But as I think about that packaged food on that aeroplane, I also can't imagine it being further away from it's natural environment…
Isn't packaging so great?! It's so tidy, sterile, and you can make life so convenient with it! Something about it just screams “easy!”, especially when it's food. Little time, no mess, and certainly no growing or cultivating required! How appealing.
I wonder if we do the same thing with life sometimes… I wonder if we “package” things and give “easy answers” when, sometimes, there aren't any. Perhaps life is more like a messy garden, with dirt and weeds and worms… and real life happening. I also wonder if we “package” the Bible sometimes too… somehow things are much easier when we take a piece of scripture and package it, sterilising it from its intended context and making it seem so… convenient and easy. “Three easy steps to a great prayer life”, “just have enough faith and they will be healed”, “God will always protect you, so therefore nothing bad will happen to you”… but looking at the life of other faithful followers of Jesus, and Jesus's own life, that certainly doesn't seem to be the case. Things seem… messier. But real things are growing.
When I went through some hard times that I didn't understand, I was looking for answers too… but there didn't seem to be any. God seemed to have gone quiet. I was angry, and was tempted to walk away. Nothing made sense. Life seemed to have fallen apart, and I wanted to blame God. But as time went by, He showed me that I don't always need to know why, I just needed to know who He is, how much He loves me, and that He is all I need. That's what Peter knew, because He'd been with the One who gave true life, and there was no turning back after that.
Matthew 13:44-46 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
Everything… it was worth giving up everything. That hidden treasure, that pearl of great value, that Kingdom, was worth giving up everything else. That's what Peter knew too. And in the end, all of those who had been with Jesus knew it too. He's all we need.
This is one of my favourite songs, that encapsulates this so perfectly:
The One Thing
“Cold showers”, my husband said. “I saw this video, and apparently it’s really good for you! I’m going to start doing it twice a day”.
Sure enough, he did, convinced it was the new thing that would help solve some of his energy and sleep problems. I wasn’t so convinced! Instead, after watching a different video, I was convinced that I needed to start balancing my hormones by watching what I eat. Thyroid problems made me tired and so, being interested in natural medicine and old remedies, I started watching videos about what you should (and shouldn’t!) include in your diet, and when. Apparently carbs were the enemy, and so were a lot of other things I’d been eating! I bought a few of the recommended things like apple cider vinegar, and tried to cut out carbs. I felt excited and motivated! This was going to fix everything!
Then I decided that I also needed to read up on financial management, as I was starting a new job and also wanted to be better at teaching our kids about what to do with their pocket money. The guy in the book recommended sitting with your spouse together and discussing your finances over a meal of garlic bread and wine… “Oh no! Carbs! Doesn’t he know that eating both of those in the evening will cause inflammation, weight gain, and can lead to all sorts of health problems?” my brain blared… “how can I balance both finances and health when the finance guy is telling me to do what the doctor told me not to!”
…Ridiculous, right? But seriously… which came first? My brain seemed to be swirling in an anxious flurry. Suddenly, the carbs didn’t seem to matter… because now the priority was to get my kids’ financial management under control!
How many times have you watched a video and then said to yourself, “if only I could just start doing this one thing, I bet that would change everything”…
Anxiety over how to prioritise things in our life only seems to be worse in this digital age. Scrolling through digital media, we are constantly being told what is “the most important thing that you need to be doing right now”. Whether it’s changing your parenting, your health, your finances, the environment, your brain chemistry, growing your own food, community involvement, or your kids’ future in this crazy world… everything seems to have a Ted talk trying to tell us that “if you do nothing else, do this right…” How do we choose? What comes first? What IS the most important thing we need to do, when there seem to be so many choices and so little time and energy to pursue them all?
Luke 10:38-42: “As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”
But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha was also anxious about priorities. At that moment, she believed it was meeting others’ needs… making sure everyone was fed, the meal was cleaned up, everyone was comfortable and had what they needed, especially this important and beloved teacher! And how dare her sister not also think that was the priority! Mary was just… sitting there, at Jesus’s feet?
But Jesus told her what the “one thing” was, the one thing that she needed in that moment, in that space… the one thing that took priority over serving, meeting needs, and having everything in order, the thing her sister had found.
It was Him.
Is parenting important? Yes. Is health important? Yes. Is serving others important? Yes. Is work important? Yes. Is being prepared for a food shortage important? I would say, yes.
But what always takes priority? Him. Sitting at His feet, listening to Him, spending time with Him. And then, in His wonderful way of being a loving Father that knows our needs, He makes all the other things fall into place as well.
Matthew 6:31-33 “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the gentiles run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
The fog had set in overnight, and by 11am it was still hanging around. We were driving in the car on our way somewhere, and were all a bit frustrated at not having had more than 150 metres of visibility for the entire morning. Suddenly our five-year-old daughter asked, “Mummy, why is the sun covered in fog?”. I replied, “Well, the sun is actually not affected by the fog at all. We can’t see the sun because the fog is around us!”
James 1:13 “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when by his own evil desires he is lured away and enticed.”
Have you ever had a fog surrounding your heart or mind? You can’t see clearly, can’t make good judgments, can’t get a perspective, because there’s a heavy fog clouding it. It can take many forms… but it always comes with quiet whispers in our mind that try to make us lose our way. Unfortunately, we can’t blame God or anyone else really, for the problem is in our own hearts.
