I’m guessing from time to time many of us feel like God doesn’t even know we exist, let alone loves us or wants to be involved in our lives. Or maybe we have followed him – done all the right things and it seems he is deaf to our cries and unaware of our struggles. I know it’s the reason some give up on faith. ‘I tried… but I just couldn’t connect… couldn’t hear him, feel him and so on…’
No amount of reasoning, logic and philosophising can replace a tangible experience of a relational God. At some point, in some way we need to encounter God – personally – in a way we can remember and come back to – otherwise the whole ‘relationship with God’ thing just sounds like a very hollow mantra.
I try to spend the first 30 minutes or so of each day reading the Bible, meditating and praying, and I probably have as many ‘significant’ days where I sense God in the words of the story, as I do ‘insignificant’, where it feels like God didn’t show up, or maybe he was tired too…
Lately I’ve been reading Genesis which doesn’t really sound like a book that is easy to engage with reflectively, but its actually been great, especially for reminding me of how much I just haven’t yet got a hold of.
I was disturbed again by God’s shoddy treatment of Cain – because his offering wasn’t up to scratch, I was puzzled again by the whole Babel story (I should have this one under wraps by now right?…) and there have been enough of these bizarre incidents that I’m thinking one day I might just do a sermon series on ‘all the stuff I still don’t understand’.
But this morning I did understand what I was reading and it was worth sharing, so here goes…
Abram and his wife Sarai have been in Canaan 10 years and still no child as promised… I agree with Sarai that 10 years is a fair wait. Its not like she didn’t give God a fair crack to deliver the much promised child. Surely we would also be thinking ‘we heard God wrong’, or whatever the ‘explanatory language’ is that your tribe uses.
So she tells Abram to get it on with Hagar and hopefully that will bring a child into the world. I know Genesis 30:1-3 is credited with being the basis for the Handmaid’s Tale, but I think this passage suggests Hagar might be the original ‘handmaid’, not that she wanted that ‘honour’.
So Abram sleeps with Hagar, she gets pregnant, despises Sarai who then gets down on her and as a result she does a runner. She is an Egyptian slave, used as a baby incubator and now pregnant and on the run from her mistress with whom she is in conflict. – not a happy place to be. She is hiding in the desert when an angel shows up to speak to her.
Ok – so what mental image came to mind when I just said angel? Hold that thought for later.
Its documented as a very brief encounter, but essentially it’s a conversation between the angel and Hagar, where he acknowledges her plight and tells she will have a son named Ishmael – for whom things won’t go so well.
But it’s the next section that is significant, where she reflects on what has happened. She realises she is not alone in the world as this God ‘sees her’.
13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
That was enough for her – to know that God ‘sees her‘ and to know that he is aware of what is going on. I have lost count of the number of people who have told me that it seems God has forgotten them, or his silence is destroying them. I wonder why he doesn’t show up more often like this – in the form of an angel – and just put the doubts to rest.
Or maybe he does – maybe angels aren’t glowing white with wings, but are just other people – ordinary people even – sent by God to let us know that he ‘sees us’, he hasn’t forgotten us and he is not looking away.
Interestingly it doesn’t answer all the ‘why’ questions that Hagar must have had at being used as a baby machine, but it does just say ‘I am with you’ and I have not forgotten you.
So I’ve given the major prophets a really good workout this year and I was still feeling adventurous…
I had a couple of weeks in Ephesians just to refresh my mind for the teaching we are doing at church, but then I thought I really should have a crack at Genesis – another book that has enough stuff in it to puzzle me and make it easy to avoid.
One of the questions I find myself always asking as I read is ‘How would I teach this or what is the point being made here and what are we supposed to see?
Is it as simple as a world created in 6 days complete with talking snake? Or is it more complex than that? I’m not digging into any commentaries or resource material at the moment as I’m just reading it reflectively and devotionally, but those questions of creation perspectives are always there.
This morning as I was reading ch 5 I noticed Enoch as a stand out. Everyone gets to the age of X then dies, but not Enoch…
23 Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years.24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
The writer gives him credit for a faithful walk with God – and then rather than dying ‘God takes him away’. Curious…
Noah also get a good rap in the midst of bad. And of course then comes the ark.
I find it hard to read Genesis freshly because I have been so conditioned to ask certain questions (old earth / young earth – local or worldwide flood) that it gets hard to just ‘listen’ to what is going on.
