Thursday, May 3, 2018

What If This Is Your Last Chance To Change The World?

What if this really is the last hour of your life?

None of us are guaranteed to live another decade, not even the millennial’s reading this. All we know is that we have this present moment.

So what are you doing to see the world changed for the better?

I know this isn’t a new message. In fact I’m sure you’ve been asked this question before. If not word for word at least something similar.

When I see questions like this, I tend to roll my eyes and think about how over-dramatic the writer is being. Look at that, I’m a hypocrite, because now I’m writing my own version of the “What would you do with your last hour of life”.

I don’t expect everyone I want to read this, but if you are, thank you. Thank you for being teachable.

Death teaches us to live humbly

Recently, a friend of mine passed away. It was sudden and completely unexpected and I’m still grieving. When I ponder this person’s life and the huge impact even our few short times together had on me, it challenges me and makes me wonder what kind of an impact I have on others.

We weren’t close, but the impact was significant.

Can people who have passed through my life say the same thing about me? Probably not and when I investigate deeper, I know it’s because I take life for granted.

I get angry at a co-worker, or decide to sleep in on a Sunday morning instead of going to church. Even though I know I shouldn’t snap at my colleague and I should go to church instead of sleeping in, I always tell myself, “Tomorrow I’ll be better.”

But I’m not guaranteed tomorrow.

The realisation, if you really let it hit you will make you question your motives for even your lazy days.

The truth is, to be a world changer, you’ve got to be faithful, even when you don’t feel like it.

Hard work teaches us to live fully

Have you ever seen the movie “Yes Man”?

The entire film is about a guy who becomes incapable of saying “No” to anything. This forces him to try things he never wanted to try and in turn gives him a richer life because of the experiences.
It’s a good concept and one we should try in our own lives.

I’m not saying you should say yes to everything, but you should stop saying no to the things you’ve committed to and start doing those things with the idea that it may be the last time you get to do it.

Instead of snapping at my work mate, I should consider how they’re feeling and respond in love. Instead of sleeping in on a Sunday morning, I should go to church and make real connections with the people there. In fact, I should go the extra mile and offer to help set up the chairs for the service.

Yes, it can be hard work sometimes, especially after a long stressful week, but think of Hercules and, “Go the distance.” This mythical figure could have thrown a lot of excuses into the mix and stopped working hard for his hero status, but he didn’t. He went the distance.

Of course, this is all very easy to say and I’ve no doubt you’ve read articles like this before.

In fact if you’ve read all the way through this, you get a gold star in my books.

And truth be told, you give me hope for the human race, that there are people who still want to be world changers. Who are teachable and take the time to give one hundred percent to everything they do, even if it’s reading something I’m sure they’ve heard a thousand times before.

This is my encouragement to you. Keep pressing in to God, keep living one hundred percent and when you have those days where the pressure of being a world changer is getting you down. I hope you remember this silly article and know you’re not alone.

Let’s be world changers together.

Originally published on Christian Today.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Why The Joy Of The Lord Is The Best Way To World Peace

Want to know the secret to world peace? What if I told you it was easier and more fun than a day of hard work? 

I’ve grown up with a phrase. Any time self-doubt, depression or frustration sought to overpower me, my mum always said, “Don’t let it steal your joy.” And the reminder was there to find my joy in the Lord.
In Nehemiah chapter 8, verse 10 it says near the end, “… the joy of the Lord is your strength.
Have you heard this so often it’s lost it’s significance and depth? It had for me. I spoke it by rote, there was no life behind the words, until a few weeks ago… 

Fresh Revelations Concerning Joy

A group of friends and I were praying and one of them had put together a list of the wars taking place in the world right now. It was longer than I’d imagined. 

The weight of hardship people in those countries face felt heavy - how was I to know where to begin to pray? I closed my eyes, trying to focus, when I heard a gentle whisper, “My joy is your strength.”

What did that have to do with praying for war-torn nations? 

