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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He's never going to stop!

Relentless.

This is the word that came to mind as I stood out on the rocks at the edge of the ocean.

I have always loved going to the beach, but particularly ocean beaches. There is something innately attractive in the raw power of nature. Spending the weekend in an amazing house where all the windows looked straight out at the ocean in the middle of winter holds its own attractions – being cosy and warm (with the fire going), watching rain rush across the bay chased by bands of sunshine and the accompanying parade of rainbows is soothing to the soul and refreshing.

However, standing at the edge of the ocean on one of our long walks, with the pounding of the huge waves upon the rocks, I felt a little intimidated. You hear stories of people standing that little bit too close when a freak wave comes up and they are claimed by the powerful force of the ocean.

As I stood there, I felt God saying that this is His creation. Think about that for a moment. Dwell on it.

God created this powerful, relentless, cleansing, refreshing overwhelming force that is the ocean.

When we create something from our own imagination, it generally reflects something of ourselves; how we think; who we are. So it is with God. His creation, as we reflect on it, as we dwell on it, tells us much about Him.

The ocean often speaks of His power and might, but 

the power and might of the ocean is dwarfed by His power and might.

His power and might become inconceivable to me at this point. A bit like Job, when God tells Him all the things He created – who are you to question Me? We too are dwarfed by comparison, even with all our self-importance and belief in the significance of what we do or don’t do.

But in the midst of this reflection comes another thought, a reminder. God’s power is not about Him being a megalomaniac; it is not about control, coercion, or even competition.

His power is in His love.

The waves of the ocean this weekend have been relentless – even as one breaks, the next one and the next one and the next one and the next one just keep coming. We cannot think to hold them back or even influence them one iota. God’s love and the power of His love is even more sure. Whether we acknowledge it, are able to accept it, or even want it, His love toward us is relentless. What we do with it is up to us.

For some of us, we like to sit up in the house on the hill. We can watch from there, but the roar of the waves is heavily muted by the glass and the impact of the ocean is almost negligible to us, other than the enjoyment of watching it ebb and flow and the beauty of its raw power. But we don’t want it to change us or cause us any discomfort, so we stay where it is safe and comfortable.

For others, perhaps we like to get more up close and personal and a brisk walk along the beach is more our scene. We can hear and feel the pounding of the surf, smell the salt and the seaweed, connect with the impact the ocean has had on the environment, bringing beautiful gifts of shells and soft sand for us to enjoy the texture and colours. We can explore at the edges, rugged up against the chill and being careful not to get our feet wet.

Today I was reminded of my own tentativeness towards God’s raw power. Part of me was ready to dive in for a swim in that beautiful ocean, even though the water was only an icy 15 degrees or so and the wind chill was fierce. The idea of stripping off and feeling the refreshing, cleansing, invigorating power first hand was somehow very attractive. Standing on that rock watching the waves pound and their spray rise metres into the air, though, I felt that little finger of fear as well. If I fell, if I was washed in, would I too be pounded into the rocks? Would I be hurt, damaged, broken?

I think that we all have times when we hold back from God because we sense His power and the fear rises up that we may lose something of ourselves that we value or want to hold onto (like our dignity, or control!), or worse still, that we might feel pain and even find ourselves broken.

Looking back over the past couple of decades, there are a number of times where I see that I was in that powerful ocean, being taken places I had no control over, even feeling quite pounded and at a number of times, completely broken. While I can’t say that they were great times, there is a point at which I am glad I went through them. There is a point where I found that pushing into and past the pain brought me to a new place, a place where I have been remade, renewed, refreshed. And while I may have felt I lost my dignity at times, it has still been worth it.*

Even as I write, I am reminded of giving birth. My daughter was born after a long labour, in the end with the assistance of forceps. At the point of birth, there were around 10 other people in the room, all watching what was going on - talk about losing your dignity! However, all that fades into nothing with the new life that was birthed through that process. It is the same with us as we go through the process of letting go of our control and allowing the relentless power and force of God’s love overwhelm us again. What is birthed through those times is invaluable.

