Happy Chores

It’s no secret that two of the most dreaded words in the usually carefree world of childhood are Homework and Chores. In the long run, we know that homework actually helps our children become successful adults. We also know that we’ll get in trouble with the school if we don’t enforce it. So homework is a given.

But chores are different: As parents, chores are our decision. On the surface, the choice seems obvious: if we want a conflict free home full of happy people, we’ll forget about the idea as quickly as possible. The children don’t like it, and it’s not always helpful for parents who have to remind, supervise, and sometimes redo the whole job anyway. For example, my daughter sometimes lays the table for meals. I could do the job better and more efficiently myself. So why ask her to do it? You might say it’s because she owes me some return for everything I’ve put in to parenting her. But could she ever work enough to pay off the snacks she loves (much less the dinners), the electricity she uses, the petrol for chauffeuring her around, the clothes she wears, and her share of the rent? It’s absurd. Even the money she earns comes from my bank account. I don’t give her the job because I want her to pay me back or because I need her help. I give it because in the long run, I believe she will be a happier person if she learns that the true joy of love is in giving, not taking. The point of her chore is not the job she does, or how well she does it. The point is how well the job teaches her the joy of loving and serving others.

The idea of giving children chores for the sake of their happiness might seem strange, but I didn’t make it up. I learned it from my own relationship with my Heavenly Father. God says his children are “created for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). When you think about it, this is amazing: do we really think that the God who spoke the universe into existence needs our help with his work? He could do it more efficiently without us. He gave breath to every living thing without our help. He gave us a world full of beautiful sunrises and chocolate without asking us for a hand. He didn’t need people for any of this, yet when God made Adam and Eve, he shared with them the joyful job of caring for his creation. Our problems began when they (like us) decided that disobeying God and living selfishly was better for them than loving and obeying the God who made them, loved them, and wanted what was best for them. This is what the Bible calls sin, and because it is against the Author of Life, the consequence is death.

But God didn’t stop giving. Jesus gave his life and rose again to pay for our sin and bring whoever trusts in him back into the family of God. There was no work we could do to help him save us. All we contributed to salvation was the sin that made his death necessary!

But maybe after all these gifts, he’s asking us to work for him so we can pay him back?That certainly sounds fair. The problem is, it’s impossible. The good deeds of a thousand lifetimes couldn’t begin to pay off what God has already given us, much less earn the new gifts he gives every day. So why would God ask little, sinful humans to do his jobs? Romans 8:28-29 tells us that God’s goal in everything is that we will become like Jesus, who found joy even in giving his life for the sake of others (Hebrews 12:2). God loves to give. He delights in giving. And he shares his work with his children because he wants them to experience the same joy he has. If my Heavenly Father wants this joy for me, then I want it, too. And I want it for my children as well.

The Noisiest Headlines Are Not The Most Important

KAVANAUGH IS CONFIRMED TO UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT, AFTER CONTENTIOUS CONFIRMATION…

What’s the most important news in that headline? Certainly, a spot on the US Supreme Court is influential in the extreme – far beyond what it was intended to be by America’s founders. Kavanaugh will have out-sized influence over American life for decades to come. And yet, I submit to you that Kavanaugh himself is not the most important part of the news cycle these last few weeks.

We are.

The only thing everyone on both sides seems to agree on is this: the entire process was broken. From that common acknowledgment, we go on to explain whose fault it is, and how corrupt the other side is. Which is fair enough. A free country ought to encourage free exchange and debate. The problem is that we don’t actually debate anymore.

In order to have a fruitful debate, two things are necessary:

1) A shared goal

2) A shared respect

Can’t we debate about our goals? Yes, but until we come to some sort of consensus on our purpose, we will never be able to debate productively about anything else. As long as we disagree on where we are going, we’ll never be able to agree on how to get there. The only way we’ll move at all is by leveraging raw power. This is the state of current “debate” in America: it is primarily rhetoric for the purpose of solidifying bases from which power plays can be made at opportune moments. The Kavanaugh “debate” stank of this. We have come to the point when even accusations of sexual abuse are political weapons to be timed and deployed and shot down with cynical regularity, each side taking turns at each role as the specific situations change. The exact same phrases, moral condemnations and righteous defences are taken up in turn by opposite sides, only to be conveniently forgotten as soon as the tables turn. The game is dirty. Everyone knows it. We justify anything from our side and believe anything against the other with one ultimate purpose: victory at all costs. But what if the cost turns out to be the very foundation of our society? What if, in fighting the monsters against us, we find that we have become monsters ourselves?

