A Reflection for Easter

Recently I was asked to write a little something for the lead-up to Easter for a church event. It was to be a “call and response”, something which I’m not really familiar with. The basic idea is that a caller says something (from the front), and then the response is given by the congregation.

Due to other commitments, I only had about three nights to write it. I’m reasonably happy with what I came up with. It will not be used verbatim, as I consider it a draft that can be re-worked by the event organiser. The congregational response is in italics.

He was at home in heaven, worshipped by the angels and in perfect unity with the trinity.

But we were separated, lost in our sin. The weight of the law too heavy and our natures corrupt.

He left comfort, unlimited power and heavenly majesty to enter the world as a babe.

You gave it up for us, knowing what the cost would be.

He came in stealth, not hailed as a King but miraculously, into humble circumstances and ridiculed by the community. He lived among us as a human, with all the highs and lows of life. The Word records that he grew in favour with both God and man.

You understand what it is to be human and can empathize with our struggles and temptations, but were without sin.

Few recognised him, but he came to save us; to be our salvation. To give us a way back into relationship, through truth and grace.

You came to bring a mirror to our hearts.

He was a friend to the sinner, the thief, the adulterer, the sick, the despised and the guilty. He looked down on none, nor hid his face from any who sought him. He was a friend and neighbour to all in need, coming with gentleness and love. A bruised reed he would not break, nor a smouldering wick put out. He saw us not with human eyes, but with a divine heart.

You taught us what it means to love, and what God expects. You did not condemn us for our sins or allow others to, but instead forgave us and called us to repentance.

He was welcomed as a King, but came on his own terms. He rejected power, fame and wealth and sought only to do the Father’s will. His eyes were always focused on the eternal. He knew his blood would be poured out and his body broken for the forgiveness of our sins.

You did it for us, while we were still sinners.

In the Garden we saw his humanity, overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He begged the Father to save him from his fate. Those he had brought along slept during his emotional heartache.

Fearful but obedient, you did it for us. You did it for me.

Before the Sanhedrin and Pilot, he was falsely accused; betrayed and abandoned by friends. He who has been faithful through all time felt the repeated sting of faithlessness. He was innocent.

I am not. Someone had to pay the price, and you didn’t want it to be me.

Pilot would not save him. He who is perfectly Just, received no justice. They stripped him and mocked him. He was beaten and spat on. His head, deserving of a royal crown, was pierced by a cruel crown of thorns.

You wore the crown for me.

He was whipped without mercy, his back shredded, bloody and torn by iron and bone.

By my sin and iniquity.

They lay him on the cross. How his humanity must have wanted to flee, to call on the angels to protect him. Obedience held him there, firmer than any human hands could. But obedience would not have held the fear or pain away.

All he ever did was care for humanity, loving us and wanting to restore us. And the judgement for our sin came down on him, again and again – THUD, THUD, THUD as the nails were driven through his hands and then his feet.

You paid the price for me. You took my guilt and shame.

What unspeakable agony he must have endured upon that cross of ours, as flesh, muscle, bone and nerves were broken or pushed aside by iron spikes. He screamed out, that we would not have too. His body was broken that ours could remain whole. His life was cut short, that ours could go on for eternity.

You were pierced for my transgressions and crushed for my iniquities. My rightful punishment fell upon you.

Even upon the cross, he asked the Father to grant us mercy.

It is who you are. You are good beyond all measure.

At his death the curtain in the temple was torn; the barrier between God and man removed. A new covenant was created and sealed by his blood. He came to open the eyes of the blind, to set captives free and release those who are trapped in darkness.

I am not worthy of your love and mercy, but I gratefully accept it. Examine my heart, Lord God, and see if there is anything offensive within it. You are my God and my life belongs to you.


The Cost and Value of Integrity

A few months ago US Vice President Mike Pence was attacked by much of the US media and commentary for what has become known as “The Pence Rule”.

During his 12 years in Congress, Pence had rules to avoid any infidelity temptations, or even rumors of impropriety. Those included requiring that any aide who had to work late to assist him be male, never dining alone with a woman other than his wife, and not attending an event where alcohol is served unless Karen was there.

In a 2002 interview with The Hill, Pence called it, “building a zone around your marriage.”

Source: The Washington Post.

For this comment Mike Pence faced a chorus of howling complaints (and a few cheers).

Mike Pence should be honoured by the fact that the media took to calling it the “Pence rule”. I suspect it fit the desired narrative for the attackers to target Pence than someone whose character was less impeachableFrom The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham,

“We all knew evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel,” Billy wrote. “We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet, or eat alone with a woman other than my wife…”

It may seem quaint and impractical in this day of casual relationships between the sexes to be so rigid about meeting with someone of the opposite sex – but it worked for Billy and his team. They eliminated any suspicion of problems. While on the road, the team travelled together and occupied adjoining hotel rooms, or at least rooms in close proximity. By not travelling along, they minimized temptations. And each team member committed to never being alone with a woman who was not his wife. (page 55).

Plenty of people were willing to attack Pence, not so many Graham… I wonder why?

