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My name is David Schuppan and I am a pastor of the Lutheran Church of Australia.

These are my musings on faith, life with God and life for us together.

A Full and Rewarding Life

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Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

The question, ‘What does love expect of me?’, speaks directly into our own fulfillment. We feel good about ourselves when we offer our gifts and talents in the service of others. It’s even more rewarding when we offer our loving service in unison with others. With a generous spirit, we will begin to meet new people and learn about their lives, their thoughts and aspirations and our perspectives are enhanced as we see the world through other eyes. Unfortunately, this world we live in militates against such generosity of spirit. Australians still cut down the tall poppies, criticising the generous differences others bring to the table. We are also educated by commercial advertising in general and cultural attitudes, in particular, to ask, ‘what’s in it for me, what’s the payoff for me?’ and so generosity is quenched among us by the fear of others and the subtle indoctrination of the self-serving marketing media.

When our personal world shrinks to the level of mere self-interest, the possibilities of a full and rewarding life diminish exponentially. It’s only through contributing to the lives of others that life expands, brightens, lightens and flourishes. We may say to ourselves that we love our immediate family and close friends and are generous with them but even the worst human beings care for those close to them. No, the real test is to love those we don’t know so well. Engaging with those outside of our immediate circle is the real challenge, and it is in those larger challenges that the greatest benefits can be found.

With a generous spirit, there are all kinds of benefits, many surprising and unexpected. Rewards that benefit others as we give of ourselves and benefit us, as we grow in character through those challenges of engagement in community. The very least is that we may gain are deep, lifelong friendships.

A full and rewarding life will come from asking, ‘What does love require of me today? How can I contribute?’

Be Renewed: Say yes and get out of the Spirit’s way

What is renewal and is it optional to the Christian life? No! It’s not optional. It’s, the life of Christ at work in our life. It’s baptism in action; daily dying to our shadowy old nature and rising up to new life in Christ, each day. God for us and God in us. God loving us entirely, saint and sinner, successes and failures.

Consider: Are you thinking renewal of your being is too hard or not for you?

Consider: Are you trying to renew yourself?

Consider: Do you feel not worthy of such a generous outpouring of God’s love into you? Are those feelings the truth of God or have you believed the devil’s lies and now feel useless, worthless or unworthy of God’s abundant grace for you, his child?

Task #1: Say Yes to renewal. It’s Father’s desire for you. Prayer is a conversation. Conversation is a union with another. With Jesus then, quietly and slowly converse with Father about Romans 8. Then, after proper consideration, let Father answer the question in verse 31. Hear what Father’s quiet encouraging voice says to you, dear one. [Ignore the other voices, they are liars.]

Get Out of the Way

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

Transformation, is ‘metamorphosis’ in the Greek. This is no mere make over that Christ is doing in us but something brand new; from dead hearts and souls to fully alive in Christ, from empty to filled, faithless, hopeless and loveless, to relationships grounded in audacious faith, limitless hope and abundant love.

‘Be transformed’, is a command that includes us all, yes? A command to the devil, the sinful world and our old dead flesh to get out of his way, so that our new self can arise, today. Stand aside! Jesus is coming through in the power of the Spirit! Consider Luke 4:14

Task #2: With Jesus, converse with Father about this: John 12:32

Note: all ‘people’, in English translations, doesn’t appear in the NT Greek. Jesus is ‘dragging all things to himself at the cross’; reclaiming the territory lost to the devil at Eden. He put a stake in the ground and planted himself on it, so that we and all creation could be renewed in the power of his Holy Spirit.

Consider: How do you think you may be getting in the way of your inner healing and renewal?

Consider: Do you want to be truly free from your personal darkness? Then get your old, dead self out of Jesus way and persist in your questions and conversations with Father. Remember daily rising is only, one day at a time. Trusting persistence is the key.

