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TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ever Wanted to Know How Many People Died in 2016?

Photo: @ChristheBarker//Twitter.
I typed “how many people died in 2016?” into my browser’s search engine. I found it no surprise that Wikipedia came up as the very first result. I thought, I wonder what figure it will tell me. I found it astounding that the only people Wikipedia recognised who had died in 2016 were those who had some sort of public status, reflected in a Wikipedia page devoted to them as a person.
More people than that died in 2016. Your uncle. Your grandfather. Your son or daughter. Your mother. Your sister. Or it was a friend who had some loss that shook their world. A loss they cannot yet let go of, and may never do, in the ultimate sense.
There is much ado made about the celebrities we’ve lost (as if these people were ever ours, anyway?) in 2016. Statistically speaking, it’s very doubtful that 2016 would be any worse a year than 2015 or the coming year, 2017, will be in that regard. Roughly the same amount of celebrities each die every year, give or take.
But that’s not the point of what I’m writing this for.
For every person who has died, for everyone bereaved because of each person’s loss, solemnity is owed. What has occurred in their loss is something that has changed them forever. And for the person gone, they’re gone. Sure, we can celebrate that they’re ‘in a better place’ (if we believe they are) but all their life is gone. It’s done. It’s history.
There is nothing good about death other than thinking about ours can cause us to cherish our life a whole lot more.
So, if you lost someone dear to you this year, whether that person was a celebrity or not, your loss, and that person, is as important as anyone is.
And, by the way, the average deaths per annum is 55.3 million persons — each one, special.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Misunderstood Power of Brokenness

The word “broken” has many connotations. It is not usually thought of as a good word in terms of people, i.e. of being a broken person, but God makes it possible for brokenness to be strangely good.
Indeed, there is a type of brokenness, a biblical frailty, that is especially spiritual.
The outer person has been penetrated. God has access to the inner being.[1] This is brokenness.
The Lit Broken Vessel
In the same way that a vessel shines light from within outside, because it has been broken and put back together, effusing light from each crack, that’s how spiritual brokenness works. Not only is the vessel broken. There is light within. And that light shines out without impediment. If the vessel wasn’t broken it wouldn’t matter the amount of light within, we just wouldn’t see it, and we couldn’t be influenced by it. If the vessel was broken but there was no light, it would be as if the vessel was unbroken yet had light; there’s no light emanating.
Brokenness as in the lit broken vessel is a misunderstood power.
Not many in the world, and probably few of the faith, would cherish this thing that God cherishes very much. Until we find it within ourselves we, too, remain unconvinced, yet we, like almost everyone else on the planet, attest to gorgeous portions of brokenness that romance us via the plethora of feel-good stories that light up our social media newsfeeds. Every miracle story is etched in some form of God’s hidden brokenness. We just don’t readily recognise it. It’s the come-from-behind and victory-against-the-odds metastory that resonates through almost every award-winning song and motion picture.
The Passage to Brokenness
Connecting with this hidden power is simple. But it is, unfortunately, always soul-breaking. It’s why the Christian life is replete with suffering. And until we learn that, that suffering is an essential part of the journey of character refinement, we will continue to kick against the goads, as Saul did before he came to be Paul.
The passage to brokenness is always a long journey. It takes years. We may know the theory for years before we regularly practice its power. That’s not a bad thing. At least we know where we’re headed.
To meek and humble submission amid persecution; that’s where.
To acceptance and joy especially in trial, because of the good things of growth promised.
It still took Moses, Joseph, and David — and arguably even Jesus — at least a decade (more in Moses’ case) each to engage with their brokenness before God reconciled their growth to powerfully use each them.
Is God saving us from any of our growth before He uses us powerfully?
But He will also use us along the way, and that reality is humbling!
Brokenness is a deep power grossly misunderstood. What is least attractive to the unbroken person is the power of God in the person who has learned to open out their brokenness to a bleeding world.
Brokenness as a power is hope for the world for healing via a healing that came only from God.
Brokenness is healing to wholeness so, for another’s wholeness, we exemplify brokenness. A great power misunderstood.

