I will give You my heart, Jesus, but I don’t want to…

Hearts have been on my radar more recently, popping into my vision in weird ways, as shown in these photos. They are reminding me of a time in my journey where I “foolishly” asked Jesus if there was anything He wanted me to bring to Him for healing. His response: “Would you bring Me your broken heart?” Seems fairly innocuous, doesn’t it? After all, the idea of “giving our hearts to Jesus” is fairly prevalent in Christian circles.

But I was shocked.

Shocked by the fact that He would need to ask, and even more shocked by the fact that I was really struggling with actually giving it to Him. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t that I didn’t want to, but I didn’t want to! I was scared and I wasn’t one hundred percent sure I was ready to trust Him with my heart. After all, it had taken a fair battering over the years and was only just getting some healing. I wasn’t ready to risk getting hurt again.

And yet…and yet…I had been learning that Jesus is trustworthy. He had brought such healing into my life, such transformation to the way I functioned and viewed the world. And so, with tears streaming down my face, with trembling and uncertainty, I pushed through and said, “Yes…Yes, I WILL give You my heart!”, with all the strength I could muster. It felt so right, but so hard at the same time. It wasn’t pain free or fear free. However, something shifted from that time. My shell of self-protection was dissolving. In its place, I was learning to live under the protection of the Most High. It is a position that doesn’t always “feel” safe, but in reality, no where else is safer.

So, in these images of hearts that have literally been in my path, I feel there is an invitation for anyone else who is in need of some heart healing:

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For those who feel their heart is torn, left abandoned, lost and far from home;

 
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For those whose heart has become dried out, brittle, prickly and hard;

 
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For those whose heart seems half buried under the weight of sorrows, of the stones and dirt thrown at them, or just the burden of life…

 

Or anyone else who is struggling to trust again, struggling to even breathe, there is an invitation to bring your heart in whatever state you find it to the gentle Shepherd, the King of kings, the Healer. He is trustworthy and faithful and if you let Him, He will not only protect your heart - taking care of it as the precious jewel that it is to Him - but He will heal and restore you, too! All you have to do is say, “YES!”

**The song “O Come to the Altar”, by Elevation Worship has been going around my head alongside this post - it is quite powerful. (Click on the link to listen)

If this is something you don’t know how to do, want help with, or want to know more about, please feel free to message me below, via the contact page, or through Facebook.

A new commandment I give unto you: Thou shalt not offend me!

As many are aware, it seems that our language is being hijacked in a variety of ways. Certain words are being used to manipulate and control people, to corral us into a narrow set of acceptable behaviours and beliefs. In many ways, hard fought freedoms from constraints of one religion are being replaced by the constraints of another, albeit unnamed or recognised as such.

A couple of years back, the catch cry word was all about tolerance. There was a strong push from the media for everyone to be tolerant of others (particularly around certain agendas), with the most stupendous comment I heard being, “I’m intolerant of intolerant people”. To me, this demonstrated the whole problem of how this word was being used in a nutshell. The truth is, tolerance isn’t tolerance unless I am allowed to disagree with you.

More recently, we have upped the anti on this by adding a new commandment:

“Thou shall not offend me.”

And I have to say, lately offence seems to something of a disease, its contagion infecting many from every spectrum of society.

So the question is, when was the last time you found yourself getting offended? Or perhaps a better question is how often do you find yourself getting offended?

To make it a little clearer, feeling offended is usually that spark of anger rising up because of something someone else has said or done; the outrage or indignation that cries out, “How dare they!” It is that heightened sense of wrongness, that we may or may not acknowledge outright, which quickly takes over our thoughts and conversations.

Offence seems to be very much a go to for many of us at this time about a wide range of issues, be they personal or more global.

Right now, some would probably respond, “But I have a right to be offended! What “they” do/say is offensive!”

As much as it may be true that some behaviour is “outrageous” or even an offense in the strictest sense, our response of offense in return is far from helpful to us, though. In my own journey, offence was something that held me trapped for many years.

Offence creates a fence between you and me

Offence creates a fence between you and me

Going back some time now, I lived with offense as a primary protection mechanism. Because I was quite insecure and my sense of self was lacking, getting “prickly” was a way of keeping myself feeling safe. Basically, if I wasn’t feeling safe, getting offended toward someone helped me keep my distance and make them the problem, not me. Cutting them out of my relationships seemed the best option.

Whether or not they were the problem is irrelevant in the long run (and let’s be honest here, sometimes it is the other person, but sometimes it is also “me”!). Even when someone does behave in a way that is truly offensive and hurtful,

my response is always my responsibility.

I have a choice of whether or not I want to carry the burden of offence.

And it is a burden, very closely related to unforgiveness. When I am carrying offense towards others, either individuals or those with differing beliefs or ideas of acceptable behaviours to me, I am setting up a barrier, like a wall or even “a fence” (pun intended) to create a division that says “like me: not like me”. The more people I have offence toward, the further that fence has to go, and I have to maintain it, watch it diligently (just like Mexico), or before you know it, there will be an invasion of those I find offensive. But suddenly, while I am busy keeping them out, building that wall, I will find myself trapped and alone in a cage all of my own making.

Offence creates division and disunity in our society.

The bottom line is, if I am not prepared to allow anyone to offend me in anyway, I can either not have relationship with anyone (because no one is perfect), or I will have strict protocols which will drive most people away.

The other aspect of offense is that it leaves me in a place where I never have to question my own behaviour or beliefs. This is perhaps the most dangerous characteristic. If I don’t allow you to have a different belief or idea to me, or behave in a different way, then my behaviour and beliefs are the only right ones. Anything else is offensive! I am safe here and no one is allowed to judge me or tell me otherwise. Again, a very lonely place.

So, what is the answer? People are broken, they do behave in offensive ways. How do I not live under this burden of offense and still be safe?

For me, this comes back again and again to my relationship with God. I have to find my identity, my sense of self in Him. Unfortunately, this requires something else difficult. Accountability, transparency, ruthless honesty about myself. I have to be prepared to come to Him with all my own brokenness, hurts and false beliefs and be prepared for Him to shift, mend, heal and change me. The good news is though, however painful this may seem at the time, on the other side is true freedom – not only from my own brokenness and pain, but it also helps me deal with the brokenness of others without causing them further damage.

Next time you feel that slippery hand of offense around your heart, squeezing you to the point of outrage, take it to Father God and ask Him: “What do You want me to do with this? What do You want to do in me? How do You want me to respond?” You might be surprised at His response.

Love, judgement and Israel Folau – maybe we got it wrong!

In the last month or so, the sharp rise in the open hostility of certain Christian groups toward other sections of the Christian community on social media has stunned me. The level of condemnation and vitriol seems to have escalated to the point that I wonder if there is any space for restoration of unity. I find it disturbing and disappointing to say the least.

How do we find a way through this mess of differing opinions when our emotions are running so high?

The latest outcry, of course, has been around groups within the Christian body raising funds for Folau’s legal case to dispute his dismissal. One question being raised is whether this is an acceptable use of people’s private funds or whether these funds should rather be spent helping those who are in need in our communities.

In reading some strongly expressed comments denouncing those who had given to the Folau fund, I found myself wanting to respond equally ferociously with, “How dare you judge others on what they spend where when you spend your money doing xxx!”- until the mirror reflected back my own judgements on the rights and wrongs of our spending!

Whichever side of the fence you sit (or even if you are like me and sitting firmly on the fence over much of the circus surrounding this issue), one thing is plain. The spiral of division and judgement into hatred within the Christian community in Australia seems to have escalated in the last months - or was I just blind to it?

Believing as I do that unity is of particular value and importance in releasing the qualities of the Kingdom of God on earth, my prayer is that we start to take our judgements of others to God instead of each other and see what He might have to say about them.

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If I take my accusation to God about what someone else spends their money on, for example, I think He might well come back and confront me with some of my spending. If I bring my judgement of another’s lack of love toward a particular group, the lovelessness in my own feelings for that “unloving” person may become the topic of conversation.

Lately, I have started to realise just how many judgments I make, moment by moment, day by day. Many of these are so “normal” to me I cannot see that different may be ok or may even have an extenuating explanation. It can be as simple as judging whether everyone else should enjoy something as much as I do (aka: food; music; cold weather; certain smells) to how people behave on the road, treat their children, keep their house/workspace/car, how they dress, what they do with their time and so on and so on. Some of this comes from an inherent belief that “my way is the right way” (which is where our stereotypes and many of our negative opinions of certain people groups comes from), but sometimes I think it is about something else.

One of the valued traits of Christianity is the idea of justice and mercy. The recognition of God’s heart toward those who are most vulnerable and in need in our communities has become front and centre for many Christians. The recognition that our faith isn’t and shouldn’t be all about our own comfort and safety has shifted many from a place of complacency and perhaps self-centredness.

However, as we step into this place of awareness we can become even more conscious of others who are not on the same journey. Because it is of such importance to us, we cannot fathom why they would not understand. We then make the next leap to believe that we are the one to tell them they should get on board with the same agenda!

It is so tempting to be the warrior out there fighting for truth, justice and liberty/tolerance or whatever other noun is flavour of the month. In my own journey, I have to admit to failing to understand why people don’t see what I am involved with as important as I do. Seeing the struggles and horrific lives some people live, the passion to make things better can be overwhelming.

Unfortunately - and I think this is where the rubber hits the road - we are not always happy to stop there. We can have such a strong desire to make someone to pay. Someone is to blame for this, so retribution is a vital part of the process. Or so we think.

And it is here that judgement comes marching in. I set myself up as the judge and jury to decide who must pay, how much and why. I assume I know the hearts, minds and motivations of others before I have even asked or know anything about what is going on for them now or in the past, or what their story really is. Unfortunately, relationship is often the first casualty when we choose “truth” over unity.

This quote from “The Shack” (Wm Paul Young) discussing the “choice to facilitate relationship” by meeting a person at their own level really spoke to me:

“You don’t play a game or color a picture with a child to show your superiority. Rather, you choose to limit yourself so as to facilitate and honor that relationship. You will even lose a competition to accomplish love. It is not about winning and losing, but about love and respect.”

Sitting in judgement, carving off large swathes of people because we assume we know what they think and why is so destructive. In the end, the only winner is the enemy of our souls.

I know I have grappled with the idea that people need to know the truth of their behaviour: something has to be done to protect those in danger and why not me? And there is truth in that.