Note: I recently prepared a Sunday teaching on the Transfiguration in Luke’s Gospel which is very much a part of the Renewal journey. It is entitled Transfiguration – Your Exit into Glory. It’s not glory theology, which is a false rose coloured view of this life but about the path to renewal and the glory of God Christ has placed within you, even ‘through the valley of the shadow of death’. It can be found at: www.sometimeslectionary.church

 

Our Lives Between the Trenches

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‘Escape’ Artwork© by Barbara Niczynski (quality reduced)

Prints available from: www.barbniczynski.com
(as of Monday 25th February 2019)

I love this piece of art (I confess my bias). It’s one of a series about life’s journey. This particular one is a light-hearted look at our attempts to escape the chaos of modern life. Our soul wants to soar but it seems that our old life wants to take us captive and hold us shackled to the ground.

Barb and I both love jumping on our motorbike and hitting the road for the occasional escape. But, as the Irish saying goes, ‘Wherever you are, there you find yourself’. Our current life circumstances, our struggles, our emotional responses and fuzzy thinking follow us. No amount of running will allow us to escape from ourselves, not even at 100km/hr. There is however, a possibility of escaping with our self truly intact, and to a place that our heart and soul yearn for. Real escape, but it comes at a cost.

Moving from that space of merely knowing that Jesus loves me and died for me, into the better space of living in it, requires something of us. This is not about us doing anything to achieve our own eternal salvation, that’s unquestionably God’s gift to us. This requirement is about getting out of the way of what God is doing, so that the gift of eternal life can take hold of us and adapt us for a godly life in this current world, right now. The escape route into our true-self is the journey into our own inner life. This is not merely ‘navel gazing’ but the journey of all Christ’s saints; the ancient pilgrim’s path. If we want to rise above our circumstances, that seek to overwhelm us, and if we choose to become more fully and more substantially ourselves, we need to ‘hit the road’ with the Spirit of God.

There will be joy and laughter. There will also be the occasional troubling territory.

Somme

My great uncle was a doctor on the Somme in WWI. While there, he had occasion to be in no-man’s land; between the trenches. Not a place any one chooses casually or even knowingly but, in the army as in life, that’s where you can find yourself.

Uncle Welton was awarded the British Military Cross for his bravery in retrieving injured soldiers from no-man’s land, in the midst of shelling, mortar attacks and the strafing of machine guns and sniper fire. It’s a wonder that he survived, let alone live a fruitful life and have a distinguished career as a doctor.

We all want to survive our own chaos and thrive. While most of us will never find ourselves in front of that kind of deadly fire, we all face the call to leave the safety of our shallow lives and spiritual immaturity to cross the ground between our false-self and our true-self; from our old and broken sinful nature to the genuine safety of our true-self. That true-self, can only be found in the one who created us and so, knows us completely and in the arms of the one who has saved us from our broken ways. Living a new life is vastly different to merely knowing about it. How do we move away from just knowing about God and being stuck in this old life? How do we move into the new life we have been given, and actually live it, in him?

St. Paul shared with his apprentice Timothy this piece of wisdom, ‘the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.’ (2 Tim. 1:7). Self-discipline is more than a sound mind it requires a sound heart as well. A heart that is loved and powerful. Clear thinking proceeds from a heart and soul that know their true-self, and live in it.

The straightest path to a ‘sound mind’ is a broken and empty heart.

This is where we get twitchy. Few people enjoy pain. Most people run to medication when physical pain attacks. The culture of the last hundred or so years has encouraged us to medicate our emotional pain as well and avoid the adventure that would make us independent of big pharmaceutical companies and rather, dependent upon God and strong within ourselves.

(Please note: There is a place for medication for emotional and mental health but not independently of good and wise council. We all need traveling companions in this life, we are not designed for isolation. Good doctors, counsellors and friends are essential, so don’t avoid the people who can help and don’t avoid your inner work.)

