All posts by Jacob Ugljesa

Episode 1 // Street Christian // feat. Nat Spary

I sat down with Nathan in our little studio where we record the podcast waiting for Nat to arrive. When we heard him pull up I stuck my head out the door and noticed he was driving a van that said BASE services on the side. Nat has become somewhat of a household name among the Christians of the city of Toowoomba because of the many initiatives he does for the impoverished and asking nothing in return.

The first thing that stood out to me was Nat’s big bushy beard. It’s massive. Something I aspire to but feel I’ll never pull off. You only need to talk with Nat for two minutes to notice his generous and down-to-earth personality. He isn’t someone who expects anything from you but just goes out of his way to be nice. He’s a real Aussie bloke.

Every time I asked questions, Nat always took me seriously. His passion for the homeless comes from a much deeper and realer place – his real life experience of someone living on the street. Not to mention his passion from Jesus comes from the same real life experiences. I walked away from our discussion with three important things that have impacted me.

  1. We all hunger for human connection. The poorest to the richest all have the same longing. It may mean something to give food or money to the homeless, but it means so much more to give them the dignity of human connection.
  2. Homelessness can happen to anyone and so many people in Australia live under the poverty line. Many people are close to ending up on the street. We can’t just ignore this large portion of our population but must invest in them. Anything we do, small or large, matters. Maybe we can use our garage to help others rather than store all our junk?
  3. A relationship with Jesus is the greatest motivation to support and help those in need. When Christians carry the name, “we are called to bring healing to the hurts and pain.” Doing it with no strings attached is just a given.

Nat runs the BASE services in town which stands for Build-up, Accept, Support, Encourage. All things which they hope to do for those living on the streets. They run initiatives like Homeless for a Night, teaching people the importance of dignity through experience; Second Shot, a program designed to give homeless people training in hospitality and food service so they can have a second shot at life; as well as other things like Hike for the Homeless. If you’d like to find out more you can follow this link: http://baseservices.com.au/

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Frankenstein’s Monster

 

Frankenstein's Monster

The classic tale of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein depicts a man who, after attending university, is driven with the idea of creating life. Dr Victor Frankenstein travels to the North Pole and pulls together parts of corpses to create this creature. After reanimating this monster and it becomes alive, it flees into the wilderness. There it reads moral philosophy, becoming intelligent and more like a human. After many years away it returns to Dr Frankenstein, demanding a mate to be created. This does not go down well and the monster then kills all of the doctor’s loved ones. In the end, Dr Frankenstein’s work led to him losing everything. He intended to make life, but all he had in the end was loss.

Shelley’s depiction of Frankenstein’s monster asks some important question. What happens when we overstep the boundaries of the way God intends things to be? She wrote: “Supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.” A long, complicated sentence basically saying we are prone to make monsters of God’s work, not masterpieces.

Now monsters cause people to run away, not towards them. If the church is actually doing this, we need to understand how it is doing it and begin moving back to the way God wanted it to be. We all want people to find healing, not hurting. The church risks making monsters of God’s masterpieces when:

1. We take beliefs originally intended to be a blessing to ourselves and to the world and turn them into weapons to harm others.

One example is wearing fine clothes or jewellery. I’ve heard it numerous times by Christians how bad it is for women to be wearing jewellery. To wear a necklace or a ring is considered to be sin. People have been told to take off all their jewellery before stepping into a church even. Never mind the original intent of encouraging Christians to dress modestly was a matter of money and mindful management of it, not dressing in dull clothes. Instead it has become an end in itself.

As a result, many a religious person is happy to tell off a young girl for her rings or earrings, while the very same person is spending excessive amounts of money on technology, food or property. Again, the original intent of the topic which was, “What is important when it comes to our wallet?” has become, “What are you wearing?” Talk about making a monster out of a masterpiece!

And might I add, this doesn’t just apply to clothing. It applies to a range of areas. Everything from the way churches run to the way we interact with other parts of culture.

2. We take the Bible, intended to be a narrative which leads to Jesus Christ, and use it to push our own agenda or opinions.

Bible texts, taken out of beautiful masterpieces of literature, are made to mean something entirely different. The bible is torn apart, butchered, murdered. As long as we can find 10 bible texts on a topic, this will be enough to prove our point of view. (What happens when we put together different lists and they contradict? Arguments!) Then, once they have pulled all these limbs from the dead corpse of the Bible, they stitch it together and reanimate it in the way they want it.