However, when I think about the times I have been most open to change myself, it has been when someone has approached me with loving kindness. When we come to others from a place of offence, it rarely ends well. In fact, rather than coming to us with a list of our offences, we read in Romans 2:4 (NIV) that it is God showing us His kindness that helps us toward repentance. Awkwardly, He expects the same from us. Paul is pretty blatant here:

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

I am confronted again and again by my own lack of checking in with God about my way of thinking and responding to others. I guess it is a major part of our journey with Him – learning to stop and listen to His heart, to listen to what He thinks and see things from a better perspective: His. My prayer is that we can all step back from this mess, reassess our own part in it and contribute to the clean up before it is too late.

And Israel Folau? Its really not about him at all, is it?

Do you have enough faith to get you through this?

I think the first time I felt disappointed with God was when I was about 5 years old. My mother was pregnant with my youngest sibling and given I already had three brothers, I was desperately praying that this one would be a girl, a sister for me. And he wasn’t.

I am sure I am not alone in having experienced this sort of disappointment:

“God, You have the power to do what I want, what I believe I really need – and yet You don’t. What is the story? Why not?”

If God loves us, why doesn’t He always answer our prayers the way we would like?

My most recent ponderings on this topic started from a totally different scenario though, so join me on the journey!

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A little while back, I quite suddenly became very conscious of the rows of trees lining the path (as in the photos) at the old golf course where I walk our dog. As they caught my attention the words, “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” dropped into my mind. I had such a sense of not just those witnesses listed in Hebrews 11, but my own physical ancestors lining the way, as though I was in a marathon, and they were watching, cheering me on, encouraging me to keep going.

Weeks later I had a dream about running in the wilderness. I was trying to escape and evade “baddies”. With me was a companion, who was alongside me all the way as I ran as fast as I could. Even as I realised we had got away, I also realised my companion was on a horse. As I woke up, it was with the thought that it would have been much easier to get away if I had just got on the back of his horse (not to mention the question of why I hadn’t noticed it earlier!). Another aspect of the dream was that my companion was not at all worried, flustered or breathless from running. He was just with me.

The meaning of this dream was quite obvious to me. My constant companion is Jesus. With Him, I don’t have to work hard to stay safe. The question of why I didn’t notice the horse, or get on it bothered me though. I asked God the question of what I should do differently to not be living out of my own strength. Immediately the words, “fix[ing] our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” popped into my mind.

Looking this verse up, surprise, surprise, it was the second half of the instructions regarding the cloud of witnesses:

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“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Heb 12:1-2)

In my dream, I was focussed on escape, not on Jesus!

Years ago, I was taught “whenever you see a wherefore or therefore, ask what its there for”, so I thought I’d better re-read Hebrews 11. Toward the end of the familiar passage is the list of gruesome, almost “Monty Python-esque” torture people had undergone for the sake of a promise: “Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated… yet none of them received what had been promised” (Heb 11:36, 37, 39).

When we come back to chapter 12, then, this cloud of witnesses are those who have struggled, who have suffered, many for a promise they never saw fulfilled. And we are told that it is on the back of the faith of these witnesses that we are to continue running with perseverance, that we are to throw off everything that holds us back.

Somehow, even though we read so much evidence to the contrary in the Bible - even the early apostles and disciples who walked with Jesus and were eyewitnesses to His death and resurrection, suffered difficulties and pain, to the point of being stoned, beheaded, imprisoned, shipwrecked and hungry – we still have some vague (or otherwise) belief that our lives should be trouble free and filled with every good thing. Why do we think that because we live some 2000 years later that we should have lives that are so much easier with no suffering and problems?

Coming back to where I started, along the journey I have begun to realise that our idea of what is good, what is helpful and what are blessings might just be very different to what God’s idea of these are for us. While we so often look for His help and blessings to be along the lines of no troubles and many goods to make our lives more enjoyable and easy, perhaps God’s purpose for our lives here on earth is divergent to that picture. If I were to ask most, they would agree that our purpose in God is to become more like Jesus – that is our goal. Funnily enough (or perhaps not!), Jesus’ focus was far from on His own comfort and freedom from trouble.

A great quote from Smith Wigglesworth I saw recently has stuck with me. He said:

“I don’t ever ask Smith Wigglesworth how he feels!” I jump out of bed! I dance before the Lord for at least 10 to 12 minutes – high speed dancing. I jump up and down and run around my room telling God how great He is, how wonderful He is, how glad I am to be associated with Him and to be His child.”

This has confronted me greatly. So often, my focus is on how I feel about everything, from physically to emotionally and even spiritually. Returning again to my starting point, it has been easy to wonder what God was thinking giving me four brothers. However, as I have grown, I have come to realise that every part of my life has influenced and changed me. I have a choice about whether I embrace those things I would have liked to be different or continue to fight God about them. I can work with Him through them to become more like Him, or get angry, disillusioned and create distance between us. While I may not always see the benefits of the path He has me on, I do have the choice to trust Him that there are benefits!

Coming back to Hebrews 12, I am reminded that through all of our circumstances, our focus is to be on Jesus alone. Sometimes, though, in the middle of these circumstances, we can find it difficult to find the faith to even look in His general direction. As we read in verse 2, however, we can see we actually don’t even have to find that faith! It is Jesus who gives us faith – He is the author: the One who initiates, creates, gives the spark to our faith; and He is the One who perfects our faith: brings it to completion and fullness. All we have to do is respond and take the next single step He lays before us. And meanwhile, we are cheered on from the sidelines by those who have gone before!

To manifest or not to manifest: Is God’s tangible presence essential to faith?

The other day I observed two women standing side by side receiving prayer for the ministry they jointly led. One was immediately physically impacted, bending almost double and clearly touched emotionally. The second woman stood virtually stock still and did not appear to be affected at all. What was going on? Why the difference?

In circumstances like these, it can be quite easy to make our own judgements. In polar opposites, we may see the first woman as being overly emotional and easily influenced, or that the other woman is hardened, not open to what God is doing. Either way, it is likely we are coming to our conclusions by making each person responsible for what God may or may not do in their life.

The topic of physical or bodily manifestations from God can produce different reactions in us depending on our own experience. For some, there is perhaps cynicism and even doubt about whether they are Godly or otherwise. For others there can be a tension because they rarely or never experience these personally. For yet others, the presence (or lack) of such manifestations are used as a measure of how close they feel to God.

For myself, I have grappled with the concept of physical, bodily manifestations of God’s presence from time to time over decades. It probably started when some kids in the youth group I was leading had an encounter with the Holy Spirit that literally left them shaking. Having virtually no previous experience of anything like this myself, the fact that they started competing to see who would shake the most did not help at all!

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The struggle has continued over time, particularly because it is not something I experience much myself. More recently, I read a book about this phenomenon, trying to understand more about it. I had wondered, again, whether I was the problem. At times when others were rolling around laughing, couldn’t walk, or were just flat out on the ground, I have felt almost like an observer. It was with some interest that about halfway through the book, I read that the author was in a similar position to myself.

As I have wrestled with developing a theology around this, having numbers of friends who have had experiences that they have in no way sought, I was not finding answers in a hurry. And I do have to admit, there have been times where I also have wondered whether some of these manifestations are actually from God. We have seemingly little direct evidence from the Bible, although the descriptor in Acts of the disciples appearing drunk is certainly probably similar, and we know God used the voice of a donkey, manifested superhuman strength in a broken man (see Samson), spoke from a burning bush, and burnt up offerings soaked in water, just to mention a few other incidences of His physical manifestations. It is possible, and who are we to limit or define what is acceptable?

At a recent event, I found myself confronted by this situation again. The worship in music and song was polished but heartfelt. Many people were in the “zone”. But I was struggling to even find much energy to worship. I felt as though I was working hard to feel anything or even participate.

In the middle, I kind of gave up on the corporate worship and sat down to have my own conversation with God. And I found myself back with a picture I had had a few times lately.

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It was a picture of a hedge maze or similar - a bit like a movie scene, where it is all misty. As I was moving through the maze, I would catch a glimpse of the edge of a garment or just the sense of movement, which I realised was Jesus.

Even as I saw this picture, I felt frustration and tiredness welling up in me:

Why? Why can’t you just sit with me? I am tired of playing this game, of having to chase You. Why can’t you come to me?

When I started to write down what I was seeing (because it helps me to hear what God is saying sometimes), I realised that Jesus was actually calling to me:

“Come on, come with Me, come in deeper!”

There was a sense of excitement and joy in His voice. At the point of my weariness, He was automatically by my side, but there was still this pull, this encouragement that He wanted me to come further into the maze. In that place, I started to feel, “Ok, if you really want me to, I will trust You, I will accept Your call to me.” It was invitational, and as such, became intimate between Jesus and myself.

Shortly after unpacking this vision, I picked up a book someone had given me to read. In the first few pages was a section titled, “Hiddenness and Manifestation” (In “Prophetic Wisdom”, by Graham Cooke). Here Cooke explores this whole issue, particularly from the view of the judgements we make about each other around this. I realised, afresh, that these manifestations have very little to do with us - they are up to God. He decides who to and how He will manifest Himself. We can’t position ourselves or even make God “show up” in this way. (As soon as we try to make God do anything, we are entering the dangerous zone of manipulation and control  - scarily similar attributes to witchcraft!)

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In addition, as Cooke pointed out, the times of God’s hiddenness, far from Him withdrawing Himself from us, are actually about Him drawing us in deeper to Himself, just like my maze picture. While we may receive blessings from the times He chooses to manifest Himself, when He doesn’t, when we don’t sense Him, He is still there, but simply wanting to teach us about Himself in a different way. The message I clearly got from God was that His times of hiddenness are times when He wants to increase our intimacy with Him and our faith in Him. He wants to show us other aspects of Himself.

In all, it reminds me a little of what Paul wrote in Phil 4:12:

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation”.

Even though this is in a slightly different context, it is simply another reminder to me to let God be God - He will turn up in whatever form He wants, when He wants, and I can be secure in the knowledge that He will never leave or forsake me, and that He is near. I walk the journey with Him whether my senses agree or not.

And, back to the place I seem to keep landing: it is all about rest. We don’t need to work so hard, but simply rest in Him, in the truth of His word, such as “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb13:5), and “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8). We may not get a physical sense, or even an emotional one, but this is a true faith that is pleasing to God (Heb 11:6). Jesus Himself said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). After all, we are called to follow Him, not to create our own agenda or cast Him in the image and form we would like!

Sometimes something has to die for there to be space for life

Our neighbours are getting ready to build their new home. It is quite a huge task, not the least of it including the removal of a number of trees. And these are not your average suburban bushes, but towering 40+ metre (120+ft) mountain ash, up to 100 years old. As these giants started to come down, my days were rendered with a backdrop of the whine of chainsaws, the cracking of timbers and the massive, ground shaking thump as they were felled.

