29 May 2023
Another Big Tree Down!
My tribute to friend and mentor Thom Gardner
Last year Ken Symington went to be with the Lord… it was a hard pill to swallow losing that man and I entitled my tribute blog to him as: “Big Tree Down!”… referencing the fact that when a mature Oak of Righteousness is no longer with us, it’s hard not to notice the huge gap in the canopy over us!
Sadly, that gap in the canopy just widened even more significantly with the loss of another big “Oak of Righteousness” in Thom Gardner who recently passed into Glory.
But something these two great men taught me was that the ultimate purpose of any tree or plant is to produce fruit (and therefore seed) after its own kind that guarantees multiplication.
Thom would use examples about ‘seed’ in his teaching to highlight that as disciples of Jesus we have a responsibility to pass-on the kingdom ‘keys’ we have been entrusted with to the next generation of disciples. Thom was very much aware of his own mortality and he knew his time was limited… so he chose to sow powerfully into every hungry disciple who crossed his path, ensuring as many ‘acorns’ of today were given the opportunity to become tomorrow’s ‘oaks’. Thom trusted God to raise-up those ‘acorns’ to become tomorrow’s leaders and fill the gaps in the canopy left by those whom Father has called home.
To invest in such ‘acorns’, Thom travelled with his wife Carol wherever the Lord led him to share the precious message of the Father’s restoration. And no one, in my opinion, demonstrated more clearly that healing and restoration are vital components of discipleship.
Read this quote taken from a recording of Thom’s teaching on one of his events here at Ellel Sydney:-
“The purpose of healing and restoration is not just to reduce our pain; solve our issues; heal our anxiety; or overcome our struggle with sin… The purpose of restoration is coming into a place of unhindered intimacy with God that will release you into your destiny! Healing and restoration are crucial steps in our becoming better disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ”
Amen to that, Thom!
I fully expected to see Thom back out in Australia teaching and continuing to impart all he had to share… I know there were one or two events we had in the diary that had to be cancelled because of his failing health… yet it was still quite a shock to hear he was no longer with us.
I really didn’t think it was his time yet.
However, it’s slowly beginning to hit me that another big tree really has been taken out of the covering and canopy over us. And he will be seriously missed.
It’s a sober reminder to us all to make the most of key fathers and mothers in the faith we have been blessed with! Whoever those mentors are the Lord has placed in our life - we really need to press into them, sit under them, and gain all the wisdom they have to offer before they too are taken home.
I still remember Thom and Carol’s earliest contact with me… asking if they could come and introduce themselves. It was either 2010 or 2011 – but I remember thinking “Man, I am so busy. I’m not sure I’ve got time for these guys!!!... and in all honesty, I thought Thom might have been some needy pastor who was going to suck the life-force out of me and demand immediate prayer ministry for a troubled marriage! Thankfully, I at least paused in prayer to ask the Lord his thoughts and I heard Him simply say: “Yes - I’d like you to meet with them”.
So, out of nothing more than obedience (and a decent dose of disappointment and arrogance) I chose to meet with Thom and Carol Gardner for coffee one mid-week morning back in 2010.
They arrived from the Blue Mountains where they had been ministering at a local church. Pleasantries began (around 10am) as coffee was poured. I asked Thom to share about his ministry and what they did and as time passed, I began to see this guy was no wounded, needy, light-weight preacher looking for ministry or help! His depth of Scripture amazed me as he spoke about the Old Testament promises quoting many passages fluently in Hebrew and showing a fair grasp of the Greek and Aramaic languages of the New Testament! Time flew by – it was now 11:30am – and I asked Thom how he applied his biblical learning into the practical context of ministry to the wounded and broken? He shared about the more difficult ministry cases with folks suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder; schizophrenia; etc, etc, (never mentioning any names) and explained what the Lord was doing to help such people move towards freedom! It was now 1pm and I invited Thom and Carol to stay for lunch so I could continue to listen to these miraculous stories about how they were applying kingdom keys they’d discovered about how to connect people to the heart of God. The more Thom shared, the more questions I had to ask him, until it finally dawned on me… the Lord didn’t say to me “I’d like you to meet with them” so I could minister to this man - Father God had sent this man to minister to me!!
I had to repent before the Lord for my heart attitude prior to meeting with Thom and Carol.
All I can say is thank goodness I at least obeyed what God had asked of me! We’d be so poorer had we never connected!
I think from memory, Thom’s first teaching event with us here at Ellel Sydney was arranged in 2012. Over the years that followed, it was always a priority to book Thom onto our Ellel calendar, and his events were always heavily booked. Thom and Carol faithfully came to Australia every year after that until just before Covid hit. Although Thom’s teaching was highly anticipated and powerful, it was watching him practically minister to some of our most wounded long-term ministry people one-on-one that demonstrated the real power of a Holy God to transform even the most broken of lives! And it all simply relies on helping a person learn to connect to the heart of God on their own – literally just assisting them to hear the voice of God and know His manifest presence in their life, enabling truth to be embedded in their hearts and incredible transformation to take place.
And these were keys that didn’t just help the most traumatised and broken of victims – but they were available to anyone needing healing from the Lord Jesus Christ.
I think 2018 was sadly Thom and Carol’s last in-person visit to us here in Australia.
Thom always made time to invest and father me at every opportunity whether in person when he visited, or via Zoom when back home in the USA… and every time it was needed and appreciated. Thinking back, during several particularly tough years in the ministry – it was Thom who went out of his way to seek me out and connect with my heart. The Lord used Thom’s words several times to realign me when I desperately needed a ‘father’ to guide me.
My wife Joanne would also testify to the dinners and meals we enjoyed with the Gardners, and the pastoral love and care they offered each of us was priceless and lifesaving. Thom was also a significant investor into the lives of my own children, something as a dad I will always be grateful for.
Throughout the years of frontline work alongside Thom and Carol, coupled with the fun we got to enjoy together - they became close personal friends and significant mentors. Truth is – Thom Gardner was used by the Lord on more than once occasion to help rescue my heart when under significant attack. For that I will be forever grateful.
Thom was probably best known for his teaching on Healing the Wounded Heart; Prayers from a Quiet Heart; Relentless Love; Hearing God’s Voice; 7 Things to Tell Your Children; and the marriage investment course Grace at the Table.
He possessed a gift to powerfully impart just how much Father God loves the broken and wounded. He had this ability to connect people with the very presence of God. He made the bible cool to read and study! He did all of this in such a gentle, loving, kind and safe way that it forever changed how a person related to God, and altered the course of the person’s walk with Him.
Whilst Thom and Carol’s visits to Australia were cut short by Thom’s failing health and covid, online platforms allowed Thom to create some brilliant online courses for us. We filmed him sitting in his very own office in his home – and that has allowed some priceless teaching to be captured to bless many well into the future.
Then of course, there was the powerful witness of his life. When I watched how Thom related to Carol in their marriage, it always reminded me of the promise that Jesus will one day to return to dote over His Bride. When I listened to Thom sharing tenderly about his own children – I got to witness a model of how my Heavenly Father loves His kids. Whenever Thom taught, I got to enjoy stories that were indeed wonderful modern-day parables and the conviction of Holy Spirit was always present to transform, empower and bring life to the listener.
Regardless of the enormous health battles Thom faced in his final years – he never once looked despondent, angry or disappointed in God. Thom was always cheerful and spoke of the love His Father had for him. When under extreme duress and suffering as his life was slipping away - Thom Gardner never once pointed the finger at his God. He modelled to me what it looked like to remain faithful to the end, regardless of the assault upon his health. And that is important. Because only when I know a man’s character has been tested under pressure - over time – can I then be sure to trust the message he brought!
I don’t know about you, but I have always prayed for the Lord to bring people into my life who can live and lead like that! Thom was indeed such a man.
The Apostle Paul in one of his letters to the Corinthians stated we have many guardians, but not many fathers in the faith. Thom Gardner was indeed a rare father that the Body of Christ desperately needed, a true Oak of Righteousness planted by the Lord. Thom demonstrated how we need to be living in this hour we find ourselves in. He was a gentle teacher who showed just how wonderful and compassionate our God is and Thom demonstrated through his own close walk with God that it wasn’t just possible to have that kind of intimacy with God – it was essential to our discipleship!
Thom desired the fragrance of Christ to be the hallmark of every disciple’s life. He desired every saint to offer an aroma that draws as many people to faith in Jesus as possible.
But if I had to summarize his life - I would say he was one of the few men I knew who’d learned to mirror the heart of the Father in every situation he faced.
I want to learn to live like that!
Thom Gardner… a great father in the faith… and the best teacher I have sat under on how to hear and recognise the voice of Father God.
Well done good and faithful servant… you will be sorely missed!
I thank Father for the gift he was, and I especially thank the Lord for the privilege to be influenced and discipled personally by this man of God. However, Thom’s greatest hope was always that those influenced by his input would carry forward the truths he imparted to others… offering the message of hope that there’s a true Father in Heaven who loves us and desires to restore us, so we can bear greater fruit! The type of disciples that embark on the restoration and discipleship journey Thom modelled, they are the type of sons and daughters who will become the much needed fathers and mothers to the next generation – even more so, they will become the Oaks of Righteousness that Isaiah 61 speaks of… the mature trees capable of filling the gap in the canopy after ‘a big tree’ departs for glory.
I will see you at the Great Feast my good friend! Rest in peace!
9 March 2023
The Secret to Feeling Satisfied
Want to discover the true secret to feeling satisfied all the time?
The answer lays herein, so pay attention.
But first - to all of the non-fishermen out there, please forgive the fishing analogies I’m about to inflict upon you…
Throughout my many years of angling, there have been numerous rivers and streams around the world whose banks I’ve had the privilege to stand on… and a trend I’ve noticed with nearly all fisherman – globally - is that we are convinced the best fish are always over near the far embankment!
Fishermen always want to cast to the far bank, but good fish are often hooked around structures within a few metres of the bank they are casting from. If only more fishermen would learn to cast closer to where they’re standing, rather than trying to reach the other side… I’m convinced there would be more angling satisfaction to be found!
This universal truth about fishermen has led me to consider a parallel truth in life.
But allow me to stir you with a question first… what is the widest river in the world?
It’s not the Mississippi River, nor the Murray or the Amazon … it’s not even the Nile!
The widest river on earth is a body of water called ‘If Only’.
People are convinced the ‘If Only’ River is what separates them from the good life. Throngs of people stand on its banks and cast longing eyes towards the other side of this river. They long to cross but no one can find the ferry terminal.
If only I were richer, I’d have the good life…
If only I were thinner, I’d have the good life…
If only the kids would hurry up and leave home …
If only the kids would come visit more often…
If only I could move back home…
If only my skin were clear of pimples…
If only I could get married…
If only I could get divorced…
If only my calendar were free of people…
If only my profession was better paid - then I would have the good life!
Starting to see the trend here?
The ‘If Only’ River is a wide gulf indeed. Are you also standing on its bank ‘casting’ your wishes to the other side?
Is the good life always one ‘if only’ away? One purchase away? One promotion? One lottery win? One romance?
If so, then we’ve traced at least some of your anxiety back to one of its sources.
You’re convinced contentment awaits on the other side and you are worried that you will never make it across.
Consequently, you work long hours, borrow more money, say yes to new projects and take on more responsibilities. Stress mounts. Debt climbs. You experience very long days. And very short nights. You wake up tired and go to bed even more so.
It’s all part of what you must pay the ferryman to arrive at the land of the good life, right?
Well - according to the Apostle Paul – not exactly.
He states the good life actually begins, not when circumstances change, but when our attitude toward them does.
Look at Paul’s antidote for anxiety.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6).
Paul embedded two essential words into the passage that deserve special attention:- “with thanksgiving”. So right in the middle of that verse, sprinkled among the ‘Help me’ prayers … are two simple yet wonderful words— Thank you!
Gratitude is simply a choice to be consistently aware of life’s blessings.
Thankfulness is the greatest of virtues. Various studies link gratitude with a raft of positive effects. Grateful people carry more grace and tend to be more empathetic and more forgiving of others. In fact, it’s my observation that people who keep a ‘gratitude journal’ are far more likely to have a positive outlook on life. (My wife Joanne has one and she is one of the most positive people I know!).
Grateful individuals demonstrate less envy and materialism and don’t engage in self-comparison.
Gratitude turns what we have into enough and thankfulness improves our whole outlook on life.
If it came in pill form, gratitude would be deemed the miracle cure. It’s no wonder then, that God’s anxiety therapy in Philippians 4:6 includes a large, delightful dollop of appreciation.
Gratitude causes us to step back from the embankment of “if only” and escorts us into the fertile valley of “already”. The anxious heart says, “Lord, if only I had this, that, or the other, I’d be ok”. But the grateful heart says, “Oh, look! You’ve already given me this, that, and the other. Thank you so much Oh Lord”.
Maybe it would be helpful to take a moment to recall all of the good things God has done for you… or given to you? Start by asking Father God to open your eyes to see the ‘gracelets’ that are from Him… I wonder if any of the following could be things to be thankful for:-
Consider the next time you gather around any table with friends, or family - instead of looking at what you don’t have, look around you – and count your blessings. Who can you see?
And what about the gifts He has given you, your abilities, talents and skills?
Consider your education, income and the roof over your head.
What about your church and its opportunities there to be loved on and to serve others?
As you begin to look at all your blessings with new eyes and a fresh attitude, take note of what happens…
Worry refuses to share the same space with gratitude. One heartfelt “thank you” will suck the oxygen out of worry’s world. Anxiety grabs his bags and slips out the back door.
So, say thank you often!
Re-visit your blessings regularly. Focus on what you do have and less on what you don’t. Maybe consider keeping your own Thankfulness Journal?
One last fishing analogy (I promise!)…
Whenever I have fished from a boat in river systems with strong tidal currents, I note that the level of the river always rises and falls with the ebb and flow of the tide. The inevitable river traffic causes the vessel to rock back and forth and the strong current always laps at the gunnels – however the boat never drifts. Why? Because it is always securely anchored.
What about you?
Anchor your heart to the promises and character of Christ. Your boat may still rock. Moods will ebb and flow. Circumstances will fluctuate and change. But you will never be left adrift on an ocean of despair… for you will have found in Christ an anchor that cannot be moved and contentment that will endure any storm.
And no more if only…. It’s time to step back from that river embankment. Replace your ‘if only’ with ‘already’. In other words, focus on what you already have – not on what you don’t.
Attack each anxious thought with a grateful one and prepare yourself for a new day of joy… for you will have discovered the secret to feeling satisfied.
19 January 2023
Learning to Hear God Speak
I want to begin this blog with a massive ‘Thank You’ to all who gave to our End-of-Year Appeal! We finished our ministry year in December in better shape due to the generous donations from all who helped by giving to that Appeal… and I just wanted to say thank you so, so much!
Now, as we kick off 2023… I had been asking Father God what would be a nice ‘New Year’s Resolution’ idea that I could write about…
Instead, what He dropped into my heart was this…
“Tell them not to let another year go by without learning how to hear my voice… because they will need to hear my voice for the days that lay ahead!”
As I heard those words… the Lord’s tone felt like this instruction had some urgency about it!
Whatever is coming in the days that lay ahead… the fact is we all face questions we simply don’t know the answer to; and situations we don’t know how to respond to - every single day.
Not theoretical questions— real life questions essential to our life and wellbeing, or the life and wellbeing of those we love.
Or perhaps it comes down to making difficult decisions under pressure that will change the direction of our lives.
This world inflicts all too many of these moments upon us - we need God’s help at those crucial times!
Here is one such critical moment in 2nd Samuel Chapter 5, where King David was facing attack from his enemies…he needed to know immediately what was God’s best action to carry out in that situation:-
Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; so David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hands?” The Lord answered him, “Go, for I will surely deliver the Philistines into your hands.” So David went to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them...
Once more the Philistines came up and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; so David inquired of the Lord, and he answered, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the poplar trees...So David did as the Lord commanded him, and he struck down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon to Gezer. (2 Samuel 5:18-25)
David inquired. The Lord answered. David obeyed!
Folks—the entire Bible, Genesis to Revelation, is a record of God speaking to his people at crucial junctures. Hearing his voice is meant to be normal part of life for every follower of Jesus.
Look at these passages:-
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
“I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (Revelation 3:20)
But even with such obvious verses demonstrating that it is biblically possible to hear the Lord speak… I still wonder how many Christians actually practice hearing the voice of God on a regular basis?
Our practical, daily experience is meant to be centred in a conversational intimacy with God—with our Father, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit. God wants us to invite His response to questions that arise in our everyday life situations and struggles.
However, we seem quite slow to pick up on this…
In fact, most people wait until the house is on fire before we enquire of God what the heck is going on?
Take big questions like:
- Is this the job you want me to take, Father God?
- Jesus, how do you want me to respond to this antagonising person?
- Is this the person you want me to marry?
Although I believe God would want to answer all the above questions for you… trying to start with such tough questions is like tackling a double black diamond run - the most challenging and dangerous runs on the mountain - on your very first day of snow skiing (or mountain biking)! It’s completely unrealistic that you would succeed - in fact, you would probably die on the descent!
No skier or mountain biker begins learning on the most difficult run.
Neither can you start your journey of learning to hear the voice of God by beginning with the really big questions of life. Hearing the voice of God—and learning to have confidence in what you hear —requires practice and discernment. That practice needs to be with a relaxed posture and beginning with far easier questions. So, maybe approach it like this...
We need to be very settled, in a calm, still place to hear from God (at least initially, until we get better at it). So, create a little quiet space. Go into your room perhaps, or out into creation; or sit back in a favourite lounge chair and give yourself 10 or 15 minutes. Don’t rush. Just learn to sit and be still. Perhaps even start by taking a few deep breaths. Then maybe pray like this:-
“Holy Spirit, I need your help. I really want to hear from you, Lord. Please come and help me, oh Lord. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear. Take away all the distractions. Take away all the pressure. Settle my heart so I can hear your still small voice, Jesus…”
Then begin by asking a really simple question, something without any pressure or drama attached to it… Maybe something like: “Jesus—should I go with my friends to the beach? Is that what you have for me today?
Pause. Linger. Wait in silence. Wait in expectation that God will speak… and then just listen with the ‘ears of your heart’.
If I’m not hearing anything clearly, I might try asking… “Are you saying yes, Lord? Yes, you want me to go to the beach? Sometimes then, I might just hear a very clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
It really is as simple as beginning from a very unpressured place, so we can begin to learn the tone that God speaks to us in – it’s never harsh, or critical, or condemning but is always gentle, caring and compassionate.
No one learns this stuff quickly. Everyone has to grow into this gradually. Whenever I have struggled to hear and recognize God’s voice, I would try getting someone to stand with me, and we’d both ask God about a small issue they were facing and needed answers for. Why? Because it’s far easier to hear for someone else, than it is to hear God for yourself! Right?
The reason is simple … you’re not tied up in all the drama. You’re not affected by the outcome. You don’t have a horse in the race; you don’t have a dog in the fight…. So, all the pressure is off, and this becomes a more relaxed way to learn hearing God speak.
As we learn to hear God’s voice, it’s key we give it time. You see, pressure kills just about everything—play, love, joy, friendship, hearing from God. So, if I don’t hear anything right away, I might say something like, “Keep speaking, Lord. Give me the ability to recognize what you are saying. I’m going to give this a few days (or a few weeks). Keep speaking, Father… I want to hear your voice on this”.
Why does God want us to learn how to hear and discern His voice?
Firstly, its biblical! Secondly, God knows that navigating our way safely through this world is becoming far more difficult every year – especially if we are left to our own wisdom. And yet, most people don’t seem to recognise that there is a Holy God who longs to speak to us in intimate conversation! He wants us to invite Him into every detail of our lives with questions… lots of questions – expecting answers!
It’s madness that we would attempt to traverse this troubled world without His still small voice guiding us – particularly when the Scriptures tell us He wants to speak to us!
If you’ve never been able to hear the Lord speak to you, maybe in the early part of this New Year you could begin learning?
For some of you, the idea that God wants to converse with you might be something very new. Well - what an exciting road ahead you have! Can I suggest a start would be to begin practicing what I’ve suggested above; and take some time to just be still and pose some simple questions to Him… you might be surprised what Father God might whisper to you in response.
For me personally, I’ve still got some growing to do in this realm. But I’m getting better at it. I’m okay with the lighter stuff and day to day routine conversations with Father God. Ultimately, however, I need to become much better at hearing God’s voice clearly, especially when it counts under pressure. When the big decisions need to be made (of which I note there seem to far more these days!) it is always the bigger issues in life where it is hardest to hear God. Yet, that is when I need His direction most!
If this is a concept you would appreciate exploring further, we are running a one-day event on-site at Ellel Sydney called Hearing the Voice of God on 4th March 2023.
To anyone who is serious about wanting to begin a conversational walk with God – this would be a very valuable learning opportunity. It will offer excellent biblical examples showing that God does speak today… and more importantly that as one of His ‘sheep’ He wants to converse with you. This day will carry some practical workshop activities to help you begin discovering the voice of God in your own life.
Oh, dear friends, learning to hear the voice of our God is such a joy! In fact, it’s a rescue! And it protects us! It is an irreplaceable gift from God for the days that lay ahead.
For as Scripture says:
“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14)
Really hoping to see you on 4 March for what could be a ‘game changer’ for your faith walk with God!
Click here to find out more…
15 December 2022
Where's the Christmas Cheer?
Don’t we need some Peace On Earth and Goodwill to Mankind with what the whole planet has been through recently?
I’d say we are in desperate need of some Christmas cheer. Right?
Oh, to know the joy those shepherds experienced one holy night… that would definitely lift my spirits. I would have thought the blessed hope of a baby arriving in this world whose very name means salvation would surely bring some peace on earth … and our planet is struggling. Human rights issues, pestilence, disease, greed, poverty, political bullying, wars and threats of war… I’d say we certainly need some cheerful input right about now.
What started me on this line of thought for my Christmas blog? It was the sad irony of a recently released movie for the festive season called Violent Night. You have to admire the creative gift to come up with that title, but something in me just sighs if all we have to look forward to this Christmas is Hollywood’s latest take on the merry season.
Here is what I’m looking for …
Immanuel in a manger.
Our God in a barn.
The Almighty with an umbilical cord, so human He suckles milk from a breast, yet so divine he is worshipped by angels.
A wide-eyed teenage girl who has had a baby, but never had sex.
A stunned Joseph who stuck by his young wife, even though the baby wasn’t his!
It’s the most improbable story in all of human history… and I cannot help but notice just how God humbles Himself in the script of this story, choosing to be stripped of all His glory, stepping down from His Throne, taking on flesh to become part of a wild rescue mission amidst scandalous accusations!
“Call Him Jesus” (Yeshua) the angel told both Joseph and Mary because that is the name that means “The Lord is salvation”. And this Lord, Jesus, is all about saving. He wants to rescue us from sin, guilt, shame, and even death. And, the Angel Gabriel added “he will be great.” Great enough to silence storms, banish demons, command disease, and vacate a few graves - including his own! Great indeed!
Do we not need a great King?
This world is so chaotic, this life so fragile… it feels most days that the world is at a tipping point.
There is so much shouting going on…
On the airwaves, shouting.
On the news broadcasts, shouting.
On social media, shouting.
Everyone seems to have a strong opinion – and they are all shouting it out.
You know what would be nice… if we could pause for an intermission of calm in this cacophony of loud opinions.
Gratefully, we do have one… It’s called Christmas!
Interestingly, a Catholic Priest named Father Josef Mohr also needed a quiet moment to gain perspective in the midst of his turbulent world.
He was a priest who pastored a small church in Arnsdorf near Salzburg, Austria. The congregation, like the village, was comprised of simple people. They were farmers, blacksmiths, and woodworkers. There was more poverty than affluence. They worked long hours and endured harsh winters. Christmas was a time these simple villagers found respite from a harsh world. The Priest of this village always did his best to make the holiday service special for his flock.
But you must understand the year is 1818. And there were a few things working against this man of God’s good intentions. The organ had become unfit for use. It was old and mice had eaten at the bellows. The church needed a new one, but they didn’t have the money. So, Father Mohr went to his organist and expressed his disappointment.
“We must have something special for midnight mass!”
How can Christmas work without music, the villagers wondered?
Tragically, on the day before Christmas Eve, Father Mohr was called to administer the Last Rites to a dying woman. After she passed, by the time the Priest returned to Arnsdorf the hour was late. The valley and the village lay in darkness. The priest paused on a viewpoint overlooking the town, pondering the events of late. It had all left him quite disheartened … the useless organ, the death of a parishioner, the cold night, his long journey to be at her side for her final breath.
The priest’s heart, like most others in the valley, was feeling lost with fading hope. But then, Father Mohr noticed a faint light in the window of a distant home. Against the black curtain of night, it stood out ever so bright. The priest spent time pondering the light from his viewpoint, inviting the Lord’s revelation, hoping to receive some cheer for his own heart. A thought dawned on him: ‘perhaps it was a bleak evening like this when God entered the world – a dark evening… silent, yet holy…’
Hmmm… a holy night in Bethlehem.
Inspired by what God’s Spirit was fashioning in his heart, he hurried home, sat over his desk and wrote these words:
Silent Night, Holy Night,
All is dark, save the light,
Yonder where they sweet vigils keep,
O’er the Babe, who, in silent sleep,
Rests in heavenly peace,
Rests in heavenly peace.
Silent night, peaceful night,
Darkness flies, all is light;
Shepherds hear the angels sing.
Alleluia! Hail the King,
Christ the Saviour is born,
Christ the Saviour is born.
Upon arising the next morning, he took his lyrics to Franz Gruber, his organist. Within moments, Gruber was inspired with the perfect melody. When he sang the song to his wife, she told him, “We will die, you and I, but this song will live forever.”
She was right.
Christmas is not Christmas if we don’t hear the song, Silent Night. Generation after generation have come to know this song.
The world may still sit in shadows. Death may still cast its shroud. Misfortune and pestilence can still silence the music. Yet whatever the ages bring, the light that Jesus provides, is like a candle of hope in the dark. We cherish the promise that Silent Night offers.
Thank God for Christmas. Thank God it is Christmas.
May we all be thankful for that silent, yet holy night, long ago when God put His rescue plan for the planet into action. Because that’s the Christmas cheer we need.
ACTION PLAN FOR YOU: Find a digital copy of Silent Night; Sit somewhere quiet, take a few deep breaths and invite Father God’s presence to come, close your eyes and press ‘Play’ and allow the lyrics of Silent Night to bring hope and light into whatever your situation is this Christmas.
Until the New Year…
Oh, wait…. one more important thing dear friends…
We have a crucial need.
Would you consider a financial gift to this ministry before the end of the year? We are, basically not-for-profit organisation funded by supporters, which simply means that most of our funding comes from the generous hearts of our friends and donors. Time and again, year after year, we are so inspired by your generosity!
However, we are well behind on paying our running costs that keep Ellel functioning - so I'm making our need known to you.
Now … I’m aware everyone is facing inflationary pressures and rising costs of living. Many households will be grateful just to pay their own bills this Christmas. Believe me we understand… the cost of our insurance bill is ridiculous; providing food for guests on events has skyrocketed; the price of gas and electricity to keep our power on is through the roof. It’s never cost so much to bring the healing ministry of Jesus to those who want help. We have lifted our course prices just barely, because we want Jesus’s restoration to be available for everyone. (Actually, we’d love to be giving more of what we do away for free!)
We are simply asking if you are able to help, would you pray about a gift to Ellel Ministries, Australia. If you are moved to do so it's as simple as clicking on one of the options below:-
You can give with Paypal or you can give with Credit Card.
Thanks, everyone, for all of your love and support! You are far more than just supporters; you are family, and we love partnering with you in this kingdom work.
May you experience a very holy and special Christmas this year.
Lots of love,
14 October 2022
Touch Not the Lord's Anointed!
Undermining God's appointed leaders is never a wise idea.
The shocking story of Korah's rebellion from the Book of Numbers reveals the Lord is not happy with those who stand against His ordained leaders.
Numbers Chapter 16 describes a Levite priest (Korah) who plotted to usurp Aaron, the anointed High Priest. Korah planned to not only depose Aaron from the priesthood but also to seize the key leadership role from Moses.
The man at the centre of this story, Korah, was a descendant of the Kohathites, who were Levite priests granted high duties in the service of the Lord at the Tabernacle. But for Korah, this high honour was not enough - he craved more. Korah was dissatisfied with Aaron, the anointed High Priest, and he planned to unseat him. But to get there, he would also have to depose of the key leader, Moses, whom he believed was leading God’s people poorly.
Failing to trust that God was leading Moses or Aaron, Korah manipulatively rallied a large group of prominent men to come alongside him in his quest to remove both men. It was a well-crafted manoeuvre that involved unmistakeable intent and considerable planning! In Numbers 16:2 it states they “…rose up against Moses. With them were over 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the Council.…”.
The enemy often pursues access to those who are ‘members of the Council’ – ie: those who carry influence!
In Numbers 16:3, we discover Korah and those he’d influenced “…came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”.
4 When Moses heard this, he fell facedown. 5 Then he said to Korah and all his followers: “In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him. 6 You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers 7 and tomorrow put burning coals and incense in them before the Lord. The man the Lord chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!” (Numbers 16: 4-7)
Those above verses reveal that Moses and Aaron confronted Korah and the other disgruntled men. What is also clear is that Korah and his followers genuinely believed they were backed by the Lord! (See Vs 3 where Korah states:-“You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them.)
But Moses stood firm and challenged Korah and his band to come to the Tent of Meeting with fire in their censers.
This was now to be a trial by fire!
The 250 men who aligned with Korah came arrogantly to stand against Moses and Aaron -God’s anointed leaders - at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The Almighty spoke with words of impending doom for this rebellious group (vs 19-21). Their punishment was fittingly ironic: the 250 men who dared to present themselves as priests before the Lord, with fire in their censors, were themselves put to death by fire sent from the Lord (vs 35), even after the ground split apart under them and swallowed them!
What a powerful vindication of Moses and Aaron by the Lord God Almighty!
Interestingly, it was the true Priests who were asked to collect the censers of the 250 deceased impostors. The true priests plucked the holy censors from the impostor’s charred remains and hammered them into bronze sheets to form part of the Altar in the Tent of Meeting. That bronze Altar became a memorial to the folly of a man who tried to usurp God’s appointed leader and led others to the same fate.
QUESTION:- What is the key lesson from this story?
ANSWER:- Touch not the Lord’s anointed!
What Korah’s rebellion teaches me personally is that whenever I’m unhappy with a decision made by someone in leadership – and I’m tempted to undermine that leader in order to get the result I want - I am on very dangerous ground!
If we believe a leader is making a wrong decision, the lure for us can be to take things into our own hands, to manoeuvre and manipulate in such a way as to discredit that leader and get the result we want. However, I would strongly advise against such subversive action… especially when the saga of Korah’s Rebellion revealed it was the Lord himself who intervened to powerfully defend the integrity of Moses and Aaron! For who better to protect men of integrity and character, if not Yahweh?
There are other practical lessons which we can all glean from this. Allow me to ask a few questions:-
Ever failed to trust that God is leading those in rightful authority?
Ever felt convinced you’re the only one who can turn this around?
Have you ever felt like someone else is getting the credit, but not you?
Have you ever personally felt you should be getting more recognition?
I’ll bet there have been times you grumbled and complained because you felt you were owed something - right!?! Perhaps it has even crossed your mind to whine to others about your plight in the hope of gaining a following that supports you in your cause - you wouldn’t be the first to do that!
What Korah’s Rebellion teaches me is that whenever I feel I’m ‘owed something’ - I am on very dangerous ground!
It is tempting to take things into our own hands and try to manipulate to get the result we want.
If this kind of action resonates with you, allow me to offer some simple advice…
Next time you’re thinking you’re owed something, or you want to take matters into your own hands - consider carefully what happened to Korah and his 250 mates. Ask yourself – am I trying to undermine God’s appointed leader?
Sadly, just as Lucifer was not satisfied with the key position he had been given in heaven, so too Korah and his followers were clearly unhappy with the high position given to them. Korah was operating under the same ‘Luciferin influence’ that caused the very first rebellion in heaven (Rev 12). The similarities are too many to ignore.
The ‘Lake of Fire’ judgement that is coming upon Lucifer and his fallen angels is very closely aligned with the fiery downfall suffered by Korah and his rebellious priests!
The plain truth is, I have never seen it work out well for those who take the path of ‘self-promotion’ or for those who try to usurp God’s appointed leaders. Conversely, those who keep their heart right, act with integrity, and choose to put their trust in the Lord, like Moses and Aaron, are often vindicated by the Lord himself - in due course.
Maybe the next time you feel upset by a particular outcome, or feel anger at the direction a Godly leader is taking, pause and ponder the outcome of Korah’s Rebellion. My best advice is take your concern and feelings to the Lord and express your angst to Him alone in prayer... and leave it at that!
Because when God’s fire falls, nobody wants to be standing next to those who undermined the Lord’s anointed.
Until next time,
15 June 2022
Big Tree Down!
My tribute to friend and mentor Ken Symington.
A big tree indeed fell recently – and when a mature Oak of Righteousness is no longer with us, it’s hard not to notice the huge gap in the canopy.
But if Ken taught me anything… it’s that the ultimate purpose of any tree or plant is to produce seed or fruit so that its own kind can continue for generations to come. Ken was very much aware of his own mortality and that he needed to sow well into every disciple who crossed his path to ensure the acorns of today become tomorrow’s oaks who will rise up and fill the gap in the canopy.
To ensure that, he travelled the world to share the precious message of the Father Heart of God, casting many seeds far and wide. I am confident his legacy will not fade, because those seeds Ken has sown has led to many sons and daughters discovering an intimate Abba to guide them and commune with … and those sons and daughters will ensure generations to come will not be left with only ‘guardians’ to guide them, but rather men and women who have become true mentors in the faith to others.
It was a strange thing to wake up on my birthday and have it torpedoed by the sad news of Ken’s passing. But it was again Ken who often reminded me that it’s only the living who must grieve – because those who enter the Father’s Presence – they only know pure rejoicing! In fact, Ken insisted that when it was his time to enter glory – that we all give a shout in his honour that he’d made it home!
When I first met Ken Symington, it was the year 2000. I’d not long arrived in the UK having just begun my apprenticeship with Ellel Ministries at Ellel Grange. Ken was invited by Peter Horrobin to teach and his challenging, yet encouraging words sparked something which drew me to this man of God. He possessed an ability to be very real – not pretentious – and tell hilarious stories that contained hidden gems within.
Over my ensuing years at Ellel Grange, Joanne and I developed a friendship with Ken and his wife Linda. We often enjoyed their company after they completed their teaching assignments at Ellel Grange. They even kindly invited us over to Ireland when they re-stated their wedding vows in front of family and friends – such a joy to be part of that occasion with them.
I knew I had to bring this man to the shores of my homeland to share his message. When the time came for the Ryan family to return to Australia, I told Ken I sensed there were qualities about him that Australian men would be drawn to – in fact I believed they would listen very intently to every word he would share! That resonated deeply in Ken’s spirit – and after my return to Australia, we had him booked to teach the Father Heart of God course and his Men of God course for the very first time in 2003 at Ellel Sydney’s newly acquired premises – Gilbulla.
Over the years that followed, Ken was always the first guest speaker we booked into our Ellel calendar, and his events were always far and away the most well attended.
Ken and Linda faithfully came to Australia every year (bar just one or two) between 2003 up until 2017 which I recall as their last year to visit Oz. I still remember that being a difficult day watching Ken and Linda head out of our driveway… somehow deep down in my spirit I knew it was a poignant moment. I felt Holy Spirit was prompting me that it may be the last time I’d ever see this man in the flesh – this side of heaven. It was.
It became customary to take Ken and Linda on varying adventures each year within Australia after they’d completed their teaching assignments. I have many fond memories of being in the outdoors with Ken enjoying creation. Fishing trips were often on the agenda and the fantastic fishing adventures we enjoyed together in wild places were a gift from above. On one occasion, I had the privilege of taking Ken, Linda and one of their sons, David, up to Weipa in Cape York to do a remote fishing expedition - that trip was filled with wonderful memories and laughter, including a snoring incident in a motel I won’t go into here!
One other year we were 30km offshore from Kiama here in NSW chasing yellow-fin tuna in rather large swells. Ken wasn’t feeling so great as seasickness set in and he began turning green around the gills. Suddenly a big tuna swallowed Ken’s lure and started taking line! Ken - so unwell he could barely stand – hears the gruff voice of the captain yelling downstairs telling him he had a big fish on. He launched off his ‘sick bed’ below deck, grabbed the fishing rod and began an epic duel with this piscatorial monster! About ten minutes into the battle, I asked Ken “How are you doing with your seasickness?” He glanced towards me with that broad Irish-grin as he continued to reel in line, and yelled back “What seasickness?!?” He was so overjoyed by the gift of the big tuna, it appears all sense of sickness had been forgotten! I believe the fish he landed that day was the biggest fish he’d ever caught (over 40kgs) and the battle lasted around 45 minutes. Not bad for a man with a poor heart!
Ken always found a way to father me on each of those adventures with words of advice – or correction – and every time it was needed and appreciated. He was also a significant investor into the lives of my own sons, and such was the calibre of the man, he kindly wrote significant letters to most of them for their Rites of Passage – something as a dad I will always be grateful for. Ken was always investing in others.
Thinking back, during several particularly tough years in the ministry – it was Ken who went out of his way to pull me aside and connect with my heart. The Lord used Ken’s words to realign me on a number of occasions when I desperately needed a ‘father’ to come alongside me. My wife Joanne would also testify to the dinners and meals we enjoyed with Ken and Linda, and the pastoral love and care they offered each of us was priceless and lifesaving. Throughout all those years of frontline work with Ken and Linda for the kingdom of God, coupled with the fun adventures we got to enjoy together - they became close personal friends and significant mentors. The truth is – I am not sure I would still be involved in fulltime ministry today if it was not for Ken Symington.
Ken was probably best known for his teaching on the ‘Father Heart’ because he possessed a gift to share just how much Father God loves the broken and wounded. He had this ability to present Abba as a gentle, loving, kind and safe Father. He did it in such a way that it forever changed how a person saw God – from thereafter they could begin to see themselves as a son or daughter of God - no longer a performance-oriented slave. No matter how good a person thought Abba Father was… Ken had a way of helping you see that ‘Daddy God’ was even better than you’d first suspected!
Whilst Ken and Linda’s visits to Australia were cut short by Ken’s failing health and the resulting difficulty in gaining travel insurance, 2018/19 saw the emergence of platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet – and Ken agreed to present his Father Heart of God course online for us. We videoed him sitting in his very own office in his home – and that has allowed his priceless Father Heart teaching to be captured on video to bless many saints well into the future.
But there was another side to Ken’s teaching which I have not heard many give credit to… Ken’s teaching also carried a significant discipleship challenge and a prophetic witness. For example, his Moving On With God course was not for the faint-hearted!
Then of course, there was just the powerful witness of his life. When I watched how Ken related to Linda in their marriage, it always reminded me of the promise that Jesus will one day to return to dote over His Bride. When I watched Ken relate tenderly to his own children, or grand-children – I got to witness a model of how my Heavenly Father loves His kids. Whenever Ken taught, I got to enjoy stories that were indeed wonderful modern-day parables, and the conviction of Holy Spirit was always present to transform, empower and bring life to the listener.
Ken was a man of deep integrity. Where weaker men would lie to save themselves, he chose to tell the truth – regardless of consequences – because he trusted the God of all Truth to defend him. Ken stated in his book The Great Adventure:
“mature sons and daughters are different. Very different. The world has no hold on them”.
Ken’s life demonstrated the reality of that to me.
Ken’s own personal journey endured many trials, difficulties and dark days. Any one of the tragedies he faced may have de-railed my faith, but Ken never once blamed God, nor did he allow any of those circumstances to embitter him. Instead, he allowed those darker days to forge his character and his faith to a deeper level. With each harrowing struggle he faced, Ken chose to trust Father God through it. In so doing, I noted that on the other side of each test, the Lord released a newly earned authority over Ken’s ministry that could not have been gained in any other way. This man’s story should be a reminder that God’s character is rarely developed in us during easier, less traumatic seasons of life. Ken’s life example to me was that it’s only during the darker struggles of life that God can truly hone us in a deeper way.
