression and anxiety, self-harm and suicides, one thing I haven’t noticed media report much on is the sense of spiritual dryness that people feel. Whether it’s mediums, self-help books, or religion, I’ve observed that people have realized how dehumanizing living in a sterile secular society has been. When the hamster wheel of working 9-5 stops, it can be hard to be motivated to live. No one tells the hamster why they’re running the wheel. A lockdown means that the demand for meaning is at an all time high.

Even Christians themselves are realizing how dependent their faith was on being productive rather than a rich inner life of knowing and being known by God. So many have encouragingly tried to return to the bible to seek and know God for who he is. Unfortunately, Christian habits often mirror their culture. And in an industrial society, reading the bible has a purely functional purpose. It’s read like a manual to follow or a textbook to understand. Returning to that habit only reinforces the problem. We’re still looking for something to do.

But what if life was more than doing? What if living itself is more than moving around? What we need is not just to read more but read differently. In the same way that lenses give us another perspective, reading the bible existentially gives us another reality. This is where the ancient Christian practice of lectio divina can help.

What it is and how to do it

The lectio divina is an early Christian practice developed by our monastics and church fathers. Its goal is to develop communion with God and increase the knowledge of God’s Word. According to one commentator, ‘it does not treat scripture as texts to be studied, but as the living word.’ And it is this sense of reading and communion that I think modern Christians have lost.

Its roots go back to Origen in the 3rd century, after whom Ambrose taught them to Augustine of Hippo. But it was first established as a monastic practice of in the 6th century by Benedict. It was then formalized as a four-step process by the Carthusian monk Guigo during the 12th century. First a passage of scripture is read, then its meaning is reflected upon. This is followed by prayer and contemplation on the Word of God.

What makes the lectio divina distinct is that it doesn’t stop with a theological analysis of biblical passages. But it views them with Christ as the key to their meaning. For example, take Jesus’ statement in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you”. Exegesis would focus on why Jesus said this during the Last Supper, the biblical context, etc. But in lectio divina, one “enters” and shares the peace of Christ rather than “dissecting” it. What a Christian is trying to do is to hear Christ speak through the inner voice of his Spirit into their current situation.

Why Christians should do it

The reason why I think this is important is because how we read determines what we become. Reading the bible as words to master makes it subservient to us. Reading the bible to be mastered by its words makes us subservient to it. For evangelical Christians, there’s always a danger of objectifying God. We forget who he really is and equate him with what we know. Whether it’s a doctrine or a moral teaching, we can come to think that we have faith because we assent to these beliefs. Too often, we read the bible like a textbook or a newspaper and then proceed to go on with our day.

But faith is not what we know. Faith isn’t even what we do. Faith is a passionate emptying of trust in our selves. It’s to know our highest need in God. And to follow him where he may lead. We forget his Word is to be lived throughout our day so that we become the embodiment of truth and therefore of Christ. If rational study is hearing his Word then contemplating it is to listen to him. And to imbibe it is to live as him — as his mouth and ears, hands and feet. Without this, we can never truly become who we’re meant to be. We’ll remain infants needing rules to follow. Without connecting his Spirit to our everyday lives, we’ll be unable to love from the heart though we may fake it with our head and outward acts of obedience.

Where to apply it

I think I’ve said enough to introduce the topic. And hopefully you can see both how we can read the bible differently and why we need to do so. One immediate way to start applying this is follow Redeemer Presbyterian’s guide to the lectio divina. They’ve provided instructions both at an individual and group level.

https://www.redeemer.com/learn/prayer/prayerandfasting/lectiodivinadivinereading

Letters from Lockdown: Faith, Hope and Love

What will get us through a lockdown, pandemic and Afghanistan

1 Corinthians 13:12–13 (ESV): For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

When lockdown started I wondered how I was going to cope with isolation. Well it’s been two months now. And the result is: pretty well. That’s not to say I’m thriving. But I’ve been able to use it to recharge and focus on my responsibilities. Daily tasks have been more convenient. And though it’s a struggle to be self-disciplined, I’ve had a wonderful wife who helps me structure my life more effectively. Most of all, I’ve had more time to enjoy her. Excluding our Sydney elites and the professional middle class, I would say that I’m okay. Not good or great, just okay.