It’s safe to say we do this most often when we are wanting to prove our creed or our beliefs instead of listening to what the Bible has to say for itself. We make ourselves the infallible standard, of which no one can ever seem to reach, resulting in a rigid attitude which is unwilling to listen or to dialogue. We must listen afresh to what the Bible is trying to say instead of trying to make it say what I’m thinking.

3. We make the destination of faith a pew, not a personal relationship with God that then positively permeates our world.

A relationship with Jesus was meant to impact all other relationships for the better. Too many people make Christianity into accepting some information, saying the right things, or completing certain acts once a week. Real love and concern for the needy is replaced with religious acts in a building once a week. Programs fill our lives instead of meaningful time with people. This is the monster of all monsters. Sure, it looks alive. But how long until it comes to destroy everything? It’s only a matter of time until the monster comes knocking on the door.

 

Have you encountered Frankenstein’s monster in your church? Which monster have you come across the most? Share an experience in the comment’s section and let’s start the conversation.

Pew Anthology: Strangers

church alone stranger

I sit in the car, yawning after being awoken earlier than any fifteen-year-old would want, going to a place most teenagers wouldn’t want to be at. My interrupted sleep is made worse because I’m stuck with the family. I sit quietly and do not feel in the mood to have conversations. My parents try but I give them one-word answers and soon they stop, making me more uncomfortable with what feels like disappointment.

Can you really blame me for not being excited to go to church? I think to myself. They wouldn’t understand. I’m going to a place where I have no friends, to participate in activities I have no interest in and wearing clothes I never usually wear. When I’m there I always feel a bit anxious. I don’t really want to be there and neither do the people who usually go there. Worst of all, I don’t even know if I believe any of that stuff. I remain silent.

We arrive at church and park a street over. I walk across the busy road with what feels like a million eyes driving past staring at me. I feel like they are looking at me, criticising me, laughing at me. I am even more worried because I dread seeing someone I know. Will they think I’m weird? When I finally get to the church door, I walk in, but nothing soothes my worry. Why do I feel like no one is happy to see me? I receive the customary welcome, barely. The group runs a small “get-to-know-you” activity, but no one gets to know me. No one, I think to myself, would notice if I disappeared. I sit alone in a room full of strangers.

“For now, I’ll put up with it, but mark my words, soon I’ll be gone and I hope I’ll never have to come back.”

The structure of the program is divided into two parts. The first is a group discussion, the second is a worship service. The group leader talks to us about something from the Bible. We all take turns reading the Bible. I fear when it will be my turn and I must read the Bible aloud. The Bible study comes to an end and everyone begins talking to each other. I have a conversation with one other person my age, but he doesn’t seem like the person who wants to hang out with me. He doesn’t. I go downstairs on my own.

I walk into church and find my seat near my family. It’s in the back. Church goes the same every week. We stand. They sing. We sit. They talk. We kneel. They talk. We stand. They sing again. I can’t wait for it to finish. I can’t wait to be old enough to never have to come here again. Sitting on the hard seats makes me wish I could be anywhere else but here. For now, I’ll put up with it, but mark my words soon I’ll be gone and I hope I’ll never have to come back. That thought is a sweet solace for my soul. I know my parents mean well for me and they love coming here. This is just not my thing.

After church finishes, the preacher standing at the door shakes everyone’s hands as they walk out. When it is my turn to be graced by his handshake, the preacher smiles at me and shakes my hand. “Blessings to you” or “God bless you.” The cliche phrases of religious people sound more like, “I don’t care about you” to me. Really, it just doesn’t mean anything to me. Like everything else that has happened that day. It all feels like empty, cold, pointless activities. I’ve driven 30 minutes to a building full of strangers, to talk about a God that seems strange to me, leaving me feel strange as I leave.

#1 How does God help us when we go through hard times?

I receive a lot of questions every week from different types of people. Every now and then I get a question I think would benefit many others. I’m not kidding anyone thinking I have all the answers. However, I grapple with these questions like anyone else and hope these responses will help someone. Used by permission of the original questioner.

Hey Jacob, I’ve recently lost my job and it’s been hitting me real hard. I keep hearing people say that God comforts us when we go through hard times, but how exactly does God do that?

