Who is the Jesus of Easter?

This is a post that I repeat in the lead up to Easter each year. While most people around us are talking about rabbits and chocolate I think it’s worth taking a little time to look at the true story of Easter. The closest most of us get to the original Easter story is eating hot cross buns.

The bigger story is about the barbaric killing of a man who many millions of people throughout history believe defeated death and walked out of his tomb some days later. That’s extraordinary. Could such a story really be true or has the legend of this man, Jesus, grown over time?

Whether you’re a believer, apathetic or completely opposed to the person of Jesus, you’ve got to admit that his very existence has shaped much of the world. Whether you think that’s a good or bad thing, it’s simply fact.

With that in mind we really should decide for ourselves who Jesus is or was.

There’s an interesting exchange in the Bible about this very thing.

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

I suppose that if we reset the scene in modern times it might look more like:

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

They replied, “Some say you’re a good man; others say a teacher; others say a religious leader; others say a misunderstood man; others say a fictional character; others say an irrelevant historical figure; others say a prophet; others say a bigot; and still others, that you’re a guy who gives us a couple of days off each Easter and at the end of December.”

Then comes the question that should be directed to each one of us.

“But what about you? Who do you say I am?”

Jesus was very wise in the way he asked his question. (After all, he is Jesus.) He says to his disciples, “Firstly let’s clear up what everyone else is saying about me.” It can be very easy for us to parrot someone else’s idea of who Jesus was or is. There are so many options that we can easily pick one that sounds reasonable to us.

But Jesus doesn’t give the disciples that option. After clearing up the range of things that others were saying, he focuses in on the individuals in front of him and says, “But What about you? Who do you say I am?”

I believe he’s doing the same today.

We need to be aware that there are many ideas of who Jesus is but in the end we need to answer that second question for ourselves.

Jesus looks at us all saying “But What about you? Who do you say I am?” Not who do your parents say I am; not who do your workmates say I am; not who does Richard Dawkins say I am; not who do your philosophy books say I am; not who does your pastor say I am; not who does your church say I am, but “Who do you say I am?”

Whether we say we believe the Bible’s idea of who Jesus is or not, we can’t afford to just grab someone else’s ideas on this one. We need to be open enough to have our views challenged. We need to look at how we came to hold the views we do and decide if that’s a good enough reason to think that way.

All the arguments about what people believe about Christians and their views are secondary and irrelevant until we decide what Jesus is about.

If we truly look at the evidence for ourselves and decide that Jesus was just a man we’ve got nothing to lose but if he was who the Bible claims and we don’t acknowledge it, our life could be at stake.

I’m siding with Peter on this one when he answered, “Who do you say I am?” with “The Christ of God.” Exactly what that means for me and the way I live my life is something that I will continue to grapple with for the rest of my life.

Who do you say Jesus is?

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What type of communicator are you?

I recently noticed a friend posting on Facebook about having their typewriter returned after being cleaned and tuned up. I immediately remembered typing lessons in high school when we’d all be sat in front of a typewriter and expected to type in time to the music. That’s if you could really call it music. (Yep, I’m really that old.)

I knew then and there I’d never be a touch typist belting out a hundred words per minute.

Thinking about those days got me wondering about the differences between the trusty typewriter of old and the computers we all use today to communicate.

Have you ever made a mistake while using a manual typewriter?

Once you press your finger down on a key the corresponding typebar flies out of the typebasket towards your piece of paper, connecting with the inked ribbon on the way, to leave a lasting mark on the page. It not only marks the paper with ink, it leaves a permanent impression. The harder you strike the key, the deeper the impact.

There’s no effective ‘backspace’ key on a typewriter if you make a mistake. Even newer typewriters that had erasers could only remove the ink. The indent in the paper remained. Of course you could cover it up with some kind of correction fluid or tape, but even that left a tell tale sign that something wasn’t quite right.

Using a computer keyboard when communicating it becomes all too easy to rush ahead with fingers flying, knowing that we can select whole sections of what we create and then with the press of a button, it’s all gone without a trace. If we want to add an extra word in the middle of the text, we simply drop the cursor where we need it and add whatever we want. It was never that way with a typewriter.

