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Fridays with Phil

Life, family and unshakeable faith

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Primary Colours

Here we are, the first Friday of February and my first blog of 2016.

I hope for you, the canvas of this year is beginning to fill with the colours of new things, plans realised, and dreams for the future.

Maybe you haven’t given it much thought and one year has seamlessly drifted into another. Or maybe, already this year you are feeling discouraged, even lacklustre, about what is to come.

Whichever filter you are looking out from, I would encourage you to see the unrealised months ahead as a blank canvas beckoning a masterpiece.

It was 26 years ago in London when I first began appreciating art.

With some free time on my hands, I visited the London Art Gallery. I was astonished by the beauty of the pieces and the way the artists could capture, not only the light, but also a precise moment and emotion.

About a year later, I was sitting in a teahouse in Morocco and saw a painting by Mohamed Toumi. I didn’t hesitate. After a lengthy negotiation, I left that day the proud owner of the piece I had admired (pictured above).

I love the way Toumi uses the primary colours of yellow, blue and red.

It makes me think, what primary colours will frame your year?

The bible talks about three elements that should permeate the life of a Christian: faith, hope and love.

Faith is our trust and confidence in God. It is a trust that brings victory in the midst of defeat. A trust that says, I may not understand but I lean on you God, I believe in you, I rely on you.

Hope is knowing that tomorrow is always better when heaven and eternity are a reality. It’s a hope that says, while the clouds may come and go, my hope is secure in a positive expectation that there is a better future beyond what I can see in my present day.

Love, rightly considered “the greatest of these”, is both unconditional and eternal. It is first received deep into our soul, but also finds expression through the way we live for others. Love is best revealed in the selfless sacrifice of Jesus on the cross so that we could live. Greater love has no man.

I wonder what shape this year would take if we offered up our faith, hope and love and placed it on the palette of the master artist.

Knowing God, He is well able to take what you give him and produce in your life something others would look at and marvel.  And not only marvel at, but would cause them to consider what their own life could look like with more of what you have: faith, hope and love.

I am at this moment taking drugs to try and help slow the advancement of a terminal illness, MND/ALS.  These drugs may or may not work. I hope they do. But, here is the thing, if they don’t, I will not lose my hope. Why? Because my ultimate and greater hope is in an assurance that heaven is a reality.  If I look up, hope will never die.  My hope is an anchor that all is well with my soul.

I can’t help but consider eternity when I consider life.  To think that one day, we won’t need faith or hope, but we will fully comprehend love. Not love as a feeling, an emotion, or commitment but love as a Noun, as a Name, as a Person. Love that is God Himself, love that is filled with light and life. Love that is Jesus.

On this side, we may look at the splashes of colour, the strokes that don’t make sense, the messiness of it all and not comprehend where the painter is headed or what on earth is taking shape. Indeed, if I look at Toumi’s painting, it was a mess before it was a masterpiece. Only when it is finished, we see the purpose of the individual strokes.

It encourages me to consider that we are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). The very wonder of life is that we are God’s masterpiece in the making.

We may question what God is doing but we must trust the Master’s strokes. The way He uses our faith, hope and love in our lives. The way He mixes those elements through our life and enhances other shades of beauty.

I pray this thought would cause others to stop and wonder and that it would inspire you to live life more fully and alive.

Phil

Spirituality 101

Have you ever wanted to hear from God?  Is it possible for mere humans to experience God’s voice?

“Speak, We’re Listening.” These are the words framing Hillsong Conference 2015 which will see more than 30,000 people gather in Sydney’s Allphones Arena. I will be one of them.

This phrase, this cry, implies some powerful assumptions, namely:
That God is alive.
That God speaks.
That God wants to say something.
That we can hear God.

I wonder if you really believe that God speaks? And if you do, how much do you want to hear from Him?

It may start with belief in His existence, that He is a living God, but it also involves our understanding that He cares enough to respond to those who want to hear Him.

Personally, not only do I believe He can speak, I need Him to speak to me: His voice is life, it is my rock in a world of uncertainty.

My desire to hear His voice motivates my ears to listen. Without His voice, there is no fullness to our relationship. God-breathed words, His voice, are oxygen to my soul and infuse life into my spirit.

Like sheep are inclined to their shepherd’s voice for safety, I choose to align myself to the Good Shepherd’s voice. I know He cares for me and has my best interests at heart.

I have no doubt that God has good things to tell us.

Romans 10:17 (NKJV) says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

You see, hearing God is no futile activity, it is the very means by which we develop faith. And at the same time, we need faith to hear Him. One feeds the other: faith, hearing, and hearing, faith.

So how do we hear His voice?

We listen: listen in prayer, listen in worship, listen to His Spirit, listen to His Word.