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Part way through this process, I found myself starting to feel some grief about the fact that something so magnificent and beautiful had to die to make way for a home. But right into the middle of those thoughts and feelings came a reminder of who our God is:

He is a God who creates space for life.

One of the most profound examples of this comes from Genesis 1:1, where God creates the earth as void – the whole earth is created as a space for life - and then God fills it with an incredible abundance of life.

Unfortunately, we have spent much of the intervening time re-filling our days with, and even chasing after, that which is not life and does not lead to life. We’ve done it since the fall, where we believed the lie of the enemy of our soul: that which looks good is good for us.

We have often crammed our lives so full that there is no longer any space for God and the life He has for us.

Recently, in conversations I had as I organised a prayer event, I came across numbers of people who said how much they wanted to be part of it all, a time to stop and seek God, but just didn’t have the space. This was not just individuals, but also a number of churches – their programs and schedules were already too full to be part of even an hour.

Over the past year or so, God has been highlighting to me the need to be careful and to really seek Him regarding those things that I allow to fill my time. The last little while, this has intensified to the point where it is getting to the daily, to check in with Him: is this ok for me to pick up?

As I reflect on the idea of these giants, I really feel that there is a strong call from God to His people - both at an individual and a corporate level – to reassess what we are doing.

Are there giants that we have allowed to fill the space God has given us for life, within our days, our families, our church communities that actually need to be removed or even put to death?

Have our programs, our activities, our busy-ness grown so huge that we don’t have time and space left for that which - if asked - most of us would put a high value on: our time with God, worshipping Him, praying, and simply waiting to hear from Him?

Sometimes, as I look at our church services, perhaps the one time in the week we deliberately put aside for God - I feel that we can do the same even there – program out any space for Him. Often that time is tightly regulated: how long we worship in song, how long we pray, how long the message can go for, so that we can rush out and get on with all the rest of our lives.

Are we willing and open for God to break into our sacred places and override us?

My challenge to myself and to you is to set some time aside in the next few days – or even over Lent – to allow, or take back, some time for God to speak into those things filling our days. Ask Him if there are things He wants us to do less of or even stop? Are there giants in our lives that He wants to root out to give space for Him again? It may cost and be awkward – some people may not like it, nor understand; it may even cause some whining, upheaval and mess, but I promise you, it will be worth it!

Do you remember your first love?

With Valentine’s Day safely out of the way, it seems a good time to reflect on love. My thoughts have particularly focused around the topic of first love. For many of us, looking back on our first love can leave us with warm fuzzy feelings - for me, looking back on this cute very early photo of my parents’ relationship certainly gives me a different perspective!

But is there anything new that can be said about first love?

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When I hear the term “first love”, it usually takes me straight to Revelations 2:4-5. How many messages have you heard where this passage is used to try to kick start a congregation into activity? The disappointment God had with the church of Ephesus was that they had forsaken their first love. He calls them back to “doing those things you did at first”. Many a pastor or leader has called out a congregation on the same. It can seem quite a harsh word, but I am wondering if there could be some connotations of this topic that are less about condemnation and more a call to be…well...loved.

As 1 John 4:19 was quoted in a message I heard the other day, I had one of those moments where I lost track of where the speaker was going, because I was getting my own download:

“We love because He first loved us.”

“First love”!

The passage in Revelations is usually presented from the perspective of when we first loved God and that it is our love for God that motivates us, energises us, provokes us to action. But perhaps this is all wrong. In fact, I think it is categorically wrong!

And further to this, in 1 John we find a book that is all about God’s love for us - in a nutshell, it tells us we really cannot give love to anyone else, including God, effectively, or maybe purely, unconditionally, unless we have first experienced Father God’s love for us.

However, I think we can take this back even further, even back before creation. In 1 John 4, the fact that God is love is mentioned twice. This tells us that

before anything was created there was love.

In turn, this means that all of creation was created within the context of love; creation is a product of love. If we understand all of creation in this way, we can start to understand God’s love for creation: His love is intrinsically interwoven into every aspect of creation. We are bonded together with all of creation by God’s love. Sit with the connotations of that for a while!

Unfortunately the separation that occurred between us at the fall, meant that our relationship with the rest of creation was also fractured.

Instead of being bonded in love, we are now in competition for love.

We have put conditions on love and we live out of those conditions.

And so, for most of us at least at some level, we still believe that, or act as if God’s love is conditional on our behaviour. We still live our lives at certain points feeling distant from God because we feel we may have failed Him, that we may not be living out of our “first love”, or that our continuing mistakes prohibit us from His love. We work so hard to make ourselves acceptable to Him, to make ourselves good enough to deserve His love.

Two verses stand out for me in opposition to these thoughts. The first is Romans 5:8,

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Surely this is a central (if not the central) facet of the Gospel message: We don’t have to be good enough to receive God’s love, to get to have relationship with Him. In fact, He already went ahead of us and fixed the problem before we could even try! This is so liberating. This is FREEDOM!

God’s love is not based on our performance! Hallelujah!

The second verse comes from the story of the “sinful woman” who came into a dinner Jesus was at and washed His feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed them and then anointed them with fragrant oil. When the Pharisee Jesus was eating with got upset by this, Jesus talked about the experience of forgiveness, ending with the statement that she who was forgiven much, loves much, while those who are forgiven for little, love little. (Luke 7:36-50)

Over the years, I have often reflected on this. While we can read it at surface level, particularly that some are worse sinners than others (aka, “I thank You God that I am not as bad as that tax collector/banker/politician over there”), I personally don’t believe this. I think that it probably relates more to how much we have experienced or seen our own sinfulness and brokenness.

There have been suggestions that this woman was perhaps the woman caught in adultery. Her sin was in full view, and she was about to be killed for it, had Jesus’ wisdom not prevailed. She could not escape, hide, or minimise it. Jesus’ forgiveness for her was the very difference between her life and death.

Unfortunately for many of us, we don’t see this distinction clearly at all. We often have no idea or perception of the way in which so many of our actions, attitudes or words are heading us down the path that leads to spiritual death. We are in happy oblivion or denial. It is only as we become aware of how destructive our brokenness is, that we realise more fully how lost we were and what danger we were in.

It is from this perspective that we begin to have a “grasp of

how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ

(Eph 3:18). If you read the whole passage here, it returns us to our experience of God’s love for us.

The reality is that we don’t have a capacity for love outside God. If we want to love God more and love others more, then we have to humble ourselves and allow Him to love us: to pour His love into us and over us, again and again. As we are filled again, our response is naturally to love Him in return, and from here, our love flows out to others.

It can be a challenge to return to the first time you were really aware of experiencing God’s love. For some of us, it is a very long time since we have truly experienced the absolute joy found in the realisation of how much God loves each of us. For some, sadly, we may not feel as though we have ever really experienced this love. It may be that although we have given intellectual assent to the idea of God’s love for us, we still grapple with living from this place. The place of experiencing God’s love for us, however, is a place of surrender. Unless we are prepared to let go of some of our ideas and beliefs about the way in which the world operates, to humble ourselves and accept our need, it can be quite difficult to allow God to unleash His love on us.

My prayer is that you have had at least one experience like this that leaves you aching for more. It is not a place we can reach through our own efforts, though – in the end, it is a place where we have to believe that Jesus’ gift was enough to allow us to come into this Holy Place. We have to be prepared to lay down our pride and self-serving. We have to be prepared to be vulnerable, naked and exposed before our God. And it is in this place we discover that His love for us is unending and yet somehow the beginning of it all.

“We love because He first loved us!”

 

 

Quit trying to be good enough: It’s never going to work.

At a time when many of us have already realised how unrealistic our New Year’s resolutions were and probably broken most of them, I find myself reflecting again on the standards we set ourselves, so often based on comparing ourselves with others or our perception of where we should be. And I have found God taking me to a deeper level of dealing with this in my own life. Typically, though, I find it has its roots in my early life.

Way back when I was in high school, my subject reports consisted of just two characters: a letter grade and an effort score. (Effort of 1 meaning you couldn’t have tried harder, to 3 being minimal to no effort.) While my parents didn’t say much - positive or negative - about the grade, they did have questions on anything less than a “1” for effort. The idea that the grade doesn’t matter as long as you tried your best seems to have much merit, but the problem is, how do I measure “my best”? What are the indicators that I have done just that?

Fast forward into adulthood, and I wonder how many of us don’t continue to struggle with (at least at some level) the idea “if I just work harder, am more consistent with my effort, keep pushing through, I will be able to perform. I will make it.” (Whatever “it” is).

The truth is, that we live in a world that IS driven largely by performance and outcomes, and the idea that any one can achieve whatever goals they like if they just put in the effort. Even in Christian circles, we honour and extol those who, by their hard work, intelligence, diligence or ingenuity excel and produce “amazing outcomes'“, either in their own “personal bests”, in business or in some other way rise to the top of the heap in their field. We buy into the lie that if we just put in more effort, if we try harder, we too can arrive.

But what are the measures we are using and are they correct?

When life is not heading in the direction I would like quickly enough, I seem to find myself back on this merry-go-round again. Inasmuch as God has taken me on a journey of breaking free from the performance trap, from the just work harder, focus more, set more achievable goals, have more accountability cycle, it is still easy to measure myself by my lack of achievement compared to others, whether this is real or perceived. When God was speaking to me about this at an earlier time, I was in the supermarket and the register went mad, printing out something like a metre of docket, all with the word “approved” printed over and over. The checkout lady was very surprised, “I don’t know what that’s about, but at least you know you are approved!” Ok, ok, I get the message - please don’t embarrass me any further, Dad!

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Coming up to Christmas, I was determined to work hard to enjoy the season more than previous years. However, despite my best efforts, I found myself almost feeling ‘kicked off’ that merry-go-round. There was a sense of watching so many I know riding the crazy carousel of all the Christmas activities, while we stood by, feeling on one hand quite disconnected, while at the same time not wanting to be part of it - this madness that is perhaps more akin to a hurricane or tornado than a carnival ride.

Perhaps this is a little cynical, but from the sidelines, this was how I was feeling. And while there was an almost perverse desire to get on board and be part of it, at the same time, I felt incapable. Tied up in the middle of this was the feeling of isolation or even alienation. I wondered again if I was actually the problem.

In the middle of it all, I found myself wondering where God was and feeling disconnected from Him as well.

What if it is me?

What if it is my lack of effort that leaves me feeling distant.

