No More Shame

Maths was never my favourite thing. In fact, any time I look at the stuff either of my boys is learning at school I wonder if I ever learnt it. It’s like a foreign language. I remember one time in primary school I was invited over to the teacher to recite my 8 times tables to her. Most of the other ones had special tricks I knew that could help me. But the 8 ones – they were harder! I remember getting to “4×8=”, and I drew a blank, the rest was like a slow-motion face plant. I crashed and burned. She told me to return to my seat and I thought it was over. I couldn’t have been more wrong. After recess, this same teacher asked me to stand in front of the class and recite my 8 times tables. I was mortified. She knew I didn’t know them. Did she think I wasted valuable playtime to learn these stupid buggers? NO! So I dawdled to the front of the classroom, trying to quickly remember as much as I could silently in my head. I don’t know if my fear radiated across the classroom, but I’m sure my face showed everyone exactly how I was feeling. I got up the front and was so embarrassed. I was up to “4×8=” and I stood their silently trying to add eight quickly to my last answer. Some children laughed. The teacher asked “can anyone help Aaron?”, to which others called out the right answers. I couldn’t wait to get back to my seat where I could hide my head in shame.

That feeling of shame was one I have felt many times over. It’s not a foreign concept to me. As I’m sure it’s not to you either. Shame is a funny beast. A beast our emotional makeup just isn’t designed to handle. No amount of experiencing it will ever make us comfortable with it. Shame is not our friend, but it hangs around like it wants to be.

I read an article written by a Psychotherapist a while ago that said there are four types of shame:

UNREQUITED LOVE – loving someone but having that love be rejected or unreciprocated.
UNDESIRED EXPOSURE – being called out for a mistake publicly.
UNMET EXPECTATIONS – when you have set out to do something and you have failed.
UNWANTED EXCLUSION – feeling left out, unwanted or excluded.

Everyone has to deal with shame constantly. We all feel it in one of these ways. The problem is that shame lingers, it attaches itself to us and doesn’t let go. As it hangs off of us it begins to shape our identity. We begin to become people who we don’t recognise anymore. We can go from once being the life of every party, to the death of every conversation. We can go from being the eternal optimist to the damned pessimist. We can go from being joyful to sorrowful. We can go from being free to captive. All because of this thing called shame. But how do we deal with it?

In Genesis, there is this moment where Adam and Eve were ‘naked and ashamed’. But that wasn’t always the case. The reason the writer ever mentions this is because there was a point before this that they were naked and unashamed. Obviously the shame must have entered the scene because of the angry Old Testament God who had seen they disobeyed Him and ate the fruit right? Wrong. God didn’t introduce Adam and Eve to shame. In fact, God tried to rid them of the shame. Their shame came because they listened to the snake, and that’s where yours and my shame comes from too, snakes. These snakes are people who begin to speak authoritatively into our lives as though they are God, when all the while God is speaking a different language, the language of love, we just can’t hear Him over the snakes.

After Adam and Eve ate the fruit and realised what they had done they ran and hid from Him. God enters the scene and is calling out to them. “Adam…Eve…Where are you?” finally they returned with “I heard your voice in the garden, I was afraid (some versions say ashamed) because I was naked; so I hid myself.” God’s reply is my question to myself and to you as you read this. “Who told you that you were naked?…” Shame will always rob you of your innocence and your freedom.

“Shame doesn’t come from God’s voice. Shame comes from voices who say they are speaking for God. And that’s different.”

Nadia Bolz-Weber

Who told you? Who told you that you are unqualified to be used by God? Who told you that you wouldn’t be a good parent? Who told you that you aren’t smart enough? Who told you that you are going to hell? Who told you that you aren’t good enough? Who told you that you were too fat? Who told you that you were too old? Who told you?

I have had to try really hard to block out the voices of shame in this season. I have learned that many want to be the voice of God and aren’t interested in studying His voice, listening to His voice or even honestly reflecting His voice. I have learned that even people with the best intentions can deliver a message of shame without even intending to. I have had times where shame has caused me to become someone completely different from the Aaron I know. I had thoughts of ending my life, I had become introverted, I had started to become cynical of people, I had become so pessimistic. I was a different person. Adam and Eve became different people because of shame too. Instead of being comfortable and free in their raw nakedness, they became self-conscious, afraid and embarrassed. They wanted to cover up and hide. I wonder how shame has potentially changed you at times.