That’s the problem of contemporary life though isn’t it? We live in these self contained silos. It just serves to reinforce whatever we already think life is like. No wonder the protestors hate the anti-protestors and the vaccinators the anti-vaxxers. If self-righteousness wasn’t a problem in the past, it’s unavoidable now. It wasn’t until I encountered the stories of how others were doing through close friends and family and those they work with that I realized that I had become a cold-hearted chad. I mean I was burnt out. Maybe this didn’t make me any less selfish. It just revealed my self-centeredness more. Enjoying Amazon deliveries and Ubereats while people protested on the streets was solipsism at its finest. If a man killed himself during COVID and I wasn’t around to see it, then he wasn’t really a man.

In the nursing homes, the lockdown is taking its toll on the elderly. Isolated from family, some have stopped eating. They would rather die. Some have faked illnesses to draw attention even from staff because they’re so lonely. Others have become a shell of themselves and lost all personality. My wife cried as she performed a physical assessment of an old man with dementia. As she checked on him, she held a phone to his trembling face. And as he heard his daughter’s voice, he couldn’t stop weeping. He was blind and mute.

I watched as hundreds of Afghanis flooded Kabul’s airport attempting to escape the Taliban. I watched as many clung onto the wheels of the airplane, knowing that it was certain death. And I watched as they fell hundreds of feet from the air. They were in such fear from the Taliban that they would rather have dropped to their deaths. I watched as the president of the most powerful country on earth turned his face away from a country his nation had shaped for 20 years. He blamed his predecessors. And he explained that his motives came from a desire to protect American lives.

I listened as a relative of mine narrated her struggles through the lockdown. I felt her loneliness, her anger and her question of “why?” I saw that such isolation for her was torture. And the longer it went on for, the dimmer her hope grew. Because life as she knew it, was disappearing from her eyes. Though she was doing all she could to stay home and stay safe, in her heart, she was there with the protestors, fighting for their homes and businesses and livelihoods and freedoms. And yes even amidst the anarchists and conspiracy nuts.

But all I could do was #staysafe. What I realized is that we need to face the reality of the situation. Lockdowns benefit those who can work from home. They drive up property prices. They increase debt to those who can ill afford it. And they increase the gap between rich and poor drastically. So with the courage of honesty, maybe we need to explore some ways of navigating through this together at a community and state level rather than just muzzle dissenters, professors from UNSW included, to claim that “the experts are on their side.”

This is not an anti-lockdown rant. But maybe it’s a plea. I don’t know to who. To God perhaps? I doubt Gladys would see this. With some help from the apostle Paul, we need to think about the state of the world as it is. We need it to drive us to seek the knowledge of both God and ourselves. And we need that knowledge to transform this world, in faith, hope and love.

What we need to stop doing is pretending that hiding in our homes, ordering take out, and online shopping are moral badges to be proud of while we blame the pandemic on everyone outside today. The ones outside are the ones delivering our food and parcels. Faith in God, hope in Christ and love for him and our neighbor. After all our toys and things, and our skills and competencies, that’s all that remains. Those are the essentials. So in earnestness you can pray for the lockdown. But pray more for the elderly, for the vulnerable and most of all for yourself. Because how we’re responding is showing us who we are.

Letters from Lockdown: Look Each Other In The Eye

Dear you,

I’m addressing you as a you because that’s what you are. You’re a person; a human being. Yet you’re also a you because that’s what lockdown has made you. Without face or name, you’ve become an indistinguishable person. You’re more than an individual. Yet you’re also less than one. You’ve become a crowd. And what I’ve noticed about lockdown is that you’ve been split into two faceless crowds. Like my most painful tooth extraction, you’ve become a bifurcated you. On one hand, you see our greatest need to be the protection of our rights. On the other hand, you see that to be a society means giving up our rights out of our obligations to one other.

And you’re right. Humans are meant to live with a center. Perhaps you could call this a soul. You’re meant to be integrated both as a society and as a person. But as the wisdom of Facebook has said, “the lockdown has brought out the worse in us.” One of these is the bifurcation of our souls. Someone who struggles with bipolar disorder struggles to exist. Do you think that you can cut off your other half without harming yourself?

I know that your other half seems to be a demon. It’s annoying. It lies. It didn’t save up the money you’d work so hard to earn. It blew it on whiskey and clubs and $10 avocado sandwiches and Netflix. Isn’t housing unaffordable enough? It tells horrible jokes. Jokes like, “the government can’t tell us what to do. Lockdowns don’t work. Live free!” You want to laugh in its face. It’s easy to demonize him. Especially when he shows up at a protest the next weekend. Damn. Just when you thought you’d locked him at home, he gives you the finger. He’s the reason you got in this lockdown mess in the first place.