[1] Refer to Romans 7:22 and Ephesians 3:16.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Times When We Must Be Prepared to Lose to Win

With Christmas imminent in everyone’s thoughts right now, some reflective escapism allowed, it’s ironic that peace and goodwill is not the theme of the future’s present. Too many geopolitical ructions of recent months to ignore.
A terrifying time is coming; if that hasn’t already been the global reality for some time.
More than ever, the ages-old gospel remedy of “love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you” has relevance, but it seems many people of the faith would prefer to fight. Or at least their standing for principles causes them to engage in anything other than true pacifism.
Recently I was inspired to watch Mel Gibson’s depiction of Desmond T. Doss’s World War II heroism, Hacksaw Ridge (2016). It reminded me of the power of non-resistance against violence, and especially of the God-transformation that occurred in KKK leader, Johnny Lee Clary (1959—2014) through his interactions with the Reverend Wade Watts, who met the racist KKK leader’s violence with love, and won his heart for the Lord. Well, of course, there’s the legendary Reverend Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, too. There are very many examples of people who were prepared to lose to ultimately win.
And that’s our personal mandate, however it rankles us. There are times when we must be prepared to lose to win. Responding with non-violence when we’ve been violated runs against our humanity, so we cannot respond with non-resistance or non-violent resistance without God’s inspiration and power. God’s inspiration will give us innovative responses that neither they nor we could have previously imagined or engineered. God’s power gives us what we need to carry out what would otherwise seem absurd. And godly responses always seem absurd at the time, but truth’s wisdom rises later in the day.
There are times when we can only hope to ultimately win by choosing a path of love that means we must lose the battle here and now.
The war fought on the grounds of love is a series of battles we must be determined to lose, for enemies can only be conquered by love.
These lessons are eternal, and we’ve never needed eternity’s wisdom more than for such a time as this in world history.
Christmas teaches us that war fought on the ground of love is a series of battles we must be prepared to lose to win.
Christmas reminds us that God came to earth, weak and vulnerable; that the world’s concept of power was never going to overthrow evil.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Blue Christmas, ‘the Gap’, and True Joy

Of all calendar times, Christmas highlights most the contrast between the concept of joy and peace in Christmas and the realities most people live. People may occasionally despise the disparity, but Christmas is nobody’s enemy. People, deeper down, may realise it’s not Christmas’ fault, but the gap between fantasy and reality is never starker than at Christmas.
There is also more angst in families at Christmas time. As people juggle the dissonance between the image of Christmas, and how the media tells us we should feel about it (which subconsciously raises our ire), and the many and varied ways that loneliness, loss, and disappointment play out in our lives, dissension rises in the tones of stress, especially when we’re busier than we’d like to be. Outbursts ought to be more forgivable at Christmas. But, sadly, the most often polarise us, because of our own sensitivities.
There’s nothing wrong with the ideals of Christmas, the halcyon of which is “God with us,” in Jesus, the Saviour of the world, coming to earth. Everything about Christmas piques the imagination toward the prosperity of God giving Himself to us. Safety, goodwill, and hope all embody what we know Christmas to be, because Jesus came. God, in flesh, with His Spirit.
It’s reasonable to feel blue at Christmas. There’s a gap between reality and the image of Christmas. That gap is small in many of our lives, for we have much to be thankful for. But there are times in all our lives when the gap is cavernous. For some, it’s an event that makes times like these never the same as they once were. And, though we still have much to be thankful for, the gap speaks an irrepressible voice.
But there is hope, even within the cavernous gap. That hope is true joy, as if we thought we knew it beforehand, without truly knowing it. True joy is first experienced after having known pain; the voice in a baritone tenor.
Joy is a journey where depths plunged create a larger vocal range, where the voice can speak of experiences previously untold.
A blue Christmas is a sign that we’re on the journey to a truer joy. God has revealed a deeper experience of life that will not only make us fit for feeling pain, but will fit us for a deeper, more abiding joy.
The experience of joy is improved through enduring pain, so don’t lose hope, because true joy is a deep reality.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Purpose and Vision for the Journey of Life

