Feeling Dispensable

I’m completely dispensable.

If I left my job tomorrow there’d be a time of adjustment but everything would carry on. I’m not an essential cog in the wheel.

This is the final week of four weeks annual leave for me and I’m feeling less and less like a required piece of the picture. The truth is that Compassion survived and grew for over 60 years without me before I began working there and they’ll keep operating long after I’m gone.

I’m starting to feel like I’m not needed at work.

… and that’s a good thing.

I have every intention of continuing to work for Compassion for many years to come. I believe passionately in what we do and want to be part of that for as long as possible but there’s something about a few weeks away from work that brings a certain kind of clarity.

When we’re busy keeping up with the demands of a job, and I think this is especially true of jobs in Christian ministry, we can start to take on a weight we were never meant to bear. We start to believe that we’re irreplaceable and if we’re not working all the time everything will collapse. We grab a week’s leave here or two weeks there, never daring to take more than that because there’d be nothing left by the time we returned.

It’s not necessarily an ego thing or an inflated sense of self-importance, it’s more about becoming so busy juggling all the balls our job requires that we become convinced that the moment we step away, even for a time, all those balls will come crashing down. That sense of needing to be available all the time builds slowly and most often sub-consciously. It’s rarely an expectation from our employers, rather it’s a false expectation that comes from within.

I’ve spoken to a number of people, especially pastors and ministry leaders, who have weeks and weeks, sometimes months, of unused leave that they don’t believe they can take.

I sometimes wonder which is the greatest fear for some of these people; that things would crumble without them around or that things would continue largely unchanged.

Taking several weeks of leave at a time allows us to step outside our own expectations and demands. I’ve found at this and other jobs that after a good chunk of leave I return to work feeling less like I’m essential and more like I have an important role to fulfil. I find that the weight of my own unrealistic expectations is less, which helps me focus more on what I’m really meant to be doing. It helps me become more productive and more effective at the tasks at hand.

I’m excited about my work in 2017. I know that it’s going to be busy and productive, with all the ups and downs, thrills and disappointments that come with such a job. I’m looking forward to getting a new year underway. I’ll return to work in a few days knowing that while I’m not essential for the long-term effectiveness of the ministry, I have the privilege of playing a part, an important part, in what we need to achieve over the next twelve months.

When was the last time you stepped away from work for an extended period?

Do you find that you only take a couple of weeks at a time and return to work just as frazzled as when you left? Are your own expectations becoming a burden that you’re not sure you can continue to carry?

If you’re one of those people who ‘do holidays well’ maybe you can leave a few comments about how you make your annual leave work for you.

I’m really glad that I’m not needed at work, but I’m absolutely thrilled that I get to work doing something I love.

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Overcoming the Darkness

Sometimes, every fibre of your being tells you that the darkness has won. The darkness has snuffed out the light and there’s no way forward; no hope for the future.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

We’re just over a week into a brand new year. Over the past week or two, many people have been looking back and looking ahead. A number of people I know have been saying that 2016 was an “annus horribilis” and for some others, not just a horrible year but the worst they’ve experienced. They have high hopes for 2017 because it can’t possibly be as bad as 2016. The personal trials that we face are very real. Shattered relationships, lost loved ones, sickness, depression and more can threaten to crush and swallow us.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

When we look a little wider we see unspeakable atrocities across the world. Innocent people slaughtered, children being trafficked for the perverse desires of others, natural disasters, wars, violence and more. While anyone who has the opportunity to read this is probably living relatively comfortably, there are millions of people living in extreme poverty. Most are wondering where they might find their next meal. The numbers of those who are refugees, internally displaced, or seeking asylum is in the millions. Our world seems to be beyond help. How can there possibly be a way back from this?

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

I’ve seen some of the world’s injustices first hand over the past few years. I’ve sat in the homes of the poor and heard their heartbreaking stories. The nature of my work means that I am constantly immersed in stories of people who are powerless to change their circumstances and who are at the mercy of others who take advantage of them in the lowest possible ways. Constantly hearing such stories has brought me to tears several times. This world can be such a dark place.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The good news is, no matter how bad things get, no matter how dark it gets, the darkness will not overcome. Yes, it will feel like the darkness has won and that there is no way to turn things around, but there’s something bigger going on.