A broken heart is God’s first requirement of us because it is the acknowledgment of our natural and sinful self’s rebellious separation from him and hence, our own inadequacy and need. A broken heart is a heart that mourns its distance from God and the knowledge of its true-self. A broken heart acknowledges its emptiness and its great desire to be filled. But, as in a war zone, fear is the biggest obstacle. Fear kills joy and hope, and it makes us terrified of any journey toward wholeness that we can’t control for ourselves. Fear will do it’s best to convince us that the inner journey is too risky. In this regard, fear is a liar. It’s an emotion designed to protect us from predators but it gets confused when we try to trust ourselves to another, especially to God. The journey is always a mixture of emotions and emotional experiences. The first thing that happened to me when Jesus and I broke through fear on my newest and current inner quest, was laughter. Jesus, me and my shadow self, ‘cracked up’ – and I’m wiser for it. I learned something about the quest toward my true-self. It can be joyful and fear need not be my master, nor yours.

Insanity is believing that ‘I’ am the solid centre in a mad world.

‘There’s nothing wrong with me’, is the chant of returned soldiers who are struggling to live with the heightened alert state of battle, but without the battle. It’s the chant of those who suffer from trauma and PTSD. It’s the chant of everyone who avoids the pain of necessary change. The belief that I can ‘fix’ this myself, by myself is part of the craziness of our broken thinking. We want to believe that we have the where-with-all to ‘get over it’, but honestly, we don’t. If we choose to travel down the road of recovery from brokenness toward life, we need some essential things as a starting place:

  1. Comrades: Jesus, a friend and maybe a counsellor
  2. A willingness to admit that we are not the sane centre to an insane world; we can’t fix this.
  3. A willingness to admit that our thinking is often as fuzzy, if not occasionally as crazy, as the deluded world we live in.

This world is not normal. It is not sane much of the time, as it is not yet what God desires for it. God wants us to have an abundantly full and healthy life. This sinful world is not the definition of good health.

I know it can sound all to hard but what’s the alternative? Stay where we are? Unfulfilled, dissatisfied, discontented and miserable with ourselves and our life as we know it? Unable to love fully and to be fully loved?

The journey of Jesus’ followers can feel like we are in no-man’s land at times, just as life in general can feel that way too. But life in a rut is not much of a life at all and its definately not a journey; no one moves forward when they are stuck. The journey into our true and healthy self, is a journey ‘through’, a journey ‘past’ and a journey forward – into audacious faith, limitless hope and abundant love. A full and fulfilling life.

 

Here’s a very useful resource for the beginning of your pilgrimage:

‘Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the dark side of the Psyche (soul)’, Robert A. Johnson

A small book, but powerful.

 

 

Can You Imagine a Sermon that Heals?

Today I published my sermon notes for the 17th of February 2019 and as I have become accustom to doing, I have some ‘Points of Interest’ as they occur to me in the text. Not necessarily connected to the immediate thought of the text itself but an interesting side street along the journey – at least for me.

One of those ‘side streets’ led me to a thought about those who preach and those who listen. It wasn’t a particularly new thought for me because I preach most weeks and think a lot about the value of the message and my ability to connect with people.  This is where a preacher’s insecurities come to light, even for those who have been at it for years. Have I studied enough and prepared enough? Will my research and stories keep people interested long enough for the central message to connect and go deep? Am I good enough. And, ladies and gentlemen, there it is. Am I good enough? I understand that I am not alone in this constant nag from the devil. He’s always looking for cracks to thrust a crowbar into.

Insecurities aren’t limited to those without practice and experience either. Anyone who has been practicing the art of preaching for years can still wonder if they are up to the task. In some seasons of spiritual and occasionally personal attack, that insecurity along with the myriad of questions that it provokes can assail the preacher. So, here’s the development of that thought. I hope it gives you some hope as a preacher and as a listener and maybe a starting place for renewed engagement from both sides of that conversational divide.

Here’s the thought: Would it change the way we read Scripture and listen to a preacher’s sermon if we considered the possibility that healing for our souls may come through those words? For the most part, but not exclusively, Jesus touched people to heal them. At times he spoke healing without touch and sometimes from a distance. He healed the centurion’s servant from a distance, by a word. He healed Lazarus by a word, despite the chasm of death that lay between them. I believe that’s what God intended through the proclamation of the Gospel; the Good News of Jesus.