Drawing from the writings of C.S. Lewis, I can find no better words to describe Ken Symington’s response amid duress than to paraphrase words taken from, letter number eight; The Screwtape Letters:
“The cause of evil is never more in danger then when someone, no longer desiring but still intending to do the Father’s will, looks around upon a universe from which every trace of God seems to have vanished and they ask why they have been abandoned… yet they still obey!”
Regardless of the enormous pressure that descended upon him, or the illness he faced, or the disasters that came his way – he still chose to trust and obey a Holy God. This is the life that Ken Symington modelled to me. And that is important. Because only when I know the man and have seen his character tested under pressure; and over time – on numerous occasions - can I then be sure I can trust his message.
I don’t know about you, but I have always prayed for the Lord to bring people into my life who can live and lead like that! Ken was indeed such a man.
The Apostle Paul in one of his letters to the Corinthians stated we have many guardians, but not many fathers in the faith. Ken Symington was indeed a rare father that the Body of Christ desperately needed, a true Oak of Righteousness planted by the Lord. Ken demonstrated how we need to be living in this hour we find ourselves in. He was a prophet whose teaching sounded an alarm forewarning us of what was going to be required of us in the days yet to come.
Ken consistently warned the Church that we had fallen asleep and were sailing dangerously close to ‘inshore reefs and rocks’. There was no place for ‘sugar-coating’ in Ken’s vocabulary. Ken remarked in his book The Great Adventure:
“The Church is wonderfully awash with believers, but in truth, very few disciples.”
Ken desired the fragrance of Christ to be the hallmark of every disciple’s life. He desired every saint to offer that aroma which draws as many people to faith in Jesus as possible. But he never called a new believer into a ‘cheap grace’. Ken always insisted that every saint must count the true cost of really following Jesus – and be prepared to pay the price. Ken made it abundantly clear that only those who learned to walk in deep intimacy with Abba Father could produce the kind of fruit that would last the fire that is to come!
Ken’s friendship and investment into me will be something for which I will be forever grateful. Just the privilege to walk alongside him taught you much… I loved his eye for landscape photography and his passion for sport and outdoor pursuits. Ken was also an incredibly funny guy – much of his teaching was tempered with great humour. But if I had to summarize his life - I would say he was one of the few men I knew who’d learned to live an undivided life for Christ. He was a man who served God wholeheartedly.
Ken Symington … a great fisherman… and an even better fisher of men.
As requested by Ken – I gave a shout of victory and joy when I heard he’d entered Glory’s Gates (but if I’m totally honest – there were a few tears too!). Well done good and faithful servant… you will be sorely missed!
I thank Father for the gift that Ken was and I especially thank the Lord for the privilege to be influenced and discipled personally by this man of God. However, Ken’s greatest hope would be that all who knew of this man and his message would pick-up the baton that he has passed onto us. His hope was always that others would continue to run with the truths he imparted… offering the message of hope that there is a true Father in heaven who loves us – and reminding people of the perilous days we live in as we grow into mature sons and daughters “who are different… very different” – the type of sons and daughters “the world has no hold on”… the type of ‘sons’ who become the promised ‘fathers’ – even better, the Oaks that Isaiah 61 speaks of… the kind of trees that close the gap in the canopy swiftly after ‘a big tree’ departs for glory.
I will see you at the Great Feast my old friend!
(Until then, try to leave a few big fish for me when I arrive, hey!)
I would thoroughly recommend either of Ken's books, Loved Like Never Before or The Great Adventure, available in our online store.
And in celebration of Ken's life, his video series of Loved Like Never Before is available for free until the end of August. Click here and use the code KEN at checkout.
15 June 2022
Learning to Love your "Opposite You"
You drive an electric hybrid vehicle; he chugs around in a petrol guzzling, air-polluting SUV!
You vote for a main-stream party; she votes for a green independent.
You love your husband; and she lives with her wife.
You and your “opposite you.”
An “opposite you” can drain your joy tank. There always seems to be a tension in the air when you’re around one, an awkwardness. Anger, whether it be low-grade or high flame, can flare very quickly with just a few out-of-place words. Our inability to manage that relationship well can lead to isolation, prejudice, and bigotry.
What if your “opposite you” is your boss?
Your next-door neighbour?
What if your “opposite you” is your parent or child?
An extended family member?
How should we respond?
Share a meal with them?
Leave the room when they enter or ask them to leave, so that we can stay?
Discuss our differences or dismiss them?
Argue and debate it all?
Consider this short admonition from the Scriptures that may be the best answer:-
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7).
This verb for “accept” means more than to just tolerate or coexist. It means to welcome into one’s fellowship and into one’s heart! The word of God implies the application of warmth; kindness; and of genuine love. 
Could we not all use some of that?
Verbal assault, manipulation and vitriol seem to be the order of the present day. I wonder if a few of us could learn to strike a different tone? I know there are days when I react in ways that lead to regret.
4 Tips to learn to love your opposite you.
Tip 1: Reserve judgment.
Let every person you meet be a new person in your mind. None of the labelling or preconceived notions we project so easily on to others.
‘Pigeonholes’ work for pigeons, but not very well for people!
I have been asking the Lord to help me learn what is most important in trying to bridge-build… I felt His wisdom to me was this: ‘Ask this question – “Help me understand what it’s like to be you”…
Help me understand what it’s like to be a teenager in this day and age.
Help me understand what it is like to be born into affluence.
Help me understand the challenges you face as an immigrant.
Help me understand what it’s like to be a female in a male dominated suit-wearing corporation.
Then, after you have asked those poignant questions - sit back and listen. Really listen. Listening is a healing balm for a raw relationship. (I had to admit to my wife many years ago, that when I appeared to be listening, I was actually reloading!)
“Be in agreement, understanding each other, loving each other as family, being kind and humble” (1 Peter 4:8).
Tip 2: Resist the urge to shout.
As kids we did a lot of shouting on my primary school playground. All the boys in Mrs. Benson’s first-grade class bonded together to express our male superiority. We met daily at recess and, with arms interlocked, marched around the playground shouting, “Boys are better than girls! Boys are better than girls!” Frankly, I wasn’t so sure… but I enjoyed the fraternity and brotherhood!
The girls, in response, formed their own club. They paraded around the school announcing their disdain for boys. “Girls are better than boys.” It is amazing how early in life the lines are drawn!
Shouting at someone might feel good. But does it do any good?
It seems to me that there is a lot of shouting going on in the world!
On the airwaves, shouting!
On bumper stickers, shouting!
On news broadcasts, shouting!
On social media, shouting!
All sides, shouting something akin to:-
We are better than you. We are smarter than you. We are holier than you.
Is it possible to have an opinion without thinking we are better than others or having a fit?
Tip 3: Learn to Listen
“Do not argue about opinions” (Romans 14:5). It is one thing to have an opinion; it’s something else to have a fight. When you sense the volume increasing and the heat rising, close your mouth! It’s better to keep quiet and keep a friend than to be loud and lose one over a few silly words… even better, circle back round later – apologise and ask ‘Help me understand what it’s like to be you?’ or more tailored perhaps - ‘Help me understand what went wrong in that conversation?’ … Then listen. Really listen! (Not reload!!)
Let’s listen to each other. Let’s reason together. Let’s work together. And, if discussion fails, let love succeed. “Above all things have fervent love among yourselves, for love shall cover a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 New Scofield Bible). If love covers a multitude of sins, can it not cover a multitude of opinions?
Tip 4: Be kind.
Above all - just be kind to your ‘opposite you’. If we all learn to be kind to everyone around us… surely that alone would make the world a better place!
Besides, I have noted that when I am able to learn to love my ‘opposite you’… it has only been possible because I have allowed Jesus to heal and mature places in my heart that once reacted poorly to those around me who are different to me.
I don’t want to do that anymore.
I have discovered that God will not allow me to bring positive change to another person’s life unless I can stop judging them. I have to be kind and safe for them. God will not allow you to change what you do not love!
Until next time …
John Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downer Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press 1994), 359
11 February 2022
Joy comes ... because Jesus knows our names!
Traditionally over the Christmas holy season, we tend to focus on the passages that herald the birth of Christ. But I often find myself wanting to rush towards the end of any story… and so as January arrived, I found myself being drawn towards the back end of the gospel accounts in my personal reading of scripture - where the real action is – where Jesus was crucified, died, buried and resurrected.
And it was at the back end of these gospels that one story stood out to me above all others – in a way that only Holy Spirit can highlight to our hearts.
Maybe it was the way He said her name. The inflection, perhaps. The tone. I even imagined what the Galilean accent may have sounded like as he said her name …
As for the person at the centre of this story - Mary Magdalene - maybe it was the moment she first heard someone say her name without voices and demons screaming it in her mind…
She’d come to the tomb early that morning. Before the sun was up. (Certainly, before anyone knew the Son was up!). She found the tomb to be empty, except for some angels she mistook for grave robbers. She even offered to retrieve the body if they would just disclose the location!
But it was at that very moment, Jesus spoke her name: -
When she heard the voice - she knew the source… “She turned and said to Him, ‘Rabboni!’ – (which is to say, Teacher)” John 20: 16 NKJV.
In a second… in a pivot of the neck… in the amount of time it took to swiftly rotate her head 180 degrees… her world went from one where Jesus was dead, to the reality that Christ had risen!
She ran to Him and threw her arms around Him. We know this to be true because of the words Jesus said next: “Don’t hold on to me, because I have not yet gone up to the Father” (John 20: 17 NCV).
Maybe she fell at his feet and held his ankles.
Maybe she threw her arms around his shoulders and held him close.
We don’t know exactly how she held him. We just know, for a moment, she did. But what is poignant here is that Jesus let her do so.
How beautiful that He did! That the resurrected Lord was not too holy, too divine, too distant or ‘other-worldly’ to be hugged.
I really hope one day that someone would paint this scene, capture it in oil and frame it on canvas. The brilliant golden sunrise of an early morn. The open tomb and a dislodged stone to the side. Angels watching in reverence at a respectful distance. The white-robed Messiah standing there… and a joy-filled woman… her arms around him… His eyes upon her… and He calling her by name: -
If you are the one to paint this scene, be sure to include the reflection of the sunrise in the tears streaming down Mary’s face... and by all means, please paint a beaming smile on the face of Jesus.
“Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things to her” (John 20: 18 NKJV).
Of all the people to whom he could have given that privilege… he didn’t appear first at the Sanhedrin; not before Herod; not even his Disciples… he showed himself first to her...
He’d just ripped the gates from the hinges of hell.
He’d just preached a powerful sermon in Hades.
He’d just disempowered death and the ruler over death!
He’d just turned BC into AD and ten thousand angels stood in awe.
Christ had risen from the grave!
And what was his first act? To whom did he go?...
A weeping, heartbroken woman, who once had seven demons.
As far as we know, she didn’t become a powerful missionary. No epistle bears her name. There’s no evidence in the New Testament that she ever planted a church.
So, why did Jesus grant Mary Magdalene this precious and privileged moment?
I can’t help but think it was to prove this promise: “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5 NLT).
Joy comes simply because Jesus knows our name.
If we don’t recognize His face, He will call out our names. “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:16 NIV).
Your name is not buried and lost in some heavenly file. God needs no nametag pinned to your top to jog his memory about who you are. Your name is carved, engraved on his hand. He has more thoughts about you than Australia’s coastline has grains of sand.
You are everything to God.
Do you find this hard to believe? You think I’m talking about someone else? Someone who perhaps is holier, better, nicer than you? Someone who is more healed and whole? Someone who didn’t screw up their marriage or fail their kids? Someone who didn’t get hooked on pills or porn or popularity?
If you believe Jesus would be calling out everyone else’s name – but never yours… you’re wrong!
Jesus is talking directly to you!
He’s calling out your name now, even as I type…
I’m saying that the greatest news in the world is not that God made the world, but that God loves the world. And that means He loves you. You did not earn this love. His love for you will not end if you lose your temper. His love for you will not end if you sin (again!). His love for you will not diminish even if your discipline and prayer life does. His love for you will not fade if you lose your way.
You have never lived one day unloved by this wonderful God.
Do you believe that God loves only good people? Wrong! There are no good people.
Has someone told you that God loves you only if you love him first? Wrong! He loves even those who have never yet thought of Him.
Have you believed it when someone told you that God is really ticked-off with you, and that He is an angry, vindictive Judge? Again, it would be wrong! It’s us who are ticked-off, cranky, and vindictive. But God? – no way… His mercy triumphs over His judgment.
“God is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered, he’s rich in love. He doesn’t endlessly nag and scold, nor hold grudges forever. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs. As high as heaven is over the earth, so strong is his love to those who fear him. And as far as sunrise is from sunset, he has separated us from our sins. As parents feel for their children, GOD feels for those who fear him” (Psalm 103:8-13 MSG).
God loves you because He just does… it’s who He is. He knows your name!
And as sure as that stone was always going to roll away… joy will come.
Until next time,
12 December 2021
Don't Let This Pandemic Divide Us!
For church and ministry leaders, deacons and elders all over the world, the last few months have presented a list of complex challenges related to shepherding those under our care.
The latest complex challenge is perhaps the trickiest yet: how to prudently resume in-person gatherings!
As if the logistical details weren’t challenging enough—(eg: how to maintain social distancing; limiting numbers to however many people per/m2 the regulations allow; do we wear masks or not; to sing or not to sing; plus all of the mandatory check-in procedures and constant cleaning!) — all that is taxing enough.
But this whole scenario is also fraught with potential for division.
Across the Body of Christ is a broad assortment of strongly held convictions. There are those who have chosen to get vaccinated and are therefore permitted by the government to gather in person. Then there are those saints who have chosen not to be vaccinated (or for various reasons, cannot be vaccinated) who feel ostracised by not being allowed to attend gatherings, enter stores, go to the movies, etc.
In such a precarious and polarizing environment, how can churches and para-church ministries move forward in unity, rather than division?
It certainly is not easy. But by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit working to unify us in ways our flesh resists, the opportunity is there for us to offer a counter-cultural model for the rest of the world.
At a time when the idolatry-of-self is being exposed in ugly ways, the Body of Christ has an opportunity to model the love of another kind that places the interests of others above oneself. For example, someone might find it personally difficult—even maddening—to have to wear a mask during church and stay 1.5m away from others. You might think these precautions are a needless overreaction. But here’s the thing: even if it turns out you’re right, can you sacrifice your ideal for a season, out of love for others who believe the precautions are necessary?
Even if you personally think it is silly, unnecessary or even draconian to regulate who can and cannot attend when churches and ministries re-open, can you heed Paul’s wisdom in Romans 14: “Let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother”?
Even if you think these precautions are a needless overreaction, can you sacrifice your preference for a season, out of love for others who believe something different?
Likewise, those who think the lockdowns we have suffered have been way over the top, does that make it right to pass judgment on the decision makers? Or pass judgment on anyone who questions the wisdom of those making the decisions?
Christian ministries and churches should strive to honour people on both ends of the spectrum. Yes, it will be costly for churches and ministries to keep offering online services for those who don’t feel comfortable attending physical gatherings (or are unable to). Yes, it will be a sacrifice for church members who are sick of masks, social distancing, and Zoom to continue these protocols for the sake of others. But surely sacrifice is the posture of Christ? As Christians, Christ must always be our model.
Have you noticed how remarkably confident all of us are in our views right now?
Unfounded certainty—on the part of laypeople, leaders, modelers, and “experts” alike—is a contagion at least as viral as COVID-19 and all its variants!
We could all use a bit more humility at this time.
As much as ever before, Christians should follow the advice of James to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). Listening well may slow down the process of deliberation and planning, but it is worth it. Whatever opinions church and ministry leaders themselves have on the matter of re-opening, we all need to humbly hear the voices of others. As saints, I would hope we could model Christlike humility in how we react to the plans outlined by leaders, even if we don’t agree with every aspect of it.
None of us should assume we’ve arrived at the definitive answer on how to do this well. Far better to model humility by acknowledging that there are many views out there and no one has a monopoly on the whole truth… we are all just trying to do the best we can in this “build the plane in mid-air” season.
Patience is one of the rarest virtues in today’s “insta-everything” world. And yet at this time it is patience that is more needed than any other commodity. Most of us are craving a return to normalcy (although, I’m just not convinced that is going to happen any time soon).
Without doubt, it is good to be eager to gather again. We should feel the ache of what is lost when we only meet virtually. Every one of us should long for the day when “meeting on Zoom” gives way to “meeting in a room”!
The day will eventually come when we can all meet again together – without first questioning our vaccination status. But we should be careful to not go faster than governments allow or permit, or faster than those in our community can tolerate. We should be patient with a timeline that might be slower than we’d prefer or agree with; patient with a reopening process that will doubtless be clunky; patient with leaders feeling the pressure of this complex situation; and patient with one another as we figure out what the new normal looks like.
Those who are not comfortable with physical gatherings should be patient with those who are, and vice versa. As hard as it will be to practice patience, remember that in the scheme of eternity, this season—whether it’s weeks or months long—will be but a blip.
What does it mean to say something is nuanced?
If a situation has many nuances, it means that to fully understand it, we must examine its many qualities, meanings and points of view – and the differences between them will often be subtle, or require investigation to fully reveal the complexities. In other words, when a situation is nuanced, it has many shades of grey that make up the entire picture.
It is my view that we live in an un-nuanced age where life is presented as either black or white.
The economic model of the media (built on swift clicks and passing views) works against nuance. Advertisers know nuance doesn’t sell. Politicians know it too. We shouldn’t be surprised by how rare it is for someone to hold humble, complicated, “both/and” views in today’s hyper-partisan, social-media driven world.
If Christians are going to emerge from this crisis with unity and fellowship intact, we must embrace the counter-cultural path of nuance.
It’s the path that avoids ALL CAPS hysteria of every extreme sort, recognizing that truth is rarely as simple as Twitter would have us think. It’s the path that prizes both courage and foresight - and avoids both triumphant and doomsday responses. It’s the path that means we can be sceptical of some aspects of government decision-making, without resorting to conspiracy theories. It also means we can honour governing authorities, while engaging them in civil pushback when necessary. Counter-cultural subtlety avoids thinking the worst of people and concedes that the other side of a debate sometimes has good points. It is also acknowledging that sometimes we may be the ones who are actually wrong.
In my experience, when humility and patience combine, the understanding of nuance returns.
There are some things Christians should not be nuanced about, of course, and one of those is our commitment to all that Scripture commands. What Paul urges the Ephesian church to do, therefore, should be equally urgent for us today: “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1–3)
Our stance as a ministry
Since the lockdowns came into being, we felt the Lord lead us to offer ‘freebies’ to all those on our mailing list to encourage and bless. In giving away these free resources, we have received a significant number of testimonies of how God has indeed blessed many people who’ve downloaded that teaching… and that has been a great encouragement to our whole team!
Our heart here at Ellel Ministries is to walk in unity with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ and to stay in relationship. But at times our convictions can take us on varying paths.
When it came to re-opening our Centre this month – that meant only the fully vaccinated could attend. We prayed long and hard, asking Father what His best was before acting. We believe He gave us the green light to re-open… but we also felt His prompting not to neglect the unvaccinated. To honour that instruction from the Lord, we are running online events simultaneously with events held on base here at Ellel Sydney. Or, we are running the same event twice - once for those who can attend now, and again in the near future to ensure those who cannot attend now do not miss out.
Yet, I have noted a few comments emailed in referring to our decision to re-open now, as participating in a form of “Christian apartheid”. No doubt such a remark reveals how our unvaccinated feel right now – isolated, neglected and rejected. It is certainly not our heart to make anyone feel excluded or isolated. We have been obedient to what we believe the Lord has told us to do, and I sincerely hope those who cannot attend events right now will take advantage of the ‘repeat’ Ellel courses that we will run again in the New Year.
But I do want to make the point regarding the apparent division many are feeling or believe they are observing – and encourage you not to be tempted to choose this pandemic as a ‘hill to die on’ right now.
The Bible promises there are far more serious persecutions yet to come against all genuine disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. These days are coming. The pressures the entire world are feeling and experiencing currently are but a dress rehearsal for far bigger assaults that lay ahead. Eventually these assaults will specifically target the ‘remnant’ who choose to hold to the truth of Scripture and follow the faith of the One True God – the Lord Jesus Christ.
I’m not sure how far away martyrdom is for the committed disciple… but this pandemic is definitely not the place to fall away. There are far bigger challenges looming before the return of Christ. We need to say united and not allow this spirit of division to gain any more ground.
As we move forward, let’s all show some grace, humility and patience to each of our brothers and sisters in this season - regardless of their convictions and choices. Trust me – as I read the Scriptures - there is far more shaking to come.
Regardless of our varying personal convictions – lets hold to the Creeds and the major tenets of the Faith - don’t let the enemy divide us!
As we approach the Holy Festive Season, allow me to finish the year with the Jude Doxology. As you read it may Holy Spirit bless you:-
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude: 24-25).
Until next year…
14 October 2021
The Six Stages of The Masculine Journey
‘Stand at the crossroads and look;
Ask for the ancient paths,
Ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
And you will find rest for your souls…’
Jeremiah 6:16 NIV
A boy has a lot to learn in his journey to become a man, and he becomes a man only through the active intervention of his father and the fellowship of men.
It cannot happen any other way.
This we must understand:- masculinity is bestowed. A boy learns who he is and what he’s made of from a man (or company of men).
Like a ship at sea, every man will be tested, and the storms will reveal the weak places in us as a man. And so, our basic approach to life comes down to this: we stay in what we can handle and steer clear of everything else. We engage only where we feel comfortable and capable – in the workplace, perhaps – and we hold back where we feel sure to fail… as in the deep waters of relating to our wife or our children; and in dealing with our inner world.
If we look closely, what we have now is a world full of men who are unfinished in their development towards maturity. Partial men. If we are really honest, many of us just feel like boys, mostly, walking around in men’s bodies with men’s responsibilities like families and finances to juggle. We often feel overwhelmed – but unable to admit it.
The rising suicide count amongst males is a telling sign.
The passing on of true masculinity was never completed in most of our lives, if it was ever begun at all. The boy was never taken through an appropriate masculine journey to maturity. That’s why most of us are unfinished men. And therefore, unable to truly live as men in whatever life throws at us… and unable to pass on to our sons and daughters what they need to become whole and holy men and women themselves.
Likewise, we also see boys and younger men (and even men our own age) all around us who are very much in need – desperate need – of someone to show them the way towards an ancient path.
It can be a very beautiful and powerful event to experience a blessing or a ritual such as a rite of passage and to hear words of blessing spoken to us in a ceremony of some sort. I have provided such rites of passage for each of my sons – but such one-off investments are not the whole answer.
Those moments can certainly be turning points in our lives. But they remain only moments, and moments, as you well know, pass quickly and are swallowed in the river of time. We need more than a moment, or a one-off event. We need a process, a journey, an epic story of many experiences woven together, building upon one another in a progression. The Masculine Journey is supposed to be a process, a quest that unfolds over many years. And that process requires more than the intervention of just one man. That process requires a special Guide.
We aren’t meant to figure life out on our own. God wants to father us. The truth is, he has probably been trying to father us for a long time – we just haven’t had the eyes to see it. But He does want to father us much more intimately, and for our part we have to be in a certain posture of heart to receive it. What that involves is a new way of looking out for God’s interaction with us, a fundamental reorientation of how we look at life and Father God’s pursuit of us.
First, we must agree that we are unfinished men; wounded men; and we need a process that requires other men at our side to help restore our hearts.
The reframing begins when we see that a man’s life is a process of stages that develops us into masculinity. It is a series of stages we are meant to actually soak in and eventually progress through. And as for God, I believe that what He is primarily up to at any point in a boy’s or a man’s life is trying to come alongside him and guide us through that process.
So much of what we misinterpret as hassles or trials or screw-ups on our part, are in fact God trying to father us! He is often attempting to walk us through something to strengthen us, or heal us, or dismantle some unholy thing in us. In other words, initiate us – a distinctly masculine venture.
John Eldredge in his book Fathered By God speaks at length about the Masculine Journey which he describes as involving six distinct (but often overlapping) stages:-
2. Adventurer (Cowboy)
If a child is robbed of his boyhood, or any of those first four stages – there will be a cost. No boy can be expected to leap over any stage of the masculine journey and think that there will be no consequences later in life.
No, there is a path that must be taken. There is a Way. Not a formula. A Way. An Ancient Way.
Each stage has its lessons to be learned, and each stage can be wounded, or cut short, leaving the growing man undeveloped in his heart – in the inner most place. Then we wonder why he folds suddenly when he is forty-five; or fifty-five… like a tree we find toppled over in the yard after a night of storms and strong winds. We go over to have a look and find that the tree’s roots hadn’t sunk down deep into the earth, or perhaps it was eaten-out by termites on the inside, perhaps weakened by disease or drought. Such are the insides of unfinished men when today’s storms are faced.
To begin with, there is Boyhood, a time of wonder and exploration. Above all else, it is the time of being the Beloved Son. A time of affirmation. A man’s search for validation. To know that he is prized and delighted in by his earthly dad. One of the father’s key roles is to ensure his boy knows in his heart that he is the beloved son. For that is the key question of this foundational stage: “Am I the beloved son?”. Without assurance of this, a man will forever question the truth of God’s love for him.
The Adventurer stage comes next. John Eldredge calls this the ‘Cowboy’ Stage, but I have his permission to call it ‘Adventurer’ (as this translates better to my predominantly Australian audience). This stage begins around adolescence (13/14yrs) and seems to be a time of significant transition running into the mid-twenties. It is the time of learning the lessons of the field, a time of great adventures and testing. It is also a time for work – getting a part time job and a little income. The young man learns to fish, or play footy, or sharpen a knife, or change the oil in the car. He perhaps gets his first car and with it an open horizon. He takes off on adventures, perhaps alone or maybe with a few friends. He may explore interstate or travel overseas. It is a time of daring and danger, a time of learning that he does, indeed, have what it takes. Yet this stage still requires the active intervention of his father and the fellowship of men. Without that active presence of other good older men investing alongside him – the question may remain unanswered – “Do I have what it takes?”.
Sometime in his late teens there emerges the young Warrior, and this phase lasts well into his thirties and beyond. Again, the stages overlap remember, and there is some aspect of every stage that is in operation within a man’s life. Whether seven or seventy, a man will always be a Warrior, for he bears the image of a warrior God (Exod. 15:3). But there is also a time in a man’s life when this stage becomes prominent. He encounters evil face to face and learns to overcome it through spiritual authority in Christ. The young warrior is meant to learn the rigors of discipline – especially that inner discipline and resolution of spirit you see in Jesus who “set his face like flint” (Isaiah 50:7) where He could not be deterred from his mission. A young man needs a mission – a crucial mission, and in that mission he must learn to battle the kingdom of darkness and defeat it. It is crucial to know that a Holy God backs you! Passivity and masculinity are mutually exclusive, fundamentally at odds with one another. To become a man, he must learn to live with courage, take action, go into battle. This world needs a Warrior who can battle for all he loves and wants to protect.
Then typically, what follows is a time where he also becomes a Lover… though it would be best for him (and for her) if he lived as a Warrior for some time first. Too many young men do not get their question answered - “do I have what it takes?”- during the Adventurer Stage. Then, as an uncertain warrior, the woman can sadly become the “mission”! Consequently, a young man can end up taking his question of “do I have what it takes?” to the woman, in the hope that she will answer it for him… believing maybe she will validate his reason for living. However, a Lover should come to offer his strength to a woman, not to get it from her. More importantly, the time of the Lover is not foremost even about the woman. It is meant to primarily be the time when a young man should be discovering things of the heart such as learning to appreciate poetry, discovering music and literature. He needs to learn that passion is far closer to the Truth than is reason and planning. The stage of the ‘Lover’ should be about awakening to the beauty of this world and to the God who created it. This stage should help a young man learn that service for God must be overshadowed by intimacy with God.
It is upon these first four stages that the masculine heart is either forged or wounded. What has been invested, or neglected, in these first four stages will determine what kind of kings we will become as men.
Assuming a man has received all that is essential for his heart in those first four stages of Boyhood, Adventurer, Warrior and Lover – then, and only then – is he ready to become a King: - ready to rule a kingdom. The crisis of leadership in our churches, businesses, and governments is largely due to this one dilemma:- men have been given power, but they are unprepared to handle it. The time of ruling is a tremendous test of character, for the ‘King’ will be sorely tested to use his influence to benefit himself, as opposed to using his power and influence for the benefit of others. What we call the midlife crisis is often a man coming into a little money and influence and using it to go back and recover what he missed as the ‘Beloved Son’ (he buys himself toys) or the ‘Adventurer’ (he goes off chasing adventures). Often this is revealing an undeveloped and unfinished man. However, for a true ‘King’, he knows this is the time to rule as Father God would want him to rule. Hopefully, he draws around him a company of young men, for he is now a father to younger men. (Sadly, the number of key church leaders whose integrity has been found wanting over recent decades across the Body of Christ is evidence that there are not enough good ‘Kings’).
Finally, we have the Sage, the grey-haired (or no-haired) father with a wealth of knowledge and experience, whose mission now is to counsel others. A Sage’s kingdom may shrink. He may even step down from his key role. But his influence ought to increase. The kingdom needs him now as an elder father at the city gates. His time should be spent mentoring younger men, especially Kings who have just stepped into that crucial stage. Just as the Apostle Paul lamented “we have many guardians, but very few fathers in the faith” – we sadly today have few ‘Sages’ available.
On the 23 October we are running an online event for men only where we will examine and unpack “The Masculine Journey” – and what it looks like to become whole-hearted men. Come and join me and other men associated with Ellel Ministries as we discuss honestly and vulnerably our own mixed journeys. More importantly, we will share where we were unfathered – and what it cost us - and more importantly how Jesus has been bringing His restoration to those broken places in our lives.
16 September 2021
The Masculine Journey - Fathered By God
Four men in their twenties, four old codgers and a four-day adventure in the High Country wilderness to invest in the heart of one 14-year-old lad.
We fly-fished; we stalked; we hunted; and we witnessed a Holy God bestow something precious upon a teenager in a rite of passage ceremony where blessings and encouragements flowed freely over a young boy’s heart.
But it’s never just the boy who gets blessed at these special events… many of the men who came to offer something were themselves incredibly touched by such an occasion. The truth is, not one of us present at these epic events ever received such investment for our own hearts. Every older male lamented that what we hungered for most of our lives was to be invested in by such a fellowship of men.
Every one of my five sons has had the privilege of being taken away and invested in by a fellowship of men at special ceremonies where the young adolescent son is the focus of the whole weekend. Those rites of passage took place over a 13 year window from 2006 to 2018.
The idea to offer something like this was birthed in me when I stumbled across Robert Lewis’s book Raising a Modern Day Knight back in 1997. At that time, I had three young boys aged four, three and one years old. I was inspired by the author’s idea of making a special investment into a young lad’s heart at the crucial age of 13-14 years, much like a bar mitzvah in the Jewish tradition. That book launched me on a trajectory of seeking Father God as to what shape that special investment could take for each of my own sons when they reached that crucial age.
I recall that in my own life - reaching puberty with no father around to guide me or come alongside and help me navigate that period of my life – left me quite lost. I can certainly point to a great deal of my life going astray from that point onward. Indeed, life can go astray for many unfathered young men when there is no deliberate investment over time from any key male authority figure.
Robert Lewis’s book had given me hope that I did not need to replicate that loss in the lives of my sons, and it led me to begin planning over several years what that rite of passage might look like. In the lead up to my initial attempt at my firstborn’s Rite of Passage (Daniel; 2006) I have to admit to feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared. But from this low-key beginning with myself and just three other men, came the evolution over the years that became quite a powerful and solemn sacrament by the time we completed son number five’s Rite of Passage weekend (Aaron; 2018).
These special weekends provided every essential adventure for a clan of men’s hearts. (I have learned that it’s not just the boy that gets ‘fathered’ on these events). Adventure always sets a beautiful backdrop when specific investment is offered to the masculine heart.
We fly-fished on cold pristine mountain streams. We spent hours target shooting to improve our accuracy. We competed side by side, blasting clay targets out of the sky. We stalked the pre-dawn light for a glimpse of a Razorback pig; and we silently hunted the fading light at sunset in search of the majestic Fallow buck. We chased some ‘wild’ in whatever way we could find it in an area of unspoiled and untamed beauty, for this prepares the masculine heart in a way that makes it ripe to receive essential truths.
An endearing memory for me of such a weekend was seeing a young son bring down his first deer – and then having the silence of the outback shattered with the unified shout of a band of brothers cheering triumphantly at a lad who’d just put venison on the table!
It was a holy moment. A moment one a young man and his dad will never forget.
Adventure has always been a sacrament for men. As we partake in it, we are present to God and to one another. We become more engaged to each other. We become truer than we otherwise are.
And so, sitting fireside back at camp, we swapped stories of the day over steak and chips. We re-lived the day’s adventures (usually embellished with each re-telling!). It is in this environment we were safe to ask questions about everything that really mattered: love, God, Eve, identity, desire, career, and the big unknowns. It was Good. Very good. Better than good.
Such ambience allows the perfect transition to the evening’s ceremony where the boy is placed in the midst of the men. Younger men are invited to share first; followed by the older sages — sharing the stories from their decades of life. These stories carry requisite scars, each with lessons to be heeded. Gifts are given to spike the moment and mark the lesson imparted. A passing glance at the boy reveals his eyes wide open, taking in the richness offered by more seasoned men. Our desire is to humbly unveil the ancient path we’ve all staggered onto that leads to becoming a whole-hearted man.
I was never offered such a rite of passage by my own earthly father. Sadly, he disappeared from my life when I was just three years old. He made only occasional appearances until I reached about 12, and I am thankful that he re-entered my life, taking my brother and I on some adventures that I can now recognise God used to begin the rebuilding of my wounded heart.
Sadly, once I left home, I was really lost. A high cost is paid by the unfathered, and I was flying blind and naïve, unable to negotiate the quagmire and unpredictable tides of life. The ache and void in my heart couldn’t be articulated at the time; it was a simple matter of dreading when, where, and how the next mistake would be made. I lived with a constant subsurface anxiety that ruled my life and I turned to masks and addictions to survive. There was no sage, nor father, no guide.
Or so it seemed.
Over the years, Jesus has helped me recall key men whom He injected into my life at crucial times. Their mini-rescues of my heart at certain junctures mostly went unnoticed in the moment, lost in the sea of time. But Abba Father was weaving a golden thread that Holy Spirit ensured I would eventually discover.
The truth is Father God has always been fathering me down through the years… once I had eyes to see it!
Allow me to recall just one example: A teacher at my Catholic school named Julian Maher offered me this advice late in my high school years:
“If you feel like you’re a failure and will never understand what God’s purpose is for your life… that’s okay. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be; you are on the mark. You’ll be fine. You will know what that purpose is when you need to know it. For now, just accept the truth that you are a beloved son of the Most High God… because no one can find their destiny until they first learn that God loves them unconditionally”.
I remember being stunned, overcome by his words.
I exhaled the foreboding that was suffocating all hope at that time and bringing confusion into my life. Instead, I embraced a perspective only a good father could offer. And Julian Maher in that season was a good father to me and to many other teenage schoolboys. His wisdom, immense kindness and the authority he possessed silenced the shame and the fear. He assured me I would be okay, that it was early in the journey, and that I would make it. And make it I did.
There were others who spoke deep validation and gave guidance and instruction through my years, but it wasn’t until later, much later in life, that I saw it was actually God fathering me through them. God’s wisdom was spun from their words. Something of Holy Spirit was seeded and nurtured by their investment into me. (“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” Hebrews 13:7)
There have many such ‘fathered by God’ moments throughout the years where God has rescued me through an individual’s investment at a crucial time. Indeed, He ‘fathers’ us through others He brings alongside us at important crossroads in life.
He is still fathering me today.
I have come to learn from personal experience that our God is a father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). A father to all of us – if we could just learn to see it.
If you (or the men in your life) would like to explore more regarding masculine adventure; rites of passage; being part of a band of brothers or being fathered… come join us in an online conversation as the men associated with Ellel Ministries bare their souls. This webinar will be on Saturday 23 October and will discuss what The Masculine Journey looks like and what it means to become a Whole-Hearted Man!
15 July 2021
Will those I love arrive in Heaven or end up in Hell?
I pray daily that all my kids and grandkids will spend eternity in heaven. Even more so, I pray that they live a full kingdom life well before they ever get there! But for all of us, it comes down to a choice … it always has. Do I choose to live with Him? Or do I choose to live without Him?
The doctrine of hell has always been with us. There have always been hard-line angry religious people who abusively use hell as a battering ram to convince people they need Jesus. Sadly, there are people who have said the salvation prayer based solely on fear of going to hell – they were probably denied the chance to really fall in love with Jesus and subsequently carried on the same legacy of the religious people who ‘frightened them into heaven’!
What about this religious statement: "You'll go to hell for that!” That statement has been used to condemn all sorts of things that I’m not sure God always condemns. Such sayings are used as fear tactics to control and manipulate behaviour - which in my observation has mostly been unsuccessful. I wonder if any of you remember this one? -"Don't smoke, don't chew, don't go with girls who do!" This was another religious line I remember being hammered into me as a young man in my early Christian days, although you substituted another word for ‘chew’ that rhymes with it!
Whilst watching an old western movie recently I heard the words "You'll go to hell for that!"– It reminded me of those who have swung the idea of hell around like a club, giving you the impression that they would be rather pleased to see you sent there!
Many awful things have been said using the doctrine of hell.
But our God is not like that. He "is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). The Lover of our souls, the One who has pursued us relentlessly, who gave his own life to rescue us from the Kingdom of Darkness, has made it clear: He does not want to lose any of us. He longs for us to be with him forever… and He has gone to a lot of trouble to offer us a rescue plan!
Nonetheless, simply because the concept of hell has been abused by certain people doesn't mean hell doesn't exist. It does!
Jesus talks way too much about hell for it to be a place that does not exist! I personally was ordained under Creeds that certainly acknowledge there is a hell. And when you read passages that talk about a separation between ‘sheep and goats’ and ‘wheat from chaff’, you start to get a clear picture that hell is one of only two options available!
The age-old question of would a loving God send someone to hell usually comes up in this discussion. Interestingly, God doesn’t do much to send anyone to hell, it’s us who make that happen. When we choose to live without Him, we will tragically discover that our final destination will be hell, rather than an eternity with Him in heaven.
Revelation 20:14-15 (NIV) seems blatantly clear when it states: “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire”.
However, let me make this plain… in no way does Father God want any of His children ending up in hell – which Revelation describes above as the ‘lake of fire!’
It is important we understand that hell was never created for us – but rather for the devil and his angels (go read Matthew 25:41) … but sadly, hell will also become the final destination for those who refuse Christ’s rescue plan.
But hell doesn’t need to be anyone’s final destination… because every good story has a hero with a rescue plan!
I'm sure you'll remember with relish your favourite movies where in the end such a hero defeats the bad guy to overcome evil. I see it unfold in the scenes from some of my favourite movies. In the Star Wars series, we witness the evil Darth Maul falling to the light sabre of Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the final instalment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy we see a great chasm opening in the earth to swallow the dark wizard Sauron and his army of Orcs so that Middle Earth might be free at last. In The Matrix, Neo overcomes the relentless Agents to discover his true identity and sets the world free from enslavement! In Gladiator, Maximus slays the evil Emperor Commodus, then gives his final instruction to ‘set the prisoners free’ before he dies. The Gladiator movie trailer reads: “The General who became a slave; The slave who became a Gladiator; The Gladiator who defied an Empire”. Who do you think that also describes?!?
Do all these stories not sound familiar? Are they not all archetypal? Are not all these smaller stories sovereignly pointing to the One who stars in (as John Eldredge would remind us) - the ‘Greater Story?’