I imagine it might need a few runs at it before I am able to read it with any clarity or insight. Right now I’m just trying to see what stands out from a ‘heart’ perspective and then I’ll go back and read it again in more depth.
This morning Enoch stood out – plain and simple – in the midst of evil – or even just in the midst of self centredness there was someone who chose to live differently.
May we be those ones. There is enough challenge in that to keep me going for a bit…
I have a theory that life is supposed to be lived somewhat like a car is driven.
When my car is in top gear and going strong then it sits on around 1800rpm. It’s motoring along at a strong, steady pace, but not putting undue strain on the engine.
Occasionally when overtaking I need to plant the foot and hit 3000rpm – maybe even 4K if I am towing the caravan. But those are short intervals and for a specific purpose.
And then when 4wding I expect to push my car hard, regularly hitting the red line when we are in soft sand. Again – it’s ok for a designated period of time, but if I drove my car like that every day it’d blow a motor pretty quickly.
I think the same thinking applies to how we live day to day. When we are in full time work it’s good to know how to settle into ‘5th’ and to get the job done well, to work hard, but with minimal unnecessary exertion. I tell people who work with me never to dig a trench deeper than it needs to be – it’s wasted energy. You don’t get paid extra for super deep trenches!
It’s important to live at a steady pace because there are times when we will need to bend the back and do a bit extra. Living at ‘1800rpm’ means that when the 3k situation hits us we actually have the capacity and the reserve to cope with it.
Not so for the person who lives all of life close to the red line. When you’re already under stress what happens when you need to go harder? Something has to give!
Sometimes our employers may cause us to live in the ‘red line zone’, expecting far more than is reasonable, but too often we live there because of our own insecurities and struggles with inadequacy. We are ‘driven’, by something or someone…
We live busy, sometimes frantic lives not just with work, but often with family obligations, church commitments and sporting activities and then we complain that life is out of control. But it’s not life – it’s us – we allow ourselves to enter a way of life that is unsustainable and then we feel trapped. If we live at 4k rpm every day, perpetually worn out, with no buffer for the unexpected and no sense of how to escape then it’s no wonder we blow a gasket.
I don’t think this what God had in mind for any of us. I have lived on the red line in the past and very nearly blown things up. That was a long time ago now and these days I like to keep it to a steady ‘1500’.
You could say it’s a ‘waste’ of my capacity, but I don’t think it is. I probably don’t get quite as much done when I live at a steady pace, but I do stay married, I do find joy in life, I have time for friends and for fun. I rarely resent the life I am living.
Perhaps it helps you also to think of your life in RPMs and to consider how you approach it?
One thing is for sure – living in the fast lane might be sustainable and maybe even necessary for a very brief period, but for most of us we find life in the steady lane – where we have time to pause and enjoy the space in which we live and the people we share the road with.
Over the weekend I got to spend a Friday evening and a Saturday with 10 good men.
It was our QBC bloke’s getaway in Lancelin and traditionally these have been a time of laughter, foolish antics and rich, strong conversation between men around what it means to follow Jesus.
This weekend was no exception. I loved being there partly because it was run by two of the blokes and I just had to turn up, but also because as I looked around the room I realised I found myself in the company of other blokes who weren’t up for pretending they were ‘living the victorious life’, but meanwhile consumed by issues like fear, shame and self loathing.
Someone said of our Quinns culture that ‘there is no shallow end’. You just jump in deep and start swimming. The beauty of it is that we can all ‘swim’, whether we believe it or not. We can all let the guard down, shed a tear, growl an expletive and laugh at ourselves in the space of a few sentences. And as we do that it’s met with acceptance and understanding. Sometimes – if need be – it is met with a push back, a call to step up.
But either way it’s a response of love.
In an old Lano shack we were led in discussion around mental health by two of our men who found themselves struggling over the last few years – two you wouldn’t have thought vulnerable. One is a high level professional and our ‘church optimist’. If there is a ‘bright side’ he will find it! But he found himself dogged by terrible anxiety and panic attacks. And it was hard to put it out there… because positive people don’t have those struggles… except when they do… The other is self employed and had a similar struggle. It was debilitating and difficult. This blog isn’t the place to discuss another person’s challenges, but it was wonderful to consider mental health in light of the scriptures that speak about who we are and that carry stories of other’s similar struggles.