And then I realised that I had painted Him in the colours I was viewing the world through: Perform, do what’s expected, keep marching, keep working hard for all the hours you are given. I realised that I didn’t feel like I was up to scratch with Him, either. Not good enough, not doing enough.

So I had to step back. Step back into remembering that His love isn’t conditional. His love for me isn’t based on what I do or don’t do or participate in, or even on anyone else’s approval or expectations. I can REST in His love whenever I want, without waiting for or even asking for anyone else’s approval.

One of the main things I felt God prompting me about in the last six months or so is to really check myself with the comparison game. This has been in quite a different context to the past. It is about checking my drive to be part of what others are doing that, for them, is very much in line with what God is doing and is calling them to do. What He has been showing me is that I am me, not them, even if we do have similar drives, gifts and callings.

He has been prompting me to not just get on board because it is a God-thing, but to ask whether it is mine to engage with. He has been saying to me, “Yes, it is good, yes, it is about Me and what I am doing My Kingdom, but I have something else over here that I want you to do. You are separate. You are different, but that is good, that is how I created you and what I created you for. Don’t try to be someone else, and you don’t have to get involved in everything I am doing, only what I ask you to.”

It fits in well with the verses where Jesus said that He “only did what He saw the Father doing” and “only said what He heard the Father saying”, which has become a little of my mantra over the last months. Jesus could have quite easily burnt Himself out with all the need around Him. It was vitally important that He was in close relationship with His Father in order to keep on track as well as deal with the demand and even the rejection. He had to know who He was, His purpose, and what His Father was about. He took regular time out to refresh and to listen.

The same is true for us.

We must be cautious about drivers like “God is up to amazing things” or “can’t wait to be part of this”, or even “you don’t want to miss this!” While it is great to be part of it all, if these things detract or distract from what God really wants us to do, we run the risk of missing what He has for us.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t work hard, make commitments or set goals, join in. Quite the opposite. However, we do need to be careful of why we do this, why we push ourselves.

We must carefully assess the motivations of our hearts.

  • Is it about being a “better Christian” or being more Christ-like?

  • Is it about performing for those in our circles (be they church, family, friends or colleagues) or about the fruit of the Spirit at work in and through us?

  • Are we following the trend, the herd, or the Spirit? (And sometimes that is hard to discern!)

The challenge for this year: STOP. WAIT. ASK. Check your spirit. Is it FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), or are you released/called to be part of it?

Oh yeah, and don’t bother working so hard to meet everyone else’s approval and expectations (or your perceptions of these!). It doesn’t work, you won’t ever live up to all the expectations out there, and besides, you already have the approval of your Heavenly Father. What more could you need?

 

When anticipation doesn't deliver the goods you expected

At the beginning of this year, I felt God give me the word “anticipation”. It came with a real sense of excitement and joy bubbling up in my spirit. I was ready to see what would happen. As we have waited for breakthrough in a number of areas of our life, I felt sure this sense of anticipation would deliver the goods in at least some of these.

As we near the end of the year and I reflect on what has been, I realise that sense of anticipation has not decreased. It has not dissipated the way so many other New Year’s hopes and dreams do as the year goes on. It has actually increased! However, we are still waiting for those breakthroughs in our personal life. Nothing seems to have shifted; we seem no closer to an outcome, yet I can say with conviction that hope still has not disappointed me.

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I am reminded, though, of what the Jewish nation was going through a little over 2000 years ago. Under harsh Roman rule, they scoured the Scriptures, trying to see if they could further pinpoint when their Saviour, the Messiah, would appear. In all their deliberations and calculations, they were quite certain that it should be soon. They were on the lookout.

But so many of them missed it.

Their anticipation and expectations were not fulfilled. At least, not in the way they were thinking it would happen.

They looked for a king who would come in military might to overthrow the Romans and bring Israel back to the glory days of David and Solomon. They looked for freedom from tyranny and the salvation of their nation from annihilation.

But what they got was a baby, a helpless, crying baby from an impoverished, low class background, with questionable paternity.

They had no concept of how this could possibly lead to their salvation and restoration, how this baby could be a King,

so they missed the signs, missed the joy and missed the celebration.

Anticipation is a term for many contexts, good and, well, not so good. Sometimes it is helpful to us - especially when we are anticipating someone doing something they shouldn’t on the road in front of us! But at others, anticipation can lead us to downright disappointment. I remember as a child, the sense of anticipation in the lead up to Christmas. Would I get that longed for gift? And even when I had no idea of what the gifts might be, there was always the excitement and hope associated with getting any gift. And, yes, sometimes there was disappointment when the longed-for gift didn’t eventuate or wasn’t quite what was wanted, the disappointment of hope deferred.

Heading into Christmas this year, I was aware that the childlike sense of anticipation has dissipated for many of us. Perhaps one too many disappointments has eroded our capacity to engage with hope anymore. And maybe life is just not as simple as it was in the past; a long year may have left us weary and possibly a little more jaded.

Maybe, like me (and the Israelites) you have been waiting for a long time to see a hoped for change or breakthrough. Maybe, like Sarah, Rachael, Hannah and others, you wonder if you missed a turn off, made a mistake, or simply didn’t hear quite right. Perhaps you wonder if you should have or could have done something different to bring about the promise: thoughts we have had a number of times in the last few years.

And yet, as I turn my focus from what I want to what I see, from my longings to what is happening around me, I realise that there is a bigger picture. Just as the arrival of Messiah had way bigger ramifications for the Jewish people - past them to a global perspective; past their time to all ages - my longings and desires must come into line with the bigger plan God has and His timings for it all. It is the place I find myself returning to again and again. It is the place where I find the grace to take the next step in my waiting. It is the place where I learn again to celebrate ALL He is doing. And here, I find - amazingly - I can look with anticipation and GREAT JOY toward all He has for us in the New Year and in the years to come.

Got protection?

A number of years back, I got one of those 'too good to refuse' offers on a home security package. Somehow, I got suckered into listening to the sales spiel - I think it came with a 'free offer' (read: just listen to this guy for an hour and we will give you a free meal/holiday/gift situated somewhere you'll never get to at a time that is equally unavailable). The sales pitch consisted of painting the absolute worst case scenario about what thieves had done to other homes and would do to your home if you didn't have proper security. Fortunately, it came with a 24-hour cooling off period!

Although we have become much more savvy at picking apart sales pitches and avoiding these sorts of traps, we can still be quite easily triggered by our supposed need for protection from all the ills in the world. Whether it be protecting our finances through various forms of insurance, our bodies from the sun, sex or car accidents, we don't have to look too far through advertisements to find that many are pitched at our need for protection of some kind: the list is endless.

So why do they work?

The trigger to buy comes from our feeling the need for protection, which is the outworking of us feeling unsafe, whether through perceived or real threat. Underlying all this, though, what is really being poked is our fear button. If you don't buy this product, this is what could happen and you would do well to be afraid! 

It is not just in the physical realm that our need for protection gets triggered, though. Most likely you can also think of times where you have been surprised by your reaction to a circumstance or person that has been way beyond rational or even helpful. At some deep level, our fear response gets triggered to flight or fight and many times, our protection mechanisms have popped up before we are even aware. 

The problem is, going into protection mode is generally not something we have control over. Our responses are so innate, so automatic and so familiar that we think they are simply normal. Perhaps for you, it is putting on your big voice, talking over the antagonist, shutting them down, either through your volume, the cutting words you use, or simply denigrating everything they say. You might even use your physical body to make you seem bigger and more powerful, and you may not even be conscious that you do it. 

For others, you may withdraw inside yourself, or remove yourself physically, shut down and refuse to engage any further, hiding from whatever makes you feel fearful. 

And it is not just external responses that we use to protect us. At an even deeper level, we also engage a complex series of beliefs about people, the world and our circumstances that also help us to feel safe or protected.

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In my own journey, I became aware of just how extensively my protective systems were being used in the way I interacted with others. An example that comes to mind is the belief that people are broken and that they cannot help but hurt you at some point. This is true and so appears to be helpful. In terms of protection it led me to engaging with distrust. It meant I lived from a perspective that no one was really trustworthy.

I put a barrier around my heart with this belief that said no one is safe, so don't let them get too close, then they can't hurt you.

Don't trust them too much, don't care too much about them, their opinion or their words, and then they can't hurt you. 

Along the journey, I came to a point where I realised that I was struggling to receive love, care, affection, affirmation or encouragement from anyone or anywhere. Even though people may have given these to me, I couldn't receive it because I didn't trust them. It soon became clear that this protective belief, so grounded in 'truth', not only kept the bad out, but also the good, even from God.

And this highlights the problem of our protection mechanisms. Whether we use distrust, offense, anger, hatred, bitterness, hurt (to name a few), to protect ourselves, what we are actually saying to God is that we also don't trust Him, that His opinion or provision is not enough, that He doesn't have ability or power to protect us, so we partner with something else instead. We actually replace our relationship with God with something else.

What is the answer?

It is easy to say “God”, but if you are anything like me, you might wonder what that looks like?

How do I actually engage with God as the answer?

For me, in the above scenario, as I was sharing my struggle with knowing in my head that I needed to receive from God, but fearful of the pain of hurt from others, God actually gave me the answer to the problem. What I saw was that His love was all the protection I needed. The picture was of a ‘bubble of love’ surrounding me, like a soap bubble, beautifully shimmering with ever changing colour. Even as I saw it, my spirit was asking, but how can it protect me, it is so fragile, as soon as anything touches it, it will pop! However, at the same time, God showed me that His love was actually very strong and had the ability to only allow good stuff in and keep the bad stuff out. The fiery darts of the enemy just bounced off!

Although I still find myself liable to hurt from others at times, I do know from this that I have my safe space, my strong, protective tower in the love of God. I can always head into that space to receive His love for me. Remembering that my identity is found in what He says about me and His love for me gives me strength and, hopefully, all the protection I need.

Why not ask Him what you are using to protect your heart and what He would like to replace it with, if its not Him?

 

For the places and spaces that lack

Adonai is my shepherd; I lack nothing.

Adonai is my shepherd; 

I LACK NOTHING

I LACK NOTHING!

I have been reading through the Psalms again lately, this time in The Complete Jewish Bible for a bit of variation. The other morning, I was up to Psalm 23, but I didn't get past the first line.

Just three words, but oh so blunt.

I LACK NOTHING.

Let those words pound into you the way they did me.

I LACK NOTHING

Perhaps your head is a little like mine and would like to skip ahead - yes, yes, we know that, Jehovah Jireh, my Provider and all that. We know God is good and provides all that we need. Maybe we have even experienced it in mighty and exciting ways.

But...