As I mentioned earlier, Hell was never God’s intended final destination for any of us. But it does exist – and the Devil and his angels will all be thrown into hell – along with all who reject Christ’s free gift of grace that can only be accepted gratefully by faith.
This Holy God gave us free will.
He gave us a choice.
What he desires are sons and daughters who want to be with Him.
We seem to forget—perhaps more truthfully, we refuse to remember—that we are the ones who betrayed him, not vice versa.
We are the ones who listened to the lies of the Evil One in the Garden. We are the ones who chose to mistrust the heart of God. In breaking the one command he gave us, we set in motion a life of breaking his commands and consequently passing on the curse of original sin to all future generations.
The simple illustration we teach here at Ellel Ministries is that every generation is born onto the ‘Hell Bus’ courtesy of original sin. Every one of us must choose whether to remain onboard that bus which is doomed to end up in a lake of fire - or disembark and choose to board the ‘Heaven Bus’ with Jesus at the wheel bound for His Father’s home in heaven.
For those who refuse to get off the ‘Hell Bus’, their final act of rebellion and self-centeredness is best described in the parable of those who refuse Jesus’s invitation to the wedding banquet of God – a picture of the feast that awaits Jesus and all of us who make up ‘His Bride’: -
Matthew 22:2-10 (NIV) Parable about a Wedding Banquet: -
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Those who refuse the invite to come to the wedding banquet of God do not want anything to do with God – plain and simple!
They reject his offer of forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ. What is Jesus to do? The universe has only two options. If they insist on remaining aboard the ‘Hell Bus’, Jesus, who is the judge of the living and the dead will grant to them what they have chosen— hell, an eternity without Him.
My prayers remain hopeful for all my children and their spouses; my grandchildren and my descendants to follow me – that they will choose an eternity WITH Him!
But as it has always been, and always will be until the end of time… it comes down to a choice…
With Him? Or without Him?
Until next time,
12 May 2021
Cost versus Joy of the Mudgee Cycling Classic
I recently went away with my dear wife Joanne to the country town of Mudgee, about three and half hours’ drive north-west of Sydney. The purpose was to participate in the Mudgee Cycling Classic. There were three race events available for cyclists: - 170km Maxi Classic; 123km Challenge Classic; and the 35km Social Classic, all run on closed back country roads in mid-western New South Wales. Each event started in the main street of the township and finished at the Event Village set up at Mudgee’s Sporting Complex with lots of festive activities, stalls, food outlets and a live band playing as the riders all crossed the finish line.
I had registered for the 123km ride, whilst Joanne had entered the 35km social ride. I can report we both were very happy with our performances, having trained for quite some time to each be fit enough to complete our distances. But the real gift was the time we spent together in the beauty of that region: dining, evening and morning walks, enjoying the countryside, stopping at lookouts to take in amazing vistas and praying together as we drove. Although we both enjoyed our bicycle events, there was much more Father God was pouring into our hearts over that getaway weekend.
Whilst out at dinner on the eve of my big race, I heard one bemused elderly man behind me ask this question: “Why would anyone want to ride a bike that @^%$! far?... Isn’t that why we invented the motor car?!?”
It’s probably a question only answerable by a cyclist, and even then, individual riders may offer different reasons for riding the number of kilometres they do each year and turn up to cycling events such as these…
But, a primary motivation for me is to improve my physical health.
A few years ago, I was finding it more difficult to keep up with my teenage kids, I’d gained some weight and realised I was getting steadily closer to the age at which my father had died of a heart attack. He was 63, and my family has a history of heart disease.
Courtesy of cycling, I have lost 10kgs and I am now off all blood pressure medication. (My blood pressure used to be up around the 150/110 mark; today I’m around 120/90. My resting heart rate used to be around 73bpm. Today it’s at 52bpm). And having a cycling race in the calendar helps focus your training, and aids with motivation on the days you don’t feel like getting on the bike.
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, I have also discovered that cycling has been a tremendous benefit for both my physical and mental health. Time in the outdoors with the breeze in my face has allowed me to take in the beauty and has drastically improved my prayer life!
The pressures this pandemic has produced have affected us all. And to be clear, it has been a slow burning ‘trauma to the soul’ that has incrementally impacted us.
Think about it…. to be robbed of your normal routine for months upon months; to be kept in a state of constant uncertainty; and constantly changing regulations and restrictions, border closures (and the threat of border closures); the accumulative disappointments over a prolonged period (eg missed holidays; birthdays uncelebrated; weddings or funerals you could not attend); to be bombarded by bad news on a daily basis; reports of a continually rising global death toll; to hear of new Covid-19 strains for which there is no defence; and never clear on when the finish line will appear!
These are the kind of tactics used on POWs placed under interrogation when their enemy wants to break them! There is no denying these past twelve months have been rough on all of humanity – and it continues to be so.
To care for your body physically is indeed crucial but taking care of your spirit and soul are just as vital in these stressful days.
As we emerge from a year of global tension, we need to acknowledge Australia is very blessed compared to many other places in the world …yet still, we feel the constant threat of being only one out-break away from another complete lock-down.
However, trusting that we will maintain some kind of status quo as we move forward, we must recognise our hearts need intentional care right now. This is the moment to begin planning how to invest in your inner-being, because if you don’t - you may run the risk of getting ‘fried’ in the months that lay ahead. (That’s code for possible burn-out or a break-down!).
Right now, I’m definitely finding joy in simpler things - having big family dinners again, getting to play with my grandkids, seeing friends face-to-face, being able to worship publicly, enjoying weekends away… Please Lord, may all those things keep coming and remain!
But, simply getting a meat pie at a footy match, or visiting the cinema to see a good movie is simply not sufficient to address the pro-longed taxing nature of events that we have all been through. Our hearts require more than that to come out of rehab! Enduring for months and months under pressures we have not previously faced required us to draw deeply upon our inner reserves, sending many of us close to emotional bankruptcy! We are simply tapped out.
Don’t think so? Feel like I’m describing someone else – but not you?
How would you react if I told you another outbreak is coming next month (maybe a new strain of Covid-19) and we are all about to go into another complete lockdown?
I am guessing the very thought of that occurring again brings a shudder to your inner-most being. The truth is, none of us have a great deal left in the petrol tank. So, what I wish to strongly suggest is we all map out for ourselves a ‘recovery plan’ for our hearts.
For the human heart to replenish, it’s quite simple - we need more coming ‘in’ than is going ‘out’.
It really is that simple. Seriously.
You cannot replenish your reserves if you are still driving hard every week.
That is why for most people, holidays are a beautiful gift. They allow us to unwind, let go of most demands and slow down. We get to do things we love, we get to play, drink in beauty and find rest. If that is occurring, we find ourselves doing better, simply because more is coming ‘in’ than going ‘out’.
However, not all of us can just stop and take a holiday… but if you can, please give some careful thought as to how you will spend that holiday as it may play an important part in your recovery plan. But a holiday can only be part of the plan, as a couple of weeks off is not going to address the injury your human spirit has suffered over the course of an unprecedented year of tension and loss.
All that to say, we will need to be far more deliberate in our planning for recuperation. Our hearts will need some regular investment. Simple strategies that minimise travel are needed to receive the convalescence required (the further you have to travel - the more taxing and costly that getaway becomes). I would recommend no further than your own state, perhaps. (Border closures are a sure way to lose a booking and ramp up anxiety!).
The key question to ask is how can we best slow down and find rest?... And how close to home can we find that rest and joy?
Does working in the garden feed your soul? Perhaps taking in sunrises or sunsets at the start or end of a day? Picnics? Walks? Day trips to the beach? Weekends away camping in the beauty of the outback? Things that are close at hand don’t require major effort. Remember, we want more coming ‘in’ than is going ‘out’.
I’ve heard the boys at Wild at Heart Ministries refer to it as the “Cost to Joy Ratio.”
You see, every outing, trip, adventure, holiday and enterprise has a cost to it. We need to ask: Does the joy this event brings, outweigh the cost it requires to make it happen? How taxing will it be for this outing to take place? Is more coming ‘in’ than is going ‘out’? (Note: If you need a holiday to recover from your holiday, then you’ve got the cost to joy ratio horribly wrong!)
This stuff is important to consider, so here is what I suggest you do… make time over the next several weeks to sit down and write out a list of the things that bring you joy. If you looked ahead for the next six months, what would you arrange for periods of investment where more is coming in than is going out?
Pray each time before you sit to write out that list. By arranging several times to consider this over a period of weeks, you give God opportunity to tap deeper into what your heart really desires. Be sure to invite Father God to be part of the whole process – He knows our hearts better than we do ourselves! It will be a wonderful exercise to set aside time just with you and God as you do this, inviting Him to share with you how best to care for your heart.
When I took time to ask God what would bring me peace and joy late in 2020, He responded with a few outdoor pursuit suggestions. But key thrust of it was this: - “Plan some getaways with your wife/family; and include challenges that involve riding your bike”.
So, I have been deliberately putting into my diary future cycling events that require us to go away to beautiful locations just to invest in our hearts (both our physical and spiritual hearts).
As your plan takes shape, put pen to paper and pin it up somewhere visible where you will see it regularly. Talk about it openly with family and friends so they can encourage and support you in that plan to recover your heart (plus, you never know when you may inspire others to follow suit and come up with their own recovery plan).
Judging by our time away at Mudgee, I’d say we got the cost vs joy ratio just about right! We definitely experienced God pouring more ‘in’ than was taken ‘out’. We came back relaxed, refreshed and having experienced true sabbath rest.
I’ll be praying you get the cost/joy ratio working in your favour too!
Until next time,
16 April 2021
The Scent of a Stag
It was only for a moment!
But I knew instantly what I had caught a whiff of – it was a prehistoric scent…
It was the pungent aroma of the male Sambar Deer (stag) that caught my nostrils - a musk odour unlike any other in the wilderness. And it is intoxicating to someone like myself who loves the taste of venison! That scent is a sure sign that you are in very close proximity to these rather large and beautiful beasts.
At the time I noticed the scent, I just happened to be racing down the Beloka Range on my road bicycle in the Snowy Mountains region at over 90kmh! I did consider for a split-second skidding to a halt in the hope of gaining a glimpse of this magnificent creature. However, common sense prevailed, and I remained focused on arriving safely at the bottom of that range!
I rarely get to see these majestic animals. They are sometimes referred to as the ‘ghosts of the forest’, primarily because they are exceptionally good at vanishing into thick forest and bushland and are very difficult to track. But it lifted my spirits to know they are on the move, as the annual Rut begins around this time of year – The Rut is when all of the adult female deer come into oestrus, their period of fertility, and all of the big males start to be less concerned for their safety, and more focused on chasing the girls!
That very brief encounter was a welcome distraction from my epic cycling adventure. I had set out from Jindabyne over the recent Easter break, on a big loop that would take me the better part of five hours to complete. It was a 100km-plus journey over quiet, picturesque back-country roads.
But as I kept my cadence up on the pedals, my heart had become distracted. That prehistoric scent was stirring much more in me than I was able to identify or articulate. I knew it was time to stop and invite Father God into the picture. There was no escaping the discontent that was surfacing in me and I could not work out why.
So, I pulled over under the shade of a snowgum by a small flowing stream, and brought my questions to Abba: -
“Father, what is going on here? Why has the smell of that stag rattled me?”
“Why am I unsettled? And what are you intentionally surfacing here?”
As I sat quietly, trying to be still, Father responded to my prayer by bringing back memories of times in the outdoors with my earthly dad. Times of riding mini bikes on large grazing holdings; fishing adventures; and shooting trips. They all began to flood back to me with my earthly dad’s presence at the epicentre of each memory.
These were very fond times with my dad. He was not around for a lot of my early formative years, but these holiday adventures with him were a gift for a young boy’s heart.
To provide a little more backdrop here… my dad was raised during the Great Depression. When he was just seven years of age, his own father would go off looking for work, or line-up for food parcels. Before leaving each day he would say these words to my dad:- “If I don’t get any work today, or the food parcels run out before I get to the front of the line, then all we might eat tonight is whatever game you can shoot and bring home for the family.” Then he’d place just two or three .22 calibre bullets into my young father’s pocket, and hand him an old Anschutz single-shot rifle with iron sights before walking out the door.
Talk about putting some pressure on a young boy to bring home the bacon!
But invariably, my dad learned to become a crack shot with that old rifle. He shared with me that his first few rabbits were destroyed because of a poorly placed bullet. Initially, he would hit key meat areas and ruin the flesh, so it was no good to eat. But after a while he learned to head-shoot his game, the most humane method and thereby ensuring all the meat was useable for the table. My dad knew many ways to cook up a feast with these little critters - rabbit pie, rabbit stew, slow roasted rabbit, rabbit casserole, rabbit soup … the list rolled on!
Needless to say, it was no surprise that my dad would take my brother and I out on shooting trips, teaching us to hunt. He would insist on spending time with us first and foremost, practising at targets to help us become more accurate. I still recall him drumming into us this mantra: “One shot. One kill”. Only after we reached a certain degree of accuracy would he then release us to hunt real game. To qualify for that privilege we had to place five consecutive shots inside a bullseye the size of a 50 cent piece at 50 metres – I still can hear him yelling over our shoulders as we practiced:- “I’m not going to let you cruelly injure animals that we’ll then have to chase all over the countryside to despatch!”.
Once ‘qualified’ to go hunting, the thrill of successfully shooting my first rabbit and hearing my dad shout with a cheer of celebration is still an endearing memory for me.
He would then show me how to skin, gut, clean and prepare the carcass for consumption. He would spend time showing us how to sharpen our knives at an angle over a whet stone. Dad was incessant about ensuring we learn to butcher in an effective way so that there was very little wastage of meat. It revealed to me the effect that living through the Great Depression had upon him, and many others of that generation. Interestingly, I still have a knife today given to me by father when I was a young boy – it remains to this day a prized possession.
I allowed these precious memories to wash over me as I sat under that tree by that stream, and it occurred to me to ask Father God why He was bringing such memories to my recall.
His answer both surprised and startled me.
He revealed there were a few issues in my heart that needed to be tackled, stemming from plans for this month’s hunt in the Rut having to be cancelled.
Every year for as many as I can remember, we have gone away camping, fishing and hunting around the Easter/April School holiday break. These trips have provided me with opportunities to invest into my own children in ways my dad had invested into me, all with the rugged beauty of the outback as the backdrop to these most precious of family memories.
But as my older sons have left home, moved overseas, gotten married and started their own families, or just become busy with different interests and pursuits, these family hunting and outdoor adventure holidays have become increasingly harder to organise – even with far fewer Ryan children involved.
2019 was our most recent trip away that saw only a very limited party get away for that hunting adventure. In 2020, the pandemic struck and we experienced the very first ‘Lock-Down’, effectively derailing last year’s trip away.
This year, we had torrential rain just before Easter which made our regular hunting property a quagmire. The property owner requested we not come, due to the very high likelihood that our 4wd would get bogged. Even if we didn’t get bogged, landowners don’t take too kindly to deep 4wd drive tracks being left in the soil everywhere you go. Such tracks become a nuisance to drive on after the land has dried out.
After receiving that bad news regarding this year’s trip, I broke the news to my two remaining teenage children still living at home. To my shock, both exhaled with relief as they shared with me that they didn’t really want to go … they each had other more favoured plans with friends.
To hear that kind of hit me hard. But I pushed it away, failing to wrestle out what was really going on in my heart. However, the same agitation had begun to surface within minutes of picking-up the musk scent of that male deer. It was being used by God to reveal a sense of loss in my heart that I did not know how to identify or articulate.
I knew it was time to deal with it.
So, sitting by the roadside, I began to pour out my heart to Abba Father regarding all my fears that this season of investing in my children was coming to a close. I was also able to tell Him how I felt helpless to do anything about it!
I’d also come to the realisation that this wasn’t just about me mourning the loss of not being able to connect and invest into my children. To my surprise, this was just as much about me still searching for my own father’s approval on those hunting trips.
Father God showed me there were still places within me that needed His healing. These unhealed ‘innermost’ places were driving me out into the wilderness, still searching for my earthly dad’s approval in ways I had not recognised.
This precious time by the side of the road with my True Father also brought me to the realisation there were pockets of grief that still needed to be expressed from my earthly father’s passing. I had to perform CPR on him in 1993 after he’d collapsed from a heart attack. Sadly, he did not make it. But, the trauma of having to perform CPR on my own father had trapped some tears that still needed to be shed.
By the time I got back on my bicycle that day to complete my journey, the Lord had taken me to some deep places. There were some hard questions asked; gracious answers provided; and a good deal of tears flowed. I pedalled away, amazed at how He alone knew just the right way to get my attention – utilizing the scent of a stag to call to His precious son.
This is one seriously good Father we serve!
“Abba, only you know the innermost places of my heart where truth does not yet exist. I give you permission to continue to sift me, in ways that I must be sifted. I welcome how You lovingly surprise me in ways that reveal how you’ve intricately walked with me throughout my life. I choose to thank You for the disruption You bring - it always brings more life once on other side - once I have let You have your way.
In the words of Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)
‘‘Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting”
Until next time,
13 March 2021
Are You Ready For The Shift?
Late in February this year, my second eldest son Matthew got married to his beloved Brianna here at the Chapel on the grounds of ‘Gilbulla’. Brianna just happens to be a graduate from our two-year (YDT) Diploma Course here at Ellel Sydney – a program that focuses seriously on discipleship and restoration. My Matt knows he’s landed a very good young lady who loves Jesus passionately and carries a deep desire to see others restored and discipled.
Matthew himself is no stranger to discipleship. He has completed all our Ellel Ministries training schools here in Sydney (known formerly as the Modular Schools), as well as a Cert IV at Hillsong College gleaning from all the excellent tools they impart to the body of Christ. After his year at Hillsong, Matthew embarked on yet another discipleship course with Southern Lights Church in Victoria, which taught him further key aspects of growing and maturing in Christ. Today, Matt finds himself at the backend of a two-year internship under Brian Medway, who heads up the Crosslink Christian Network, and is also senior pastor of Grace Church in Canberra. Matt would say the privilege to be at Brian’s side over this period has deepened his walk even further, learning much from Brian’s passion for the scriptures.
There is something to be said about making it a priority to find the best discipleship programs and mentors possible. As the saying goes “Choose your friends carefully, you become what they are”. I doubt either Matthew or Brianna will regret pursuing Christ via intentional discipleship and mentoring, and it is my hope they continue on this path of a life-long pattern of learning from the more mature saints God brings alongside them.
Such quality investment in Matthew and Brianna from a variety of Christian discipleship streams did not go unnoticed at their local church in Canberra. They have recently been commissioned as the Young Adults Pastors in that congregation, with the responsibility of bringing spiritual formation to the next generation of saints.
Yet, there was a journey of preparation required for them to be deemed worthy of that role. They didn’t just show up to church and say “Hey, we want to lead a small group!” They both underwent a season of mentoring and a healing journey, before they were released to disciple anyone else!
However, it has been my experience that as Christians we generally expect the ‘discipleship’ pathway to look a bit like this: - First, we get ‘saved’ and then we choose a church where we like the people, the worship is energetic and the preaching is strong. There is nothing particularly wrong with that, except it tends to create a ‘pew sitting’ culture. Some folks may take up an invite to do a spiritual gifting test and attend a weekly bible study, and maybe eventually lead a bible study group of their own. They might even be offered a role as an elder/deacon/leader in the years ahead at their church.
On the surface, there appears to be no overt problem with that process. However, it is my experience that without effective long-term deeper discipleship that includes a deliberate journey of restoration and healing, we may only be raising Christians who are restricted in how much kingdom influence they can offer – and then placing them into key roles within the church!
Once churchgoers have moved along the traditional pathways I have described above into leadership positions - without having dealt with any of their wounds – depression, anxiety, fears, addictions, grief, traumas and anger - they tend not to represent Christ as well as they could if they were healed and restored. When they don’t deal with their own wounding, they may inadvertently inflict their unhealed pain onto those under their influence, negatively impacting them.
When we elevate a good person too early, before their underlying character issues are dealt with, it is unlikely they will be ready to cope with the demanding pressures of leadership. This may unearth major character flaws that bring about moral failure and discredit the name of Christ and His Church.
It’s a repeating pattern. Think of names like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and Ted Haggard who suffered major character failures in years gone by. Consider the more recent news of Ravi Zacharias, who pastored a major church in New York. Since his death, it has emerged that he failed his congregation, guilty of ongoing infidelity. Then of course there is the moral failure of Carl Lentz who carried a high profile within the Hillsong movement.
All these men were well trained Christian leaders. The good seminaries and bible colleges they attended equipped them with excellent ministry tools and skills, but seemed unable to unearth their deeper unresolved issues, nor help them overcome the character flaws which eventually surfaced.
No amount of bible knowledge alone will ever transform the human heart. Make no mistake, studying and knowing the bible is paramount, but the Scriptures alone cannot ‘save’ you – they can only point to the One who is able to save and transform – that is Jesus Christ!
At my son Matthew’s wedding, I chatted with one of his friends from Hillsong. He shared with me the deep personal impact upon him of Carl Lentz’s fall from grace. He had respected Carl greatly, and to say he was shaken about these revelations was an understatement.
It appears to me that the Lord is cleaning up His own house first. But apart from that, I think what Abba really wants to do next is introduce the whole of His Church to new and deeper discipleship.
My experience of most churches – I was a senior pastor once myself - is that there exists an unsaid, but nonetheless daunting pressure to succeed. In the kingdom of God here on earth, the measure of that success lays in becoming a big church! Once again, there is nothing inherently wrong with megachurches - larger churches have resources to achieve things that smaller churches just cannot make happen. But it is also my observation that megachurches can be a mile wide; but only an inch deep! In other words, sometimes larger churches struggle to offer to so many people a more intimate discipling connection, with the power to positively change them, simply because they are so big!
Lee Grady from Charisma magazine wrote an article highlighting one such thriving megachurch that breaks the mould I describe above. It’s called Crossroads Church and it is based in Newnan, Georgia, near Atlanta.
This particular large church is described by Lee Grady as providing a deeper commitment to discipleship via its small-group ministry, which purposely raises leaders who have walked through a transformative process. These small group leaders are apparently selected on the basis that they have first taken part in a healing process for their own hearts. Each must initially demonstrate they have walked out a restoration journey – whether that be from divorce, significant loss, trauma, addictions or abuse. They must be able to demonstrate how they have allowed Christ to heal them from whatever bound them.
Only once a person has walked through such a healing process, are they deemed ready to offer others the comfort and healing the Lord has given them. These leaders are reported to be winning many new believers into their small groups. Such new believers are then quickly introduced to a God that not only saves, but also restores. Such a model of discipleship training is rather radical, but necessary more than ever today!
I sense what is happening at Crossroads Church is not an isolated phenomenon. I hope it is evidence of Holy Spirit beginning to reshape the church worldwide in the coming generation. Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to re-evaluate our core priorities as the Church. It has forced us into an uncomfortable realisation that ‘business as usual’ will never work again.
God is pruning away dead branches, so we can bear more fruit.
Are you ready for the shift?
Lee Grady in his article also raised four key points of how he sees Holy Spirit renewing our wineskins, so we can hold what He is sending. I have reproduced Lee’s four powerful points below, and then also added my own thoughts: -
- We are shifting from quantity to quality. In the days before COVID, pastors measured success by what Lee Grady would call ‘the ABC's of ministry’— Attendance, Buildings and Cash. In other words, a church assumed it was successful if they had big crowds, a nice building and lots of cash in the bank. But the apostle Paul said ministry made with wood, hay and stubble will burn up when tested by God's holiness (see 1 Cor. 3:12-13).
Just because a sanctuary is full of people doesn't mean we are making strong, well-discipled followers of Jesus. We can no longer evaluate our success by attendance, buildings and cash!
- We are shifting from spectators to disciples. Churches that already had strong small group ministry before the pandemic have thrived during this last year. But churches that put all their resources into big congregational events have been shut down or have lost huge numbers of their attendees. Sadly, I wonder how many of the more marginal churchgoers who were not connected to any small group will never return after COVID?
Jesus didn't call us to make churchgoers, He instructed us to make disciples. He never intended His followers to just sit in pews year after year listening to good sermons. He told them, "Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations" (Matt. 28:19). He certainly did not want His followers to remain spiritual infants (‘Nepios’). He invites us all to grow up into mature saints (‘Uihos’) that can carry on the works He did.
- Shifting from big events to small groups. There's nothing wrong with big gatherings. In fact, I love worshipping with a big crowd. But when we made the church about the crowd, we created a model that no longer resembles the original church in the book of Acts. People don't effectively grow if their only input comes from a weekly or monthly 30-minute sermon. They need deeper more consistent discipleship in a close-knit environment with supportive relationships.
We live in a world full of fear, loneliness and abuse. And that's a big reason many people would never set foot in a big church full of strangers. Their social anxiety prevents them from walking into a concert-style arena to hear a sermon, but they may consider visiting your home for a meal, or a small group gathering. Why would we make it any harder than that for people?
- We are shifting from unapproachable celebrities to accessible servants. We have lived through the era of the ‘rock star preacher’. Moving forward, true ministers of the gospel must not allow people to worship them. When we embrace the idea that all Christians can make disciples—not just the most eloquent or the highest paid—we will impact the multitudes like the early church did.
Church leaders who lead like Jesus aren't afraid to empower others, and they aren't afraid of their followers touching more lives than they did. In fact, they want their disciples to surpass the fruit they have borne. The faster we shift away from the celebrity model, and embrace Christ-like humility, the sooner we will reach the world with the gospel. And the sooner He will return!
So, let’s get serious about our own discipleship and ask Father God what further restoration He may want to bring to our hearts. Let’s become the kind of saints that Christ can use in the days that lay ahead.
Until next time,
30 November 2020
The ‘Promise’ that Summer Brings…
Savouring memories of an old tank stand
Summer looks like it has finally arrived!
You might recall me writing recently about how I eagerly look forward to the arrival of our warmer months!
I was enjoying an early morning stroll with my wife recently… Joanne, myself and our five-year-old Australian Shepherd ‘Bear’ occasionally make our way along the country road that fronts Gilbulla’s entrance. We were simply taking in the morning dew on the sunlit spiderwebs, enjoying those early morning moments my dear wife has taught me to appreciate - before the rush of the day ramps up.
In the freshness of a new summer morning, I’m learning to listen and be blessed by all creation is displaying… like the red-rumped parrots and corellas that squawk and announce the start of the day joyfully, trying to race one another as they swoop from tree to tree that line our driveway. Then there’s the carolling magpie that sings its hopeful song in the distance as we walk towards the nearby village. As we reach our walk’s turnaround point at Menangle Store, it’s become a tradition that Joanne draws a deep breath to savour the fragrance of her favourite summer flower, jasmine, as it wafts over us. As we turn back onto our own country road for the return journey, a butterfly flutters by in its whimsical “nothin-to-be-worried-about” way. Then for a beautiful, lingering moment, a whisper on the gentle breeze – it calls to me - with a promise that I couldn’t quite articulate.
Not just the promise that it is going to be a good day, but something far richer, something far deeper. It felt more like Abba Father whispering to me a promise that everything is going to be truly wonderful!
Maybe you’ve felt that promise murmured to you, too, as you stood in some favourite spot—watching the beauty of the waves, or the stunning silence of the red desert, or the summer flowers atop the Main Range. Maybe it’s just your favoured garden bench with a perfect cup of coffee. It’s in those special places where Holy Spirit catches us off-guard through the beautiful places that draw us; it’s in these places something seems to be calling to us through the beauty and goodness that creation especially brings.
Without doubt, summer is my preferred season. I love the lushness of life it brings. The thunderheads that roll-in late in the afternoon. I love the sense of promise nearly every summer morning proclaims. But most of us, while we sense this ‘promise’… we’re not sure what to make of it.
As a younger boy, I fondly recall an old timber water tank stand out the back of my dad’s house in the country town of Toowoomba in south-west Queensland. 22 Farquharson Street. My brother and I used to leave mum and our Brisbane home and go stay with our father over school holidays. I’m very thankful to my dad for making those holidays full of adventure! We used to race our mini bikes around the yard of that house… we’d start at the old tank stand, race under the big avocado tree, around past the front steps and shoot up the dirt driveway again with the old tank stand as the finish line. Lap after lap after lap. Out the back was an old garage shed which housed all sorts of ancient tools - mischief for young boys! (I recall a mishap with an air-rifle one time inside that old garage, which may become the topic for a blog on another day!)
That old house and yard provided many fond memories for two young brothers.
Toowoomba is situated west of Brisbane and above the Great Dividing Range, so it was always several degrees cooler than the humidity of Brisbane in the warmer months – a nice escape from the usual muggy summers. I also enjoyed the novelty of winter frosts during the July school holidays – I can still recall the crunch of the ice under my shoes. The smell of two-stroke fumes from my brothers Suzuki RM80B also remains etched into my memory – even as I type this, I can still ‘taste’ his exhaust as I re-live chasing him around that property on my little 4-stroke Honda XR75! The memories keep coming… Right at the back corner of the property my dad converted an old hen house he called the ‘chook run’ into an aviary where I could breed budgerigars. I can still picture all the beautiful birds with plumes of blue, yellow, green, white and grey. My favourites were the pied budgies (mixed colours)! I remember the wonder of peering into the nesting boxes to see the chicks hatch! There are also memories of my brother and I climbing the old avocado tree and collecting as many of the avocadoes we could safely pick. We’d take them to the local grocer to fetch our best price ($30AUD was our best effort for a big box of about a hundred back in 1977!). That old house was where we wrestled our dad and listened to him recite poetry and tell us all sorts of hilarious tales. We made some very funny home movies on an old Kodak home movie camera - none that I’d want to tell you about here! 22 Farquharson Street was the staging post for much bigger adventures our dad would take us on, far wider afield.
It was a magical place for a boy to enjoy and explore and there are many more memories I could share. In my 12-year-old heart, that old house has always been there, and will always be – just as I remember it!
Wallace Stevens was an American modernist poet, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Collected Poems in 1955. He must have experienced something similar from his boyhood. Take this in: -
“I still sometimes dream, occasionally in the most intense and brilliant shades of green, of a jungly dead bend of the Whitemud River below Martin's Dam. Each time I am haunted, on awakening, by a sense of meanings just withheld, and by a profound nostalgic melancholy. Yet why should this dead loop of river, known only for a few years in my youth, be so charged with potency in my unconscious? Why should there be around it so many other images that constantly recurring dreams or in the phrases I bring up off the typewriter onto the page? They live in me like underground water; every well I put down taps them.”
Wallace Stevens was experiencing the same ‘haunting’ I have felt as I remember my special places. Each carry some sort of promise seemingly woven into the tapestry of our lives. It comes to us through golden moments, through the beauty of creation that takes our breath away, through precious memories and the hope that only a special holiday place can awaken. It comes particularly through the beauty around us that takes us back to those moments.
That Promise fits perfectly with the deepest longing of our hearts—the longing for everything to be good. I suspect it is all part of ‘The Sacred Romance’ that Brent Curtis and John Eldredge write so eloquently about in the book of the same name.
Perhaps this Promise is even alluded to in the echoes of Ecclesiastes 3:11: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end”
Note how this passage points to this haunting ‘Promise’ with the mention of ‘beauty’ and how it links to ‘eternity’ being ‘set’ in the human heart. (Clearly a mystery that no one can fully fathom!)
Something profound is at play here –God is purposely stirring something in our hearts when we recall fond memories and beautiful places.
Recalling the mystery of this Promise in creation’s beauty is one of summer’s greatest gifts to me. But does the Promise ever come true? Is it ever fulfilled? That is what my heart longs to know— is the mystery ever finally revealed? And why did God ‘set’ this Promise in the human heart in the first place and make it so hard to fathom?
Part of the answer is revealed in Romans chapter eight:
“The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens” (vs19-21 NLT).
It appears the Apostle Paul believed that all creation was trembling with ‘joyous anticipation’ of something, suggesting that creation knows some great secret we do not. However, Jesus has revealed the secret very clearly to us:
“I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne…everyone who has given up houses or…property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return…” (Matthew 19:28-29 NLT)
Christ is referring to His return – “when the world is made new”.
It will be the restoration of all things.
This is the great secret the beauty of creation is proclaiming.
This is the great hope of our faith!
I now understand, some forty plus years later, why the memories of the old tank stand at 22 Farquharson Street are filled with “a sense of meanings” and “charged with potency” (as Wallace Stevens would describe)… because God’s Spirit was revealing the Promise to me of the restoration of all things, through that special place.
It is coming to each of us in many ways if we would just open our hearts to ‘see’ it; it is coming to us through the glories of the summer days that lay ahead this Christmas.
I share this in hope that you and I will begin to understand the whispers of the promise that are coming to us, that these gifts will fill our hearts with hope. “The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less” (2 Cor. 5:5 The Message).
Forget about the distractions and disappointments of a pandemic year. Allow this Christmas festive season and the summer that adorns it, to whet your appetite for the promise of eternity that has been set in our hearts – it awaits every follower of Jesus. May it assure you completely of the great and final restoration that is nearly upon us.
Bring on the New Year,
30 October 2020
Perseverance… I’m undecided whether I like that word. But one thing is for sure - it has become an inescapable component of our ‘survival tool kit’ in these testing days.
The Covid-19 pandemic is teaching us all hard lessons about resilience and adaptability. It is forcing individuals and organizations of all sizes to reckon with what has become a deep and enduring crisis. A crisis that continues to threaten “our lives and our livelihoods” (to quote our Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison).
So, what do we have to do to survive - even thrive - during this crisis? And what will make or break our ability to survive and thrive in these times?
Personally, I want to be able to lead with conviction and strength in my own areas of responsibility. But this crazy year has me discovering that when under pressure, I appear more ‘gifted’ at passivity and ‘checking-out’ than I’d realized! It’s amazing how pressure and crises always bring to the surface what you’re really made of! I sense Father God is wanting me to grow my character more in the area of perseverance, simply because learning to persevere offers growth in other areas like resilience, adaptability and flexibility. These are the key traits we need in this season.
Interestingly, the challenges we’re facing now has made me wonder what it must have been like for our forefathers. They arrived in this sunburnt country as untested white Europeans coming from a far more temperate climate – and we’re not talking a 24-hour flight, but months by sea to get here! They had to face the harshness of the outback without any air-conditioning and by night there was only a candle or kerosene lamp. Under a scorching sun, they built fences that spanned the length of our great land. They drilled bores and dug wells in the relentless search for hidden water. They ring-barked entire forests and felled trees all by axe. The women had to wash clothes by hand, grind wheat to make bread and give birth to children in slab huts - with no medical assistance to help them through.
Today we complain if our tub of ice-cream arrives home melted from the supermarket! Or our electricity is disrupted for a couple of hours in a blackout!
Think back to those who endured the First and Second World Wars… have you ever been privileged (and shocked) to hear an old digger share his first-hand account of those times, or read about the ordeals they faced? Those who suffered in occupied Europe during WWII were besieged by bomb raid after bomb raid, never knowing when the next attack would come, or when an enemy tank might roll through their village. Our grandparents and great-great-grandparents lived through incredibly difficult years with the kind of perseverance each of us could use right now.
All of that has me wondering what God is up to in this hour? Is He trying to build resilience and perseverance in us right now, a strength that will be required in the years that lay ahead?
Have a read of Romans 5:3-5 NIV: -
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”.
If we’re really honest, no one actually likes the word perseverance, simply because of what we have to go through to earn it! But when you see a Scripture like that above, it becomes clear that when perseverance is allowed to take its course, it produces something in us that wasn’t there before.
Like a muscle that needs work and exercise to build strength, so too a person’s character must be developed over time, whilst being tested under pressure. It’s these circumstances that eventually lead to the establishment of perseverance (assuming we make good Godly decisions during such testing times). The fruit that is produced by that leads to hope, and we sure could use some hope about now! Businesses are struggling, government handouts are reducing, unemployment is growing, domestic violence, anxiety and depression are all on the rise… Yep, I’d say a good dose of hope right about now would not go astray at all!
However, to find that hope requires a process (according to Romans 5:3-5 that process involves suffering to produce perseverance; which produces character; and character produces hope). Sadly, there is just no other way to find it.
Just think about it… in any given area of your life where you have developed resilience and strength – has it not been because of some ‘refining fire’ that’s established something within you that wasn’t present beforehand?
The pre-Covid era we just lived through— which all came to an end in March 2020 here in Australia when terms like ‘lock-down; and ‘social distancing’ entered our vocabulary… I would refer to that period as the ‘Era of Comfort’.
Interestingly, before there was any pandemic, anecdotal evidence and news reports suggested that mental health issues were climbing - primarily issues of anxiety and depression. A friend involved in the Education Department working at a University shared with me: “18 is the new 12. We’re finding students today at 18 years of age who have the emotional resilience of a 12-year-old of yesteryear. Our students are just emotionally under-developed in general. They are much less resilient than any we've ever encountered over past decades”.
There are many reasons, of course. But honestly, when you grow up in a world where everything is done with a few clicks on your smartphone, it doesn't exactly develop the inner strength needed today as we move deeper into uncertain times. Anyone living in the developed world over the past twenty years has become used to a level of ease no previous generation knew. This ‘Era of Comfort’ I might add, has also allowed me to become quite ‘soft’. I too have enjoyed all the conveniences our modern world has offered. But at least I’m beginning to recognise those modern conveniences have caused atrophy in my inner being.
Contrast that to our forefathers who emerged from World Wars and the Great Depression with a sense of determination and resilience that is not readily available today. That fleeting ‘Era of Comfort’ has not prepared us well for the pressures now coming against us.
Maybe we will emerge from this trial with a new resilience, and thereby a newly forged hope!
In the meantime, we are going to need some strength. And the wonderful news is, our kind and compassionate Father God loves to give his people new strength! The scriptures are filled with prayers, blessings and promises that God himself will strengthen us from the inside out. Drink in some of these:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15)
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31)
“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isaiah 58:11)
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)
“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19)
I need the strength those passages promise! I long to be filled with the measure of the fullness of God… don’t you?
Maybe we could begin by simply praying these verses over ourselves. It’s what I have started to do! I’m asking Father God to strengthen me in my inner being. I’m asking Abba to begin building greater perseverance in me, which leads to hope. Because ‘soft’ just won’t cut it for the days that lay ahead.
Until next time,
9 September 2020
"Memories to Savour"
The intentional practice of remembering moments that were a gift from God.
Memory allows us to “savour” the many gifts God has given us. I am trying to establish this as a more regular practice, so I thought I’d share with you how I arrived at this point…
I had been noticing how exceptional the early Spring weather has been here in Australia – the last week has been stunning! I am beginning to believe winter may be behind us (although I say that cautiously).
My kids are looking forward to the September/October school holidays as the weather warms up. The October Long Weekend is getting closer which heralds the beginning of Daylight Savings and longer afternoons. The local grocer is getting some early season mangoes on the shelves, so the better mangoes are not too far away! I love all the varieties of fruits that signal “summer is on the way” … and that means my wife will soon be making mango smoothies! I love summer mangoes!!
But Summer passes way too soon, before we’ve really had a chance to relish the gifts it provides.
It would have been nice to have our Canadian grandchildren fly out with their mum and dad in the New Year, but that looks unlikely due to Covid. I had hoped that Joanne and I would get to ride in a few bicycle classics with hundreds of other riders, but Covid stole those from us too. I’m still hopeful we can get away to our beloved Snowy Mountains over Christmas; last year it was not Covid, but the bushfires that stole such precious times from us.
I always enter summer with higher hopes than can possibly be met. Thankfully, lest we despair, God has given us a grace to rescue our hearts when lovely moments pass too quickly, or when we haven’t had the chance to get the Sabbath we need. This grace is found in a surprising practice.
Before I unpack that practice… we need to be honest about the common occurrence of loss that has become so constant, that we’ve grown completely numb to it. It is our inability to make time stand still. We can’t do it, not even for a moment. No sooner have we stepped into recalling some wonderful life experience - whether it’s a birthday; a fantastic holiday; that Christmas morning when you were nine years old and you unwrapped that present you’d been pestering your parents all year long for - and suddenly those moments get swept away in the unceasing river of time, swept far downstream and out of reach.
