Open

It seems that 5 minute Friday has morphed this week into a six-minute Saturday, but I’m still joining the gypsymama, with the word prompt for this week which is:

Open

When I first considered this word prompt I thought of an open door representing opportunity. Then there is the idea of being open towards others – something this blogging lark has helped me with personally because I have always been very introverted and closed but am learning that such closedness is in fact very damaging to me.

However, what really sticks in my mind regarding “open” is that now the Kingdom of God is open to me, because Jesus opened his arms to receive the nails on that cross and his heart was opened also, receiving a spear. As his side was pierced and the blood and water flowed, my salvation was purchased. His open wounds have opened my own heart to the call He issued: follow me. And so, stumblingly I close another year and perch ready to open a new one with a focus on the opportunities open before me.

Stop

What does a man create?

A blog post by Ann Voskamp a few months ago in which she discussed the question of How Christian [women] May Create got me wondering how the process/art/work of creating might look for Christian men? Here are some musings and partly formed thoughts. Feel free to comment and give your own ideas.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
(Genesis 2:15 ESV)

Right from the beginning men were given a job to do. It was a nurturing, cultivating job, also a creative task in that to start with there was not so much weeding to be done in God’s garden so presumably Adam had time to implement a few ideas of his own.

As sons of Adam we create by bending creation to our will. Therefore, the results of our creating reflect both our desire and our skill. This creates a tension and often frustrations as the created reality does not match the plans in a man’s head. Perhaps this is why computer programming is a popular choice for men, in a realm created by humans bending machine code to the will of man is achievable even for men without the brawn to bend metal, timber or earth to their will.

Even after the fall Adam’s work remained the same, it just got much harder to achieve:

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
(Genesis 3:17–19 ESV)

Under the curse (Genesis 3:22), creation refuses to bow to the will of men. Therefore the strength of a man is necessary to tear open the soil, wrestle raw materials and press on against the elements. By applying wisdom a man creates new and innovative works, and at our best as a team there is no limit to what can be achieved (Genesis 11:3–6).

The prime focus of a man’s work is always provision – even if a man is an artist and has nothing to do with cultivating the ground or making food, the overall goal of his work is to generate income in order to put food on the table. We can work for noble causes and labour to create beauty or make a statement, but once our family starts to go hungry none of that holds any importance (see 1 Timothy 5:8). If providing for his family takes up all of a man he is doing a noble task – I would argue more noble than those of us who can do so by working only 40 hours a week.

Yet there is a limit to how worthwhile the works of a man can be:

What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, (Ecclesiastes 2:22–24 ESV).

For some men perhaps all they seek is to eat, drink and enjoy the fruits of their labours. But we are created for more, much more than this.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

To be satisfied with our own work is to settle far short of the best a man can achieve, to live beneath our purpose in Christ. We yearn for  purpose, to know that our work is for more than simply putting food on the table. The most effective way to grind a man down is to give him meaningless work that has no point to it and in which he has no choices, especially if the work involves no physical exertion but is simply pushing paper across a desk all day. Only the shallowest of men work only for money, we seek to do work that is worthwhile:

Some men know how to solve crimes, others can heal pain, paint pictures, make violins, train dogs, ride a wave, kick a ball, lay cement, design glorious buildings, make new laws. We need them all. You have things inside you to do. These lie dormant waiting to be expressed. (Steve Biddulph in Manhood)

We are created for good works that proclaim and glorify His grace. In order to achieve this the will of a man must be redeemed. For me to to the works prepared for me before I even existed I must bow my will to His will. A little created creator must submit to his own creator and say along with my Brother-redeemer, “Your will be done, not mine”.

His will is not obscure or difficult to find, we are to make disciples:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

And we are to labour to make the Kingdom of God manifest on earth:

Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
(Matthew 6:10 ESV)

Image of blacksmith: Hans Splinter

Best birthday ever

Iona is enjoying her “best birthday ever”, presents, cake and morning tea with neighbours, lunch with friends at Great Taste, movie with friends (Puss in Boots) and now some party games. Apparently the best part was riding into town in the back of the car because we were a seat short – we could have saved some money!

Becoming a father

As I left the hospital after my daughter was born I wanted to shout, run, jump, dance. Life had changed forever, this kid who lived in my skin was now a Dad!

Ten years ago my life changed dramatically.

I became a father. I had always thought of myself as just a boy, not as someone’s father! A 2695 gram (5.9 pound) baby girl captivated me, gazing knowingly into my eyes as I held her after an epic delivery in which her heart nearly stopped and her Mum was left utterly exhausted.

There is a violent intensity in the arrival of a baby, Ann Voskamp expresses it well (and better coming from a woman than a man:

“Birthing babies are like earthquake fault lines ripping up the very earth under your house….babies tear the hard crust of existence open, allowing you to peer down into the secrets of being, of what it means to be human.” Night Watches

I had been impatient to finally see her face-to-face and it seems she also was eager to get to know us; a quiet, alert little person intently soaking in every detail of our faces for over an hour after she was born.

I don’t actually remember driving back home, though I did write:

As I left the hospital I wanted to shout, run, jump, dance – in actual fact I just walked to the car and drove home feeling utterly stunned by what I’d just seen and experienced. It is the most miraculous thing I’ve ever witnessed.

I do recall getting home and playing Carl Orff’s ‘O Fortuna‘ loudly while watching the sun rise over the city. I felt exhilarated, stunned, shocked, overjoyed and fearful all together. Nobody had told me about this bit – the sense of awe and dread at now being a father and responsible of a fragile little life. So little that when her head was cradled in my hands her tiny feet tickled the inside of my elbows.

