Confusion over the cross

Lately I’ve been confused by the cross, and confused about why I’m confused.  As I went through Easter this year I still was moved by the idea that God somehow loved us enough to die – but I couldn’t explain what it all means, and I couldn’t verbalise what it was about the traditional explanation that made me so uneasy.

So I watched a few lectures online, including this one by Tom Wright, and have picked up a copy of his book “The Day The Revolution Began” and started reading it, hoping to learn more.

I haven’t made it past the first chapter yet, but by setting apart time to think about this, I think I finally (subconsciously?) was able to piece together what I want to believe, in a way that draws contrast to my understanding growing up.

My understanding growing up:

God is love, and he loves you, but he’s also “just”, “righteous” or “perfect”, and can’t stomach your disobedience (sin), it’s because he’s perfect, and that perfection just doesn’t mix with sinfulness, and a blood sacrifice was needed to make things right for some reason.  Animals weren’t enough.  Jesus died so it didn’t have to be you.  That was enough for God the Father.  Now when he looks at you he doesn’t see sin, he’s just full of love again.

What I don’t like:

If Jesus is the image of the invisible God, then we should get a good idea of what God is like by looking at what Jesus is like.  A person with uncontrollable anger problems that needs satiating when people don’t do what they want… is not at all the type of person we see in Jesus.

Most (admittedly not all) of the anger I see the bible describe God as having, is the same kind of thing you see Jesus get angry over: injustice, caused by some humans, that crushes other humans.  This pattern seems to be well in place by the time you get to the prophets in the Hebrew Bible.  The “lash out” kind of anger is admittedly seems to be more present in earlier books like Joshua, and occasionally in later places like Ananias and Sapphira… but it seems the overall thrust is that God’s anger / anguish is about humans hurting each other, rather than about us offending his righteousness.

What I finally realised I want to believe:

Jesus was killed by humans.  It wasn’t God’s anger that put him there, it was ours.  We have the human condition, a tendency to lash out, to scapegoat, to viciously attack anything that exposes our frailty, futility or hollowness.  Jesus exposed how hollow the power structures of the day were, and showed very clearly how the actions of the religious powers and the actions of the political powers were not the actions of God – these people did not represent God.  He exposed the leaders, and like most humans, they lashed out.

But rather than fighting back and perpetuating the sinful violence of humanity, he took it and did not return it, in fact, while they were still killing him, expressed forgiveness and love.  To apply MLK’s famous truth: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

On a physical level, the power-structures of Rome and of 1st century religious leaders killed him, because he threatened them.  On a sociological level, his non-violent response changed the game in a way where his followers continued to subvert the brutal power of Rome despite intense persecution.

What about theologically or spiritually?  Is there any meaning to it?

If Jesus really is God-incarnate, God-as-a-regular-human-being, (which I should clarify I want to believe), then him suffering the same wrath of humans as the rest of us shows that that wrath is from humans, not from God.  The angry and violent human condition that causes us to crush each other (which I feel sums up most of the concept of sin) is actually from us, not from an angry God.

In other words, what I want to believe: God was never angry that we’re not perfect.  That anger was always ours, that violence was always ours.  It took God himself suffering under that violence, as Jesus on the cross, for us to understand that the violence wasn’t coming from God.  The anger was never his.

So in a bizarre way, the cross is a sign that God is not angry: it shows me that he always loved and was not the one who was angrily lashing out.  And it is a sign that God is not leaving us to suffer alone: that God himself would suffer under our angry violence, it shows he knows our suffering and is not keeping his distance.  And it is a sign that God is working at a rescue plan: that he overcame hatred with love, darkness with light.  This is the butterfly effect – where one small act of love overcoming hatred is cascading and rippling outwards until hatred, violence and even death is overcome by love, and that the God of the universe is putting his full weight and power behind this plan.

And so, when I look at the cross, I do realise that God loves me and is not angry.  And I do realise that he loves me enough to enter into that suffering.  And I do realise that he has a plan for salvation, the rescue of the world – to transform this suffering through redemptive love.

Just because I want it doesn’t mean it’s true.

So that’s what I want to believe, I can finally articulate it.

But I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Tom Wright’s book, because admittedly: this is just the worldview that sits well with me, given what I’ve experienced and what I’ve learned and the cultural leanings that go with that.

Tom’s book looks like it will go through it in a more rigorous, systematic way: examining early evidence and early texts, examining the changing understanding of the crucifixion event by two millennia of theologians, and generally being a little more grounded than my “this is what I want to believe” write-up.

But, it’s good to be able to write down, as a product of my life and culture and upbringing and current understanding, what it is that I most want to believe about a loving God who had to die.

I’m looking forward to seeing where I land.  If you’re wondering any of the same things, asking the same questions, or exploring the same topics – I would love to hear about it in the comments!

 

Painstaking Love

When I type the word “painstaking” in my phone, it automatically suggests “work” as the next word. Do you ever hear it paired with any other word?

Painstaking work is often necessary, even good. We know this and brace ourselves for it, muster our endurance and strength and willpower.

But painstaking love is something we don’t give much thought to. But maybe we should. Let me try this definition of love: improving the life of another person, regardless of the effect on your own life. When you define it like that, love is sometimes going to get painstaking: really challenging, pushing us to the edge of our capacity, more than most people are willing to undergo. Much like painstaking work, painstaking love achieves the strongest effect.

Is God so angry that he has to kill his child? Probably not.

It’s Good Friday, and my faith is changing.

One key thing that’s changing: my view around why Jesus died. There’s a cognitive dissonance when you speak of a “God of love” who loves you so much that he will punish another to satisfy his own rage, or to satiate his sense of honour. We condemn honour killings, but it’s okay for God?

I still believe in God (though, what I mean by that statement, is also something that is changing). But if it’s Jesus that I’m attracted to, and it’s Jesus that showed us what the god behind the universe is really like as a person, then I don’t think God is the sort that wants to kill people to defend his sense of honour and justice. In fact, one of the stories I like most is of Jesus non-violently de-escalating a situation, saving a woman from being the victim of an honour killing.

So what did Jesus death on the cross mean?  It’s something I want to learn more about.  I want to read NT Wright and I want to hear about the “new perspective on Paul” that is actually decades old.  But I read an article today that had good food for thought.

He became the lightning rod where the pent up oppositional energy of the powers that be (the world) became focused. In bearing the hate, evil and animosity of the world, he exposed it and exhausted it, thus overcoming it..