Every precious moment will suddenly be “last week, last month, last year” before you can even blink… such is the pace of our world today. It steals these moments from us.
Few of us remember the taste of our first ice cream - do you recall what flavour it was? What about the first book we read, or movie we saw on the big screen - do you remember the title?
When we fail to recall such events, it is a loss! The speed at which we live our lives, every endearing moment is being swept away even as you read this sentence. And it does such harm to our human spirit and our life with God.
When I was a child, I used to hate it when one of my parents would say to me as we came to the end of our traditional summer holiday: “All good things must come to an end.” I hate that phrase… it reminds me of finger nails scraping on a chalkboard; or dirt falling on a casket!
To rescue us from such despair, God actually gives us “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11) … To be more specific, Jesus said in Revelations that He will one day make all things new again! So, all good things do NOT actually come to an end at all. Not even close!
In the meantime, God in his mercy has also given us the grace for this recurrent, incessant, unavoidable, daily experience of loss. That gift is memory.
It is through memory - if we make use of it – we can go back and drink more deeply, savour more fully, and take in the full gift of wonderful moments we’ve been blessed with. It is actually my experience that the full gift of those moments can never be truly taken in as they unfold… but only much later as they are reflected on and appreciated more fully.
I was at home recently by myself. To pass time, I was tempted to grab my phone (this is what we all do now, without even thinking) and scroll through news, posts, messages, my inbox. But that wasn’t what my heart needed, and I knew it. My soul needed “summer”; it needed something to remind me of joy. I needed to choose not to just surrender to the magnetic draw of technology that leads to busyness, but to go back and drink more deeply of a sweet gift of summer that passed too quickly.
I opened my phone’s photos and began to drift back through years of images. Eventually, my heart was drawn to a particular image that reminded me of a special day’s fly fishing with one of my sons in the Snowy Mountains.
It was high on a mountain stream, a region that was not easily accessible. We were surrounded by snow gums and early morning mist rising off the stream. The fast-flowing water cascaded down, fall after fall over well-hewn rocks and boulders. The sound of that rushing stream filled the canyon with the wonderful sounds that only moving water makes. There were large majestic pools, but that is not normally where the trout are hooked. Between the larger pools are these smaller ‘bubble runs’ (lines of foam and bubbles flowing downstream) where trout congregate underneath, poised to strike at any insect that fall into these ‘bubble runs’. We stalked and cast to those runs with all the patience of skilled hunters pursuing their prey. That day we landed around 30 fish - all catch and release, and if I recall correctly, I think my son caught about 20 of those trout! Most of that day involved trudging through cold fast flowing water mile and after mile, and by the end of that day we had gone so far upstream, we barely had the energy to hike back out. Back when we eventually arrived back at the 4wd, as we stripped our waders off, we sat by the waters and rested our weary bodies, enjoying a well earned snack before the drive out.
Oh, what I’d give to do that day all over again!
As I remembered that beautiful day sitting at home alone (a day that truly was a gift to me and my son) - my heart began to settle down. I let out a deep sigh. I was at peace and became immediately aware of the goodness of God. I worshipped Him and gave Him thanks. “Thank you for that special day Abba” I whispered in prayer. I thanked a good God for the sweet souvenir that it was. Revisiting it allowed me to see so much to treasure in it; the mayflies; dragonflies; the smell of damp moss on the rocks; the contrast of a hot day and cold mountain stream; the magnificent Rainbows and Browns we landed; the joy on a teenage boys face! I also remembered how extremely fatigued we both were. Not stressed, but a ‘good tired’, that healthy “been-in-nature-all-day” tired.
What a wonderful gift it was.
And the beautiful thing is, that day became even more of a gift to me through the intentional practice of remembering it. We can all do that by deliberately recalling a special memory, going back and lingering in it, enjoying it all over again.
Memory allows us to “savour” the many gifts God has given us. I need to do this more often, so I can establish this as a regular practice for my heart.
May I recommend you try this redemptive use of your own smartphone? We all have a library of memories within our photo folders. Pull out your phone during a break, but instead of checking for messages, or going to your inbox, browse through your photos, allowing Father God an opportunity to surprise you with an image that takes you back to a particular day. May I suggest allowing God to choose the image and the day for you? You will know it when you see it, just keep browsing until an image ‘launches off the screen’ and captures your attention. In other words, don’t you pick the memory – let Holy Spirit pick the memory for you!
Give yourself permission to try it.
Be sure to pray and invite Father God into the process before you begin. Let Him guide you into a precious moment. When one image “jumps out”, linger there, savour the gift of memory. And give thanks to a Holy God for what He brings to your recall about that day.
I hope this brightens your view of the summer that lays ahead, and hopefully seeds the idea of rescuing memories to savour – memories that until now have been hidden away in the river of time.
Go and ‘fish’ a few out…
It’ll do your heart good!
Lots a love,
Until next time…
Flyfishing photo By Ziga - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1957090
Other images from Pexels.
7 August 2020
Why aren't we longing and praying for the return of Christ?
Will you join me?
After my last blog I had one church leader call me and catch me off-guard with these words: - "Thank you for that last article… it has encouraged me to begin praying for the return of Jesus".
His words stopped me in my tracks - because I suddenly realised I have never really prayed that as a consistent prayer. I may have written an article last month about my sense that Jesus’ second coming is only a generation or two away… but I never connected the dots that maybe I should also be regularly praying for His return!
I mean, I can't recall the last time I heard anyone say that. Can you?
I asked this leader if it was common in his circle of Christians to be praying for the return of Jesus?
He pondered that for a minute and said: "Actually, no. No one I know is praying that prayer… but after reading your article I felt strongly convicted that I needed to start".
He also went on to say: "No one even talks about it... I’ve never heard a sermon on it that I can remember. I certainly have never preached on it at our church before… but that is about to change."
That's my experience, too. It feels very revealing to me about the times we are in, as though there is an unholy spiritual fog that wants to place ‘scales over our eyes’ to prevent us from realising that the risen Christ did indeed promise that He will return.
To me, Christ’s return to the earth, and his ushering in the Kingdom of God feels like a pretty central part of our Christian faith. Kind of crucial, really. But as I have attempted in various conversations with Christians to bring up the imminent return of Jesus, the mood often turns awkward – or just goes silent - like I wanted to talk about aliens or Bigfoot!
If I push into the subject, highlighting I believe the return of Jesus is not as far away as some may think, their mood turns foreboding like I wanted to talk about their likelihood of getting cancer.
I simply don't get it.
As His disciples - are we afraid of the second coming?
Is this not something we should be looking forward to?!?
Two ideas are absolutely basic to a Christian understanding of this world. First, that you are created to know love, joy and peace. Second, you will not truly know that love, joy and peace until the Prince of Peace comes again and brings into fullness the Kingdom of God.
So, what's with the awkwardness of Christians talking about his return? And, more fascinating (and troubling) - what's with no one really praying for it?
Every one of the major Christian Creeds clearly mentions Christ is coming again. Here is the key line from the Nicene Creed referring to Jesus’s return:-
“He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead”
I was ordained under these Creeds!
Belief in these Creeds has become the barometer for me as to who are my true brothers and sisters in the faith, because sadly there are plenty still claiming to be Christian whilst having discarded much of what the Creeds declare to be true.
At this juncture I feel compelled to venture a question that Holy Spirit may use to challenge some of us:- If you are not personally longing for and praying for the return of Jesus, could that suggest you are more committed in your heart to making life here on earth work better for you - more so than pursuing the Kingdom of God?
It has been my experience that our prayers often reveal what we are really after.
So if you are not praying for the return of Jesus, you are probably either not looking forward to it, or have just been oblivious to the fact that Jesus is actually going to one day return.
You were created to know true love, joy and peace, and you are not going to truly find it until your heart is set on the pursuit of the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 6:33 “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you”).
At the end of the book of Revelation, we find the church is longing for and praying for the return of Jesus: "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!'" Note the exclamation point, as in, "Please come! Come now! We want you to come!"
Also note when it says "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!'" in Revelation 22:17 - that verse is an invitation to the whole Church (i.e. ‘bride’) to be praying with the help of Holy Spirit (‘The Spirit’) to usher in Christ’s return.
So, none of this has anything to do with aliens or Bigfoot. It centres on the great Christian hope!
It should be the eager expectation of every dream you ever had come true. This is the expectation of the abundant life coming to you in all its fullness. Not to mention our dear Jesus coming for each of us – for you!
That church leader was convicted by God to begin praying for it daily! Why shouldn’t he? The Scriptures implore us to do so. I am now convicted to do the same. Will you join me?
Until next time,
8 July 2020
How close are we to Christ's return?
We may have some heart-homework to do ...
We’ve had three major events in 2020 that have shaken the planet!
Firstly, the pandemic.
Secondly, the global financial fallout that has left us on the edge of an economic depression.
And thirdly, we are now witnessing the world-wide outcry against racial injustice.
These really are interesting days!
It got me wondering whether these events are heralding the onset of the Last Days? Are we closer than we have been prepared to admit?
Haven’t you at least wondered at some point in the last few months how close we are to Jesus actually returning? I know it’s crossed my mind more than once!
One aspect the New Testament points to regarding Christ’s return, is that when every nation has heard the Christian gospel, it will signal we are near the end times. So, how are we doing regarding the spread of the gospel?
Many scholars and commentators suggest we have reached the whole world already (the gospel just hasn’t been accepted by the whole world!). Other evangelism ministries suggest we are not quite there yet and vary in their estimates, but basically suggest we are between five to 20 years away from reaching that goal.
Interestingly, I was reading the blog of Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in the USA entitled “Digital worship may create America’s next spiritual awakening”. In that blog dated 14 April 2020, Senior Pastor Greg Laurie stated that since social distancing forced his church service online, their first live stream was to 250,000 people. If that wasn’t impressive enough, within a month that grew to over one million viewers! But for the most startling statistic, I’ll just quote directly from Greg Laurie’s blog:
“But here is the most surprising thing to me about this new, burgeoning online congregation. At the end of my message, I extended an opportunity for people to pray and ask Jesus Christ to come into their lives. At last count, over 31,000 have responded. That’s in four weeks”.
31,000 lives coming to Christ in four weeks! And that’s just from one congregation that went online. It seems to me we might already have a spiritual awakening underway!
Another indicator of the Last Days is an increase in famine (according to Matthew 24).
I’ve read articles that show great concern for increasing famine in some third world nations. This risk has escalated since some major first world nations, focusing on their own country’s financial woes, have pulled back their financial aid to those in the third world.
Then, of course, the world-wide outcry against racial injustice has revealed the great anger that exists in many people’s hearts over centuries of human beings treating other human beings horrendously!
This is also evident in a ‘domestic violence pandemic’ brought about by the pressure cooker situation of living in such close quarters for extended periods (which is no excuse for domestic violence by the way!). Many have also sought false comfort leading to a ‘pornography pandemic’ as well. Our social concerns are many. But our planet has bigger issues ahead!
Matthew 24 also foreshadows an increase in the threats and rumours of wars, and that earthquakes will increase. It also speaks of ‘pestilences’ – and note that word is plural, meaning that the Scriptures suggest more than one plague or pandemic could be on the way.
If these are all just the beginning of birth pains (the beginning?!?), we may need to see this Covid19 pandemic as possibly a dress rehearsal for more major events to come.
We don’t have to look past our own country in recent times to see the difficulties … horrendous bushfires followed by damaging floods, and then a pandemic that cripples the economies of the world!
Where are things headed?
It appears we are heading towards some kind of climax… are these all the ‘birth pains’ Scripture describes in the lead-up to the Last Days?
We have to understand that the New Testament is clear on the promise that Jesus will return. No one knows exactly when the Second Advent of Christ will occur, but we must recognise that at some point in history there will be a generation on earth that will be the last generation.
If not our generation; then possibly our children’s generation. With the rate of change and the escalation of disasters, I can certainly envisage Christ returning before my grandchildren reach retirement!
As Christians, we must arrive at the realisation that with the ‘shaking’ going on all around us, the return of Jesus could yet be in this generation!
Surely this global upheaval has our attention and is forcing us to consider some tough questions!
For mine, the key question has to be: - What if the hour of Christ’s return is in my own lifetime?
Let’s just imagine for a minute that we are close to Jesus’s return – His Second Coming!… How does that make you feel to consider that question?
Excited? Thrilled? Expectant?... Or terrified and anxious?
As I tried to picture the reality of Jesus actually returning, my honest first thoughts were: “Holy Cow!?! Are you for real? “
Matthew 22 says “I am coming soon”. If those in the first century thought Jesus was coming soon, surely we are so much closer to that Day!
Scripture suggests we should be expectant and looking forward to His return!
Revelation 19 states “The Bride says – Come!” … in other words, the Bride of Christ is meant to cry out expectantly “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Where is the hope that we are meant to have as followers of Jesus? What is that hope meant to be in, if not the return of Christ and the hope of eternity?
Whether there is a second wave of Covid-19; or more economic fallout leading to a major depression; or more earthquakes, or more wars, or even more pestilences… regardless of what lays ahead, Jesus states clearly “All these things must happen. Do not be alarmed” (Matthew 24).
I wonder what we have been learning about ourselves under these types of pressures? (The last few months will have already surfaced how we’ve coped - or not coped - with an uncertain future. For many of us, we missed the part where Jesus said: “All these things must happen. Do not be alarmed”!!)
Regardless of how we have responded in recent months to these pressures, we have to come to the realisation that this is actually our time to shine as believers in Jesus Christ! We have been given eternal promises that point to a great hope!
Moving forward, you and I do not get much of a say in what happens next regarding global disasters, but we do get a major say in how we choose to respond to whatever the future holds. We have been given a great opportunity to reflect our hope in a glorious God who has promised that He’s coming back to gather his children.
But Matthew 25 offers a salutary warning – it talks about foolish bridesmaids who lacked wisdom. They failed to ensure they had enough oil in their lamps and in the end they missed the return of the Bridegroom!
We must keep watch – for none of us knows the hour of His return.
And we also carry a responsibility to shine Christ’s love and witness to His truth to ‘whosever’ might respond during this window of spiritual awakening that is occurring right before us.
Some questions to leave with you that I have been pondering:
Am I ready for some hardship which could lay ahead?
Particularly if that hardship (persecution?) may lead to many lives won to Christ before the final harvest?
Am I willing to pray for a spiritual awakening?
How might I participate in offering hope to this lost and broken world?
Am I willing to pray for resilience in my heart, to be ready for such hardship?
Would I be prepared to suffer a few difficult years, to see a harvest won for Christ, that ushers in the return of our Lord?
If I really believed these were the last days, how would that change the way I live today?
I believe we’re closer to our Lord returning than we have ever been before in history. You could do worse than sit down with pen and paper and journal some honest reflections to the above questions that I have been asking of myself. (To be quite frank, my honest answers to those questions have surfaced issues I need to wrestle out with a Holy God! So I certainly have some ‘heart-homework’ to do! Why not give it a try and see what Father God may want to reveal as ‘heart-homework’ for you?)
Until next time, (…assuming Jesus doesn’t return in the next month!)
3 June 2020
A Much-Needed Shaking!
How should we be interpreting what God is up to throughout this pandemic?
What are you doing, Lord? Why have you allowed this inconvenient interruption? What is this all about?
I have to believe that a massive global disruption such as the one we are facing at present must be serving a higher unseen purpose. It has been my experience that God often uses disruption to surface what is really going on in our hearts.
So, if God uses disruption to address things in our hearts, it’s only reasonable to ask why?
I believe it’s because Father God is trying to recapture our hearts!
God is constantly pursuing our hearts, trying to get our attention. He is always disrupting, rescuing, redeeming and restoring the hearts of His children… and with a disruption of this size… well, God has certainly got our attention now! Let’s face it, everyone on the planet has been disrupted by this virus. God has finally got us asking some very important and needed questions.
I think at least part of the “Why Lord?” question can be answered from Hebrews 12:26-29: (italics mine): -
26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’[e] 27 The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe…
I believe God is using this pandemic to shake us!
When God shakes us, He wants to remove what can be shaken – that is, created things (idols), so only what cannot be shaken may remain.
A wise Rabbi once stated: “Faith like Job’s cannot be shaken; because it is the result of having been shaken!”. Real faith can never truly be established without having first undergone some kind of shaking.
You see, when our ‘normal’ has been stripped from us like in this present season, that kind of ‘shaking’ reveals how self-focused we have become. It reveals things in our hearts that may need to be shaken out.
I had a water-skiing accident quite a few years back, where I tore my hamstring badly. It was a Grade 3 tear and it took something like seven or eight weeks to completely heal. It robbed me of my ability to ride my bike over summer, which meant I lost all the cycling fitness that I’d built up. I couldn’t do any exercise, I couldn’t get outside, nor could I enjoy the outdoors. The hamstring tear occurred right at the start of the Christmas break, so I lost two months of the year’s best weather. All I did was whinge and limp about. I wasn’t fun to be around. But that ‘disruption’ revealed a deeper layer of selfishness and self-focus that God wanted to dismantle in me. By the end of that summer, there were a few apologies that needed to be offered to those closest to me.
Disruption reveals what is really in our hearts.
Allow me to ask… What has this pandemic revealed about your heart in this period?
Sit with that question for a minute …
How anxious have we become and how stressed have we been? When Jesus says, “do not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6) - how successful have we been at trusting Him for the future during this season?
I wonder how many of us have turned to other comforters during this pandemic?
Alcohol sales have skyrocketed according to sales figures.
Paul Ninnes from ‘Real Talk Australia’ (a Christian organisation bringing positive input into Australian schools via its programs on sex, relationships and personal identity) stated that sadly, pornography websites were also registering some of their highest visits during the lockdown period.
Disruption and shaking reveals what is really in our hearts!
If I look around and assess the world I live in, it appears we have lost a great deal of our dependence on God. Honestly, I think we sometimes find more comfort on our devices in this ‘smartphone’ world, even to the degree that I wonder how much we really need God these days?
Think about it… we can book a plane flight from anywhere in the world on our mobile phone, and travel whenever and wherever we want! (Or at least you could a few weeks back!)
You can still order any kind of food and have it delivered to your door within the hour. What would you like? Korean? Indian? Chinese? Thai? Italian? Greek? You name it – it’s yours!
You can go shopping online and any product in the world can be delivered to your home within days (or maybe a few weeks is more realistic at the moment).
Think about our healthcare system. Now you can see a doctor online and have your prescription medicine posted to you without even leaving home! To be truthful, I am very grateful for such services, yet sadly I know I run too easily to a chemist rather than ask Father to heal me.
What about education? You drop your kids off at school and they are well cared for, but if they must stay at home they can learn online and not miss a beat. Anything can be researched on Google, and university degrees are available online. We are the most educated generation of all time.
Before the pandemic, how often did we feel pressed to pray for God to intervene or help? Why bother, when my smartphone can give me so many other answers or comforts to call upon!
When you compare this ‘age of comfort’, and what it has done to strip away our dependency on God, it could well be that a loving Father needed to disrupt us.
In the western world, we have become so acclimatised to getting everything we want - when we want it. With this comes a sense of entitlement. We expect to have these comforts, and we want everything to go our way all the time. When something doesn’t go our way - we can get very irritated! Just think about how you respond when your laptop takes more than a minute to start up? Or if the fast food drive-thru line up means you’ll have to sit in your car for an extra three minutes waiting for your take-away order to be completed? Or the person in front of you at the supermarket check-out is taking forever to find their credit card? Can you just feel your level of irritation rising at the thought of those situations? We are not a very patient people.
I’m in a role that doesn’t pay me a big salary – so I have often been guilty of placing more security at times in trying to pay off a home; or in bolstering my superannuation; or in believing the pension will “save” me … more so than a Holy God at times. Forgive me Father.
This pandemic has rocked the economies of the world. No pension fund is safe!
We needed this shake-up!
We have bowed to all these comforting idols in various forms and been completely unaware we’ve been doing it.
Pay attention to this passage from Ezekiel 14:1-7 NIV: (bold font & italics mine):
Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. 2 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 3 ‘Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling-blocks before their faces…
…5 I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.” 6 ‘Therefore say to the people of Israel, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!
I believe what the world is facing right now, is a Holy God using this circumstance to ‘recapture’ the hearts of His people! He literally states: “I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people… who have deserted me for their idols” (Vs 5).
In His amazing grace, God is trying to ‘woo’ us away from our idols and draw us back to dependence on Him.
I think as Christians we may have fallen asleep at the wheel. We’ve been enjoying too much Netflix; take-away food and false comforts; all the while whinging, whining, and complaining to God about our circumstance. If we are really honest – we would just like everything to go back to the way it was.
But I am not so sure the Lord is going to allow that to occur.
I think He is preparing us for tougher days that lay ahead as His return draws nearer. Are we ready?
My truthful answer: I don’t feel anywhere near ready!
But I for one, do feel a call to repentance: -
“Father, forgive me for my apathy… my sense of entitlement… forgive me for my worry and anxiety regarding the future… I repent of seeking comfort and security in ‘lesser lovers’ and not running to you, Oh Lord. Awake in me a deep need of You – gently shine your light on my wayward heart – forgive me, and release me from my bondage to the idols I have put my trust in. Allow me to see what it is You are doing in this crucial hour, so I may partner alongside you Father. I do not want to miss the kingdom opportunities you are opening up in this season. Prepare my heart so that I am ready”.
Until next time,
30 April 2020
When it's foggy - put your headlights on low beam!
What strange times we find ourselves in!
I thought I might just put a hold on the ‘Addiction series’ I have been running with, simply because it would be inappropriate not to address the predicament we all find ourselves in with this Covid-19 virus that has brought the world to its knees!
Wasn’t it amazing how quickly things changed?
One moment I’m on my way to the UK for the Ellel International Executive Leaders meeting… next minute I’m hurriedly changing flights to get back home before Australia closes its borders!
Upon returning, I had to self-isolate for 14 days. (The team very kindly set up Room 36 at the end of our Motel Units, behind the Conference Hall here at Ellel Sydney – God bless ‘em). Although I’d love to report that those two weeks were a blissful time of peace and quiet… it was quite the opposite! It became a manic period of multiple e-Meetings every day, discussing ways forward with my other Ellel Sydney leaders, or international leaders. And it seemed every decision we’d made the day before became irrelevant 24 hours later as Government restrictions kept changing! Eventually we just felt God nudging us to simply stop - especially when He gave us a specific scripture as a ministry which strongly suggested we needed to “pause”.
So, in obedience, we have closed down our Centre for at least four months, which will take us up to the end of July. Government regulations may yet have a say regarding whether we can or cannot re-open in August, but for now that is not for us to worry about. The more pressing question has been trying to grasp exactly how Father God wants us to spend this time of “social isolation” in which we find ourselves? It may well be a question you’ve been grappling with too!
No doubt for many of you, there could be possible job losses, the stress of having kids at home due to school closures and being stripped of all the normal ways we operate.
These times certainly contain enough disruption to surface our insecurities, make us a little more anxious… and perhaps lose the ability to see the way ahead?
Recently, I was driving home after dark having picked up some take-away for my family. I turned a corner on Menangle Road, and was surprised by the first fog of the Autumn season!
It caught me off guard, and I had to immediately slow down and drop the lights back to low beam to see better and negotiate the road safely. I recall pondering at the time how counter intuitive it is to go to low beam at night in foggy conditions to ensure you see more clearly!
Later that evening my phone ‘pinged’, alerting me to a new blog entry from Thom Gardner from Restored Life Ministries in the USA. Thom is a great friend of this ministry and a good friend personally. His blog title immediately caught my attention with the caption “Driving in the Fog”! How uncanny is that, I thought?!? I suspected Father God may have been weaving a golden thread here, and had a message waiting for me. So, I opened Thom’s blog…
In that article, he addressed this deadly worldwide pandemic with some great wisdom. His words helped me grasp what God was trying to show me through my own ‘driving in the fog’ experience. So, I’d now like to steal from Thom’s analogy to share something with you that I believe is helpful in this present trial.
Thom likened this pandemic to experiencing a disorienting fog that has robbed us of the ability to see too far ahead. He also reminded us that there is no certainty as to when this fog would lift and went on to unpack a story about his own dad giving him a driving lesson many years ago in similar foggy conditions.
Basically, that experience for Thom became a lesson in patience.
Driving in heavy fog requires you first slow down because your vision is severely limited. Heavy fog demands that you grip the steering wheel firmly, and lean forward peering into the translucent mist, straining for a clearer view.
In Thom’s story he recalls hearing his dad say: “when you drive in the fog at night, you will be tempted to put on your high beam lights, but that will actually cause things to be worse”.
The fog reflects the brighter lights back into your eyes, making it even harder to see ahead. Thom’s dad wisely suggested that he slow down, and leave the lights on low beam, so the dimmer headlights could shine under the fog and extend the view of the road ahead. That wisdom from Thom’s dad has stayed with him, and it’s very good advice for any of us to heed when a heavy fog sets in and the road ahead becomes unclear.
I know that at this present time I have felt pressured to ‘put on the high beam’ and race ahead trying to anticipate what is coming further down the road, or around the next bend, with very little foresight available.
But the Lord has called me out on my impatience!
I believe the Father’s word to me (and possibly many of us in this time) is simply this… with the “heavy fog” we find ourselves in now, our Heavenly Dad just wants us to slow down.
He is offering us an opportunity – if we would recognise it - to drop back to low beam, and drive at a slower pace, paying careful attention to all that is right in front of us.
In other words, let’s not look too far into the future… or try not to get too far ahead of ourselves by strategizing every move. Let’s learn in this season to trust Dad’s advice and look to see who is actually right in front us. Maybe pay a little more attention to those closest to us? Possibly spend time investing in your own family; or connecting with others via a phone call, Skype or FaceTime with whomever God is placing on your heart.
But it is also a time for some self-care.
I believe God may be providing a window for us all to experience a time of sabbath rest.
Coincidently (or not), John Eldredge’s latest book Get Your Life Back is turning out to be very prophetic at this time.
Joanne and I have been reading it together during this ‘pause’. It has proven to be quite the wake-up call! If you struggle with being driven; or find it difficult to slow down; or feel guilty for not producing as much as you feel you should be, then this book just may be of great benefit to your heart. I need this book in this season for my own heart! I highly recommend it to you as it will lead to a deeper experience of sabbath. You can find it here.
I’m beginning to see that Father God can achieve so much more through me when I enter true sabbath rest, than I ever could by working harder and faster. My attempts to “accelerate blindly into fog-ridden corners with high beams on” are beginning to feel less attractive.
Sitting quietly, I found myself reading this bible passage, which spoke to me afresh (Isaiah 30:15): -
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
'In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
I have needed to say sorry to God for being someone who “would have none of it” i.e. be still and quiet at this time, and not allow the Sovereign Lord to be my strength. My Heavenly Dad has been revealing this to me through things like Eldredge’s book, Thom’s blog, my own experience of driving in the fog and the subtle rebuke of Scripture.
I have to admit I’m a bit slow. But it’s starting to sink in. It’s time to put into practice that often-found salutation interspersed into many of the Psalms - the word ‘Selah’. Selah means to pause /reflect/ponder what God may be trying to say.
To steal from Thom one last time:
“At the risk of being redundant, switch to low beam… and slow down”
Take advantage of this opportunity provided by a Holy God to just pause and reflect… and let Eldredge’s book help you.
You will be so glad you did.
Until next time,
18 March 2020
"Breaking the addiction is not the end goal. The end goal is greater trust and intimacy with Abba Father".
Last month in considering this topic of addiction I made this curious statement:- The same action that gets us addicted in the first place… is the same means by which we must be rescued… ‘surrender’!
I went on to say that one path of surrender leads to the Father of Lies making us ‘slaves’ … the other path of surrender leads to Abba Father making us ‘sons’!
Think about it… take the example of a person who looks for comfort in alcohol, they surrendered to the bottle, when they could have chosen what was better and surrendered to Father God by taking their pain to Him to heal (instead of to the bottle to hide).
We rarely think of it in this way… but it is indeed idolatry every time we choose something else over and above God.
Every time we choose a false comfort over The Comforter… we are choosing a sinful and damaging practice rather than choosing a merciful, loving God who can restore.
Sadly, this act of idolatry is what gives the enemy his opportunity to gain a foothold.
I know it to be true by my own life experience that when I’ve run back to the same habit or false comfort in the past – all I am doing is strengthening the enemy’s grip over my willpower until it is no longer possible to say ‘no’ (regardless of what it is we run to - eg alcohol, or drugs, or sex, or food, or work, or whatever form the addiction takes). From a spiritual perspective, Gordon Dalbey suggests an addiction is a bit like spilling super glue. If you get to it quickly enough and wipe it up, hopefully it should clean up easily. But if you let it sit long enough and it then hardens, you will now need special tools to remove it!
The spiritual reality is much like that superglue analogy. Take for example 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NIV which is insightful in this instance: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”.
In other words, sticking with the glue analogy (pardon the pun!), let’s just consider the implications of that biblical passage for a minute. Imagine enough time has lapsed for the spilt glue to harden (in other words, if you persist with the ungodly pattern of behaviour long enough - you will eventually become addicted). Then of course once we realise we’re in too deep, we try to stop the behaviour in our own human strength through willpower, or some special technique, usually to no avail! Why? Because we are fighting with feeble ‘weapons of the world’ that cannot remove the ‘hardened glue’. It has become a spiritual stronghold that needs to be demolished! And according to the Apostle Paul, it will require special tools (ie ‘divine power’) to demolish the stronghold we have become trapped in.
We know by experience that sheer willpower or human techniques will not be sufficient to free you from a gripping addiction (because it has now become a spiritual bondage!). You will now require a Deliverer (ie Jesus of Nazareth) to set you free using His supernatural tools (ie divine power)!
Nothing less will work.
What did you think was behind the habit or behaviour you have tried for so long to stop in your own strength? What else would it be if not a stronghold of the enemy? How many times have you said to yourself “I am giving this up right now!”, only to find the next time you are under pressure, or you feel like a failure, or become frustrated, or feel inadequate, or feel not good enough or ashamed… what do you do? You find yourself right back in that same false comfort/behaviour again! (Which then only further increases your sense of failure and shame!).
Sound like a familiar pattern to you?
It has become a prison. Your own efforts to free yourself are futile. You have arrived at a point where only a Holy God can liberate you.
One thing I have noticed about my own struggles is that it has been my poor choices that have got me into the pit initially, but it’s my pride that keeps me there! (I didn’t want others to know I was addicted to anything – I had to cover it all up and get out of it all by myself to save my pride. But it never worked!).
That’s why addictions beckon a deeper healing than simply just stopping the behaviour. Oh, and by the way… just being able to break the addiction is not the end goal here! (Does that surprise you to hear me say that?).
The actual end goal is gaining greater trust and intimacy with Abba Father.
Father God is the only true source of lasting love, joy, peace and comfort. If you are just trying to find a way to break the addiction and stop the ungodly behaviour, but have no intention of deepening your trust and intimacy with your Heavenly Father… then not only have you missed the most crucial point altogether… you may also miss out on getting healed and truly set free.
Breaking the addiction is not the end goal. The end goal is greater trust and intimacy with Abba Father - who will then empower you to overcome the spiritual stronghold behind the addiction.
The only true antidote to addiction is the saving grace of our Holy God who alone can liberate us.
Maybe next month we can explore a little deeper some of these challenging concepts I’m raising here… Actually if some of my above statements are stirring something within you, I’d like to recommend you write out how you are feeling… or write down the questions that are being raised in your heart right at this minute (especially when you read something like: ‘Breaking the addiction is not the end goal… The end goal is greater trust and intimacy with Abba Father’ – what stirs when you read that?).
I’m hoping I might be able to answer the valid questions you raise as we go long in this series as we look deeper into addiction.
Until next time,
6th February 2020
What is it that we are afraid to face or deal with? And why?
Let me ask … when pressure comes on you, what habit, escape, comfort or way of ‘busyness’ do you turn to (rather than go to Father God for comfort and help?).
Whether we are prepared to admit it or not, most of us are addicted to something. If you’re unsure about that, ponder on this definition of addiction from Gordon Dalbey:
“An addiction is something you do consistently to avoid facing the truth about yourself.”
Read and linger over that statement a few times… allow it to really sink in.
In order to identify what we’re addicted to, and how to be free of those addictions, we will need to answer Dalbey’s question – honestly. What do we run to consistently to avoid facing the truth about ourselves? And what is the truth about ourselves that we are running from? What is it that we are afraid to face or deal with? Why?
My understanding of how essential those questions are to this topic is personal. I have learned that answering them honestly gave me freedom from those things that enslaved me, and it’s that personal experience that has helped me invest into many others through this ministry that I serve.
Two key men have been particularly helpful with the wisdom they have imparted on this topic.
The first is obviously Gordon Dalbey. His books have changed my life, and heavily influenced how I teach. I am also blessed that Gordon has been a personal friend and mentor who has invested into me from time to time over the last decade or more – something for which I am very thankful. I highly recommend his book Fight Like a Man where he unpacks many powerful truths on this key subject of addiction - in particular how shame impacts on addictions.
The other man who has influenced me greatly on this subject is Gerald May. Whilst I’ve never had the privilege to meet him, he has ‘passively’ mentored me through his excellent book Addiction and Grace, which carries powerful insights.
What I’ll share with you from here on will draw significantly from both men and these books, as well as my own experience in ministry here at Ellel Ministries.
For most people who come to us trapped in some form of addiction, they are not always just held captive by what we might refer to as a ‘classic addiction’ like alcohol, nicotine, drugs, sex or food. Addiction can have many faces, especially if it is something we are substituting to avoid letting God reveal a deeper level truth about ourselves that we have never wanted to face.
What are some other examples of addiction? You can be addicted to another person – this is called co-dependency. You can be addicted to a style of music, to a sport or activity, or to work. Remember - the addiction will be something you do consistently to avoid facing the truth about yourself.
If we dig deep enough, we usually find a behaviour or habit that we’ve allowed to become ingrained into our personality - like a besetting sin. That behaviour or substance becomes our substitute for going to a Holy God for true comfort. Eventually, if you go to that habit or comfort often enough, you will lose your ability to say ‘no’ to that pattern of behaviour.
You will find yourself trapped. You will have been ‘mastered’ by it, as the Apostle Paul would describe it. A better term might be ‘enslaved’.
You have in fact, become an addict.
In Webster’s dictionary it notes that the word addict comes from two Latin roots, the preposition ‘ad’, meaning “toward,” and the verb ‘dicere’, meaning “to speak”. Join the two together and we get “addicere” which means “to speak toward,” or as in Webster’s definition: “to give assent, to give [oneself] up to a [a strong habit].”
If we’ve “given oneself up to a strong habit”, we have actually ‘given assent’ (approval, sanction, agreement or power) to something in our lives. We have given permission for that habit or false comfort to have a prominent place in our lives - a permission we never should have given to fill a void that only a Holy God was meant to fill.
In other words, if a habit or false comfort is given prominent place in our life over and above God, we end up elevating that habit or false comfort (i.e. we give ‘assent’ to that habit) above the throne of God! We in effect make the habit more important than Him. When we do that. we break the 1st Commandment:
‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3 NIV).
In verse 5 in Exodus 20 it adds this: “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God”.
Friends, whenever I break this commandment, I am committing idolatry - and any form of idol worship will always get me into a truckload of trouble!
However, the bigger concern for God isn’t that we’ve committed the sin of idolatry – it’s that we have chosen to run to a ‘lesser lover’ for the comfort we need.
It breaks God’s heart when we run to such ‘lesser lovers’ rather than the One True Lover of our Soul! We’re rejecting Him, settling for a practice that places us in bondage. If it gets out of hand, it could eventually destroy us and those closest to us. Consider alcoholism, gambling debt and sexual addictions that lead to adultery and family break-up.
Just pause for a minute and consider … a fight with your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend, a relationship breakup, a scolding from a boss, when you feel like a failure, suffer a betrayal, feel rejected … whenever life goes pear-shaped, or calamity and despair descend, what do you do? Often the first thing we run to is some form of false comfort, like getting busy at work, alcohol, chocolate or pornography, etc.
Whenever I responded like that, you could hardly say I was taking my issue or my pain to God to seek His comfort, could you?
In fact, when life’s pressures mount and I willingly (rebelliously?) choose to run to ‘something else’, rather than run to Abba Father, I am choosing something else over and above Him.
I am bowing to an idol.
I am trusting in something other than Father God to rescue me, or take my pain away. That is exactly what the enemy is depending on, because that is the “hook” upon which he gets me addicted.
Every time I run to something else for comfort other than God, what I am doing is really a surrender of sorts. Any time we surrender to a false comfort of the enemy, there is usually a snare waiting to trap us.
Romans 6:16 NIV states Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey?
To surrender to an ungodly habit or false comfort is to ‘offer yourselves… as obedient slaves’ and as a result, we fall into the enemy’s clutches. All because we surrendered to the enemy’s ploy of false comfort – in whatever form that takes for us – and we refused to receive true comfort from “The Comforter”.
Curiously, the same action that gets us addicted in the first place, is the same means by which we must be rescued - surrender!
One path of surrender leads the ‘Father of Lies’ (Satan) turning us into ‘slaves’ and the other path of surrender leads to Abba Father making us ‘sons’.
As always – God lets us make the choice.
Do we want to remain enslaved? Or do we want to walk into our true inheritance as sons and daughters of the Most High God?
If you’re willing to explore the question “Am I doing something consistently just to avoid facing the truth about myself?”, then I would want to encourage you that we have a good Father waiting to break the chains of bondage to our addictions – and more importantly, reveal to us how precious we are to Him.
It all begins with just an admission, that the idols we have bowed to are too powerful for us to overcome in our own strength. We are going to need Abba Father to set us free.
I’m considering unpacking more of this teaching centred around addictions over future blog articles. I’m not sure how far the Lord will lead me in this – I’d love to bring an online course on addictions this year - but that’s all part of the adventure of being a son, asking Him “What’s next Papa?”
Until next time,
16th January 2020
Happy New Year!
Well, I’m not sure how you spent your New Year’s Day, but Joanne and I were looking forward to nine days alone starting on January 1st – that’s nine days without any kids! (We had a rare window to ourselves as our younger children were all enjoying holidays with older siblings or good friends we trusted - it’s been a quite a while since an opportunity like this was on the horizon, let me tell ya!)
But sadly, there were some unexpected interruptions.
We spent Day 1 and Day 2 hiding and choking in a smoke riddled Snowy Mountains location (it was that bad, the smoke alarms were going off in our motel room). Eventually, as the situation worsened, all holiday makers and residents were evacuated from that region on our third day due to the threat of a ‘megablaze’ approaching the Kosciuszko National Park. Take a glance at the satellite image at left showing the scale of the smoke-trail created by the fires on Australia’s south-eastern seaboard – it covers the Tasman Sea and the whole South Island of New Zealand! (Apologies to our Kiwi mates).
In an attempt to find clean air for the remainder of our time away, we scanned the Air Index Quality Apps, only to discover that the nearest clean air was up in Northern New South Wales. So, after a day driving home to Gilbulla and an overnight stay, we continued the next day driving up north to Coffs Harbour - just so we could breathe!
And that left us with just four nights of our time together.
After initially feeling a little robbed, we eventually found a lovely rhythm at Coffs Harbour. We enjoyed beach walks, cycling and surf swims and devoured freshly bought king prawns by the water’s edge. Nice!
To be honest, the main reason for our change in heart wasn’t really the location change, it was a heart change. We simply made the decision not to whinge, but instead invite God into our situation. Joanne and I spent time just praying… pausing… sitting quietly, thanking a Holy God for all we have been blessed with. We deliberately worked at finding more of God in everything we did.
I can assure you that nothing, absolutely nothing will bring you more joy than inviting the presence of a Holy God into everything you do – even your interrupted and changing circumstances.
Turning our hearts towards God and inviting Him to participate in even our most mundane activities is profound – because His presence always turns everything around!