There’s a few points I’d like to make:

This is Mike Pence’s personal rule. Let me repeat that: personal. Though I know of others who follow it (or variants), no one is trying to make it law (at least not in Western countries). It’s a decision that he’s made to protect himself, his wife and his marriage. Not to mention all the women potentially involved, their children, spouses, wider families and their friends.

It’s a smart rule. I think it is a smart rule for anyone. For a politician, in the public and never-blinking eye, I’m willing to say it’s dumb not to embrace some pretty strict rules. Yes, technically before a court of law you’re innocent until proven guilty, but for a politician where perception is reality, everyone has a camera and can tweet their unverified rumours and get a thousand re-tweets within seconds… can anyone really argue it’s not a smart move?

There’s a reason. Men know the kind of thoughts that run through their brains. Very few women truly understand this; we are just so different. The very first glimmer of sexual attraction often starts visually for men. It doesn’t matter if we’ve never talked to you, or your values and views are polar-opposites to ours. If you’re attractive, we are likely to notice.

That doesn’t mean bad behaviour on our part is acceptable or unavoidable. It is possible for us to reign in our thoughts and control our eyes so we aren’t just a bunch of drooling neanderthals. However, that self-control means sometimes we’re going to implement rules for ourselves which you just can’t comprehend or see the need for. You need to understand: this thing is on a hair-trigger.

But the rule isn’t there because, “if I dine alone with a woman an affair is a certainty.” That isn’t the case, but as acknowledged by Willard Harley in “His Needs, Her Needs – Building an Affair-Proof Marriage” affairs often start out as “just being friends”. As Pence said, it’s a “zone around his marriage”. Think of it like a fire-break. You build and maintain the fire-break to protect what you have in the event of a fire.

As blogger Tim Challies notes,

The Billy Graham Rule is not a universal law mandated by the Bible, but a personal rule mandated by conscience. It is not a biblical law but an attempt to flesh out a biblical principle (sexual purity and/or being seen as above reproach). Many will follow the Rule according to their best understanding of how to ensure they are honoring God. In so doing they will be heeding their conscience…

Some complained that it disadvantaged women, because they would be excluded from important informal times at work. Yes, sadly that’s a likely effect. But the rule does cuts both ways (even if, disproportionally) – men can’t have lunches with their female bosses. But if we were going to make things entirely fair, should we also put a stop to the smoking circle? What about those who play sport or run together, doesn’t that disadvantage the disabled?

The world isn’t fair and people don’t get treated equally. Not every player wins a prize and sometimes your skills won’t be acknowledged. That’s life. It’s unfair that we can read and some in the world can’t, should we stop reading?

Besides, it’s not an insurmountable problem. The wise boss would make time to invest in all his staff. Meetings could be one-on-one, but in a public place, or behind closed doors, with the blinds open. The application of a boundary doesn’t mean that men and women aren’t going to talk to each other any more.

There is a cost of integrity. In some parts of the world that cost is death but for us in the West it is more often just ridicule. Mike Pence felt it and so do others. They look strange. They are accused of things which are untrue and unfair. They pay the cost, because they know the value. Pence is protecting his integrity, his wife and the marriage they have built together. He made a commitment to her and is doing whatever it takes to keep that commitment.

You remember ‘commitment’ right? Doctors doing no harm, journos reporting the truth and politicians serving the people? If only we had more of it.

RIH, Billy Graham

Rest in Heaven, Billy Graham.

In this world of all-too-often compromised values and fallen ‘heroes’, Billy Graham stood remarkably unscathed by controversy. How many people have successfully navigated the treacherous waters of fame and public opinion and not met with failure or tragedy? Not many.

He was consistent, faithful and trusted.

I’ve read before that if Graham had his life ‘over’ he would do as Jesus did and invest in a small number of people instead of his evangelistic crusades. Would he have made a greater impact on the world had he done so? Possibly; only God knows. But what we do know is that he made a huge difference in millions of people’s lives.

Some who accepted Jesus at a crusade would have had the seeds of truth stolen by the challenges and opposition which came, but I know of several (and there would be innumerable more) who had that seed planted in deep, rich soil. From that seed of truth and hope a great tree of salvation has grown. Many thousands more have found shelter, and in time – their own salvation – under the shade of those trees. Faith is a journey. Sometimes Graham planted the seed, other times he watered it, and for many, he harvested it.

May his family and friends rejoice in the legacy and the man who was Billy Graham. Though their pain of loss remains, there must be great joy in knowing Billy now sits adoringly at the feet of the one he loved and gave his life for.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

The Western Church

For too long I have swallowed a lie. The edges of the lie occasionally made me uncomfortable but by-and-large it has gone down with my consent.

Like Neo taking the red pill in The Matrix, I’m beginning to wake up.

The lie is this: the church must present itself in a certain way in order to attract people. It must have an attractive building, easy parking and worship times should be convenient. As Westerners we have come to expect a certain level of comfort… how could we possibly convince people to come unless they are going to be comfortable and have a great experience?