‘Let there be light’, and there was, ‘let there be ….’ And so the rest of creation came into being by the speaking of the Word. C.S. Lewis has God (Aslan) singing creation into existence – who’s going to argue with Lewis? Why not a word as a song, a hymn, a poem? Why not beat poetry, Rap, the word in any and all it’s artistic forms? Why not a word that heals? Isn’t that creation too?

We westerners too often approach a sermon as if it was merely a lecture; a presentation of mere information. Some Christian traditions refer to the sermon as a ‘monologue’; some weird religious, scripted exposition presented or performed for mere intellectual consumption. If Jesus is the truly the Word of God, as John says in his Gospel, then shouldn’t the sermon be words of life? If ‘faith comes by hearing through the Word of Christ’ (Romans 10:17), and faith in our Triune God is the ultimate healing for today and into eternity, then maybe we should pay attention to the words God is speaking into each of our hearts; preacher and listener. Listening, in the silence of our own reading and meditation, through spiritual songs and art of all kinds but also and I believe, especially, through the voice of our own pastor. After all, didn’t we agree she or he was sent by God for this very purpose? To speak words of life into us and into our community?

Preachers need to learn that the lives of their listeners are not theirs to save and that the theological brilliance of their presentation and the superiority of their prose can save no one. Engage them absolutely, but save, no. Developing the skills of public speaking and storytelling along with the weekly theological and textual preparation needed, are hugely important for our part in the preaching process. But, the preacher doesn’t have the power to save or to heal, that is God’s sovereign domain. Thank you, Jesus!

I’m sure you’ve heard this before but for every single sermon preached on any given Sunday, for as many people who are in the room, so there are sermons received. The Spirit speaks to each heart from the one message and can heal through it. Good preparation is godly and the responsible thing to do in the preacher’s service to God and to God’s people. Without the proper preparation, all people are likely to hear is drivel.

However, it is that word of the Spirit, through the sermon, that falls on the heart of the hearer that has the creative power of God.  That Word of the Spirit saves and heals and grows each listener’s soul as they engage and choose to hear a word tailored particularly for them by the Spirit; from the lips of God to our ears. God speaks most clearly through a preacher that is mindful of this, but it is the Word that falls upon each heart that saves.

So, to all who read sermon notes and listen to sermons, through the voice of Isaiah and St. Paul (Ephesians 5:14), I say to you, ‘Wake up from your sleep, climb out of your coffins;
Christ will show you the light! (The Message translation)

I encourage you to stop treating a sermon as a lecture, if you have fallen into that trap. Listen (make notes) for what the Spirit is saying to your heart; saying to the core of your whole being.

God bless you in you listening. God is most assuredly speaking and God is always healing those who reach out to him. He is reaching out to you.

David

P.S. You can find the sermon notes, if you are interested at: www.sometimeslectionary.church

 

 

What is Heaven and will I go There When I Die?

For Jane

I’ve just had a wide ranging conversation with a friend and colleague about Christian symbols and heaven and the common notion that the faithful go to heaven when they die. She’s asked me to write something about heaven, so here we go.

Heaven is as much a cultural idea as it is a biblical one, but the two don’t mesh well at all. The cultural notion tells us that it is the place we go to when we die. That’s where all of our departed loved ones are!? However none of the writers of the Scriptures give testimony to such an idea. So what exactly is heaven.

Well, heaven begins as a state of being. It starts as an idea of something better, of a life fully lived and fully connected to others and in particular to a God who cherishes us and has prepared a place for us. A place not only in ‘the sweet by-and-by’ but in the here-and-now as well!

Heaven is where God is, it is the place of his royal throne and the exercise of his loving rule all of his creation. Now I say ‘place’ but that’s a little misleading because we usually associate ‘place’ with a geographic location. In regard to heaven, that location seems to have been in some unknown ‘spiritual’ space, ‘up there’. Wherever up-there is?

