Probably about 10% of Australia’s population has dry eyes. Since I’m one of them, I’ve taken a particular interest in the condition called Meibomian Gland Dysfunction or Meibomian Bletharitis and learnt that there’s more to our tears than we realise.

In fact our eyes have been so delicately and intricately crafted that it only takes a tiny malfunction in our Meibonian glands to give the idea that there’s a beach party in full swing with sand being the key ingredient. Understanding the make-up of tears has certainly helped me to appreciate the incredible planning and craftsmanship that went into this small part of our body. Let me explain as best I can.

There are three important layers in our tears.  They all need be present in balanced quantities for our tears to effectively moisturise the eyes.  The innermost layer that sits against the cornea is the mucin layer (it produces mucus).  Next is the aqueous layer.  This is made of water and is secreted by the lacrimal gland. The outer layer is made of oil, which is secreted by the meibomian glands which are located in the upper and lower eyelids.

In my case, and most instances of dry eyes, it is the failure of the meibomian glands to produce sufficient oil, that creates the sensation of dry eyes. I’m hoping for some relief from a new treatment called IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) that was featured on Channel 9’s “A Current Affair” about a month ago. In this treatment, intense light stimulates the glands.

I concur with the writer of the Psalms who said of God, I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. For most of us three minute layers of mucus, water and oil in equal measure on the surface of the eye keep us comfortable day in, day out all our lives.

As if that weren’t complex enough, try adding the intangible elements of emotion. Add a little sadness, grief, joy or loss and see what happens. 

Then there’s one more element, the spiritual: Early 19th century author, Washington Irving said:

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.

… That’s tears made in heaven.

treeroots copyA visit to Karijini National Park in Western Australia’s Pilbara region last week was a refreshing reminder of the wonder of God’s handiwork.

The rugged beauty of the ancient walls contrasted with the freshness of rock pools and the grandeur of waterfalls. The rush of water plunging down the rock face overwhelmed the senses, but in another part of the gorge  the twitter of birds was all that broke the silence.

The challenges of nature were everywhere. I couldn’t help noticing the gnarled trees that perched on the rocks and maintained life when the source of life: water and soil, seemed so hard to reach. Over the years the roots had pushed their way through tiny crevices in the rock and had pushed their way towards sunlight, then downwards towards the water far below. The search for water was the factor that enabled the roots to reach further and deeper, no longer restrained by earth, but holding onto the rock face as they spread downwards towards the source of life.

As I looked at these roots I could hear the writer of Psalm 42 talking about the desperate search for God that is built into every person. While it may not be something we are aware of, there is a longing that can’t be filled by anything other than the Creator himself : As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

The “U” of Change

Posted: July 5, 2015 in Uncategorized
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The U of changeIn my last post I talked about three hindrances to change. As you move down the left hand side of the “U” through the process of change you may encounter the voice of judgement, the voice of cynicism and the voice of fear. In order to bring about real change it is necessary to let go of these voices. They will take you to a place at the bottom of the “U” where you come to a deeper place of connection with yourself. But change can’t stop there.

As you move up the right hand side of the “U”, providing you have effectively let go of the voices of judgement, cynicism and fear, you will begin to “let come” three new voices that will allow you to more fully take hold of the future.

The voice of hope is the place where you may crystallise the vision. You can start to envision the future more clearly and, having let go of those voices that hinder, are able to be hopeful of what is yet to come.

The voice of grace enables you to explore the future. Someone once said: We need to fail often to succeed sooner. Grace is not an excuse for doing wrong, but it recognises our failures and allows us to move forward without fear, cynicism or judgement.

The voice of faith is the opportunity to step out in practice. Change requires faith because there must come a time when you’re prepared to take a step forward and grasp the future as it emerges.

This process can hold true in organisational change as well as in individual change. It is relevant to the change process that is required in spiritual growth as well as the changes we experience in the workplace, at church and in the home. Remember CS Lewis’ words in my last post: CS Lewis once said: It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

If you’re going through change right now, enjoy the journey and stay strong!

Making a U Turn

Posted: June 28, 2015 in Uncategorized
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vq-U-layersThere are many metaphors for change and many theories about change, but I particularly like Otto Scharmer’s Theory U. Here’s my interpretation: Change can be recognised in a U shape. The top left of the U we can call “now”, while the top right of the U is our preferred destination. Here’s a diagram of it, showing that change requires an open mind, an open heart and an open will.