It is a practice I want to actively engage in far more often in the days ahead (this is starting to sound like a New Year’s resolution!) I want to invite Abba Father into absolutely everything I do. If we were only to turn our hearts regularly toward Him and invite His presence into our daily routines, it would change forever how we respond when things don’t go right for us.
This is a truth from which all others flow… learning to invite a loving Father into every hour of our day awakens something in our spirit that allows us to recognise the simple “gifts” God wants to lavish upon us in every situation!
I saw one recent example in the Snowy Mountains. When I could still see (!) I noticed how the wildflowers on the escarpments track the course of the sun through the sky, slowly turning to face the warm passing sun. I thought only sunflowers did that! It’s such a sweet act of humble adoration. I’m beginning to see such acts in creation as invitations to worship the God who is the Author of all natural beauty. How does that great old ‘Hymn of Joy’ go?... “Hearts unfold like flowers before thee – opening to the sun above”.
I’m convinced, if I look hard enough, that every moment enjoying creation will lead me to worship.
When we pin our respite on some special holiday or time away, it’s so easy to allow things to “tick you off” when your expectations aren’t met. But as my wife reminded me, even if the entire nine days had been stripped from us, we have nothing to complain about. We are so blessed.
I’m trying to live in that space more often these days. It is very easy to fall into a sense of entitlement where we feel we are owed something. But, I find those who live with such a sense of entitlement to be very ungrateful people.
I do not want to be someone who is constantly grumbling every time something doesn’t go my way.
Let’s face it - circumstances change. The fires have shown us that. When they do - invite God to show you His silver lining.
Praying you all have an incredible 2020.
Until next time,
With thanks to Himawari 8 for satellite image of smoke on 1 January 2020
6th December 2019
I’ve decided this summer I’m going to chase Sabbath, instead of big trout. I wonder what you’re going to do for your heart this Christmas/New Year break?
I’m guessing you’re bracing yourself for the family reunions that will occur around the Christmas Dinner table in a few weeks time (and dealing with the tensions that can come with family Christmas gatherings!). You might also be beginning to consider what New Year’s resolutions might sound impressive to announce to friends on the 1st January. It's right about here I’d like to step in as an advocate for your heart —which probably needs some advocating for, if you’re like most adults. The pace of life, the constant demands, the drone of media coming our way make any type of kindness for our heart quite hard to come by.
Our lives are so full, we have lost track of our inner-world long ago.
Thus, my hope for this final letter of 2019 is to re-connect you with your own heart and the heart of God. That’s Ellel’s global motto by the way:- “Bringing the heart of God to the heart of man."
You’ll often hear us teach that we all have a human spirit. It is a lovely gift from God. Your spirit is what enables you to enjoy your life, to receive life from Holy Spirit! When you find yourself laughing at something in a carefree way, that’s your spirit feeling happy. When you are moved deeply by someone else’s story, that’s your spirit being moved. When beauty makes you worship, when stillness allows you to exhale deeply, that’s your spirit doing well. Your human spirit is an extraordinary gift from God. And it needs some care.
In Proverbs 20:27 it says “The lamp of the Lord searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being”… Father God is always searching us out, looking for ways He can refresh and enliven our human spirit. But we seem far more gifted at avoiding the subtle advances of our true Father, and instead losing our hearts in the mad rush of life; the unrelenting pressure, the hurry, worry, fear and lack of any real space to simply just be human again.
So ... what will you do this summer to be kind to your inmost being? Where is your sabbath going to come from?
To clarify, family “visits” do not count as sabbath or “soul care”. I understand the need for family visits, they play an important role in our relational networks. But they are not sabbath, nor even close to a real vacation, for the simple reason that they require from us – we have to give out. Often, they require a great deal. When we enter the gravitational field of family visits, we encounter all the dynamics of family “ecosystems”—everyone’s brokenness, their demands, their disappointments, and the controlling way they operate often with less than helpful advice. It’s just the way it is in a broken world. I’m not saying don’t do family visits and family Christmas dinners… I’m simply trying to point out that they do not qualify as sabbath rest.
Stop and check - what’s the condition of your heart when you return from a week with family? Don’t you typically say to yourself, “Man, that was tough!” And if you could choose between the obligatory family visit, or two weeks in Fiji, which does your heart leap at?
Yeah... I’d pick Fiji too!
Rushing out the door to get to some destination where you go-go-go for an all-out holiday can be loads of fun, but they do not count for sabbath either. Again—notice the condition of your heart when you get back and return to work; you’re exhausted; you need caffeine and Red Bull just to keep going.
You shall know them by their fruits.
Allow me to share personally… I am learning as I grow older that what my heart really needs is space. I need to have permission to be still. I need to just let myself stop - and I’m the only one who can really provide that permission. I have to give myself permission to have no agenda, no deadlines, no one to take care of, or come through for, and certainly ensuring there is no ministry!
I may take my fly fishing gear, but there’s no guarantee I will use it that often - unless my leisurely evenings on a stream or down by the lake connect me more to the heart of God. As my spirit begins to catch up with my body, and I finally enter true rest - I suddenly realise that what my heart needed was not more excitement and fun catching big brown trout… what my heart needed was quiet. Ease. A very slow pace. I find these days I end up hardly fishing anywhere near as often as I used to when we get away for our summer breaks. Initially, missing out on the fishing and the fun used to feel like a disappointment - but I am coming to see it more now as a rescue.
This is very simple really … sabbath makes you feel rested. It makes you feel renewed. It “restores your soul”, to quote the famous Psalm.
Sabbath reconnects you to the God you love and allows you time to linger with Him, unhurried. It also reconnects you with your own heart, allowing you to feel, to think about stuff you normally don’t get to think about.
By its nature, sabbath was never meant to be an adrenaline experience. It’s meant to be a time where we sense the delight of a Holy God in how He sees us; to pause long enough to allow creation to speak to us.
So, as you make your summer plans, how will you factor in your sabbath?
It doesn’t have to be that amazing getaway in Fiji - thank goodness, have you seen the cost of flights and accommodation for a family to go to Fiji?! Sabbath is so much more available and more attainable. It can be a choice to simply set aside evenings every week over the Christmas/New Year break, where all you do is sit on the porch and enjoy the sunset. Or let the breeze caress your face. Or just do absolutely nothing at all… and get to be human again.
Sabbath can be long walks in the sand at the beach; or a park, or a woodland. It’s meant to be slow, kind, easy, simple. Sabbath walks let you notice flowers, birds, a stream—all the things we normally rush past. (My wife Joanne has taught me this).
Nothing in this mad world is going to encourage you to plan and protect sabbath. It’s something you’ll have to choose to do, choose to fight for. But it’s utterly worth it, I promise.
So, before you finish reading this and go on with the dozen other things currently demanding your attention, stay with this question for ten minutes … What will you do for sabbath this summer?
Write it down.
Block it out in your calendar.
Then do it.
Until next year,
14th November 2019
Would you be willing to take the lowest seat at the table?
Many older men I have turned to for wisdom, have all shared one similar sentiment in their conversations with me that has felt like heresy when I heard them share it:
“There are no shortcuts in the journey to maturity. No shortcuts in the Kingdom of God.”
I used to feel something defensive rise up in me. I would get seriously offended at hearing that! I even remember thinking: “This couldn’t possibly be true! Surely, I have to be doing something!?! Something that gets me to the end goal as fast as possible!
I honestly used to believe that to be of any real value to the kingdom, I needed to be doing something significant.
It has been years since those conversations. Slowly, through one painful experience after another, through observations of my peers and their failures, plus the observation of the culture around me, this piece of counsel has proven to be absolute truth.
In fact, it’s me that now advises others:
“There are no shortcuts in this journey towards maturity. No shortcuts in the Kingdom of God.”
Somewhere deep in the core of my heart as a man, the idea of ‘no shortcuts’ has moved from a being a painful disruption I did not want to hear, to an absolute truth.
If everyone could just embrace this truth, it would utterly re-orient how we see, interpret and experience what Father God is trying to do in our lives to grow us.
Few have said it better than the co-founder of ‘The North Face’ clothing company, Douglas Tompkins, in the great documentary 180 Degrees South. Tompkins reflects on how the process of conquering Mt. Everest today has been compromised (or short-cutted). He basically says that if you compromise the process of hardship that naturally comes with such an epic adventure - by paying others to do all of the hard work for you - there will no benefit to your growth as a person, or to the development of your character… because the process has been compromised.
Tompkins’s message is blunt, but clear: “Don’t compromise the process!”
I mentioned in last month’s blog about Morgan Snyder of Ransomed Heart Ministries, who suggests we all need a Decade of Excavation in order to allow Father God to develop us into whole and mature saints.
Morgan Snyder adds to this already significant challenge by offering this disruptive question:
“Would you be willing to take the lowest seat at the table… until there is no other seat to take?”
Morgan has struck on a biblical principle here. In Proverbs 25:6 it says ‘do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence and do not claim a place among great men. It is better for him to say, “come up here”’.
Perhaps in order to line up a little more with Scripture, we could re-word Morgan’s challenging question to read as follows: “Would you be willing to take the lowest seat at the table – until you are called to ‘come up here’?”
Would you be prepared to always choose the lower position, in every situation, rather than elevate yourself – until God chooses to elevate you?
It might take the intervention and wisdom of older mentors to help you eventually see the value in remaining at the lowest seat. However, if you can do that for a Decade, trust me … when Father God promotes you - you will be ready.
Until next time,
17th October 2019
What does it look like for a us to go on a journey of restoration that leads to life?
For my blog this month I’d like to unpack what motivated us to create Ellel Sydney’s men’s event called ENTRUSTED (which is quite different to our PROVEN men’s event which we have run in past years).
With PROVEN, we examined John Eldredge’s ‘6 Stages of the Masculine Journey’ and explored what happens when men are robbed of being properly nurtured, trained and matured into each of those key stages of manhood. Moreover, PROVEN highlighted that as men we have been wounded, and demonstrated we have a Father in Heaven who wants to heal us.
On the other hand, ENTRUSTED is a new event. It focuses on answering this key question: ‘What does it look like for a man to go on a journey of restoration that leads to life?’
Most of us men at some point carried hopes and aspirations that we could change the world. Make a real difference. Whatever our dreams as younger boys were, over time our passion and vision got worn down by the river of time, and the weight of life’s responsibility.
There is a progression that a man’s life often follows… when younger we meet the woman of our dreams and get married. The kids come along, there’s a mortgage to be paid and the pressure to perform at work keeps growing. With all these real burdens pressing in, we suddenly find all our margins have disappeared, and it takes everything we’ve got just to hold on and keep our head above water.
Eventually life’s pressures begin to find the ‘unfinished’ places within us … cracks appear in our marriage, we lose connection with our children, our spiritual growth comes to a halt… and we begin to sink. (But we don’t tell anyone! We don’t like to be too vulnerable – especially with other men – so we tend to struggle on and try to figure it out on our own).
Then comes the temptation of all the false comforts that lie to us with the promise: “I will lessen your pain!”. We turn to the bottle, or porn, or something else). Our attempts to ‘self-medicate’ are really just ways to mask our sense of failure, and feelings of inadequacy.
Sadly, if we arrive at this end of the funnel, most us either become passive, angry, addicted, or emotionally shutdown (or all the above!). At this point, you’d think a man would be ready to put his hand up and ask for help - but the statistics suggest otherwise.
If we’re honest, the truth is that we rarely want to deal with what blocks us from becoming the men we want to be. We don’t particularly like how we’re behaving, but it just doesn’t feel safe to go anywhere near the deeper belief systems that drive those unwanted behaviours.
The first key a man must realise is that he cannot make this journey alone. Help is available. There is a Father in Heaven who has made a way, and there are other men out there who also want to get real. It’s more than possible to be re-oriented to find the ‘Ancient Path’ as the Scriptures call it - the narrow road, the road less travelled.
This cycle I described above was a ‘roundabout’ I was personally very familiar with! I needed other men to help me out of the pit I had found myself in. ENTRUSTED was designed as an event to help a man know there is a way to turn all of this around. I just have to educate men that such a journey will take a little longer than they’d like.
For most of us, we’ve been hoping to find a ‘fast track program’ to greater maturity and wholeness, but there’s no getting round the fact it takes time to grow an Oak Tree.
So, if we accept the truth that attaining maturity takes more time than we’d like to admit, we are then forced to ask this question:
“What if God is inviting us to enter an extended season of being apprenticed along this ancient path… this narrow road that leads to life?”.
And what if as part of this invitation, Abba Father desires we learn how to do that with trusted brothers at our side?
Morgan Snyder from Ransomed Heart Ministries would suggest that as men, we need to commit to a ‘Decade of Excavation’.
I tend to agree with him.
It is from all this that ENTRUSTED was born. We wanted to offer a men’s event for those guys who don’t want to mess around any longer, those who are now ready and willing to allow Abba Father to re-set their compass towards true north and begin a journey of excavation and rebuilding.
Dallas Willard stated: “The most important thing about a man, is not what he does, but who he becomes”.
Men, if you’re heart’s desire is to become more - there is a way. There is a path.
ENTRUSTED may just have the answers you’ve been searching for.
ENTRUSTED: 8-10 November 2019.
Until next time,
13th September 2019
THE IN BETWEEN MOMENTS
This month I would like to write about something a little different and take a break from the Fathering and Sonship series (… which may be coming to a close in the next few months anyway, unless Father God provides new inspiration for that series).
I’ve just arrived in Canada to spend some time with my two sons, Daniel and Ben and their families, before heading to the UK for key Ellel International Executive meetings.
The pace of running an Ellel Centre with its administrative, pastoral and fiscal stresses are quite enough for any man to deal with… but before I arrive at Ellel Grange in England and have to face the added stresses that come with making key decisions necessary for this ministry on a global scale… I just needed a bit of space.
The thought of jumping on a plane and going straight from my present pressures - to a week of heavy-duty meetings trying to solve the problems of the ministry on an international scale, seemed a bit too much for my heart to handle. (There is a fair amount going on locally and even more internationally!). My heart needed my Heavenly Dad to help me transition in a slightly kinder way before the intensity of the Executive Meetings get underway. So, to be able to step aside for a couple of days and visit family and play with grandchildren has been Father God’s gift to me – which is allowing a far more gracious transition.
I think John Eldredge has termed it the “In Between Times”.
We are so accustomed to going hard and fast in our modern world, we seemed to overlook in the Gospels all the “in-between” times when Christ and his followers were walking from one town to another.
For example, when John 1:43 states, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee” … we project our own pace upon it, not realizing it took the boys three days by foot to get there! Three days just strolling along, talking, sharing the silent beauty, the pauses for lunch; or to drink from a well. Imagine the campfires in the evening and the discussions; laughter and rich conversations that would have taken place.
Christ and his Disciples don’t move immediately from one dramatic story to another like we try to do - there appears to be “down time”, which is deliberate transition time between those demands. Time to process what had happened; time to catch their breath, process, and realign before the next kingdom encounter.
That to me seemed to be the pace Jesus felt was reasonable for people engaged in important ministry pressures. (I think Jesus would agree that pace of life would be better for all of us regardless of our vocation). Those who truly want to walk a life with God need to prioritise such “In Between” moments to survive the pressures of this life. What I’m suggesting might almost feel as though it needs to be categorized as “holiday” time… because if we are honest, those are the only periods we allow ourselves a stroll, a lingering lunch, a campfire conversation. But maybe there is a way we can take just small moments to breathe between key tasks.
In today’s highly paced and stressful world – we try and keep up to its demands without any such intervals or transitional moments. The type of ‘momentary space’ that our soul requires before we charge into the next job.
We go from a tender conversation with a child at home about their dreams and aspirations, to a frustrating phone call with a telecommunications company, as we prepare the next weekend’s teaching content, followed by a quick chat with a fellow worker about broken pipes that need mending, then go straight into a series of meetings (during which we multitask by trying to bang out some emails and texts!), then make surprise arrangements for our child’s birthday, promise to do something for a boss we just can’t say no to, and then show up late for dinner with the family!
And we wonder why we have a hard time finding God!?!
We are forcing ourselves through multiple gear-changes each day, each hour… then after years of this, we wonder why we aren’t even sure what to say when a friend genuinely inquires, “How are you?” (Because we don’t really know. We aren’t sure what we feel anymore. We live at one speed: Flat-out!)
My goodness... no one was ever meant to live like this.
The human spirit is a vessel that God alone can fill. He cannot fill that vessel if it is wrung out, twisted and stressed. Your hands cannot receive a gift while they are still tightly clenched holding onto something else.
Which brings us to how important transitions are… But let me first say we can’t just walk away from our jobs for a week’s holiday in Fiji every time we get stressed. But we can learn to cultivate the grace of small transitions in your life— transitions that can just be a brief pause for a few minutes to breathe and smell the roses – before tackling the next task.
You have to admit that simply blasting from one thing to the next will cause us to have a limited shelf life!
It appears to me that in the Gospels, it was during those transition times the disciples got Jesus to themselves; the intimacy was in those moments. There is a sweetness to the down time, even if it’s just a few brief moments that our heart can savour before moving onto the next item on the ‘To Do’ list.
I believe we can find more of Father God in those “In Between” moments if we become serious about it. What I’m really trying to suggest is that we deliberately create space for such intentional transitions.
I’m trying to do this more—because my heart needs it—to just pause after I hang up the phone and then spend a minute unpacking that call with Abba; before I turn right back to make another call; or check the next email… I need to stop and look out the window and take in the beauty for a minute; to pause after one meeting ends for a moment and ask Father how He thought that meeting went, before I race to the next meeting. To take my time strolling home at the end of the day and just stop for a short while and invite God into a brief conversation about the whole day - before I go inside to greet family and invest in those closest to me.
Simply unplugging from some of our social media will create more room for the natural transitions in every day.
If you have five minutes waiting time, make a conscious choice not to look at your phone. Just...be.
I was at a Motor Registry Office not long back, waiting for my 17 year old son to complete his driving test. Realizing it was going to take 45 minutes before he and his testing officer returned, I instinctively reached for my phone. Then I stopped, and simply chose to sit. Look around. Breathe a little. People watch. It certainly took some discipline to stay off my phone. But it became a valuable space where Father God could connect with my heart.
Eldredge would say accurately: “We truly don’t know what to do with “down time” any more” … Sadly he’s right. We have to re-train ourselves.
I plan to continue trying to train myself to become better at taking just a few moments between key tasks: - by walking out to get a coffee; or a glass of water; or outside into the sunshine – just for a few brief moments. I’m hoping it will do wonders for my soul, and position me better to tackle the next task.
But for now, I’m going to go enjoy my extended “In Between Moment” by building a fort with my three year old granddaughter in the living room of my son’s home - before I have to turn my attention to the Executive Meetings that await me.
How are you going to plan your in between moments?
Until next time,
15th August 2019
Fathering and Sonship – Raising disciples that will change a Nation (Pt 16)
The Bible clearly links identity to sonship! It reveals that the question of “Who am I?” can be answered through good Fathering.
Just about every kid has heard of David and Goliath (even those with no church background) … it’s a familiar story found in the Old Testament. In that story, after David defeated Goliath, the very first question on the lips of King Saul was to ask the identity of this warrior. Who did this kid belong to? I find it interesting that Saul sought to know his lineage, in order to know more about his identity and who he was! The direct question that King Saul demanded an answer for, was ‘whose son he was’?
Clearly, King Saul believed that by knowing who someone’s father was, and what lineage they came from would reveal something of who they were, and about their identity.
1 Samuel 17:54-58
54 David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.
55 As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, ‘Abner, whose son is that young man?’
Abner replied, ‘As surely as you live, Your Majesty, I don’t know.’
56 The king said, ‘Find out whose son this young man is.’
57 As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head.
58 ‘Whose son are you, young man?’ Saul asked him.
David said, ‘I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem.’
To be someone’s son is to have value, heritage, worth and identity.
The Bible here clearly links identity to sonship! It demonstrates that the question of “Who am I?” can be answered through good Fathering.
In another bible story, this time from the New Testament, we find the Pharisees were attempting again to trap Jesus. During the discourse in Matthew Chapter 22, Jesus involved himself in the conversation by asking them this question: “Whose son do you think I am?”
42 ‘What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?’
‘The son of David,’ they replied.
He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him “Lord”? For he says,
44 ‘“The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’”
45 If then David calls him “Lord”, how can he be his son?’ 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Notice how Jesus asks the question… He does not ask them directly who they think He is, because they have said in the past what they thought of that. (NB in John 8:41 they said to Jesus, “We are not born of fornication; we have one father, God.” The direct implication here was that they thought Jesus was born of fornication – referring to the fact that Jesus’s mother, Mary, fell pregnant out of wedlock. The Pharisees clearly could never imagine anything such as the Redeemer coming from the act of fornication… (But Mary never participated in such behaviour. Mary conceived when she was overshadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit – thus, the Christ was born of a virgin - as the Creeds declare). But the real point I want to draw out here, is that by referencing Jesus as ‘born of fornication’ – the Pharisees were labelling Jesus as illegitimate.
And that is exactly what the enemy does… he attacks our identity! He calls our ‘sonship' into question. Worse, he labels us as ‘illegitimate’ too!
So, what does Jesus do when His identity is attacked in this way?
Jesus pointed out (in the above verse from Matthew 22) that David called the Messiah his Lord, before the Messiah had become His son. This puzzled the Pharisees. How could that be?
There is only one way that could be. The Christ could not be a mere man. The Christ existed prior to David and was his Lord, yet the Christ also had to be a direct descendent of David, according to Scripture. That is exactly what Jesus claimed of Himself, that He existed prior to becoming a man, and was in fact equal with God. This comes up in several places. One of the most direct is John 8:58 where Jesus tells them, “Before Abraham was, I Am,” using the very same name God gave for Himself when addressing Moses.
Moses asked who he would tell the Egyptians was sending Him, and God said, “I AM WHO I AM,” tell them “I AM has sent [you]” (Ex 3:14). Jesus was referencing this passage in John 8:58, to demonstrate that He existed prior not only to David, but Abraham as well. Because Jesus is the great “I AM”!
Furthermore, God had to enter this world in the flesh – ie God incarnate. That is how Jesus existed before and after David. He existed before as the pre-incarnate God; then when born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus came into this world via the lineage of David – as God in the flesh. That is how David could call the Messiah his Lord, before the Messiah had become His son.
The Christ could not be just mere man. He must also be God - who became a man! God had become flesh. Immanuel, God in human form was walking amongst them! The promise of redemption was unfolding before their very eyes…. But all they could do was call Jesus a bastard!
The bottomline? The Pharisees accused Jesus of being illegitimate; and He responded by letting them know that He was their God – He was the Great “I AM”!
So how do we respond when our identity is assaulted?
Are there days when you feel illegitimate, unworthy, unwanted and unvalued? That is usually evidence the enemy has done his job well of robbing you of your true identity…
Christ knows what it is to have his worth and value attacked. Remember - in the Pharisee’s eyes Jesus was just ‘born of fornication’!
But Jesus knew who He was. He drew strength whilst on earth, by regularly and deliberately spending time with his Father; and Jesus’s Father also happens to be our true Father.
So even if our own dads were not able to father us in all of the ways our hearts needed, Jesus went to a lot of trouble to introduce us to a ‘Dad’ who wants to call us ‘son’ or ‘daughter’.
There’s no need for any one of us to remain illegitimate.
Those who choose to follow the One True God automatically become sons and daughters, and we are grafted-in to the Family of God.
As for me, I have come to learn that I am a beloved son of the Great “I AM”. I trust you can find a way to believe that is also true for you!
Until next time,
17th July 2019
Fathering and Sonship – Raising disciples that will change a Nation (Pt 15)
The Biblical pathway to understanding how to become a good “father” is through learning how to first become a good “son”.
Last month I mentioned a story I wanted to share… (I might actually share two stories).
The first story centres around a man in his early twenties who was part of a Church I worked for many years ago. This young guy was very genuine in his desire to become the best possible husband and dad he could be in the future. The problem was, he refused to submit to any kind of authority. Whether it was at work, at church, anywhere – he would not come under any kind of authority. When his employer wanted him to do a task a certain way, he always knew better. When his pastor offered advice regarding key areas of his life - again, he knew better. And he also refused to do any of the house cleaning tasks that his house mates asked him to do.
Overall, this young man really had no intention of submitting to anyone.
Subsequently, he managed to avoid every way Abba Father attempted to mature him as a “son” under the mentoring and “fathering” of other key figures God had placed in his life. Despite this, he fully believed he’d one day just become this great husband to a future wife, and a brilliant father figure to his kids.
Sadly, (and not surprisingly) that is not how things played out.
That young man lost that job I referred to - you cannot keep saying ‘no’ to your bosses and expect to remain employed! Today, he is in his mid-30’s and works as a ‘casual’ in a part-time job. He no longer attends church anywhere and now lives an untidy life as a “Fortnite” addicted (online game) bachelor, who has been unable to remain in a long-term relationship.
That young man’s story reminds me a lot of my own story… his path could easily have become my own!
You see, I thought I had all the answers too. Thankfully, things got a lot worse for me. And that was my saving grace, because it broke the arrogance over my life. At that point, instead of continuing to believe I had all the answers, I started asking a different set of questions!
Questions such as:
“Abba Father what am I not learning here?”
“What needs to change in me Father God, that I cannot see?”
“Is there something unholy that needs to be dismantled in me, Lord?”.
Eventually, I found some key men whom I learned to trust as authority figures in my life. In coming under their authority and allowing them to begin ‘fathering’ me, I slowly began to grow.
For many men and women, we spend years attempting to become better fathers, mothers, or leaders. But we fail to grasp that to grow and mature, we are first required to trust the authority figures God brings alongside us!
Most of us simply fail to understand that true ‘fatherhood’ can only come as a result of first allowing ourselves to become good ‘sons’.
If someone is searching to one day become a “spiritual father”, they would be wise to consider looking for someone who is already walking-in and demonstrating “sonship”.
Let me share that second story…
A few years back, a young man who was part of our ‘Young People’s Team’ (a pre-cursor to our present ‘Year of Discipleship and Training’ course) began to struggle with the routines here at Ellel Sydney. He did not like the workloads, the discipleship training or living in community. Eventually, he started whinging and complaining to all the other students about how “unfair” the whole system was.
The time came to sit him down and ask what was really going on in his heart. He said he felt under-utilised, unappreciated, and in short, hated being here. He was very frustrated at having to do things he felt were “beneath him”. He claimed he had gifts and abilities that should be recognised, and he wanted to be released to teach and minister immediately. He did not want to undergo some “unnecessary apprenticeship” to be proven worthy.
I asked him some questions…
“Do you want to get married one day, and be the best possible father to your future kids?”
“Of course I do!” he responded, angrily.
I went onto to explain that I had seen men spend years attempting to be better husbands, fathers and leaders, yet failing to understand that true fatherhood comes only as a result of first learning to walk as a good son. I suggested to become a good “spiritual father” to others, he would be wise to re-consider his current attitude, and choose to come back under authority and trust the process that was honing his character – so he could eventually become the good father and leader he desired to be.
“I have more gifts and abilities than most of your present staff!” was his response. He did indeed have some amazing gifts and talents, but was sadly lacking in grace, humility or wisdom.
I tried to explain to him that eventually his gifts would take him to a place where his character would no longer sustain him. However, this young man believed he had already “arrived” as a man of God – and we were just holding him back!
Sadly, because we did not offer him a ‘higher seat at the table’ he chose to pack his bags and leave. The reports I have heard since his departure from here basically describe him as still unwilling to submit to authority.
Luke 14:10 reads: “But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.'”. Jesus is suggesting in this parable that we should always take the lowest seat at the table; until there is no other seat to take!
In other words, don’t scramble for power and position. Do not manipulate to climb higher; don’t grumble and complain about how much more you deserve. Instead, seek out and treasure the investment of ‘father-figures’ whom God brings alongside you – and when your character is ready, God himself will elevate you in due time.
When someone does not want to come under rightful Godly authority to be fathered and invested in, and they refuse to learn what it means to become a good son, they are refusing the biblical pathway that Jesus demonstrated by submitting to His Father’s authority whilst here on earth – even though He himself was God! If we fail to come under and refuse to submit to a process of “sonship”, the likelihood of us becoming a good father or leader is quite remote.
Regrettably, the impatient and the arrogant will have to revisit this “crossroads” again and again - like a ‘round-a-bout’ they cannot get off - until they learn there is no other way to mature.
If we genuinely desire to become a good “spiritual father” to others, let’s hope we don’t get too dizzy clinging to the ‘round-a-bout’ of pride! The only exit requires us to first to be humbled… and then we must submit to a process of “sonship”.
There is no other way.
It is always safer and wiser to humbly take the lowest seat at the table… until there is no other seat left to take.
In the meantime, let’s just work on being the best ‘sons’ we can be… and trust Father God to raise us up in due course.
Until next time,
13th June 2019
Fathering and Sonship – Raising disciples that will change a Nation (Pt 14)
I notice that nearly all people desire to become good fathers and mothers. But to become a good parent… we must first learn to be good sons and daughters!
In my previous article in this series we looked closely at how to recognise the difference between a Father and a Mentor – and understand how to receive what both have to offer and how to distinguish between the two.
This month I want to wrestle with the concept of how best we can become Godly authority figures over those under our influence… and it might surprise you that to become that, we first need to learn to submit and come under rightful Godly authority. And if that is a problem for us… we need to learn what is blocking us from trusting those who are placed over us.
Interestingly, as I deal with a lot of men, nearly all carry a deep desire to be the best possible fathers they can be. However, if I ask them how they are coping under their bosses, leaders, or those they are answerable to – I usually hear a lot of whingeing, whining and complaining about how terribly they are being treated and how unfair things are.
Now in some cases, their complaints could be quite valid (because I know that not every leader and boss out there is a safe authority figure to be under). However, there is a general principle I learned from a ‘father figure’ who impressed it upon me and it’s quite simple: - “You have no authority - unless you are under authority”!
No one who is placed in charge over us is perfect, but if they are doing their best to “father” us - if we could stop complaining and choose to accept and trust the process we find ourselves in, there could be some valuable lessons learned.
When we look at the example of Christ’s life, although Jesus was still God (in human form), he chose to submit to a process of growing and maturing which I believe is meant to model something to us all.
Jesus, as the Son of God, could have called down 12 legions of angels to deal with the ‘mess of humanity’ going on all around Him. But instead he chose to trust His Father and follow an unfolding plan which he needed to submit to. It was Jesus’s responsibility as the Son of God walking on this earth to reveal the nature and character of Father God to all who witnessed his life. Let’s take a look at how he modelled it to us…
Check out these verses:
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”
John 8:19: “Then they asked him, ‘Where is your father?’ ‘You do not know me or my Father,’ Jesus replied. ‘If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”
John 14:7 “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’”
John 10:30 “I and the Father are one”
John 14:6 “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Drawing from those passages, I believe we can say with confidence that the Biblical pathway to understanding the Father must be through learning to understand the Son. Or perhaps stated differently… the Biblical pathway to understanding how to become a good father is through learning how to become a good son.
On closer inspection, you can see a progression in the above passages. Firstly, God gives us a “son” (John 3:16); then it’s made clear ‘If you knew Jesus, you would also know the Father’ (John 8:9 & John 14:7); and finally Jesus tells us that the way, the truth and the life we are searching for is found only in him, the Son. And this Son is the only way to the Father. In fact, Jesus suggests He is the only one who can reveal God as Father to us (John 14:6).
To confirm this progression, have a glance at this next verse found in Isaiah:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
It begins with Jesus born as ‘child’;
He grows into a ‘son’;
And eventually he becomes the ‘Everlasting Father’.
Jesus became a father, by first being a son.
Next month I want to share a story of what happens when we fail to grasp this kingdom truth. It’s a story about a young man who wanted to be good father, but refused to submit to the process of first becoming a son…
Until next time,
15th May 2019
Fathering and Sonship – Raising disciples that will change a Nation (Pt 13)
Learning to recognise the difference between Fathers and Mentors
Last month we spent time considering what it means to recognise and receive ‘fathers’ whom God sends into our lives. When we finally recognise and receive these men sent by God as spiritual fathers – their long-term investment in our lives profoundly benefits who we become as sons and daughters.
There are also those whom God sends to come alongside us for shorter periods of investment, as tutors and mentors.
What is crucial – is that we learn how to recognise the difference between a Father and a Mentor – and understand how to receive what both have to offer.
So, what are the fundamental differences between a Father-figure and a Mentor? And how do we make the distinction between the two?
The Apostle Paul alludes to the fact that there are key differences between the role of mentor and the role of a father, when he writes to the saints in Corinth.
1 Corinthians 4:15 states:
“Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (NIV).
Let’s now look at this same verse in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) which tends to be the closest English translation to the original language:
“For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (NASB).
In the NASB passage it states that we have ‘countless tutors’ (which I believe is synonymous for mentors, teachers, instructors, etc)… but it also states we do not have many fathers “in Christ” (ie spiritual fathers).
From the above proof-text I believe it’s safe to deduce the following - the main difference between a ‘father’ and a ‘mentor (tutor)’ – is the depth of connection and relationship that is established.
The relationship between a teacher and a student is not the same as a relationship between a father and a son. Fatherhood is reliant upon a relationship that connects a father’s heart to the heart of his child (“The hearts of the fathers will be returned to the children…” Malachi 4:5). This suggests that a spiritual father’s intent is to connect deeply with those they invest in.
Mentoring/tutoring usually occurs in a more sterile and organised environment of a classroom where there is structure and a learning objective. Fathering is meant to be available at anytime and anywhere. Father figures respond organically to the issues that arise in the lives of sons and daughters.
A Mentor/tutor offers a program or a class that develops certain skill sets for individuals who choose to attend. A Father does not recruit ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ to a program – they are his to invest-in by either birth, or by adoption.
A Mentor/tutor is more likely to be interested in developing that person’s gifts. A Father-figure desires to develop a person’s character.
A Mentor/tutor is more likely to deal with what the person does. A Father is more interested in whom that person becomes.
A Mentor/tutor’s role comes to an end once the task is achieved or the learning objective has been reached. Therefore, the role of a Mentor/tutor is usually only temporary, lasting for a season. But a Father’s role and responsibility is never meant to end.
The role of a Father is for life!
Mentors and Tutors meed to be appreciated for the skills and knowledge they can impart. But mentors and tutors are far easier to find than ‘fathers’. The Apostle Paul says it best:- we have “countless tutors”… but “not many fathers”.
We need to gain ‘eyes’ to discern when Fathers are knocking on our door. We must learn to recognise they have been sent by our one true Father in Heaven and are they are to be received with a thankful heart – they are a rare gift!
(Interestingly, I notice that most men desire to be good fathers. But to become a good father… we must first learn to be good sons! Perhaps that is a topic for another blog…)
Until next time,
5th April 2019
Fathering and Sonship – Raising disciples that will change a Nation (Pt 12)
Learning to recognise and receive ‘fathers’ whom God sends to us.
Last month we considered the advantage the 3rd generation brings – where a child can watch and learn from how their own father relates to their grandfather, thereby demonstrating a model to the third generation of what it looks like to invest in all future generations that come after us.
This month I’d like to look at why we don’t always recognise and receive the father-figures that God brings alongside us.
There are usually some foundational reasons why we often reject and push away good men that are sent by God.
You see, when God offers us ‘fathering opportunities’, we often misunderstand what Abba is up to and we ignore or block His advances towards us by turning away those whom God sends to help.
The reason we often do this is because when we have not been fathered well, it is not easy to recognise and receive spiritual fathering. Often, we just simply reject it based on our past wounds or our inability to see what God is up to.
Personally, for many years, I had no idea how to identify such ‘fathering opportunities’ that came along in my life. Not only was it hard for me to recognise good people whom God sent my way as ‘father’ figures… but even if I did sense that they may be genuinely of God… it was another thing altogether to actually trust them and let them into my life!
When we are poorly fathered, we struggle to discern what is good for us when it crosses our path. Our warning ‘radar’ is unreliable (I more than once sent the good guys away… and welcomed those I should have shunned). In general, when we are poorly fathered, we are left without a template to know what good fathering is meant to look like.
Another consequence of poor fathering is a lack of trust in authority figures which I alluded to earlier. When we cannot trust authority figures easily - we often reject those whom God sends our way believing by doing so, we are keeping ourselves safe.
However, we must remember that Abba is constantly pursuing us, looking for ways He can father us – we just have to become oriented to what our true Father is trying to do in our lives at any given moment.
In my own story… I became desperate to find authentic investment from other men in my life. I had been crushed and controlled by religious men for quite a number of years. Sadly, I learned to become harsh, judgemental, and critical in nature to others – following the model given to me.
A religious man often points out your sin, but has no idea how to offer God’s grace. Neither does he have any insight or power to help you overcome that sin (except to yell “Don’t do it again!”). Gordon Dalbey states: “A religious man has to always be right – but he can never be real”. Religious men do not make good fathers. They cannot lead us to the life we are meant to live.
So, I began to look only for those men whose marriages were truly shining; whose wives were glowing and growing in their own gifting; and whose children were connected deeply with the heart of their earthly fathers – especially their adult children. In the end, you can always tell the good fathers by the fruit of their lives, and the lives of those they invest in.
The good men whom God sent in my direction (when I finally stopped pushing them away) truly did understood how to overcome the curse of fatherlessness and invest into my heart. These men became father-figures who helped me begin the journey towards wholeness and maturity… a journey that continues to this day.
When we can finally recognise and receive these men sent by God as fathers – they profoundly change who we are.
“Abba Father, forgive me where I have failed to recognise those you’ve sent into my life in the past. Please help me grow in discernment to recognise those you send in the future to father me. Thank you that you are always near and never forsake me. I need your guiding influence in my life to become the son of God you ordained me to become. I want to receive every good thing you have for me. Please help me overcome my anxious fears that drive me to push away the help you offer and grant me the courage to accept the gift of good men you bring alongside me – for they will change who I become.
This I ask in Jesus name, amen”.
Looking ahead to next month… we must acknowledge that God also sends others who are used by Him to invest in us for shorter periods as tutors and mentors. But I wonder if we have ever understood the difference between a Father-figure and a Mentor? Both have something of value we need to receive.
In the next instalment we will look at how to make the distinction between someone who fathers us and someone who mentors us.
Until next time,
14th March 2019
Fathering and Sonship – Raising disciples that will change a Nation Pt 11 -
The real advantage of Godly Fathering begins to be seen in the 3rd Generation.
The blessing that began first with Abraham, was then passed on to Isaac. However, the real fruit begins to be reaped in the third generation when Jacob (who is re-named Israel) fathers the Twelve Tribes of a Nation. Abba has always wanted Godly fathering to be at the heart of building strong nations.
This month I wanted to look at the tangible advantage that can outwork in the third generation.
However, we need to first grasp what that advantage actually looks like…
Let’s begin by looking at Hebrews 11:9 where it states: “By faith he (ie Abraham) lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise”.
The above verse reveals that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all lived and dwelled together.
That means grandfather, father and son would have all sat together around evening campfires connecting, chatting and doing life together. Son and grandson would have heard Abraham share his wild stories of how Yahweh lured him away from Ur of the Chaldeans to begin his crazy adventure with the one true God. Isaac and Jacob would have been glued to Abraham’s every word.
The great advantage of the 3rd generation is this:- The third generation is the first that can watch and learn from how their own father relates to their grandfather.
Less than a century ago, it was normal for three generations to live and work together on the family farm. In that setting it was easy for the son to watch how his father related to his grandfather. Under those circumstances, modelling fatherhood and sonship was not a ‘program’ that had to be invented – it was a daily lifestyle which was the norm.
Assuming that all things were healthy between the father and grandfather… a son could watch and observe how his dad and grandad related to one another. A son could watch how his father listened to and respected the grandfather; a son could observe how his father sought the grandfather for advice when struggles arose. That same son could also watch how the grandfather affirmed the father; and how the grandfather invested into the father.
That is something I personally never got to witness occur between my father and grandfather.