I remember staying at a friend’s home. I was having trouble hearing and his wife who was a nurse, washed my ears out by forcing water to push out the blockage. A bit weird, but it worked.

That’s just like God’s Word. It is like living water. It opens our ears to hear. Today, if you are having trouble hearing from God: try washing out your ears with a good dose of the Word of God.

When you read the Bible, the Spirit of God has something to work with. There are many times when in just reading, suddenly a verse jumps out. That’s the Spirit of God taking revelation and illuminating it to our spirit, speaking it into our life and situation.

Trust the presence of His Spirit in you to communicate what God is saying to you, with or without the details.  Be encouraged that His presence in you can speak directly to your spirit as your spirit is tuned to His voice.

What God says may not be all you want to hear, but it will be all you need to know and all you need for now.  It will be enough for you to take the next step of faith and when you do, He will speak again.

Let that same God-breath that inspired the very words on the pages of your Bible, breathe life into you as you read them.

Give it a try, make room for God to speak.

I, for one, am listening.

Phil

Keep an eye out for Fridays with Phil’s next post on Friday 17th July.

Hate is not that bad

The opposites of life cause us to feel emotion all the stronger. Take love and hate.  Love for humankind causes us to hate suffering.  Love for life causes us to hate disease.

For me, these last few weeks have been marked by the contrasts of life.

One week I was at a Christian conference with Church leaders from around Australia, surrounded by old friends, it was an environment filled with vision and hope for a better future.

The next week (MND International Awareness Week) I was with new friends courageously battling a disease that can so easily rob people of vision and any expectation for a better future.

It was like I was living a micro experience of our world.  In fact, most of us live life a little like that, in a place of conflict between love and hate, anger and peace, hope and disappointment, satisfaction and frustration, pain and praise.

We attend funerals one day, and visit newborn babies the next.

We rejoice that our home was not destroyed by violent storms while we hear of others who lost everything.

We are broken hearted over the thousands who die in an earthquake whilst we are ecstatic about one baby rescued in the rubble.

How do we navigate this road of so many different realities?

How do I reconcile an environment of faith, and hope, only to walk amongst those whose dreams are shattered by their current circumstances?

Simply put, we must learn to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

Our world needs people who don’t ignore pain and suffering, but allow it to do its work in raising emotions of right-anger, and even hate for the conditions some people face relentlessly each day.

Unless you and I can touch anger we cannot know true peace.

Unless we can hate suffering, then our love for people will not be deep enough to respond sacrificially.

My hatred for poverty, scarcity and starvation in other people’s lives will have a corresponding response of love if I allow it time to touch my soul.

Let’s not move too quickly from what we call negative emotions to the detriment of a corresponding positive response of compassion, or prayer, or the fight for justice.

Instead, anger for wrongful laws may run deep enough to bring about a corresponding response of reform.  Isn’t that how the movement to abolish slavery began? What about the death penalty?

Imagine if our hatred of disease and love for others prompted the urgency to find cures.  Isn’t that how Malaria is slowly being eradicated?

Only those who look long enough at the tragedy in Nepal will give towards the relief efforts to ensure help is given long after the media have dropped it.   Media may only last for a night, but money works when we sleep.

Today, I challenge you and I challenge me, don’t run from the opportunity to help others.  Let your passion be driven not only by what you love but also by what you hate.

Phil

Where is God in Suffering?

The speed of communication these days will not allow us to ignore or be ignorant of the pain and hurt that is in our world.

Where is God in all this tragedy and heartache, in the brokenness of life, sickness and suffering?

Why do bad things happen?

We often default to cliché answers in response to these large, uncomfortable questions. Some common ones include:

  1. It must be God’s will
  2. God knows best
  3. Everything happens for a reason
  4. God is teaching us something
  5. We are being tested
  6. We are being punished
  7. God won’t give us more than we can bear

I too have heard myself giving some of these answers over years of supporting others going through hardship.

While they hold some truth, the problem with these responses is that when there is no rhyme or reason to hardship, we are left high and dry, with little comfort in our present-day pain.  When our circumstances do feel more than we can bear, we could become disheartened in our suffering.

What’s more, they appear to be conditional on our performance, in that once we learn the lesson, or once we pass the test, the trial will end.  Too many times, this is not the case.

When any of these responses are given in isolation or as the universal answer to all suffering – they may only distance us from God at the place of our tragedy, suffering, sickness and heartache.

These answers can leave us blaming ourselves, feeling guilt, or open to manipulation to perform one way or another.

Instead, the very nature of Christ and His message is grace, not blame, guilt or manipulation.  Unlike Karma, the goods news of the gospel is that we don’t get what we deserve!

Psalm 46:1 says:
God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble.

And Psalm 121:1-2 says:

I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Instead of asking “WHY” trouble, David asks, “WHERE” does my help come?

