Thursday, July 31, 2014

Even little gaps may be too big

I'll start with the story about my two sons which prompted this post.

Logan is 19 years old and Blake is 10. Whenever Logan comes home from Uni, Blake acts delighted to see him, but Logan's backpack is the real draw card. Blake knows he may often find packets of lollies or chocolate in there, as Logan likes to stock up at the supermarket before he catches his bus. Blake has learned from experience that Logan's backpack may be his main way of sneaking a treat.

This seemed to work okay in moderation, but Logan noticed that when he started to feel around for a snack in lectures, he sometimes didn't have anywhere near as much food as he thought he did. One day, he came home with a small lock on his bag and a broad grin on his face. He called, 'Hey, Blake, there are lollies in my bag. I dare you to try and get some now.'

That was a challenge not to be missed. After fiddling about, Blake realised that he could make a tiny opening between the zipper and lock about the size of a 20 cent piece. He has small hands and persistent fingers. He was able to bunch up the backpack fabric and wriggle out a Crown Mint, which he popped into his mouth.

Logan walked past and sniffed perpermint around his brother. He saw the smug smile. Now, Logan is generally too old to 'lose it' these days, but it was one of the occasions he felt pushed too far. He was stamping around, furious, and finally sat with his face in his hands.

'He's beaten me. I put a lock on the bag. What more can I do to keep him out? But he's won!'

A little while later, he produced a pencil case which he filled with lollies and locked up. This, he placed in the backpack, which he locked just as before. He said, 'Let's see him break through both locks, then,' but I noticed that he didn't issue the challenge again.

How much like life this is. We may often hear that we should watch out for little vices or holes, because they can turn huge before you know it, if you don't attend to them. I'd go as far as to say that you don't even need to bother about them getting bigger. A little hole, vice, lapse in judgment, mistake, or anything you can mention is already big enough for a lot to damage to be done, even if it never stretches another millimetre. The hero Archilles, from ancient mythology, found this out. He was covered from head to toe in inpenetrable armour but a tiny aperture in his heel was enough to bring him down.

However strong we think our defenses are, it's dangerous to overestimate them, or underestimate the little holes. The Bible tells us to guard our thoughts. I've found that the tiniest negative or rebellious thought may be my undoing on any given day. An instant of jealousy, resentment, self-pity or worry may be enough for all my sweets to be stolen. The joy, peace, calmness, self-control and love I've tried to build up is under threat. Keeping an eye on what we think, making sure it's only uplifting, profitable and kind, isn't just a nice suggestion, but all tied up with keeping our treasures locked. We are told that Satan went away, to leave Jesus until a 'more opportune time.' Even though he never found one, we shouldn't think his minions will leave us alone when we're far more vulnerable to little holes. I'm taking this episode with the boys as a reminder to be far more wary than I am.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

what sort of secrets we should steer clear of

Photo from

Recently, we heard on the news that a young, former Subway employee threatened to leak all their secret recipes over the internet if they refused to pay him a given sum for keeping quiet. My first reaction was, 'What secret recipes could Subway possibly have? Everything is spread out plainly to see. They make sandwiches!' Then I remembered that my nephew, Travis, who once worked there, told us that there are indeed hidden details concerning their bread and cookie dough recipes. (He didn't tell us what they are, though.) It seems there's more to Subway than meets the eye.

How fascinated we all are with secrets. Once, when I was very young, I pretended to have one to tease and intrigue my big brother. He tried to wheedle, bully and trick it out of me, until I tired of the game and admitted that it was all a bluff. My game backfired on me when he refused to believe that, assuming I was backing out so I wouldn't have to tell him. Finally, I tried to make up something satisfactory enough to get him off my back, but couldn't come up with anything that would wow him enough.

What is the big attraction of knowing something that nobody else does? Primary school kids seem to latch onto the intrigue of secrets without ever being taught. 'This is top secret!' they whisper with big bug eyes. Some of us may remember having secret hiding places, or trying to write secret codes with our friends. It gives us a sense of inflated importance, especially if our acquaintances make it clear that they really, really, really wish they could find out.

