Working at Enjoyment

It’s a weird concept but I’ve been thinking again recently about the self-discipline we require to do the things we love.

We might imagine that we’ll just get on and do the stuff we love doing and that we only need to discipline ourselves to do the things that we don’t like to do; the things we have to anyway.

It takes real discipline and resolve for me to do any gardening and a bunch of other things that aren’t really my thing but what about the things I really enjoy doing?

Shouldn’t those things come easily to me?

Perth’s beautiful weather makes my city the perfect place for cycling. It’s one of my favourite passtimes yet if I don’t discipline myself to get out there on my bike I’ll miss out on something I love. It’s easy to sleep in on a Saturday morning instead of rising early to ride with my cycling friends but I know that if I put in the effort I’ll get greater benefits from cycling than I would from an extra hour in bed.

When I force myself into the habit of regular cycling I feel fitter and more energised, yet that discipline can slip away so easily. With a ride right across Australia on the horizon next year, I’d better get that discipline happening soon or I’ll miss out on my big adventure.

If I love reading so much why do I need to discipline myself to sit down with a book for an hour?

A week or two can often go past without me sitting down to soak in some words from the pages of a good book yet when I make the time to read I can easily get lost among the words and I thoroughly enjoy every moment of it. Sitting down with a coffee in one hand and a book in the other is one of the most satisfying things in the world yet I can waste my time on the trivial things of life rather than reading.

We need to work on our relationships.

Some relationships are easier than others, but we even need to put in a great deal of effort on our relationships with those we love.

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well. ? Theodore Roosevelt

Do you find the same thing happening?

Are there things that you really love yet you find you have to discipline yourself to invest your time pursuing them?

I find the same thing with my faith. I’m never happier than when I feel that I’m in tune with the Creator yet I can let time slip through my fingers without making the effort to recharge my spiritual batteries.

The simple spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading the scriptures, reflecting and others that are absolutely life giving can be easily crowded out in our busy world.

Why do we let ourselves get robbed of the real stuff of life?

It’s somehow strange that we should have to exercise discipline and self-control to do the things that make us feel most alive but sadly it’s true. I guess that’s where priority setting comes into play.

What are you like at doing the things that you love? Are there things you love, things that truly energise you, that you have let slip away?

(This post previously published here at RodneyOlsen.net)

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The Escape: Ten Years Later

This time a decade ago I was unsure if I would see Australia or those I love the most ever again.

It was April 2008. I was meant to be in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, for just over a week. Around 48 hours after arriving, I was back at the airport praying for the arrival of a plane to get us out of a city in chaos. Violent rioting and looting had taken over the streets.

The Global Financial Crisis of the time had created a Global Food Crisis. People in some of the world’s poorest countries could no longer afford even the most basic of foods.

I was in Haiti as part of my work for 98five Sonshine FM. I was one of four radio announcers invited by Compassion Australia to see their work first-hand. What we saw was the kind of desperation that grips people when they can’t put food on the family table.

A news report at the time described the scenes in Port-au-Prince.

The Haitian capital was paralysed by food riots yesterday as the United Nations gave warning that soaring food prices were spurring unrest around the world.

Rioters returned to the streets in Port-au-Prince a day after UN peacekeepers had to fire rubber bullets to prevent hungry Haitians from storming the presidential palace. Columns of smoke rose over the city as demonstrators, demanding that the Government take action over the rising price of foodstuffs such as rice, beans and oil, set fire to barricades made from tyres.

At least five people have been killed and more than 20 injured. Protesters compared the burning hunger in their stomachs to bleach or battery acid.The Times Online

The BBC reported the riots in a story titled, ‘Hungry mob attacks Haiti palace’.

Crowds of demonstrators in Haiti have tried to storm the presidential palace in the capital Port-au-Prince as protests continue over food prices.

Witnesses say the protesters used metal bins to try to smash down the palace gates before UN troops fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them.

Several people are reported to have been injured in the clashes.