There is a little whisper in our hearts that says, "but..." and as we stop to listen, it gets louder, 

BUT...

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What about my lack of confidence?

What about my lack of finances?

What about my lack of relationships?

What about my lack of energy?

My lack of health? My lack of peace? My lack of comfort and of joy?

My lack where promises lie unfulfilled?

What about all those spaces and places inside that are crying out because of lack?

As I have reflected on these questions I remember that so often, those places and spaces have lack because I hold them to myself, or because I try to use my strength, my wisdom, my ability to meet the lack.

What does it look like when I stop doing that, stop protecting myself in those spaces and places? 

I think it looks like surrender.

Not surrender to the enemy of my soul. Not the give up and lie down and die surrender of despair. But surrender that says, "I know I can't, so I am no longer going to try", and instead, goes to my Father, my Provider, and actually lays these places and spaces of lack down at His feet, very purposefully, and LEAVES THEM THERE. It is a surrender that says, "I WILL TRUST YOU", and is prepared to WAIT until He either fills the lack or exposes it for the lie it is and re-calibrates, re-purposes that space or place so it no longer has a lack.

I know for myself this has been a very real place this week. Your prayer, like mine, could start something like this: 

"Father God, I come to you and I lay this [xxx] down at your feet. Please help me to leave it there." 

You might even ask Him what He will give you instead, what He wants to fill that place or space with. For me, even though my circumstances didn't change, He did restore my peace and my joy.

Why not use the comments to share your experiences on this journey to encourage us all.

 

Can the dry bones of the Church live again?

At the beginning of the year, I heard the rattling of dry bones in the spiritual realm. I felt the wind of the Spirit blowing over God’s people, urging us to movement, to move with Him. He was urging us to get out of our comfy spots with their clearly defined boundaries and parameters. There was a call to be prepared to move into spaces that feel ill-defined and even unsafe or scary because we have never been there before, because we don’t know what it looks like and even how to live in those spaces. 

During worship recently, the leader shared how the words to the old song “these bones, these bones, these dry bones, now hear the word of the Lord” [sic] kept rising up in her mind. She sensed that it was the Word of God that brings life to the dry bones and the dry bones were numbers of people in the churches. 

As she spoke, I had a strong image of what God is doing at this time. 

We often refer to the idea of the Body of Christ as being made up of individuals. We can also see those dry bones as individuals. However, this time, the dry bones were about the various ‘parts’ of the Body which have become disconnected from each other. I felt that in our disconnection, just like limbs and appendages separated from a body, we have also lost our life.

In our disconnection, we have lost our life.

If we look back into the days of Acts when the Church first began with the coming of the Holy Spirit, it is painfully obvious that there were no denominations, no branding and no marketing.

We are given a picture of a Body that is fully alive, fully functioning.

That doesn’t mean they didn’t have their problems – Paul addresses this himself in 1 Corinthians 1-3, when it would appear people were trying to start factions based on whether they followed Paul, Apollos, Cephas or Jesus. He brings them back to the point that each of us should be followers of Jesus alone.

However, over the last two millennia, rather than working hard to keep the unity of the Spirit, (Ephesians 4:1-6) we have continued the practice of creating divisions. These have had their basis in offence, differences of opinion, and unfortunately, often due to power plays and a desire to ‘lord’ it over others or simply to have control.

What started as One Body in Christ, started to become many separate parts.

When offence or a difference of opinion occurred, *SNIP*, we hacked off a finger, or *SNIP* we chopped off a leg, and *SNIP*, we removed an arm. Over time, the *SNIP*, *SNIP*, *SNIP* has led to denominations and movements of every imaginable sort, and what started in unity is now a Body in complete disarray. (If you want some comic relief that illustrates this problem very succinctly, head here, but I’ll warn you, it is black humour!)
 
For some time I have been impacted by the prayer Jesus prayed for His disciples and for those to come (John 17). He prayed that we may be one, even as He and the Father are one. I guess He knew the temptations we would have toward offence and distrust of each other and that disconnection was all too easy.

But of course, when we pull it all apart, these disconnections are valid and important, aren’t they?

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (1).jpg

We don’t want the Gospel message distorted or corrupted. We don’t want people being led astray by false doctrines, false teachers, those dread wolves in sheep's clothing. However, I am reminded of one of those little sayings that pop up in your Facebook feed: “Would you rather be right or have relationship?”.

Too often, our being right has become a reason to abandon relationship.

Perhaps this needs some re-evaluation in light of the lengths God went to in order to have relationship with us, not even sparing His only Son!

I know there is no simple solution to this problem. There are beliefs and practices that some people have that are unconscionable to others of us. Again, we are no different to the early Church, where practices such as circumcision and eating food offered to idols threatened to destroy the fragile unity of a bunch of people brought together who had a long history of distrust and dislike toward each other. (See 1Corinthians 8 and Galatians 6 for starters).

So what is the answer? 

Maybe it is time for each of us to be the first to take a step toward those we disagree with, not to beat them up with our point of view (which seems to have been the desire of many), but in love - to show the love of Christ toward them.

And when we look at what the love of Christ was like, we might like to remember how He treated people considered unholy, wicked and sinful in His day; people like the Samaritan woman at the well, lepers, tax collectors and others judged unclean, people who had the potential to make Him unclean.

What would it look like if we tried try to find those things we are in agreement about and start there? 

Or at the very least, to start behaving in a loving way with all people, rather than sitting in judgement, (a place that lacks humility and is filled with the belief that we do not deserve any judgement ourselves, that we are perfect and have it all right). 

One of the biggest detractors to the Christian faith for those outside it would have to be the way we fight and bicker among ourselves. Imagine what it would look like from the outside if we behaved in love towards each other, with respect, grace and honour even to those we believe deserve it least. 

Are we ready to be transformed from a pile of disconnected, dead, dry bones through the transforming breath that comes from the Living Word by allowing ligaments and tendons, muscles, skin, veins, arteries, nerves and all the rest of the mess that makes life to grow between us and the other parts of the body?

What would you be prepared to lay down to take that step toward someone local to you to start to rebuild unity?

"I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

John 17:20-23

Tired of the same old song? Maybe it's time for a NEW SONG!

As we rush towards the half way mark of this year, I have been reflecting back on some of what God has been saying to me over the last six months. 

I began the year in anticipation, which was accompanied by about three months of drought. (You can check out my thoughts on this period on previous blogs here.)

My last blog was written at the time a significant shift occurred with a day of rain. I believe it heralded a shift in the spiritual world as well. Doors are opening that have the possibility to bring great changes in God’s people, the Church and beyond. 

The word I got at that time was disruption Get ready for disruption! As I look around, I would have to say that this has happened. There has been a number of disruptions in various ways and may be more to come. Some of this has been obviously good, some has been more difficult. All of it means we have to shift and change our ways of doing things to manage. Sometimes we have to let go of other stuff to do what is really important. While it might disrupt the status quo - the ‘normal’, what God is doing in the midst of it has the potential to grow and transform us and our community.

While I won’t go into all the details here, a number of things are happening and growing around me in ways I haven’t seen before, particularly in the unity and collaboration of Christians across denominations and backgrounds to do Kingdom work. In the middle of all this, God is speaking ever deeper to my heart about His heart. Here are three things that stand out.
The first is that He has been talking to me about REST. Not rest in the sense of an absence of activity, but rest in the sense of a lack of worry and anxiety. He has shown me that rest is closely related to TRUST. Anything we worry, have anxiety, or a lack of REST about is a place where we need an upgrade in our TRUST in God. 

When we are going through change, it is easy to get worried about so much. For me, it is the sense of “will I cope” or “what if this is bigger than my ability/strength/capabilities?” “What if it is all too much for me?” Learning not to run ahead of the Holy Spirit is part of dealing with this. Remembering that He will provide all our needs in the places He takes us also helps.

The second focus is about our role as the Bride of Christ. Ephesians 5 talks of the preparation of the Church as the Bride of Jesus through cleansing and purification. The question is whether we are willing to be prepared? Are we willing to lay down our old life, the ‘life’ the world promises for life with Him? (You can listen to more on these topics in a message I gave at my local church recently titled “Peace and Safety: Living in uncertain times”).

The third was a word I felt God give me at a retreat a couple of weeks back about it being time for us, His people, to sing a new song. It wasn’t necessarily about music or words, but about our attitude, heart and foundations. The sense is that God is calling us to become a people of worship; that our worship of Him is to become the foundation of our lives, the base line for all we do and how we live. No matter the circumstances of our lives or around us, we are to start with worship and to live through worship with all our being. 

10 Points extra if you can correctly name this song!

10 Points extra if you can correctly name this song!

Psalm 137:4 comes to mind. When the Israelites were in exile in Babylon and their captors wanted them to sing their response was

“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”

When we are going through tough times, times of brokenness, pain or loss, it can be a very foreign place to sing God’s praises. It is counterintuitive.

Sometimes we would rather get mad at Him!

I was recently reminded though, that we are created to worship. Whether it is God or something else, we are always worshipping.

What is it that claims your time and attention?

What are you devoted to? What do you focus on? What is more important – your comfort and safety or God’s will? The answers to these questions give a good indication of what is most important to you, and hence, what you tend to worship. Challenging, isn’t it!

When we have lived out of our circumstances, maybe complaining or wanting to fight the injustices we see, or in offence or fear, whether personal or toward others, we have shifted our focus from Creator to created. However, I sense that Father God is calling us back to Himself, calling our focus back to Him, off ourselves, our needs, our feelings and back onto Who He is in a big way. He is not content with a little bit of us or our time, but wants ALL of us, ALL the time. It’s not about faking it until we make it, but about being real with Him, listening to Him, waiting on Him.

Do you feel that new song rising up in you? Let it rise, let it come out in a new and deeper way of worshipping God, body, mind and spirit. Open yourself up, be completely vulnerable with Him – let Him in to all those places you want to hide, bringing His healing and His cleansing, His purification and worship will fill each of those places anew. And as we each do this, those around us will also be drawn to worship God. As He is given all the glory due to Him, more will be drawn to worship Him. Imagine if we became known as “The People of The Song”, and as we sing His praise more and more people want to join in, bringing glory to God in an ever increasing spiral upwards.

Psalm 96 (NIV) is a great starting place:

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise His name;
proclaim His salvation day after day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His marvellous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendour and majesty are before Him;
strength and glory are in His sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;
bring an offering and come into His courts.
Worship the Lord in the splendour of His holiness;
tremble before Him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
He will judge the peoples with equity.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for He comes,
He comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in His faithfulness.

 

Get ready for disruption!