Because David had a relationship with God, he turned to God as his refuge and strength.   Relationship enables us to focus on where our help is found and in turn causes us to live through our suffering.

This tells me that when suffering happens, you and I have a choice to make.

Will we deny it, pretend it doesn’t exist, fake it, isolate ourselves, stay numb, get angry, play the blame game or will we seek God’s help and choose to LIVE through it?

Here’s a few thoughts on how we can live through pain and suffering:

1.  With God’s help

God sends help in the form of others. People need consolation more than explanation when going through tragedy.

Caring and loving people can cause us to endure pain longer, better, and more courageously than if we were alone.

2.  By redeeming the tragedy

Many bad things that happen to us do not have meaning attached to them, they do not happen for any good reason which would cause us to accept them willingly. BUT we can give them meaning! We can impose meaning to them.

Don’t ask, why did this happen? Or, what did I do to deserve this? A better question is, now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?

Why not ask, how can I take what was meant for evil and turn it around for good?

3.  By having an eternal perspective

Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

You cannot remove the suffering you face now from the glory that is yours in the future.

If you could put all the difficulties of your life on one side of the scale, and the glory that will someday be revealed to you through Christ on the other side of the scale, the glory would be so much heavier than your present sufferings.

Glory actually has the meaning of being “the weight of Gods presence”.

4.  By living with the presence of Jesus

The reality of a relationship with Jesus is that He is with us in each and every circumstance of life. He promised He would never leave us.  When we are weak, Jesus is our strength.  When we are confused, Jesus is our comfort.  When we are fearful, Jesus is our peace.  When we are sick, Jesus is our healer.

God loves you, He sees what you are going through and He cares – let Him be your help today.

Phil

[Blog originally posted 26 Dec 2013, as “Is ‘Why’ the question?”]

Keep Calm and Carry On

What do you know about the man who carried Jesus’ cross?

History tells us his name was Simon. Presumably, he was a man just like you and me.

“A man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the country just then, and they forced him to carry Jesus’ cross.” (Mark 15:21)

By the time Simon was asked to carry the cross, Jesus had already suffered through scourging with whips made of leather and sharp bone. It’s no surprise that He was weak and physically unable to carry on.

Easter, then, is not only a story about triumph and victory, but also for those who at times find themselves too weak or too helpless to carry their own burdens.

It is for those of us who have been given more than we feel we can endure.

Do you know what that’s like?  The feeling of absolute powerlessness? To feel overwhelmed by what you are required to carry? Jesus does.

His body gave out.  He could not take another step in His own strength.  He literally sweated blood.

When you feel like you can’t take another step, or bear another thing, think on this: Jesus has been there and knows how you feel.

“He understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same temptations we do, yet He did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

Whatever it is that we have to carry at this time: illness, weakness, pain, trials, temptation, Jesus will help you carry it.

Jesus came into this world to identify with the human race, to experience all that we experience.  He understands you. He knows what it is like not to be able to go on, and He will be there to give you strength in your time of need.

He could have saved Himself, just as He could have prevented Himself from being there in the first place.

He was there, not because He was the victim of circumstances beyond His control, but because He chose to lay down His life for the sake of the world. In fact, He was quoted as saying to the disciples:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep… No one can take my life from Me. I lay down My life voluntarily.” (John 10:11, 17-18)

Jesus wanted to save you so He didn’t save Himself.

He was willing to die so that you can live and be reconciled to God.  That was a price He was willing to pay.

It has been said before: “it wasn’t the nails that bound Him to that tree; His love for you held Him there.

Remember God, victorious, this Easter and also remember God who knew suffering.  He was alone in His agony so that you would not be alone in yours.

I am posting this earlier in the week so that I didn’t miss the opportunity to extend an invite to you, your family and friends to get along to a Church for Good Friday & Easter Sunday services.

If you are looking for somewhere to attend, here is a link to service locations and times around the world of the Church I call home: http://www.hillsong.com/easter

Phil

The stupid things I’ve said

When I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), I noticed that people didn’t know what to say and even close friends struggled to communicate with me.

I know how they feel, as I have been there myself, wanting to offer words of comfort to others but not knowing what to say.

So here are a few things my experience has taught me that may help you communicate with those who are struggling. It may be a terminal illness like me, or it may be a dream not yet realised, a broken relationship, or a dead-end.

A classic comfort we offer others is to compare their situation to those who are seemingly worse-off. For example, some have said to me, “well you could have been hit by a car and already be dead”. I get the premise, but in reality, this has offered no comfort.

I have heard of others who have lost a child or spouse and were told they should at least be thankful for the short time they had together. This is something only they have the right to say. When you feel like your world has just ended, there are better things that could be said.