In order for us to get from “now” to our preferred destination it’s necessary for us to go down the left hand side of the U to that silent, deep place at the bottom where we know that change has occurred, before moving up the right hand side. You see, change is a process that requires many steps, and they often take a very long time.

At the top left of the U where where we begin the process of change, our normal approach is to download from the past. We make decisions based on habits or experiences from the past. That’s why it’s not uncommon when we talk about change in an organisational setting to hear the phrase: “We’ve done that before; it’ll never work.”

The journey down the left hand side of the U is the process of “letting go” while the journey up the right hand side is “letting come.” But the process of letting go involves three significant stages: Letting go of the voice of judgement; letting go of the voice of fear; and letting go of the voice of cynicism.

The voice of judgement calls on us to control people; we make decisions about people based on our experiences and our expectations. Letting go of the voice of judgement also means letting go of these people; accepting that we don’t need to control people by our standards and expectations. The voice of judgement hinders our ability to love and prevents us from opening our hearts to the people who we need the most.

The voice of cynicism is that dark place where trust is stifled. We’ve been hurt by people, by organisations, or processes and we cynically refuse to be hurt again, sensing that those people, organisations or processes will never change and there is no chance that change can occur while they are a part of our situation. Letting go of the voice of cynicism allows us to trust again and thus release the process of change.

The voice of fear paralyses us. Often it’s fear of change. Sometimes fear of the unknown. Whatever that fear is, it can stop change dead in its tracks. As we let go of fear we allow our hearts, minds and will to be opened up to the possibilities of change.

CS Lewis once said: It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

For us to grow, change is necessary, but we can stifle change and hold it back if we are not prepared to let go of the voice of judgement, the voice of cynicism and the voice of fear.

I just love it when a plan comes together … and you haven’t even planned it.

Last Sunday night, channel 7’s Sunday Night programme featured the world record attempt by Internet sensations, How Ridiculous, in sinking a basketball a distance of 126.5m from the top of the Gordon Dam in Tasmania. I particularly loved it because Brett, who got the record shot, will be a guest at our Fun Factory in a couple of weeks’ time.

Heroes is the theme of Fun Factory which is Maida Vale Baptist Church’s annual school holiday event for kids from four-year-old kindy right through to year 6. We’re going to have a few guests who will help us with our heroes theme. How Ridiculous have used their ridiculous fame to support Compassion Australia, and that’s part of what we are hoping to get across to kids at Fun Factory.  We can all be heroes when we use what God has given us to help others.

Thanks Brett and the How Ridiculous team.

Check out the video of the Guinness World Record shot:

milky-way_karijini_western-australia_kellie-netherwoodI’ve done my fair share of camping in my time.

I remember laying on my back somewhere in the north west of Western Australia, gazing up at the night sky. Without the distraction of city lights the Milky Way becomes a living thing. It’s no longer a dark place, but a place where myriad lights fill every corner.

Then there are memories of camping on the banks of the Mary River in the Kimberley, shining a torch along the opposite bank to catch the glint of crocodile eyes. The worst part of camping is arriving at your camping place late after a long drive and having to put up the tent in the near-dark.

Isaiah 54 has nothing to do with camping, but it takes the readers thoughts back to the patriarchs like Abraham who lived in tents permanently – not just on holidays. Abraham was called to leave his home and move to a new country that God had planned for him. Similarly, Isaiah calls on the church to reach beyond the familiar:

“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.

This morning in church I shared this as a call to the 21st century church. At a time when many people are expressing fear about the future of the church, I don’t believe it’s time to circle the wagons. Rather, I believe we need to hear the word of the Lord to Abraham and to Isaiah, to enlarge the place of our tent.

As a local church, we are calling on God to show us what that may mean. For me it certainly means we need to stop looking for the glint of crocodile eyes. Instead we need to look at the Milky Way and be reminded again of the majesty of God.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?  You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands;  you put everything under their feet:  all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.  Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalm 8

DSC01573When we began our cruise of the Greek Islands last year one of the first words our guide taught us to say was efharistó, or thankyou. “Greeks love it when you say efharistó,” the guide said. The response we were told would always be parakaló, you’re welcome. Sure enough I found many opportunities to say efharistó to tour guides, waitpersons, bus drivers, shopkeepers and others and I was delighted that whenever I said efharistó, the response would always be parakaló.

I found something refreshing about using a word that was understood in a country far from home, and to have it acknowledged straight away. But perhaps even more important than that was the fact that the word I used the most was a word that focussed on the person to whom it was being addressed, not on myself.