I know your other half seems to be a demon. It’s cruel. It’s a tyrant. Every day, it seems to crack its whip at you, driving you further towards despair. It whispers lies like “being a good person means listening to everything the government says.” “Protesting the lockdown means that you only care about happiness of the majority.” “You should’ve saved up and gotten a job you Centerlink bum.” It seethes with resentment at every line that isn’t toed. You’ve worn yourself out listening to it for much of your life after school. But there’s been nothing to show for it. Instead of freedom, there’s tyranny. Instead of happiness there’s only mediocre conformity. He’s the reason you got in the lockdown in the first place.

Order and chaos. Rights and responsibilities. The ethical and the aesthetic. Conservative and liberal. These paradoxes capture the struggle of what it means to be human. This is the tension between truth and love. Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes love hurts the truth. It can be maddening living with that tension. I know it keenly myself. But I believe that’s what we’re made for. You see, life is a constant struggle to integrate these two halves of yourself spiritually. The ethical and the aesthetic part of life are the melody and harmony which consummates in the ultimate religious life — what’s transcendent and beyond all values, God himself.

One of the things about media like the press or Facebook is that it all takes place behind closed doors. You can post under digital identities to people you’ve never met or heard of. You can participate in causes beyond your time and country. The anonymity of distance means that you can become someone and something else. You can engage with other people who are just this faceless Other, someone less than you. And so you can let fly whatever corrupting impulses you feel at a particular moment into the internet void towards people who are no longer people.

Media especially social media tries to eradicate this tension of being human. It amplifies extremes. It gives your natural corrupting urges a platform to be heard at any moment. And it reinforces these impulses to be who you really are. There’s no center to you. Just one polar ideology that demonizes the Other. And so you’re either proud or disgusted, elated or angry, jubilant or despairing.

Dear you, please look beyond social media. Look each other in the eye. Because what you see is who you are. In hating them, you’re just hating yourself. It’s not hard to imagine that you wouldn’t act differently given the circumstances. Neither our rights nor responsibilities makes us who we are, but it is before God that I am and that you are. You’re neither protestor or persecutors, neither anarchist or tyrant. Look each other in the eye. Really look. Only then will you be able to see the log in your own eye and pick the speck out of your brother’s. Only then will you be able to be integrated, one and whole. Look each other in the other eye. And look to God. That’s your greatest need.

From one human you to another,

Nathan

There Is No Magic Pill: On Waiting For Grace

Some people are drawn to despair and destruction. Solitude and loneliness beckon to you like the abyss under a skyscraper on a windy night when the moon shines but nothing is illuminated. And as you stand on the precipice of the roof you feel yourself pulled to stand on the edge…and maybe even jump? The prospect is exhilarating yet nauseating, knowing that you are one-second away from oblivion.

Is this me? Will I have to tread the road not taken? I was reminded of this in a film called Lucky Per about a Danish prodigy who leaves his clerical family to become an engineer only to throw it all away. Not even a woman’s love could save him from his destiny. He ends his life poor, in a wilderness of his own, working the land from his cabin, slowly dying from disease.

I’m reminded when I read the biblical story of Cain, who was condemned for a sacrifice that wasn’t good enough for his Father. The unbearable pain of rejection became resentment for his brother Abel because he was loved. Then resentment became bloodshed. And Cain became doomed to wander the earth forever because he added guilt on top of guilt. With every step his brother Abel’s blood cried out for justice. Could he have helped it?

There’s something about nothingness that is alluring. It’s not so much that you want to die, you just don’t want to live. Life is so painful let alone when you’re haunted by guilt! Why bother? How do you find rest? Emptiness haunts you left and right. Dread and alienation dog every step. It reminds you that you’re different from everyone else and everything else. So being nothing can seem more attractive than being itself.

It’s almost like a primeval call harkening you to return to where you came from. “Naked you were born into the world and naked you shall return.” Is it a curse from God? A pig farmer who once cursed God upon a hill and became the richest man in Copenhagen. Yet his son Kierkegaard became the most anxious man of Europe. His father forever believed that his family was cursed by God. Perhaps like Kafka, it’s the disappointment of my father that always follows me. And my sensitive childhood only serves to remind me that someone is coming for me. I don’t know who. But one day they will find me out.