Comparing to a “worse” event brings little comfort.

Another classic: “there must be a reason for this because everything happens for a reason”.

The problem with this is often it is impossible to figure out a reason why someone is experiencing a tragedy that has derailed their hopes and dreams and impacted their family and finances.

Whatever you do, don’t suggest that the reason is that it could be God testing them. This is hard for me to fathom. The God I love and know would not and does not reward those He loves with life’s harshest conditions, like poverty or a terminal illness.

Yes, maybe in the midst of the challenge we can give what is happening to us some meaning but that’s a very personal thing that no one else can assume on the sufferer.

My hope is that anyone who is suffering would ultimately be able to give what they are going through a sense of cause and purpose, as I have experienced, even while going through the valley.

In the same vein, to those searching for something to ground tragedy in, I have heard it said or inferred, “maybe its because of something you have done.”

This old chestnut suggests that bad things happen to those who have done something to deserve it.

I’m sure we can all recall areas of our life that are far from perfect so when tragedy does come, it’s not hard to blame yourself or think that maybe somehow you deserve it.  I’ve been there, and I recommend getting out quick because it’s a dead-end.

Christ came to bring grace, He stood in the gap, and where we deserved death for our sin, He offers life.

Sure, there are consequences for all our actions: we’ve all heard it said, the smoker increases their risk of getting cancer, and the overeater increases their chances of getting heart disease.  However, we should never think that an undeserved or tragic circumstance in life is some sort of divine punishment.

The good news of the Gospel is that God is a God of grace not of karma.

They are a few things I won’t be saying, now, these are some great things I have experienced:

  • I’m washing my car this weekend and I’m coming to wash yours as well!” – Be specific when offering to help.
  • Boy you look so tired today, are you ok?” – Be real, don’t lie.
  • I’m coming over to mow your lawn, no need to come out, just wanted you not to worry when you hear the mower?” – Show kindness, expect nothing in return.
  • Hey, I know this is serious and you could die but I’m in this battle with you.” – Acknowledge how bad it is but give your support.
  • I’m so sorry” – Acknowledging loss can be as simple as that.
  • “I love you”, “Thank you”, “I appreciate you”, “I am praying for you” – Waste no time saying the things that matter.

So when we don’t know what to say, let’s err on the side of just being there, and putting ourselves in the shoes of the sufferer before we speak. This is love.

Phil

There are little eyes upon you

Circa 1989.  Proud of my girls then, and now!
Circa 1989. Proud of my girls then, and now!

Like it or not, our fathers have an incredible impact on our lives: either for good or bad.

One of the best compliments I have received from a friend of my daughter was, “you are the first person she wants to call if she needs help.”

I like to think that it was my consistency towards my girls that caused them to see me as a safe place. They knew what they were going to get when they reached out to me. I was always there for them and I didn’t stuff it all up (by God’s grace).

James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  God sets the ultimate example of a consistent Father for us all.

I truly believe that an inconsistent father robs children of security and confidence.

Sure, we all have mood swings, but how far do we let the pendulum swing in each direction?

Having consistency in mood does not mean keeping all emotions under wraps. No, our children need to see us being angry but not losing control over our words or actions, they need to see us being happy without going overboard and being foolish in our celebration.

Knowing what to expect from us emotionally will give them confidence to approach us.

Inconsistent fathers put their children on edge, wondering how Dad will react when he walks in the door. Living with an alcoholic father myself, and not knowing who or what I would come home to, that was my life and I didn’t want it to be my girls’ lives.

If I had a heavy day at work and didn’t feel I could be a great example to my kids, I would either keep driving until I had calmed down or sit in the car and get myself in a good space. But the moment I walked in the front door, I wanted to be present with them.

Being present is a sure sign of consistency.

Are you there for your kids? Really there? Or are you just going through the motions? For too many fathers, home is where they eat, sleep, and do their best to keep the noise level down.

I can remember more than one occasion when my girls would have to walk up to me and with two hands on my face turn my attention to them so I would listen to what they were saying. We all reap what we sow, so be present for your kids now or find that when your kids grow up they will have no time for you. I count myself blessed that still today my girls and I love hanging out.

And my final thought on consistency is consistently don’t stuff up.

Few things do more damage to children than fathers who spout moral absolutes and then live out a double standard. Our children are still watching to see if we “walk the talk.”

“Do as I say, not as I do” just doesn’t work when you’re raising kids. The flip side is “Do as I do” does work and you have the opportunity to model consistency to the generations.

And so with Father’s Day just around the corner, this blog is in honour of all the consistent dads out there.

Phil

“There are little eyes upon you.

And they’re watching night and day;

There are little ears that quickly

Take in every word you say;

There are little hands all eager

To do anything you do…”

– Author unknown

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