At least five people have been killed in Haiti since the unrest began last week in the southern city of Les Cayes.

The demonstrators outside the presidential palace said the rising cost of living in Haiti meant they were struggling to feed themselves.

“We are hungry,” they shouted before attempting to smash open the palace gates.

In recent months, it has become common among Haiti’s poor to use the expression “grangou klowox” or “eating bleach”, to describe the daily hunger pains people face, because of the burning feeling in their stomachs.BBC

After seeing just one Compassion project in action our team had to retreat to the relative safety of the local Compassion office. While watching panicked crowds running down the main road outside the office, the room we were in was showered with glass. A rock thrown from the streets below had smashed through the second story window where we had stood just moments before.

When the situation eventually reached a temporary calm we climbed into a couple of four-wheel drives and retreated to our hotel. The bustling streets we had travelled that morning now looked like a war zone. Businesses up and down the road had been attacked and looted. I remember noticing a service station that morning which was operating normally. Cars were filling up with petrol, people were going in and out of the attached shop. On the way back to the hotel that evening the same service station looked derelict. Not one piece of glass remained in place and every shelf in the shop had been completely stripped.

We were glad and relieved when we drove through the gates of the hotel. From there plans were made to fly us out the next day.

The Airport Journey

When the morning arrived we packed our luggage into the four-wheel drives to head towards the airport. We had no idea of the dramatic journey ahead.

As we began the drive we found that more and more roads had been barricaded and blocked. We had to take smaller and smaller side roads. Most seemed to be rocky, narrow, dirt tracks.

The further we went the more people seemed to be surrounding us. It was hard to tell if the crowds were just people wanting to go about their day to day business or if they were likely to attack our vehicles seeking food or money to purchase food. To make sense of what was happening we could only rely on those in our vehicles who spoke Haitian Creole and even then we only got some of the story. They were more than a little occupied with trying to navigate our way out and in keeping us all safe.

At one point an angry man with a steel bar seemed to be trying to incite the crowds against us. Just as the mood was heating up someone in the crowd pointed to the Compassion logo on the side of our vehicle and said something along the lines of, “They’re from Compassion. They help our children. Let them go.”

There was another incident when a man with a machete jumped onto the back of our vehicle. Thankfully, he jumped off almost as quickly.

We eventually passed that area but the ever-growing crowds made the trip very slow and we had to stop many times as people swarmed in front of our vehicles.

At one stage we came to a complete standstill. Edouard Lassegue, Compassion’s Vice President of the Latin America and Caribbean Regions was travelling with us. Originally from Haiti, Edouard got out of our vehicle to speak to people around about us to see if there was a way forward. He stayed in contact with the local Compassion staff in our vehicle via mobile phone as he wandered through the crowd. At one stage one of the men with us who had been speaking with Edouard just shook his head and said, “There’s no way out. There’s no way out.”

Thankfully Edouard did find someone willing to show us a way through. At that point, we didn’t know if the young man who had offered help could truly get us out or whether he had friends waiting for us and we were being led into a trap, but we couldn’t stay where we were.

Weapons of Mass Distraction

We moved very slowly down the narrow laneways. It seemed that if we’d opened the windows of our vehicles we could have reached out and touched the buildings on either side.

Eventually, we turned a corner to see a crew-cab ute or ‘pickup’ parked in the middle of the street ahead of us. There were several people standing on the rear tray of the vehicle, all heavily armed with automatic weapons. Thankfully, they were also wearing police vests.

Edouard once again stepped out of our vehicle and moved slowly toward the police with his arms high in the air to show he wasn’t armed. After hearing about our situation, the police gave us an armed escort the rest of the way to the airport.

Our troubles weren’t over at that point but we were safe. We then had to wait many hours for a flight out of Haiti.

Mixed Emotions

Finally, we boarded the plane which would take us back to Miami before a flight the next day to visit Compassion’s work in the Dominican Republic.

As we gathered speed along the runway I remember seeing smoke rising across Port-au-Prince.