Yesterday I went to meet some friends in the central part of the city. I thought I would catch the train as I enjoy being out among people as well as being able to sit and think my own thoughts or read a book on the hour long journey. On the way to the station, it started to rain. Getting there early, I sat in the car for a few minutes waiting for the rain to abate and eventually made the trek through the pouring rain to the platform, only to find the train was cancelled. Being a Saturday, the next one was going to get me in way too late, so I decided I was better off driving.

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On my way, I reflected on my disappointment with not being on the train and the extra pressure of driving on the freeway in heavy rain, not to mention the traffic jams, gridlock and detours at the other end. Asking God about what was going on, the first word that popped into my head was "disruption". Yep, that was true. My day wasn't wrecked and even my overall plans hadn't changed. They had just been disrupted. What disrupted them was that rain!

If you have been following my previous posts, you would know that we have been longing for rain. It has been about 10 weeks since we have had any significant rain, so I could not possibly be upset or annoyed about the rain. However, it did disrupt me. Besides the train being cancelled, I was wearing sandals and my feet got wet! (Everyone say "ohhh")

However, as is His way, this wasn’t the only time this week God has flagged disruption with me. On Thursday we had our 'lives' disrupted when our new neighbour was taking down a tree and managed to drop our telephone line in the process - no internet!! Quelle horreur! Amazingly, Telstra came out and fixed it within a couple of hours and I got a lovely bottle of red from the neighbour for our trouble. But, oh, the potential for disruption!

The third disruption happened today, with a farewell to our much loved senior pastor and his wife as they (and we) move into a new season. This one has the even more potential for real disruption. Replacing a pastor is not usually a quick and easy process and there is the problem of keeping up momentum in the meantime. And what if we don't like the new person? What if they want to change stuff we like? What if they make us uncomfortable?

Coming back to the rain, what strikes me is that sometimes the things we really want to see happen, that we know are from God impact us in unforeseen ways and disrupt our lives. However, I do believe that when God disrupts us, there is always blessing and provision in the midst of it, (way better than phone data and red wine!)

It reminds me of when my daughter was born. I was ready to be a mum. I wanted to be a mum. I was so happy when she was born (she was getting way too big and uncomfortable inside!) and I finally got to meet her. It was so amazing to go through that experience of a new being growing inside you and of becoming a family. 

However, boy did it disrupt my life!

I remember having a conversation with myself one morning at 3am as I was awake feeding her, having my very own little pity party about disrupted sleep. "You wanted this - and this is what it means to have a child. No, your life will never be the same, but it is a good thing."

So, yesterday, when my day was disrupted by the rain in the middle of it all, I felt God was saying, 

Get ready for disruption!

Many of us are longing for change. We are longing for God to step in and bring about those shifts, whether in our personal lives or in our communities and beyond. As we look around the world, we are longing for the transformation that only God can bring: New Life!

And what I feel God is saying to us is: 

"You want change? You want transformation? You want Me to birth something new? Well, get ready for disruption. I am going to do something, and it is going to be big, but I warn you, it is going to disrupt you. Are you ready for that? Anything other than Me that you have held on to as central, as so important, vital even, in your life, are you prepared to have disruption there? Because when I come, I disrupt the status quo, I disrupt the comfortable, I disrupt the satisfied, I disrupt the self-important and self-focussed. There is something bigger at hand, and I am not going to let anything come before it. I'm not going to let anything disrupt my disruption!"

If you don't believe me, just look at what happened when Jesus came the first time - even as a tiny baby, He caused huge disruption. By the time He was a fully grown man. He caused so much disruption to people that they wanted to kill Him, which is exactly what they did, and He even disrupted that, by rising from the dead!

So how will you respond to God's disruptions to your plans, your comfort? Will you complain? Will you throw yourself a little pity party? Will you run and hide? Or will you ask Him to show you the way forward, and embrace the new path, be ready to pour yourself out for whatever God is doing to bring about that change?

Get ready! Disruption is coming!!

 

Hungry?

In a dry and dusty season, my soul starts to feel as parched as the land. Looking around my garden, I am noticing more and more plants starting to wither and die. Down the road, the once bright green fronds of the tree ferns are weighed down with a suffocating coat of grey dust. After really good rain in December - the first month of our summer - we had a little rain early in January, followed by virtually no rain in February and March is shaping up the same. As I posted earlier, the promise of rain a week ahead slowly dissipates into the actuality of an all too brief shower, or less, a vague sprinkling.

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The cooler weather brings some relief and balmy dry days should be a joy, until the impact of these, day after day, start to show up. And because we are now having to buy water trucked in to fill our tanks, we are a little choosy about where we use it. 

And meantime, the weather continues to reflect our own waiting time: waiting for the change in our season, too.

Over the last week or so, God has been nudging me again though.

"What do you want to show me, Father?"

I am reminded of a picture God gave me a couple of years back. It was a little confronting, seeing Jesus at my feet, attaching sandals. They were like those of a Roman soldier, with laces tying up around my calves. He was making sure they sat comfortable and flat, but were firm. My reflection at the time was that they needed to be on firmly to give support and protection for a long journey, to give strength and longevity to my stride.

Looking back, I know that there have been many times I have wanted to give up, wanted to let go of the dream. "Perhaps I heard you wrongly, perhaps I am just a daydreamer. Perhaps we should be going in another direction." Each time I have felt myself nearing that breaking point, as I have sought His face and heart again, I have come away strengthened, encouraged and refreshed, at least enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I realise that I have needed the spiritual footwear that Jesus gave me.

Even more recently, another picture has come to mind. 

As we enter our third month without sufficient rain, I have been reflecting on the promises of the beginning of the year: 2018 will be a year of great moves of the Spirit; the word I felt God give me, "ANTICIPATION"; of a new season of abundance. However, it feels as though we are getting the exact opposite. The ministries I am involved in are very quiet, longed for breakthroughs don't seem to be coming, and meanwhile our society seems to be going down a ever darkening spiritual path.

What is going on God?

In the last couple of weeks, I have had two other pictures that, even as I have shared them, have found me bubbling with anticipation and hope again.

The first was to do with the quietness I was sensing in the Spirit, like nothing was happening. I was reminded of stories from people who experienced the tsunami in Indonesia and Thailand. Suddenly everything went still and quiet as the water disappeared way out to sea. This is exactly what I am sensing - what appears to be a quiet withdrawal by God. But it is what comes after that brings the sense of anticipation - the water comes back in force, in power, overwhelming everything in its path. However, in this case, rather than being a force of destruction and death, God's tsunami brings cleansing and new life. 

In among this, is a sense of God almost holding His breath, waiting for the right moment to bring in the winds of change. It reminds me of Bert in Mary Poppins: "Winds in the east, mist coming in, Like somethin' is brewin' and bout to begin..." It's like the hushed stillness before a storm.

The other picture is more of a challenge. It started with a series of thoughts about being hungry. The first was about not being so hungry you will accept anything to answer the hunger for more. This was specifically about being so hungry for a move of God that we accept what is good rather than what is God. 

The second part of this was about our hunger for God.

The challenge that came to mind was that even while I am in this place of waiting for the answer to the promise (just like Abraham, really),

how hungry am I for God?

Do I look for other things to fill that space? Do I look for ways in which I can make the promise come about?

The picture I got here was of a person travelling through the wilderness or desert. We might start out with all the things we think we need to make our journey comfortable, pleasant and even survivable. Like when I go camping - I like to take all my comfort supplies: extra blankets, hairdryer, tasty snacks, all the clothes I think I might possibly need, plenty of books...

However, if we start to run out of sustenance and water, the other things start to lose their appeal. When we are struggling to keep going, the excess baggage starts getting left behind. We start to understand what is really important to us.

I sense here that God may allow us to go through periods of difficulty, where things don't seem to be going the way we would like, when we get to the point where we are so weary that we really start to question and examine what is really important to us. I think that it is in this place where

we discover what we have given higher precedence than God.

Is it our way of life? Is it our job or career? Is it even the needs of our family? Our kids? Our spouse? Our ministry?

I am wondering right now, whether sometimes God makes us wait until all those things lose their place of preeminence, and in our hunger for God, get put back in their right order. When we get so desperate for a touch of God, for a move of God, when we realise that all the other things are meaningless and unimportant without Him, and we lay them down, we move into a place where we stop trying to manipulate Him.

I found this Spiderlily randomly growing in my garden - as I looked at it, I noticed gold glitter on its petals. In the midst of drought, God's glory continues to shine out in His creation!

I found this Spiderlily randomly growing in my garden - as I looked at it, I noticed gold glitter on its petals. In the midst of drought, God's glory continues to shine out in His creation!

What He really wants is not our conditions, bribes and manipulations: "if you give me this, do this for me, I will serve you", or even the more subtle desires of the proof we want of His love for us, when we desire certain blessings, no matter how faith-filled and 'for-His-glory" they may seem.

In this place of hunger, all our motives lie bare and exposed for the self-seeking that they are.

In this place, where we find that none of them really mean anything without Him, then maybe we are really ready to serve, really ready to lay down our whole lives, every aspect, to pick up our cross and follow Him.

And maybe then we are ready to go on that next step, where He really does get ALL the glory and we are lost in His Shadow, and there we are found whole, holy and wholly in Him. 

When your tank is running dry

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It’s only just past 10 in the morning, and already I have found myself looking up at the sky many times today. What started out as blue skies has gradually been covered with ever darkening clouds. The wind is strong from the north and the temperature was already over 25°C at 8am. The humidity is well up and I am dripping. But what I am hoping for still hasn’t arrived. What has been promised by the weather bureau so many times may just pass us by again.

RAIN!

As we near the official end of summer, we are feeling the effects of very minimal rain over the last two months. The grass is a dry grey-brown and some plants are looking very much worse for wear. Even the weeds are dying! Being reliant on our rain tanks, we have had to pay for water to be trucked in.

Please let it rain today!

Perhaps you can relate to this - those feelings of disappointment about hopes that seem to never materialise and maybe you even feel as though disappointment has been a recurring theme in your life?

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Back at Christmas, I was reminded anew of this struggle between hope and delivery.

In many ways, Christmas can be fraught with unmet hopes and disappointments. However, this year I was reminded of the depth and reality of hopes actually being met at that first Christmas.

In the lead up to Christmas, I experienced a number of disappointments. So I was really not feeling very celebratory at all and trying desperately to find some meaning in all the festivities. 