This season has been one where I have felt an awful amount of shame, but I’ve also learned slowly how to let that shame go. It’s all about listening to the right voice – the voice of Jesus, who lifts all our shame. Here are some of the things He says about me, and if you believe in Him – you too:

I am chosen – 1 Thess 1:4
I am called – 2 Tim 1:9
I am being changed into His image – 2 Cor 3:18
I am a new creation – 2 Cor 5:17
I am home to His Spirit – 1 Cor 6:19
I am forgiven – Eph 1:7
I am redeemed – Gal 3:14
I am blessed – Gal 3:9
I am victorious – Rev 12:11
I am set free – John 8:32
I am healed – 1 Peter 2:24
I am more than a conqueror – Rom 8:37
I am accepted – Eph 1:6
I am complete – Col 2:10

Shame didn’t start with God but it was finished by Him at the cross of Jesus. When Jesus cried out “IT IS FINISHED” – it was over your shame. Don’t allow the opinions of others to place shame on you. Throw them off. Just as God asked Adam and Eve in the garden, I ask you now…”Who told you that?” If it didn’t come from love Himself, don’t carry it anymore.

BE FREE!

The Pressure Cooker

Has anyone else been watching MasterChef this season? I’m loving it. Wondering if Laura will ever cook anything other than a bloody pasta, will Poh be able to go an episode without drama, will Sarah shut up already, will they make Callum awkwardly narrate again, and how many times will they say the words “Hibachi Grill” this episode? One of the appliances that have been also used frequently is a pressure cooker. My wandering mind wanted to know what was different about the pressure cooker to a slow cooker or other appliances that look the same. Apart from the obvious, that is PRESSURE. So I went to trusty Google to find my answers.

“Pressure cooking is the process of cooking food at high pressure, using water or a water-based cooking liquid, in a sealed pot known as a pressure cooker. It works by expelling all the air from the vessel and trapping the steam produced from the boiling liquid inside. This raises the internal pressures and permits higher cooking temperatures than standard cooking techniques. This, together with high thermal heat transfer from the steam, cooks food far more quickly, often cooking in between half and a quarter the time for conventional boiling. After cooking the steam is released so that the vessel can be opened safely.”

Immediately after reading this, I laughed, “I’m the food and this COVID-19 Quarantine is the Pressure Cooker.” Let me explain.

This week in an appointment with my amazing psychologist, he asked if I would be comfortable lessening our meetings from weekly to fortnightly. He felt like I have progressed much faster than he had anticipated and was in a very different headspace to when I presented to him almost two months ago. He wasn’t expecting to lessen our frequency for at least 6 months and has been pleasantly surprised at the way I am processing the past, the present and thoughts of the future. Neither of us could pin this speedy bouncing upward to anything and so I claimed it under the fact that I’m just amazing. 

Watching Callum cook his chicken in the pressure cooker two nights ago started this discovery that potentially I’m not the amazing one, but maybe I’m incredibly blessed by the season this whole circumstance happened in. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve hated on and grumbled about quarantine on most days since it started. I have even felt at times that my feeling isolated internally is only enhanced by this isolation everyone is facing. I wondered if things would have been different, and whether I’d have more people around me if this wasn’t the current climate. But, as I think about the nature of the pressure cooker, and the similar attributes it’s cooking process has to the things I’m seeing in my life, but also hearing about in other’s, I’m starting to see the hidden blessing of quarantine life.

There have been a few times I’ve said to some close friends and to my psychologist, “it feels like all the air has been sucked out from around me and I feel trapped.” Now go back and read the explanation of the pressure cooker. That’s it’s process. The air is completely expelled and the steam is trapped. A suffocating process which intensifies heat and allows for shorter cooking time. Quarantine for me has been a blessing in the disguise of a pressure cooker. I’ve felt suffocated, at times literally I’ve struggled to breathe, the heat of the situation, loneliness, regrets, shame, resentment, anger, hurt have all been intensified. In moments where normally the extrovert in me would be hanging out with others, I’ve been isolated and left in quietness to think, allow the pressure to cook me, and develop in thinking, character, strength and flavour.

I have felt over the past few days, should I feel guilty about being excited for the next season of life when it seems as though some things I’ve left behind are still pieces being picked up by others and not myself? Should I feel guilty that I’m moving on faster than I thought I would? Should I feel ashamed of the speed at which I’m processing new vision, new hope, new dreams and new strength? And the answer is no.

This morning I felt as though God was reminding me through His Word that I have been being prepared during this quarantine for an amazing future. That whenever this quarantine starts to lift, whether it be next week, next month or next year it’s in His perfect timing and I will walk out ready, having been developed in this suffocating pressure cooker of intense heat.

Daniel 3:26-272
6 Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. 27 Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!

I’m believing that what the enemy has used to bring harm, God is turning for good. I’m believing that my best days are ahead of me. I’m believing that your best days are ahead of you. We can walk out of this pressure cooker unsinged, unscorched, and not smell burnt. But cooked to perfection. Excreting beautiful aromas. Plated amazingly. Tasting like a 5star dish.