These questions run through my head at night. Where have I gone wrong? And what can be done? What can possibly wash my hands of the unknown crimes I’ve committed blindfolded? Is God dead? Have I killed him? It certainly appears that way. Out damned spot! Out. But no amount of washing is sufficient. I think that Lady’s Macbeth cries would be more heard than mine.

These days I find the solace of friends the most soothing to this emptiness. Yet as I fill it up with friends, it drains just as quickly away. It leaves me even more exhausted. It’s a hell of a drug. I can’t exactly define what this emptiness is. Maybe it’s a haunting of death in a broken world exiled from Eden. And sometimes I think I love it too much because it’s all I have. Still… what am I meant to do with it?

Maybe, just maybe, there’s nothing I can do. Maybe I don’t need to do anything. Maybe what is required is an act of faith — to seek and humble myself under God, to recognize that only God can provide joy and fulfillment in his own time and in his own way. Maybe faith is the true defense against anxious and weary living, a pursuit of life that only takes from you until you have nothing left to give. But how can I rest in something that doesn’t even seem real in this moment? That’s the real leap of faith — to rest and wait.

Sometimes we think there’s a magic pill. We’re so results oriented. We want a solution to our life’s problems and a fix to it. But maybe there is no fix. All other fixes are only means of escaping and running away and hoping the problem doesn’t resurface whether its Netflix or alcohol or shopping and even Christian ministry.

Maybe God means for us to face this head on. After all, the story of the Exodus reminds us that there’s a rock in the wilderness where springs of life flow from. Maybe in the midst of darkness is light. Only in confronting this nothingness will we become ourselves. We will overcome as a light in the darkness for others. And the darkness will not overcome it. We will truly be.

I have read in Lewis, in Kafka, in Steinbeck and in Dostoevsky sayings that are wise and beautiful. But never have I read in any of them, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” The grace that God gives and the rest he lays you down to is a life and a joy that never stops giving. It gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. It raises you up on eagle’s wings. Though even youths grow weary, you will run and not be tired, you will soar even amidst a fragmented and forsaken world. You will know who you are and who God is in the midst of it all. You can wail and pour out your soul because weeping may tarry for the night but joy comes in the morning. We just need to wait.

To My Readers: Med students, Doctors, Theology Students, Teachers, Arts Students, Eccentric Pastors And Those Forced To Read Nonsense. Why I Write: Because Saying Beautifully Is Seeing beautifully

A few people have asked me lately why it is I write the way I do. A friend of Captivate and infrequent peruser of my blog called Tim Cheung me a really good question yesterday. In fact I’m not sure if I’ve ever been asked it before: where do you find beauty? For him lately it was in urban solitude. As a worker in the city he would try to capture in his moments of stillness amidst its hustle and bustle. Moments like the morning fog, the gentle rush of workers to work, the stops by coffee shops and silent commuters on their phones. Before I really had any time to think about it, my intuition responded with, “Words.”

Yet as I reflected on this I realized that it was inevocably me. Somehow, somewhere, as a boy and now as a man, words have come to define my life. When you think about it, it makes sense. In the beginning God said, “let there be light and there was light”. He spoke and it came to be. In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God. And in Jesus, the Word became flesh and dwelt with men. In him was the life and the light and there was no darkness at all. God’s Word, the order and reason and understanding beyond all creation and reality, his perfect revelation of himself, actually became a human being so we could know him. And God continues to speak through his words.

Last year, I often woke up to blurry numbers on an alarm clock. I brushed my teeth in the orange glow of dawn. I showed up to work and didn’t stop till I finished. There was a bite to eat and some time to check my phone. But otherwise it was one patient after another. One person who had taken 2 and a half years to recover from a nerve root compression and could barely balance on her feet or get out of bed. Another person had lost a family friend in a freak truck accident on Sydney’s freeways and her body wasn’t holding up. There were so many demands and so little time.

My body felt spent. My mind was foggy. I didn’t know what I was seeing or where I was going. On the rides home I would just stare ahead on the freeway, a straight gray road and drive in silence. My mind refused to think coherently. There was no way I would’ve thought of putting pen to paper or even writing a decent half sentence. Yet there I was. Sitting on my desk in the darkness completing another paragraph. Why did I keep writing day after day like that?