My memories of my own father’s father (Pop) are limited to recalling him sitting on an old stump in the backyard of his home in Toowoomba. I recall him wearing his horn-rimmed glasses; wearing old fashioned braces instead of a belt; and a stern look on his face whilst he smoked his pipe. I do not recall him ever speaking to me directly.
Sadly, my Pop passed away when I was a young boy. I did not get to witness any positive interaction between my father and grandfather. In fact, my dad never spoke much about his own father… except one comment I recall about the impact my grandfather’s drinking had on him and all of his siblings.
As for my mother’s side of the family… I did get to witness my mum’s dad (Granddad) relate to his two sons (my uncles) over Christmas holidays. But in no way would I have described my two uncles as being ‘close’ to their father. If anything, my uncles were more ‘closed’ around him. I do recall one of those uncles describing his father (my grandfather) in this way: “He is a hard man to live with and even harder man to work under!”
Sadly, the two previous generations (on both sides of my family) could not offer me - as a 3rd generation son - a good model of how a father should relate to a grandfather. I suspect the same would be true for most of this present generation.
But when it is modelled well… the benefits bring immense blessings down generational lines. Imagine as a son listening to your own Dad pouring out his heart to your Grandfather about some difficulty he was facing… and observing the gentle way your Grandfather listened compassionately to your Dad, comforting him, putting an arm around him, offering him wisdom and praying for him!
What kind of model of manhood would that provide a young boy who got to witness that on a regular basis? What kind of father do you think that son might become to his own children if he was raised under that model?
This is what Jacob got to experience daily in watching Abraham relate to Isaac! This is why Jacob, in the third generation, could offer a benefit that enabled him to father the birth of a nation.
With my own five sons and daughter, I have attempted to invest into their hearts and build a deep connection and relationship with each of them… which I trust they would want to reproduce with their own children.
But even more so, it is my heart to ensure my grandchildren witness me investing, loving, connecting and praying with my children… because before I go into glory, I want to see the 3rd generation (ie my grandchildren) benefit from the blessing that comes from watching and learning how their parents relate to their grandparents in a close way.
This is the great advantage of the third generation – they are first that can benefit and learn from how their own father relates to their grandfather.
And even more exciting is when you consider the even greater advantage that awaits the 4th generation!
Until next time,
15th February 2019
Fathering and Sonship – The Key to Raising Disciples that will change a Nation Pt 10 -
The blessing that comes through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – provides evidence that spiritual benefits come through good fathers!
Last month we looked at the negative impact of poor fathers on world history. But what about the impact of good fathers on this world? In trying to answer that question, I also want to examine why genealogies are so key in Scripture.
Let me be quite frank…. up until recent times I have often been bored to death trying to wade through those genealogies in Scripture! I’ve found myself thinking:- “what the heck is this doing in the Bible!?! Of what possible use could all these ‘begots’ be to anyone?”
That’s how I used to respond to the genealogies.
But not anymore!
I have come to understand how critical genealogical records are in tracing a biblical monarchy. Family and tribal identities have always played a significant part in the history of Israel. The genealogies are simply the tracing of the “family trees”, linking the generations of God’s people for crucial historical purposes.
When you consider Religious duties - these have always been linked to the line of Levi and therefore were passed on to Aaron and his sons in Exodus 28:1:
“Then bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to minister as priest to Me—Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons.”
During the rebuilding of Jerusalem around the time of the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah, people were excluded from religious service if they were unable to provide proof of their genealogical history:-
Nehemiah 7:5 “Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogies. Then I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up first in which I found the following record…”
Ezra 2:62 - These searched among their ancestral registration, but they could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood.
Even in the New Testament, a lot of weight is given to the genealogy of Jesus Christ. His lineage was of the tribe of Judah. The Gospel of Matthew calls Jesus the son of David, as He was of the same line as King David which made Him of royal blood. Therefore, as a ‘son of David’… Jesus was in line to be King.
Elsewhere, Matthew refers to Jesus as the son of Abraham (who just happened to be God’s choice as ‘spiritual father’ to all who follow Jesus – more on that below).
In Matthew 1:1 we read: This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham”
And in Luke 3: 23, 33-38 we find the genealogy of Jesus going back to Adam, and ultimately, God. Here is an excerpt:
23: When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli,…
33: the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram,
the son of Hezron, the son of Perez,
the son of Judah, 34 the son of Jacob,
the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham,
the son of Terah, the son of Nahor,
35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu,
the son of Peleg, the son of Eber,
the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan,
the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem,
the son of Noah, the son of Lamech,
37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch,
the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel,
the son of Kenan, 38 the son of Enosh,
the son of Seth, the son of Adam,
the son of God.
You can see by the above genealogy that God literally sees Himself as our Father, and he sees us as His ‘sons’. Jesus confirms this when He teaches us to pray to “Our Father in heaven…”.
Something else I find quite interesting is that there are passages in both the Old and New Testament which refer to God as the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. In fact, in Exodus 3:15 God claims this name of the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” as His memorial name forever:-
“God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.
It’s kind of difficult to get your head around it … but I try to imagine God coming up to me and saying He wants to use my family name to ensure I know Him as the God of my family… and He acts on that by calling Himself “the God of Paul; the God of Daniel (my firstborn); and the God of Daniel’s children…”. The fact that God chooses to make that name His ‘memorial name forever’ kind of blows me away!
This name which God chooses as one of His Names, identifies Him with a particular family. In this case Abraham’s family. Abraham was the key patriarchal figure; but God goes on to identify with Abraham’s son Isaac; and also his grandson, Jacob.
That’s three generations.
God’s blessing didn’t stop with Abraham; Isaac and Jacob. It was ordained to be passed down through his family line. But it’s in the third generation where the blessing really starts to kick-in because this is where Jacob is renamed Israel, and becomes the father over the twelve tribes of Israel.
As Christians today, we actually get to receive and enjoy the blessing that comes down that lineage through ‘Abraham, Isaac & Jacob’. How? Because we are all ‘sons’ of Abraham – because we carry Abraham’s spiritual DNA of ‘faith’ which was “granted unto him as righteousness” in Genesis 15:6.
Everyone of us who have chosen to become a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ and to follow Him have been granted righteousness, simply because we ‘believe’. We believe by faith as Abraham did.
Galatians 3:29 states: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise”.
Abraham was the very ‘father of our faith’, and every person who has decided to follow Jesus since is a beneficiary of Abraham’s faith; and therefore we get to enjoy the same promises as Abraham’s “heirs” because we are his spiritual “descendants”. Abraham who begot Isaac and passed that faith onto him; who begot Jacob and passed that same faith onto him… passed that faith all the way down to you and me.
We are all the ‘spiritual children’ of Abraham.
And that’s what good dads do … they pass spiritual blessings down the generations!
Next month, I want to connect this concept of good fathers passing on spiritual blessings to the tangible advantage that good fathering brings after the third generation. Because just as we saw with Abraham, Isaac & Jacob there is an increase in ‘blessing’ when it reaches the 3rd generation… tune in next month to learn how we too can benefit from this blessing three generations later if we continue to sow in righteousness…
Where will you be in this generational journey?
Until next time …
Centre Director, Sydney.
18th January 2019
Happy New Year everyone!
Fathering and Sonship – The Key to Raising Disciples that will change a Nation Pt 9 -
"Key figures raised under poor fathering have had catastrophic effect on the course of history"
The damage can be impossible to fully comprehend or calculate when children grow up under poor fathering and subsequently rise to positions of influence or authority over others. What is clear is that when fathers have been absent, dysfunctional, renegade, austere or violent, their offspring have been scarred and the results for the next generation have been horrendous.
To quote Gordon Dalbey: “The wounds we fail to deal with as parents, will be consigned to the next generation”. And it is my experience that whatever was unhealed in the previous generation has a manifestly greater outworking when inflicted onto the next generation.
The following examples of such key historical figures are taken from the book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism by Paul C Vitz. The quotes in italics are his.
1696-1778: French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit, his criticism of Christianity, especially the Catholic Church, and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and separation of church and state. His full name was François-Marie Arouet, but was known by his nom de plume, Voltaire.
“… a biographer, A.D. Aldridge, has noted that Voltaire demonstrated neither affection for his attachment to family traditions: “Although Voltaire wrote extensively about his father, he said virtually nothing in his favour”
1856-1939: Freud was born to Galician Jewish parents in the Moravian town of Freiberg, in the Austrian Empire. He rose to prominence as a neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst.
“That Sigmund Freud’s father, Jacob, was a disappointment worse to his son is generally agreed upon by his biographers. Specifically, in two of his letters as an adult, Freud writes that his father was a sexual pervert and that Jacob’s children (which included Sigmund) suffered as a result”
1878-1953: Stalin was a Soviet revolutionary and politician who ruled the Soviet Union from 1922 until his death, holding the titles of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1952 and the nation's Premier from 1941 to 1953. Quoted as saying: “Death is the solution to all problems. No man - no problem”.
“Perhaps the simplest summary of Stalin’s relationship to his father is the following comment in regard to Stalin during his early years: “Undeserved and severe beatings made the boy (Stalin) as hard and heartless as the father was”.
1889-1945: Adolf Hitler was a German politician, demagogue, and Pan-German revolutionary. He was leader of the Nazi Party and rose to power in Germany as Chancellor in 1933 and Führer in 1934. During his dictatorship from 1933 to 1945, he initiated World War II in Europe by invading Poland in September 1939 and was responsible for killing 6 million Jews. Quoted as saying: “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed”.
“Like Stalin, Adolf received severe and regular beatings from his father. Hitler’s older half-sister Paula reported that Adolf ‘got his second thrashing everyday’”.
Madalyn Murray O’Hair
1919-1995: O'Hair was an American activist who significantly lifted the profile of atheism and pushed for separation of church and state. In 1963 she founded American Atheists, and served as its president to 1986, after which her son Jon Garth Murray succeeded her. She created the first issues of American Atheist Magazine.
“Whatever the cause of O’Hair’s intense hatred of her father (and for God), it is clear from her son’s book that hatred was deep and that it went back into her childhood; abuse by her father – psychological and physical – the likely cause”.
1893-1976: Also known as Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong was a Chinese communist revolutionary who became the founding father of the People's Republic of China, which he ruled as the Chairman of the Communist Party of China from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976. Quoted as saying: “Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy”; and “To read too many books is harmful”.
“Mao’s father is described as a family tyrant, and from childhood young Mao sided with his mother and other members of the family in implicit rebellions. He clearly hated his father and learned his first appreciation of revolution and rebellion in his own family setting”.
It wouldn’t take too much effort to continue digging-up key historical figures who were horrendously shaped by poor fathers.
So, suffice to say, it is impossible to measure the devastation perpetrated by the above people who seriously and negatively affected the world around them – and in some cases, whose actions tragically altered the course of all human history.
One could ask “Had one or all of the above-mentioned figures been properly fathered by good men, raised in nurture, acceptance and love, how would the course of history have been altered?”
Allow me to end this blog by repeating a quote of Derek Prince’s: “Fatherhood is man’s highest achievement” … because as fathers we are granted the privilege to represent the Father-heart of God to our children; and when we fail to do that well… the next generation suffers!
But Abba Father offers us an ancient path that can lead to restoration… if only we would stand at the crossroads and look for it (Jeremiah 6:16).
Until next time,
Centre Director, Ellel Sydney
Paul C Vitz 1999, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, Spence Publishing Company, Dallas, Texas.
Background information on historic figures provided by Wikipedia.
23rd November 2018
Fathering and Sonship – The Key to Raising Disciples that will change a Nation Pt 8 -
"When Fathers Fail!"
Don’t assume that because a man loves the Lord that automatically makes him a good father!
In this instalment I’d like to look at some biblical examples of good Godly men who as fathers didn’t do such a great job!
I used to think that if a man loved Jesus and holds to the truth of Scripture, that must mean he is automatically a good husband and father. Let’s examine a few key figures in Scripture to see if that statement holds up under scrutiny.
Let’s begin with a well-known Old Testament prophet called Samuel.
The prophet Samuel proved to be one of the most anointed and powerful judges over Israel. As a child he had been dedicated to God by his mother Hannah, who handed the young boy Samuel into the care of the High Priest Eli, to honour the vow she had made before God (1 Samuel 1).
When Hannah announces to her husband Elkanah (in 1 Samuel 1:22) that she will take the boy “and present him before the Lord and he will live there always”, I find Samuel’s father’s response a little disconcerting: - (vs 23) “Do what seems best to you.” When a dad is prepared to “give away” a child that easy that raises concerns for me.
I understand that Hannah wanted to honour the vow she’d made before the Lord for being blessed with this son (even so, handing over her only child must have been very difficult)… but to have Samuel’s father agree to this so readily seems at best a little cold! (I know that if my wife came to me and suggested she wanted to hand over one of my five sons into the care of the high priest, I would have put up a little more fight than Elkanah offered!)
As the story unfolds, it is revealed that the High Priest Eli (whom Samuel was handed over to) had not invested well into his own two natural sons, named Hophni and Phineas (1 Samuel 1:3). We read in 1 Samuel 2:12 “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the Lord.” In 1 Samuel 2:22 we read “…how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.” (The Tent of Meeting was basically the place where the Presence of God rested amongst the Israelites. So these sons were showing serious contempt for the Lord by the nature of their sin!). Then finally in 1 Samuel 2:25 referring to Eli’s sons it states they “…did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death.”
And so Eli, having failed as a father to his own sons, is now tasked with raising Samuel as an adopted son. Eli clearly trained Samuel well in the pursuit of priestly and prophetic roles. Sadly, however, Samuel also picked up the poor fathering model that Eli offered.
We know this because in 1 Samuel 8:3-5 it states that Samuel’s sons:- “…did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.”
Interestingly, Samuel is then used by God to anoint a young David as king and set him apart. Samuel goes on to become a major father-figure to King David and even though King David adopts Samuel’s heart for the Lord, the poor model of fathering that Samuel was raised under also outworks its consequence in David as we see his sons rebel and do wicked things. (e.g. Read about Adonijah’s rebellion in 1 Kings 1, Absalom’s conspiracy in 2 Sam 15, and Amnon’s sin in 2 Sam 13.)
So, when we look at the legacy each man passes on to the next we see a negative outworking that flows down. In summary, Elkanah just allows his son Samuel to be handed over to the High Priest Eli. Then Eli, who fails as a father to his own sons, then raises Samuel as his ‘adopted’ son. Later we discover Samuel fails as a father to his own sons! And then King David, who is fathered by Samuel, also fails to raise sons who follow the Lord!
It is a sorry downward spiral of father’s failing with horrendous consequences!
And yet everyone of those men mentioned above loved and served the Lord with all their heart! Which powerfully highlights the point that we should never assume a Godly man is automatically a good father!
Clearly in all of the above instances, they are good men who do very good things in the service of the Lord but fail to raise sons who follow the Lord wholeheartedly.
This failure to father also has a significant consequence upon the nation of Israel.
When we read 1 Samuel 8 it describes how Samuel in his old age appoints his wicked sons as judges over Israel to replace him. But the elders of Israel were not happy with Samuel’s decision to do this (understandably!). In verse 5 “They said to him “You are old and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have!”
Here we find an interesting principle. When key men fail to father and nurture the next generation to walk as sons of God, a nation suffers and turns away from Father God!
Samuel’s sons failed to make the grade (“…your sons do not walk in your ways” 1 Sam 8:5a)… and as a consequence a nation decides they do not want to be ‘Fathered by God’ any longer! Instead, in their disappointment and rebellion they choose to be ruled by an earthly king instead, like all of the pagan nations around them. (“…now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” 1 Sam 8:5b) All because good men had no idea how to raise their sons to walk in God’s ways!
The elders’ choice to ask for a king wasn’t so much a rejection of Samuel, or even his sons, as it was a rejection of the Lord God himself. For the Lord said to Samuel: “…it is not you they have rejected but they have rejected me as their king.” (1 Samuel 8:7)
In all this what cannot be overlooked is that the elders of Israel arrived at that decision to reject God based on a poor fathering/sonship model that had been offered by the prophets, priests and judges of Israel.
Who would have thought that as dads we hold such power as to affect the way a nation responds to God!
If we want to see that turn around in our generation, then we must find a way to encourage, train and equip men not just to be good Godly men, but to also raise them to be good nurturing, loving fathers who know how to connect and invest in the hearts of their sons and daughters!
Until next time,
Centre Director, Ellel Sydney
18th September 2018
Fathering and Sonship – The Key to Raising Disciples that will change a Nation Pt 7
I am about to jump on a plane and head over to the UK for the Ellel Executive Leadership Meeting which is held twice a year. That meeting will then be followed immediately by the International Ellel Leaders Conference – both events are being held at Pierrepont in Surrey, England.
The International Ellel Leaders Conference is where Peter Horrobin (founder and International Director of Ellel Ministries International) gets to ‘father’ all of the key leaders from around the world.
Peter is acutely aware that as every year passes he has less time left in his purse to influence those who are called to carry the work of this ministry forward. So the International Ellel Leaders Conference is a key platform for Peter to remind all of the Ellel Leaders across the globe what the roots of the ministry are, and it also gives him the opportunity to re-cast the vision as we move into the challenging days that lay ahead.
In light of all that I thought it would be appropriate, before I fly out, to share a potent statement by Derek Prince on fathering. It is a statement that has a huge bearing on how I view my leadership role in all of the following categories:- Fatherhood, Marriage, Family and the Body of Christ itself.
Take a minute or two to absorb this powerful statement by Derek Prince:
“Fatherhood is man’s highest achievement.”
I had to mull over that statement by Derek for quite some time to try to figure out what he was trying to communicate in those few words… but I think I’ve finally got a handle on it. I believe Derek Prince was attempting to express to us in just 5 words - that as earthly fathers, we have been granted the privilege and responsibility to mirror the heart of God to the hearts of our children - and everyone else watching our lives. Whether we have realised that or not, may be another matter!
That is incredibly humbling… and very motivating for my prayer life!
But if I am really honest, when it hit me that God has placed that kind of power in the hands of every earthly father, my first thought was “God, what were you thinking!"
I was dumbfounded to be frank! “You are trusting us fathers with what? To reveal and model the heart of God to the next generation?!?”
But it wouldn’t be the first time God has done a crazy thing like this… just look back through biblical history… you have to admit that God is at least consistent!
- God chose a stuttering Moses to speak on His behalf to Pharaoh in order to set His people free!
- God places the Saviour of the world at the breast of a teenage girl!
- God picks a legalistic pharisee named Saul who went around breathing murderous threats against Christians, to be the guy that ends up writing more than 1/3 of the New Testament!
The sheer number and consistency of these stories is unyielding and unnerving! Because it means my role as a father is being written by the same Author! (You might recall Hebrews 12 reminds us that Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith).
So if Derek Prince is right and Fatherhood really is man’s highest achievement… that means I need to be asking Abba Father’s help every day to understand His heart a little more than I did the day before!
And don’t think Derek’s statement regarding fatherhood being man’s highest achievement is only aimed at dads being the best engaged fathers they can be to their own kids… this is a mandate for all disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ to model the love of the Heavenly Father to all those within their sphere of influence… because that will be our highest achievement! And if we all do that, that will be helping raise disciples that will change a nation.
Rest assured that Peter Horrobin will be ‘fathering’ and investing into all of Ellel’s key leaders this month as we gather in the UK with his deep insights and his father’s heart. Peter’s hope is that everything he imparts – will be taken back to the nations!
That is all anyone of us can hope for… that when we invest Kingdom truth into the hearts of others around us, they can then impart to others those same truths, and so on… leaving a legacy for generations to come.
At the back end of this overseas trip, I will get to do some ‘fathering’ of my own – I’ll be visiting some sons (and their beautiful wives) on the way home, and that will involve giving lots of hugs to my grandchildren!
James Dobson brings it home with this personal insight:
“When these parenting years have passed, something precious will have flickered and gone out of my life, thus, I am resolved to enjoy every day that remains in this fathering era”.
Until next time,
Centre Director, Ellel Sydney
17th August 2018
Fathering and Sonship – The Key to Raising Disciples that will change a Nation Pt 6
God could have called himself by any name – but when Jesus taught us how to pray – He gave us one name for God that is vital to discipleship. That particular name is one I want to discuss! But before we do, have you ever looked up some of the different names of God and what they mean? The Scriptures reveal that God carries quite a few names! Each name offers a different attribute to His character.
The simplest form by which God is referred to in the Old Testament is El, likely derived from His being first and foremost, it is a Northwest Semitic word meaning "god or deity". Elohim is another name for God – meaning God plural (e.g. Trinity). The singular word in Hebrew is Eloah, which is likely to have been taken from the same root word and points to God as being strong and mighty, able to judge and to strike fear into the hearts of His enemies. Elyon refers to being exalted. Adonai refers to God as a powerful ruler. Similarly, El Shaddai, derived from "shad" i.e. Lord, also points to the incredible power of God.
Yahweh (YHWH) is the principal name in the Old Testament by which God reveals himself and is the most sacred, distinctive and incommunicable name of God (i.e. so holy, this name is not to be spoken). Based on Leviticus 24:16: "He that blasphemes the name of Yahweh shall surely be put to death", Jews generally avoided saying the word Yahweh and substituted Adonai or Elohim when reading Scripture.
In Exodus 34:14, God gives his name as "Jealous". Exodus 34:14 – “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous!”
The self-pronouncement by God in Exodus 3:14 to describe Himself as "I Am that I Am" suggests there is no other god that rivals Him. Elsewhere God is referred to in scripture as the "Ancient of Days"; the "Everlasting to Everlasting"; "Jehovah-Rapha" (meaning “The Lord Who Heals” in Hebrew); "Jehovah-Jireh" (the Lord will Provide); "Jehovah-Nissi" (the Lord is my Banner); "Jehovah-Raah" (the Lord is my Shepherd); He is the "Lord of lords"; "King of kings"; "Prince of Peace"; "Comforter"; "Enabler"; "Helper"; "Friend"; etc, etc, etc…
As mentioned earlier, God has many names in the Bible, but interestingly when Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, He could have chosen any one of many such powerful names listed in the Scriptures to call God by in the Lord’s Prayer. However, when teaching us how to pray, Jesus asked us to simply reference God as “Father”.
Matthew 6:9 “Pray then in this way: ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name’…”
God’s own decision to take that name and title of “Father” immediately gives the role of fatherhood supreme importance. By choosing to use the term "Father" to describe Himself, God immediately elevated the role of being a father to a pre-eminent position!
Why would God call Himself "Father"?
Each time the term appears whether in Hebrew or Greek it literally means “the father.” It is a term expressing warm affection and loving tenderness and protection.
Interestingly, most psychologists now recognise that for those who have a belief in God, our concept of what God is like - will be formed in early childhood. Fundamentally, this perception of God is birthed out of the relationship we form with our earthly, natural biological fathers. (In the case where biological fathers are absent – that in itself will have an impact on our view of God – but the subsequent view we then develop will be further affected, for good or for bad, by other male authority figures that fill such a void.)
To put it plainly, being able to see God as someone who loves, cares, protects and provides for us as a good "Father God" is simpler and easier, if our natural father can better model God’s attributes to us.
However, for too many, the opening line of those who come to Ellel Sydney for ministry goes a little like this: “If God is anything like my father then I want nothing to do with Him!”
For those of us who have been raised by absent, harsh, critical, angry or abusive dad, they will understandably have a different picture of God to those people who were raised by engaged, warm, tender, safe and nurturing fathers.
As we look at these concepts of how we form our view of Father God, we must consider carefully how we actually see God and how we have responded to Him.
Inevitably we must ask two key questions:-
1. Has the way I’ve been raised affected how I view God? and the subsequent question;
2: Have I reacted to how I was raised in a way that has been sinful and damaging to myself and those around me?
(A great deal of the ministry we offer here at Ellel Sydney comes out of the truthful answer to those two questions.)
So, I wonder if I asked you to pause and ponder the following questions, perhaps even write or journal your honest responses – would you be willing to take some time out with God to explore the following:-
a) Of all the names of God that you are aware of, which one is your favourite and why?
b) Have you ever considered God to be your true Father? Why?
c) Is it possible that the way you were raised, and the influence of your dad or other male authority figures, could have affected how you view God today? (Spend time pondering this question carefully. Invite Holy Spirit to show you. Write honestly.)
P.S. Next month we’ll look at some examples where fathers failed and what the consequences were, then we’ll consider what fatherhood is meant to display to this world.
Until next time
Centre Director, Ellel Sydney
19th July 2018
Fathering and Sonship – The Key to Raising Disciples that will change a Nation Pt 5
Raising Disciples who can impact a nation will require a great outpouring of Holy Spirit in the same way the Spirit of God equipped Elijah to move powerfully in his day! But that outpouring of the same Spirit which Elijah moved under has been promised!
How do I know it’s been promised? Because Malachi 4:5-6 says so:-
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse”. (KJV)
Those last few verses of the Old Testament highlight that before the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus takes place (“the great and dreadful day of the Lord”)… the Holy Spirit will influence a generation in the same way Elijah influenced the people in his day (which just happened to be the same way John the Baptist was anointed to prepare his generation for the first coming of the Lord Jesus).
That Malachi passage also highlights the primary reason the world is in a mess – it’s due to the breakdown of the family unit! It even pinpoints the breakdown to the failure of fathers to connect with the hearts of their children. Now if God’s desire is to re-connect dads with their kids (as that verse suggests) then also take note that this passage points to the inability of fathers to connect with their offspring which leads to a curse upon the earth;- (“…lest I come and strike the earth with a curse”)… It just happens to be what is known as the Curse of Fatherlessness. A curse that affects the whole earth!
Just as a side note:- It is my experience that if fathers cannot connect with the hearts of their kids – by default, it means they probably are not caring well for their wive's heart, nor are they likely to be connected well to the heart of Abba Father either.
Even more poignantly, by discussing how ‘hearts need to be turned’ in that Malachi passage, God is highlighting that the problem is actually a “heart” issue! And only Jesus can mend broken hearts (Isaiah 61).
If we examine more closely those closing few verses of the Old Testament, where it mentions Elijah being sent in the last days:- “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes”…
The “great and dreadful day of the Lord” is clearly referring to the Second Advent (ie 2nd Coming of Christ). So what that tells me is, before the hearts of the fathers can be ‘re-connected’ to their children, and the hearts of the children ‘re-connected’ to their fathers, there will have to be an outpouring in the last days of the same Spirit that empowered Elijah in his day! No lesser work of Holy Spirit will be capable of achieving the profound restoration that many broken families need.
I believe that outpouring of the Holy Spirit will need to be upon a whole generation. Perhaps such an outpouring will need to influence families over several generations. Simply because generational patterns take time to be turned around from negative patterns into kingdom patterns of what marriage and “fathering” is supposed to resemble.
Deliverance from an evil spirit can take place in a moment, but repairing the damage caused by that demon can take significantly longer! Healing a broken heart and transforming the way we think and changing the evil patterns that have come down the family line is going to take a little more time than we’d like!
Too many saints are expecting a “Big Zap!” to come from Heaven that miraculously changes everything overnight!
Oh man, how I wish it would occur that quickly!
What I am expecting is an out-pouring of Holy Spirit which gently leads future generations to grow into wholeness, maturity and wisdom as God transforms us into sons and daughters who understand what it is to be ‘fathered’. By and large it will be a leading of Holy Spirit that influences future generations to learn what it means to receive the love of Abba Father and to model the love of Father God to others.
Then in turn, having grasped what “fathering” is meant to look like… future generations will not be affected by the “Heart” issues that have plagued present and past generations.
Abba Father wants to reveal His heart to families, and through families… to the world.
I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit will ensure there are powerful miraculous events occurring in the midst of that generational shift, because it is promised to be an anointing similar to that of Elijah. Such a move of God must then by definition, carry an anointing for supernatural breakthrough and miracles not seen since the days of Elijah!
All of that gives me great hope for how evangelism and discipleship will unfold in the years preceding the return of Christ return.
Without doubt, this whole concept of “fathering” will be a crucial component in demonstrating the power of the gospel in the coming days. And it remains my heart to see a generation of young adults healed, restored, equipped and prepared to become those who have allowed themselves to be “fathered”, for they will be the generation who carries the same Spirit that anointed Elijah!
I sure could use your help in preparing the way for that era!
(Does anyone remember the song: “These are the days of Elijah”!!!...)
Until next time,
Centre Director, Ellel Sydney
21st June 2018
Fathering and Sonship – The Key to Raising Disciples that will change a Nation Pt 4
I mentioned last month I wanted to explore what that four hundred year gap between the Old Testament and New Testament really represents! In this article I would like to look more closely at just how loud that ‘period of silence’ is actually speaking to us!
You might recall me sharing about an Old Testament passage in my previous blog which played a fairly major part in my own personal restoration journey. It centered around Deuteronomy 23:2 which is the verse that highlights the curse of illegitimacy:-
“No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of his descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the Lord”
Interestingly, this Scripture suggests when someone is born illegitimately (ie conceived out of wedlock) there is a curse that may fall upon the illegitimate child that is for 10 generations! And we learned last month – that a Hebrew generation is considered to be 40 years.
Remarkably, when you do the numbers on the effect of this curse – you find a startling revelation of how this passage relates to the ‘period of silence’ between the two Testaments.
If a Hebrew generation is 40 years, multiplied by a curse that is carried for 10 generations… then that means 40 x 10 = 400 years of illegitimacy!
Not so co-incidentally… the gap between the Old Testament and New Testament is also 400 years!
That 400 year span is often referred to as the inter-testamental period where there was no prophetic voice - until the book of Matthew is written.
However, that ‘period of silence’ is actually speaking quite loudly to us!
What this period is actually ‘screaming’ at us is:– those 400 years represent the consequences of the curse of “illegitimacy” whereby the sins of the fathers have for generations failed their sons and daughters. (Lamentations 5:9 states: ‘Our fathers sinned and are no more, and we bear their punishment’.
One of the primary consequences of this period of illegitimacy has been where earthly fathers have failed to connect with the hearts of their children. This has led to subsequent generations carrying an inability to receive the love and acceptance of our true Father in heaven.
We all are wounded (or ‘cursed’) in such ways… because so many of us have been impacted by an inability from our earthly fathers to connect with our hearts – and this correspondingly has affected our inability to connect with the Heavenly Father.
The Old Testament ends by pointing to a curse of fatherlessness in Malachi 4:5-6 (I’ll have more to share on that next month…) which works in rather well sadly, with this curse of illegitimacy.
But God promised He would return the hearts of his children to the heart of The Father (by sending the Spirit of Elijah). So when Christ appears in the New Testament He opens a way to remove the shame and illegitimacy that stood between Father God and His children.
Jesus of Nazareth, through the power of the Cross overcomes the power of sin; Jesus also breaks both the curse of illegitimacy (Deut 23:2) and the curse of fatherlessness (Mal 4:5-6) which hang over all nations - in order that we might be reunited to our true Dad!
Only in Christ can the effects of such curses be reversed. Christ even states in His own mission statement (shared in Luke Chapter 4, when He opens the scroll and reads from Isaiah 61) saying that He came to ‘heal the broken-hearted’… in other words, Jesus came to deal with those “heart” issues that Malachi highlighted.
It only takes one key prayer, involving repentance and forgiveness, and all such curses can be broken. However, it takes far more than just one prayer to raise up and disciple a new generation that is capable of ushering in the return of the Lord. That will need a new model to be established showing what it means to be “fathered” – and that will require a whole new strategy involving a deeper understanding of fathering and sonship… and more importantly it will require a whole new outpouring of Holy Spirit!
Without doubt in my mind, this whole concept of “Fathering” will be a crucial component in demonstrating the power of the gospel in these approaching last days.
It’s my heart to see a generation of young adults prepared to be transformed by the same Spirit that equipped and anointed Elijah!
I’m seriously hoping every saint would want to be part of ushering in that era!
Until next time,
Centre Director, Ellel Sydney
22nd May 2018
Fathering – The Key to Raising Disciples that will change a Nation Pt 3
What if every Christian who feels like a shame-filled illegitimate orphan could be transformed into a person who knows they are loved, known and valued by a Holy God?
So, who did the homework from last month?!?
Did anyone find out how many years ‘one generation’ is considered to be in Hebrew thinking? (One Hebrew generation is considered to be 40 years by the way!)
I wonder how many looked up the passage I suggested to read in Deuteronomy 23:2? (Just in case you didn’t… here it is:) “No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of his descendants, even to the tenth generation. Shall enter the assembly of the Lord” Deut 23:2
Interestingly, this Scripture highlights that when someone is born illegitimately (ie born out of wedlock) there is a curse that falls upon the illegitimate child that is for 10 generations!
This particular passage was particularly important for my own personal journey.
Quite a few years ago, I was struggling with all sorts of issues in my life. I was in the early years of my marriage, but that marriage was already in deep trouble. I was full of shame. I felt worthless, unwanted and unloved. I carried little hope of anything changing… basically I felt like an illegitimate child that had been rejected and abandoned!
I was at a point where I had nowhere to turn. Then God kindly sent a man into my life for just one week. In fact, that week completely changed the trajectory of my life. There was a conference that was run by the church I was attending, and during that week we had one of the key speakers stay in our home. During his stay he was led by the Lord to bring a specific verse to me (you guessed it… Deut 23:2). After reading that passage out to me, he asked: “Paul, were you an illegitimate child due to being conceived or born out of wedlock by any chance?”.
The answer was ‘Yes!’ (My parents conceived me one year before they got married). But there was no way this man could have ever known that information about me. No one knew! I hadn’t even shared that information with my wife at that point in time. Clearly, it was Holy Spirit that had revealed this to him. Abba Father was pursuing me. He wanted me back in His embrace.
This guest speaker prayed with me as he led me to forgive my parents and all my ancestors for their sin which had brought this curse upon me (remember this one carries consequences for 10 generations!). He then prayed asking Jesus to break the power of the curse of illegitimacy off my life… when he commanded it to depart, I literally felt that unholy spirit leave me… and it forever changed how I felt about myself; how I saw myself; and how I saw God! After the ministry time was over…I knew I was free! I remember crying (tears of joy) for the first time in about 20 years as I worshipped and thanked Father God for His kindness towards me.
Although there was much God still needed to restore in me over the coming years, from that moment onwards, no longer did I feel like a slave - but instead from that point on I knew I was deeply loved. Literally overnight, I had shifted from being a shame filled illegitimate orphan, to knowing that I was wanted and of great value to Father God. In my heart I suddenly knew I was His beloved son!
To this very day… that was the biggest shift God has ever done in my heart in a single moment.
What if every saint who feels worthless, unwanted, unloved and hopeless could experience a massive shift in their heart such as that?
What if every Christian who feels like a shame-filled illegitimate orphan could be transformed into a person who knows they are loved, known and valued by a Holy God?
Do you think that would change a disciple of the Lord Jesus into a warrior who could have a powerful influence on all those around them?
If everyone could experience God’s intervention in a powerful way such as that… it would inevitably cause us to become incredible warriors for the kingdom of God!
The way Father God wants to do that for each of us will be different of course – because we are all so different, with different life stories – but nonetheless the fact remains… God wants to lavish His unconditional love upon all of His sons and daughters. Because He is building His “Last Days Army”.
And that is how I believe we can begin to raise disciples that can change a nation… by introducing them to their ‘True Father’ in a powerful way that transforms them from ‘orphaned slave’ to ‘sons and daughters of God’. Imagine what an army of saints like that could achieve in this world!?!
Next month I want to explore what that four hundred year gap between the Old Testament and New Testament really represents! I want to examine just how loud that ‘period of silence’ is actually speaking to us! I will unpack how God wants to break the curse of illegitimacy and the curse of fatherlessness that hangs over all nations… and I will discuss in-depth why fatherhood is so crucial to the sharing of the gospel in these approaching last days.
In my heart, I have a passion to see “…the hearts of the fathers returned to the children, and the hearts of the children returned to their father”… as promised in the closing verses of Malachi.
But that will require a great outpouring of God’s Spirit in the same way we saw Elijah move powerfully… but it’s been promised… and it’s coming!
Until next time,
Centre Director, Ellel Sydney
16th April 2018
Fathering – The Key to Raising Disciples that will change a Nation Pt 2
This next multi-series of blog articles on 'Fathering' that I want to write will take us deep into 2018! So over the next several months my objective is to link the vital role of ‘Fathering’ to the raising of disciples that will change a nation.
To achieve that goal, I believe we need a strategy for discipleship that centres around ‘intentional fathering’ as part of everyday life. And I’m not talking about just in our ‘church life’… but in every aspect of life. There needs to be a new way we orient ourselves that allows God to ‘father’ us in ways we have never allowed Him to do so previously.
I want to relate to my wife, my children, those I work with, those I minister to – in the same way my Heavenly Father relates to me. That requires a continual stripping away of every ‘unfathered’ place within me!
I have to hold to the hope that most people desire to go on that very same journey.
Because if we all allowed God to ‘father’ us in such ways… it would lead to authentic and real relationships that mirror the heart of God to all those we invest in within our sphere of influence. Only then would we truly begin to raise formidable sons and daughters of God for the next generation.
For many of us, to pursue that kind of a discipleship process, would lead to feeling like our lives were falling apart as Father God begins to dismantle the ‘unholy’ places within us. I was introduced to a line from a song recently called “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns that sums this up beautifully:- “Your world’s not falling apart. It’s falling into place”…. provided we allow Him to ‘father’ us.
So, before I can unpack that process, it’s essential we embark on a journey to rediscover what the Biblical model of fatherhood looks like.
So I’m going to go all “bible nerdy” and do some study of the Scriptures. Try to keep up!
When I read the New Testament gospels… I consistently see that the ‘Fatherhood of God’ is the central theme and message of Jesus’ life.
Jesus makes statements in the gospel of John that point to His ‘modelling of the Father’ as a key reason as to why He came. Look at these verses:-
Jesus said: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
“Believe me when I say I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (John 14:11)
“that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me”. (John 17:21)
These passages indicate that at least part of Jesus’ role on earth was to demonstrate and reveal the character of Father God to the world. To know Jesus, was to know the Father. Clearly, Jesus is saying that when you experience Him, it’s as good as meeting and experiencing the Father in Heaven. Just as the Father has sent me (to represent His likeness)… so I am sending you (as sons) to also represent the Father.
In John 20:21 Jesus says: “...Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send you…”.
The word ‘as’ is pivotal in this scripture because Jesus is saying that He was sending out disciples ‘as sons’ in the same way that He Himself had been sent by the Father.
This statement encapsulates how vital Jesus sees ‘fathering’ as a key component of this ‘sending out’. In other words, when Jesus invests into His disciples to be ‘sent out’… it clearly involves learning how to represent the Father – as Jesus represented the Father.
In the same manner as Jesus came to represent the Father... He desires to transform us as disciples (‘sons') who can also be sent out to effectively represent the heart of the Father to this world.
But to do that effectively, means we will need to know the Father - like Jesus knew His Father. Here we strike a problem!
It is our constant experience at Ellel Ministries that those who come to us to be restored and discipled carry a distorted picture of what Father God is like. That is because our concept of God is impacted and shaped by the influence of our earthly fathers.
Sadly, the ‘Father of Lies’ (who is the Devil; John 8:44) has done a very good job of distorting our experience of what Father is like… through our wounded or absent dads!
The Scriptures reference this father wound in Malachi 4:5-6 (KJV) -
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse”.
These last two verses that close the Old Testament become a key turning point for this journey of rediscovering why fatherhood is so crucial to the gospel and the approaching last days.
The Book of Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament. So in that above Malachi passage, the final word written in the Old Testament is the word ‘curse’! Essentially the OT ends with what is described as the Curse of Fatherlessness. The disastrous consequences of this curse has caused universal and global consequences.
This curse relates to the lack of fathering and sonship we observe in the world even today.
It results in a husband walking out on a marriage and abandoning his children; it results in husbands not being able to invest into their wives' hearts; it results in dads wounding their kids with their angry or harsh words or actions that bring harm. These father-wounds are then modeled to the generations that follow and we see repeated patterns occurring within families who come to Ellel Ministries seeking help.