Then I was reminded of a video I’d seen. The central focus is on a young girl and is a montage spanning a year of her life. It starts off on her birthday. She has a huge smile, her eyes dance with light as she holds up a birthday cake. 

As the video progresses, there’s an explosion and it’s revealed she’s living in the middle of a warring country. Each day, the light in her eyes dims and the smile becomes forced until she no longer has the energy to fake it. 

In the end, the girl’s eyes are vacant, the natural glow of her skin is gone, her shimmering hair is limp and dry. She becomes a shell of a little girl who has no joy or energy to even blow the candles out on her birthday cake.

I’m pretty sure the video is a dramatisation, but it’s still powerful. 

As I thought over the whispered words of moments before and this contrast of what war can do to a person, something clicked. I needed to pray for the joy of the Lord to be renewed in these places.

I found myself praying one of the oddest prayers of my life. “Lord, send more comedians to these countries, so they can learn to laugh again.” 

Was laughter another key? I pulled out my phone and did a quick google search for the benefits of laugher…

Laughter, lowers blood pressure. It decreases stress and anxiety to reduce the chance of depression. It improves cardiac health, and is a great work out for your abs.

According to one list, laughter helps reduce pain because it releases endorphins which work better against pain than the same amount of morphine. It also boosts your immune system to help you live longer.

A study at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, discovered that adding humour to lectures increased test scores. And another said laughter helped activate your whole brain, which aids creativity.

This is only a glimpse of the good, healthy benefits I found on laughter. But it made me realise how important and vital it is for us to laugh. 

Fresh Revelations Concerning Strength

As I continued to pray, a story began to awaken in me… 

It followed a country ravaged by war, where people were motivated by vengeance and anger. 

In this dark land, entered someone like Robin William’s “Patch Adams” (a doctor whose actions were motivated by a desire to make people laugh). 

As my imaginary story unfolded, I saw how laughter and God’s joy brought world leaders together through humour. Their vengeance and anger gone because of a shared laugh.
It reminded me of this short film where a group of bored strangers on a train get the giggles. I dare you to watch this without laughing.

While the current world situations and even the personal issues each of us face can seem, and are, much more complicated than this simple story, I was reminded of how Jesus told us to become like little children. 

They don’t worry about difficulties. They live in the moment, trusting their parents for protection. 

Put aside all the obstacles and worry for a moment and consider the times when laughter diffused arguments in your own life. Could the solution to these world issues be so simple? 

The Hebrew word for “strength” found in Nehemiah, means ‘a place of safety, protection, refuge, stronghold, fastness, or a harbour.’ Meaning the joy of the Lord is a place or means of safety and protection. A refuge and stronghold. A harbour against whatever life throws our way. 

Whether you’re facing a hardship, or enduring a time of pain, or suffering, or if you find yourself in a country on the verge of war, remember the joy of the Lord is your strength. If more people tried this, I believe we’d see world peace. 

For now, we may not be able to leave those hardships behind for good, because people are fallible and forgetful, but if we do our part and trust God’s strength in those situations His joy really will lead us to peace and happiness.

Originally published on Christian Today.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Embracing My Tookish Side

A couple years ago a few friends and I went to the annual Abbey Medieval Festival to spend a day in the past.

Not only did I learn and experience new things from everyday life of the Medieval past, but I learned about the sub-culture of the festival re-enactors too and it woke something "Tookish" inside of me.
“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, & he wished to go & see the great mountains, & hear the pine-trees & the waterfalls, & explore the caves, & wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.” The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
At one of the many canvas tents was a mud-oven where re-enactors were baking hardy, brown bread. They were passing it out to all of us when another re-enactor came bounding up to get a piece of the delicious bread too and after a cute little exchange he bounded away again with his fresh and tasty treasure.

The girl slicing the bread looked at us with a sparkle in her eye, said "That's my dad." and went back to preparing pieces for us to try & it suddenly hit me - this big event wasn't just a once a year party for us medieval loving people, but for these re-enactors it was a way of life.