Can I encourage you to find the good in Quarantine life? Embrace the pressure. Take the time you have to think, to process past hurts, to dream, to plan, to prepare, to study, to be. Embrace the heightened heat. The added stress of homeschooling, working online, not seeing friends and family. See these as opportunities for growth.

We can come out of this as better humans, stronger humans, better lovers, better carers, better givers, better thinkers, better communicators, better planners, better parents, better friends, better people!

It’s The Climb

Remember the Miley Cyrus banger, ‘The Climb’? Back when she was innocent, had an alter ego, and knew nothing about wrecking balls or blurred lines, she sang these words: “There’s always gonna be another mountain, I’m always gonna want to make it move, Always gonna be an uphill battle, Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose. Ain’t about how fast I get there, Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side, It’s the climb.” I know you just sang that in your head as you read those words. You can’t help it. It’s a good tune. But even better than the tune is the simple yet powerful message in this teenager’s song.

It starts off with giving you a glimpse of the hope we each so deeply resonate with. That dream we’re dreaming, that thing we are reaching for that’s just outside of our grasp. But of course, there is a tension we also too well understand. There is something standing between us and obtaining this dream. The mountain. Mountains are daunting. Whilst majestically beautiful to view from afar, up close they seem a lot bigger and harder to get up than when you were approaching from 50kms away.

I remember being a volunteer on a schools Year 9 camp where over two days we would climb Mount Feathertop. My disdain for the climb began here. Not so much the physical exertion and pain, although I’m sure that played a contributing factor. The problem I had was the people I was stuck with on my climb. I got asked to stick with those who were going to struggle. I’m still not sure if it’s because they thought I too was going to struggle. The first few hours felt like an eternity with individuals who wanted to stop every few bends, who complained frequently about every sound, smell and step. But at about the 4-hour mark something truly beautiful occurred. You see, not only were we having to climb the mountain but we each had packs on our back with what we would need for the overnight. These packs were heavy, and what these individuals were complaining the most about. 4 hours in, a couple of the boys who were leading the way from the front, fell to the back by choice and each offered to take the packs of the ones who were struggling, on top of their own. This sacrificial move gave a breath of fresh air and placed a spring in the steps of the kids who had been climbing so slowly and wanted to give up with their every step. Then these boys who now carried twice the load as anyone else began encouraging and walking in step with the strugglers, reminding them that “once you arrive, you’ll be so proud of yourself.” These were year 9 boys!

I realised one of the most important things when climbing a mountain is the people around you. I seriously doubt we would ever have made it up the mountain if it were just a few strugglers and myself. I remember at one point a staff member turned to me saying “be ready to turn around and for us spend the night back at camp with these kids.” The sort of people we surround ourselves within the climb will determine the type of climb we have. Those around us, speaking into our climb will always shape the experience. Too often however we are most comfortable surrounding ourselves with those also struggling with the climb, complaining about the climb, hating the climb, that we lose hope and are all too willing to give up. But if we ensure we have people in our lives who carry hope and speak life into our climb, there’s greater energy in our stride, there are a greater strength and tenacity in our approach of the mountain than if we didn’t have those people carrying the load with us.

I’m so thankful for the few people I have had who have been a constant in my recent climb. There have been a few times where the mountain ahead seemed all too overwhelming, and I thought it would be easier just to give up. But there are just a select few individuals who have been intentional in reaching out. A few who have said, “let me carry this with you”. A few who have spoken words of hope around not giving up, constantly reminding me that the abilities and calling I have aren’t expired, but will only be enhanced on the other side of this mountain. Rather than seeing this mountain as a journey to hell, they’ve helped me see it as a journey to potential, a journey to destiny, a journey to heaven on earth.

As I read Psalm 121 this morning, I was reminded that our perspective of the mountain ahead is so extremely important. In it, David looks at the mountain ahead and is daunted. I don’t know what his climbing experiences were like in the past. Whether he was ambushed on a mountain, whether he lost friends on a climb, whether he faced great torment on a climb, and now that is all he can remember? But he starts this Psalm with “I lift my eyes up to the mountain – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth…He who watches over you will neither slumber nor sleep.” David knew as he faced the mountain ahead that he needed help. Not only would he need the help of his troops and companions by his side, but he needed the One who moves mountains walking with him ready to help. The one who doesn’t sleep or slumber and knows the right time to pick us up when we feel like we are going to crumble.

That has been my experience in this climb. I wouldn’t be here if miraculously there were not points along the way where the always attentive and never sleeping maker of the heavens and earth had not intervened. This knowledge of someone beyond myself, bigger than myself, eternal strength and everlasting love has been the very thing which has given me the strength to keep climbing, and to embrace the climb.