We don't discard our fascination with secrets when we grow up. The news and internet are filled with tantalising snippets about things which have supposedly been covered up, until now. Rhonda Byrne's best seller was called "The Secret." But sometimes secrets can get nasty and sinister. Adult secret clubs, such as the Freemasons, claim to be full of secrets which they'll only reveal to insiders. Before I was born, my parents were involved with a certain church which filled their heads with all sorts of secrets they haven't divulged to this day. They came up far enough in the ranks to hear 'secrets' they were told not to ever tell anybody, lest bad things happen to them. Although they've long broken away, Mum admits that she's nervous 'just in case' and Dad scoffs, 'I've forgotten all that rubbish, except that it was silly.' But he's still never told us anything, and we're more than happy not to know.

True Christianity has secrets of its own, that's for sure, but when you think about it, they differ in a major way. This may seem a crude analogy, but I believe true Christian secrets are more like scavenger hunts and crossword puzzles. They are created especially to be figured out, and not to be hidden indefinitely for the so-called elite. I'm sure that God completely understands our natural fixation with secrets, and at the same time, he doesn't want to cheapen every good gift by simply handing it to us. Which pearl of great price would you value most? One which somebody throws to you as soon as you decide you'd like it, or one which is strategically hidden so that you have to search studiously, dig up garden beds, plead for clues, scratch your head?

This is why God sometimes presents his truths as secrets. When Jesus walked the earth, he never wanted to hide things for all time, but to reveal them. He spoke in parables to give people the opportunity of thinking and pondering until they got an intuitive sense of what he was trying to say. Even his birth was a secret from the regular or self-important folk, who would never have dreamed that their saviour would be found in a manger full of hay, surrounded by farm animals. But it wasn't hidden from true seekers with honest, searching hearts, like the Magi who came from the far east, bearing gifts.

In some of his letters, such as the one to the Colossians, the apostle Paul reveals one of the biggest secrets, or mysteries, his readers could fathom. 'This message is the secret that was hidden from everyone since the beginning of time,' he writes. 'But now it is made known to God's people. The secret is Christ himself, who is in you. He is our only hope for glory' (Colossian 1:26). What a great secret indeed, unfathomed by those who race around trying to find him in other places. And the margin notes in my Bible add that God provides salvation for anyone who will take it, and doesn't require that we know hidden secrets and accept certain inside information to accept Jesus' message.

So perhaps when it comes to secrets, alarm bells should start ringing when the secrets are covered up with a 'this is not for the likes of you' type of attitude. Another type of secret to steer clear is, 'I'll tell you this privileged information, but whatever you do, don't let the riff raff out there know, because they aren't enlightened enough to ever understand, and something bad will happen to you.' One of the most dangerous bogus secret of all, which has been the downfall of many deluded seekers, is, 'The world is going to end on such and such a date, so let's take action by doing so and so.'

Let's keep enjoying the simple, wholesome type of secrets which are meant to be eventually discovered, and turn away from the other sort which are designed to remain murky, concealed and never known by some. I think, if Eve had kept the distinction in mind way back in Genesis, she wouldn't have been so easily duped by the serpent who suggested that God was dealing sneakily with her, holding back knowledge which may benefit her. She would have been more inclined to say, 'I know that's not the way He operates, but it's your way, so push off!'   

Sunday, July 13, 2014

that this young guy had issues

I'm referring to one of King David's sons, Absalom, who is probably best remembered as the guy who almost succeeded in stealing his father's kingdom.

I find it interesting to trace his story, trying to determine why he would ever make such a defiant move. It isn't hard to figure out. The Bible reveals Absalom as the type who would quietly dwell on wrongs committed against him or those he loved, and let them fester. All the time, nobody could guess what was in his head until he struck. He behaved in that manner when his half brother, Amnon, raped their sister, Tamar. She was Amnon's half sister and Absalom's full sister, all children of David. Absalom quietly cared for Tamar in his own home and waited for an opportune moment to strike back at Amnon, which took a couple of years.