A New Way of Life

After this, I spent about an hour talking with two other re-enactors, each dressed to the nines as medieval knights. One was wearing a chain-mail shirt he hand made.

During our chat I mentioned the girl and her father and the two knights' eyes lit up. They began telling me how there were 3rd generation re-enactors at the festival, the kids of re-enactors had raised their kids in this sub-culture and now those kids were part of the festival too.

Imagination ignited, I tried to picture the life these people led. They were living in the past and present all at once, totally embracing the fullest they could get out of both. They all made their own clothes - even their shoes! They all slept in canvas tents during the festival, eating mutton cooked over open fires, singing old songs and drinking honeyed mead. The REAL festival happened when all us "tourists" left & they got a moment living in the past.

There was something about this that stirred my soul. I'm still searching for an actual name for it, I've been searching for years. The closest I've come to naming it is what writers John Eldridge and Brent Curtis call a "Haunting" in their book The Sacred Romance. Or what Erwin Raphael McManus calls the "Barbarian" in his book The Barbarian Way.

These names are great, but for me they still lack something... maybe it's because "IT" is too big for one or two words.

A New Type of Adventure

How can we encapsulate a feeling and way of life in one word?

All I know is this "It", this "stirring" is raw and gritty. It's sun burnt faces with dirt etched into every wrinkle and pore, it's deep laugh lines and fierce eyes, it's knowing who and Who's you are, it's living boldly and passionately even in the midst of the scariest, deadliest storm. It's the great, big and wild adventure God calls each of us to live.

So often we want our lives to be plastic clean, or just safe and cozy like a warm little hobbit hole I know about, but God's adventure is quite the opposite.

I always think of impulsive Peter who was ready to follow Jesus everywhere- even death. Who couldn't believe he would ever deny or abandon his Lord, who took up a sword and cut a man's ear off, because he thought he was defending his friend. He was raw and passionate and many times Jesus had to bring him correction.

No doubt most us would look at a man like that and scowl at his rough-around-the-edges attitude, but not Jesus. Instead, Jesus saw how passionately Peter wanted to be part of the 'Haunting', 'Barbarian' way of life and it was Peter he chose as the foundation of his church.
"And I tell you that you are Peter, & on this rock I will build my church, & the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Matthew chapter 16, verse 18
It's our choice whether we will choose to risk it all for the sake of the better and bigger story or stay safe in our cosy little hobbit holes.

I, for one, will be following in Bilbo, Peter's and those medieval re-enactors steps, you'll probably see me running down that Road shouting "I'm going on an adventure."

Wanna join me?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

How To Be A Culture Shaper

The words, ‘Culture Shaper’, stirs something in my soul. It’s the same feeling I get when Frodo, in The Lord of the Rings is declared as a Ring Bearer.

It calls me, like a mighty echo.

I envision standing on the edge of a cliff, the wind whipping through my unruly hair, the crisp outdoors waking all five senses until I’m fully alive and then raising my voice in a great warrior call and shouting, “I am a Culture Shaper.”

Maybe that’s a bit too dramatic for you, but I think we need inspiration to move from being ‘just dreamers’ to ‘active players’ in this game of life.

Culture Dies When You’re Perspective Is To Be Cost Effective

I was walking through the city when this idea came to me. I’d passed a large construction site for yet another skyscraper, when I turned the corner to see a building a hundred years older than myself.
It’s a beautiful old thing, huge doors with ironwork decals, there are intricate carvings at the corners, and around each window. In all, the building is a work of art, not just another cookie cutter block of real-estate.

So what am I rambling on about? What is a Culture Shaper? It’s someone who defies the norm to create and build something beautiful.

How often, in our own lives, do we go for the cost effective block over the old beauty?

We all want to save as much money as we can. We buy cheaply made clothes, sit in our own versions of the Ikea living room, and even celebrate momentous moments on a budget of not only money, but time.

While there’s nothing wrong with these things (life is busy for most of us) I still believe we need to start thinking about the things we personally create and the time we actually invest in those around us.