I don’t know what mountain you are currently climbing. But whatever it is, however, steep the incline, however rocky the terrain, however dark the canopy overshadowing you is making your journey, I resonate with you. We each have a climb. But know this, the strength of your stride is found in who is by your side. Decide not to be a victim in your climb. Decide not to surround yourself with a pity party. That will never make the climb easier or help you ever to reach your destination. Find people who will spur you on, speak life, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control into your climb. Don’t run from the climb. Don’t compare your climb to those mountain climbers who seem to race up the mountain. It’s not about how fast you get there, it’s not about what’s waiting on the other side even. The important thing right now is the climb. Because in the climb, you will learn things, gain strength, and a new perspective for your mountaintop moments. Call out to the One who so longs to help you and is there by your side every step of the way – Jesus. You will be better off for it. And remember, when everything feels like an uphill battle, just think of the view you will have from the top.

I Don’t Care What Anyone Thinks!

Have you ever been so sold out for something that you have said “I don’t care what anyone thinks”? Some people live their lives with careless abandon; they couldn’t care about the thoughts or opinions of anyone else. Most, however, are not that way. Most of us genuinely do care what others, especially those closest to us think. There are a few things we as human beings arrive at where this statement really is true. Often we say things like this but deep down we still do care. But should we?

A few years ago I did one of those personality type assessments on what my top values were. This test revealed the things that drive what we do as individuals, giving reason and meaning to our actions. One of my top 3 values came out as “being liked”. Much of who I was and the way I lived revolved around being liked by others. This value made it very hard for me to say with complete honesty, “I don’t care what they think”. At the end of the day, when any decision was made, no matter how bold I had appeared, secretly I cared a lot. Too often, my deep and secret care for what other people would think would result in me making decisions to go in a direction other than I had originally intended all to ensure that people stayed with me along the journey.

This is one reason this season has been the hardest one I’ve ever had to face. My deep desire to be liked hasn’t disappeared. My care for what others think is still relatively high. Yet I know most of my circles think negatively of me and the choices I have made. One thing is different, however. My resolve to live honestly no matter what others think is stronger than the care I place on what they are thinking. This resolve and the way it has outworked has led people to think “Aaron mustn’t care about…[insert various things here]”. It couldn’t be further from the truth most of the time. I still deeply care about so many of the things I have always cared about. I also still deeply care about what other people think about me and the choices I make. But I want my heart to be pure before God and living alternatively to my beliefs, to truth and who He has created me to be doesn’t allow for that.

I was encouraged this morning as I read from 1 Corinthians 4. In this chapter Paul says the following: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they are found faithful. 3 But with me, it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”
Paul saw it as a “very small thing” the thought of and the judgements of others. Even the thoughts he carried of himself He didn’t give weight to. No, the only thoughts that held any significance to him and his daily choices were that of God. That’s all that mattered. As long as he knew God was pleased. As long as he lived for the audience of one, that was all that ultimately mattered. He expresses that it’s not worthwhile debating each other’s lives or casting judgement on how someone else is living because there are so many unknowns, so much that is still an utter mystery to us as humanity. We aren’t God that we can say with certainty “this is wrong”. Especially on issues that are ambiguous, to say the least. Of course, if it’s going to cause harm to someone, or doesn’t give love to God or others then it’s pretty clear. But outside of that, leave it to God. Do we really think we are bold enough, most of us without any theological training, to make claims on issues of the heart? Of which God says only He knows how to look at?

One day, light will shine on all the darkness or things we don’t yet have clarity on. But right now – just run your race. Don’t give too much weight to what other’s think. Be true to your convictions, your resolve and to the truth. Pursue love – Love God and Love others. If you do this – I can guarantee:

You’ll be more joyful.
You’ll love people a whole lot better.
Your world will open to people and opportunities you could never have imagined.
You’ll finish this race with a better commendation from Him – because you will have lived your life for an audience of one, rather than a world of opinions.

Who Do You Belong To?

There are many schools of thought around life and who life ultimately belongs to. Many say ‘your life is your own, live it how you want to.’ Others say ‘you are a small part of greater humanity, we each own the other.’ Then others again say ‘there is a higher being, God, who gave you life and ultimately wants your life.’ What if none of these could be entirely true on their own? What if each of these concepts of life and who you ultimately belong to could only truly be comprehended when all three are recognised and embraced?

YOURSELF
Often times we can be tempted and rush towards the lie that my life belongs to me and no one else. It’s a sort of selfish entitlement in times where we really want our way so that we can have benefit and success that leads us to this thinking. With this thinking, we can sometimes begin to make careless decisions which hurt and lessen the quality of life for others.
But without really owning our own lives and ensuring we love ourselves we can easily fall to the opposite where we allow our quality of life, health and wellness be jeopardised, constantly working against being self-absorbed.