Soon after being introduced to the word efharistó I drew on my basic knowledge of Biblical Greek and noticed straight away that embedded in the word efharistó, was the word charis, which means grace. This gave me a fresh appreciation of the way in which “thankyou” recognised an act of grace and at the same time was a symbol of grace.

In a society where entitlement has replaced thanksgiving the idea that thanks is an act of grace is quite important. When we go to a restaurant we pay our money and if the food or the service is not up to our standard we are more likely to express our lack of appreciation than to say thankyou. We have paid for something and are therefore entitled to a certain standard. Entitlement shows itself in many forms and sadly thanksgiving has been overtaken in many common situations.

May 30 is National Thanksgiving Day in Australia and it’s a great time to pause and reflect on the importance of saying thankyou to God and to the people who live around us. Even if we think that people don’t deserve it, saying thankyou is a powerful act of grace and we need to say it more.

Efharistó. Thankyou for reading this blog and for giving thought to these simple words.

static1.squarespace.comI have been reading Rachel Held Evans’ blogs for a couple of years and have found them, at various times, challenging, frustrating, refreshing, and uplifting. So it was with a sense of anticipation that I bought her new book, Searching for Sunday.

In her very personal blog, Evans shared her spiritual journey, including her frustrations, anger and disappointment with the organisational church and how that impacted her relationship with God and with fellow Christians. With that background I was anticipating Searching for Sunday to be a criticism of evangelicalism and an opportunity to deconstruct the church.

However, the opposite was true. The hurt that led her out of the evangelical denomination she had grown up in was still evident, but over and above this was the deep sense of joy that arose out of discovering that God was still deeply in love with a church that was marred and broken, but inexpressibly able to represent his grace.

While I still find some of Evans’ discoveries quite challenging, I can’t help but be delighted at the way this book shows that even the greatest hurts and disappointments can be healed in Jesus. Anyone who has been disappointed, hurt or damaged by the church should find this book a breath of fresh air.

If the church is like a body, like a bride, Evans says, then its worth looking in the mirror:

This is the church. Here she is. Lovely, irregular, sometimes sick and sometimes well. This is the body-like-no-other that God has shaped and placed in the world. Jesus lives here; this is his soul’s address. There is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. She has taken a beating, the church. Every day she meets the gates of hell and she prevails. Every day she serves, stumbles, injures, and repairs. That she has healed is an underrated miracle. That she gives birth is beyond reckoning. Maybe it’s time to make peace with her. Maybe it’s time to embrace her, flawed as she is. Maybe it’s time to smile back.

RIMG0033Over a number of years I became familiar with the road between Perth and Geraldton, a 433km ribbon of bitumen bounded on both sides by, at times, thick bushland.

Every so often, a bushfire would ravish the countryside and the change in scenery from one trip to another would be noticeable.

One one occasion I stopped to look more closely at a spot that had been left black and denuded by a fierce bushfire a month or two earlier.

As I walked through an area that had once been covered in heavy undergrowth and dense bush I was confronted by the devastating effects of a fire that had left trees and bushes, and even the sand beneath my feet, black and lifeless. But as I looked closer it was clear that lifeless was not the correct word to describe this place.

Tiny green shoots were breaking through the dry sand at my feet, and splashes of bright green contrasted with the blackness of burnt tree trunks as fresh shoots pushed aside the symbols of death and reached towards the sunlight.

A few times recently I have had cause to read Psalm 23 which says, in part:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Whatever dark valley I go through the promise of God’s Word is that the fresh green shoots of God’s love and grace will continue to push through.

Even in the presence of enemies the table of grace will be prepared for me. Whether those enemies are people who bring fear and anguish to my life, or they are the enemies of death, disease, unemployment, loss, or poverty that bang angrily at the windows of my life, the table is still spread for me.

It is a table of life. A table that welcomes me when I don’t feel welcome in other situations. A table that offers hope and refreshment. It is a table that groans with the weight of fresh fruit, and delicious food. The contrast between the bright colours of the food and the blackness of the scenery around me is unbelievable.

On this table is the bread and wine that speaks of the overwhelming grace of One who was prepared to go through the darkest valley on my behalf.

And while I long to withdraw from this blackened place where my enemies hover in the shadows, I am drawn to this incredible table that has been set for me. Here in the presence of my enemies I experience forgiveness as I eat of the bread and drink of the wine; I can feel the oil of joy running down my head … and I know that I am at home.

He Speaks Our Language – Biography.