He behaved the same way with his father, when David allowed him back into the city after his time of exile. For a period of time David, although pining for his son, refused to see him. Eventually they seemed to make up. Absalom appeared to be on friendly terms with David, but he was biding his time, ingratiating himself with the people, building a following for himself, behaving like a politician. Then it was evident that striking for the kingdom and seeing his father dead had been his intention for a very long time. He just had to win people's hearts first. Bitterness and patience are a formidable combination.

The thing is, I get where he was coming from. Absalom is easy to understand. He had good reason to feel bitter about the chain of events which had occurred in his life. Amnon should never have laid a hand on Tamar. Their father, the king, shouldn't have turned a blind eye and let Amnon off, scott free. Nor should he have brought him, Absalom, back from exile, if he didn't intend to talk to him. And Joab the army commander, who had fetched him home in the first place, should have explained the way things would be, or at least come when he summoned him. No wonder Absalom took it upon himself to burn Joab's fields to get some attention. But I guess his story shows that even when we feel justified, nothing good can come of letting resentment and bitterness be the rulers in our hearts. We do have a choice. His choice was to let these toxic emotions sweep him away.

What a tragedy, when somebody with as much going for him as Absalom has his own life cut short as a result of his heart's thoughts and attitudes. Ladies, he must have been hot. The Bible doesn't dwell on a man's appearance, so when it does get a mention, it must have been remarkable. King Saul was called a fine young man who stood head and shoulders above other men, and David was described as ruddy and handsome in his youth. But neither of them had anything on Absalom, who must have been simply gorgeous. We are told, 'Absalom was greatly praised for his handsome appearance. No man in Israel was as handsome as he. No blemish was on him from his head to his foot. At the end of every year, Absalom would cut his hair, because it became too heavy. When he weighed it, it would weigh about five pounds by the royal measure' (2 Samuel 25-26).

Interestingly, the same week we were reading about Absalom in our Bible study, we were also assigned to read a convicting passage in 2Corinthians about guarding our thoughts. Especially Chapter 10: 1-5 which instructs us to capture every thought that doesn't line up with what we know God would have us think. With Absalom's situation still fresh in my mind, it was clear that his downfall was because he didn't do this. His attitude was the polar opposite to the one Jesus prescribed, when he said to forgive our enemies and pray for them.

Absalom got scarily close to causing the demise of his father and taking the kingdom, but some bad tactical advice proved to be his undoing, and ironically, all that gorgeous hair he was so proud of. It got tangled in the branches of an overhanging tree, pulling him right off his horse and leaving him hanging. Even though David pleaded, 'Please deal easy with the young man, Absalom,' his army commander, Joab, wasn't one for sentiment, and finished him off swiftly with a spear thrust to the heart.

What a tragic waste. It saddens me to read about the death of somebody who'd been blessed with enough natural gifts to be a potential hero. But two wrongs, or in his case, possibly more than a dozen wrongs, never make a right. It also shows that real life isn't really like Hollywood. Modern movie makers might have chosen a different story ending for a person like Absalom. Good looking hero is incensed when an innocent member of his family is viciously attacked, especially when those who should avenge her decide to do nothing. So he takes matters in his own hands, making it his goal to exact justice, however long it takes. Then he decides to win the people's hands and make himself rightful leader. That's not how he's remembered at all.

His story challenges me to let the past go, to let God be the judge. Let's not follow in his footsteps and let preoccupation with other people's faults suffocate our good thoughts and prevent us from leaving a good legacy.