This was a trap I fell into often. I didn’t want to ever stop and think about my life long enough, if I could continually give, care for, listen to, empower, speak life to others, live life for Jesus, it should come back around and I’ll be ok. “What you sow you shall reap”, right?

But I found there had to be a balance. Never taking the time to care for yourself, and that can’t happen without taking a level of ownership of your life, you begin to lose yourself, your sanity, your wellbeing. But in taking ownership of my life, I also need to understand that the decisions I make cause ripple effects which need to be considered for the good of humanity.

YOUR TRIBE
Belonging is so important. It’s something we crave as humans. In fact, in the creation narrative the first thing God says “isn’t good”, wasn’t sin, it was loneliness. We need people. We need humanity. This need for belonging and belonging to one another is both a blessing and a curse. Because our deep desire for this can so often cause us to lose ourselves to the crowd. We so want to fit in, belong, be part of something, that we lose who we are to fit in with “our tribe”.

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

Friedrich Nietzsche

In some ways I find this tribe deal messed up. All over humanity, we have tribes based on; gender, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, age, political affiliation, religion, denomination etc. Tribes are pitted against tribes. And even within these greater tribes, there are sub-tribes, because sometimes you just can’t fit in the larger group. And so we have created factions in the tribes we do have. Sometimes these smaller factions are even at war with other factions within the same tribe. So rather than unity, belonging, acceptance, love and harmony we have division, chaos, confusion, hunger for acceptance, hatred and war.

It is the biggest world war to date. Identity group vs. identity group all with ideas, views, opinions. Anyone who puts forward a different thought, idea or opinion is degraded publicly, hated, considered a bigot.

The danger of belonging to the tribe is that we lose who we really are in an effort to blend in, feel belonging and have a part to play.

For so long I associated myself with the tribe of the “Christian Church”. I tried to make who I was created to be fit within the boxes and expectations of that tribe. The “Welcome Home” slogan plastered over many churches has a point where the welcome wears off. Now, I still love the church. I still believe it’s God’s tool to bring His hope, love and life into the world. But I realised that can still happen without me having to sacrifice who I am. That Jesus is the one building His church, and He called everyone and anyone to follow him.

I use the church as an example because it is what I’m familiar with. But all across humanity, there are these tribes or groups wanting members, wanting you to belong to them, and therefore be owned by them.

Many have asked me if I will be joining LGBTIQ groups, and my answer has been probably not. I don’t want this one part of my life to define me. Just like I didn’t want the church to define me, or that to define me. This shouldn’t either. I’m not owned by a particular tribe. I belong to humanity.

As long as we split humanity into groups that form our identity, we will never see things from others perspective. Just from our own group’s viewpoint.

We’ve lost the notion that we all bleed the same blood. We might think differently, behave differently, live differently, look different, sound different, like different things. But at the end of the day, we are all part of something bigger than the church, the LGBTQI community, the Medical Industry, the feminism movement, the liberal or labour party. We are part of diverse, colourful, vibrant and amazing humanity. Humanity created by God and loved by God.

Proverbs 22:2
The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the Maker of them all.

YOUR GOD
Most people around the world don’t disagree with the idea that there is a God. Many just haven’t found who God is for themselves yet. I have a conversation with people all the time who aren’t in faith and they say, they aren’t closed off to the idea that the is a higher power, it’s often that the image of the higher power is corrupted so often by the tribes who project versions of who God is.

We all have a god. We all dedicate our lives to something bigger than ourselves. We all have something that ultimately consumes us. For some it’s family, for others it’s work, for others it’s anthropology, for others it’s partying, for others it’s their tribe, and for others its religion. The list can keep going. But whatever or whoever our god is we will ultimately become so consumed by it that it begins to own us.

Jesus said that he is the way, the truth and the life. He is the way to the one true God, the truth in a world of deception and confusion and life eternal. He is the God I have put my trust in. Without Him, this season of my life would have been a lot harder. My belonging to Jesus hasn’t ever restricted me. In fact, it has opened my life up to amazing opportunity and potential. I have a purpose behind belief within the context of Jesus being my God. What did restrict me was the projected view of who Jesus was that was taught to me for so long.

1 Corinthians 6:19
Your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God. You are not your own.

I have no desire to be completely my own. I know that if I was my own I would have complete disregard for humanity in my decision making and my life would end when I stop breathing.

I truly believe there is more to life than belonging to myself.

No, I belong to myself, to humanity, but ultimately to God, Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of my life. He wrote me into existence and he loves me so much he makes good out of my poor choices.