I’m sure there are more words in the world than there are stars in the sky. Mine are not terribly important nor powerful. I won’t be starting any reformations or overthrowing any governments or inventing any new theories. My voice is simply a drop into the vast ocean of words, soon to be drowned in its watery depths. There must’ve been a reason why I continued to write on those days. It had to go beyond simply the influence or effect it had on others.

I think it’s because of what words are and what they mean to me. Language, writing, ideas; these are all reflections of God’s living Word. These words are tools which create a picture, a way of seeing behind appearances to what’s really there, into Being itself and the God who is there and not silent. Create enough pictures and you have a whole world. Though it’s imperfect, God and Being communicates itself to us through these imperfect words, shaping our hearts and minds. God reveals himself in his Word and we see him clearer through ours, a two way traffic lane.

Being aware of my experience and articulating it makes me more aware of the one behind it, who is with me and in me. During seasons of existential alienation and loneliness, it helps me when I cry to know what I’m crying about and what I’m experiencing and the thoughts and fears that come during this way of living. But then I remember the memories of God’s presence and his comfort mysteriously there. I recall other moments of comfort from others. I discover in my grief, that I am not quite alone. And the pain now becomes an ache rather than unbearable and unending pain. Misery loves company? Yes, because there is a deepening sustenance in the company of those from and with whom we can receive love and care. Through my own words, God’s Word comes to me and agony is transformed. It is redeemed.

When I write I remember reading the words of Pastor John Piper years ago, that “saying beautifully is seeing beautifully”. I think I continue to write not only for the pleasure it gives to others (although that would be nice) but because there exists a depth of my soul that hasn’t fully been explored without expressing itself. That is to say, that only when I can speak of who I am and what I know that I know myself better. And in knowing myself better I also know the One I was made for better. I write because saying clearly is seeing clearly. And I long to see God and myself as he sees me and to know him as I’m fully known. Writing in a way is meditation. Sitting and reflecting on my own words and giving a voice to my thoughts helps me to understand what I think and feel and what I should do. And I think I should write. So I write because saying beautifully is seeing beautifully.

Growing Up With A Difficult Sister: Reflections of a Brother

There is a price to be paid for every increase in consciousness. We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain — Alan Watts.

I titled this piece, Growing Up With A Difficult Sister but I wonder if it should be the other way around. “You’re too sensitive!” “Stop being sensitive!” “Why can’t you take a joke…?” I remember those cries like it was yesterday. Whenever my sister got upset at me, whether it was for stealing her snacks or making fun of her, I would always deflect her issue by pointing out how sensitive she was. It was her issue. It wasn’t my fault she couldn’t take a joke. I would follow that up, pretending to comfort her, by patting her head several times and hoping such patronizing would defuse the situation. It did not. I remember once that the girl I crowned “the queen of sore losers” upended a whole monopoly board and stole all my cash because she lost the game. She really was the queen.

A sensitive sister is not a big problem — if you have friends and other relationships and space to grow apart and protect yourself from one another’s furies. After all, there is a reason why the proverb, “Familiarity breeds contempt” exists. But between the moving spaces of four countries, ironically our family spaces became narrowed. The four walls of mom, dad, my sister and I became a garden of joy and a suffocating prison of despair. Our fragmented childhood meant our relationship as siblings became the key to our survival. So there was no escape. In this room of one’s own, one could either dig at the walls, hoping for jailbreak or annihilate your cell mate.

I think I understand now her sensitivity a little better. The sensitive person is a paradox. Sensitivity is the level of your consciousness, both of pleasure and pain, of evil and good, of beauty and ugliness, of truth and of lies. The more conscious you are, the more sensitive you become. But its cost is immense — a traffic jam can ruin your day; a break up, your life. But we need sensitive people because without them we are blind to different layers of reality.

My sister was sensitive because she cared. She cared about her relationships, especially ours. Her emotions reflected the intensity both of her inner self and how she understood herself in her relationships. Her responses raised a good question — in the cruelty of relationships, we aren’t we more depressed? When betrayal and tragedy all occur within families and friends why aren’t children more anxious? I still vividly remember nights of shouting and broken glass. That’s probably why we fought so much. She always opened herself up to me but I was a walking jack hammer.

