The View From the Top

Reunions can be awkward things.  Meeting people you went to school with forty years after you went to school with them can be disconcerting, triggering feelings of painful nostalgia, envy and jealousy, or even smugness, that at least I didn’t turn out like them. 😊 Lacking the particular brand of adventurous, or masochistic, spirit required, I’ve avoided them.  Except once.
It was a forty-year reunion at a large boys’ school I’d attended.  Timidly I entered the assembly hall.  Memories flooded back.  The assembled group all seemed to eye me suspiciously, questions rising in their faces to match the ones on mine, sheepish smiles, more memories flooding.

It was a pleasant enough evening as we milled around clutching our stubbies (we didn’t use glasses in ’69 and we didn’t want anyone to think we did now) and the revelations revealed in every conversation were revealing, and stimulating.  It dawned on me that few of my peers seemed happy.  Some had separated; some were onto their third marriages; some had lost employment; some, not present, had even lost their lives.  Some had become extremely successful – and rich – but seemed discontented – even despondent.  John was a thoracic surgeon of repute, but rued his station and regretted that he’d never “gone out on his own”, into business; Dave had his own business, but regretted he’d never been properly ‘employed’, never had a dependable salary.
Many of them swore, told cringey jokes and seemed to value the same puerile things we’d valued as seventeen-year-olds.

What an enlightening evening it was.

How rich, how successful do we need to be?  Many young people I’ve asked, what are your goals after leaving school? have replied they want to be rich.  Some have said, with precision, I want to be a millionaire by the time I’m thirty.  I inwardly shake my head.  (Huh, picture that.)

Richness and wealth are sirens.  Seductive.  Potentially luring us onto rocks.  As a goal, riches is a deceiver.
I counsel pursuing work you can love.  If wealth follows, great, but it’s incidental and happily consequential (sometimes).  I’ve had jobs where, shaking my head (outwardly), I’ve thought, Wow, do I really get paid for this?  That’s the job you want!

Warren Buffet (oft quoted billionaire investor) says, “In the world of business, the people who are most successful are those who are doing what they love.”  Also “It’s only when the tide goes out that you discover who’s been swimming naked.”  (Think about it!)

Of course, we all need money, and we all want to ‘get ahead’, but those needn’t be ends in themselves.  Better to strive to be the best we can be, and let success take care of itself.  And on the question of income, my prayer has always been, Lord, give me enough.  That’s all any of us need, eh?  Enough.  Enough to be truly content … and it doesn’t take a million dollars.

Once home from the reunion, a few days later, I was sharing my experience with a friend.  He listened patiently, as he does when I rave on, and when he got a chance he said, “It’s true.  I’ve noticed this.  People spend their whole lives climbing ladders, trying to get to the top, and when they get there, and look over the fence, they realise … there’s nothing there!”

Insightful, huh?

Ken F

It’s hard to be humble

The rottenest thing about humility is that, if I might put it thus, in achieving it you lose it!  Like, in striving to achieve it, and you think you’ve achieved it, and rising in your mind is the thought, I’m there. I’m so humble.  I’m just so satisfied I’m at last so humble!
(Like the old line, I used to be conceited but now I’m perfect!)

There’s a great song that begins, “Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way …”!  Do you know it?  You can read all the words here.
It’s so self-mocking, yet true to life.  I recognise my own instincts in it, and it reminds me once again to get over myself.  To not take myself seriously!

Humility is something we recognise in others, but struggle to emulate, and even to define.  (And I’m not satisfied with the dictionary definitions I’ve uncovered.  One dictionary, Merriam-Webster, gives examples: “Being a parent can be a humble job, wiping noses, changing diapers, and meeting a child’s every need for years. Letting someone ahead of you in line when you see they are in a hurry is an act of humility. Cleaning the toilets of your office, even though you own the company, is an example of humility.”  No, even these don’t suffice.)