In the Garden of Gethsemane just before his crucifixion, Jesus asked the Father to make sure that after his resurrection we would be in Jesus and him in us; in a space of deep and abiding intimacy and knowledge of one another. Jesus has joined us to himself just as he has joined heaven to earth in himself.

 

Heaven ans Earth Jesus

The ancient symbol of the two crossing circles, where heaven meets earth, produces an almond shape at the join known as the ‘mandorla’ in Italian. It’s an old teaching and meditational device used to speak of the two natures of Jesus. Fully divine and fully human. Jesus fills the ‘mandorla’ space: He is the perfect joining of heaven and earth – and we are in him. That’s a buzz!

[BING!!! Just had a brain wave. I wonder if that is why candied almonds are given away to guests at an Italian wedding. The almond is a seed which represents not only fertility but also the joining of heaven and earth in two people. The mandorla is the ‘sweet spot’?!]

Because of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension to his throne at the right hand side of the Father, Heaven is now on earth, with us, in us. The giving of the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost ensured that God is with us always. For those who have received the Holy Spirit in baptism (and/or the laying on of hands), God now resides in us. The Scriptures now describe each of us as the temple of the Holy Spirit. God reigns within us, so …… heaven is within us. Heaven is where the Spirit of the Father and the Son reside.

It’s a state of being because it is a relationship, not some dopey religio-cultural doctrine.

So what happens when I die? Well, first of all you will be where you have always been – in the company of your loving God – in a safe space with safe loving friends and family: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Then what? Well, God gave the Apostle John the privilege, on our behalf, of seeing a vision of the ‘what next?’ A new earth! We will inhabit new flesh and blood in a new earth (Revelation 21). That, I believe, will be truly heavenly.

In the meantime we live with heaven in us – in me and in you. We live with that in mind and make our choices accordingly.

How do we make sure that we are included in that new earth? Trust Jesus, that’s what faithfulness is. Take him at his word. Develop your side of the relationship with him as far as you are currently able. He’s keen for that, from his part. He demonstrated that by dying and rising, and so, conquering death for you.

Otherwise? Just love each other. Love each other and live fully.

 

Look Down in Anger: Look up and Live

I’m on a facebook page that supports the ordination of women in the Lutheran Church of Australia. It’s a good page with open conversations about other issues as well. The issue of male anger came up. It is a small group of patriarchs that are preventing Women being ordained and so, the discussion arose about ‘male headship’. This topic isn’t just about religious families, that have a variety of notions about what headship may mean, but also about families who have no particular religious affiliations. Patriarchy is a natural system of subjugating women that has existed since the dawn of time. No one invented it, it just occurs because that is they way we are wired. Of course there are all sorts of cultural and sociological norms that have contributed over time but it starts in the hearts of men. In our ‘civilised’ Western world it is still pervasive in our minds and in our relationships. Enlightened men resist the urge to dominate others and especially the women in their lives but it is a constant emotional and spiritual work to do so. Why? Because men are hard wired to win, to be in charge, to fix problems to get it ‘right’ what ever that is, and to demonstrate that they are indeed ‘men’.

If you were able to go along on any given night to any of the many ‘sheds’ in the men’s movement you would hear all the stories of men trying to be something God never intended them to be. “The bread winner – as head of the house” is a big one as is being a husband and father while living in a society that reinforces a heterosexual male’s natural inclination to bottle up, deny, push down, all emotions and even neglecting personal emotional and spiritual care in order to ‘put the effort’ into proving himself worthy of the title, ‘man.’ ‘Headship’ misunderstood, is the biggest problem of all. I think headship is about spiritual leadership and soul-care within the family. ‘Headship’ done well, will be exercised by all members of the family at various times – God is even more than pleased to speak and act through children – but I do believe God wanted the husband to take the lead and be the main facilitator of a family’s spiritual life. Why you ask? Because he is emotionally and spiritually the least able. Remember the curse Adam brought down upon himself at the ‘fall’? He had doomed himself to live life looking down – at the ground; at his crop, the weeds, the wet and the drought, the soil fertility and everything that is required for his work. Adam no longer found his identity in God but in proving his manhood through what he does in his work and in his, all to often, emotionally absent relationships – which most men see (at least initially) as work, because that’s where their identity comes from – work.
When a man steps into his station as husband and father, having faith in God, he will begin to let go of false identity and find his true self in Christ and in the smallest unit of Christ’s body – the family.