The second requirement for productive debate is a recognition that other people are actually people. Even if their perspective is different, their value remains. This is less common than it sounds. In fact, very few societies in history have intentionally valued dissent or dissenters. America has been an exception to this rule, but the revolutionary idea of honouring those we strongly disagree with seems to be falling on hard times. In our zeal to see our vision for the future established, we have begun to allow ourselves the comfortable view that our cultural and political enemies are sub-human animals worthy only of insult and abuse. We call this new reality “Twitter”.

Is there a solution? I believe there is. I believe it is possible to disagree productively. But it won’t happen as long as we define our ultimate problem as the people against us. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who experienced the horrors of the Gulag, saw with clarity that the problem is bigger than the other side:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Who indeed. While the headlines re-direct us to the corrupt political manoeuvring and power plays in the halls of government, they allow us to conveniently ignore the ways our own hearts are manoeuvring and playing for self-justification and control over others and even over God himself, if that were possible. This is why, no matter how good the headlines are, our favourite politicians can’t save us from the problems around us. Those problems have put their roots into our own chests. The corruption is in our own hearts. This is why righteous causes throughout history have all eventually fallen apart under their own weight, why the saviours of one generation have always somehow become the oppressors of the next, why every revolution leads only to the need for another. No, a better headline won’t save us. We need a better saviour. We need Jesus.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

The (Lost) Art Of Contentment

We’re not supposed to be content. We’re told that what we really should be is busy, productive, and eager to buy the next life-changing device offered half price on Black Friday. The busier the better as we keep pushing forward, improving our station in life, and not letting anybody stand in the way of our dreams. No room in all that for talk of contentment. We’re well entrenched in the habit of waiting for something else to happen before we can settle in and enjoy life – before we can let ourselves be content. Even after we cross the finish line for a big goal, it doesn’t take long to realise that we’re still not content. So we try again, looking for another finish line to aim for, pushing ourselves to the limit to achieve it, and then finding out that it doesn’t satisfy us, either. The cycle continues, and we’re not the only ones caught in it: even the massively successful rich and famous seem to live in the same spiral of goals, achievements, and discontent. Ultimately, it doesn’t even matter if we are successful or not, the underlying discontent with the reality of our lives is there either way. Failure is devastating. Success is empty. Is contentment even possible?

It is. But we won’t find it by looking over and over again in the same tired places. That’s okay, though, because it’s already been found. In a letter written roughly 2,000 years ago, a man named Paul gives us his treasure map with an “X” on contentment:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:12-13

Needs or not, poverty or plenty, Paul has learned a secret that lets him live in any situation with calm contentment. Doesn’t that sound amazing? To be able to look poverty in the eye – real, cold, hungry poverty (which Paul lived through multiple times) – and say: I know how to accept you and still be happy and secure. And then to be able to look at the jewels dripping off glittering prosperity and say confidently: your gold can’t change who I am. I can take it or leave it. I’m content. Paul said all of this in the face of prison, beatings, death threats – and also prosperity.

So what is this secret that can give us the ability to live so far above our circumstances that we can be content no matter what? Paul says: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

How does Paul face the ups and downs of life so calmly? He’s not living for this life. His main purpose in life is not to get the most he can out of life. If it was, than any downs he faced would be devastating because they would be defeating his main goal, and any ups he gained would never be enough because there would always be something greater he could get for himself. The evidence is all around us: there’s no level of human achievement that can actually satisfy us as humans. In the face of this, Paul’s secret is that he is not looking to get something in his life that will satisfy him. The ups and downs have lost their power to throw him, because no matter what, he’s already satisfied. He is content because he has a foundation to live from that is solid and steady in poverty, prosperity, good, bad, and even death itself.

Paul’s secret is that he is secure. He is confident that God has accepted him because Jesus paid for his sin and gave him the right to be brought into God’s family as his child. No amount of money or goodness could buy that confidence, and no loss of anything in this world can take it away. It’s there, firm enough for any hurricane of circumstance or windfall of fortune.

Contentment is not weakness or laziness, it is a solid security strong enough to look life in the eye without flinching. It’s a treasure, and we are poor in our lack of it.