We, too, are called, on behalf of the kingdom of God, on behalf of mercy and justice, on behalf of what is good, right, true and just, to be lightning rods, to bear the hate of the world without returning it, so that it might be exposed and so that forgiveness is given a chance.

Here it is:

It’s time to end the hands-off attitude to substitionary atonement

 

What I learned from “Making Ideas Happen” by Scott Belsky (Book Review)

On Sunday I finished reading “Making Ideas Happen” by Scott Belsky (founder of Behance).

7696135I’m the sort of person that has ideas.  So many ideas.  Some are ideas for apps or products, side projects or start-ups, cool programming libraries or fun creative projects.  When I look back at my work history, I am proud of the things that I have “shipped” and finished, or if not finished, at least gotten it “finished enough” that other people could start using it.

But there is definitely a graveyard of good ideas that I was very excited about at one point in time, that I even thought were game-changing, and maybe even started work on, but never managed to finish or get out there.

Gravestone reading "RIP: A Great Idea"As I was wrapping up 2016 and planning for 2017, I realised that I have several ideas that I actually want to see become reality.  Two ideas in particular (tentatively named Enthraler and Model School) I’ve wanted to do for at least 5 years, and have kept not doing.

When we finally launched Today We Learned I found out the pain of launching a good idea too late, and seeing someone else carry a very similar idea to success.  If I wanted 2017 to be different, and if I wanted to be part of these 2 ideas becoming reality, I had to get better at executing on ideas, pushing them forward and getting them out there.  And all of this while having a full-time job that I really love and am already feeling stretched in.

So when my my sister Clare and her husband Zac gave me a book for Christmas that promised to help me “Overcome The Obstacles Between Vision And Reality”, I was eager to get stuck into it.

Disclaimer and caveat: It’s worth pointing out that I’m viewing this book as advice on creative projects, which I’m viewing as distinct to start-ups. Both of them involve ideas, innovation and execution, but there’s a crucial difference.  If you want a start-up to succeed, you should probably not start with an idea.  You should start with a problem that real people hate so much they’ll pay someone to solve it for them.  Find a gnarly problem first, then let your ideas develop around that.  Creative projects on the other hand, start with your idea.  It’s a work of art, as if inspiration has visited and requested that you make an idea real, and it’s your job to make it.  It’s as much about self-expression and creative fulfilment as it is about business development.

Overview

The first half of the book (“Organisation and Execution”) is all about getting it done.  It’s full of practical tips to stay organised, stay focused, and keep pushing ideas forward until they’re ready.  These have made a massive difference for me so far.  The second half (“The Forces of Community” and “Leadership Capability”) focus on the relational aspects of ideas.  Ideas feel their most exciting, and most pure, when they’re in your head.  The moment you start sharing them, and inviting other people in to participate, things change.  This might feel like your idea is losing potency as it gets diluted by others, but it’s only with their help (and with the new aspects they bring to the project), that your idea is going to be successful.  How well you utilise these forces has a massive impact on your ability to consistently bring ideas into reality.

Organisation and Execution

  • The competitive advantage of organisation
  • The action method: work and life with a bias towards action
  • Prioritisation: managing your energy across life’s projects
  • Execution: always moving the ball forward
  • Mental loyalty: maintaining attention and resolve

I was really surprised by how prescriptive Scott is in this first section.  His basic argument is that they key to creative success is actually finishing your projects and getting them out the door, and doing that as often as possible.  The trouble is that ideas are exciting at the start, boring in the middle, a hard slog near the end, and then only get exciting again right before you launch.

A graph depicting energy levels for an idea decreasing during the middle, and new ideas starting and seeming more appealing during the low-energy plateau.

Ideas are exciting at the start, then get boring and hard in the middle, for a long time until you’re ready to ship – and only then does it get exciting again. Beware the temptation to start a new (and exciting!) idea during the project plateau.

So the key to all of Scott’s advice is to just keep you moving forward, one small step at a time, to get you through the trough and out the other side where your idea is finally a reality.  To do this, it takes dozens of small actions.  Focusing on these actions is the key principal in “The Action Method” – Scott’s big idea on how to do this.

Most other productivity books I’ve read have talked about the motivation and less about the mechanics of getting it done, but Scott is quite prescriptive. For example:

  • Organise your whole life into “Projects”.  Not just work projects. Not just side projects. Even mundane things like “grocery shopping” and “remember to call mum” go into a project. He isn’t prescriptive about where to store your projects, but I’ve used Trello.  I have one Trello board for my whole life.  The lists I use are “Home Admin”, “Personal and Social”, “myEd”, “Enthraler”, and “Model School”.
  • Each project has 3 types of things you can store:
    • Action Steps – literally, a specific action you can take to move the project forward.  The first word should be a verb: “Create nice styling for multi-choice component and upload to Github”.  Or “Read through things Cassie sent me and send through feedback”. My friend Stephen had an interesting take on this, going one step further and having a super specific first step in the action.  “Open gmail, read through the docs Frank sent me…”.  The trick here is to make it so obvious what the next step looks like, so whenever you have half an hour to work on something, you can easily pick an action step, start it, and push a project forward.
    • Back-burner Items – these is where you keep possible future action steps that you’re not ready to commit to yet.  Maybe they are ideas for much later in a project, or maybe they need some more thought before you commit to starting them.  Keeping them in a separate place, where you can come back to them, but where they’re not confusing you as to what the next steps should be, helps hugely.In my “Enthraler” project I have 8 ready-to-go Action Steps, and 29 items in the Back-burner.  That goes to show that when I start a new project, I’m excited about the possibilities and I keep thinking them up.  But I know if I want to keep moving the project forward, I just pick one of the Action Steps I’ve already committed to, and all of the exciting future ideas are in the “Backburner” list where they won’t distract me.
    • References – this is for things which you want to remember but they’re not actionable.  An example is finding a colour scheme I really liked for a project.  In the past, I may have taken a screenshot of the colour scheme and added it to a task.  But it’s not really an action I can take!  It’s just something I want to store so I can look back if I need to.  Now I keep things like this in references.  Also helpful: meeting notes, contact details, etc.  Keeping all these things in one separate spot helps keep the clutter down so you can focus on your next action steps.
  • Have a regular “review” session, say once a fortnight or once a month, where you go over your projects, see if the actions are still relevant and clearly defined, check what’s in your back-burner and references, and update things as necessary.  He recommends doing this some place nice, like your favourite coffee shop.  This is a part I haven’t had much practice with yet!
Screenshot of Trello

A screenshot of my projects in Trello. Each list is a project, each card is an action. (There is also a References and a Back-burner card in each list).