Of course, being sensitive doesn’t excuse you from personal agency or responsibility. Nor does it mean you always understand why you’re so sensitive. What exactly is it that you’re feeling? You still have to choose what you do with your life and how you respond to these emotions. My sister was no exception. But the temptations are harder and the possibilities of evil greater. We can do more damage with our pain. It is crimes committed out of hatred and passion that devastate the most. Even the most apathetic criminal has inwardly become one who hates life itself. Why did Cain kill Abel? Isn’t it because his deeds were evil and Abel’s were good? Isn’t it because Abel was loved by his Father and he wasn’t? It’s easy to think that being sensitive makes us better humans. But it doesn’t always. It’s about what we choose to do with what we become conscious of.

So in saying that, I think my sister really was growing up with a difficult brother. My solution to everything was to suppress emotions — both mine and hers. All I had to do was highlight her wrong emotions, her overreactions and her sensitivity, as though it was a problem in itself. It’s no wonder my sister would say I had the emotional maturity of a ten year old. As Hermione Granger used to say to Ron Weasley, “Just because you have the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.” It’s ironic that one of my nicknames in elementary school was Ron Weasley. Looking back now, I think what I wish was that I had listened to my sister better. As the more “resilient” one I wish that I had strengthened her. And I wish I had come to know the greater joy of understanding her. Because in knowing her, I also came to know myself.

He Is Not Silent

He is here. He hears every word. The words poured over me as water over a rock. I was hearing but not listening. I saw but didn’t perceive. And I was reminded once again that God promises to never leave or forsake his children. They are not orphans. But he has come to them and made his home in them. Yet what do you do when he seems so far away?

Your subjective mind and your perception is all you have. And it’s all you know. Isn’t it? After all, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise? And if God is there but no one is around to listen, does he really speak? I pondered these thoughts in my mind as I spoke with my teachers and afterwards as I sat eating, chewing each thought with every bite.

And then I remembered the stars. I’ve always loved stargazing. But growing up in Malaysia and China doesn’t give you much of an opportunity to see them. So when I moved to Sydney I was floored. There were stars everywhere and every night. And yet people walked about each day with their eyes on the ground. But I couldn’t stop staring at the sky. It was a battle between me, time and my spinal stability. Usually I lost.

Every time I see the stars I’m reminded of how little we know of what’s outside us. And yet it isn’t because little exists beyond us. Vast stars, constellations, planets, and galaxies are all formed beyond my knowledge and control, playing a harmony to their creator. And yet to my eyes they are but little specks of white light, light that has travelled for so long and so far that by the time they reach me their very bodies have died and exploded on the black canvas of space.

Why do the stars exist? It would be absurd to think they were for us when we can’t even see them. No, the stars exist for their creator who calls each one out by their name. Not one of them is forgotten or lost to him. Though they seem little more than white dusty specks to us. Often God seems so small and so far off he might very well cease to exist. In times like that you can believe that he doesn’t exist. But then neither do you, a random incoherent bundle of thoughts. But God is able to exist just fine without our perception. And just like the stars, he shines brightest only in the darkest night.

It is just a matter of seeing. So I’m going to keep waiting until I can say, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

Sunday Reflections: Is ministry just a pyramid scheme?

A minister is someone who serves. Service is part of who we are and not just what we do. At least that’s what I heard as I sat through our sermon at Captivate Presbyterian church this Sunday. It’s a tender topic for me because I’ve wrestled with the relationship between ministry and activity and identity for awhile now. If what we do repeatedly is who we are as Aristotle said, then isn’t one’s relationship to God simply reflected in their service, where their ethical life is? So often it seems to be a guise for all manner of people pleasing and doing what others want; meeting obligations in other words.

I don’t doubt that service is a good thing. A properly packed quarter pounder at McDonald’s can make one’s day. But its nature is elusive. What does it mean to serve out of how Christ has served us? Why did Jesus and Paul care so much about a servant life? I think it comes down to the inward nature of fear. Offering up your money or signing up your time to a ministry program out of guilt comes from an irreverent fear, the one between master and slave, that fears only punishment.

On the other hand, you want to live freely and not out of fear of others. So you don’t serve anyone. You hold yourself close. And you guard yourself. In the end you up serving yourself. And this comes out of fear of a different kind – fear of loss.

In the end I think our lives are inescapably tied to sacrifice. It is part of worship. And everyone worships something as David Foster Wallace observed. Our hearts were made to love. Service is that sacrifice of love. And we’re restless until we find rest in the proper object of our loves.