When we combine the ease of throwing some words together with the instant nature of social media, it’s no surprise that careless words find their way into the hearts of those on the receiving end of our communication. A thoughtless comment on social media or a hasty text message can leave a deeper impact on a person than an old typewriter would leave on a page and one that won’t disappear with a bottle of correction fluid.

Typing with a typewriter was a lot more intentional.

With a typewriter you had to structure what you wanted to say before you began striking the keys. You couldn’t just throw some ideas down and then move them around the page.

I don’t want to go back to using a typewriter and lose all the extra functionality that computers afford us, but I do wonder if we’ve lost some of the intentional thought processes we needed in days past.

With a typewriter you feel, see and hear every key stroke yourself before it’s felt, seen and heard by anyone else. Unless you want to waste a lot of paper, you think through what you’re about to communicate when you use a typewriter.

The good news is that we don’t have to go back to using typewriters to communicate well. We can take advantage of everything that newer technology offers while still taking time to think through what we’re trying to say, keeping in mind our intent and the way it will be received. We don’t have to be careless with words. We can choose to consider our communication.

I think there is still great beauty in a classic typewriter but I won’t be rushing to start using one again. I think there’s even greater beauty in continuing to be a thoughtful communicator.

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. – Proverbs 16:24

What kind of communicator are you?

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Talking about a very big ride

I’ve been on my bike a bit more recently. I need to get fit. There are big plans ahead.

For just over three years I’ve been working for Compassion Australia in our Western Australian office. We run an annual fundraising ride of just over 500 km named Ride for Compassion, but next year we’re taking on a much bigger challenge with a ride from Perth, Western Australia to our head office in Newcastle, New South Wales.

The Ride for Compassion Coast to Coast will be a huge event that will make a major impact for children living in extreme poverty. We’re now at the point of wanting to attract suitable riders and support crew who would be happy to raise significant funds as well as undertake such an epic venture.

The ride will start on Saturday the 15th of September 2018. We will arrive at Compassion’s head office in Newcastle, NSW on Tuesday the 16th of October, having cycled over 4000 km. There’ll be 28 riding days and 4 rest days. The average riding distance for those riding days will be 150 km. Our longest day will be just under 200 km.

I have quite some experience with the ride aspect of the trip having cycled across Australia five times previously but knowing that this time will be in support of Compassion is an extra thrill for me.

I recently had the opportunity to return to my old workplace, Perth’s Christian radio station 98five, and be interviewed by longtime colleague and friend JD, about both our annual ride and next year’s Coast to Coast event.

You can hear our chat by clicking the play button on the audio player below.

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Self love and oxygen masks

The whole ‘love yourself’ thing has never sat quite right with me. I understand what people are saying when they suggest we should love ourselves but it often feels a bit self-indulgent to me. You’re probably a lot smarter than me and have figured out the balance.

I’ve heard a lot of Christians promoting the idea of loving ourselves over the years. They base their thoughts on passages like the following where Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment.

…. But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV)

The thinking goes that if we’re to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, we first have to love ourselves. What Jesus said presupposes that we love ourselves. I can’t argue with that but I still feel a bit uncomfortable.

So why do I have trouble with promoting the notion of loving ourselves?

Of course I love myself. Too much probably. I feed myself, look after myself, and think way too highly of myself and my needs a lot of the time.

For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. – Ephesians 5:29,30 (ESV)

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve seen many people use the concept of loving themselves simply as an opportunity for an unhealthy focus on their own needs and wants. When Jesus spoke about loving ourselves it was in the immediate context of loving others. He said we’re to ‘love our neighbours as ourselves’. Some people get the whole ‘love yourself’ bit but never advance to loving their neighbour.

Maybe I just need to change the way I think about why I should love myself.

I’ve recently been thinking about the airline safety spiel. As well as telling you about how to do up and undo your seatbelt and how count the rows to your nearest exit, they always stress that in the event of a sudden loss in cabin pressure, you should fit your own oxygen mask first before helping others. While I’ve seen others use that idea to talk generally about looking after yourself, I think there’s a subtle but important difference when we use the oxygen mask analogy.