The Forces of Community

  • Harnessing the forces around you
  • Pushing ideas out to your community

One of the headings in this section is “Seldom is anything accomplished alone”,  and I find it a perfect reminder.  Some ideas are small enough that they can be accomplished alone, but even something like writing a song will benefit from collaboration.  Not to mention the help you would need in producing, mixing, mastering, distribution and release strategy.  And every project is like this – if you want it to become more than a hobby, you are going to have to bring other people into it.

A key part of this is overcoming the fear of people judging and criticising your work.  Overcome the fear, then get feedback early, and get it often. You don’t have to listen to what people say, if you want you can hold on to the exact vision you have.  But if you overcome the fear, and get the feedback, you will probably hear things that will make your project better, so it’s worth putting yourself out there.

There was a beautiful story in here about a story-telling course Scott went to, where people practised sharing a story, but the audience were not allowed to give “constructive criticism”.  Instead, they were only allowed to share what they really appreciated, what made the story come alive for them.  He found that as people iterated on their stories, this approach helped the “alive” pieces of the story shine even more, and somehow, the weak parts of the story began self-correcting with each iteration, but without losing the strength of the parts that really shone.  I loved that!

One of the things that challenged me the most in the section was to actively self-promote what you’re working on, and to build an audience of people who care about what you’re working on.  If you’ve ever read case studies on a site like “Indie Hackers”, you realise that a common story in side-project success or start-up success is that the person starting had an audience who really cared about what they were working on, so when they launched a new project, they had someone to launch it to.  So don’t be afraid to self-promote and build an audience, and show them what you’re working on regularly.  The fear you have shouldn’t be that you’re inflating yourself in front of others, it should be that you’re not giving your idea any air, and it might die in your mind without ever becoming a reality.

The way Scott consistently reinforced this was a wake-up call for me.

Leadership Capability

  1. The rewards overhaul
  2. The chemistry of the creative team
  3. Managing the creative team
  4. Self leadership

I’d been reading the book thinking primarily about my side projects, which are solo-shows for now.  Scott offered distilled wisdom and advice from his experience and from the research conversations he conducted, and while it’s not immediately applicable to the projects I’d been thinking about, I can definitely see how it ties into my work at myEd, and how it will be important to attract more contributors for any project I do going forward.  It identified a weakness in my approach to executing so far – the tendency to do it all myself.

Much of the advice given in this section was focused on character.  So not so much “how to run a meeting”, but “when in a meeting, let other people talk first and make sure you actually listen”.  Things like that.  I really do believe that humble leaders attract talented collaborators, but more importantly, their humility and strength of character breeds loyalty – which you just don’t see as clearly when it is obvious the leader isn’t paying attention to your input and your ideas.

The difference it has made for me

Reading this book came at the perfect time for me.  After closing down Today We Learned last year I began working full-time at myEd, but found I was still swimming with ideas for outside projects. By the time the new year rolled around, I had multiple projects I really wanted to run with, but was just not convinced I could push them all forward while still being effective at work 5 days a week.

This book, especially the focus on the action method, has helped me dramatically – and people have noticed.  Most significantly my wife Anna – who keeps commenting that she can’t believe the change in how I work and in my energy levels, and in my ability to keep things moving – not to mention staying on top of things at home more effectively.

On a practical level, it has meant that I’m staying focused and effective at work, not getting stressed out by home administration (keeping track of finances, bills, investments etc) because I know I have everything tracked, and if I sit down at work, or sit down to do some home admin, or to give time to a side project, the next actions are right there for me to continue with.

Because of the stage of life we’re in – we moved across the country to focus on our work and our creative pursuits, and we don’t have young kids to care for and hang out with – we have a fair amount of spare time.  I try to give 1 hour each weeknight to push a side project forward, and then a few hours of blocked out time on either Saturday or Sunday.  With this rhythm I’ve been able to push forward my two main side projects to the point where both are almost at MVP (minimum viable product) level.  And this has been during one of the most incredibly busy and stressful periods at work – coming home and having a different project that I can get into has in many ways helped me maintain my energy and positivity during some of the more stressful moments at work.

The challenge to think about how the community around me has also been incredibly helpful.  As well as the two side-projects I’ve been pushing forward, there were another two ideas that I couldn’t shake, and that I wanted to help become reality – but you can only stretch yourself so thin before you stop being effective.  By reaching out and sharing these ideas with friends, I’ve actually found other people working on similar things, and have been able to support them rather than carry it forward myself, and I’ve found this incredibly rewarding, while at the same time satisfying the creative urge that demands I be part of making that particular idea happen.

It’s been an incredibly timely book to read (thanks Clare and Zac!) and has helped me hugely so far.  To anyone who has ideas but can’t seem to get them off the ground, I recommend it highly.  I’m excited to see how the rest of my year pans out as I continue pushing things forward one action step at a time.

More Info

To follow Scott Belsky: website, twitter
To buy Making Ideas Happen: amazon, goodreads

 

 

The old men used to say

Quote

“The old men used to say that we should each look upon our neighbour’s experiences as if they were our own. We should suffer with our neighbour in everything and weep with him, and should behave as if we were inside his body; and if any trouble befalls him, we should feel as much distress as we would for ourselves.”

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

The best defence is a good offence

You’ve probably heard people say

The best defence is a good offence!

But actually, Jesus said that if you live violently you’ll die violently. The best defence is probably nothing to do with fighting your adversary, but rather loving them. As a best case scenario, they’ll return the favour – and you both win. Worst case scenario, you love them, and they take advantage of you. Which sucks, true, but at least you’re behaving like God, and that is probably more important than winning anyway.

“Nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them”

My favourite blog post ever (big call, I know) is titled “An Unexpected Ass Kicking“. You should read it.

A freelancer sits down in a coffee shop in Portland to get some work done, and finds himself distracted by a senior citizen wanting to talk about computers.  At this point I groaned, but, (spoiler alert), the old man turns out to be the most remarkable person this freelancer has ever met.  This old man was Russell Kirsch, whose team built the first internally programmable computer.  Him and his wife used to program the computer while standing inside it.  This man invented computers as we know them today. (He also invented digital photographs and the idea of a pixel. What a boss!)

When Joel the freelancer realized just how impressive Russell is, this conversation took place:

“You know Russell, that’s really impressive.”

“I guess, I’ve always believed that nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do. Most people think the opposite – that all things are withheld from them which they have conceived to do and they end up doing nothing.”

“Wait”, I said, pausing at his last sentence “What was that quote again?”

“Nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do.”That’s good, who said that?

“God did.”

“What?”

“God said it and there were only two people who believed it, you know who?”

“Nope, who?”

“God and me, so I went out and did it.”

What a life changing exchange!  Unbelievable.  When I read the blog I wanted to know if he was imagining God talking in the spiritual, pentecostal, voice-in-the-head sense, or something else.  It turns out he was quoting the story in Genesis 11 about the Tower of Babel.

The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

In the creation story, whether literal or metaphorical, there had been a flood, Noah’s family survived, and God had commanded them to spread out and fill the earth.  On the way they began developing culture and technology, songs and tools, and when they found a nice place, they stopped spreading.  Instead they settled and built a city.  In their pride they wanted to build a tower so tall that the world would always remember them.

The tower they were building was probably a Ziggurat, and the story of a giant tower in the area of Babylon (modern day Iraq) seems to be shared with other ancient cultures.  To me the confusing of languages could easily happen in the modern day world – a giant corporation or city gradually has multiple cultures rise up in it, they drift apart, can no longer work together, and so abandon the project to go their own ways.  It doesn’t necessarily seem to me like a divine punishment where they spoke one language one minute and all spoke different languages the next.

Let’s look back at God’s words: “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them”.  The 400 year old King James translation swaps “plan to do” for “can imagine”: nothing they can imagine will be out of their reach.  Nothing they aspire to and plan for and set their mind on is out of reach.  God acknowledges the amazing potential of human creativity and ingenuity. They like to create new things, do things that have never been done before, and they’re good at it. In that way, they take after their creator.

I always used to read the story of Babel in a fairly negative light – God didn’t like the ingenuity, or saw it as a threat, and so shut it down. John Stott points out two things God may have been offended by: the disobedience of settling rather than spreading out to “fill the earth”, and the presumption that they could reach into Heaven, and be like God – the same as the original sin from the Adam and Eve story. So there’s the failure to explore the earth and develop it’s potential.  And there’s the pride and hubris, being concerned about our fame and wishing ourselves to be like God.

It wasn’t until reading Russell’s conversation that I began to read this statement differently.  Maybe it wasn’t the ingenuity God objected to, maybe he isn’t threatened by us building amazing things. It is, after all, part of our nature as creative beings. But our resourcefulness can be twisted and our inventions result in a world worse-off, not better. (Read the story of the Gatling Gun or Dynamite for examples). And this is all the more likely if we’re acting in our own self interest, for our own fame and power and comfort.  But if we were to instead align our efforts with the command of God – to fill the earth and subdue it, meaning to manage it responsibly and for the benefit of all – then perhaps our efforts would align with God and we could see truly astounding things accomplished.

It can go either way: jets for transport and jets for bombing, nuclear power or nuclear weapons, curing diseases or inventing new ones, programmable computers and systems of government. Humans have the creativity and the resolve to build incredible things. And that can work out really well or really horribly.

There are two questions to consider then: do you, like Russell Kirsch, believe God that what you can imagine and resolve, you can do? Because if you do, maybe you’ll go out there and do something that’s never been done.

The second question is, are you working towards your own fame, power and comfort, or towards the mission laid out by God: to responsibly manage and care for the earth we’ve inherited, and to care for the people we share it with?

Preaching about the undead

Preaching about a man who died and then began showing up again, evidently no longer dead, with a new evolution of the human body, and claiming this resurrection as validation of his claims to be king of his nation, saviour of humanity, and founder of a new world order where humans live empowered by a supernatural spirit to live an entirely different style of life which occasionally ignores the realities of physics or biology or politics…. I feel it should carry a whole different level of energy, challenge, hope, discomfort and urgency than it normally does.

And yet if I was preaching, I have no idea what that would look like.

Maybe I need to explore the reality (or unreality) of this story in my own existence first.

Get Analoguer This Advent

(Disclaimer: My startup journey and my faith overlap in this post. For those of you who want to avoid the theology stop reading now!)

I’m almost at the end of PhDo, a 6 week startup night class that I have been LOVING. One of the key lessons has been about getting your idea started in the quickest, cheapest, fastest way possible.

The idea is that if you wait too long, you work on your idea in secret, you never put it in front of customers, it’s just an idea. You don’t know if it’s something they’ll want or need or appreciate. Until you reach out and touch a human being, you might as well not have done anything.

Sam, the guy running the course, coined a word. Rather than planning a digital masterpiece of an app that might take years to build, is there a simple, manual, analogue way you can solve the same problem for the same person, now.  Not once you have all the resources and the app and the staff team and investment and… No. Can you help meet a need today? Start meeting a need now, help someone out, see if it’s well received, then worry about scaling the solution up for more people.

Get analoguer. Get dirty. Get doing – solve a problem today. Scale later.

I did this wrong with my School Management System app. I never met with the staff, and completely underestimated how complex the problem of tracking student attendance is.  My solution was way too simplistic, and would never be adequate. The project blew out by 10 months and caused a lot of frustration as a result.

I tried to be a messiah and solve this problem, thinking it would be easy.  But I never entered in and felt / understood the pain first. How can you offer help if you have not stood with people and felt their pain and understood the complexity of the problem first?

This is the difference with how Jesus chose to work. He could try solve the world’s problems from in Heaven. Or send some prophet to do the dirty work. Instead he chose to get dirty, get personal, and get in touch with those he was trying to help. Understand their pain and show his solidarity, feel the full weight and complexity of the problem, and show those facing it that you are eager to help, in any way you can, even if you get dirty doing so. Even if it means suffering with them. Even if it means dying with them.

Jesus left the ivory tower of Heaven. He was God, but put his rights as God and abilities as God behind him, he became an ordinary human, wrapped in ordinary human flesh. He got analogue.

Today is the first day of Advent – the season where we anticipate the coming of Jesus to earth, culminating in Christmas.

We join Mary in expecting the birth of the baby Messiah, the God who gave it all up to come and understand our problems and join us in this often-painful world, and resolved to help us in any way he could, no matter the cost.

And we join with the people of faith around the world expecting the second time Jesus will come, having grasped the full complexity and pain of the human condition, and having felt it for himself, he’ll be back with a solution that scales.

Until then, let’s get analoguer and show love to people, not waiting for the perfect plan, strategy or opportunity, but starting right now in a way where you get as close to the problem as you can, and give what you can today, even if it’s not a full and perfect solution.

Loved it, Loathed it

I’ve mentioned it a few times, but I’ve found Marcus Buckingham’s Standout profile and website really helpful.  The profile for me was accurate and insightful, and the tips I get sent each week are great.