God knows that if we knew how long and hard the journey was we’d never start. That’s why He built purpose into our minds, filled our hearts with hope, and made dreamy destinations the vision of our souls.
Purpose is for the journey what vision is of the destination. We need both. We need purpose that drives us along the journey. We need vision, too, which is something purpose sees.
Vision is a revelation of the destination.
In normal circumstances, purpose must see vision or the vitality of hope is lost. But perhaps the greatest hope of all is a visionless purpose that keeps travelling, journeying in faith, in a wise direction.
Purpose is motivation abiding in faithful trust in a vision. It’s motivation for the journey.
We fail in life by giving up on our dreams. We never fail by failing in our attempts to realise dreams. Whilst we believe enough to keep going, we have the probabilities of the successful in our favour. Failure is only ever ultimately an end point. We never arrive at failure until we have given up. But we fail many times, not for a want of trying, mind you.
It’s the person with purpose and a vision who travels unswervingly the journey toward the inevitable destination.
They know where they’re headed, and though reaching the destination seems so impossible at times, their faith makes them refuse to give up. Even in an imagined futility they cannot give themselves to give up.
A purpose and a vision: these two are palpable. One is the journey vouchsafed, expedited with surety. The other is the shimmering destination, making every sacrifice abundantly worth it.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Nothing Else Matters

“Trust I seek and I find in you,
Every day for us something new,
Open mind for a different view,
And nothing else matters.”
— Metallica, Nothing Else Matters
The vision of relational intimacy takes us into the nether land of commitment, to the point that, in the context of the relationship, nothing else matters. Under all conditions, including duress and impediment, commitment never fails.
This works in all manifestations of relationship: with God, with others (including with a special other), and us, with ourselves.
As we trust in our seeking the other, as they seek us through their trust, we find… we always find. We always find what we’re looking for when we seek in the commitment of trust, for like love, trust never fails — where, like with love that never fails, we never stop trusting.
For such a relationship as it is that has commitment, where nothing else matters, every day holds, for us, something new, where minds are open for a different view.
Intimacy comes when we’re close no matter how far we are away from each other. Even when we feel far from God, He’s so close. It’s the same with a dear friend all the way across the other side of the world. Oceans may separate, but when it comes to love, nothing else matters.
As far as intimacy is concerned, we’re closest to ourselves when we’re lonely; when we have to crave God, and when we’re ready to dig deeply into concepts of intimacy through our vulnerability — which is the courage to risk for love. And in all this, because nothing else matters than our relationships of love, we’ll do anything to connect; so good we live in an age where the practicalities of connection have never been more accessible.
The best of relationships happens when commitment says, “Nothing else matters.” It’s wonderful, we’re beckoned into such a relationship with God, where intimacy grows and may reign.
What we crave most of all is connection where beyond love nothing else matters.

A Prayer for Those Who Struggle at Christmas

Eternal God,
We know there are people who suffer during Advent, and perhaps additional loneliness because they cannot connect with the joys of Christmas. Your heart is for them. You know their plight. You hate it that they’re disconnected from community when Christmas is supposed to connect people. You understand and You accept why nothing, at this time, for them, can change this for them. Yet, You are close to them whether they feel You or not. You are there. Eternally there. Give them hope through the presence of a special heart, one ethereal soul, that may, at this time, connect with them.
In a world that seems to be losing its way, You remind us, through reading Your Word, that You are in control. Always. Reassure by Your Spirit, those who feel the world is ending. Give them a peace in their hearts, and a stillness in their minds, that they can trust; that transcends their understanding.
Thank You for those precious persons for whom Christmas is a time of serving, for You made them to understand how important their supporting others is at this time of year. Bless them continually with energy for listening, and wisdom for their words. Give them material gain so they may extend their generosity to the farthest reaches of their influence.
For those with acute mental health problems right now, I ask You, through Your Covenant Presence with them, to protect them and keep each one safe. It’s with boldness I pray that You save each one from harm. I can ask that can’t I, Lord? Alleviate their moments, give them some connection with hope, and glimmers of joy and peace. Help them know You are Peace. Help them know just how dearly loved by You they truly are.
For those who are far away, or estranged, or beyond hope for some reason, give them hope for something coming, something amazing that can only come from You. Compensate them for the pain they endure even as the words of this prayer are prayed by some unknown soul in a foreign place, any banal moment, and, in reaching You, that cause You to reach down and make a miracle occur in their very midst.
Lord, be richly there and powerful by Your Presence in the lives of those who struggle this Christmas. Make them to feel Your Touch, Your Warmth, Your Embrace.
In Jesus’ compassionate Name I pray,