Finally, on the morning of Christmas Eve in church I had my own little epiphany. I am not sure why - I am not aware of anything especially different being said, and the Christmas carols we sang were not unusual. But somewhere in the midst of the singing, I found myself reflecting "this really did happen". Jesus really was born to real people who experienced those things we are told about. Mary really had an encounter with the Holy Spirit, Joseph really had those struggles and those dreams. The shepherds really had an angelic encounter. Anna and Simeon were real people who finally saw their hopes birthed in Jesus. It really all happened

Don't get me wrong. I hadn't been having a faith crisis or anything. This was simply a new level of 'knowing'. It was as though it almost became my own memory. Think of the Israelites, who told their stories over and over and other cultures where stories of the past are told - it becomes part of their cultural memory. It wasn't just a story that happened to someone else at some other time. It happened to their family.

It's a bit like the ownership we start to take of our ancestors when we find out more about them. Even if we never knew them, their story becomes part of our DNA. I have been sensing this particularly with members of my family tree who were involved in Christian ministry or mission - there is a greater level of affinity. (Although, I am not sure what this says about a large proportion of Australian people who would like to find they had convicts in their ancestry!)

Back to my own journey, this experience was not simply an anomaly or blip along the way. It tied in well with another insight I sensed from God around the same time.

This was to do with hope. I was reminded again of my own story and the realisation there are two ways to hope in God.

One is the belief that it is all about our ability. The belief that if we can cling tightly enough to God, we will get to the places and circumstances He has for us; we will be ok. But we have to do the work to cling to Him, to press further into Him. I recall the picture He gave me some time ago of how I had been when my first marriage ended, where I was like a little child being taught to float in the pool. Even as I was told, "lay back and relax, I've got you, I won't let go", I was clinging so tightly that I wasn't even in the water! My fear of the unknown, the future was preventing me trusting that God had it all under control.

What I sensed Him reminding me was that hope is not all about us. It is not even about our ability to hope.

Hope is about rest.

If we hope in God, it is not vain hope. It is hope at rest. We know He is good, we know He is able.

The alternative to hope is hopelessness, which can lead to despair. When we make hope all about our workings, then when those things we would like to see come about don't, we quickly fall into feeling powerless in our ability to do anything. Which, really, is the whole point of faith and prayer. It is the recognition that we are powerless to make God do anything, to change many circumstances we find ourselves in. 

As I was doing my Lenten readings the other day, I didn’t get past the first few words of one of the Scriptures. As I read it, I just wanted to stop there and soak deeply in what God showed me. It was so freeing! The reading was from Isaiah 9:6-7

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders…Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.”

It is Jesus who shoulders the responsibility of the governments and the governance of every aspect of our world, human as well as all the physical, chemical and biological laws and so on. 
So often, we feel as though we have to do something to change the world, we despair of where it is all heading and live in fear of the future. This reminded me that Jesus knows and has already done something about it

We are not the answer. He is. 

We can work hard at all sorts of solutions, but unless He is in the midst of them, unless they are His ideas, they will be temporary fixes at best. True transformation – of individuals, of communities, of our world – only comes through encounter with the risen Christ, encounter with the Kingdom of Heaven. 

For me, this has become a resounding hope. I can look around at what is going on in our world: millions of refugees; another mass shooting; the effect of pornography, drugs and a permissive culture on our young people – on it goes, and find it easy to despair and wonder how it can change. However, two words keep resounding in my mind: 

“BUT GOD…” 

It doesn’t matter how big the problem or need, God is way bigger and He can change everything in an instant. We just have to connect with that close relative of hope, and TRUST His impeccable timing and His perfect ways to bring it all about!

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Meanwhile, I’m off to hang the washing out.

"And this hope is not a disappointing fantasy, because we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us!" 

(Romans 5:5, Passion)

Thoughts for 2018 - The Wind of the Spirit is Blowing!

“Listen the wind of the Spirit is blowing” 

This line of the song “Go Forth”, by Graham Kendrick, popped randomly into my head the other day and I found bits of the song running through my head all day. When I asked God what it was about, what He wanted me to know about it, immediately I had the thought of the Spirit blowing to shift and move God’s people. 

A friend once had a bbq where each of the hot rocks had its own little groove to sit in. I saw that God’s people could be like those little rocks – content to sit in their own little spot, maybe getting hot, but not moving anywhere or really interacting with the other rocks. They may input toward the ‘cooking’, but there is potential for so much more. 

For some Christians, it won’t take much blowing for them to get moving, but for others, the ‘wind speed’ and strength has to get higher to get them moving. Some resist completely, and soon, I believe, they will get left where they are, to their own detriment.

For those who are prepared to come out of their comfort zone and let go of what they are holding onto (which could be anything from beliefs about who God is, what He is like, to who they are called to be, what God created them to do, beliefs about how the world works and so on), as they start to move, the moving will become easier, and they will start to go “where the Spirit moves them”…It is about the laying down of our own will and submitting to God’s will. 

I was reminded of Ezekiel (1:20), where the ‘living creatures’ went wherever the Spirit went. There was a sense that as we are freed by the Spirit, there will be a freedom of movement – instead of following and pleasing other people, or even being inhibited by them, there is freedom to do what the Spirit calls us to, and there is no friction, no resistance, no barriers, so it is very quick, to the point of being instantaneous. We are right there where the Spirit wants us at the right time and ready to do what we are called to.

Even as I was thinking about this, I realised that as the ‘rocks’ were being moved by the Spirit, they were ‘rattling’, which made me think of Ezekiel 37:7, where there was a rattling sound as the dry bones came together, and eventually life came back into them. I feel that this is what God is desiring – that His people would be open to His “rattling” and “moving” us from our places of comfort, from our “nests” to be freed up to move as the Spirit moves, to go in whatever direction He calls us to, to be so filled with the new life He has for us.

I believe that this is something God is calling us to now and that there is a coming increase of His life in His people way beyond what we have seen before. It is up to us whether we allow Him to  shift us or not.

Are you aware of the Holy Spirit nudging you? And are you prepared to allow yourself to be moved anywhere and lay down your own agendas and those things stealing your time and focus from God in order to have space to be filled afresh? Are you ready for the acceleration?

We are His children, the fruit of his suffering
Saved and redeemed by his blood
Called to be holy, a light to the nations
Clothed with his power
Filled with his love

Go forth in his name, proclaiming "Jesus reigns!"
Now is the time for the church to arise
And proclaim him "Jesus, Saviour, Redeemer and Lord" 

Countless the souls that are stumbling in darkness
Why do we sleep in the light?
Jesus commands us to go make disciples
This is our cause
This is the fight

Go forth in his name, proclaiming "Jesus reigns!"
Now is the time for the church to arise
And proclaim him "Jesus, Saviour, Redeemer and Lord" 

Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord

Listen the wind of the Spirit is blowing
The end of the age is so near
Pow'rs in the earth and the heavens are shaking
Jesus our Lord
Soon shall appear!”

(“Go Forth”, Graham Kendrick, Copyright © 1990 Make Way Music)
 

Valiant Endurance

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Glancing up out of the window as I worked, my eye was caught by a movement. As I shifted to see what it was, I realised a small, almost translucent spider was hauling his groceries back to his home up in the eves. I say hauling because the insect he had spun his thread around was enormous compared to him. He was so confident and self-assured, never doubting his ability as he darted further up his line, pulling the load up another centimetre, and then down again, checking the insect wasn’t breaking free, casting another few intricate lines around it, and then up again, hauling again, and so on.

As I watched, the word “valiant” dropped into my mind.

Taking some photos of something that is a well-known phenomenon, but one I rarely see, I thought about what God might be saying to me about this. I reflected on what it means to be valiant.

It is not a word we use much lately. In fact, I think it is one of those “c” words that are regularly dismissed in our current climate. And before you get worried, I am talking of character.

A conversation we have had on numerous occasions with our children, especially as they have got older is about the importance of character. It is not a discussion that has always been appreciated. Character seems to have become a dirty word in our society today. Gifting and looks have so much more appeal and are much easier to see.

Unfortunately, it is not just a societal issue. I have been in a number of churches where people are often praised, honoured and uplifted for their giftedness, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, it is rare we talk about the value of character and integrity, and even rarer that we would honour someone for having good character – can you imagine it: “And this week, we just want to highlight a couple of people for their character and integrity. John did really well at removing himself from the room when all his colleagues were looking at pornography at lunch time, and Betty didn’t lose her temper once, even when someone cut her off in traffic.”

Character is not easy to measure and can be really awkward to praise. It tends to be much more obvious when it is lacking!

So my valiant little spider piqued my interest, as this is not a word we often hear.

However, it did connect in well to another word God had given me just the day before.

As I asked a friend how she was doing, she responded, “Oh well, you know.” Straight away, the words, “Your feet are on the rock” came out of my mouth.

Over the next little while, more bits and pieces were added to this in my head. First it was Psalm 40:2, “He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand”. This was closely followed by the words to the song, “Made me Glad” – “He has set my feet upon a rock and I will not be moved”.

What stood out to me most in this is that we don’t get to stand on the rock, we don’t get that choice.

HE has put our feet on the rock

So often, we can feel as though we have to do all the hard work, the “heavy lifting”, to keep ourselves from being swept away or blown around by shifting winds. This impacted me so strongly: we don’t have to work hard to stay standing on the Rock – He is actually holding us there.

How does this link in with the valiant spider?

The definition of valiant is: “possessing or showing courage or determination”.

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Personally, we have some circumstances going on in our life at the moment that we have great faith for certain outcomes, and total peace about them. However, the resolution of these situations is seeming a long time coming. We are tired. We have had enough. We would really love to move into the next season. But we are still waiting.

In the middle of this, God has reminded me of two things. One was a dream I had nearly twelve months ago where we were searching for buried treasure. When we found where it was hidden, we had to screw off a metal plate with a special tool. We kept turning, but every time we thought it would open, there was still another turn. However, eventually it did open.

The other memory was of a picture God gave me of Jesus tying sandals on my feet. They were like Roman soldier’s sandals, with straps up around the calves, which He tied carefully and firmly. The idea was that these were shoes to give stability and help me to walk for a long time without getting tired or sore. It was a reminder that He has already given me what I need to get to the end.

Reflecting on this, I realised that this is something of the nature of God He is showing me. He has already gone ahead. He knows what we need well ahead of time and gives it to us so we can succeed on the journey He has for us. I sense that Still, Small Voice speaking into my soul,

"Be valiant, little one. Continue in the courage and determination I have given you, in confidence that it will be more than enough to get you through."