One of my big fears was simply that my daughter may not like me. Perhaps that seems silly, but some fathers are feared by their children rather than being liked by them. I did not, and do not, want to be such a father. Then there were fears over job security, stretching my pay to cover all the bills, the world in fear of terrorists, and a whole lot of pressure and expectations from our own parents.

Other fears were of being too rough with such a tiny little person, or letting her get too cold or too hot. But soon nappy changing, bathing, dressing and feeding a baby became normal. It is normal – this is how life is, not having children is a rather unusual situation for the bulk of humanity. Yet in our society there is a massive disconnect between generations, leaving a parenting vacuum in this nation.

This first decade of her life has had some tough times. I had good intentions of maintaining balance between work and family and faith. At times I became quite unbalanced in these. There were external pressures upon us, looking back I’m not sure that I’d be up to the challenge anymore but we somehow got through. Every child has difficult phases, but God certainly blessed us with our first in her placid temperament and gentle nature. We needed that grace!

By the time she was two years old my wee girl had a propensity for dressing herself in the oddest array of brightly coloured clothes she could find so I started to call her ‘Ragamuffin’ and the nickname kind of stuck. My Ragamuffin has had plenty of tough times herself; changing day care more often than we would have liked, dry skin and ezcema from birth, experiencing the dark side of human nature from kids at school, bullying, eczema of Job-like severity (Job 2:8) and a restricted diet.

Through all this she has remained happy, loving, friendly and a great violinist!

The next decade will have different challenges, and I think the song below sums up well how I feel as a Dad:

The secret to praying for your wife

As the Nike logo might suggest, the ‘secret’ is nothing new – just do it! However, I do encourage you to follow this link and read this encouraging article.


If you are a guy and are married you should pray for your wife, with your wife.
But most of us don’t (myself included), there is a big psychological and emotional barrier to actually doing it. Check out the article below for some encouragement to get on and get praying: What is a surprisingly difficult task for some pastors to do with their wives?

Kiwi Christmas

We Kiwi Christians can be a bit confused when it comes to celebrating Christmas. Easter is easier – Easter bunny is clearly a crock and we find it reasonably easy to claim Easter as a Christian occasion because for the unbelievers around us it is just a long weekend and an excuse to eat chocolate.

Christmas downunder

Christmas, however, has all sorts of cultural baggage and expectations which make us feel quite out of sorts here downunder in a secular society attempting to celebrate what is effectively a northern hemisphere midwinter festival. People hang up lights to decorate their houses despite it still being light at 10pm. We gorge ourselves with food then flop around getting sunburnt. Songs like “Let it Snow”, “Jingle Bells” and “In the Bleak Midwinter” play in shopping malls that are selling bathing suits, camping gear and cricket sets. It really doesn’t work, it’s like some collage of Christmas clutter dumped into a jumbled heap on the beach. Yet we still have plenty to be thankful for in our Kiwi Christmas celebrations.

Pointers to Christ

It is summer, most people are on holiday, and even despite the pre-Christmas madness in a time to relax. Let’s treasure that, Jesus came to give us rest – while flopping around after Christmas dinner too full to move much, enjoy the rest and consider God who came to gain it for us.

Christmas in New Zealand is blessed with fresh fruit and vegetables; cherries, strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, new potatoes, baby peas… Jesus is the true vine, He came to bless the earth and make it bountiful, He plants the seeds of the great harvest. For us Christmas is like a harvest festival and we are right to rejoice in the bounty of God’s blessing.

Particularly here in the deep south, Christmas day is long – it gets light at about 5am and stays light until after 10pm. Seventeen hours of glorious light, almost two-thirds of the day! And here under the ozone hole it is bright light, a taste of what dazzled those shepherds and a reminder that He who dwells in unapproachable light came to abide with us. Every time you put on the sunnies and sun hat (and sunscreen) be reminded of the Light who dawned upon the whole earth in the advent.

An element of the nativity story that we obviously can identify with in New Zealand is the sheep (mmm… roast lamb for Christmas dinner!). Now, aside from the obvious anomaly of a lamb being present in the Christmas story if it was mid-winter, we know about sheep here, despite the Fonterra take over. Jesus is the Lamb of God, leading up to Christmas lambs are everywhere you look in this country – we get to remember the Passover, the feast of weeks (harvest) and the Advent all in one!

Christmas is a time when families like to get together, with all the strife this entails. Spare a thought for Mary and Joseph – they had travelled for days to get there, had lousy accommodation, were both isolated and lonely for home yet were in a town full of their relatives and then had a load of complete strangers turn up for supper! So whether lonely for company or overwhelmed by too much of it, you can at least feel for someone in the advent story.

Kiwis often get the barbeque out on Christmas day. Mary and Joseph quite likely cooked in a similar way on the very day Jesus was born. They certainly didn’t microwave last night’s leftovers!

Another way in which Kiwis have an empathetic perspective on the nativity story is our smallness and insignificance on the world stage. God chose to be born as a baby into a poor family in a stable in Bethlehem – an insignificant town. He then grew up in Nazareth, an even more lowly village. God chooses the insignificant place to come as God incarnate. Christ will come to us and dwell even here at the bottom of the world, we can be sure of this because He has already done it before – 2,000 years ago.


Gifts I have noticed recently:

750) Children asleep.
751) Friendly neighbours.
752) Christian work colleagues.
753) Headache forcing me away from the computer.
754) Spring growth (and a lawnmower!).