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Wisdom of Being Thankful When You’re Not

Today I’m thankful, right now, that I feel alert, despite the lack of sleep; that I managed six hours when it could have been five.
I’m wearing nice clothes, even though I ironed them and I hate ironing. The fact that I’m wearing clothes, and clothes that fit me, that I bought by choice, even though I may not have been deliriously happy at the time. Yes, I have too many clothes I no longer wear, and not enough that I can, but it’s also true that I have clothes.
It’s going to be a hot day, and I’ll be back out there soon, but at present I’m in air conditioned comfort, and, what’s more, the day is cool at present.
Despite being too early for an appointment, I have some minutes to muse. It’s a luxury I don’t often enough have, so boredom is not an option to choose, besides, if I’m intentional about what I think about, this time could prove invaluable. And that task is to be thankful. It’s a good task that will keep me from mental-harm’s way.
I have money to pay for overpriced airport food and beverages. Instead of complaining, I’ll be thankful that, at present, I can feed myself, and that I had the choice to buy or not to buy.
Despite having a big day ahead, I have the privilege of not having a boring day; that there is even a probability that I’ll feel challenged and fulfilled today.
It annoys me that I now have to wear spectacles, and cleaning them constantly is frustrating, but at least I can still see… and read… and watch.
I’m regularly so busy that it troubles my spirit, being that I live to serve God by serving others, but at least I can be thankful that there’s no shortage of purpose in my life.
I’m married to the creature of my fantasy, who delights me, though she does also at times annoy me; with her wisdom. She makes me feel safe without indulging me too much.
I have a delight of a son, who, though I’ll be tired, I’m delighted to get up to during the night when I won’t get to see him in the morning, as I’m off to work too early.
I caught up with one of my adult daughters recently, and, even though it made my day busier than I’d planned, it was an unexpected joy, especially as we’re all busy.
Being thankful when we aren’t; that’s the wisdom of being thankful. We wouldn’t need to be thankful if we already were.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Storage Pallets and a Spiritual Acceptance Opportunity