In ministry, we often work with people in the process of letting go of stuff that has been their protection and helped them feel in control. Moving through the process of forgiveness and release to the other side can be really scary and painful. There is no guarantee when you are in that place that it will be better on the other side. As much as I know it will and experience with so many others has shown this to be true for them also, I can’t prove it to you. You have to experience it for yourself.

Are you ready to stop and allow God’s relentless love overtake and overwhelm you?

*If you are interested to know more of my journey through this, why not check out my book, "Handing Back Control".

Are you a gold digger?

As we were chatting about our lives the other day, a friend told me that God had been encouraging her to “dig for the gold”. As I thought about what this meant at a deeper level - it challenged me too - several thoughts came to mind.

One of them was from her comment:

“Sometimes you’ve got to look past an awful lot of dirt”.

I am painfully aware at times of my proclivity toward seeing dirt. And I don’t think I am alone here, either! It is so easy to see what is wrong with others, what is wrong with circumstances, what is wrong in our relationships and lives. And we can tend to think that, “If only there was not SO MUCH dirt, it would be so much easier to focus on that gold”.

And of course, gold has that intrinsic worth and value. It seems so desirable - not just for its beauty, but for what it can do for us, the doors it might open.

Many years ago, back in the very early 80’s when it was a bit of a craze, my dad hired a metal detector and took my brothers and me out around Castlemaine, to an area covered in old gold mines. It was to be a bit of fun on a Saturday, not to mention the need to get five kids out of the house so my mother could sleep after her night duty as a nurse.

It was not nice bushland particularly, being dry, rocky and scrubby. There was nowhere to rest or just enjoy the view, no amenities. And of course, only one person could use the detector at a time. The others spent time deciding on where would be a good place to look, where we would find the illusive gold.

Although in many ways I found this quite a boring day, one thing kept us going – the hope that we would strike gold. Not because we wanted to be rich or were thinking of all we could do with the money from gold (well, ok, maybe there was a little of that), but because that was our goal. We were there to find gold and that was the unspoken promise from the machine: this will help you find gold!

But why is gold so valuable? Why is it a commodity that so much else is traded on? I always remember the verse (from the Larry Norman song, “I wish we’d all been ready”) about a loaf of bread being able to buy a bag of gold in the end times, at a time when food, when basic necessities would be so scarce that they would more valuable than “riches”.

As I sit here typing, I am looking out across a beautiful bay, with the wind chasing alternate rain and sunshine across my view. Rainbows come and go in amongst them, a sight that often brings to mind the fabled “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow. But a rainbow is also a promise.

Like the symbol of the rainbow – the promise of gold, the promise of hope - perhaps life is very much about continuing the chase for that gold. But, if we only ever see all the dirt (and there is an awful lot of dirt), if we keep focussing on just how much dirt there is, we do lose faith; we lose the hope for something different, for something precious to come out of that dirt.

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul shares about how we “face death all day long”, and the idea that this is opportunity for the life of Christ to be shown in us. He goes on to say (v17, 18),

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

What is in your life at the moment where God is calling you to look past the dirt to find the gold, to even hope for the gold? Is it a work stiuation, or a relationship – that person who is frustrating you or just unhelpful; maybe it is another circumstance where all you can see is the rain and wind and what is not.

Maybe He is calling you to see that this is the place where rainbows - with all their promise and hope dwell.

We each have a choice, moment by moment, through our lives: will I choose to focus on the problem, on what is not? Or will I choose to hold on to hope for the gold that God has promised and just keeping digging?

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When your fear is bigger than your faith

“…the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

It was such a beautiful morning.  Although it is Winter and quite cold, the sky was a brilliant expanse of blue and the sunshine enhanced the colours of the garden. The grass was greener, the lingering Autumn leaves flashing their hues of reds, yellows and oranges making the view even more vibrant.

Down in the valley, though, everyone was still under the cover of cloud. Heading off the mountain, I drove down into, and then below the low-lying cloud to a day with no sunshine; to a day of misty, drizzly grey that seemed to drain all colour and joy away. What a difference a little perspective makes.