One of them encouraged you to log the things in a week that you love (that leave you energized, strengthened) and the things that you loathed (that leave you drained, weakened).  This wasn’t about what other people do to you (a police officer gave me a fine – I loathed it, my boss gave me a pay rise, I loved it).  Rather this is about the work you’re doing, and what parts of your work energize you and what drains you.

Here’s my list.

Loved It

  • Working on new business strategy, or figuring out the brand/story that makes a new product have meaning.
  • Writing code for new APIs or frameworks that will be well designed, get use by many people, speed up development.  While I’m doing this I’m engaged, I’m learning and tweaking my skills, and I’m making something for that benefits both me and others.
  • Delivering a feature that has immediate customer benefit
  • Meeting people, getting them on board with a new idea.  This week it was a friend (and possibly future business partner), a learning support officer (who is an aspiring entrepreneur) and a friend who is wanting to get into graphic design.
  • Trying to consider how my faith world mixes with my business world.  Particularly this week: how can I see people as people, not resources or assets.  How can I help them find their particular spot in the world, and help them grow into it, rather than “how can I get you to do what I want”.
  • Wireframing, prototyping, design reference scouting

Loathed It

  • Maintaining old projects. Especially if it’s something I didn’t care for to begin. (For me this week, that includes Koha, Canvas, and Moodle to a lesser degree)
  • Being apart from Anna for too much of the week
  • Working on projects that feel like they will never end or progress.  I need a sense of momentum and an expectation that one thing will finish so that new things can start.
  • Having to report to (and problem solve with) a group of people who don’t understand the technical nature of the problem.
  • Having to answer questions where the “correct” answer is “drop quality, deliver faster”
  • Avoiding answering / helping people, because other deadlines are too heavy
  • Having to pretend something is good/ready when it’s not. I’d rather be honest. Drop projects if they suck, or at least admit it.

There’s my list for this week.  I’m in the middle of an extremely busy work season, so this is mostly focused on work and doesn’t touch much into my family life or faith life – both of which also have strengthening moments and weakening moments.  Still, a great exercise.

Human Faces

When I see the human face behind a political issue, the emotions of apathy, indignation or anger become less.  Then empathy (understanding their suffering), sorrow (grieving with them), remorse (that collectively, the humans in my country did this to other humans) – these emotions become stronger.  Finally, there is hope – these people have courage, and see a better future.  They want to fight injustice, and fight for the rights of those who follow.  I hope, at the end of my life, I can say that I partnered with these guys, not the powers that locked them up and stole their childhood.

Refugee looks back on ordeal of seeking asylum and being detained in Nauru

(God, have mercy, do not treat us as our sins deserve.)

How to get the best work out of me

According to Marcus Buckingham’s StandOut profile, this is how to get me doing my best work when I’m working with you:

I am resourceful and can fill the gaps quicker than most. If there’s a project to begin that lacks details or data, I can get it off to a good start.

Tell me that if I try to serve everyone I wind up serving no-one. I must make a choice about who to serve well, and then serve them well. Know that I will be sensitive to any criticisms.

If you’d like to grab my attention, tell me I am not moving boldly enough. Tell me that you expect me to be the first person to challenge an existing way of doing things, the first person to spot, bump into, and report back on a new threat, or a new opportunity.

The overall StandOut profile was disturbingly accurate for me and a friend who took it with me, and this tip also resonates strongly.  I would recommend the profile to anyone seeking to understand their work self better, and I’d recommend this advice to people trying to work better with me :)

My Life’s Work

Here is my servant whom I have chosen
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.

Matthew 12:18-21

—–

my servant

Jesus was a servant, and as his disciples, we are his.  Have no illusions, we are here to serve, not to be served.

I have chosen

Each person chosen and assigned their role in ushering in God’s Kingdom, according to their unique God-given skills, strengths and gifts.

I love

Our strength and courage draws on this love God has for us.

in whom I delight

Our motivation is his delight.  Not to earn it, but to revel in it and enjoy it and immerse ourselves in it.

my Spirit on him

This isn’t merely natural work and effort, this is work empowered and affirmed by God’s Holy Spirit.

proclaim justice

Equality, fairness, hope, safety, opportunity

will not quarrel or cry out

It’s not about the sport, spectacle or stardom of society’s idea of success.

no one will hear his voice

Less talk, more action.  Less brand and perception and posturing, more life change.

bruised reed… smoldering wick

The hurt, oppressed, poor, hopeless and helpless, sick, overlooked.

till

Mercy is the strategy and the game plan.  We hold to the strategy until the end.

leads justice to victory

Justice will win out, but it’s slow and requires action, leadership.

In his name the nations will put their hope

This is my life’s work:

to offer Jesus’ hope to all that you can,
to work as he did,
empowered as he was,
with the values he carried
and the strategy he adopted
to the same end he strived for:
   the victory of justice,
   the hope of the nations,
   the delight of the Father.

A Really Clean House

Imagine being married to someone who was absolutely intent on providing a nice home for you.  And by “intent”, I mean obsessive.  They clean everyday – and not just tidy, but dust, mop, scrub and disinfect, and then put nice smelling candles everywhere.  They constantly decorate and set things up just the way you like it.  They maintain the garden keep the yard orderly.  They put on an amazing dinner everyday, starting it early so that it finishes right on time as you get home.

And then the moment you walk through the door, they head off to their own section of the house.  No welcome, no eye contact, no hugs, no acknowledgement at all.  For the rest of the night, you try to enjoy the beautifully pristine house on your own.  Apparently they do it because they love you.  But you can’t help but feel if they really loved you they’d at least want to see you, talk to you, spend time with you and touch you.  The service is there, and it’s great – as good as you’d get in a hotel.  But, much like the hotel, this is not love, it’s not a relationship, it’s just service.

I imagine this is how God feels about people who are too busy being religious to spend time getting to know him.

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice.  And acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:6

Why the Pomodoro technique doesn’t work for me

My friend Amanda writes a great blog over at Capture30Days. Her recent post “getting stuff done” outlines the Pomodoro technique: work for 25 minutes uninterrupted, take a 5 minute break, start again. I think it works great for some sorts of work.

It doesn’t work for me.

I had tried this technique, but I found for my sort of work it sometimes was in fact harmful.  I guess my work (designing educational apps) swings between product design (creative, collaborative) and programming (a different sort of creative, lots of problem solving, often on my own) and so I sometimes need to just work through a task list and have lots of interactions with others, and I sometimes need to have long periods of uninterrupted focus.