It’s helpful to remind ourselves that the darkness is no surprise to God. He hasn’t been caught off guard. He is still in charge, and He is still sovereign. Even before time began, even before the darkness began to descend, God had a plan to shatter the darkness with light … light so powerful that it can never be put out. That light is God Himself in the person of Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:1-13

As you start this year, a year that will no doubt bring a mixture of joy and disappointment, remind yourself that no matter how dark it may seem to be, you don’t have to fight the darkness alone. In those moments look for the light that shines in the darkness. It may seem faint at times but it’s there.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

This is an updated post, first published in January 2016.

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Soundtrack of My Life – Let’s Dance

Soundtrack of my Life Tomorrow would have been David Bowie’s 70th birthday but of course, he died on the 10th of January 2016, just days after his 69th birthday.

This is one of a regular series of articles highlighting some of the music that has played a part in my life.

You’ll find a range of songs from old to new. Whether it’s the lyrics, the music, a time in my life, or a combination of reasons, the songs in my soundtrack are part of who I am.

If you take a good look you’ll probably find music that has been part of the soundtrack of your life too. You can also check out some of the other songs that make up the soundtrack of my life.

So much has been said about the number of celebrities who died in 2016 and I was saddened by many of those deaths but Bowie’s death was the only one that really affected me. I pretty much listened to nothing but David Bowie music for days after hearing the news.

Let’s Dance – David Bowie

Let’s Dance was the title track to Bowie’s 1983 album and the first to be released as a single. It was the album that was the driving force behind the Serious Moonlight Tour. The only time I saw Bowie live was on that tour when he played the Perth Entertainment Centre in early November 1983.

I chose this track to share because of its links to Australia.

The music video was made in March 1983 by David Mallet on location in Australia including a bar in Carinda in New South Wales and the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran. In the beginning it featured Bowie with a double bass player inside the one-room pub at the Carinda Hotel and an Aboriginal couple ‘naturally’ dancing “to the song they’re playin’ on the radio”, the couple in this scene and in the whole video is played by Terry Roberts and Joelene King, two students from Sydney’s Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre. As Bowie opted for real people, some residents of the 194-souls village of Carinda are in the pub too, watching and mocking the couple. They do not believe who David is nor what the take is all about, hence their behaviour towards the couple as seen in the video is real.

The red shoes mentioned in the song’s lyrics appear in several contexts. The couple wanders solemnly through the outback with some other Aboriginals, when the young woman finds a pair of mystical red pumps on a desert mountain and instantly learns to dance. Bowie’s calling ‘put on your red shoes’ recalls Hans Christian Andersen’s tale “The Red Shoes”, in which the little girl was vainly tempted to wear the shoes only to find they could not be removed, separating her from God’s grace – “let’s dance for fear your grace should fall” “The red shoes are a found symbol. They are the simplicity of the capitalist society and sort of striving for success – black music is all about ‘Put on your red shoes'”, as Bowie confirmed.

Soon, the couple is visiting museums, enjoying candlelit dinners and casually dropping credit cards, drunk on modernity and consumerism. During a stroll through an arcade of shops, the couple spots the same pair of red pumps for sale in a window display, their personal key to joy and freedom. They toss away the magic kicks in revulsion, stomping them into the dust and return to the mountains, taking one final look at the city they’ve left behind.

Bowie described this video (and the video for his subsequent single, “China Girl”) as “very simple, very direct” statements against racism and oppression, but also a very direct statement about integration of one culture with another. He inserted numerous references to the Stolen Generations. For example, the scene where the young woman scrubs the street on her knees in the middle of a busy street refers to Aboriginal children that were trained as domestic servants before being sent to white homes. – Wiki

I’d encourage you to get involved too. Let me know about some of the songs that are etched in your mind. What are the tunes that bring back a flood of memories every time their opening notes start cranking out on your stereo? Are there songs you love for their music and others that speak deeply through their lyrics?

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Next Year’s Massive Challenge

Back in September last year, I wrote that it’s been way too long since the last time I cycled across the Nullarbor. It was in 2003 when I rode from Perth to Hobart. That ride seems almost a lifetime away from the first of my five crossings back in 1987. As I’ve said before, I’ve cycled across Australia in my twenties, my thirties and my forties. I’m now in my fifties and I’d love to undertake another crossing. (The photo above is of the cliffs that overlook the Great Australian Bight; an absolute highlight of each ride.)

I’ve taken part in dozens of rides throughout Western Australia and even a couple on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. I’ve cycled in Canada and India and even ridden up and down one of the aisles in a K-mart in Miami, Florida, but none of those rides compares to pushing the pedals for thousands of kilometres to cross our wide, brown land.