To serve well is to serve freely not out of fear of punishment or loss. It is to serve out of wholeness from a perfect love that has cast out all fear. This is a reverent fear of awe and delight. The identity of a servant as Jesus’ describes I think is not one who accomplishes or conforms to the needs of others. A servant is the one who is great because he has the least. Because he is the one who has the most. And in dying he gives life and causes another to live just as every mother experiences at a new birth. This is what Jesus offers us in his love to us – by dying to reconcile us and rising to overcome death, he invites us to participate in the same life that he lived.

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell. C.S. Lewis.

How Do I Get: The Right Answers

Can life make any sense? Or are you doomed to make the same mistakes and hope Fortune will smile on you once in a while? In all the apparent randomness of our world, what’s surprising is for anyone to claim to have the answers. Because as we all know, no one can have all the answers. And that seems like that’s just what I’m doing here and what my church St John’s is attempting to do in October as we seek to do a series of online talks on honor, joy, fulfillment, meaning, certainty, and the most Aussie value of all: a fair go.

But whether you think there’s an answer or not, your response and attitude to the big questions of life like meaning and fulfillment will impact how you live. I was encouraged to watch our pastors David ask his barista about why she believed fulfillment was the important question and Ronaldo who interviewed his barber in a similar way. Despite all the corruption in the world, I was reminded that in each of us the pursuit for life remains. Whether it is man’s search for meaning as Victor Frankl recognized or Pascal’s observation that “all men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

So why ask these questions? Because while I believe no one but God alone has all the answers, everyone looks for them. But why would we look for something that we would never have a capacity for? As CS Lewis said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Without joy or fulfillment, meaning or certainty, honor or equality, death is the only logical choice. We need these answers. Not because we can know all of them. But because we were made to know the ones that matter to us. We need them to live a proper life.

I suppose what I’m saying is not to waste this opportunity. You can avoid thinking about these things. You can live hedonistically only for your own pleasure. But that is still an answer. And we would love to know what you think. How is it working out for you? Join us online athttps://www.facebook.com/stjohnscathedralparramatta stay tuned for Oct 18th, 25th and Nov 1st where we’ll answer a survey of the people of Parramatta to provide some and not all of the answers. But we hope they’ll be the ones you need.

Revelation 1 and meta narratives: what story is shaping your life?

The crazy apocalyptic guy has existed in society for a long time. After awhile it can be easy to tune out. You can only predict the end of the world or the return of Jesus at decade intervals so many times before the whole thing starts to look like a sham. And besides, who’s more convincing – the guy with the billboard on the streets or the climate apocalypse espoused by Greta Thunberg on a UN podium?

But interestingly enough with Greta Thunberg is that the amount of attention and press she was receiving (before the coronavirus shut down that whole thing) I think showed that more people than I think know inevitably that the curtains will be drawn up, the show will end and leave us looking at one another in the dark. We differ as to how to handle that or what the end will look like but we can agree that this life is not going to go on forever.

Yet we so often live our lives as something infinite until the day death knocks on our door or we face the catastrophe of a crushed civilization. As a postmodern millennial whateveryounameit, it seems like the rejection of meta narratives in the West have reached they completion at times. But at other times, that search for a transcendent meaning to life and something universal leaks through our daily facade. Beyond self development courses and career progression, beyond hobbies and investment properties, we see something wrong with where the world is going and we inevitably care. But a transcendent yearning without a transcendent framework means all we can do is vaguely empathize and hope and maybe…protest? I don’t know what else society would expect us millennials to do.

It’s becoming harder and harder to live in our self secured bubbles. We can’t turn a blind eye to the injustice and suffering we still so often see in an interconnected, constantly available media. But at the same time, we can’t go back to religion. Our parents jumped off that cliff years ago. We can only fly as Ichabod did towards the vague and distant sun. In such a helpless position, what else can we do?

Here’s a novel thought. Maybe it’s time to believe in the transcendent again. We’ve had enough little stories. What we need is a big one, one that we can see and touch and taste for ourselves, like all the ones we were told when we were children which break through the screen of our superhero movies into the world as we know it. One that has a beginning and an end and of course a battle to be fought in the middle, inclusive of every nation and people and with a final and complete ending. It’s one that John receives ironically in the book of Revelation. “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” (Rev. 1.4-5). To the one who has ears let him hear!