The statement has a ring of truth to it; all good lies do. To attract a certain type of person it is true. Fortunately, however, Jesus covers off on this in Luke 14:16-23:

Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

people-1550501_960_720Jesus makes it clear – if those we invite are too distracted by the world, then we should instead go to those who will be interested in the invitation. The widow and the orphan, the homeless – all those seeking God and His love aren’t picky about the building’s décor. Did we really think our flashy building could add anything to the draw-card of the Father’s love?

It does make it harder to reach people, because of the likely sacrifice it will cost us. We’ll have to turn down the comfort-controls a notch or three. It may be harder for us to relate to the less fortunate. We might actually start learning what it is to carry a cross…

The whole idea is counter-cultural, but that’s exactly what Jesus was.


Tomorrow there will be a blog post on a microstory – a splash of inspiration from every day life.

You know the kind, you’re walking along on your way to work and your mind is trying to convince you that you should really be writing instead of going to this other “day job”. Something minuscule will spark a creative ember, and bam, now your brain is in full creative mode…

But in the mean time, here’s a song that I really like recently. (I admit, you do have to overlook the excessive warbling and be OK with simple lyrics). They are, however, beautiful lyrics backed up by a good melody.

But that’s enough about my listening habits. What songs have been on repeat for you lately?

Writing Boundaries (1)

In this two-post series I discuss my evolving passion for writing and how it fits in as a component of my life. In a subsequent post I will share how my Writing Boundaries determine what I will write about.

You might have noticed I missed my weekly post last weekend. It was mostly because I was still mulling things over in my mind. Sometimes to rush a post would be worse than missing an arbitrary deadline. With something important to say, it should be said right.

Continue reading

Who’s your god?

The bulk of today’s post is about Christianity. But if you follow me for writing, I highly recommend reading this long, but informative piece: Publishing’s Parallel Universe by Louise Merrington, which talks about her experience with both traditional and indie publishing.

Now onto faith… To highlight the point I’ll be making in this post, a passage from The Heavenly Man which I gushed about earlier. This is a section written by Deling, Yun’s husband:

God helped us greatly while my husband was in prison. There are two special miracles that I’d like to share with you from this time.

With only Yun’s mother and me left to run the farm, things were desperate! We had no clue what we were doing. We decided to plant sweet potatoes, but didn’t know how to do it. I found out later that we should have planted the roots about two feet apart. I had planted them just a few inches apart!

All summer long our neighbours who heard about my foolishness mocked us and made fun of us! The news spread rapidly and I was the butt of many jokes.

Then in autumn, all our neighbours started cursing because they had very poor yields from their harvest. Their sweet potatoes were only the size of tennis balls.

When we pulled up our sweet potatoes, we found they were almost the size of basketballs! It was a great miracle and everyone knew God had taken care of us. Our neighbours respected us more from that moment on and they didn’t view my husband as a cursed criminal any more, but as a man who’d been unjustly incarcerated.

Our neighbours saw “the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” Malachi 3:18.

The second miracle took place when Isaac was three. We had to exchange a portion of whatever crops we produced because we owned no animals or fertiliser. Therefore it was imperative we had a good harvest, or we would not be able to buy food to eat or the other items we needed to survive.

This time I didn’t know how to plant wheat seeds. I placed them so close together that they carpeted the soil!

Just a week before the wheat harvest, a severe hailstorm struck. Ice the size of tennis balls fell from the sky. I rushed outside when the hail started and could already see that some of our neighbours’ wheat fields had been completely flattened by the storm. Yun’s mother and I fell to our knees and cried out, “God, have mercy on us!”

A great miracle happened. Our field was the only one protected by the Lord. All our wheat was standing upright, untouched by the hail. Everyone else’s fields in the whole area had been obliterated.

People came out of their homes after the storm subsided and saw how the Lord Jesus Christ had protected us. It was another powerful testimony to them.

While we enjoyed thick, healthy wheat that year, our neighbours had no harvest and were forced to use what was left of their crops as food for their animals.

Looking back, despite the hard times, the Lord was faithful to us!

As most Christians understand, knowing God doesn’t mean your life is suddenly gold. It is fantastic in many ways, but it doesn’t spare you all of the hardships like some kind of mystical genie. As was the case for Deling above – her husband was still in prison, and she still struggled to survive. (The majority of us in the affluent West don’t understand what it means to literally be desperate. [Desperation is not waiting for your internet to buffer]).

Thinking that you’ll suddenly be prosperous and have everything you need is at the far end of the scale. But the other end of the scale is equally wrong: thinking of God with a little ‘g’. God doesn’t confer a small advantage in life, he’s the only advantage you’ll ever need.

It also shows that he’s a God who cares about the individual, and our earthly circumstances. Not only does he want to protect us from the ravages and consequences of sin (e.g. the woman caught in adultery), and pain but he knows us intimately even down to how many hairs are on our head.

Deling and her mother-in-law couldn’t just sit back and wait for rescue – they did what they can, and asked God to help. Note that God came through at the end which is so typically God. He didn’t have someone helpful come along and explain how to farm, but instead worked a miracle to show his power.

If we are being obedient to his call in our lives, then we can be confident that he will look after us. That doesn’t mean we will be saved from incredible hardship, but that he will help us through the hardship. It is, after all, what we’re called to do.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)