Of the 10 men present at least 7 had encountered challenges in their mental health and all had found it difficult to speak up about it. It’s a thing.
So it was good to have the conversations and hear the stories – to know that we are not alone and that there is a bunch of people we can hang with who will do more than talk footy, interest rates and cars.
After working my way thru Isaiah over a period of a few months I decided the I’d keep rolling and got stuck into Jeremiah, then Lamentations, Daniel and finally I launched into Ezekiel – possibly the hardest of them all to read and engage with.
I was in that headspace of reading the chapters towards the end that describe in elaborate detail how the temple was to be constructed – and to be fair I was getting very bored…
Here’s a taster straight from Ch 41:
Then the man brought me to the main hall and measured the jambs; the width of the jambs was six cubits[a] on each side.[b]2 The entrance was ten cubits[c] wide, and the projecting walls on each side of it were five cubits[d] wide. He also measured the main hall; it was forty cubits long and twenty cubits wide.[e]
3 Then he went into the inner sanctuary and measured the jambs of the entrance; each was two cubits[f] wide. The entrance was six cubits wide, and the projecting walls on each side of it were seven cubits[g] wide. 4 And he measured the length of the inner sanctuary; it was twenty cubits, and its width was twenty cubits across the end of the main hall. He said to me, “This is the Most Holy Place.”
I have been in the practice of reading scripture and praying in the mornings, but this section was lolling me off to sleep. I don’t think I actually ‘read’ any of it – I just internally said ‘detail… detail… detail…’
And I did I realised the point is that God actually cares about detail – cares enough to be highly prescriptive with the place he would consider his dwelling place. I dunno if you’d call it pedantic – but it certainly isn’t a case of ‘knock up a donger and we’ll leave it at that!’
I’m not fantastic with details – I got a parking fine recently because I read the sign too quickly and missed the time when parking was free. I missed a signature on an important form because I skimmed it and rushed it in.
I think in blocks and chunks, but often miss detail and the fact is that detail matters. That was all I heard that morning as I read what I would consider a fairly tedious and uninspiring section of the Bible.
God cares about details – maybe I should care a little more.
I was at a National Youth Workers Convention in San Diego way back in 1998 listening to Mike Yaconelli as he preached passionately about the heart of youth ministry – as only he could.
I remember he pleaded with us ‘youth pastors – we must stop impersonating ourselves!’
I had no idea what he meant. I was a young, Type A male, full of ambition and determined to be the best damn youth pastor the world had seen. I was up on culture, I was learning the ropes of ministry and I knew what a successful youth pastor looked like.
So I set out to be that guy – the very one Yaconelli warned me about – I had an image of the youth pastor I wanted to be in my head so I hit that trajectory and tried to be that person. I think I got pretty close, but…
A few years later his words were ringing in my ears yet again – and this time I understood.
In many ways I had become the youth pastor I wanted to be – but I was also playing a role for at least some of the time. I was imitating myself… ah… now I understood.
Of course unlearning a life of pretense is another skill again – perhaps why I like to keep this blog fairly raw and unpretentious. So if you’re a pastor reading this and wondering ‘what the hell does Hamo mean – impersonating myself?’ then one day you are in for a revelation that will both blow you apart and take you a place where you can actually do some good for others – rather than simply venturing up the pastoral ‘career path’ and acting the part each step of the way.
When we stop imitating ourselves and playing a role we can actually be the people God has made us to be. We can function as ourselves. We don’t need that pair of shoes to fit the bill, or that dress to ‘make a statement’.
If turning up as you are isn’t enough then somethings broke…
We are coming up 10 years at the same church shortly (if you don’t count getting voted out after the first 6 months… but that’s another story) and it’s review time.
A lot happens in 10 years and a lot changes between the age of 45 and 55 – more than I could have imagined.
In a sense QBC was our first real tilt at leading an established church community. We had a couple of years at Lesmurdie Baptist when I moved from the youth pastor to team leader role, but we were only 14 months in when the sense of calling to plant a church threw things up in the air. So we didn’t really settle into a familiar and established mode of operation there. And Upstream was a missionary team – a whole different animal to your garden variety Baptist church. So this has been a fairly new experience and one that we have kinda grown with and learnt on the job.