I was reflecting on the different perceptions we can have as I looked out the car window a while back. I took a photo of the cloud as it seemed to speak to me of how we could look at what is going on in our world. What struck me was the darkness of the cloud – it drew my eye toward it. But then, even as I watched, I saw the streaks of sun pushing out to the sides. It reminded me of those cartoons, where one character is trying to squash and hide another, but bits keep popping out the sides and between the fingers. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot hide something bigger than himself.

In a time when we seem to hear bad news only to be replaced by more bad news, when the negativity seems to come at us from all angles, it is easy to live like the view in the valley is reality, or like myself, focussed on the darkness of the cloud. Both these images reminded me of the well-worn quote: “It’s always sunny at 40000 feet.

On social media many people seem to thrive, or at least continually focus on how bad things are. Even many Christians seem to live under the cloud of fear of what is going to happen next. Much of what is reported is often misreported, false or exaggerated, but even so, no matter how big or how dark the clouds of bad news get, we don’t have to focus on them. There is still another Truth. We can remember that the sun is still shining above, that God is still sovereign.

"...perfect love drives out fear..."

We have a choice and it is one that we need to make every day, sometimes moment by moment. Are we going to focus on the negativity, the difficulties, the scary stuff, or do we choose to focus on God, the One who is bigger than it all, is trustworthy, faithful and true?  

What do you do when your fear gets bigger than your faith? How do you connect with perfect Love (1 John 4:8) to cast out your fears? I’d love you to share your favourite tool for beating fear here.

Just give me the formula!

Years ago, in another lifetime, I was a maths teacher. What can I say? I like the order of numbers, the known outcome - there is an answer that is right. Maths can be comforting in its safety of black and white. 

One of the struggles my students had with me (and I with them!) was that they would say to me, "Just tell me how to do it, just give me the answer." They too wanted the safety and simplicity of the known and predictable. What I wanted for them was to understand the process, the underlying methodology and reasoning, because when they grasped  that, I knew they could apply it to other problems and scenarios. Hopefully they could recognise problems that were similar and extend what they already knew and understood into new problems and new scenarios.

Wanting a simple answer is not just confined to the classroom, though. Perhaps it is a quintessential part of being human. I am reminded of Arthur Dent in the "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" series asking for the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything (and finding it is 42!), or the Israelites at Sinai telling Moses, "Just tell us what to do so God won't smite us, and we will do it, but having a relationship with God where we need to listen to Him is just too scary for us." (Exodus 20:19)

There was a desire for a formulated way of living, without having to get involved in the mess and uncertainty of relationship.

I think we tend to transpose this way of thinking into our own lives when we hit tough times, when we come across a problem: "God, just tell me the answer, tell me what steps to take to produce the outcome I want". 

I was confronted by my own desire for this more recently. In discussing something going on in my life, a friend suggested a message she had found really helpful that came with a process which, in turn seemed  to promise a secured outcome. I dutifully watched the teaching, went through the process and waited for the outcome. Which didn't happen - at least not as I was hoping! 

Reflecting on this and seeking God in the midst of this, I realised, again, that while process can be helpful and good, there are many times in life and relationships when the cookie cutter method will not produce cookie cutter results. But why?

Part of the problem is that although my issue, my difficulty may have all the hallmarks of being the same as yours, when people are involved there will always be differences. We are different. Our experiences are different. Our journey and what we need to learn for it and from it are different. We may be heading for the same thing (being closer to God), but we also may be coming from entirely different directions, complete with different landscapes and challenges. One size will never fit all.

There is a part of our make up, though, that continues to chase after the tried and true method. It is why advertising is so powerful and effective: "Got this problem? Our product is the answer and we can prove it - look at all these people." 

We do it in church as well: "Got this problem? Just read your Bible more/pray more/journal more/be part of a home group/go to this conference/read this book/hear this speaker/follow that teaching. All of these things have their place and may be helpful. But the problem comes when we choose process over relationship. We tell God we want a guaranteed outcome with minimum effort or pain. But in relationship, free will (our own or others') can trip up the best laid plans.