His concept of who we belong to is simple, Him and humanity. And that belonging is marked by LOVE.

Mark 22:37-39
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Losing My Religion

Human nature leads us to comfort. We all like a security blanket to hold and cuddle especially in life’s tumultuous times. We desire things to stay the same, a safe boundary in which we can wander, never having to think, question or wrestle with some of the big things that ensure our comfort stays intact.

For many, including myself, that security blanket of comfort was my faith. A faith passed down through the ages. A faith so rich in history, tradition, testimony and security. A faith one would never think to think about. In fact, in some Christian circles, it can often be discouraged or demonised to think about or question some of the deep elements of this faith passed down. We use phrases like “doubting Thomas”, to describe people wrestling with deep questions, as though Thomas was the bad guy in the resurrection account. This sort of language created by spiritually manipulative and controlling leaders of the faith throughout history causes fear in ever questioning harsh realities around faith, truth and life. It seeks to create a mindless and numb group of blind followers who shout “amen” to some of the most brainless statements just because they have rhyme and rhythm, yet have no reason.

I’m looking for the Thomas’s of the world. Thomas wasn’t the bad guy. Thomas was a thinker. Thomas was a real follower of Jesus, not a follower of man or tradition. Thomas was a legend. Thomas is the first person to ever describe Jesus as “Lord” and “My God”. He wasn’t alone in wanting evidence for faith. In fact, the Bible describes every disciple as having “seen” and then “believed” in the resurrection of Christ. His needing to see first shows he had a brain and wanted to use it. The other disciples are lucky in that they didn’t have to ask to see. It’s human and modern English hermeneutical error which causes anyone to see the interaction with Thomas and Jesus as a reprimanding of doubt or questioning.

Travel forward with me in history to the moment Martin Luther did his 95 Theses. Then, he was seen as a heretic, someone who had lost his faith, but now we credit the Protestant church to this man. His core thought was that the Bible is the central source of religious authority and that salvation is reached through faith and not deeds. This revolutionised the known church. There were some things Luther stood for which were not good or Godly (his views on Jews are a stand out). However, some of Luther’s great insight and pondering of ecclesiastical history and religious tradition, as his profound belief that as the sole source of religious authority, the Bible should be translated and made available to everyone, were truly revolutionary in his day, and things we are thankful for in 2020. He shook up the establishment, but then also didn’t want to be part of the radical successors who took up his mantle and sort to defame the church or tear it apart. He wanted truth and change not hatred or to destroy the thing Jesus was building.

Jesus Himself challenged the mindless following of religious tradition and revolutionised faith as the world knew it when he was on the scene. He didn’t settle for man-made religion and wanted deep faith and relationship all centred around two key things, loving God and loving other people. This oftentimes led to his conversations with the religious leaders of the day being correctional and rebuking in nature.

Mark 7:6-8
6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

Without a proper study of Jewish history, this attack from Jesus can get lost. God’s original law, as handed down by Moses and the Prophets, was given to God’s people to help them be free and set apart. People who had a powerful and good difference about them and their culture to that of a dark world. At some point in history, religious leaders got together and decided that the law needed clarity. There were people starting to tread awfully close to the line and that concerned temple authorities. So together they developed the Mishnah which means “to repeat”. The Mishnah consists of but is not limited to, 30 whole Chapters about the ceremonial ritual of washing pots and pans. That’s right, 30 chapters on how to do the dishes! There is one whole volume (WAY TOO MANY CHAPTERS) – on how to wash your hands. That may be good now with COVID-19, but a bit of overkill for clarifying the original law. Over time these clarifications became “law” in people’s minds.

After much time religious authorities saw people stepping too close for comfort to these extra boundaries they’d put in place with the Mishnah. Out of fear that the things in the Mishnah might not be adhered to, they decided that the Mishnah now also needed clarity. So they developed the Gemarah. These are simple commentaries on the Mishnah (not original law), and it simply means “to complete”. The Gemarah were more rules and traditions in aid to help follow the Mishnah which helped follow the law. Then the Rabbinical school at Jerusalem took the Mishnah & the Gemarah and put them both together thus creating the TALMUD.

The Mishnah, Gemarah and TALMUD were never God’s original intention. They were guides developed by well-meaning and loving religious leaders that over time were confused as actually being the law.

To get a glimpse into why I’m talking about this and what this history lesson has to do with Jesus’ rebuke; parts of the Talmud state: ‘Attend to the words of the scribes more than that of the law.’ You can see why Jesus is saying “you have strayed away”, “you are following man-made traditions.”