Creating Culture Takes Changing Our Perspectives On Daily Life

Let me get down to the nitty-gritty. And also, the less glamorous bits of being a Culture Shaper.
That image I had at the beginning, of standing on the edge of a cliff? Yeah, in real life I’d be shaking from the cold wind, my hair would be tying itself in knots and my stomach would be flipping at the extreme drop. Oh, and when I yell in my warrior whoop? My voice comes out strained and high-pitched, very unlike a warrior.

Being a Culture Shaper takes heaps of effort.

It comes down to how we choose to live on a minute by minute basis.

For example, I’m a storyteller. I can whip up a solid short story in no time, but it’ll lack the work and time the great stories take.

Likewise, I can pop down to Macca’s for a quick dinner, or I could stay home and learn to make lasagne from a friend.

Being a Culture Shaper, means taking the long road. Means slowing down a bit, actually taking time to smell the flowers. But most importantly, it means bringing others with us.

It can be relatively easy to change our own habits and daily routines, but you don’t become a Culture Shaper until you bring someone with you to smell the flowers.

For some, this may be a bit outside your comfort zone, but I promise you, it’s worth it. Have a think about where you can change your own perspective. For me, I know it’s time to start saying “Yes” to more of the activities I normally hide from.

I’ve become a bit lazy. If there’s something happening that sounds a bit draining or uncomfortable, I shake my head and say “Pass”. It’s time for me to change. To put in the long and uncomfortable hours. To invest in the people around me.

It’s time to be a Culture Shaper.

You up for the challenge?

Originally published on Christian Today.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

To Be A Giver Will Make You Glow

It seems to me anytime the church starts talking about generosity our minds immediately go to monetary giving.

While it’s a biblical principle to tithe (giving 10% of our income), this wasn’t the point my pastor brought up recently. Instead, the focus was on giving of our time, resources and more. That we should be generous in every area of our life.

A quick study of the word “generous” will lead you to its origin in the late 16th century. Coming from the Latin generosus - noble, magnanimous - denoting someone of noble birth with the characteristics of courage.

A favourite author of mine refers to the nobility in her novel as ‘Sacrifice’, because they recognised their lives belonged to their people. They sacrificed their wants and desires for those of the kingdom.
As sons and daughters of the King of kings, Jesus said, we are to take up our cross and follow him - to be ‘Sacrifice’ - denying selfish ways in order to be selfless.

So how much more should we look at generosity - the act of being a giver - as a mandate for our lives?

Generosity is actually healthy for us

A study in 2013 linked generosity with reducing the risks of stress-related deaths. When we give, it sets off a chemical reaction which reduces stress and makes us feel good. Stephen G. Post, director of the Centre for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at New York’s Stony Brook University, calls it a “giver’s glow”.

Our brain releases ‘happy’ chemicals, in the mesolimbic pathways, also known as the reward pathways. It’s a chemical mix of dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin, which Post says, “give people a sense of euphoria […] which is associated with tranquility, serenity or inner peace.”
It’s a chemical cocktail of goodness.

Scientists have discovered even the thought of being generous can trigger this pleasure and reward system. One study in California discovered volunteering - giving of your time - to be more powerful for stress relief than exercising three times a week! Another showed regular church attendance to also reduces stress.

I was excited when I read this. Mostly because the heartbeat of my church is to be ‘Sacrifice’ by volunteering in different ministry areas. Whether it’s the creative team, kids, hosting or cafe, I’d say the majority of my church are volunteers. Scientifically, we’re getting a double portion of  “giver’s glow” because we’re volunteering and attending church regularly.

No wonder we’re such a happy and healthy community.

The beauty of this scientific research gives Psalm chapter 139, verses 13-14 a whole new meaning to me. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
God literally wired us to give.

Perspective is a Necessary Key to Generosity

It’s important how we feel when we give. If someone gives grudgingly or out of obligation, it doesn’t produce the ‘giver’s glow’.