Here's another post about someone who, when you think about it, would have been one of Absalom's many step mothers (as David had several wives) She was a tragic princess

Monday, July 7, 2014

that technology is the servant and we're making it the master

During a visit to the city not long ago, we bought a couple of drinks from a bubble tea bar. My daughter said it was like chewing tasteless, gelatinous balls floating in flavoured milk. She whipped out her phone in the middle of the Rundle Mall to update Facebook with a status about it. Her cousin, who lives in Cairns, instantly left a comment saying, 'Take that back' (he loves bubble tea). They kept the discussion flowing for a little while, and it occurred to me to be thankful for modern technology. Not even a couple of centuries ago, the first people who settled in Adelaide had to wait months for word from their family members. They would probably think that a girl communicating instantly from a shopping centre with her cousin in far north Queensland, is nothing short of a miracle. Even those of us old enough to remember the 1970s would have to admit that we've come a long way.

Yet not everybody loves technology. It scatters our concentration as we're trying to focus on other tasks and our mobile communication devices start beeping, buzzing or playing bars of music. We get rushed and our communication feels shallow, as our contacts are spread so far. Bad news bombards our senses, whether we ask for it or not, giving the impression that the world may be a scarier place than it really is. These are insidious things which may slowly eat away our quality of life, so that it's hard for some to figure whether the benefits of modern technology really do outweigh the costs.

I read a simple sentence by an author who said, 'We've got to remember, we weren't created for technology. Technology was created for us.' Now, that reminded me of words Jesus spoke to his listeners, about something else. He said, 'The Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath.'

In his time, the Pharisees were those respected religious leaders who set and maintained all the rules in the synagogue. They added many crazy extra codicils to Scripture's simple command to keep the Sabbath holy and refrain from usual work. They totally changed the character of a day God had intended for recharge and relaxation. In fact, they made it just the opposite, making that day of the week more trouble, in many ways, than it would have been had God never set it aside in the first place.

How does this relate to technology in the twenty-first century? Are we making technology our master instead of our servant? Well, we tend to set fixed rules too. Bloggers have assigned days on which they post, and I've come across more than one person who has woken up with a blank mind and fretted herself into a panic. 'I have nothing to say, but I have to say something because it's The Day!' If anyone tells them to cut themselves some slack, they get all noble and say that their fans and blog followers are depending on them. Some even box themselves in by setting different days of the week for different themes. And we tell ourselves (or are told by experts) that we MUST return emails within a couple of days, or even hours.

 I always thought I was far more flexible, but a couple of months ago, I was considering a short holiday with my family and found myself checking that it wouldn't include a day I have a blog post up somewhere, to which I should be sitting home to check comments, so I could comment on the comments and thank people. I decided to leave that sentence convoluted to show what knots we can tie ourselves into. Many of us are always accessible because our technology is so portable. I know several who cannot turn their phones off in case they miss some big opportunity. Each day, dozens of emails appear in our in-boxes, which we swiftly peruse, sorting spam from genuine correspondence. This all takes time and attention. No wonder we are harried and anxious with scattered attention spans. Just like with the Sabbath, something designed to benefit our lives has the potential to create stress and shackles, if we let it.

Our contacts cover far more than the traditional tribal, or pre-Industrial revolution village groups, which were typical ongoing social networks for centuries. Suddenly, many of us find we may have between 300 and 1000 friends on Facebook, and even more followers on Twitter. I consider that maybe humans weren't really designed for a social reach that extensive. We want to follow several blogs, stay in close contact with many people, offer the right support, and write lovely, encouraging comments. Our spirits are willing, and when we don't manage because we're spread too thin, we may feel like pathetic, shallow friends. We're so used to taking modern technology for granted, that we don't stop to reflect that it's pretty stressful to do with a couple of hundred people what our ancestors knew they could manage with about twenty other people at the most.

World Wide Web is an apt title. As our personal influence can spread to friends across the globe within a few seconds, we may feel like Atlas carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. This surely wasn't the result intended for something which is supposed to make our lives easier.

I think the best thing we can do is to stay aware of the huge artificial, personal 'villages' we are trying to create, and cut ourselves a bit of slack for being only human, with a limited attention span and only twenty-four hours in any given day. I still believe that modern technology is an enormous boon for which I am tremendously grateful, but we could take time to remind ourselves that it is a servant and not a master. Bombardments with messages, requests and on-line demands before our feet even hit the floor in the morning isn't the only way to live.
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