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.”

The Song Of Streams

Now everybody’s looking up, the sky is in their dreams,

All climbing ladders, stairs and walls – a little more, it seems,

And we will satisfy our thirst among the mountain streams

But mountain streams flow opposite to all we think we know

Their joy is not to climb the heights – they hurry to be low

Through rocks and mud and tangled roots, and laughing as they go

Their Maker, pleased to do the same, came down from dizzy height

To deepest valley far below to save us in our plight

To lift us up, the King went down, and it was His delight!

Oh, let me learn the song of streams, that joyful, laughing sound,

The pathway of my Maker on a ladder upside-down,

And so to lift up others – wherever they are found

Mind The Gaps

The world is full of words, more than ever. Never have there been more news headlines clambering for clicks, advertisements designed to arrest our attention, or friends filling us in on everything they had for dinner. Somehow, we have to muddle around this mess with our infobese heads filled to popping with more messages than they can process, too worn out to care much about what is really true and what is deceptively false.

Yet into this deluge I submit words of my own. I take a deep breath and yell into the roaring waterfall: “There are not enough words!”

Because there aren’t.

In all the daily torrent of verbiage, there are still far too many gaps. Most of the communication we hear is like a 1,000 piece puzzle from a charity shop that didn’t come with all the pieces. The pictures presented to us are incomplete, and the gaps can be hard to spot. And yet, quite often, the gaps are the most important part.

This is obvious enough in advertisements. We know that companies will tell us only the virtues of their products, shaping and bending the truth into the most desirable package they can produce. Yet even as we complain about this, we practice it ourselves on social media, where we work hard to cultivate an idealised image of ourselves, leaving out most of the actual reality of our lives. We fully expect the same from our political leaders. Fake news may be a new catch phrase, but it’s an ancient reality: the art of spin is a time-tested tradition that spans all cultures, continents, forms of government, and types of organisations. We may have more choice now over who we listen to, but often this choice comes down to which set of incomplete puzzle pieces we happen to prefer. Do we like the right side of the puzzle or the left? Are we drawn to the bits with a confusion of colours or to the parts that blend together in understandable sameness? Whatever our choice is, we can find news sources, friends, and tweets to support us.

The trouble is, with all our choosing and shaping and shouting others down, no one seems to be able to agree on what this puzzle is supposed to look like in the end. Have we lost the box top? Is there no unifying vision powerful enough to pull these pieces together?

There is a box top. I’ve had a glimpse of it. I can tell you that its picture has shapes and dynamics that are diverse enough for every person on the planet to have a place, and yet the lines and colours are so unexpected that they will leave absolutely everyone with something to be offended at. No surprise there: Did I really expect the picture of the universe to be a portrait of me? It turns out that the Artist behind this puzzling reality had a much bigger and more complicated design in mind than any of us could fathom, but he generously gave us the broad outlines of his plan in the Bible. It’s a complicated book (like the world); mixing shadows and light, greys and colours, sameness and confusion into one overarching drama expansive enough to catch up all our little pieces and finally make sense of them in the masterpiece of history.

As long as we insist on communicating without any reference to the box top, we’ll never be able to fit the pieces of our world into anything meaningful and whole. We’ll spin on in a vortex of half-truths and incomplete ideas, swinging our pendulums from one extreme to another in a never-ending series of attempts to find the purpose we long for. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we listen to the Artist, we can begin to close the gaps and find our places together in his Magnum Opus.

This Blog Post Is EPIC

Slow motion. A woman with her hair blowing in a light breeze walks confidently between library shelves packed with books. Where did the breeze come from? Nobody knows, but it doesn’t matter because the the camera has transported us to a laboratory, where a young man smiles to himself as he mixes chemicals. Is he remembering a joke from last night, or does he really enjoy chemistry that much? We can’t ask, because now we’re on the beach, and a well-dressed lady is picking up seaweed with some sort of oversized tweezers. She’s very happy about the seaweed. The music swells! Now we’re watching dirty men in jerseys fighting for victory. And then the happy people are gone, but not without leaving us with the distinct impression that going to a certain university will make every moment of every day nothing short of epic.

I went to university. I remember the library. There was no breeze there. There was no music. And no one mistook me for a model on a catwalk when I walked between the shelves. As I recall, my time there was mostly spent sitting at tables with a headache and a looming deadline.