It Just Got Real

Well, here we are at the start of a brand new year and I’m starting to feel like things just got a bit more serious. Up until a few days ago, I would point way off into the future to a possible 2018 ride from Perth, Western Australia, to Newcastle, New South Wales. While details are still being sorted out, the ride has been confirmed for 2018 and we’re now in 2017. That means that God willing, I’ll be cycling across Australia next year.

Next Year?

Sounds a bit scary when I look at it like that. There’s so much to do. There’s a lot of organising to happen between now and September 2018 when we pedal out of Perth. Everything from pulling together a team of cyclists to arranging a support crew, accommodation, itineraries and much more. There are a thousand little details that need to come together to make such a venture work. Especially when the plan is to have around 20 riders on the road. I’d love to build that team with cyclists from all over Australia and even perhaps some international riders.

I also need to get fit. Really fit.

I used to keep a moderate level of fitness by cycling to and from work each day but my job hasn’t really allowed me to do that for the last three years. Over the next twenty months, I need to get myself into better shape than I have ever been. I’m going to have to be strategic and focused if I’m to drop a bunch of kilograms and put plenty of kilometres into my legs. I’ll need to be able to ride around a thousand kilometres a week for just over four weeks.
Taking part in the ride will take a huge effort.

I’ll certainly keep everyone up to date with the ride details. It’ll be raising funds for Compassion to help in the work of releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. And if you’d like to register interest in joining me, head to the Ride for Compassion website and click on the Coast to Coast 2018 link.

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Is Happiness Our Only Hope?

It’s over. 2016 is gone and 2017 has arrived.

Over the last few days there’s every chance you’ve been exchanging the customary greeting of “Happy New Year” with anyone who happens to cross your path. Even while you’ve been trying to grab a bargain at all the post-Christmas sales you’ve probably had complete strangers not only hurriedly scanning your discounted items from the other side of the counter, but wishing you happiness for the next twelve months.

We wish each other happiness as we draw a line under the year that has gone and look forward to the fresh beginnings of a new year. We want the next year to be better than the last.

I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how tough 2016 was personally. I’ve heard many despair at happenings around the world with everything from terrorist attacks to natural disasters, political instability, inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and the heartbreaking situation in Syria. Others have spoken of the many great lives we’ve lost during the past twelve months. It’s no wonder we want a little bit of happiness in the new year.

But is happiness what it’s really all about?

Of course I want to wish you a happy new year but I don’t want it to end there. I want more for you than happiness as you launch into 2017.

Happiness comes and goes and we all know that you’re not going to sail through 2017 with a smile on your face the whole time. There will be struggles and disappointments. I’m not wishing you difficulties but I’ve been on this planet long enough to know that each year will bring a mixture of good and bad. Sometimes there’ll also be extreme highs and devastating lows. With that in mind my wish for you goes deeper.

I wish you joy for 2017.

Joy is different than happiness. It’s more. It’s not so dependent on circumstances. There’s a strength in joy that goes beyond the happy times. It’s a confidence that no matter we’re facing, we can go on.

I wish love for you in 2017.

Love means a lot of different things for a lot of different people. We’ve all been let down, even by those closest to us. That’s not the kind of love I’m talking about. The kind of love I wish for you in 2017 is a deep, abiding love that never changes, leaves or disappoints. That’s the kind of love we need during the tough days in 2017.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow, not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below, indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

I wish grace for you in 2017.

What is grace? It’s been describes as undeserved favour but there’s more to it than that.

Grace is not only God’s disposition to do good for us when we don’t deserve it. It is an actual power from God that acts and makes good things happen in us and for us.

God’s grace was God’s acting in Paul to make Paul work hard. So when Paul says, “Work out your salvation,” he adds, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Grace is power from God to do good things in us and for us. – John Piper

And more than wishing … I pray these things for you in 2017

I could pray for a happy year for you. I could pray that whatever you do, all runs smoothly. A great job, a close family, healing from illness are all wonderful things that I want for you, but more than that, I pray that 2017 will be a year that draws you closer to the one who created you. I really can’t go past this prayer that Paul prayed for the Ephesian church.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:14-19

Wow. Being filled with all the fullness of God? That sure beats ‘Happy New Year’.

There are many other things I could wish for you in 2017 like hope, peace, strength and wisdom but I’d be interested to know what you’d like to wish for others as we begin a new year. Leave your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

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