For the programming especially (and to an extent the design also), I have to work hard to get into a “flow” state, where I get the entire mental model of what I’m creating in my head, so that I can work and create efficiently, remembering how all of the different pieces of my app are supposed to fit together.  It can take me a couple of hours to get into this state.  And when I’m in this state, I don’t want to stop.

And knowing I have to stop, because my 25 minutes is up and it’s time for a 5 minute break, or because I have a meeting, or because it’s lunch time, can seriously throw me off.  I’m not the only one.  Paul Graham contrasts the “managers schedule” (1 hour blocks, optimised for meetings) and the “makers schedule” (usually blocks into “morning”, “afternoon” and “working into the night”, optimised for creative work).  He makes the point that for a creative, a single meeting can destroy a whole afternoon.  I definitely have experienced that.

So, alternative to the Pomodoro technique?  I personally go for the 1-3-5 technique.  It goes like this:

Today I will achieve:

  • 1 Big Things:
    _______________
  • 3 Medium Things
    _______________
    _______________
    _______________
  • 5 Small Things
    _______________
    _______________
    _______________
    _______________
    _______________

I find this gives me the flexibility I need to work on big tasks that require long periods of focus, as well as help me not forget the small things that also need doing.  In reality, a day may end up looking like this

  • Morning:
    Small task 1 – emails
    Small task 3 – voicemails and phone calls
    Small task 4 – fix small bug
    Medium Task 1 – draw interface designs for a new feature
  • Afternoon:
    Small Task 5 – responding to support questions
    Big Task – programming a new feature
    Medium Task 2 – got started finding a bug, did not finish.

If I’m having trouble getting into “the zone” or “flow”, I start with the small tasks and work my way up to the big ones.  If I get stuck on one task, I jump to a different one.  Then anything I don’t get done, goes on to the list for the next day.

Finally, there’s a website which makes this easy: http://1-3-5.com/  I set that site as my homepage, so every time I open a new tab, rather than Google or Facebook, I see my task list.

Do you have any tips for staying focused and managing your time when working on creative or programming projects?  Especially when you don’t have a formal workplace to keep you accountable :)

Cowards

“All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.

I used to notice 3 groups here: the accusers, the accused, the defender. I had a hard time imagining which group I would realistically fall into.

I’m not often confronted and threatened for my errors, I’m not the sort to condemn others for theirs either. Yet I usually lack the courage to defend the accused and stand up to the crowd, so I can’t honestly group myself with Jesus in this story.

I guess I fit with the group I never noticed before today: the onlookers. The crowd, drawn into the drama, not sure of what they think, but afraid to speak up, lest they say something wrong and find themselves the new target of the accusers.

Quote

Lord, thank you for using the foolish to confound the wise and the weak ones to shame the strong.  Help us live with the shrewdness of serpents and the innocence of doves.  Keep our feet from fatigue, our spirits from despair, our hands from failing to love and our mouths from failing to sing in praise to you.  Amen.

Smaller miracles

It was haunting last night to walk into the hospital and see my Grandpa.

I watched my Dad pray for his Dad. As a pastor he’s prayed for many people. It’s hard to pray for someone who may well be on their deathbed. I imagine it’s harder still when it’s your dad. “Father of mercies…” he prayed.

What mercy can you ask for? It felt too late to pray for a miracle. At that age, and with cancers already leaving visible scars all over the body, you only ask for small miracles. For relief from pain, for peace, for comfort for our family.

Yet even a healing at this late stage, miraculous as it would be, would only be a small miracle.

The bigger miracle is the one that already happened. In my 26 years I’ve only ever known my Gramps as fun loving, and family loving. When he’d play jokes on us, (which he did often, he loved it), his heart was always warm, and it was fun. It wasn’t always that way apparently. I don’t know the full story, but there was alcohol, there was aggression, and he was described, light on the details, as “not a very nice person”. Until Jesus changed him. A change in personality and in heart, of that magnitude, is not common. It’s a miracle, a redemptive act of God that took something broken and made it better, made it beautiful. It is no small miracle that I only ever knew the beautiful heart of my Grandpa.

The other miracle is that the next time I see my Grandpa, the cancer will be gone from his body, his face will be young again (younger and stronger and happier than I’ve ever seen). The fragile, hurting body I saw last night will be restored and perfected. And he’ll be with his wife Shirley again, surely as happy in that moment as in the moment captured in the wedding photo on our family room. And his kids. And us grandkids. The redemption of people: our bodies, our hearts, our relationships. That miracle is huge.

After walking out last night I struggled with finding the mercy in an old man suffering. And my faith for miraculous healings isn’t what it used to be. Today when I got the call from my Dad though, amidst the tears was a gratefulness, and a hopefulness, for the greater miracles.

If you’re poor, today is a good day.

Imagine your head of state getting up to make a speech.  Our own Julia Gillard isn’t the most inspiring, so I’ll imagine Barack Obama – who at least can give a moving speech.  He gets up on the podium, pauses while the photographers and journalists snap some pictures of him, waits for a quiet to descend, and addresses the nation.

Today is a good day if you are poor – this nation is yours, and today this nation commits to looking after you.

Today is a good day if you are too poor to keep the fridge stocked – from today onwards there will be plenty of food for you and for your family.

Today is a good day if you’re one of the people who quietly goes about your work diligently, and are sick of being trampled on by people louder, richer or more powerful than you.  From today onwards, your hard work will no longer be overlooked, you’ll be recognised, rewarded and given more opportunities for great things.

Today is a good day for those who feel like they’re fighting a losing battle to remain a good person.  Today we say this country values and rewards faithfulness, generosity and a good heart, rather than those who cheat, lie and abuse to get ahead.  You protect your motives and stay true to all that is pure and good about humanity.  Your life will be rich as a result.

Today is a good day if your life has been filled with sadness and grief.  As a country, a community and a family today we recognise your suffering, and say we will be there for you, and do everything we can to give you a brighter future.

Today is a good day for those of you who aren’t always hard-lined, but show mercy and give a second chance.  This is not weakness, but a strength and grace that can turn a fellow human being’s life around.  From today onwards, we are a country that promotes mercy over strict adherence to rules and punishments.  If you’re willing to give people who hurt you a second chance, recognising their humanity, we’re willing to give you a second chance too – and this takes effect in all our policies.  Mercy begets mercy, love begets love.

Today is a good day for everyone who has stood between two fighting parties, and brought calm and understanding, peace and unity.  Because of your commitment to us, to all of us – the worldwide family of humanity – we celebrate you, honour you, and publicly say that this world is better because of you, and because of the risky stand you have taken.