Saturday morning is a work morning, but a recent one was special. I had my buddy (three-year-old son) accompany me. We went to Bunnings Warehouse to pick up some used storage pallets.
I entered the Trade area, parked the car and trailer ensemble and took my buddy in to be directed. A helpful young man led me and my buddy out to the area they keep the pallets, showing me the ones I could have and the ones I couldn’t have.
Great. All clear. Time to get to work and load the trailer. I loaded six good ones on the trailer and tied the load down. On driving out of the Yard the older guy on the gate stopped me and inspected my load.
“Ah, we’ve got a problem here, mate. Let me check, but I think you can’t take the Swan Cement ones — that’s four of the six.”
I was inwardly seething as I was operating on instruction from the younger guy. Anticipating that I’d have to unload and reload I had to tell myself to regain my composure. The younger man was already walking up toward me when my pride arose, and, without saying much at all, let him know I was pretty unimpressed at the run around. I reversed the trailer back to the storage pallet area, and the younger guy was guiding me, which had a negative effect on my reversing, so I said I’d be okay. At this point, as I was still reversing, my buddy in the back said, “Stop being angry, Dad.” I thought I’d managed to keep a lid on my emotions, but in truth my buddy, the younger guy and older guy could all tell I was cheesed off.
I untied the pallets and dropped them back, then loaded the permissible ones up and tied them on. As I tied the pallets on the trailer, God reminded me that I was a Christian; that my fruit comes down to my behaviour. No recrimination for my reaction, just a reminder to reconcile the situation.
I repented. I decided to be grateful. I also decided to apologise to both the younger and older guys, and thank them for their help.
“Sorry I didn’t listen clearly enough, or seek clarification,” I said to the younger man, even if it wasn’t my fault. He said, “Can I get you a free hat and shirt for your inconvenience?” The older guy appreciated the apology and my thanking him for just enforcing the rules, and he offered me free timber boards.
I really felt I’d failed God, yet again, until the Lord spoke something so important into and through my spirit.
“You are not meant to be good apart from me, Steve.
You’re no good on your own.”
Sometimes, in not being a good Christian, I’m reminded that trying too hard to be a good Christian means I negate the fact that Christ is God’s goodness in me; that without Him I have no goodness in me, as the sum goodness in me is propelled by motives that are other than godly. But when I truly think like Christ, His goodness is imputed through me.
His grace offers us all a freeing reality. Because we cannot be good in and of ourselves, without Him, there’s no pressure from God to try. We’re not fooling Him when we do our good deeds before people who then think we’re good; where God gets no glory.
A better response is our situational surrender in allowing God’s power to work through us in difficult situations. That’s an extraordinary goodness that others sincerely notice; transcending any appearance of human goodness.
Being Christian is accepting we cannot be good without Christ being alive in us through our actions. Being Christian is not about how much we know; it’s about how much we accept grace alone has saved our sinning souls.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Life’s Not the Same Unless We’re Different

From where does anxiety commonly emanate? From making comparisons with others; from a fear of failing to meet others’ standards; from failing to meet our own standards; from feeling unsafe in our world; from some unknown (or known) stimulus or trauma we survived in our development. The list would run on.
Anxiety emanates from thinking that expects what’s unreasonable.
It’s our underlying expectations that we cannot meet — where there’s a mismatch, whether it’s known or not. Even if we know in our logical mind that such expectation is unreasonable, we may still struggle to accept that our best is good enough.
Of course, our best is good enough. It has to be.
What if dealing with our expectations of ourselves was the thing that could free our minds of the burden of our anxiety?
What if challenging the comparisons we make with others was a key to feeling freer?
What if our chance to shine was truly based in us being different? And what if us being different isn’t what we think it is... what if we’re awesome just as we are? — different and all!
Life is short. Recently I was looking at a sporting final my favourite football team won. It was over twenty years ago! It was another age ago. But it didn’t feel that long ago.
We are who we are, and besides it being too much work to change personality and being, we are best accepting who God made us to be — annoying differences, mannerisms, habits, and all. This is not to say we shouldn’t work on our character, which is kindness, humility, patience, gentleness and compassion — love.
Feeling like we need to conform to some predetermined ideal creates such stress. Call it anxiety. Resolve to embrace our difference. Celebrate: you and me. We are different.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Experience of Breakdown and Recovery of Hope

Something that occurs regularly enough for me is the experience of breakdown and the recovery of hope. Acute fatiguing attacks where my soul is spiritually weary precedes a resurrection, but it would be unfair to overlook the value of being emotionally decimated.
The experience, for me at least, takes anywhere from two hours to two days. As short as it is, it’s acute. And there’s typically a pattern to it. It takes place sometimes a couple of times a month. The busier I am the more often I succumb. I love being with people and helping them, which is my life purpose, but too much of it — and especially too much to do — and it becomes a task and a burden and I begin to burnout. Breakdown for me is the first sign of burnout. I cannot help but respond because my mind begins to slow to a stop, warning me of the time I need to take to reboot. When I take the time I need, including the time to completely discharge my emotional energies, I’m only hours or a night’s sleep from the recovery of my hope.
It’s different for others, but there are always similarities. The subconscious mind does not only have dreams through which to express itself — we bury the stresses of life and baggage of our uglier encounters only so far. We always have to deal with it eventually, and even if these things aren’t our problem, many of us are paid/called to bear others’ burdens, so these are the occupational hazards.
The theory converts nicely into practice: allow the experience of breakdown, and do not fear it, for breakdown precedes recovery and through redemption there’s hope.