Watchman Nee wrote, “Genuine humility is unconscious … God’s workers must be so emptied of self that they are unconsciously humble.”
I knew a Pastor once who seemed to have quite a big ego. But one day I learned of something amazing that he’d done with his own time and money, and never mentioned it, never sought applause, never had it known by anyone except the recipient of his service.  My previous suspicions dissolved and I realised I’d misread the ego thing.  Boy, was I humbled.

A famous conductor (a story goes) was once asked what instrument he considered the most difficult to play.  His reply:  “Second fiddle.”

Abraham Lincoln wore tall ‘stovepipe’ hats. The man he defeated for the presidency in 1860, Stephen Douglas, is reported to have held Lincoln’s hat at his inauguration.  As he stood up to speak, Lincoln (himself a man known for a certain humility), looked for somewhere to put his hat.  Douglas rose and took it, sat, and whispered to a cousin of Lincoln’s wife, “If I can’t be President, I can at least hold his hat.”

Getting the idea?

Last anecdote.
No, second to last.
Author Elisabeth Elliot wrote, in musing over Isaiah 59 about the Potter and his clay, “I believe the word humble comes from the Latin word humus, meaning earth, clay …”

And Merriam-Webster concurs. That helps. Think about it.

Last one:  Gladys Aylward was a much admired twentieth century missionary.  Her story contains some breath-taking, credibility-defying chapters. (Read about her here.)  But she started out a poor, uneducated (due to learning difficulties) parlour maid to a wealthy British family.  She became a missionary (an inspiring story in itself), and near the end of her decades in China she travelled the world speaking to large crowds; dined with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, and was the subject of a This Is Your Life TV programme.  But the most striking thing about Gladys was her unconscious humility, saying on one occasion, “I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I did in China.  There was someone else … I don’t know who it was … I don’t know what happened.  Perhaps he died.  Perhaps he wasn’t willing.  And God looked down and saw Gladys Aylward …”

Ah, yes.

To know me is to love me
I must be a hell of a man.
O Lord it’s hard to be humble
But I’m doing the best that I can.
(Mac Davis, 1980

Ken F

Resurrection Evidence

by Bruce Gilberd

(Based on John 20:19-31)
Feature art work is The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

Have you ever missed a meeting when a crucial decision was taken, or a surprising/astounding event happened?
I have!
So did Thomas – on Easter morning – when all the apostles were gathered, except for him!  So he missed encountering the risen Jesus.

Pragmatic and, yes, doubting Thomas didn’t miss next week’s meeting, that’s for sure, and so we have John’s description of the Jesus-Thomas encounter and its astounding outcome: “My Lord and my God!”

The risen Jesus appeared several times to believers and apostles after the resurrection, for about six weeks.  This is one of three main evidences that lie behind our belief that Jesus was raised, and that this is an historical fact.
So, we gather, as today, around a risen, wounded Lord of all humanity.

The second more pragmatic piece of evidence is the empty tomb and the head and body cloths lying undisturbed, but not enclosing a body – as seen by Peter and John, after Mary Magdalene had been greeted by Jesus.

How the politicians and religious leaders of Israel would have delighted in finding Jesus’s body …
… but they didn’t.

The risen Jesus came to those who believed, in a new bodily form – Bishop Tom Wright describes this as “incorruptible physicality”.  Worth pondering …
It is wise to note here that Christians and the church, from its first days, rejected the Greek belief in ‘the immortality of souls’, but kept embracing the truth of the resurrection of the body, so sustaining true personhood – of body, mind and spirit.

So, evidence of resurrection:

  • Encounters with the risen Jesus,
  • the empty tomb,
  • and, thirdly, the birth, life and expansion of the early church, empowered and guided by the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, given to the apostles by Jesus, and so to the personal and corporate life of believers ever since.

Since then the church has had a somewhat dodgy history, over the twenty centuries, to our own day.  There have been

  • splits and rows and conflicts over beliefs and practices;
  • crusades;
  • capitulation to wealth and secular powers;
  • and avoidance of her prophetic role (which must be worrying Russian Orthodox church members right now …)

Nevertheless, God, down the centuries, has raised up men and women to be beacons of faith, and movements of renewal.  And so the church, called and re-called by God’s Spirit, has housed and brought the Gospel to every land, and to us here and now in Tairua.