The beauty of doing something like this in your mid 40s is that you know who you are and what you can bring. You also know who you aren’t and when you don’t expect to be all things to all people you don’t wear yourself out. You still disappoint people who hold a more GP view of what a pastor is, but part of getting older is being ok with disappointing people.
At this stage we have no plans to move on anywhere. For that matter there are no other ‘offers’ on the table. But even if there were it would take a crowbar and dynamite to move us from where we live in Yanchep. I haven’t ever felt a sense of being so deeply rooted in a place as I have here. I think I’ll leave here in a box – but hopefully not too soon.
Right now my own reflections find me hovering between ‘these will be your best years of leadership‘ and ‘get out of the way so younger people can step up.’ I don’t think that’s necessarily an either / or scenario, but I’m both wary of giving up aspects of leadership that I should retain, while also conscious that for others to keep moving I have to create space.
If the next 10 years are to be fruitful though it will be as we help those around us continue to develop and as we become less conspicuous. In most professional roles to be in your mid 50’s is to have reached a use by date – however with ministry its not so simple. In fact in ministry there is stuff that you can ‘bring’ in your 50’s that you couldn’t in your 40’s and I suspect it will be the same with the 60’s and 70’s.
I realise that to some it sounds absurd to consider leading two churches on a two day / week paid role, while running a business in the other 3 days, but it works for us and has done for some time. It means some stuff doesn’t get done – or it takes longer to get done – which can be frustrating, but the gain is that I am not locked in ‘church world’, but rather get to live in business / tradie world for at least half my time. I have no aspirations to re-enter a full time paid role, although there are times when the ‘stuff to do’ just outweighs the hours in the week.
When people ask me what I do around church its 3 simple things – lead, preach, meet with blokes (as well as some essential admin, social media and communication tasks). It means I don’t do other stuff – and it either gets picked up by other people – or doesn’t get done. Lately the amount of bureaucratic red tape we have had to wade thru has just about brought me undone – quite literally. I have actually considered pulling out of paid pastoring because of the admin and red tape that dogs us all. But then I figure I will just do the same stuff anyway and won’t be able to avoid it.
So – for now it seems we will continue on in a similar role but with a view to helping others step up more into core leadership tasks and who knows maybe in another 5-10 years we will be in a place where we can consider church planting yet again 🙂
I’ve just finished Episode 11 of series 3 of the Handmaid’s Tale, and we are still no closer to the ‘good guys’ winning. Surely they have to come out on top in the end? June is going to get the kids out of Gilead… isn’t she?
It’s how we believe life should work. The good guys win, order is restored and we all live happily ever after.
But – even outside of ‘Gilead’, bad things happen to good people – often – and there is no happy ending. In fact some good people suffer terribly and more frequently than bad folks. That’s not fair at all we reason (and its not.)
And of course ‘bad’ people often get away with evil and often seem to live life untouched.
It’s the question we are always wanting an answer to, as we seek to make meaning of the good and bad that goes on around us apparently randomly.
Surely the good should be rewarded and the bad punished?… We intuitively sense the injustice of this world and when we understand God to be in the mix somewhere, we inevitably want (need?) a way to make sense of it – maybe it’s a way to make sense of God.
Of course then we have to ask, are our lives ‘pre-scripted’ by God and is he intentionally ‘allowing’ (causing?) the bad to happen for some greater purpose? Seems like it happened with Joseph way back in the book of Genesis. When his brothers are gathered before him he reveals who he is then says:
Gen 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Hmmph… So God scripted Joseph’s abandonment, mistreatment and jailing all for this purpose? Does God do that? I’m not convinced. The ‘pre-scripted’ life just doesn’t make any real sense if we have a genuine capacity to exert free will.
We definitely have a tendency to look on circumstances and read meaning into them. ‘Clearly God allowed X to happen so that Y could learn to trust/develop perseverance etc etc… ‘ But I doubt we ever know what God is up to and if he is actually at work then I would suggest the best time to reflect on what went down is long after the event – when we have perspective.
I had the rather awful misfortune of a broken engagement when I was 22 years old. I was head over heels in love and as devastated as I have ever been. I tried to read all sorts of meaning into the situation when it happened, but reality was I had no clue what was going on. I was heart broken and coming apart at the seams, so I was hardly in a place to be making ‘God is clearly doing X’ kind of statements.