Finally, He gave me one more picture. It was of a surprise party. This was the end point. There is a party at the end. And even if you are like me and don’t like surprise parties so much, this one is perfect, as God knows exactly what we would like for the perfect party: the right food, the right entertainment, the right décor, atmosphere and guests. We are guaranteed to have a great time. All we need is the courage and determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and just like my little spider friend, we will get home.

"I will bless the Lord forever
And I will trust Him at all times
He has delivered me from all fear
He has set my feet upon a rock I will not be moved
And I'll say of the Lord
You are my shield, my strength
My portion, Deliverer
My shelter, strong tower
My very present help in time of need"


Hillsong - Made Me Glad 

Are you above the law?

For some years now, I have been asking the question of which is more helpful: the transformation of societal structures and laws or the transformation of hearts.

While some I have talked to have immediately stated that it is not an either/or question, I do believe that there is an element where the transformation of hearts must take precedence over our laws and structures. This is not to say that laws are not important. In terms of protecting the weakest and most vulnerable in our society, they are vitally important. However, without transformed hearts, we will always look for ways around laws that are inconvenient to us and as a society, we will always be fighting a losing battle against others who want to do the same.
This brings me to current issues in many Western nations. One of our greatest battlegrounds at this time would appear to be around the issues of changing a variety of laws in the name of progression.

As I have watched the debates rage on social media and the like, I have wondered what part I should play.

Do I lend my ‘great wisdom’? Do I proudly state my stance? Do I stay in the background, keeping myself safe from the melee? 

Discussing this with a friend, she shared a picture God had given her just that morning, which she has given me permission to share further. (Interestingly, as I shared this picture with a third friend, she told me that another friend of hers had been given the same picture!).

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The question my friend asked God was what her role should be in these discussions. The picture He gave her was of the Titanic. There were three groups of Christians in this picture. There were those who were down in the hold trying (ineffectively) to plug up the holes in the hull. Then there were others up on the deck enjoying the music and ignoring the fact that the ship was about to sink. And the third group was busy helping people to get into the life boats.

Even as my friend shared this picture with me, in my own version, I saw another huge ship pull alongside. It was immensely bigger and had everything that anyone could ever want or need and was perfect. It seemed to glow (no words to describe it), but I knew this ship was God’s ship. It is His promise that there is space aboard His ship for all who want to join it, that His ship is truly unsinkable – we need have no fear in the face of our current ‘ship’ sinking.

Just as people believed about the Titanic, there are those who believe that Western society’s structure is great and the best form it can be, that it is ‘unsinkable’. I think this is a false view. While we can be quite scathing about the Titanic and the arrogance of people who think they have got it all worked out, I do believe that we can have the same attitude towards ‘the way the world works’. We can think that we can work it all out and make it ‘fair’ and ‘happy’ for everyone – well, at least the ‘everyone’ who matters to us.

The problem as I see it is that much of the foundations our society has been built on are shaky or unstable. While some of them might seem good, or even appear to come from Godly principles, without the right hearts behind them, many laws and societal mores can simply become (or feel like) a big stick with which to beat people with.

Although Jesus came as the fulfilment of the Law and to make it perfect, there is an aspect in which this can simply take us back to being like the Pharisees (lawyers) of Jesus’ day, making rules and regulations as the benchmark of who is in and who is out.

Jesus was completely against this and had many harsh words to say to those who tied heavy burdens to those who could least deal with them. (Matt 23:1-12). We must be very sure of our own motives – are we trying to prove ourselves more righteous and knowledgeable than someone else at some level? Are we trying to force them to live up to standards that we ourselves don’t keep? Especially when they don’t even believe the same as we do.

My reading of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”, particularly the passage from Matthew 5:17-48, is that Jesus is pointing out how difficult it is to be righteous. Who has never wanted (at least at some level) to kill someone else (or that someone else would do it for you), or never looked at someone and thought they were more than a bit ok. And then Jesus goes on to lift the level on the things we should do as well. I don’t believe we can truly do many of these consistently without His help and grace.

Adding to this are Paul’s writings reminding us that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23-). He continues on to suggest that rather than helping us to be good, the Law actually shows us how much we fail. It shows that we don’t have it in us to do that which is right. In a nutshell,

laws don’t really help us become better people – they are really just mirrors to show us our failings.

So what is the answer?

There are two things that come to mind. 

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The first is Galatians 5:22-23: (you might want to (re)read what comes before this, too)
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

The lead up to this passage is all about freedom. Rather than freedom to do what we want, though, it is freedom from the need to indulge ourselves or “self-comfort”. When we are free in Christ, we are free from the screams of our bodies, emotions and minds to make us feel good (as well as those of others). However, we have to submit these things to God, which brings me to the second thought.

Why do we struggle so much to bring these desires to God?

In my own experience and the experience of numbers of friends, what is often termed our “sin nature” is largely an outworking of the places within us that are impacted by brokenness and damage we have sustained, either from what has been done to us, or (just as often) what we have perceived about what has been done.

There are numbers of ways this manifests in our lives. It can have its foundations in fear and self-protection and these may be expressed through irrational anger or withdrawal, or a combination of both. It may be through acting out sexually or through food, drugs, bad moods, manipulation and control as we try to get our needs met in inappropriate ways.

We can try hard to change these behaviours and at times may succeed, at least to a degree. However, if we never deal with the wounds beneath the behaviours, we are at best managing them. In my own experience, I have had significant healing in a number of areas which means many of those behaviours don’t need to be managed anymore. They have gone completely.
I think we get stuck in the space of law because of our tendency to like what we are able to measure. It makes us feel safe to know what is acceptable and what is not.

We are not too dissimilar to the Israelites. They liked the comfort of knowing exactly how to behave so much they added another 603 laws to the 10 original ones God gave them, just to make sure they were doing the right thing. In our hunger to have it nailed down, rather than sharing our relationship with God with others, we have turned the Good News into a behaviour code.

This is something I have struggled with most of my Christian life. I came across a statement from Daniel Kolenda a number of years back that put it into words perfectly for me. He said that far too often we give people an explanation (the ‘Gospel message’) with no experience, rather than giving them an experience that requires an explanation

Perhaps it is because we have only given intellectual consent to the idea of the Gospel without experiencing its power ourselves that we cannot share it with others. If (when) we have experienced the transforming power of the love of God personally, we cannot help but share it. And when we come from this position, we are far less likely to make others live up to a series of rules to be right with God. Rather than trying to be good enough to come to God, we can allow His loving kindness to lead others to repentance and allow the Holy Spirit to be the One to convict. We can let go of our need to judge others.

The end point is that we have a choice to make. We can rely on laws to make us feel safe, either in our beliefs or in other ways, or we can rely on God. If we decide to trust in laws, even those from the Bible, to give us our sense of safety and security, either in this life or the next, unfortunately we will be let down. As Paul says in Romans 8, it is not the Law of sin and death that can bring us life and make us righteous, but the Law of the Spirit (which is the Law of Love), that gives life to all. And above such things, there is no Law! Each of us, then, has the choice to live above the law. 

In the end, we make a choice – we choose to live under the law (whatever that looks like and all it entails), which brings us death or we can choose to live above the law, not only living the true abundant, free life ourselves, but bringing true life and freedom to others. Are you willing to put the law to death in your life?

 “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:13-15)
 

Made yourself comfortable?

We bought a new mattress recently. When we tried it out at the store, I was ready to go to sleep on it there and then. It seemed so comfy and supportive.

Our old mattress, in my husband’s words, had a canoe on each side where we slept. Slight exaggeration of course, but you get the picture. However, for all its faults (and old age), it was comfortable and sinking into my ‘canoe’ at the end of each day seemed bliss.

And then the new mattress arrived. Out went the old. Going to bed that night, it felt so FLAT and I wasn’t sinking into my familiar hole. As much as the mattress felt comfortable in the shop, back in our own surroundings it didn’t seem quite right.

Looking around at what is going on in our community, our society and the world can often make us uncomfortable. What we see can leave us feeling distressed, fearful, unhappy, anxious and worried about what the future might hold. 

In this place of dis-ease and of discomfort, it can be easy to seek after our own comfort. We may use alcohol, getting a bigger house or car, holidays, food, chocolate, sex. We may bury ourselves in the safety of relationships with family and friends, seeking to live in denial of the problems – like the proverbial ostrich with our heads firmly stuck in the sand, seeking only our own comfort as the answer.

Unfortunately, the promise of those things is fairly hollow. In the long run, the external ruses we use to self-comfort ourselves don’t last. Reality has a way of sneaking in on us and stealing those comforts we think we have won for ourselves. Material indicators and circumstances will always let us down at that point where they can’t give us the answers we seek.

So how do we live? When is it ok to have some comfort and when is too much?

I grew up in a family where we were regularly encouraged to think of those less fortunate than ourselves. Although there is nothing wrong with this in many ways, we can also be in a space where we deny ourselves self-care, rendering us burnt out. This line is one that I am still working out, although I have a sneaking suspicion that it is a moveable line, one that is not set in stone, and nor is it the same for each of us. I don’t think, either, that it is something we can work out on our own – we need God’s perspective as well.

So when I come to asking the question of what is ok in terms of my own comfort and what is too much, it is really difficult to measure. We can look at those around us – living in the wealthy community that many of us do – and believe that we live at a much lower standard.

On the other hand, we can look at refugees in Syria, or those living in areas ravaged by natural disasters, or those who live in countries full of poverty and corruption and feel as though we should give it all away.

Perhaps the issue is less about what we do or don’t have but our attitude to it.

A measure I like to use is “can I live without it?” If the answer is no, then it probably has a higher hold over my life than it should. I like to think about various aspects of my life, from the material goods, to relationships and experiences and ask the question of how I would cope without these. If I feel that I couldn’t, then I have to ask a further question of how much my dependence is on that object, relationship, particular food, and so on and not on God, who has promised to supply all my needs.

The truth is, too, most of our dependencies (on relationships, food, goods) have come out of negative experiences. We have either struggled without them, or we are using them to mask other, deeper needs.

At the base of these fear often resides – fear of how we would cope without whatever it is, or fear of discomfort and pain. Sometimes it takes the removal of these things to show us that we actually can cope and even live well without them.

Sometimes, it is not until we are in the place of discomfort that we realise we have been relying on the wrong things, on the wrong person. We realise we have molded circumstances and stuff around us to protect us from pain and all they have done is frozen us into a position that is neither helpful nor healthy. We have come to the point where we are immobilised for further action or even to break out – just like my comfy mattress was doing my back no favours and was really difficult to get out of in the morning!

And, of course, fear is the opposite of trust.

Do we really trust God to supply our needs? Do we really trust Him to turn up? Do we really trust He knows best and cares for us, even when it all looks wrong?

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