Recently I’ve had a fog set in… it came suddenly, quietly and unexpectedly, as fogs often do. It was called “stuff”. Now, I’m not a light-packer (despite my mother’s best attempts to teach me how to pack-light on our holidays!), but in general I don’t buy a lot of things. But recently, I’ve had this increasing desire towards materialism and, well, just buying things! Nothing too crazy expensive, just a new magazine from the supermarket here, another shirt from the thrift store there, more toys for the kids, another cute mug for the kitchen… and then I realised that slowly I was getting in a habit of thinking about wanting more, bigger, better… in my mind was the quiet but persistent whispering thought, “if you had more, you would be happier”. Then, like a fresh breeze, this verse helped to blow the fog away:
Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Our preoccupation with accumulating things in this world can cloud our perspective on what really matters, and what we really need. Jesus didn’t tell us to ignore our physical needs on this earth (Matthew 6:30-32), but comforted us that our Heavenly Father would provide all our needs as we continued to focus on and depend on Him: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”, Jesus said (Matt. 6:33). When we leave this world, we can take nothing with us except what we have done with our time and resources on this earth (2 Cor. 5:10). It’s a challenge to keep this fog from setting in in our consumerist, materialistic world, but He is faithful to bring His truths to our mind when we need them to blow the fog away!
Is there anything clouding your mind today?
As I began to walk through life,
I saw beauty
There was peace,
There was quiet
I was happy
And then I walked a little further
Someone told me about War
There was danger
But not here
I was safe
I then I grew, and walked some more
I heard that there was darkness
Terrible things were done
But not here
I was secure
My road began to climb
It wound up a steep hill
There was work
I was tired
But I was excited
I reached a mountain-top!
The God of the Universe had found me!
He was loving
I was His child
I was joyful
Then I came to the valley
This valley I had to walk through
I saw suffering
I felt pain
I was hurt
Then there was a darkness
A dark place I hadn’t known before
A place of deep loss and pain
That I’d only heard about
I was angry
Where was that loving God?
How could He allow such pain and suffering in the world?
I had questions
I felt alone
I felt lost
But then I felt His loving arms
His soft, gentle voice that spoke to me
“My child, one day you will know all things,
But right now,
Just trust me.”
And then a new question formed in my mind
How could a perfect God
Have sent His perfect Son
To die for… me?
I was in awe
So when I don’t understand,
I look up to Him, I feel His loving arms
I remember that there are things beyond myself
And He gives me Peace
Always at Work
1O LORD, You have searched me
2You know when I sit and when I rise;
You understand my thoughts from afar.
3You search out my path and my lying down;
4Even before a word is on my tongue,
You know all about it, O LORD.
5You hem me in behind and before;
You have laid Your hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
7Where can I go to escape Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?
8If I ascend to the heavens, You are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there.
9If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle by the farthest sea,
10even there Your hand will guide me;
Your right hand will hold me fast.
Have you ever walked into a hospital and thought, “Wow, why are all these people so sick and hurt?” I would guess not. Everybody knows that hospitals are where sick or hurt people go.
Have you ever been the sick person arriving at the hospital and said to the doctors, “Well, there’s nothing wrong with me, I’m fine!” Of course not. They would ask what on earth you’re doing there, and tell you to go home. But you’re there precisely because you realise you’re sick or hurt, and need help.
What do we think Church is? Among other things, church is a bit like a hospital. Jesus is the doctor, and we are all patients… and also partners with Jesus in bringing healing and restoration to each other and others.
“But the Pharisees and their scribes complained to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Luke 5:30-31
Many times we come to church with different expectations… it is a place where I have to dress up, I have to be happy all the time, I have to measure up, I have to pretend, I have to have it together. Imagine walking into a hospital and saying to all the patients, “Stop lying around in bed! Get out of that gown, put some nice clothes on, do your hair, wipe that frown off your face!” You wouldn’t dare! Because you know why those people are there and what they need.
Perhaps we have forgotten that we are all to be counted among the “sick” in Jesus’s reply to the Pharisees… because we have all been born imperfect and born into a broken and fallen world. As the body of Christ, we get to meet together to minister to one another, to pray for one another, comfort one another, love one another, and provide for one another (among many other “one another”s!). We all have needs, whether spiritual, physical, or emotional! And it’s no use hiding them… because they usually don’t go away on their own!
Even the great Apostle Paul was constantly asking for prayer and other needs from fellow believers in his letters. When we start being real about the things that aren’t going so well in our hearts or in our lives, it invites others to be open and honest about their needs too. Some things we might not have even thought to pray about! But God cares about all our needs, great and small. Nothing is too small (or too big) for Him!
First World Problems
In the dictionary, a first world problem is defined as “a relatively trivial or minor problem or frustration (implying a contrast with serious problems such as those that may be experienced in the developing world)”. I guess most of us would agree that a problem like “my coffee isn't hot enough” or “my kitchen isn't the colour I want it to be”, when compared with those living in less than $1 a day, are not “real problems”. But what about us as Christians living in this prosperous developed world? What if the first world church has a lot more spiritual “first world problems” than we realise? How did we end up with things like apathy, complacency, materialism, desire for comfort and security, fear and worry, low levels of faith, self-sufficiency, with all of our “Christianity”? When we read of movements of the work of the Holy Spirit today in places like Africa and Asia, we have to stop and wonder… why aren't we seeing that here?
Then I had a thought… where did Jesus struggle the most when He was walking the earth? Where did He perform the least amount of miracles… and why?
The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
1 He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary* and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence* at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.