Thirty years on my reflections are completely different. If God was at work – and I am really not sure he was – then the woman I was engaged to just made a very good decision not to give her life to an arrogant, selfish and controlling man. She saved herself a life of pain by calling it off. I see that now.
Maybe God was teaching me faith – to hang on when things get tough… maybe he was testing my devotion to him… but it seems kind of a harsh test. Maybe he was just pushing me to grow up and stop being a jerk. Or maybe I was actually living with the product of dumb choices.
In the end it felt like my choice was to lean on God or blame God. ( And I just made that sound a lot more binary than it actually is.) I chose to come closer and believe that he would give me strength to get thru.
And he did – but I didn’t always stay close and I also made a lot of bad choices that hurt other people in the 3 years that followed – it took me that long to get my life back on track.
I look back on all of that now and I actually don’t think God was manipulating circumstances to cause me to trust him more or to learn a lesson. I feel like I was a young man growing up with some glaring faults and I needed to sort myself out. Along the way I chose to keep a relationship with God – sometimes a healthy one – sometimes a conflicted one.
I was writing this in the bedroom and came upstairs to continue it. As I sat down, out of the blue Sam declared that he thought it nonsense that ‘everything happens for a reason’. His statement has a context as we are currently thinking of a nephew who is just 2 weeks old and on life support. Do we know what’s going on there? Of course not. Why would one so completely innocent suffer?
As Sam was articulating his point of view, I said ‘hey I’m writing on this right now!’ and then Ellie jumped in with ‘wanna know what I wrote this week?’ I did… You’re wondering too right?
So Ellie wrote:
I don’t believe everything happens for a reason but I do believe we have the choice to make the most of everything and situation we encounter. It’s up to us to make everything count and find purpose for it. That is how we might reach a feeling of fulfilment in the more confusing situations
Smart kids hey? I think so.
Actually I do think everything happens for ‘a’ reason, but not the reason Ellie was alluding to. Sometimes the reason is that ‘we are dumb and make bad decisions’. Sometimes the reason is that other people made bad decisions… Is my aching back a sign from God to give up my retic business – or is it just an inevitable result of 10 years back-breaking work? Ummm… one of those answers is obvious.
It’s too convenient and too easy to say ‘everything happens for a reason’ – be it God – karma or whatever you like to believe in. And that’s not to say I disbelieve in divine intervention in this world. Right now that’s what we are praying for with our nephew – for a gracious God to miraculously overturn the inevitable and bring healing where it looks unlikely – for his kingdom to come on earth as in heaven. I guess you could call it a miracle.
So what about Joseph’s statement?
Could it be that what we hear is Joseph reading meaning back into his circumstances rather than declaring what had actually happened? Is his speech to his brothers one we should form theology around? I’m hesitant to do that. I have done that in the past – explained to people that the bad they were experiencing could be like that of Joseph. God was actually going to use it for good. As I read those words today I tend to think Joseph was reflecting at the end of the process and at the end of staying the course with God.
Not everyone chooses to trust God in difficult times and even when they do trust it doesn’t end up roses. Some people trust God and get killed. I haven’t seen the movie made about missionary Graham Stains and his family, who were burnt alive in their car by an Indian gang, but that does seem like a case in point.
Its’ when something good comes out of evil that we get tempted to form a theology around it. Jim Elliot and his mates got killed by the Huaorani tribe way back in the 1950’s and (I have heard anecdotally) that there are now thriving churches where they were martyred. Does this mean their deaths had greater purpose? Or did they knowingly risk their lives for a faith they believed in – knowing that the consequences could be fatal – that their God who was leading them might not protect them.
I have always liked the approach of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they were on trial for failing to worship Nebuchadnezzar:
Daniel 3: 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
For many years now the bedrock of my own theology has been the premise that God is good. From there I begin to form other conclusions, but if where I land negates the belief that God is good then I will go back and start again.
I absolutely believe that God intervenes from time to time in the world – the stuff we might call miracles. I also believe he allows life to happen – choices to have consequences and he allows babies to suffer when he could intervene.
If you want me to create a narrative around that of why God allowed it then I think we are on very sketchy ground.
Yep – everything happens for a reason – but chances are it isn’t the reason you think.