After Malachi penned those final words there would be four hundred years of silence.
Though no one puts an exact date on it, some scholars suggest the writing of the book of Malachi was between 445 and 432 BC. So from the time the final words of Malachi in the Old Testament, to the first words written by Matthew in the New Testament, Israel experienced four centuries without a prophetic voice.
400 years of silence.
In next month’s blog I want to look more closely at just how loudly that ‘period of silence’ is actually shouting at us!
Next month I want to explore what that four hundred year gap between Old Testament and New Testament actually represents!
(NB If you’re looking to do some homework between now and next month on this stuff, do some research on how many years ‘one generation’ is considered to be in Hebrew thinking? See if you can dig up the answer! Then maybe look up Deuteronomy 23:2 while you are at it! There are some powerful points to be drawn from all of this…).
Until next time,
Centre Director, Ellel Sydney
20th March 2018
Raising Disciples that will Change a Nation!
How ‘intentional fathering’ needs to become part of every day discipleship if we are to raise formidable sons and daughters of God for the next generation.
For those unaware, apart from being the Centre Director of Ellel Sydney here at “Gilbulla”, I also happen to be an ordained minister, endorsed by the Crosslink Christian Network. As an ordained minister it helps significantly in conversing and building relationship with pastors and ministers with whom Ellel Ministries desires to connect.
The reason I share this with you is because, as an endorsed minister with Crosslink, I usually attend the annual Crosslink National Conference in Canberra each year. It is a great opportunity to connect with senior ministers from across the country. It’s also an opportunity whilst mixing with church leaders to stay in touch with what pressures they are confronted with at the coalface of church leadership. It can also be a bit of a ‘circuit-breaker’ for me that opens up an opportunity for Father God to connect with my heart in a way that often surprises me.
I have to admit, I kind of showed up to last year’s Crosslink Conference without really knowing what the conference was about. The title of the event sounded like it had something to do with evangelism. However, to my genuine surprise, I discovered it was about how to ‘father’ the present generation of ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ to become the next generation’s leaders! (That topic just happens to be very close to my heart!).
I remembered sitting back listening to the various speakers bringing their slice of the kingdom pie on this powerful issue… I realized I was hearing my own core message being delivered (…for the most part, far better than I could have delivered it myself!)
The highlight for me was listening to a genuine ‘father-son team’ in Peter Nicholes (dad) and Caleb Nicholes (son) from Southern Lights Church in south-eastern Melbourne.
The father, Peter Nicholes, who is the founding father of that Church, shared testimony of his early life and the specifics of his own father-wound. As his testimony unfolded, Peter described an amazing rescue and healing by Father God via the intervention of key individuals who ‘fathered’ him, diverting the course of his life and changing forever the way he invested in his own children. However, it didn’t just change the way Peter fathered his own family, it changed the way he fathered Southern Lights Church!
After Peter finished sharing, Caleb his son took the microphone. Caleb shared what it was like to be raised by his dad, with the ‘intentional fathering’ that was deliberately invested into him, including a story of how his dad Peter arranged for Caleb to experience a Rite of Passage at age 13yrs where he was powerfully blessed and invited to begin a journey into Godly manhood by his Dad. I have to say I don’t meet too many other fathers who, like myself, have gone to the trouble of making that intentional investment in their sons! (The main reason is our own dads were unable to model that to us… because they didn’t receive it from their dads!).
At that Rite of Passage for his son Caleb, Peter Nicholes felt the Spirit of God prompt him to talk to his 13 year old son about seeking God on whether the Lord wanted Caleb to succeed his dad as the Senior Pastor of Southern Lights Church! Caleb agreed to seek the Lord in the years that lay ahead regarding that assignment. In fact, Caleb went on to explain that the Lord set a deep desire in his heart at that young age to be ready to take over the reins of his dad’s flock by his 30th birthday!
Peter (the father) set about from that point to establish into young Caleb all that would be needed in character and gifting to take over his dad’s mantle. Together they achieved that goal a year earlier than expected… Caleb became his father’s successor as the new Senior Pastor of Southern Lights church at 29 years of age.
That was about 7 years ago. Caleb has been leading that church now since 2011. They went on to explain that the discipleship model they offer within their church focuses very strongly on fathering and sonship as the main premise to raise and disciple the next generation of leaders.
Listening to both Peter and Caleb share their testimonies of how they are transforming shame-filled believers into formidable sons and daughters of Abba Father… I sat there quite transfixed to their every word!
Both men know full well there is a Curse of Fatherlessness that assaults each generation!... and they have developed a powerful, practical and intentional way of overcoming that curse!... (that involves intentional fathering; discipleship and prayer ministry) all within a local church setting!
I have to say, I was impressed with what I was hearing. But have you had that feeling of “this looks a little too good to be true!”.
I was left wondering if I visited their church… what would I really find?
I approached Peter and Caleb Nicholes about coming down to Melbourne to go hang out with these guys for a few days to watch, listen and learn from them. They welcomed the idea and it was arranged.
So late last year I went down to Melbourne to investigate the heartbeat of Southern Lights Church and see what kind discipleship model they were offering. In summary, I was impressed. What I found were quality people who are determined to see the next generation of saints raised and developed, and the ‘vehicle’ they are using to do that is called “Excelerate Discipleship Training” or their EDT program. (‘Excelerate’ is deliberately mis-spelt by the way!). This program is the closest I’ve seen to our own “Year of Discipleship” or YDT program here at Gilbulla. And as our relationship grows with this church I’m hoping Ellel Sydney can build a symbiotic relationship that allows both organisations to benefit and learn from each other.
On that trip to Melbourne I happened to take my second eldest son Matthew down with me… and it changed the direction of his life! He had planned to go overseas to continue his discipleship path before he hopped on that plane to Melbourne with me. However after meeting many of the students on the EDT program firsthand whilst down in Melbourne… Matthew came home with a serious wrestle with God on his hands! He spent a week grappling with God over the next step for his life… it was a tough week for his heart. But as Father God gently came alongside my Matthew, he came to the conclusion that Abba’s best for him was to apply for the Excelerate Discipleship Training program in Melbourne, and so Matthew was accepted into the 2018 intake and is now living down there and participating in their discipleship program… and he’s loving it!
So now with one of my precious sons closely involved, I have a personal interest in staying connected!
Having been genuinely encouraged by what Peter and Caleb Nicholes are offering on the subject of ‘fathering’…. I thought I might add some of my own learning to this most powerful of subjects and why it’s such a crucial component to raising disciples in the days that lay ahead!
So watch out over the next few months for another multi-part series I’m developing on “Fathering and Sonship” and how that feeds into raising disciples that will change a nation!
Until next time,
Centre Director, Ellel Sydney
23rd February 2018
Review Regarding Religious Freedoms
Last week on 14 February 2018, the deadline closed for submissions regarding the Review into Religious Freedoms here in Australia.
(If you didn’t even know there was a Review being held into Religious Freedoms here in Australia, then sadly, you probably weren’t the only one! I have to say, there wasn’t a great deal of time made available to get submissions prepared… nor was it well advertised that such a review of religious freedoms in this country was even taking place).
The stated objective of this Review ordered by the Australian Government was to examine and report on whether Australian law (Commonwealth, State and Territory) adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion. Whilst undertaking this Review, the Panel that has been assembled is charged with considering the intersections between the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and other human rights issues. Once the Panel’s review findings are complete, it will make recommendations to the Prime Minister.
How we arrived at this point for such a Review to be taking place is likely due to the recent marriage debate here in this country. It all centres around how we see ourselves as human beings, how we view our sexuality, how we view marriage and the design we believe God has for our happiness as a person (assuming you believe in God).
But sadly, this subject is so volatile and reactionary, so filled with accusation and vilification, that reasonable conversation has become almost impossible between the opposing parties. So it appears the government has ordered this Review to potentially bring about even more legislation changes to protect whoever they deem needs to be protected.
Regardless of the Review’s findings, I would like to point out something I feel will only be helpful to the person wanting to take the teachings of Jesus Christ seriously:- Jesus believed humanity has a design to it. He said we are made in the image of God — a truth that would do wonders for this planet if the world would embrace it. Jesus also believed that gender was part of the created order, teaching that we were made “male and female” Matthew 19:4 (quoting Genesis 2). Now, whatever else that implies, Jesus clearly felt that gender is something woven into our created being, not something of our own choice or making.
Therefore, I believe the Christian starting point on this issue has to be this: human gender is something designed by God. And only by finding His design for us can we flourish. For He alone can assure us of our true identity and worth as a person. Once you abandon the truth that human gender is something designed by God, you will find you need to distance yourself from Scripture as a whole, or rewrite it, or reinterpret it in ways that become completely incompatible with the Christ that the Scriptures point to.
You can of course choose to abandon the Scriptures. However, once you abandon the reliability of the Gospel witness of Jesus Christ and depart from the Scriptures Jesus clearly based his whole teaching on, you will no longer have anything resembling Christianity. Because you will no longer have anything resembling who Christ is or what He taught.
Christians here in Australia have for many generations been blessed with great freedom and privilege. Those freedoms are fast diminishing. At this time, our government is reviewing exactly what our religious freedoms will look like in the days ahead. Federal legislation, up until very recently, reflected a view of marriage akin to what Jesus said in Matthew 19:4 where it states that people are created by God as either male or female and marriage was a reflection of that. The Scriptures go on to say that the idea of marriage described in those passages presumes a unique relationship between a man and a woman who are joined together by God and live their lives in an exclusive life-long union where the two become one.
Since the success of the “Yes” vote in the same sex marriage postal plebiscite last year, legislation in Australia has now been passed that redefines the definition of marriage allowing any two people to marry.
Some people in our society have already demonstrated they are prepared to accuse, judge and condemn people who choose to still agree with the Biblical viewpoint stated by Jesus in Matthew 19.
The catch-cry of “bigot” has often been used to describe those who hold to the above-described biblical viewpoint that marriage should be between one man and one woman.
The assumption is that those who hold the traditional biblical view must therefore hate people who have a different view. That is simply not the case. To take that stance is just a form of public bullying to try and silence another’s point of view. For my own part, if someone has a different view about gender and marriage, I will respect those people who hold that view. I don’t share their view, that’s all. It’s stunning how blatantly irrational the cry of “bigotry” is in this instance. For example, if you examine some of my own close personal relationships – you will find there is often disagreement! I’ve been married for nearly 30 years and my wife disagrees with me from time to time on certain issues. I have disagreed with friends at times. I have even disagreed with my children at times. But I still love them all dearly. The idea of disagreement assuming hatred is really just a malicious attempt to intimidate. Sadly the people who are using this approach receive a lot of favour from some media organisations and they are experts at using social media to punch out their slogans.
Sadly as Christians, I believe we have laid part of the foundation for this attack that we are now under. For too long we have pointed angrily to the Scriptures and accusingly highlighted the sin. But I wonder how many of us have actually spent time coming alongside a person who is distressed about the gender they were born as? Or invited a homosexual over for dinner? Or had a lesbian come and spend time with our families?
John 1:17 states in NIV: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”. We seem to have forgotten that truth needs to be spoken with grace and love.
My heart would be to see every Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ not just be willing to quote the law of Scripture on this issue, but to actively pursue a course which would see us guilty on two counts:- 1.Guilty of speaking truth, and; 2. Guilty of showing undeniable grace and love. The first is much easier than the second.
I’m not sure what the outcome of this Review into Religious Freedoms will be (and though I will be praying that as Christians we get some protections back we seem to have lost…) if I were a betting man, I’d put money on the outcome not being so favourable towards Christians. (1 Thess 3:4; 2 Tim 3:12)
If the findings of this Religious Freedoms Review place Christians in a worse position than we have ever found ourselves in before, Jesus reminds us not to be alarmed! We also need to remember that Jesus had some things to say about people who take adversarial positions from ours:- love them, bless them, do good to them and pray for them. We as Christians are the ones who have a clear mandate for such a time as this.
I would also suggest you consider connecting with people from the LGBTQI community. Listen to their views and their feelings. Find out how to love them as people. Just like every other human being on the planet, regardless of whatever life has thrown at them… they have been created in the image of God just like you and me; and they are loved by Him.
It may cost you some of your latent prejudice to hang out with homosexuals, but it won’t cost you your conviction as to what the truth is.
Until next time,
Centre Director, Ellel Sydney
24th January 2018
G'day ... and Happy New Year!
The Romance Part 3
Over the back end of 2017, the running theme has centred around grasping what it means for Father God to ‘romance’ His children. This is the final instalment in that series. (Why not go back and have glance at the past few blog entries to see what this “Romance” is all about…)
In last November’s article I made this statement:-
"At some point in this “romance” we have to take a chance that God is actually safe and good! The struggle to believe that He is good is often the obstacle that stands in the way of letting God pursue us. If we have bought into the lie that God is not good… then we won’t believe God has our best interest at heart; we won’t believe He can be trusted. Ultimately, we will not trust that God is safe."
And then I followed that statement with:-
So let me dig a little deeper on this issue:-
- Can you learn to trust God in a way that lays down all of your defenses?
- Could you ever allow for a life that exists beyond trying to protect yourself?
- Is it possible to move away from the realm that always requires analysis; to let some portions of your life be impractical; to cease evaluating all things based on their utility, function or effectiveness?
- Are you willing to let go of your doggedness to control? Bottom line - are you willing to let go… and let God in?
In learning how to allow Father God to ’romance’ us… we need to understand that it is our fear that stands in the way of trusting Him. Our anxiousness actually drives us toward rebellion and control… and that pushes God even further away! That lack of trust ‘closes the door’ on The Great Lover!
So, I need to ask how serious you are about allowing God to become more intimate with you?
Allow me now to ask some more questions…
- Are you willing to let desire and hunger rise within you? (Even though it will undoubtedly rattle and unnerve you?)
- Will you allow Him to come so close as to invite healing and restoration for your heart?
- Are you willing, at some level, to begin to be “undone” by a holy God who has been pursuing you relentlessly for some time now?
If you are game enough (or desperate enough!) to whisper “yes” to those questions… then we may proceed.
To enter into this Romance requires us to slow down, or we will miss how the Father is courting us (John Eldredge refers to it as “the wooing”). Turn off the TV and Netflix; get off all your devices. You might want to put on some gentle music that speaks to your heart. Perhaps you could even step outside into the sunshine for a walk – daring the Creator to meet you in His creation. Maybe you could take up creative writing or begin journaling. Maybe try sketching or just paint onto a blank canvas whatever is on your heart.
Better still, what has stirred your heart repeatedly over the years? What grabs your eye – and your heart – every time you see it? Go back to that… recover what was lost back then! (Better yet, ask The Father to help you recover it! He doesn’t want you to do this alone anymore… He wants to Father you).
All this is very hard to do – I know. Especially if we have spent years burying our heart behind a ‘to do’ list! But remember—“what the evil one does to a good warrior… is to bury him with battles” states Eldredge. Satan’s goal is to wear us down with battle after battle. But life is not meant to be all about the battle. There is a Lover of our soul who has been ‘calling’ to us for some time now. The romance is always central. Because ‘The Romancer’ wants to be central to our hearts. We need Him to be central to our hearts!
Listen to the Psalmist David:
Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.
One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. (Ps. 27:3–4 NIV)
David, the bloodied warrior king, knew what it was like to be in the thick of the battle. But he also confidently knew what it is to have God come through for him in the midst of those battles. David’s heart will not fear – because he has found a place (“though an army besiege me” ) where God’s perfect love forbids fear from taking hold (1 John 4:18 reminds us that Gods perfect love casts our fear!).
David has ‘war’ breaking out all around him. But, he does not make ‘war’ the central issue. What he seeks is not the battle—what he seeks is to spend “all the days of his life” dwelling with the Lord. David is seeking to bathe in the beauty that only a romance with God can provide. For David knows that from a place of intimacy with God, the Lord can then give David the battle plan he needs for victory!
For David to say that he seeks “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord”… suggests we must remember that the real battle is for the Romance!
What we are fighting for is the removal of everything “that stands between our face and God’s face” says Thom Gardner.
To enter into this romance is to discover a freedom and a restoration that emanates only from deep intimacy with God. That is what my heart yearns for… What does your heart yearn for?
May I suggest that if we make any kind of New Year resolution for 2018, make it one that lines up with King David’s pursuit of ‘The Romance”… one that says, Lord Jesus, I want to seek “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord”. And remember, the real battle is actually to prevent you from entering into the Romance! Because from that place of intimacy with Father God is where we discover the battle plans that lead to victory.
Don’t let the enemy steal that from you any longer.
Until next time,
Centre Director, Ellel Sydney
22nd November 2017
The Romance Part 2
Over the previous couple of blog entries, I have been attempting to unpack what it means for Father God to “romance” his children. Before continuing that theme, I’d like to ask if you attempted either of those ‘heart exercises’ I suggested last month? (If you’ve just joined the conversation I would highly recommend going back and reading my last two blog entries, then give those exercises a go!)
Regarding this “romance”, I firmly believe Abba Father has been trying to pursue me for quite a while. (The greater truth is that He’s been trying to get my attention for decades. I have been too dull to notice Father God’s advances towards me until more recent years).
What I have learned personally on the journey thus far is that we cannot orchestrate what “The Great Romancer” does in this expedition of the heart.
Father God simply calls and invites. Our role is to accept or reject. For too many years I chose to ‘reject’ His gentle invitations.
But I have also come to understand this… to gain the most out of what Father God is up to - requires a stance or a posture that we must take. It requires an openness to His pursuit of our heart. It requires vulnerability on our part.
Most of us, sadly, are not so great at being vulnerable or opening our hearts… for that is how we got hurt in the first place!
For other people their life experiences suggest “Father” is not a safe term.
Whatever the negatives are in our story… we won’t find it easy to open up to the “romance” that we are being invited to enter until those areas are healed. The ‘Catch 22’ situation we find ourselves in, is that we will need to trust Abba Father in order get healed!
If we don’t learn how to let God begin “romancing” us we will never be able to let go of the fears that prevent God getting close to us (or let anyone get close for that matter!).
If we can just take a few deep breaths; and let go of the steering wheel even just a little… we might be surprised how God might come alongside us. If you can let go, even just a fraction… that may release God to connect with you in a more intimate way.
Unfortunately, many find it a struggle to believe God would ever give them anything good. If your formative years were not all that they should have been, and you’re one who struggles to trust… then you probably find it difficult to believe that God has good things to give you.
If you’re in that camp… I have some things I’d like you to ponder:-
Scripture says God is a good Father. Would an evil father give their child a snake when they ask for an egg – no of course not – so how much more will your Heavenly Father, who is good, give the Holy Spirit to those who ask? (Luke 11:11-13).
At some point in this “romance” we have to take a chance that God is actually safe! The struggle to believe that He is good is often the obstacle that stands in the way of letting God pursue us. If we have bought into the lie that God is not good… then we won’t believe God has our best interest at heart; ultimately, we won’t believe God can be trusted.
No romance can truly succeed without trust.
So let me dig a little deeper on this issue:-
Can you learn to trust God in a way that lays down all of your defences?
Could you ever allow for a life that exists beyond trying to protect yourself?
Is it possible to move away from the realm that always requires analysis; to let some portions of your life be impractical; to cease evaluating all things based on their utility, function or effectiveness?
I’m basically asking are you willing to let go of your doggedness to control?
Bottom line - are you willing to let go… and let God in?
If the answer is ‘yes’… then you are closer to entering into this “romance” with God than you first thought.
In the Blog to follow (which will be in the New Year), I’ll wrap up this little mini-series on “The Romance” with a closing article next January.
For now let me wish you a very happy and holy Christmas from myself and the whole Ellel Sydney team. Let me leave you with the description given in Isaiah 9:6 of this God who is pursuing us: “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will rest upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…” (who wouldn’t want to be “romanced” by that God!)
Until next time,
Centre Director, Ellel Sydney
24th October 2017
Last month I wrote about the passing of my Uncle Mick and how his death tapped into something deep within in me. What it touched into was a longing to return to a very special time of ‘romance’ in my childhood. It was a delightful season which God took me back to so He could come alongside me and reveal things I had not previously seen or understood about that season. Through that, Father God brought further healing and clarity to my heart in some much needed areas (See last month’s blog to read more about my story).
Since then I have had some conversations with one or two folk who were touched by what I wrote in the last blog, but the one thing they could not grasp was that a Holy God would want to “romance” them! And judging how a handful of others have since asked me “what exactly is this romance with God that you’re referring to?”... that suggests to me there might be more than just a few Christians who find it hard to comprehend that God wants to “romance” them.
So over the next one or two blog entries, I might try to unpack what it means for God to “romance” his children.
To be honest, ‘the romance” is not an easy thing to describe! It’s about the mystery of how a Holy God continually looks for ways to pursue our hearts and this idea that God wants to “romance” us is really describing the intimate ways God tries to connect with us.
The biggest obstacle to entering into this “romance” with God – is actually ourselves!
You see, whether we realise it or not - we have shut our hearts down. The wounds we have suffered and the lies we consequently believe have caused us to close our hearts. It’s a form of protection. But sometimes in attempting to protect ourselves – we harden our hearts. For most of us it’s just too risky to open up and allow a mysterious romance to begin with an Almighty God… in which we have no control over the outcomes. It is always our fears that drive us to control things in life… and being in control of our life gives us the illusion of feeling safe.
This self-protection mode we find ourselves in urges us to block Father God’s advances towards us.
In those moments where our fear and rebellion close our heart to God’s advances – it is trust that has been lost. Our God is a gentleman. He will not draw near to a person who outwardly is saying: “Where are you God? I need you!”, but on the inside is screaming: “Don’t come any closer! I do not trust you God!”.
And so Father God will not draw near out of respect for our truer wishes… but the consequences are that we miss out on His embrace; and He misses out on cuddling His kids.
If we are serious about wanting to go deeper on this ‘romance’ with God… it will require an unravelling of all the above-mentioned issues that lead us to be afraid; untrusting and controlling. Undoing all the root causes of that is not an easy or a swift assignment.
The first time I heard about God wanting to “romance” us came from a book called “The Sacred Romance” by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge. The theme of God desiring a sacred romance with us is brilliantly unpacked in this book. (If you are serious about wanting to understand this better, do yourself a favour and call the Ellel Reception and order the book!).
The key point from “The Sacred Romance” is that the Lord desires to come alongside us by recovering from our memory those fond childhood moments – through which He may want to speak to us.
So how does Father God connect with us and “romance” us through childhood memories?
Well, Holy Spirit could surprise you in a number of ways, but it will always be very unique and special to your story, for only Father God truly knows your heart:-
- It might take place as you hear a song on the radio that takes you back to a different time and deeply impacts you…
- Or perhaps a book you are reading touches something deep within you and moves you powerfully…
- Or you find yourself watching a movie and a particular scene brings a tear to your eye…
When we experience any of those above moments, we are often rattled and confused by what is surfacing in our own hearts. In such emotional instants, when something deep in our spirit is uncovered, we usually dismiss it quickly or bury the memory or feeling… why? Because we like to control our lives, remember. We don’t like it when Father God makes advances towards us that cause us to become undone. So we resist and close our hearts once again.
To enter into “The Sacred Romance” we need to learn to respond differently in those moments.
Whichever way God chooses to get our attention, whether it be songs; books; movies or in other ways… His desire is to surface a longing or yearning in our hearts, so He can address something in us today as the adult. He wants to go deeper with us. He wants to “romance” us. God is in fact courting us in that moment.
The next time a Holy God slips past your guard and you are ‘undone’ by a song; or a book; or a line in movie;… I want to suggest you ask these questions:- “Father God, is that you calling to me? Why is this impacting me? What are you trying to show me or reveal to me in this moment?”
I hold great hope for those willing to ask such questions that they will enter the sacred romance.
Ultimately, the “romance” is about Father God’s pursuit of His children’s hearts.
To gain eyes to see and understand this requires us to take a certain position. It requires a re-orientation of how we view God. It requires a shift in how we learn to recognise Abba Father reaching out to us. I’d like to explore this further next month…
In the meantime, I’d like to you to consider these two exercises:-
- Would you make time where you can just stop; pause; breathe; and be still. Don’t rush this. Take a few minutes to quieten your heart. Then from that quiet place, invite Holy Spirit to meet with you. He just may take you back to a special time during your formative years. A memory of His choosing; not yours! Not a memory that you have to strive to come up with; but rather a memory that Father God surprises you with! A time perhaps when you were young and all was good, safe and fun-loving… And if such a memory comes to mind, just simply keep your eyes closed and stay in it. Enjoy it. Allow Abba Father to make Himself known to you in the midst of it. Better yet, ask Him to show you where He is in that memory. Then simply enjoy His presence…
- The next time a Holy God finds a way to slip past your guard and some emotions surface, please don’t bury that thought or feeling. The next time you are ‘undone’ by a song, book movie, etc., ask this question:- “Father God is that you calling to me? Why is this impacting me Lord? What are you trying to reveal to me in this moment?”
To do either of the above is to ask God to “romance” you.
Until next time,
Centre Director, Ellel Gilbulla
20th September 2017
Uncle Mick's Passing
On Sunday, 3rd September 2017, an uncle of mine named Robert (Mick) O’Connor passed away.
I had penciled-in to go and visit him in hospital the very next day on Monday 4th September, but death is no respecter of diaries. I was deeply disappointed not to have seen my Uncle Mick one more time. I would have loved to have enjoyed a few last moments with him, laughing and reminiscing about extended family holidays and hearing some very entertaining stories (none that I could repeat here!).
What I really wanted to say to him was a personal thank you for his ‘father-like” investment in me in the absence of my own dad. It would have been nice to have honoured him in that way face to face. However, that was not to be. And just as disheartening was the fact that his funeral clashed with a long standing commitment I had made to run a Modular event at our Ellel Perth centre… so my disappointment was doubled when I could not attend his funeral held on the 10th September. (However, I must report that God honoured that sacrifice by doing some amazing things in the lives of those who attended the WA event!).
But in all, I have to honestly report that my uncle’s passing last week has been somewhat unsettling for me.
Uncle Mick was in some way “the last of the Mohicans”! His passing represents an end of an era for my extended family. All of my older male ancestors are now gone. He was the last of my parent’s generation.
I am now the elder patriarch of my family line. And I find that rather sobering.
So the question I have been pursuing in these last few days is “Why has my uncle’s passing unsettled me?”
Admittedly there has not been much time to just stop and try to process things. But once I completed my Perth assignment and settled back into Aisle seat 28B on flight QF569 home-bound for Sydney, that gave me 4 hours to be still and invite Father God to reveal some missing pieces of the puzzle to me. Here is what Father God has been showing me ...
A book came to mind that I read years ago by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge called “The Sacred Romance”. One poignant point from that book that stayed with me was how God could use a special time in your childhood to “romance” you today as an adult – (ie God getting your attention today as an adult, by recalling to your memory the way He pursued your heart in fond childhood moments). The message of ‘The Sacred Romance’ is that God can ‘call to us’ as adults by surfacing precious moments in our childhood in a way that deepens our walk with Him today. Perhaps even reveal something fresh that He wants us to pursue for His kingdom purpose in the future.
With regard to my own “Romance” in childhood, Uncle Mick (and his era) represented a special window of respite for me from an otherwise broken and dysfunctional upbringing. It was a unique time in my childhood that has long since passed. But nonetheless it is a time set deep in my memory and my heart which the Lord has been ‘calling’ me back to recently. Almost as though there is more healing and restoration He has yet to do in my heart or more of destiny and purpose He wants to reveal from that childhood experience.
That “Romance” period of my life involved every Christmas school holiday from ever since I could remember until I was 18 years of age. Every summer my mother, my brother and I would travel and gather with the whole extended family for about a month at my grandfather's holiday home at Narooma on the south coast of NSW.
They were an amazing four weeks every year in my childhood, where we’d alternate between days at Lake Corunna water-skiing; days playing and swimming at Narooma or Dalmeny beach; and days out chasing bream and flathead on streams and lakes!
If I close my eyes I can remember the smell of the freshly caught fish cooking with lemon-pepper seasoning on the open wood barbecue in the backyard or a big sizzling steak hitting the hotplate! Cousins running around everywhere playing ‘chase’! Aunties all busy in the kitchen or attending to children’s needs. I can still picture the intricate sand castles we kids erected on the beach whilst all the adults lazed around like beached whales sun-tanning on their beach towels. Back then sun protection consisted of a beach umbrella and zinc cream (which only came in one colour – humiliating white!).
I can remember the smell of high octane V8-engined water-ski boats thundering across the water pulling us along. With every new level of waterskiing skill that I gained, it was testimony to my uncles who patiently coached me until I’d mastered each skill. It was like a series of mini rite-of-passages for me… learning to ski on knee boards; then two skis; two skis to one ski; one ski to no skies (ie barefooting!). And the cheer of encouragement those ‘proxy’ fathers gave me when I mastered a new level… It made me start to believe that I did have what it took to conquer the challenges that lay ahead in my life. There was a significant sense of value and worth imparted to me from those men during that era. That is an investment I will be forever thankful for!
My Grandfather, Uncle Graham and Uncle Mick (my mother’s father and her two younger brothers) all played key roles in filling an empty place in my soul at a critical time in my development. My early formative years were filled with the trauma of a parent’s separation and divorce, the abandonment of a father who’d moved out and the uncertainty that followed.
Over the years, I have come to appreciate more and more just what a staggering gift and dramatic rescue those summers were for me. (Thank you Father God!). Oh how I wish everyone could have been as blessed as me during those fun-filled family Christmas holidays.
In fact the “Romance” can come for each of us in many ways, thank God! What was it for you in your childhood? Did you chase grasshoppers; visit the old library with a grandparent; read favorite books? Was it your first snow trip; roasting marshmallows over an open fire; secret tree houses built high up in a tree? What fond memories of your childhood does God keep bringing to mind? And what is He trying to communicate to you through re-visiting that time?
Can I just say this from personal experience… that re-discovering that time and allowing Father God to show you where He was in those years and what He was doing, perhaps previously unseen by you —can be one of our life’s greatest treasures for us as an adult. What God may speak into our hearts during that process could be profound.
Although I did not get to say this at my Uncle Mick’s funeral, I would like to say it here:
“Thanks Uncle Mick (and Uncle Graham and Grandad) for the legacy you deposited into my heart and into my spirit. My own five sons and daughter have benefitted greatly – because they are now receiving what was poured into me during that season. I pray that I am half the patriarch you all were. May you all rest in peace”
And I want to also say a huge thank you to my Heavenly Father, who for so many years I believed had abandoned me during those early formative years (just as my own earthly dad had done). But in fact God was right there during that turbulent period of my youth weaving and orchestrating His rescue plan for me!
He truly is an amazing Father.
Until next time,
Centre Director, Gilbulla
23rd August 2017
Ever had a day when everyone seems to get a look-in except you?
Let's quickly re-visit the story of Korah's rebellion from last month in Numbers Chapter 16.
A Levite priest wants to usurp Aaron and take over the priesthood, and at the same time remove Moses from leadership!
The key person at the centre of this story, Korah, was a descendant of the Kohathites. They were Levite priests granted high duties in the service of the Lord at the Tabernacle. But for Korah, this high honour was not enough. He desired more. His ultimate ambition was to assume the role of High Priest. He wanted to replace Aaron. So he manipulatively rallied others to his cause in an attempt to achieve that ambition. But to achieve that goal, he would also have to depose Moses as Leader!
Korah rallied a large group of prominent men to come alongside him. In Numbers 16:2-3 it states: “With them were over 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the Council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron…”.
Now, let’s pick up where we left off last month and see what happens next…
The text describes how the disgruntled men who stood against Moses and Aaron were challenged to come to the Tent of Meeting with fire in their censers. (This trial was now to be decided by fire!). The 250 men aligned with Korah came arrogantly to stand against Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The Almighty spoke with words of impending doom for this rebellious group (vs19-21). Their punishment was fittingly ironic: The 250 men who dared to present themselves as priests before the Lord with fire in their censors were themselves put to death by fire (vs 35) sent from the Lord, after they had been swallowed by the earth!
What a powerful vindication of Moses and Aaron by the Lord God Almighty!
Interestingly, it was the true Priests who were asked to collect the censers of the 250 deceased impostors. The true priests plucked the censors from the impostor’s charred remains and hammered them into bronze sheets to form part of the Altar in the Tent of Meeting. That bronze Altar became a memorial to the folly of a “self-proclaimed” priest (vs39-40).
So, what lessons are in this story?
Back to my opening question! Ever feel like everyone else seems to be getting a look-in except you? Ever had days where you feel like you should be getting a lot more recognition offered to you? I’ll bet there have been times you grumbled and complained because you felt you were owed something… right!?! Perhaps it has even crossed your mind to whine to others about your plight in the hope of gaining a following that supports you in your cause…. (you wouldn’t be the first!).
What Korah’s Rebellion teaches me is that whenever I’m “owed something” I am on very dangerous ground! The temptation is often to take things into your own hands and try to manipulate to get the result you want.
Instead of taking that track… far better to take my complaint to Father God.
Once I’ve unloaded all my disappointment and anger on God privately… it’s amazing how much clearer I can think AFTER the emotions have been ‘handed over’ to the Lord. Suddenly, the “fog” clears and I can begin to see what it is the Heavenly Father needs me to understand at that time.
Allow me to offer some simple advice…
…next time you’re thinking you’re owed something and you want to take matters into your own hands (to self-promote)… consider what happened to Korah and his 250 mates!
Sadly, just as Lucifer was not satisfied with the key position he had been given in heaven, so too Korah and his followers were clearly unhappy with the high position given to them. Korah was operating under the same ‘Luciferin influence’ that caused the very first rebellion in heaven (Rev 12). The similarities are too many to discard!
The outcome for both Lucifer and his fallen angels and similarly Korah and his rebellious priests – is not something I particularly want to experience!
I have never seen it work out well for those who take the path of ‘self-promotion’. But those who keep their heart right and choose to put their trust in the Lord (like Moses and Aaron) are often vindicated in due course.
Maybe the next time you feel hard done by; or overlooked; feel unheard; unvalued; or not appreciated…instead of trying to get the result you’re after (via grumbling, gossiping; or manipulative means of self-promotion) you might want to ask yourself these questions:-
“What are you trying to teach me in this situation Father God?”
“What issues in my heart are you trying to surface through this road-block?”
“What is it you want me to see about myself, that I’ve never had eyes to see before?”
“What are you asking me to let go of Father God, which I have been resisting?”
“What is it you want me to do Lord, that I have been too fearful to do previously?”
“Is there anything unholy within me, Father God, that you want to dismantle?”
I do not hold much hope for those who insist on the path of self-promotion (and I certainly do not want to be standing next to them when the fire falls!).
However, I hold great hope for those who are humble enough and courageous enough to ask God those above-mentioned questions!
In fact, it’s my experience that those prepared to ask the Heavenly Father those kind of probing questions about the state of their own heart… they are usually the ones who end up being both vindicated and elevated by God – in due time at the appropriate hour!
Go back and read through those questions again.
Allow them to sink in, so when you next feel ‘owed something’ or ‘overlooked’… those questions might come to mind… and save you from a truck load of trouble!
Until next time,
Centre Director, Gilbulla
19th July 2017
When We Think We're Owed Something
Have you ever felt like you are owed something, or deserve better or even feel like you are being overlooked?
I want to follow on from last month’s concept of ‘feeling overlooked’ where we examined how Lucifer wanted to steal God’s throne for himself (described in Isaiah 14 in the Five “I Will’s”). You might recall the outcome involved Lucifer and about one-third of the angels being thrown out of heaven (see Rev 12).
Interestingly, that kind of desire to elevate oneself isn’t really isolated. Scripture reveals similar stories from time to time where something unholy surfaces in the heart of a person and the consequences that outwork are disastrous!
This month we’ll look at an individual in the Bible who wreaks havoc simply because he felt he deserved better! This person takes the path of ‘self-promotion’ which always a dangerous path!
In the Book of Numbers, Chapter 16, there is a story about a man named Korah who led a rebellion against Moses. The outcome is shocking!
Every time I begin to feel disgruntled, or overlooked or when I think I’m owed something… this tale reminds me to check my heart attitude before I say or do something that I may later regret.
It is a story that sobers me every time I re-visit it!
Let’s explore it together and I’ll offer some key “insights” as we go…
The key person at the centre of this story, Korah, happens to be a descendant of a man named Kohathite.
The Kohathites were Levites who were granted high duties in the service of the Lord at the Tabernacle. But for Korah, this particular high honour was not enough. He desired even more. His ultimate ambition was to assume the role of the High Priest. He wanted to replace Aaron. So he manipulatively rallied others to his cause in an attempt to achieve that ambition.
The scriptures reveal that Korah “…became insolent and rose up against Moses”. (Numbers 16:1-2).
In fact, Korah had rallied a very large group of prominent people to side with him… It states in Numbers 16:2-3:
“With them were over 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the Council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron…”.
I always find it interesting that when a person ‘rises up against’ those in rightful authority… they often convince others to side with them in their offense!
Insight No 1:- When someone else is offended and begins to gossip against those in authority… be wary of the enemy’s plot to ‘rally a mob’. This strategy is designed to get others to also rise up against Godly authority… do not join them!!
It is not our role to ‘remove’ key leaders from positions of authority. That is God’s role. Daniel 5:21b states: “…the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them any one he wishes”.
God is the one who ultimately appoints and removes those in leadership. Be wary of those who want to go about such things in ungodly ways… it only ever leads to pain and misery.
So how did Moses respond to Korah arriving on his doorstep with 250 grumbling men?
Moses wisely chose to let God be his defender rather than squabble with this aggravated hoard. He simply declared:- “In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to Him and who is holy…”. (vs5).
Insight No 2:- Moses immediately recognized what was unfolding before him was unholy. Moses was confident that neither he, nor Aaron, had done anything to deserve the assault that came against them. Therefore he trusted that the Lord would defend him!
Sometimes I wonder if we act too soon to defend ourselves with rash responses and actions when situations come against us. If our hearts are truly right before God and there is no wrong doing on our part… maybe we need to have a little more faith that our Heavenly Father will come through in defending us.
Do you believe that Abba Father wants to protect and defend you when you come under assault?
When we look closer at what steps Moses took when he was under assault… he did offer this strong rebuke:-
“You Levites have gone too far!” (Vs7). “…isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near to Himself to work at the Lord’s tabernacle and to stand before the community to minister to them?”(vs 9-10).
“…but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together”. (vs 10-11).
Insight No 3:- When we rise up against leadership who have been rightly appointed by God, those above verses demonstrate it is not just the individual leaders we are challenging… We are also standing ‘against the Lord’ who appointed those leaders (when we grumble, gossip and complain about them!)
Furthermore, I never cease to be amazed at how those who are offended end up with ‘distorted lenses’… for example when we get to Verse 13 we find this group charge Moses with having led the people “out of a land flowing with milk and honey”! Now that is bizarre… because by some strange alchemy… in the minds of those coming against Moses, Egypt (the nation that had enslaved and tortured them) had somehow transformed from prison to paradise!
It truly is amazing how sin blinds us to the truth! Wounded embittered people often lose sight of the truth and buy into deception and lies.
Next month we’ll continue exploring this tale of ‘Korah’s Rebellion’ to discover whether or not God rescues Moses and Aaron from this angry mob… the end result is truly astonishing!
Until next time,
Paul Ryan, Centre Director
Ellel Ministries, Gilbulla
24th June 2017
Be Wary of the Five "I Wills"!
Have you ever felt like life is just unfair sometimes?
You know those times when we think we’re owed something!
Maybe your boss is under-selling you! Or he’s just not seeing your true potential? Did you ever wish you could just elevate yourself to the position you believe you deserve?
The problem with self-promotion is that it doesn’t have a good track record in the Bible!
You might recall there was once a mighty Angel in heaven named Lucifer, who also felt a sense of entitlement! And that led to a rebellion in heaven, where Lucifer and one third of the angels who also rebelled with him – were all cast down to earth (Rev 12).