When we give, whether it be a financial donation to a charity or volunteering at a soup kitchen on the weekends, we have to want to give in order for the chemical cocktail to kick in.

When we give from a selfless perspective, “people say their friendships are deeper,” Post said, “they’re sleeping better and they’re able to handle life’s obstacles better. On a scale of 1 to 10 – and 10's a really powerful drug like insulin in the treatment of diabetes – this stuff is probably up there around a 7 or 8. And the amazing thing is, you don’t need to go to a drugstore for it."

Both Colossians chapter 3, verse 23 and Ephesians chapter 6, verse 7 mention the importance of giving and doing it whole-heartedly, as if you were doing it for God and not man. Again these verses come more fully alive with the scientific evidence of giving.

More than any other time, this message of generosity needs to provoke us. As Christians we are supposed to be known for our love for one another.  (John chapter 13, verse 35) but time and again, I meet people who are surprised when Christians are generous, or loving. I can only imagine how God’s heart grieves for us to be whole-hearted in our giving.

Maybe the idea of giving is overwhelming to you. Maybe you feel anxious about being ‘Sacrifice’ to those around you. I know it happens to me. I feel too tired to give. Too tired to be whole-hearted in what I do.

But the times when I persevere and cling to these biblical truths, I find it becomes easier. Which again makes me think Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Being generous produces in us the ‘giver’s glow’ and love comes quicker when we’re living in a state of inner peace and euphoria.

So let’s take on this challenge. Let’s be generous. Let’s be Sacrifice. Because the more we do, the more the ‘giver’s glow’ will make us whole and healthy individuals. Shining like the star of Bethlehem, proclaiming God’s love.

Originally published on Christian Today

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Out of the Woods, Why Independent Film is Powerful

Originally published on The Independent Initiative

If someone gave me the “dream job” on ten different popular movies filming in the next year, I’d turn them down. Yes, it sounds crazy, but I find what I do now is more powerful.

I work in independent film with The Initiative Production Company. We’re still a young company, having been around for just under ten years. In this time we’ve produced two feature films, a documentary and countless short films. 

So why do I think what I do is more powerful than those ten popular movies and the “dream job”?
Because independent film gives me more opportunities to help the creatives around me grow in their talents and skill.

Our most recent film, Out of the Woods, which we’ve started a crowdfunding campaign for, is rife with examples of why independent film is powerful. Not only was it a great experience for me as a first-time feature film producer, but it allowed me to give real opportunities to other aspiring filmmakers and actors.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve never heard of a film company who cared more about building up the next generation of filmmakers and actors over making lots of money. 

Real opportunities

During production of Out of the Woods, we ran an internship. We gave them real responsibility by placing them within the film crew instead of just being interns.

We created a live/learn experience.

As an example, one of our interns held the sole title of Unit Production Manager. Others held titles as 3rd Assistant Director, Gaffer, Concept Artist, 1st Assistant Camera Operator and many others.

This isn’t normal for a film internship.

But as a company, we believe giving them a real job is a better learning situation than just being the coffee getter or copy printer person.

We walked alongside our interns and treated them like part of the crew. Yes, we gave pointers and guided them in one direction or the other, but as our company is called The Initiative, we also encouraged them to take initiative and ownership of their role on set.

Being a stepping stone

We also brought on film school students from local universities, placing them in roles like Sound Mixer and Wardrobe Assistant. Creating a feature film opportunity for them and giving them much needed experience of set life.

A producer friend of mine, stopped by set one day and was amazed at the professionalism we’d established on set. Especially knowing the majority of our crew were interns and film students.

As a company, this is the heart of why we do independent film.

We want our company to be a real stepping stone for aspiring filmmakers to the world of the industry. It’s our hope they’ll be able to start on the bigger sets as something more than a Production Assistant.

We believe so strongly in building the next generation of filmmakers and actors, that all the funds we receive for our films go straight back into making that film stand out. None of us in The Initiative, make money on what we do. We’d rather see our story come to life and in the process create more set life experience for young filmmakers/actors.