And even using a cookie cutter my cookies rarely look exactly the same, and definitely don't look like yours, so why should I expect that with the rest of life?

So I come back again and I choose relationship, with all its mess and unpredictability, over process. I will allow God to be God. I will have faith in His great wisdom, His vision, His understanding and knowledge of what is best. I will take the path that is my own, rather than the tried and not always universally true path of others. I will wait and hold on, even though there are no guarantees I see today, and even though today, again, it all looks wrong. I will again lean not on my own understanding, I will submit to Him and I will trust Him to make my path level.

"Trust in Adonai with all your heart; and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him; and He will level your paths."

(Prov 3:5,6 Complete Jewish Bible)

What is the bird in my hand really worth?

When I was a kid, we went through a phase of playing treasure hunts. Depending on our mood, one of us would either make a map, or bury clues along the way with the next set of directions.

They didn't always work out perfectly - our steps were all different sizes. Sometimes we needed more than a little help from the creator. One time my younger brother made me one that had little "treasures" at every stop! Generally the treasure was simply one of our toys, often buried in a small metal box - the 'treasure chest'; but the journey of discovery and the excitement of what might be in store was most of the fun.

Treasures were on my mind recently. It started on the trip to the beach for a weekend away, where I found myself sharing the story above with my husband. When treasure came up again in a totally unrelated discussion, it got me thinking about why treasure might be important at this time.

Walking along the beach, I reflected that each of us treasures different things. Watching surfers, I could imagine the draw of finding the perfect wave, of catching the next ride. And then there were the many rock pools. I have always had an attraction to the treasures I might find in them, whether it be a crab, a fish, sea anemones or simply a pretty garden of seaweed and beautiful shells.

One of our discussions as we walked ventured into wild country. We dreamed a little of what we might do, what changes we might make in our lives - one of those times where we thought about what life might look like if anything goes.

It got me thinking further about what I treasure. What am I prepared to let go of?

Is there a treasure out there that I might miss without letting go of the one in my hand?

Am I holding on too tightly to belief in the old adage that what I have, the proverbial bird, is worth more than what could be? And when is it time to let go so we can possibly get hold of something else?

It reminded me of Jesus' parable (Matt 13:44-6) of the person who found a treasure in a field, and went and sold everything he had to buy the field. And then there is the accompanying story of the pearl of great price - again, the person sold everything to get hold of this pearl.

I have always struggled at a level with both these stories. What if the man got the field only to discover that the previous owner had removed the treasure before he took possession? And isn't buying that pearl a bit like putting all your eggs in one basket? Would you really give up everything for a pearl?

But maybe that is the point. 

Jesus was comparing these situations to the Kingdom of Heaven. There is a risk. When you give up all you have for something, there are rarely guarantees. I like to think that I would follow Jesus' trail wherever it leads, but at the moment I find myself wanting to know more. I have been a little surprised by my reticence toward one option; the sense of loss this idea leaves me with caught me off guard. Am I ready to let go of that much? As I find myself wanting to see a little more of the 'treasure' I might get if I let go of the treasure in my hand, I see that another trust upgrade is required.

And perhaps it also has something to do with challenging that 'good old' belief system of being content and grateful for all you already have, to not to be constantly wanting more. But perhaps what Paul said in his oft-quoted verse about being determined to be content in whatever circumstances is less about staying in one place (physically, emotionally or spiritually) and more about a state of mind in constantly changing scenery. Perhaps it is less about finding my little niche in the world and building a nest to be comfortable in, and more about taking and finding the comfort and peace of the Kingdom wherever I find myself.

Is this really how the dream ends?

Our Good Friday celebration was an interactive "Stations of the Cross" experience. It was challenging, meaningful and at times deeply moving. At Station #11, we were encouraged to reflect on what Jesus' disciples must have felt as they watched Him die, as they laid Him in the tomb. This poem by Cheryl Laurie was shared to help:

You think this is what’s best for us?
They humiliated you on a cross.
And we’re humiliated too, because we put our trust in you.
No wonder Peter denied you.
Maybe it wasn’t out of fear, but out of sheer, bloody rage
that this is how the dream ended.
How can you think this is what’s best for us?
We put everything we had into you.
Our trust.