I felt relieved that we were leaving, that we were safe, but at the same time, I knew that for millions of Haitians, there was no option to leave. They were still in the streets facing the reality of the daily battle to find food. They didn’t know when they might next be able to feed their families. Life in one of the world’s poorest nations was just getting tougher.

I knew at that point that I needed to tell and retell their story. We had been in danger for a short time. The people we had just left behind were still in danger without any way of escaping.

The children that were sponsored through Compassion would continue to receive care, and I was so thankful for that, but so many more needed help. I knew that I needed to tell more people about the opportunity to make a difference for those children and their families.

Those events of a decade ago convinced me that I would do whatever I could to partner with Compassion to see more children released from poverty in Jesus’ name. For a few years after that incident, I used my position working in radio to speak of Compassion’s work. Then late in 2013, I had the opportunity to work for Compassion, which is where I’ve now been for over four years.

There’s much more to be done in places like Haiti and the other countries where Compassion works.

Later this year I’ll be cycling 4,300 kilometres from one side of Australia to the other to raise money for Compassion’s Highly Vulnerable Children’s Fund. If you’d like to donate towards that fund just follow this link. Maybe you’d like to make an ongoing contribution by sponsoring a child. You can do that right now by following this link.

Ten years ago I escaped a dangerous situation but for millions of children around the world, the danger goes on. Please consider what you might do to change their world.

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The Light Shines in 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 less than 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 2017 was an “annus horribilis” and for some others, not just a horrible year but the worst they’ve experienced. They have high hopes for 2018 because it can’t possibly be as bad as 2017. 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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Jesus is Coming … Look Busy

You’ve had the same conversation a thousand times. You meet up with someone who asks how you’ve been and you answer by telling them … ‘busy’. Their question isn’t about your level of activity, it’s about your personal wellness, yet you still feel the need to assure them that you’ve been a productive member of society. I know this because I get caught up in it too.

Many people have written about this before but it still seems to be such a problem for so many.

Busy speaks about a level of activity, often a flurry of exhausting exertion, without considering whether all that hustle and bustle is effective in any way. There may well be a more productive way of achieving what we need but when the goal is being busy, and telling everyone how busy we are, that doesn’t really matter.

Can I get a busy badge?

Why do we feel so compelled to assure everyone that we’ve been busy? Is that really the measure of our worth to others … or even our own attempt to justify our worth to ourselves?

I guess the starting point is convincing ourselves that ‘busy’ isn’t life’s ultimate aim. There’s nothing wrong with being busy when we need to be but it’s not the goal we should be seeking above all else,

Wasn’t technology going to save us all?

On top of the constantly growing expectations of others soaking up our time, we now add more busyness into the mix with our use of technology.

Advancements in technology promised us an easier, more productive life, yet all that seems to have happened is that we’ve lost the ability to switch off.

Our technology usage has blurred the lines between work and play like never before. We’re checking personal emails and social media updates while we’re at work and checking work emails and catching up on work projects while we’re at home or out with family and friends. That means that our employer never has our full attention and sadly, neither do those closest to us.

We’ve sacrificed that which should be most precious to us on the altar of frantic activity.

Hanging Out for Holidays

We’re about to launch into what many call the ‘silly season’. The lead up to Christmas and New Year festivities pound us with activities and deadlines. Everything needs to be ‘finished before Christmas’.

Many of us take annual leave at this time and so we feel the need to complete every project on our desk before taking that leave. That usually means that we crawl across the finish line of the year, battered and bruised from the frantic pace we’ve held for the year, having just enough time to bandage our wounds and ‘almost’ recover before the whole thing begins again for the next year.

We’ve got to stop going at full speed towards the end of the year, imagining that we just need to get to the start of our leave so we can collapse in a heap.

We don’t just need that extended time to stop and refresh at the end of a busy year, we need time weekly and daily.

Jesus is coming. Look busy.

Sadly, those of us in the church have bought the lie that we have to be forever run off our feet too. In fact, a lot of the time we buy into the whole busyness thing even more because we have this strange image in our heads of God watching us and shaking his finger at us whenever we sit down to breathe.