Out of the Woods

It may sound a bit crazy to work in a company where we don’t get paid for all the hours of extreme labour and long hours which we pour into not only the film but those we train, but it actually opens doors for us to work with more creatives in the Brisbane area.

When they discover we’re doing this for the passion of it, it ignites their passion too. It creates an environment of like-minded individuals who put their all into a project because it’s a story worth telling.

It also gives everyone the opportunity to grow in their own skills and talents.

I love working with The Initiative Production Company.

I love that our focus is to be an encouragement and aid to creatives everywhere. I love that we get to give set life experience to aspiring filmmakers and actors.

I love that we continue to support those who come through our doors, by helping them find other jobs within the local industry and more. My job may not be financially beneficial for me, but the benefits I do receive through new friendships and adventures far outweigh anything else.

I can say truthfully, I am living the dream. We’ve created an innovative, tenacious community of film professionals, and I love every second of it.

We’d appreciate your help to continue to inspire young creatives by donating towards our crowdfunding campaign, Get Us Out of the Woods.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Tall People & Rose

I'm excited about Ethan Renoe's, The Tall People: And Other Collected Stories. Coming from the minds of 14 creatives, this collection of short stories has something for everyone - including a story by yours truly, titled Rose.

Be sure to read Ethan's post to see a list of all the writers.

I want to tell you a bit about my short story - Rose...

... Adora's abducted and forced to work in The Factory where her captors use her blood to entertain the masses and give them the ability to fly, among other things. She soon discovers she's not the only one being forced into this bizarre entertainment, and begins to plot for a way out - not only for herself, but the others too.

Available now on amazon
This was a different story for me to write. Darker and riskier than anything I've told before, but one I found to be full of inner depths.

As the story flowed, I found myself challenged by her situation and wanted to do what I could as a creator to give justice to this character and the bigger - real life - issues it actually explores.

Adora's story became symbolic of both the truth and the lies people believe when they find themselves in domestic violence situations.

It grew from there to also explore the objectifying of women and how much it actually happens around us in every day life and from there explored the similarities between objectifying people and human trafficking.

As I wrote, I was amazed to see how many small little lessons and ideas were coming out on the page and I know it's because I had the ultimate Creator right there writing the story with me.

I hope you'll pick up a copy of The Tall People: And Other Collected Stories and read Rose. I know I learned heaps from Adora's story and I hope it will challenge, inspire and encourage those who read it too.

For now, I will leave you with a small excerpt from Rose.

The room for all it’s warm colors chills me. I blame the bright pain blossoming from my shoulder blade and the embarrassment of being so utterly exposed.
“Don’t move.” The tattooist warns, his eyes on my bare flesh.
Breathe. Keep breathing.
I’ve lost the will to turn away from the sharp needle. It’s agitated gyration skips over my skin, imprinting it with the outline of a vining flower. I thought my flesh would numb from the hours of work, but it only seems to be getting worse with every passing second.
Margaret, who stands above me, squeezes my hand. The gesture turns my focus away from the bright prickling sparks. “You’re doing great, Adora.” she smiles. “It’s almost over now.”
It scares me when she’s nice. It means there will be consequences later. She never does anything to leave a mark, but she hurts me worse than any beating ever could. Tears build at the thought and one escapes down my cheek.
“You’ll ruin your porcelain complexion, Adora.” She squeezes my hand harder. A warning. “Can’t have one of my girls looking emotional now, it’s bad for business.”
I bite the inside of my cheek to stop the tears, and put on what I hope is a brave smile for Margaret and the man who’s wiping navy blood from my shoulder and arm.
“You’ve outdone yourself, Magic. The roses are stunning.” Margaret runs a hand across my puckered flesh. “How long before I can make use of her?”

Tune into the next stop on The Tall People Blog Tour and hear what David Alves has to say about The Tall People and his story - Sub Rosa.