Our belief that you were the one who could save us.
You offered us a taste of welcome,
a hint of grace,
a touch of freedom.
For a moment we glimpsed a new world,
and you promised an eternity of that.
And we trusted you.
We’re left wondering which is worse
– that it ended like this
or that you knew it would end like this
and you took us with you anyway.

Of course, we know that the disciples mourning turned to joy a few days later. The story didn't end there. I can't help but wonder, though, if this poem doesn't resonate deeper with many of us. It certainly did with me.

There is a level at which we can struggle in this walk with Jesus. Sure, we have had an encounter with Him at some point. Maybe there are a number of points at which we have encountered Him in a deeply meaningful and personal way, where He has touched our hearts and transformed us, turned our lives upside down, to the place where we think we will never be the same again, where we sing for joy, where we leap and dance in our freedom.

However now, right now we walk in a place where it feels as though the sun will never shine, where we feel like the breakthrough will never come, where we can feel like death has won the victory, and we have nothing left; that we put all we had into this walk, into this relationship with God, but somehow, at some point, He has let us down. He hasn't come through with 'the goods' as we were expecting, that we would like. He hasn't done what we thought He should. And it hurts. 

It might be with our marriage, our kids, our workplace or career. It may be our health, or the health of a loved one. We have put all our hope in Him being our breakthrough, and it hasn't happened. We feel the dream has died and we are left like a child holding the empty string of our popped balloon, feeling dismal and disappointed.

Where are you now, God?

So what do we do with these feelings?

For many of us, we hold onto hope. Maybe it is only really public hope - we put on our "Sunday-go-to-meetin'" faces, giving the expected appearance of a "good Christian", but at home, we take it out on the cat, the dog or anyone else available. Or we hold it all inside, quietly dying; day by day our soul shrivelling and drying up.

For others, we do the opposite. Our hurt and betrayal are so complete that we display them for all the world to see. We either reject the notion of God altogether, or we paint Him as a tyrant  or megalomaniac, out to cause us maximum pain, or just plain powerless and useless, like the Wizard of Oz.

There is no easy answer for this space. However, on Saturday I experienced a parallel in the physical as we went mountain climbing.

The route we took up to Sugarloaf Peak in the Cathedral Ranges was the harder one, with many a rock climb. At several points, we had to squeeze through the crevice between two rocks while climbing near vertical rock faces, without ropes or other climbing equipment. The one in the photo was such an example to me of the difficulties and despair we feel in some of our circumstances. As I looked up where we needed to get to, all I could see were huge boulders, sheer rock face and difficulty, with a pin point of light at the end. I presumed we could get up there, because others had been before us. Whether I could do it...well, let's just say I was hoping determination would get me nine tenths of the way. The other tenth I wasn't so sure about and did my best to ignore. 

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Looking up at the way ahead, I could not see at all how I was going to get up there, where the footholds would be, or what position I would need to be in. There was no obvious way up. I just had to guess that when I got to that next bit, I would be able to see, or I would work it out. And at some points, it took me a few tries to get into a position where I could actually lift myself, so I could inch my way forward. There were times that I wasn't sure I could keep going; that I would make it through, but I knew it would be at least as difficult going back, and if we went back, I would miss getting to the summit.

Even when we got through that massive crevice, there were still more almost impossible climbs up vertical walls and another crack between two rocks where we had to lever off both walls again, with few foot and hand holds.

But when we got to the top!

The sense of accomplishment, coupled with the 360 degree view was almost overwhelming. I just wanted to stay there. I could completely relate to the disciples, when they were on that mountain with Jesus and they wanted to set up camp there - although perhaps they were just like me amd secretly concerned whether they had the energy and strength to go back down! 

The point of this story is that we can look at our situations and not see a way ahead. We can feel as though that pinpoint of light (or hope) is too small, or is non-existent. We can wonder if we have the strength or stamina to get through it, to make the journey, or if we even want to.