In Isaiah Chapter 14 we get an insight into Lucifer’s sense of entitlement expressed in verses 12-15, in what theologians refer to as the Five “I Wills” that display Lucifer’s dissatisfaction, pride, rebellion and desire for self-promotion.
Vs 12 “How you have fallen from heaven O morning star…” (in scripture, angels are often referred to as ‘stars’!) “…you have been cast down to earth”.
Vs13 “You said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven." (Self–will)
“I will raise my throne above the stars of God.” (Self–exaltation)
“I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.” (Self-enthronement)
Vs14 “I will ascend above the tops of the clouds.” (Self-ascension)
“I will make myself like the Most High.” (self-deification)
Vs15 “But you are brought down to the grave to the depths of the pit”
Lucifer chose a path ‘independent of God’ – which is really the definition of rebellion.
Satan believed he knew better. In his pride, he exalted himself. He wanted to take the place of God!
Consequently, he was brought down by the Most High. We see in Rev 12:7-9, the Arch-angel Michael and two-thirds of the holy angels that stayed true… threw Lucifer and the rebellious one-third of the ‘stars’ (angels) out of heaven and down to earth (see also Rev 12:4). Even Jesus testified to having witnessed ‘Satan fall from heaven like lightning’ in Luke 10:18.
Lucifer thought he deserved the top job.
In God’s eyes, that kind of pride made him dangerous!
Ironically, when we feel we are owed something… that can make us dangerous too! It never ceases to amaze me how we often want to take things into our own hands and manipulate the situation to our advantage… to get the result we believe is the right outcome. We might whine or whinge to others. It could be through gossip or possibly speaking poorly of those in leadership over us. Basically, we’ll do whatever it takes to make those who are ‘ticking us off’ look bad! And then do or say whatever it takes to make ourselves look better!
Can I offer some simple advice I have learned on the anvil of life’s experience…
…next time you’re thinking you are owed something and you want to take matters into your own hands (to self-promote)… Just consider what happened to Lucifer!
Sadly, that once mighty Angel wasn’t satisfied with the lot he had been given… and I have never seen it work out well in the long term for those who take the path of self-promotion.
But those who choose to trust in the Lord, who are prepared to be taken on a journey… I often see elevated in due course.
So, consider again the Five “I Will’s” when next you feel overlooked:-
“You said in your heart, I will ascend…” (Self–will)
“I will raise my throne above the stars…” (Self–exaltation)
“I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly…” (Self-enthronement)
“I will ascend above the tops of the clouds…” (Self-ascension)
“I will make myself like the Most High…” (self-deification)
The next time you are offended and sense of entitlement begins to rise within … check your heart for any of those above sentiments … and remember -
“God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
Perhaps instead of trying to get the result you are after (via self-promotion) the next time you feel overlooked, it would be far better to humbly ask a question like:-
“Father God, is there anything that needs to change in me, before You see me as ready to be promoted?”
It’s my experience that those who are prepared to ask the Heavenly Father those kind of questions are usually the ones who end up being used powerfully by God in the long term!
In my next blog, I might share another biblical scenario of a man named Korah who also thought that he was overlooked and was ‘owed something'.
Until next time,
Paul Ryan, Centre Director
Ellel Ministries, Gilbulla
24th May 2017
Learning to Walk with a Thankful Heart - Part 4
Yep, you thought last month's instalment was the final one .... but, no there is no end to being thankful, even in times of panic and despair as we read in this next instalment.
In this series on “Thankfulness”, I have been attempting to broaden our view of what it means to practically to live a life of thankfulness.
In Part 1 of “Learning to Walk with a Thankful Heart”, I recommended starting a ‘Book of Remembrance’ which is basically a Journal recording key people whom God has used to positively shape and mold us as individuals. It’s a tool that allows you to recall and be thankful to God for the integral part key individuals have played in our lives.
In Part 2, an invitation was offered to seek out family or friends whom God might bring to mind to approach and say what you’re thankful about regarding the impact of their life upon you.
In Part 3, we focused on the Luke passage about the ten lepers healed by Jesus where we learned how important it is to cultivate a grateful attitude before God, who clearly notices when we don’t say thank you!
Now in this fourth instalment, we’re looking at Daniel and how he demonstrates that thankfulness steadies the heart under pressure!
In the Book of Daniel (Chapter 2) we read about King Nebuchadnezzar having a dream that troubled him greatly! The King refused to share with his mediums and occult practitioners (ie the ‘Wise Men’) what he had dreamt, demanding that they must tell him not just what the dream was about… but also share what the interpretation of the dream is!
None could offer what he demanded.
As they had all failed King Nebuchadnezzar, decreed that every one of the wise men in the land were to be put to death!
At this point in the story, Daniel the prophet of God and his friends, who was included amongst these wise men, were also placed under this death penalty. However, Daniel asked the King for more time! He was granted that time.
Daniel then asked his friends to intercede. Stunningly, we read in Daniel Chapter 2, Verse 19 that “During the night…”, suggesting Daniel seems to have gone to bed! - where in the middle of the night, the Lord revealed the mystery of the King’s dream to Daniel!
Now, let me ask you this question… would you be able to sleep the night before your execution?
No! …me neither!
But Daniel, appears to have rested peacefully overnight, where God came to him and gave him the needed interpretation! Then the scripture states that Daniel praised the God of heaven throughout the verse in Daniel 2:19-23. In verse 23 Daniel says” “I thank and praise you, oh God of my fathers; You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you”.
Clearly, this man of God knew what it meant to wait upon a holy God with a thankful trusting heart… even in the midst of impending death!
In fact, I imagine Daniel’s heart was already poised the night before – through a trusting, thankful, peaceful heart that waited patiently on God to come through... and Daniel indeed experienced his God come through for him and his friends!
And the key in this stressful circumstance?... Thankfulness!
Thankfulness and praise steadies and protects the heart from panic and despair!
The key here is that God always had this situation under control. In His sovereignty, the “crisis” was no surprise to God. Daniel’s intimate relationship with God gave him the faith and trust to know that. In fact in every “crisis”, there is always an opportunity for God to be glorified, provided we can give thanks in unnerving situations and learn to ask Him to rescue us in the midst of our trial.
God is never surprised by a ‘crisis’. He has everything under control – whether we can see that or not!
However, for most of us, we rarely attempt to steady our hearts in a crisis. Simply because we usually fail to trust in our God to come through for us. We usually believe it depends all on us. But if we could learn, to steady our hearts with thanks and praise… we too just might see God to display His hand in a powerful way.
Remember, the key lesson Daniel teaches us is that thankfulness steadies the heart from panic and despair! If we can learn that from Daniel… we just might see how God could move come to miraculously come through more often for us when crisis comes in our life.
Next time you’re faced with a pressured situation that carries an uncertain outcome, ask Father God to steady your heart. Choose to be thankful in such pressured situations – regardless of the negative circumstances that surround you – try it - see if panic and despair aren’t put to flight!
Your God is dying to come through for you! And He will!
(Why not just thank Him ahead of time?)
Until next month…
Paul Ryan, Centre Director
Ellel Ministries, Gilbulla
18th April 2017
Learning to Walk with a Thankful Heart - Part 3
In Part 1 of “Learning to Walk with a Thankful Heart”, I recommended starting a ‘Book of Remembrance’ which is basically a Journal that records key people whom God has used to positively shape and mold us as individuals. It’s a tool that allows you to recall and be thankful to God for the integral part key individuals have played in your life.
In Part 2, I provided an invitation to seek out family, or friends, whom God might lead you to approach and share what you are thankful about regarding the impact of their life upon you.
In this 3rd instalment of learning to cultivate a grateful attitude and a thankful heart, I would like to begin by looking at this passage in Luke 17:11-19 on the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus:-
Ten Healed of Leprosy
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a]met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"
14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."
Allow me to ask this question:- “How many lepers returned to say thank you to Jesus after being healed?”.
Only one! Right!?!
A despised Samaritan returned alone to Jesus, throwing himself at Christ’s feet to acknowledge him as Lord and to say thank you to Him. What a great shame that the other nine, who were also miraculously healed by the Saviour – failed to return and say thank you and acknowledge Him as Lord also!
Now, note carefully this critical point in the story that highlights how Jesus responds to this failure to show gratitude… Jesus asked in Verse 17-18, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"
After Jesus had healed all 10, with only 1 returning to say thank you, He asks “Where are the other nine?”
The key point here is that God notices when we don’t thank him!
God loves gratitude – because it’s actually worship!
Our thanksgiving reveals a grateful heart… it is like worship to Him.
Allow me to ask… when you have done something for someone and they fail to say thank you… do you notice their ingratitude? (You do, don’t you!).
If you were to keep getting requests for favours from a particular person, which you continually help them with… but they never say ‘thank you’… do you think you would eventually notice that lack of appreciation?
I’m fairly sure you would indeed notice their lack of appreciation!
Then recognize that the One whose image we are molded from also notices when we fail to thank Him!
God notices ingratitude.
We often pray asking God for some favour, or healing or other request to meet our life needs at specific times.
But I wonder how often we actually remember to pause and deliberately thank a holy God when He has actually answered our prayer?
Here is my practical assignment for you:-
Sit down quietly, ask the Lord to remind you of the things you have asked Him for in prayer over the last 12 months… (either for yourself, or for someone else).
Then, once you have a list of prayer requests made over the last year or so… consider which of those prayer requests have actually been answered?
Once you have identified how many of those prayers have been answered…ask yourself this question: -
“Have I deliberately paused to offer thanks and praise to God for coming through for me on those prayer requests?” (Remember, God notices ingratitude).
If you haven’t actually stopped to thank Him… It’s never too late!
Until next time,
Paul Ryan, Centre Director
Ellel Ministries, Gilbulla
20th March 2017
Learning to Walk with a Thankful Heart - Part 2
In Part 1 of “Learning to Walk with a Thankful Heart”, I recommended starting a ‘Book of Remembrance’ (ie a Journal recording the key events and people whom God has used in a positive way to shape and mold you). It’s basically tool that allows you to recall and be thankful to God for the integral part key people have played in your life.
In Part 2 here, I would like to build towards another practical suggestion that I will offer at the end of this article, which I hope will also help improve how we relate to others around us – particularly when it comes to cultivating a grateful attitude and a thankful heart.
Let me begin by reminding you of a scripture we often use at Ellel Ministries when discussing how the words of others can affect us…
“The tongue has the power of life and death” (Prov 18:21 NIV)
The words we speak over others can either bring blessing and encouragement, or they can bring rejection and curse!
With regards to cultivating a thankful heart, one way we can show gratitude and appreciation for those God has put around us, is to actually tell them how thankful we are for their influence they bring into our life today!
Through the healing retreats and ministry we offer here at Ellel Gilbulla, we are often asking Jesus to ‘undo’ the damage caused by negative words that have been spoken over people by others (e.g. parents, siblings, other family members, etc,).
The tongue that is capable of causing incredible wounds… is also capable of speaking wonderful encouragement and life giving words over people.
I’d like to share a story that will help ‘set the scene’ for regarding how we can better use our tongues to bless and be thankful for others.
Click on the button below to read more.
Next month I will be posting the final instalment.
Paul Ryan, Centre Director
Ellel Ministries, Gilbulla
23rd February 2017
Learning to Walk with a Thankful Heart - Part 1
Have you stopped to consider what God thinks about thankfulness?
It’s an important point to ponder… because it has to do with where our heart is!
I’d like to do a multi-part series in this blog on ‘Thankfulness’. Each article I hope will bring some practical aspect to help overcome the negativity this world can throw us.
In this Part 1, I’d like to start by making you aware how thankfulness is closely linked to praise and worship. Have a look at Psalm 100:1-4:-
1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. 2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. 3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
Note the link between thanksgiving and praise.
Also, did you know that it was a duty for the priests in the Old Testament to thank and praise God every morning and every evening! (Read 1 Chron 23:28-30). Back then it was a dutiful requirement for the priests to be thanking God at least twice a day to set a model for all the people. Clearly, God saw thankfulness as important enough to have the Levites model it regularly to the Israelites, in the hope that everyone would follow suit… and learn to live a life of thankfulness as part of their daily worship of Yahweh.
I’m pretty sure the Lord still requires the same of us today, simply because as a modern day Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, to have a thankful heart ensures we avoid the pitfalls of a grumbling generation that were left to perish in a desert long ago.
Back when Moses led Israel to the edge of the Promised Land, it was here that a generation faltered, simply because they failed to recognize all God was doing for them. Instead of thankful hearts, they were ungrateful, complaining, hard-heartedness and rebellious. Listen to the following Scripture in Hebrews 3:7-9 referencing that grumbling generation that were left to die in the desert because of their lack of appreciation for all God had done in rescuing them from Egyptian slavery:-
So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ” See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
Clearly, in that passage, God viewed that whole generation as being ungrateful for how He rescued them during the Exodus. That passage uses words like: “sinful”; “unbelieving”; and “hardened heart”; which is seen as “rebellion”! Even more concerning is this sobering statement by the Lord that “they shall never enter my rest”!
All for failing to be thankful!
It got me thinking about how we might allow ourselves to be blindsided in the same way. To the point where we fail to be thankful and appreciate what the Lord has done for us! If that occurs, we could also fail to enter His rest, courtesy of our complaints, grumbling and hardened hearts!
To explore that further, I want to look at some key verses that have challenged me to become more mindful and appreciative for the things Father God has done for me.
In Phillipians 1:3-6 we read:-
“3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
The Apostle Paul in that verse is being thankful in recognizing those people God put alongside him during his kingdom exploits.
I am not good at remembering and being thankful for those God has brought alongside me over the years who have impacted me. But, quite a while back a mentor suggested to me I create a ‘Book of Remembrance’. It’s a journal recording all the key people God has brought alongside me over my journey, to remind us of how every one of them was used by the Lord to play an integral part in who I have become today. If it wasn’t for that “Book of Remembrance” I am sure many of those precious folk that have crossed my path would have been long forgotten. And every time I pick it up when things are not going so well, God always finds a way to lift my spirit and encourage me.
So, who are the people that God arranged to be alongside you during crucial moments in your story? How did God use them to bless you? How did Abba use them to bail you out of trouble? Or rescue you?
To have that ‘on file’ reminds me regularly that God has never forsaken me. It builds into me the faith that He will be with me in my future trials. Also, recalling how the Lord used those folks at pivotal points in my life ensures I have a far more grateful and thankful heart, not just for those people, but far more gratitude for Father God who ordered their steps. Such a book reminds me of His wonderful deeds in my life… and it reminds me to be forever thankful for those individuals He used!
The obvious question now is – who are those people whom you “thank God every time I remember you”?
Why not start creating your very own “Book of Remembrance”?
It could be a great antidote to a “sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Heb 3:12).
I guarantee you that when you start to grumble, feel negative, or ungrateful… pull out your “Book of Remembrance” and re-read it. It will help ward off ‘hard-heartedness’ that leads to rebellion. And instead you will be thanking and praising God for His intervention in your life.
Go on, give it a try…
Stay tuned for Part 2 next month!
Paul Ryan. Centre Director
Ellel Ministries Gilbulla
24th January 2017
The Difference Between Guilt and Shame
Last month we enjoyed an excellent weekend here at Ellel Ministries Gilbulla with Ken Hooper from Peninsula City Church in Victoria sharing about moving from Slavery to Sonship. It was a brilliant weekend. The testimonies gave full credit to the work Father God had done in every person who attended.
Sitting in and listening to Ken got me thinking about the impact of guilt and shame on a person and how shame in particular affects our ‘sonship’. In fact, Ken’s input reminded me of another great teaching on shame that comes from Gordon Dalbey’s ”Fight Like a Man”.
Both Ken and Gordon’s perspectives exercised my mind regarding the following question:
“What exactly is the difference between guilt and shame?”
So, here are some thoughts regarding my answer to that question…(and I want to give credit to both Ken and Gordon for the truth they have collectively helped me to understand about this topic).
Firstly, I have come to understand guilt as the feeling we experience after we have stepped outside of God’s protective covering. When we are experiencing guilt, it is my personal conviction that we are feeling exactly what God intends us to feel after we have sinned. At that moment we sin, our conscience will be actively telling us “you are guilty of breaking God’s commands! Confess. Repent. Get back under God’s covering, quickly!”
God has given us a conscience for that very purpose.
So if our conscience is functioning as it should, you are supposed to feel guilty after you have transgressed. (Although, if you have hardened your heart and sinned in an area long enough - your conscience can become seared and shut down to the sensation of feeling guilt).
Guilt is in fact the emotion we are designed to feel when we have done something wrong. And it’s been given to us by God so that we can do something about it!
We may need to apologise. Go and say we’re sorry. Correct a wrong. It is meant to make us run back to God!
Guilt moves us to get relationships right with God and with others whom we may have hurt or failed. Guilt moves us to confess sin, to repent, to be forgiven, to be reconciled.
In one of his psalms, King David expresses what he is feeling as he responds with a broken and contrite heart, speaking of how guilt affected him. Listen to how he expresses it:-
“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. (Selah) Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD “ - and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” Psalm 32. 3-5
I love the honesty of David sharing how his heart was in a real mess when he tried to cover over his sin. It was destroying him not just emotionally, but also affecting him physically. I know these symptoms well when I have been burdened by guilt. But once David opened up to God and confessed his sin, God forgave him and released him from the weight of that burden.
Another Psalm where David has to face the mess he has created is in Psalm 51. David wrote this psalm after committing adultery with Bathsheba:-
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge”. Ps 51:3-4
In fact, that whole Psalm is about David expressing his plea for mercy and being aware of his sin and asking God to create in him a new and clean heart, asking the Lord to deal with his sin and blot out his transgressions, to wipe it away, to cleanse him. In other words, remove his guilt!
Guilt is designed to let you know that certain thoughts, words or actions were wrong or inappropriate. Another benefit of feeling guilt is that it can actually help you identify what your sinful behaviours are… leading you to know exactly what needs to be repented of, and what we need to seek God’s forgiveness for!
If I had to summarise and define the role and purpose of guilt I would offer this:-
a) Guilt helps us recognise, through our conscience, what we did was wrong.
b) Guilt should be accompanied with a spirit of conviction that always leads to hope (for change; forgiveness; etc,
c) Guilt leads us to repentance so we can be cleansed and set free
d) True repentance deals with the sin issue and therefore removes the feeling of guilt that used to attach to the sin before it was placed under Jesus’ blood
e) God’s purpose and plan is that we do not continue to carry either guilt or shame… because Christ is our guilt and shame bearer at Calvary – He died in our place to remove the stain each of them carries.
Gordon Dalbey makes a key statement about the difference between guilt and shame:-
“It’s one thing to make a mistake, even to choose to do something when you could choose to do it right. That prompts guilt, which goes away when we make amends, and do it right next time. But when you are incapable of doing it right, when the more you try, the more you get it wrong, the gap between what you ‘should be’ and what you ‘are’ is filled with shame”.
Shame is something that goes much deeper, than guilt. Shame touches right into the core of our being. It attacks our identity; our ‘sonship’. It affects how we see and feel about our self.
Even worse, shame lies to us about how God sees us.
The key difference between Guilt and Shame is really this:-
Guilt says: “What you just did was wrong.”
Shame says: “Something about you is very wrong!”
Guilt says: “Your response was bad”
Shame says: “You are bad!”
To read how to overcome guilt and shame, click here to download a PDF of the full article
Until next time!
Paul Ryan. Centre Director
Ellel Ministries Gilbulla
26th November 2016
Managing or Leading?
Ever since I was first entrusted with some form of leadership responsibility, I have regularly prayed asking God to help me understand as best I can exactly what ‘leadership’ encompasses.
John Maxwell defines leadership as primarily ‘having influence’…
I can certainly resonate with that… as a parent you undoubtedly offer leadership to your own children and want to positively influence the direction of their lives. As a Connect Group Leader or Small Group Leader you want to have influence over those you are caring for weekly. As a boss in the work place you obviously desire to exert influence. As a Church Pastor, you would certainly see one of your key imperatives is to guide, equip and influence your flock to be all they can be for Christ in their sphere of influence within the community.
John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement, defined Leadership as ‘managing conflict’…
I can absolutely resonate with that too! In my very first role in leadership, I was a little shocked at how much just one particular decision I would make caused some people to become quite confrontational! Sadly, in leadership you can never please all of the people, all of the time. (The truth is ‘people-pleasers’ do not make great leaders). Real leadership is going to press a few buttons in those under you!
However, what I am finding in my own experience is that real leadership requires vision… vison to see what others cannot. In other words, to foresee a kingdom future that others cannot foresee. A future that with God’s supernatural help, can be brought into being!
I read an article on a recent flight from Sydney to Melbourne where the author was summarizing the collective consensus of a secular conference in America of corporation giants and elite institutions. The conclusions of that conference about leadership in general came up with some startling conclusions.
They agreed that much of society was being guided, not by leaders, but by managers!
The summary overall included the observation that there was a serious shortage of genuine leaders across all sectors, who possessed the vision and character to take any organization into the future confidently and safely. That summary spoke of fear, uncertainty, and confusion amongst managers in the current light of world pressures with wavering financial markets, governments toppling; and terrorism rising.
For me, it re-surfaced my questions about what exactly is leadership? And how do we go about offering real leadership to a troubled world?
Most books I have read on leadership largely deal with improving leadership performance using better programs and theories for organizational structure and implementing better management technology tools.
If this is all that is offered at seminars and in training manuals for present or future leaders… it’s easy to see how we get the idea that to lead effectively… you just need to be a good administrator who uses great management tools to take your organization forward.
But are you in fact a good leader, simply because you are a good administrator or manager?
I don’t believe so.
It is possible to have a great leader, who is also a very good manager. Or even an excellent manager, who can also lead. But I think it’s crucial we understand that the two functions are in fact very different.
Tom Marshall in his book on “Understanding Leadership” states that management is really the stewardship of resources that makes an organization more effective and efficient. To achieve this requires logistics, information, teams, budgets, ways to measure performance, progress reports and systems to bring corrective action when required. You could be gifted in one or all of the above areas - but still not be leading.
Tom Marshall further states that Managers have to react to various situations as they arise, then bring remedial action to change the outcome or enhance the result. That is what defines good management.
If you have all those skills… wonderful!... But Tom Marshall stresses that does not necessarily make you a good leader.
True leadership of others is not management, nor is it administration.
Tom Marshall warns us “do not mistake a good administrator for a good leader! A good administrator makes for a good manager… but not necessarily a good leader”
Tom Marshall defines the key quality of Leadership as ‘having Spiritual Foresight’… (ie having the ability to envision a future kingdom reality that others cannot see).
Over recent years, I have been asking the Lord to open my eyes to ‘see’ what His redeemed future looks like for the sphere of influence I have been given responsibility over. Gradually the answer to that prayer has been coming with an increasing sense and belief that the God will guide Ellel Ministries into becoming a significant para-church ministry that will provide hope, shelter, healing and equipping for many in the difficult days that lay ahead. It will also be a very ‘visible’ ministry that offers sought after transformation for the Body of Christ here in this nation. It will be a ministry that works very closely with Church Leaders and assists them in developing their people to fulfil that church’s vision.
Most of what I (and my excellent leadership team around me) are doing right now, involves positioning Ellel Gilbulla to be positioned and ready to be that kind of influence for the Body of Christ in our nation.
I have observed that it is only restored, whole and mature Leaders that can possess spiritual foresight. So I have been asking Father God to continue honing my character when it still needs to be refined. I have seen too many wounded and insecure leaders make decisions that either appease others, or make decisions that best serve themselves. That kind of leadership does not serve God’s purposes well.
Kingdom Leadership encompasses having influence over others in a way that safely offers the security that the Father’s Heart intends. But it is balanced by leadership that also offers loving discipline… because Hebrews Chapter 12 reminds us that God only disciplines those He loves as ‘sons’.
True leadership also appropriately manages conflict with wisdom from on high… such kingdom leaders raise disciples that have been mentored and ‘fathered’ well, who become sons and daughters capable of offering real transformation to others. True Kingdom leaders recognize that true kingdom fruit produces ‘eternal seed’ that will reproduce. Those same sons and daughters being restored and raised up, will understand they need to be more conformed to the likeness of Christ if they are serious about becoming leaders of calibre.
Have I become a leader that ticks all those boxes yet? Not quite. But I am growing. And Abba Father is faithfully answering my prayer day by day.
My heart is not just to become such a leader with that kind of spiritual foresight and character… I want to be raising many others to become such leaders for the next generation!
How about you? What kind of spiritual foresight and influence are you offering to those around you?
Until next time!
Paul Ryan, Centre Director
Ellel Miinstries Gilbulla
25th October 2016
How God Develops Men Into Maturity
In the light of our “Proven” men’s event coming up soon in our calendar (24-27 November) I thought I might write some reflections on how God develops a man into maturity.
Ladies, I would ask that you please excuse the fact I am directly targeting men as I write this article… our evidence at Ellel Ministries strongly suggests that if a man can be transformed by his Heavenly Father… then every woman will indirectly benefit. However, I would suggest you still read on… simply because Holy Spirit may find a way to impact your heart too by what is written. At the very least it may help you understand us men a little more.
So where does a man go as an adult to learn his true worth... to know that he has what it takes? Where does a man go to learn his true nature and character... one that can never be stripped from him? And how do we find that kind of identity?
How do we get that deep heart knowledge that helps us understand who we truly are and believe in ourselves? Who can give a man that kind of identity and help him discover his real identity?
Why, God alone can!
In the last book of the Bible we read of The White Stone of Revelation (Rev 2:17) which is given only to those who ‘overcome’.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.” Revelation 2:17 NASB
That passage seems to speak of a new name which is given only after we have learned to overcome obvious adversity (that is, must come through tests, trials and ‘initiations’ that will have to be faced).
It stresses that name is given only “to him who overcomes”. That is to those who have what it takes! And with that comes a new identity which is forged within us in the process of ‘overcoming’.
In the end, what is given is our true identity, which can only come from God.
The only way I have witnessed a man receive this new name and new identity involves several key steps:-
• Understanding first where you have come from and what has shaped you
• Facing a series of trials that life will serve up to seriously test you
• There is often an arduous journey that has to be undertaken
• And you will have to face down your enemy ... and if you will face this enemy (usually within) and trust your Father God to help you ‘overcome’ him... then a new name and identity is given.
It might seem innocuous when just simply written down like that… but let me assure you from personal experience… this is no easy journey.
You see, to find our true identity – our real name - can only come through a series of initiations, tests and trials over time. Father God wants to travel with us on that journey. To succeed it will require something of us as men. (Many men never complete this journey. Some never undertake it!). But for those who allow Father God to strip away our masks and develop us, once we have ‘overcome’ – we are indeed given a new name – in fact, our real name. We’d much prefer to take an easier road.
But there is no other way. Not if we truly want to become ‘sons of God’, true Kingdom warriors… proven men. If this is your desire… then this is the only way!
To find out how you can overcome, download this PDF.
Until next month!
Paul Ryan, Centre Director
Ellel Ministries, Gilbulla
28th September 2016
Addiction – why is it such a struggle?
Whether we are prepared to admit it or not… most of us are addicted to something. If you’re unsure about that, ponder on this definition of addiction from Gordon Dalbey: “An addiction is something you do consistently to avoid facing the truth about yourself.” (Read over that a few times… allow it to sink in!)
So now, let me ask, when pressure comes on you… what habit, or escape, or comfort, or way of ‘busyness’ do you consistently run to, rather than go to Father God for comfort and help? And what is the truth about yourself that you are unwilling to face? Or allow Jesus to heal?
Those are the questions that need answering if we truly are to be free from our addictions.
My personal understanding of how essential those questions are to this topic has come from learning about addictions through this ministry that I serve and also from the impartation of two key men.
The first of those men is Gordon Dalbey. He has been a personal friend and mentor who has invested into me from time to time over the last decade (something I am very thankful for). Regarding this topic on addiction, I’d like to highly recommend his book ‘Fight Like a Man’ wherein he unpacks many powerful truths on this key subject and in particular how shame impacts on addictions.
The other man who has influenced me greatly on this subject is Gerald May. I’ve never had the privilege to meet this man, however, he has passively mentored me through his excellent book “Addiction & Grace” which carries powerful insights.
What I’ll share with you from here on will draw significantly from both of these men of God from their abovementioned books, and from my experience in ministry at Ellel Ministries.
For most people who come to us trapped in some form of an addiction, they are not always just held captive by what we might refer to as a ‘classic addiction’ like alcohol, nicotine, drugs, sex or food. Addiction can have many faces, especially if it is something we are substituting to avoid letting God reveal a deeper level truth about ourselves that we have never wanted to face.
Examples of other types of addictions might include:- another person (codependency); or addiction to a style of music or a certain artist; to a sport or activity; etc… it’s something you do consistently to avoid facing the truth about yourself.
If we dig deep enough, what is usually unearthed is a behaviour or habit that we’ve allowed to become ingrained into our personality (like a besetting sin). That behaviour is what we have substituted for going to a Holy God for true comfort. Eventually, if you go to that habit or comfort often enough, you will eventually lose your ability to say ‘no’ to that pattern of behaviour and you will find yourself trapped.
You will have been ‘mastered’ by it. Enslaved to it. You have become an Addict.
In Webster’s dictionary it notes that the word addict comes from two latin roots, the preposition ‘ad’, meaning “toward,” and the verb ‘dicere’, meaning “to speak.” Join the two together and we get: addicere, which means “to speak toward,” or as in Webster’s definition: “to give assent, to give [oneself] up to a [a strong habit].”
In other words, if we’ve “given oneself up to a strong habit” we have actually ‘given assent’ (ie approval; sanction; agreement) to something in our lives. Another way of saying it is we have given permission for that habit or false comfort to have a prominent place in our lives… a permission we never should have given. What we have done is elevated it above the throne of God! In other words, if we have a habit or behaviour or false comfort… a more relevant place in our life than even God… when we do that we break the 1st Commandment: ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’.(Exodus 20:3 NIV). In verse 5 in Exodus it adds this: “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God”
Friends, whenever I break this commandment, I am committing Idolatry… and it always gets me into a truck load of trouble!
However, the bigger concern for God isn’t that we have sinned, but that we have chosen to run to a ‘lesser lover’ to comfort us… rather than run to the One True Lover of our Soul! That is what breaks His heart… we reject Him and settle for an act of idolatry that places us in bondage and if it gets out of hand - could eventually destroy us and those closest to us.
Think about it for a minute…whenever life goes pear-shaped or calamity and despair descends (eg a fight with your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend… or a relationship breakup… or a scolding from a boss… you fail at something… a rejection… a betrayal… etc), usually the first thing we run to is some form of false comfort like getting busy at work, or alcohol, or chocolate, or pornography, etc, etc.
In the past whenever I responded like that, you could hardly say I was taking my issue or my pain to God to seek His comfort… could you?
In fact, when life’s pressure mounts and I willingly (rebelliously?) choose to run to ‘something else’, rather than run to Abba Father… I am choosing something else over and above Him. I am in fact, bowing to an idol. I am trusting in something else other than a Holy God to rescue me or take my pain away. And that is what the enemy is depending on… because that is the hook upon which he gets us addicted (Latin: “Addicere” – Webster’s definition: “to give assent, to give [oneself] up to a [a strong habit].)”
Every time we run to something else for comfort other than God, what we are doing is really a surrender of sorts. Any time we surrender to a false comfort of the enemy… there is usually a snare waiting to trap us. Romans 6:16 NIV states “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey…” To surrender to an ungodly habit or false comfort is to ‘offer yourselves… as obedient slaves’ and the result is we fall into the enemy’s grip. All because we refused to receive true comfort from The Comforter. Instead, we surrendered to the enemy’s ploy of false comfort.
Curiously, the same action that gets us addicted in the first place… is the same means by which we must be rescued… ‘surrender’!
One path of surrender to the Father of Lies makes us ‘slaves’ … the other path of surrender to Abba Father makes us ‘sons’!
To read more about my testimony and how you can be set free from addictions, you can download the PDF here.
Until next month!
Paul Ryan, Centre Director
Ellel Ministries, Gilbulla
22nd August 2016
Why do I break the 4th commandment ... and brag about it?
If I was to own up to one command I have broken more than any other, sadly it would be the 4th commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Exodus 20:8 NIV).
And if I am really honest… it is the one command that I think at times I have even bragged about when I break it!... “I’ll bet you didn’t work as many hours as I did this week!… And next week is looking worse! The family won’t see me for days!”.
I know there are peak periods of stress in each of our lives and work places that we just have to absorb. But I am finding that the ‘tyranny of the urgent’ is upon me every day of the week and it is stealing me away from my family and from an intimacy with God that I need to start fighting to recover!
When we consistently indulge in overwork we end up overwhelmed and exhausted. All of the rushing at great speed, becoming busier and busier somehow makes us - less human. I don’t know about you, but it results in me becoming irritable, anxious and impatient around others. I have no time for those who need me to stop and just listen. I find myself not actually wanting to stop and talk to anyone when I am overwhelmed with tasks that have to be done! Before I know it, this bullet-train of busyness grows at ever increasing speeds; and I find myself chained to a missile I don’t know how to get off or disarm.
I am certain you know what I am talking about.
Surely, if we just judge all of the above by the fruit it produces in our hearts… busyness is a clear work of the enemy. It is certainly opposed to true rest.
I once understood Sabbath to be a day of diligence, spiritual focus, bible study, prayer, and religious practices. I also understood that day to be Sunday. But more often than not Sunday’s are full of rushing around with getting to and from church, then later that day mowing a lawn, then preparing some job lists for the week that lay ahead… it felt anything but a rest day!
In the Old Testament, three different Hebrew words are found that carry the concept of rest: (i) sabat; (ii) nuah; and (iii) saqat.
- Sabat – the root word for Sabbath – implies ceasing or coming to an end of an activity as God did when He completed creation in Genesis.
- Nuah – suggests relaxation, being settled, the absence of movement and a psychological release from pressure or tension.
- Saqat – signifies an absence of inner anxiety from external pressures. Each of these words communicates a rest through a trusting relationship with God. The benefits implied include security, confidence, peace and an absence of fear or anxiety.
I am slowly coming to understand Sabbath is not merely the cessation of work, it is turning from work to something entirely different from what we normally view as ‘rest’ or ‘leisure’.
When we take a holiday, we are not just taking time off work, we’re usually attempting to disconnect from the pressures of work by indulging in diversions. We sunbake on beaches; sip cocktails at a poolside; lose ourselves in a novel; block out the world with our earpieces listening to our favourite playlist as we travel. But actually none of this is Sabbath. It is simply escaping our work pressure in the hope of filling ourselves with a temporary pleasure, hoping we get ‘rested’ before we have to go back to work again!
Dan Allender in his book ‘Sabbath’ takes up this discussion:- “Many modern day vacations have the allure of cotton candy – a brightly coloured candy puff on a stick that promises a feast of fullness and is nearly impossible to eat without sticky compromise. Once we tear into the sugary diversion, it disappears in a flash and offers no substance. It is not enough, and it doesn’t satisfy, even for a minute. The end only increases the desire for more”… a challenging, but I believe accurate, description of what our traditional holiday patterns have become. Rarely are they true rest.
Sabbath is meant to be far more than a ‘Cotton Candy’ diversion from our work pressures. It is meant to be a rest that involves an encounter with God Himself.
Mary Dalbey in her book ‘The Rest of your Life’ says: “to partake in such a rest designates not the absence of work, but rather the presence of trust (in God)…. Biblical rest doesn’t mean comfort and ease, nor idleness or irresponsibility. It doesn’t even necessarily require the cessation of activity, but instead bestows serenity and security even in the midst of strenuous activity. God’s rest doesn’t require the luxury of a settled life, but rather the comfort of a secured soul”.
I am learning that Sabbath rest is not about what we don’t do. It’s about what we allow and trust God to do for us!
Biblical peace doesn’t mean the absence of conflict or perfect tranquillity. Biblical peace promises not the peace that surpasses ‘sugary diversions’, but the peace that surpasses understanding (Phil 4:7). True peace can only found in the Prince of Peace. It’s not a state of being, it is the cultivation of a relationship with the Almighty. Sabbath rest is only found in a deep and intimate connection with Abba Father. Sabbath is meant to be a day of delight in the safe embrace of my Creator.
Jesus of Nazareth never wanted us to live separated from Him by the idolatry of busyness. I don’t know about you… but I need to repent of bragging about breaking one of God’s commands and I need to start asking the Father to help me surrender all of my anxious ways that lead me into rebellion! The moment I surrender to Him… I immediately find Holy Spirit doing a work in my heart that puts me back on to experience true Sabbath rest again.
So, what is causing you stress; driving you to overwork; robbing your peace; stealing your rest?
If you would like the Lord to help identify the answer to the above… then consider these reflection questions to ask Father God:
In regard to what causes you stress, or robs your peace…
- What would you lose by letting it go?
- What would you gain by letting it go?
- What prevents your letting it go?
- Are you able to ask the Father to help you surrender it to Him today?
The more time I spend surrendering to Abba Father, the more He delights in exposing the counterfeit ways I find solace and pleasure (that I used to think were joy!). The result is I am growing hungrier to enter true Sabbath rest… an invite to run into the everlasting arms of my Heavenly Father.
And I hope you realise that same invitation is open to you too.
Until next month!
Paul Ryan, Centre Director
Ellel Ministries, Gilbulla
22nd July 2016
I'm still getting used to this blogging business, and learning as I go ... so here's the second one!
Our heart here at Ellel Gilbulla has always been to resource the local church and support the frontline of the Body of Christ. Our schools and courses are all designed to offer core training that transforms lives and offers prayer ministry skills for any disciple who desires to be equipped!
In Matthew 28:19-20 we have Jesus' last words to us before he ascended back into heaven:-
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”(NIV)
We take very seriously the Great Commission and everything we do is centred in offering true kingdom discipleship. We trust in His promise to be with us until the end of the age, helping us by His Spirit to go and make disciples… teaching them to obey everything that He has commanded!
Peter Horrobin, the Founder and International Leader of Ellel Ministries globally, stated some years ago that: “Unless we bring a person to a place where their relationship with Jesus is more important than anything else (including their healing), all ministry is pointless!”. Peter’s main point here is that discipleship is first and foremost centred in being conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ – and anything less than making Jesus Lord over every area of our life… is simply not true kingdom discipleship!
In fact, it is our experience that where Jesus in not Lord over some aspect of our life (eg fearful responses, addictions, lies we believe, etc.) then that points to an area that requires Jesus' restoration. And that is quite simply our main goal here at Ellel Gilbulla … to bring every saint to the place in their discipleship where Jesus is in indeed Lord over every area of their life.
Until next month!
Paul Ryan, Centre Director
Ellel Ministries Gilbulla
26th June 2016
Welcome to our first monthly newsletter!! Each month we want to send you an article of interest, an update on upcoming courses and perhaps something that the Father has been teaching me. It will be different every month … a bit of a surprise package really, but for this inaugural monthly newsletter, I just want to offer an initial welcome and a thank you for being part of the continuing journey of Ellel Ministries at Gilbulla.
In fact, ‘welcome’ is a big part of what we do here at Ellel and as most of you would know it is part of our key verse, Luke 9:11 .. “Jesus welcomed the people, he spoke to them about the Kingdom of God and healed those in need of healing”… This was the God-given blueprint for how this ministry was to function from the very beginning at Ellel Grange in the UK back in 1986. It is also the basis on which we launched Ellel Ministries here in Australia when Ellel Gilbulla was opened in 2002!
“Jesus welcomed the people”… that word ‘welcome’ embraces a practical expression of love. If we welcome you in a way that connects with your heart, makes you feel safe, loved and accepted – you will be far more ready to hear what we have to teach! We want everyone who comes in contact with this ministry to know that they are loved first and foremost by our Father in Heaven. Only then will that person be willing to receive what God has to offer through our ministry.
And so at Ellel Gilbulla we are following this time honoured blueprint for the way God wants us to minister by showing the love of the Father as we welcome and connect with people, teaching them about the kingdom of God, offering the Saviour's healing and restoration to all those in need.
I like that blueprint!
Until next month!
Paul Ryan, Centre Director
Ellel Ministries Gilbulla