Today is a good day for all of those who have been punished for doing what is right.  Those who have been arrested for peaceful demonstrations, those who have been insulted for standing up for minorities, those who have been fired or sued or sidelined for choosing to do what is right, rather than do what they’re told.  To those who do the right thing, rather than the easy thing – we see you, we acknowledge you, and change our rhetoric.  You’re not a “rebel” or “lawbreaker” or “dissident”.  You are one of the greats, one whose conviction challenges our society and grows us.  You are in good company with the great men and women of history.  As a nation, we will no longer fight you, but recognise you and reward you and support you in every way that we can.  We need more people like you.

When a leader makes a public address like this, it isn’t just more campaigning, an attempt at securing more votes or support.  A speech like this is a turning point.  It says that as a nation we acted one way, now we’re going to act another.  It’s a statement of what’s important to the new leader, what their season of leadership is going to be focused on, and what people can expect to change.  One group of people was previously neglected, now they will not be.  It gives both a change of policy (what the leadership is doing to support the neglected) and a change of culture (as a people, we are now to think differently, act differently, treat people differently).

This is my re-imaging of “The Beatitudes”, part of a sermon Jesus delivered that can be looked at as his inauguration speech.  The crowds recognised that this man was a leader, pronouncing a new Kingdom, and with thousands of people gathering to listen to him, here is what he has to say:

Blessed are the poor,
for theirs is the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are the hungry,
for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall be shown mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they are the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness and justice,
for great is their reward.
(Common Prayer, adapted from texts in Matthew 5 and Luke 6)

This isn’t about an normal country or community or kingdom.  This about the Kingdom of Heaven – the group of people throughout the world who recognise Jesus as the Son of God, and choose to live under his leadership rather than that of their geographic/economic leaders.  The people who submit to his way of doing things even over their own wants and desires.  Jesus is their leader, and this is his inauguration speech.

Part of it is encouragement – what he, as God and as King, is going to do for them.  Part of it is direction – how we, as his people, should change our attitudes, thought patterns, behaviours and processes to adapt to this new form of government, of kingdom.

And the vision laid out is still as confronting, appealing and diametrically opposed to it’s surrounding culture, as it was when Jesus first announced it on the hills of Palestine two thousand years ago.

Cloudy Mornings

I’ve been using a book called “Common Prayer“, which acts as a kind of guide to help me think of things to pray about and let my mind chew on each morning, lunch time and night.  (Example: when I usually get distracted by what I’ve got on for the day, it says “pray for others”.  Good idea!)

Anyway, each morning the prayers open with this line:

Lord, let me soul rise up to meet you

As the day rises to meet the sun

The last few weeks, I’ve mostly been reading this and praying this as I begin my walk to work, walking down the street, the morning is still cool, but the sun is shining, and I visualise it: the earth reorients itself once again, so my little corner is facing the sun.  Jason, your turn, reorient yourself, turn and face God.  Starting the day this way is good.

This morning however, it wasn’t sunny.  And I came to pray this line, and went to look up at the sun, to help visualise it, and I couldn’t see it.  It was gone.  The clouds had taken it away.

Now of course, the sun wasn’t gone.  It’s still there.  If it were not, it would be pitch black (not just a little grey), the temperature would be dropping so rapidly we would probably have frozen to death by now, and in general things would be falling apart.  I might not be able to see it, and I might be a little chilly, and a little wet with rain, but if the sun were not there, things would be far, far worse than they are.

This is helpful on the days that I feel a little uncomfortable spiritually, can’t see God and struggle to believe he’s there.  Or maybe I’m not struggling with his existence, but just wondering why he’s not doing anything helpful for me with everything I’m struggling with.  On those days, it’s not that God is gone.  He’s still there, and he’s still keeping the general universe running, even if it’s a little obscured, and even if I’m not as comfortable as I want to be.  If he was genuinely not there, or genuinely had ceased taking any interest in me, things would probably be far worse than they are*.

 

* footnote: I’m lucky enough to be healthy and live in a first world country.  My idea of struggles of course aren’t worth even mentioning when compared to what people in different circumstances.  Something else this prayer book is teaching me to be mindful of.  Is God still there for those people?  I hope so…

An old article, but a sad one

This post left me sad:

Pastor supporter of gay marriage out in the cold.

After affirming same sex marriage in an online post, his church met together (without telling him) and decided they didn’t want him any more.  They didn’t even give him the chance to talk over his view point.  Because his house was tied to the job with the church, him and his family were faced with having to find new accommodation on such short notice.

Rodney Croome, whose Australian Marriage Equality website ran Mr Glover’s statement affirming same-sex marriage, said two gay groups would try to provide financial support.

When a church can’t love their own, and the community they condemn as “sinful” steps in with love… I get sad at what the church is supposed to be and the ugly reality of what it sometimes is instead.

Note to self: act the way I think the church should.  If our love isn’t the most extravagant going around, we’re not doing enough.  If we’re too concerned about the purity of our doctrine, and forget to love, we’re not so different from those Jesus was so infuriated by.  I wonder what would have happened if he rocked up at this impromptu meeting.

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.  He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

Sad…

 

The Heist

Make the money, don’t let the money make you
Change the game, don’t let the game change you
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

I’m listening to “The Heist” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Loving the album… I’ve been laughing hard at Thrift Shop for a month or so now (it’s on the radio all the time at the moment), but I’m now listening to the rest of the album – really good stuff. They definitely follow the Mumford and Sons Theory:

MumfordAndSonsTheory: drop a few F-bombs & u can get away with more Christian imagery that a Billy Graham revival.
@jarrodmckenna

The quote above was from their song “Make the Money”. The song below, “Same Love” is a scathing look at homophobia. Reminds me of the stories of some of my friends… Take a minute to listen to it. Lyrics here.

The story of the millions of dollars

Matthew 25 contains one of Jesus’ most well known stories, and it goes like this:

There was a rich man who was about to go out on a long journey.  He called 3 of his workers to him, and entrusted them with his wealth.  He gave each of them a different amount depending on what he knew they were up for – the first he gave $5,000,000, the second he gave $2,000,000, the third he gave $1,000,000.  (A “talent” in the bible was 20 years wages.  20 years * average Perth salary of $50,000 = $1,000,000). Certainly a lot of money – even for the guy who got the least.  And apparently the rich man trusted each of their abilities enough that he thought it safe to leave it with them while he went away.