The church in many places today is a persecuted church – as the Barnabas Fund informs us, and asks us to pray for, and give to.

The flawed church, because there are people like us in it, is constantly called to be a wounded church, living out costly discipleship, in the power of our risen Lord.  All our hurts, as real as they are, are resurrections unborn.
A comfortable church is a worry …
We are to be Easter people living in a Good Friday world.  Yet a world in which critical triumph has been achieved – on Good Friday and Easter Day – but its effects await completion.

So, the evidences of the resurrection:

  • The empty tomb
  • The appearances to many
  • The birth of the church

In the resurrection event history, science and faith all coalesce.  So our heads and our hearts can joyously receive in the present the One who comes to us from the past and from the future!

Wounded, risen Lord Jesus … may our hurts, doubts and questions lead us all to you. Amen

Remembering Paskhas

Easters are not generally remembered like birthdays or Christmases.  Who really remembers stand-out Easters?  Well, thank you for asking.  I do.

My first (of three – chronologically, not in rank order) was in Queenstown.  Camping out of my Morris 1100 in off-road laybys, hooning with mates in various acts of late teen larrikin-hood.  The abiding memory, standing atop a snowless Coronet Peak in weak sunshine, intoxicated by the remarkable 360 degree scenery.  It was good to be alive.

Second one saw me (and I saw it) in Moscow with my wife.  Except that there it was called Moskva (Москва), not Moscow, and Paskha (Пасха), not Easter; and there was no off-road camping or larrikinism or one could be shot. Russian Orthodoxy. No sun either (just a whitish, suffuse light, and dirty slush all around).  But, what atmosphere; what a memory.  It was good to be alive.

Cue time ticking by and there we were: wife and me and now three kids – two larrikin sons and a haughty daughter.   Camping, but not really off-road: under willows down by the river on Uncle Mansel’s farm.  “Don’t let Mansel take you through his bull paddock,” my Mum had warned me, as she had on possibly twenty three previous visits (from the time I was five years old).  “He’s too casual.  Those bulls are dangerous.”
Well, we kept clear of the bulls.  I was scareder of Mum than the bulls.
We swam in the river when we arrived, although as soon as the larrikins reckoned eels had nibbled their feet the haughty daughter could barely be persuaded to leave the car, and the river was definitely a no-go zone for her.  I dug a magnificent long drop with a lovely rural view.  But people refused to use it, preferring the considerable distance up the hill to the farmhouse WC.

The car, by the way, an Austin Princess, was parked down the slope in the long grass.  Which became problematic during the night when black skies opened and floods came.  We huddled unsleeping until the waters began to flow through the tent – until it came time to evacuate.  We bundled what we could into the car and … but, no, the loaded Princess wouldn’t handle the drenched grassy slope.  Everybody out, unpack, take only what you can carry …  I managed to nurse the Princess up the slope in low gear while wife, larrikins and haughty daughter pushed, and we spent the rest of the night, and the next one, in sleeping bags on the floor of Uncle Mansel’s house.  But, when all was said and done, a great memory, and it was good to be alive!

Coronet Peak, Москва, Uncle Mansel’s farm in the storm … ah, yes.

There was another Paskha apparently – I wasn’t there but I’ve heard told – when a man was executed on a hill.  But, fair play, that’s one Пасха few of us care to remember.  Too raw.  Uncomfortable to contemplate and, it’s only a myth anyway, isn’t it?  That old rugged cross … nothing to do with me, is it?
It’s cosier to centre our rememberings nowadays on bunnies!  And chocolate and eggs.  None of which relates to His memory, hijacked as we have become to commercial interests.  Oblivious to the greatest story ever told.

Ah, yes, good times.  Great memories.  But give me bunnies, not crosses, eh.

Ken F