Cinematography has come a long way. These days, the simple act of walking down the street or jogging in the park can be recorded in vivid high definition from a hovering drone with orchestral accompaniment and dramatic colour filters that make our eyes pop and convince our minds that what we are seeing is the very definition of epic.

Really? I walk down the street every day with #nofilter and no soundtrack. I see the same cracks in the footpath and peeling paint and one time a bird pooped on my hat. Even with a drone, it would be hard to convince anyone that particular moment was epic.

And yet it was.

I was breathing. Do you have any idea how many intricate miracles have to align perfectly to make that possible? I was walking. Without even thinking about it, my muscles obeyed my subconscious commands and transported me home. Is that not epic?

Yes, the weeds were growing through the cracks in the footpath. Insignificant seeds defying our engineered layer of stone and pushing life towards the blazing sun. Is that not epic?

A creature who can soar through the sky and sing his part in the dawn chorus eats the berries growing in profusion beside the road, gains strength from them, and deposits the seeds somewhere else where they can push up new life bursting with new berries for new generations of birds. Yes, some of them were deposited on my hat. Is that not epic?

We don’t need professional HD video editors to make the world seem like a wonder. It already is. We don’t need soundtracks to transform everyday moments into epic events. They already are. Every moment of every day is already overflowing with more miracles than our minds can comprehend.

All we need to do is open our eyes.

Hannah’s Funeral

It’s taking too long. That’s how I know my world is crumbling. The midwife can’t find what she’s looking for. She keeps trying, but every new effort is the ringing of steeple bells tolling a funeral. Not a formal, prepared, eulogised, dressed-in-black funeral. No, this is an impromptu affair, with no time to think, and no black shoes to look at as I stare at the floor. But I can’t just stare at the floor, people are talking to me. I have to concentrate to keep looking at them. I have to focus. It’s not their fault. They’re trying to help. I need to be polite and listen. What about my wife? She must be feeling the same as me. No, she must be feeling worse. After all, Hannah is still inside her. Hannah who we weren’t even sure was a girl (but we knew). Hannah who was a world of new life and dreams. Hannah who we have the little dress waiting for at home in a room right across the hall so we can hear her if she cries…

Now my wife is crying. She is beside me, looking at the floor. She’s not wearing black shoes, either. I don’t think she’s even trying to listen to those nice people who never, ever stop talking about helpful things I can’t hear. I just want to go somewhere where no people are talking so I can look at the floor and let the whole world be as black as it should be. How can the sun not be ashamed? Why do people in the waiting room keep chatting and laughing as if the whole world hadn’t just fallen to pieces? Turn off the lights. Let all creation mourn.

The precious body is too small to bury. There will be no prepared funeral. Only this horrid, sunlit, incessant chatter and brown shoes. But the dress… The little dress is still in the room across the hall at home, waiting for the precious body that is too small to bury. If my wife sees it, she will cry. I have to put it away before that happens. I have to put it somewhere deep in a wardrobe, somewhere dark where there is no sunlight and all the clothes look as black as they should be. This is the funeral. The burial of my dreams. The flowery dress is the casket, as empty as my heart. The wardrobe is the grave, with darkened coats standing in for mourners. And when the door is closed, my world is forever changed.

And now I begin to understand. I understand why the sky turned black and the earth shook in heaving grief as you breathed one last ragged breath from your place on the cross. Except it wasn’t your place. You were innocent. Creation was right to mourn it, as I mourned for Hannah. The world is broken by sin, and death is the result. I know that. But it wasn’t Hannah’s sin, so why should it be her death? Neither was it your sin, so why should it be your death? She didn’t have a choice, but you gave up your life willingly. You did it because you knew that only your wrongful death could break the power of our sin once and for all, and begin to undo the horrible result of our sin – making death itself begin to work backwards for those who belong to you. So you died our death. And when you walked out of the grave, the world was forever changed.

Now I understand why Easter is the birthday of hope for humanity. Hope for precious bodies that are too small to bury. Hope for broken fathers and mothers. Hope for liars and thieves and sinners. Hope for good people who can never be good enough. The steeple bells are tolling again, but not a funeral: a resurrection!

Hope is alive because you are.

 

this article describes events that happened 13 years ago, and was originally published in 4you magazine