I just want to start by saying that it’s so terrible that you lost your job and that I can’t imagine what you are going through. It is only natural to wonder why bad things happen to us and how God could allow those things to happen. Don’t feel ashamed for asking these kind of questions. If you pick up the Bible you’ll notice many of the authors grappling with these same questions.
Pain is one of those things that, when experiencing it, we would do anything to make it stop. We do things to numb that pain (like taking drugs, drinking alcohol, etc.) or to distract us from it (Netflix?) God however is not offering us an escape or distractions, but peace and power to overcome. He doesn’t promise to remove us from pain but to give us the power to persevere through that pain. A song in the Bible says that “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.”
I suppose there are a few ways I have seen how God has used my pain for good and to comfort me when I’ve gone through tough times. I am often hit by extremely difficult circumstances but these things have helped me persevere. I hope it is useful for you.

1) God being bigger than pain shows me that pain is not eternal – only God is eternal. There will be an end to the pain but there won’t be an end to God. It might not happen instantly but God comforts us by reminding us that he will overcome everything that comes our way. A quote I once saw said, “In the end everything will be okay, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

2) When we trust in God that he has a plan in every situation, we can use pain to shape us to be stronger instead of breaking us. God comforts us by reminding us we are getting stronger, not weaker by the bad times that come our way.

3) Pain teaches us valuable lessons, equipping us to know how to care for others who also experience heartache. For example, a person who has lost their job knows how to support someone else who has lost their job. God comforts us by using us to heal and help others.

4) Pain is a reality check. It reminds us what the truly important things are in life. God gives us comfort by reminding us he’s more important than even the best things the world has to offer.

 

How would you have answered? Feel free to comment below. If you have any questions that you would like to be addressed, visit our contact page and leave a message.

Leftovers

Church is one of those words that conjures up a lot of pain and anxiety for people. Many who once sat in a pew every week now find it hard or impossible to do. They opt instead to stay away. Some of these same people still have a belief in God, but are just yearning for something more than what church has to offer. Others just feel it is downright impossible to believe anymore.

This blog is dedicated to asking the question: “Is there life beyond the pew?” What is the afterlife of a person when faith in the pew dies? Can this experience be healing and liberating? I intend to write weekly on topics that matter. Whether you are believing or a sceptical, angry or discouraged, cringe at the mention of Jesus or rejoice, I hope this blog will be a chance to move beyond the pew.

Sometimes the reason for this loss of faith in the pew includes relationship breakdowns and being hurt by people who sit in pews. Sometimes its discouragement from the mismanagement or misuse of power. I know of many stories where people who used to sit in a pew weekly are now either atheist, agnostic or believe in something but have no religion (and the latest census data is showing a significant rise of the ‘nones’). Sometimes it feels as if the church has a monopoly on Jesus. However, this doesn’t seem right to me. What is leftover when we can’t sit in a pew anymore?

My goal in writing is to share a hope I have that we can move past the mistakes of the modern day church and find the real Jesus. So I want to start with something important. Sometimes Jesus followers do not follow Jesus very well. Actually most of the time they act opposite to the way Jesus would. Let me tell you the story of a woman, a group of religious people and a very clever teacher.

This woman comes to Jesus asking him to heal her daughter. Jesus is cold-hearted and rude to her, “I don’t deal with people like you.” She begins to beg. Jesus doesn’t give her any chance, “I’m not wasting my time on a dog.” Those words hurt. The religious people crowding around Jesus agree that she is worthless, “Get rid of her”, they command, “She is so annoying.” At this point she could’ve walked away. Story over. But she doesn’t give up and she replies, “Dogs get the leftovers of food when the master is finished.” At this point I imagine Jesus smiling and saying, “That’s it! You get it! Your daughter is healed because of your faith!”

On the one hand, these cruel words of Jesus were actually a valuable lesson for his followers. If we rewind the tape and look at the story carefully, we see Jesus acting out what the disciples were thinking. Jesus shows that the way we treat the vulnerable and how we look at people can actually push people away from God altogether. The religious followers of Jesus had a lot to learn (has anything changed?)

On the other hand, Jesus points out that the terrible way religious people act, even though it doesn’t excuse it, must never stop us from discovering Jesus’ message. Persistence is possible and necessary.

Maybe you have a personal experience or you know of someone that has been hurt. Please comment below.

Social Media

Logging Out

I decided to stop using social media for 40 days and I’m going to tell you why. In the month of July and the first half of August I chose to log out of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and any other social media platform available. My goal was to stop using any social platform that was not a direct communication between another human being and me. When I ditched the social media platforms, I began to realise what impact it was having on me. I want to tell you a bit about that.