There’s a sense of urgency in the airline mask thing.

Yes, you need to put your mask on first before helping someone else but in that moment, as the plane starts to shake and the pressure drops, when the masks fall from the ceiling of the aircraft, you take the action you need to take for yourself before immediately turning your attention to others. You don’t sit there adjusting the mask until it feels ‘just right’. You don’t have some ‘me time’ with your mask, you grab it, put it on, and then get on with the job of assisting those around you who are struggling.

If someone I loved was sitting next to me in an aircraft emergency I’d get my mask on as quickly as I could so that I’d be best prepared to help them. Even during the act of securing my own mask my thoughts would be about getting oxygen for the person in the seat next to me.

Some people certainly do try to help others without caring for their own needs to their own detriment. They manage to fumble around and get oxygen sorted for everyone else but they’re left gasping for breath. That’s not how it should work.

On the other hand, if we focus on ‘loving ourselves’ until we feel sufficiently ‘loved up’, we’ll spend more and more time looking out for number one.

It’s another one of those times in life where we need to find balance.

We should think well of ourselves without putting ourselves above others. We need to ensure our own oxygen supply so that we can serve others. We shouldn’t think too highly or too little of ourselves. Yes, we should love ourselves but love should never be self satisfying. Love should be bigger than that.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:3,4 (ESV)

I’d love to read your thoughts. Leave me a comment or two. Do you think I’m on the right track? Is it about balance? Let me know.

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What’s Your Why?

What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning? We can all find the motivation to do what needs to be done on the good days but is there something that keeps you going when things start getting tough?

Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion. – Simon Sinek

Do you have a passion that drives your actions? If you haven’t yet found your ‘why’ or discovered something that drives your passion, maybe you can share mine.

I’ve heard it said that if you “find something you love to do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Nice idea but not quite true. I love what I do but I really do have to work at it … and that’s OK. I’m happy to work hard at what I do because there’s a lot to be done and it’s something I’m passionate about. My ‘why’ informs everything I do in my job (even the boring bits).

Did you know around 300 million children in our world will go to bed hungry tonight? Did you know that around 17 000 children under the age of five died today from preventable causes and another 17 000 will die tomorrow and the day after and the day after that? And let that word sink in for a while. Preventable. That means it doesn’t have to be this way.

That’s my why right there. My work at Compassion is more that a job. Much more. It’s my driving passion. My why is all about releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.

I’ve sat in the homes of the poorest of the poor. I’ve prayed and cried with those in desperate need. I’ve looked into the face of a mother, standing on the dirt floor of her one room, corrugated iron home, as she told me that neither her or her son would still be alive if it were not for the work of Compassion. It’s people like her that I think about when I need to be reminded of my why.

There are things in this world that I find absolutely unacceptable.

I believe the corrupt systems that keep people in extreme poverty are unacceptable. The fact that a child can grow up believing that they are worthless is unacceptable. Most of all, knowing that our world has the resources and know how to not only reduce extreme poverty but eliminate it right now, yet chooses not to, is unacceptable.

I find it completely unacceptable that there is still such a gap between the excess we experience and the complete lack of resources experienced by many, many millions around our world.

Some would throw their hands up and say that that’s the way it will always be and I would challenge them to think again. Over the past few decades we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in extreme poverty around the world, which tells us we can make a difference, but the statistics are still alarming. There’s still much to be done and it won’t be done unless we all play our part in bringing about change.

I work for Compassion because I am convinced that there is no more effective organisation serving the world’s poor. I have seen no other method of working with those in poverty that even comes close to the way that Compassion is working.

That’s not the marketing spin of someone who works for the organisation, it’s the heartfelt conviction of someone who has seen the light streaming in to some very dark corners of this world and wants to be part of seeing more light and hope filling the lives of those around the world who are the poorest of the poor.

I have a why that gets me out of bed in the morning. How about you? Do you have a why? I’m more than willing to share mine. How about making releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name part of your why?

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