The past few weeks and months for me have been a really clarifying season in which much of my religion, tradition, belief system, security blanket has been forced to go through filtering. More than ever before I have begun to cling to the Word, to hope in Jesus and to my faith. I’ve sought to strip away the man-made elements of my faith and pursue a pure and undefiled Jesus and pure and undefiled faith. This has also meant, more than ever before I’ve had to let go of man-made tradition, belief, propaganda and pretty sentiment when it comes to faith, I call this “religion”. I’ve come to see that a lot of people, myself included, see their sins in their sins. But we don’t see the sins in our religion. Jesus call was to follow him. It was a pure calling. Throughout history naturally, this calling gets diluted, mixed with things which have actually made it harder for people to swallow that call.

Religion, law and man-made control never make it easier for people to freely take the first step or further steps to following Jesus. In fact, it makes it harder. It muddies the waters and confuses the simple and gritty (not pretty) truth of the gospel of Jesus. Love Him and Love others. The power play of man-made religion does nothing to love either God or humanity.

For those who are concerned for me. I’m not losing my faith in Jesus. I’m losing my religion. I’m not seeking to join an aggressive and agenda-driven tribe who want to defame or destroy the church. In fact, I love the church. I think it’s God’s tool to bring hope into the world. I still believe Jesus wants to build His church. My hope is that I can purely pursue Jesus, and over time lead others to purely do the same.

We need more open-hearted, non-agenda driven questioners.
We need more thinkers.
We need more people willing to face the harsh realities and not hide behind a security blanket of law and religion.
We need more people like Thomas.
We need more people like Martin Luther.
We need more people like Jesus.

Love the Fall

"Sometimes I feel nothing at all
Sometimes I want someone to hold
Sometimes I carry on
Just to stumble down once more
Sometimes I wanna fall "

Ever seen a movie character in a fight scene who is getting the shit beaten out of them but every time they seem to be down and out they begin to stand back up for more? Everything in me when I see these scenes wants to shout at the character, “STAY DOWN! YOU CAN’T WIN!” But then there are times in life where I’m that character. Where I don’t want to hear the words I’ve screamed at the tv before, and I can’t take my own advice.

The song “Fall” by James Arthur, has been a favourite to sit and listen to, on repeat and with a bottle of wine, in my current season. While I’ve received messages from those who have told me I’ve “fallen into sin” or others who say that I’ve “fallen into deception” and even then those who have said that I’ve “fallen from God” (as though that is something they can judge and have insight on from their lofty position), I don’t believe any of those to be true. What I do know is that I have fallen down. Just not in the ways many may think. Where motivation, energy, passion and purpose were once my anthem they have been lost in my falling into a season where I feel isolated, alone with only a few people to trust, and broken. As much as I want to get back up, there are parts of me that enjoy the fall. Hell, even parts of me that want to get back up to fall into this place again.

Have you ever enjoyed the low states of mind, the dark and lonely places? It’s a weird question to ponder. As if anyone enjoys that? Yet, we do. We like that down there it’s numb and we can feel nothing. We like that down there we will get the comfort we crave from others who are standing. It feels easier. That’s why we go back there. It’s why we hide away from light, purpose and people when we are down and out.

But I don’t want that for my life. I don’t want to be a person who enjoys playing the victim. I don’t want my new anthem to be “sometimes I wanna fall”. No. I want my anthem to be, “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down…” I want to be the character who no matter the punches I receive, no matter the throws that take me down, I will be the sort of person who relies on a greater strength to help me get back up, ready to keep going.

I’m reminded of the words of Paul where he wrote,
“Take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Ephesians 6:13. Just stand. When he says “having done all”, I think of that movie scene, where I am the character. “All” is every punch, every blow, every time the wind gets knocked out of me, every time I fall, I grit my teeth and stand to my feet knowing that life goes on when I stand. When I stand I can move forward, I can attack, I can walk, I can run. When I’m down I can do nothing but give up, drow in misery and die.

Can I invite you, if you’ve ever felt knocked down, maybe you feel like you’ve fallen in one way or another? Get up and stand with me and after having done all, keep standing. Don’t chase the fall. Don’t crave the fall. Learn to love the stand.

Words Fail

One of my favourite musicals is Dear Evan Hansen. This song is a powerful ballad towards the end of the show where the character feels as though the lie he’s been living has caused damage with the revelation of truth. It’s a story I really relate to. Not every lyric in the song matches my journey. But over the past couple of weeks, I have felt many of the things Evan expresses in this song.