Most mornings I wake up and the first thing I reach for is my phone. I turn off my alarm. I unlock my phone. I open Facebook and begin scrolling, watching videos, reading comments and replying to messages. I close one app to open another. Checking Snapchat is the place I go. I check the snaps I’ve received. I catch up on people’s stories. By this point, 20 or 30 minutes have passed and so I rush out of bed to get ready. Not long into my day I’m back to checking on my phone or opening a tab on my computer. Throughout the day this continues. I open Facebook or Instagram from muscle memory and before I’m even aware of it, I’m scrolling and scrolling. And now you’re starting to realise what’s going on. At times while visiting new places, I’ve uploaded pictures just to get more likes.

That feeling of needing approval based on the number of people was one of the reasons I chose to stop. Another being the negative impact I noticed it was having on my friends and the students of my school. Many would tell me the story of how they are spending 4-8 hours every night on some form of social media. Sacrificing time with family, sleep, eating quality food or exercising just to watch the next video or scroll through another page of comments. Do we understand how much a hold this form of entertainment has on my life? It is active 24/7. So, before I could tell them that there is more to life and that social media is harmful, I needed to do this for myself. No point telling other people to not do something I’m doing every day.

So during the 40 days, my schedule changed significantly. I find myself on my phone less and doing other things more. Several times early on I subconsciously open Facebook, but soon as I catch myself I close it. Why am I so compelled to open social media? A lot of the time my conversations at the table with my wife or with friends included me scrolling my news feed. Now I want to spend time focused on the people around me. It’s quite freeing. Sometimes I would have feelings of FOMO (The Fear of Missing Out if you were wondering), or try comparing my life to others who are having fun. Life is meant to be embraced with both good and bad. Instagram is too shallow to portray that and usually just contains a scripted reality. The less I use social media the more in touch with people and real life I actually become.

Now at the end of the 40 days, I’m not planning to jump back on anytime soon. I may open it occasionally but from now on I’m going to do everything in my power to avoid getting sucked back into the vortex of these social media platforms.

So, why don’t you try logging out of social media today? Would it give you the chance to enjoy today for what it is? I’d love to hear your story if you have done this. Comment below and share.

Cold Cement

homeless

We arrive at the bridge at about 10pm. Tonight is a cold and windy evening. We walk down a long gutter until we are down underneath the bridge. Here, every night, many homeless people will sleep under this bridge. Our group of about 90 people, made up of pastors, teachers, make-up artists, salesmen, and many other people, will join them and do the same. We are raising money for an organisation who cares for the homeless in town called the Base Services. Leaving our comfortable beds and warm homes behind us, we have only a small pack with a swag in it.

The group is there not long until it is forced to move on because a fight has broken out and a group of homeless people have started a fire and warned our group to stay away. It is unsafe to stay there. We have to move on. We find our way to an old flour mill and set up our sleeping gear in the loading bay. It isn’t fully covered but it is better than being in the open. The ground is neither welcoming nor comforting. All through the night I toss and turn as I feel the cold cement underneath me. As morning comes closer I feel the cold dew inside my sleeping bag. Every minute gets colder and colder. No protection from pests, strangers, or the weather. By the time morning comes I sure am glad to get up, pack up and get off that street and hope to never end up there.

I learned a few things through this small experience. I realise that my cynicism of life and what it throws at me is irrelevant as I sit in front of my computer, in the warmth of my house with my wife sleeping in the room over and my fridge full of food. I had assurance of a home and comforts waiting for me. Many don’t have that. Whether by choice or by compulsion, many survive with nothing. So I now realise what I do have I will appreciate. When I forget this I will grab my bag again and sleep out in the cold weather to remember what I do have.

I also realised that it’s easy to think that people need to just try harder or pick up their act, but to empathise means to know what they are going through because of mutual experience. I’ve never slept on a street before. I’ve never been forced from my bed because I’m encroaching on someone else’s territory. I’ve never wondered if my bed will be a safe place for the night. Many do have to think about these things every night.

After the night out on the streets, I am tired because I didn’t really sleep, but my heart is full because I am thankful for the seat underneath me, the walls surrounding me and the opportunities before me. Rather than worrying about the things you don’t have, what do you already have that you can appreciate? How can you be actively involved in caring for and understanding the plight of the homeless?

If you are interested in donating to the Base Services or want to know more about them, follow the link below or find my donate page directly and give to this great cause:

www.homelessforaweek.com.au/sleepout/participants/jacob-ugljesa/

homeless