The first two went out, and put the money to work.  Whether they invested it, or started a business, or just did clever trading, I don’t know.  But whatever they did, worked – they doubled the money their boss had entrusted to them.

The third guy though was scared of screwing up.  In the story he says “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground.”  It seemed like this guy felt that no matter what he did, he couldn’t live up to the (in his mind) unrealistic expectations of his boss.

Needless to say, the rich man came back, and was pretty stoked with the results of the first two – and promised them bigger and better opportunities.  The third guy however he was angry with.  He didn’t challenge the accusation that he expects a lot – but he challenged the guys response.

The third man saw the high expectations, considered them unrealistic, panicked, and went with what he considered the least risky option.  Another possibility is that he was just lazy – and this whole thing was his excuse for not doing anything.

I’ve spent a bit of time tonight pondering this expectation from God.  In the Hebrew Bible harvesting what someone else planted was a form of oppression – you were getting rich from someone else’s hard work.  Is that what this man is accusing his boss of?  Is that what God does, comes in to profit from our hard work?

Well not quite, the boss did invest.  He didn’t come asking for money when he did nothing in the first place.  He gave the guy a million dollars, and entrusted it to him – presumably so that he would work with it and increase it.  From what I can tell, wealth is something we can generate, and it doesn’t have to be generated by stealing from other people.  And the boss gave him money because he knew this guy was capable of generating wealth, to the same capacity as the other two – he could get a 100% return on investment too.

God wasn’t selfishly coming to collect what he had no right to – he gave this guy something to work with, and the man did no work.

Whether he didn’t because he was honestly scared, and the fear of failure seized him, or whether it was laziness and the fear was merely an excuse – this man was capable of generating a return, but he didn’t. He was capable of doing equally great work with what he was entrusted with, but he didn’t.  And so he was shown the door.

We know from other parables that God isn’t concerned about financial return on investment.  Rather, he wants to see us doing good work, and wants to see us working faithfully with what he’s entrusted to us.

Think about an investor.  Some are out there to make a quick buck, but some are people who already have a lot of money, and they invest not to get more, (they already have enough), but instead they invest to set other people up for success. The money they give out is to help other people get off the ground and do amazing work.  But if the person they invest in squander the money, do you think they will continue to invest?  No, they’ll pull their money out.

I think that’s what’s happening here.  God wants to set us up for success.  He’s not in this to profit from us, rather, he’s in this to see us succeed. The first two guys in the story saw what God entrusted them with, and did amazing work.  The third guy was also entrusted with a lot, but he did nothing with it.  He ignored what the boss had entrusted to him, and so in a way, rejected the vote of confidence.  The boss gave him money because he knew he was good enough, but the man rejected that, and did nothing anyway.  When the time came to show where the money had gone, the boss saw it wasn’t getting used, he withdrew the investment – and put the money somewhere where he was confident it would be put to good use.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Luke 12:48

Divided

“Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.”

Matthew 12:25 NIV

The reality is the 6 Billion people on earth are so interconnected that this truth applies to us as an entire race.

We can no longer ignore the way our actions impact those in distant lands – because they’re not so distant anymore. Their future is tied to our future and if we’re divided against each other we will be ruined.

If our actions, attitudes, business plans and lifestyles achieve our gain at another person’s loss, then what we’re doing is not sustainable, healthy or honouring the humanity of those we live with. As the human community we’re divided against ourselves, and like that we cannot stand.

When you do good things and others see it

In the same address, Jesus is talking to the crowd and seems to offer two contradictory pieces of wisdom:

You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

 

Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ in front of others, to be seen by them.  If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

Matthew 6:1-2

There are plenty of people in the world who want to do good.  But often if someone asks you for a favour, or you see an opportunity to help, your response is “what’s in this for me?”  You might not ask it out loud, but your mind is scouting out potential benefits for doing this: this person now owes you a favour, while you’re doing it that girl you think is cute might see you and be impressed, doing this might be able to go on your résumé when you begin your job search later this month, your company could really use a PR boost and this donation could be just the thing…  You wouldn’t be so rude to ask it, but secretly, you’re weighing up if it’s worth your time, effort or money to help out in this situation.

Jesus says that if you’re just helping out for the reward you can imagine just around the corner, then when you get that reward, you’re paid in full.  Even though the work you’re doing is good, you’ve done it more as a business transaction than as an act of love.  I’ll help you with this… and I’ll get this (from you or someone else) in return.

A truly transformed life, the kind of “kingdom” life Jesus is encouraging people to step into, will sooner or later result in the person wanting to do good… and not just as part of a business transaction.  When a life is transformed by receiving grace, it goes on to want to give grace – you want to give to people who don’t deserve it, people who’ll never be able to pay you back.

Once this grace overtakes you and motivates you, it’s no longer about what you will get out of it.  And you’ll start doing things and helping people where “the deal” clearly isn’t worth it for you – you’re giving a lot more than you’re getting.  Perhaps you’re getting nothing, no one will even know.  Jesus is saying that God loves it when we do this.  When we give with no expectation of reward – at least not in any way we can imagine.  When we do this – God promises to reward us generously later.

Ironically enough, it’s the person that cares least about public approval (and doesn’t give for that reason at all) that God wants to show off to the world.  You see, people doing good is nothing to write home about.  People do good all the time – most business deals are essentially someone helping someone else and being rewarded in return.

It’s the people who give and give with no expectation of repayment or reward – whose lives have been transformed by grace – that God wants to show off to the world.  Their lives Jesus calls “light”, it contrasts the give/take nature of the world, and forces people to see that these people live life differently: they are no longer driven by what they get out of something, they are driven by love and by grace.

When people see this, they can’t help but glorify God in Heaven, whose undeserved love changes a life so radically that the person lives, gives and works because it’s right and because it’s good, not because of expected returns.

If most of the good you do will pay off, in recognition, in returned favours, in some round-a-bout way, then maybe you haven’t let your life be transformed enough yet.  This is me at the moment.  The cure then, is to deliberately try to do good, but in secret – not thinking about how you will be repaid for this, but focusing on the grace you’ve already received.  And as you do this (and as I do), hopefully our attitude will change and the grace we’ve received will overflow into grace we give out.

And most things will remain under the surface – no one but you and God need to know about them.  But a few will float to the top – like an iceberg, the majority of what you do will be unseen, but a small fraction pokes out above the water.  When people see these, they’ll see that it’s different.  These are not good things done for an expected return, these are good things done as an act of love – and that realisation will help them see God’s grace at work in your life, and lead them to glorify him.