What kept me going this day? Well, I did have a trusty companion with me, who gave me the occasional hand or leg up as well as verbal encouragement. I was not alone. I also knew that many others had gone before me and had survived, had made it to the top. Some of them I had even heard up ahead, and some, as we came to the last climb, were up the top cheering us on. Knowing that these walks are open to the public, I had faith in our parks management not to allow people to go ways that were too dangerous or impossible.

I think these are valid points for us as we face trials and struggles not of our choosing (or that we'd rather not be facing). We need others with us who can give us a hand sometimes. We need to come out of isolation on our journey and find others to share it. We also need to look to the stories of those who have gone before us, who have had similar experiences, and maybe even learn a little from their experience. And we need to trust that when we get there, we will find the next step, the next position to enable us to keep moving forward, to trust that God will provide a way, even when all we can see ahead are boulders, blockages and darkness. When we find ourselves in that dark and impossible place it helps to stop and remember: 

it may look like Friday, but Sunday will surely come! Just hold on and take the next step forward. And I will stand with you in hope, faith and a little experience that what we get to see at the end is worth it all.

 

 

I want to sleep like a baby...

Driving home up the hill the other night, I caught a whiff. One of those infinitesimal whiffs that leave you wondering if you actually smelled anything or not. But it was enough to take me back in time.

For many, this smell is considered unpleasant, and it must be said that it is pungent. However, for me the faintest smell of cow manure, mixed with hot, sweaty cow, mud and milk, took me back to my earliest years. And the feelings that were stimulated were of peace, comfort and freedom. I was immediately taken to a time when life was simpler, when there were few responsibilities or expectations from others. 

This experience tied in with one of those gentle nudges I have been getting from God in a number of ways. It was the reminder that being part of the Kingdom of God requires us to be childlike.

“...unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
— Matt 18:3 (NIV)

The Amplified version says: "unless you repent [that is, change your inner self—your old way of thinking, live changed lives] and become like children [trusting, humble, and forgiving], you will never enter the kingdom of heaven".

As I have thought about what it means to be childlike over the years, I often return to the idea of freedom from responsibility; the space where I can just stop and not have to do all those things I see others as expecting from me. Its a hard place to find at times when we have "adulted" for so long that we have really forgotten how to lay down all our burdens. We have long since embraced the belief that if we don't do it, no one will, or that it won't be done properly. 

Sometimes, I have to ask myself the question, "So what"? "What will happen if it is not done?" Many things I see as being vital are really not. 

And then there is that four-lettered word that keeps cropping up: REST.

We so long for it, but are generally so bad at it. Maybe that is why we are so wistful, even emotional when we look at a baby sleeping. How much we would like to sleep like that baby, without a care in the world, in complete confidence that Someone else will take care of us, Someone else will always be there. But do we really believe it?

The problem we really have with rest is trust.

To rest, I need to trust that everything will be ok if I am not rushing around sorting it.

When I make myself the answer, when I am what is required, two things happen. One is that I take way more responsibility than I was designed for, which is pretty exhausting in itself. The other is that I deny God. I deny His ability to sort it without me and I deny Him the opportunity to do it for me.

It is tough. I know. I wonder, though, if one of our biggest reasons for taking responsibility for so much is that we have been disappointed so many times in the past, either by other people or by God. And it is not that they have let us down in their promises necessarily, but in our expectations. 

Earlier this year, I went through one of those times where I was feeling a little distance between God and myself. As I asked Him about this, He showed me that I had been building a few expectations of Him around His promises and my timing. When things didn't turn out according to my expectations, I had become disappointed in Him. 

Underlying these feelings and behaviours is the belief that I know best, that I can see clearly and that God should do things my way and in my timing. As soon as it is said, or recognised, we generally realise the folly of this. It is only in living from the place of complete trust in God's goodness and faithfulness that we can rest properly and then we get to sleep like a baby.

 

 

How many apples in your seed?