There’s no shame in the depressions and breakdowns common to daily life. So long as we’re honest we recover.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Forgiveness and the Purpose of Life

My earliest experiences of profound forgiveness came easily, because I saw my fault, but some of my latter experiences have been harder. They haven’t been harder because I was less to blame than other parties were. They’ve been harder because that’s the purpose of life: sanctification increases in difficulty the more we surrender dutifully before God.
Yes, that’s right. The more obedient we are, the more we’re attentive to discerning and doing God’s will, the deeper we’re taken in our unique cross-ward journey. No matter what or how much we suffer, we’ll still fall far short of Jesus’ suffering for us on the cross.
“They who wrestle with us strengthen our nerve, and sharpen our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.”
— Edmund Burke (1729–1797)
Now in swings the purpose; of forgiveness, as a process for learning. It’s operant engagement with humility, because we cannot learn if we’re not humble, and humility must come through subjugated pride — a very hard thing if we make a big thing of it, but an easy thing to do one decision of the will at a time.
The person we must forgive (get this: biblically, there is no option), or the situation we must reconcile (because it will drive our peace and joy away otherwise) is there to strengthen our nerve. For, without it we’ll go soft, and learn nothing. That’s not the Christian journey.
Those very things that are against us are the things God has allowed to be there. Only the difficult thing — like forgiveness — is sufficiently worthy of the purpose of life, because purpose must take us deep or it feels meaningless.
Here is my favourite quote on the topic; a truth that early church Father, John Chrysostom (347–407) propounded when exegeting Romans 8:37:
“Yet those that be against us, so far are they from thwarting us at all, that even without their will they become to us causes of crowns, and procurers of countless blessings, in that God’s wisdom turns their plots unto our salvation and glory. See how really no one is against us!”
The more someone is against us, the more God is for us through the grace of His Presence when we’re meek. Accepting the harmful overture is something that an enemy cannot reconcile. Victory is in the humble acceptance that what is, is. This humble meekness throws everyone off guard because it vanquishes the evil power they’ve deployed. Having a genuine heart of forgiveness and acceptance makes all the difference.
When life is particularly difficult we have even more access to God’s all-sufficient grace as we accept the hardship. Forgiveness in this context is central to the purpose of life, which is to learn and develop and grow and mature.
Let’s consider it a privilege when we’re exposed to conflict that causes us to need to forgive. The need to forgive causes us to stretch and mature, giving us a grand purpose.
Only as we wrestle with what feels impossible, forgiveness, do we learn something invaluable about life. God gave us the impossible to overcome, by our faith and His power.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

When Love Means Safety

What language does love speak?
By what values is love defined?
Love’s values are found in being meek.
Love speaks a language that’s kind.
Self-sacrifice for others,
Is nothing about needing to be needed,
It’s about giving ourselves for our sisters and brothers,
That’s how God’s Word is heeded.
Men especially, but women too,
Lead their own by humility,
Giving the love that’s due,
Is about ending all hostility.
As a man, like so many men, I’ve so often failed the very standard I’m discussing here, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it. Our women — our wives, mothers and daughters — need our love to be spoken in the language of safety, of trustworthiness, of being meek enough to sacrifice ourselves.
Such safety is a refuge for the vulnerable; an exemplification of God’s safe love.
But it’s not only our women who need it — or us men needing something of it from our women, though we ought to outdo each other, men for women, women for men, in the doing of our love.
It’s our kids that need it, first and foremost.
If us men can love our women — our wives, mothers and daughters — then there’s a massive positive impact for our sons’ lives, too. Is there a more significant legacy to leave our sons than teaching them to respect girls and women?
Love must come first. Before rules. Before discipline. Before ‘parenting’. If love comes first the apt requisite for rules and discipline and parenting is set.
Safety means declaring a war by peace on all hostility. It’s a making of progress by the powers of love that overcome all fear and division because love never fails.