For those who don’t know the story: The story surrounds a young boy (Evan) with a social anxiety disorder who so yearns to feel like he belongs that he fabricates a relationship with a deceased student (who committed suicide) to become closer to the boy’s family. In a misguided attempt to comfort the boy’s grieving family, Evan pretends that he was actually good friends with their son. Throughout the story, Evan is drawn deeper and deeper into the lie. This lie seems to be good for everyone. But, eventually, Evan is forced to make a decision: Will he give himself over to the fantasy he’s created, or will he bite the bullet and risk losing everything he’s ever wanted?

As I’ve watched my story, which was somewhat forced to unfold so rapidly over the past few weeks, I’ve watched as the lie I have lived for so long and the unveiling of truth has caused pain and a trail of destruction in the lives of people I love. Words fail me to bring any amount of explanation, resolution, healing or meaning to it all. But in the words of Evan:

“I never meant to make it such a mess…I guess I wanted to believe, coz if I just believed, then I don’t have to see what’s really there. No, I’d rather pretend I’m something better than these broken parts. Pretend I’m something other than this mess that I am. So then I don’t have to look at it. And no one needs to look at it. No. No one can really see. Coz what if everyone saw? What if everyone knew? Would they like what they saw? Or would they hate it too? Will I just keep on running away from what’s true? All I ever do is run. So how do I step in, step into the sun?”

Words Fail – Dear Evan Hansen

We can so often fear the damage that embracing truth could bring. But ultimately I believe, if Jesus is truth, and Jesus only does good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes, then truth will bring good. The truth will bring freedom. The truth will bring life.

This is what I’m holding out for in my world. It’s a story still being written. But the next chapter tells of the good that comes, the new life God will bring from stepping into truth and not living in darkness anymore

If you are in the midst of a truth storm. Be encouraged. Good is on the way. Step into the sun!

Resurrection LIfe

I’ve had a lot of me time recently. A lot of time alone in my thoughts. A lot of time to think, ponder, question, wrestle, discover, laugh, cry and grow. The extroverted Aaron hates it but the tired and broken Aaron needs it.

When you are alone in your thoughts, it can lead to dangerous places. Thoughts that are unjustified, tormenting and hopeless. Without a willingness to allow someone to be the sounding board, an openness to let people in to carry things with you, the mind can take you to dark territory. That’s been me. After years of always being the one to support others, I couldn’t and still struggle to call out for help. I haven’t wanted to see or speak with anyone. So my mind is a Battlezone filled with heavy ammunition that is tearing up so much in my mind. With so much changing in such a short time, everything once knew is completely different all of a sudden.

Easter for many years now has been a busy time of imagining, creating, dreaming up things to lead people to wonder in the hope of Jesus – the resurrected King. It’s always been surrounded with others as we develop services which achieved that very goal.

This year has been quite a weird experience. Not having those services to plan, not having those meetings to lead, not having that message to prepare. It’s felt empty. I’ve felt distant from people and from God. Then this morning these words echoed through my mind like someone singing in a cave:

THE RESURRECTED KING IS RESURRECTING ME

I’ve always been the optimistic, glass half full kind of guy. I’ve always seen the best in people, situations and the future. But recently all I could see was the grave. Everywhere I looked I would be critical, pessimistic, question the real thoughts of individuals and see no hope or future. I was stuck in negativity. Resentful of my past, my pain and people, I couldn’t see a hope for anything bright.

I know that my faith in Jesus is more real to me now than years and years of doing ministry and leading people to find that faith, but all of a sudden there was this new, completely foreign and unhealthy mindset that had somehow crept its way into my mind. Which had begun to threaten some of the foundational elements of my faith and hope.

I don’t know what faith you hold to, if any at all. I don’t know if you trust Jesus with your everything. But hear me out for a few seconds.

The theme of Easter was and is that someone took your death, your hopelessness, your glass half empty life and defeated it, rising in triumph over it and now wants to cause you to come alive, find hope and fill you up again.

My grave has been the loss of family, time, opportunity to live out my calling, feeling isolated beyond COVID isolation. My grave clothes stank. But this morning I find hope in the thought that there is no qualifying for the resurrection. God loved THE WHOLE world (not just the ones that fit into the pretty church box), that He GAVE His one and only Son (it’s not for sale, it’s a gift), that WHOEVER believes in Him (not those who have it together, not the straight people, not the Christians, not the pretend Christians – ANYONE AND EVERYONE who believes), SHALL NOT perish/die, but RECEIVE ETERNAL LIFE. John 3:16.

Today I’m throwing off the grave clothes.
I’m chucking out the bitter spices that I’ve used to distract myself from the stench of those grave clothes.
I’m getting up.
I’m moving forward.
I’m not staying in victimhood.
I’m rising to victory!

By His Spirit I will rise from the ashes of defeat, the resurrected King, is resurrecting me. In Jesus’ name I come alive to declare His victory, the resurrected King is resurrecting me.

HAPPY EASTER!