This constant striving to work harder and harder within our daily lives and the church says more about our idea of who God is than anything else. If we imagine that we’d better look busy because we don’t want Jesus to catch us taking time out, we’ve missed the point entirely.

The truth is, God is the one who came up with the idea of rest. If we think God wants us to be constantly striving without rest, we’ve given in to a ‘religion’ that requires our efforts to appease God. That was never his plan.

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Psalm 127:2 (ESV)

Been Busy?

The next time someone asks you how you’ve been, how will you answer? Will you keep on assuring them that you’ve been busy or will you give them a deeper answer that speaks about something other than frantic activity?

You know that the world will keep crowding out times of rest and recreation so how about being more intentional in planning time daily, weekly, monthly and annually for time aside from the craziness? Then once it’s scheduled, guard it jealously. Don’t let it be the first thing that gets bumped from the schedule when something ‘more important’ comes up.

If you’re too busy to schedule in those times it’s a very clear indicator that you need to say no to those things that scream for your time but aren’t necessarily beneficial. Learn to say no so that you can say yes to the right things in your life.

And don’t forget that we are spiritual beings. Spend time connecting with God. You might just discover he doesn’t want you to burn out trying to achieve your busy badge.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or illfitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

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Life Happens

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
– John Lennon

For some reason, I started thinking about that line from John Lennon’s song Beautiful Boy recently.

Life is what happens to you? Really? Are we passive players in the whole process of life?

There are things that happen in life where we have no control but there are many more times that we are given the privilege of choice. It’s at those times we need to learn how to choose well.

I’ve met many people in developing countries who don’t have the luxury of choice. They don’t have options. That’s a big part of poverty. That makes me appreciate the opportunities I have for choices in life all the more.

Choosing to choose.

Sometimes we simply need to choose to choose. We need to choose to decide on the options in front of us knowing that if we choose not to choose, there are many other people ready to step in and make decisions for us … and their decisions probably won’t be for our benefit.

Choosing isn’t always comfortable.

On Monday morning my alarm went off at 5:00 a.m.

It was a public holiday. Outside it was dark, wet and so very cold. In my bed, it was warm, dry and oh so lovely.

I had to choose to take hold of the day rather than letting life happen to me.

I got out of bed. I tried to move around quietly so that I didn’t wake my wife. Our cats thought I was mad. They were probably right.

I put on my cycling gear, including my rain jacket, and headed out the door to ride.

The rain bucketed down. I rode. I met with some other cyclist. We rode together.

There’s something about being drenched to the skin, covered in sand and pushing hard against headwinds that lets you know you’re alive.

Sometimes choosing to stay in bed and catch up on rest is the choice we need to make. When the weather gets too wild it’s dangerous to be out there on a bike and so the choice to stay home makes more sense.

But sometimes we need to choose to take the hard way. Sometimes we need to step out of what’s comfortable into what we know we should be doing.

I have a six-day ride coming up in a few weeks and I need to be trained and ready. I need to choose to do what it takes to be fit enough to tackle a week on the road.

This time next year I’ll be halfway between Perth and Newcastle on a four and a half week cycling journey across Australia. I’ll have to choose the hard road many times in the months leading up to that adventure.

Refusing to make choices is a choice in itself.

If I don’t choose to train, I won’t be ready to achieve what I want to achieve. If I don’t choose to watch what I eat and take other steps to get fitter, I won’t be able to ride into Newcastle next year knowing that I’ve conquered the challenge.

Sometimes our choices are between comfort or challenge. Sometimes we choose between good and bad and at other times we choose between better or best.

Do we want to live passively or proactively?

Every day we need to make choices. Those choices let us know that we’re truly alive.

You can make a choice right now.

You can choose to let life happen to you while you’re busy making other plans …. or you can choose to decide what paths you take.

I pray that you’ll choose to choose.

What choices do you need to take today?

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