When a man has had enough of his anger and of looking to the ground, he may with encouragement from other men, look up and find a fulfilling and love filled life.

Beginning to Believe

In the movie The Matrix, the prophesied one, Neo, begins to believe that he is the ‘One’ of prophesy and starts to act the part. As he believes, so he is revealed.

Christians believe that God exists, that he sent his one and only Son to die in our place, to rise again and ascend to his throne of authority over heaven and earth. These doctrinal statements are accepted by an act of faith, of trust that God is who he says he is. But this is only the beginning of faith and the beginning of the revelation of who we truly are.

St. Paul knows that the revelation of our true being comes about by more than mere agreement to these principal teachings. ‘For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.’ (Romans 8:19). Faith in God calls us to trust in his promises for us. Trust that ‘what is impossible for man is possible for God’ (Luke 18:28); we can’t save ourselves but God can and indeed has!  Trust that I can indeed ‘do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4:13); I am a son, a daughter of the living God, a disciple of Jesus and we are his body in the world! All things are possible!

BUT there is a catch: Our ego wants to be in charge of all things to do with our life and destiny. Fair enough too. No one wants others writing the script of their life. That’s not freedom but a prison to conformity, the death of creativity and the sure path to crushed dreams and a broken heart. So, if we are naturally courageous, we will persevere in our own wisdom and strength to pursue our goals and aspirations. We will independently follow our own path. There are ample examples of people who have found themselves to be the right people, in the right place at the right time and have achieved a high level of success and public recognition for their efforts. Sheer human determination and ingenuity is capable of so much, and this is to be expected as we are created in God’s image after all.

The cosmos however, is not always in alignment for all of us. Some reach success because everything seems to be aligned for them but there is no perfect and definitive formula to be found through human endeavour alone. Often what seems to be great success was just dumb luck. We rejoice in the blessings those folk have received and offered but what about us. Jesus promised that we would do even greater things than he (John 14:12), so what about ordinary people living an ordinary life. What about me? Would God give me the faith to move mountains?

What is the sticking point in my soul that keeps me from faith of this kind; the kind that would take the risk of audacious prayers – ‘anything is possible with God’, prayers. (Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick)? It’s not God, he gives himself completely and all his gifts freely. The sticking point is fear. It may be fear of failure, embarrassment of being ‘out there’ audacious and so afraid of the critics. It may be just plain old ego that wants to be in control of my life’s script and not willing to step aside and let God lead.

I’ve found that I have had to come to the end of myself before I was ready to let God take charge. I have often prayed, ‘Lord I can’t do this anymore. I have no strength left, no will and no strong desire. But, I know this is your calling and your will, so please take charge and lead me.’ It’s not such a profound prayer really, but the moment I surrender, God steps in. Hope and energy return. My life seems freed up again.

In Mark 8:33 Jesus says to Peter, who has just rebuked him for talking about his necessary death, he says, ‘You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns’. Audacious faith and audacious prayers are predicated not upon any strength or wisdom I may possess in my natural self but upon Jesus and who he is; the ruler of heaven and earth. The peace of God which goes beyond all human understanding and the faith to move mountains can only be apprehended when we surrender our hearts and minds to the Spirit of God and allow ourselves the risk of genuine trust in the love and promises of God our Father.

As we enter the internal struggle which is faith and trust in God, we will begin to act on it. As we act on it, our true self, in Christ, will be revealed. Mountains will be moved!