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This summer, lobelias have miraculously appeared in my garden. Their pretty blue and white faces greeted me by my backdoor over a period of days until I finally recognised the irregularity of their existence there. I hadn't planted any for at least ten years.

Obviously, these plants did not grow out of thin air. The previous plants left their seeds behind. But why did they decided to grow right now? The weeds have not had a problem growing in the intervening years - why didn't the lobelias grow?

Two things stood out with the potential to suddenly spark new life from these old seeds. 

The first was that my husband replaced the retaining wall last year. Soil was shifted around, turned upside down. There was disturbance in the environment of the seeds.

The second was that we have had an unusually wet summer - more water to make it more suitable for these flowers to grow.

As is common for me, I felt God reveal something, to even give me a promise through what I see in my garden. It has a few parts.

The first is that we can feel as though we sow seed and sow seed and rarely, if ever, see much fruit or result from our efforts at times. I felt Him showing me that even when seeds we sow don't immediately produce a harvest, they are not wasted, that they can sit dormant in the 'soil' for many years until the conditions change - maybe someone's world is turned upside down; maybe there is a deluge - and then, suddenly, the seed grows and produces beautiful flowers.

Secondly, we are not the ones who can make the seed grow. The season needs to be right, the timing and situation need to be in the right order. We don't always know what this looks like, nor what will bring it about. 

Finally, I didn't need to do anything to bring about this growth. I may get to sow seed, or even water it, but it is God who makes it grow (1 Cor 3:6).

All of this tied into a sense that has been growing in me over the last months. It started in Spring with a promise of greater fruitfulness; that the season of working hard for little fruit was over. We are starting to see that happen in the ministries I am involved with (and further afield), along with another promise - that it will not seem like work at all, but fun! Do you want to play too?

"This is my prayer in the harvest
When favor and providence flow
I know I'm filled to be emptied again
The seed I've received I will sow"

("Desert Song", Hillsong United)

Take a big breath, we're going deeper

When I was a kid, we had the joy of a backyard swimming pool. After learning to dive, my next favourite activity was seeing how far I could get underwater. However, I quickly realised that if I was too close to the surface I would pop up out of the water, limiting the distance I went. I could get much further by diving deeper, even though it was scary being too deep when you really needed to breathe!

Fast forward to more recent times...

One of my favourite songs of late has been Oceans (Where feet may fail), by Hillsong United. Singing this recently, though, I was confronted by the limitations I had put on what I would like this deeper to look like.

In many ways, my experience and faith have grown deeper. Doors of opportunity have opened and 2016 had many moments of joy and excitement; the blessing of being part of ministry to others where we saw God powerfully changing lives, bringing much healing and freedom. It looks as though this will keep expanding in 2017. (Hence my lack of presence here!)

However, in our personal life at home, there are a number of fronts where it seems that the breakthrough will never come. Some things just don't seem to want to shift. We keep hoping, keep seeing signs, and then...nothing.

As I have been seeking out what I need to be doing in this space and what the way forward is, I have been challenged anew by Father God. 

A friend had written that at the beginning of the year, she likes to seek God for a word that might be significant for the year to come. I thought that this would be an interesting activity, and as I wondered what word might come up for me, the word "Resilience" popped into my mind. 

I knew it was from God, as it was not something I had been thinking. And besides, I really didn't have a particularly happy response to it. After all, resilience has high association with difficulty and struggle, with hardship. I feel like we have been going through this in a few aspects for a number of years, and, quite frankly, something like fruitfulness or acceleration would have been more to my liking - can't we move on from resilience yet?

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As I have reflected further, as usual more has been revealed. Looking up the dictionary and word origin, resilience comes from Latin meaning "to spring back" or "rebound". The picture I have with that is the idea of bouncing on a trampoline - even as you fall back on a trampoline, you can use it to bounce higher, to go further. I sense that this is what God is challenging me with: rather than just holding on, or remaining upright, to use those situations that come up in life to press back into Him, so He can 'bounce' me out further.

Which brings me back to the challenge from "Oceans". Even as I talked with God about those things in our life that are not moving at the speed I would like, He explained to me that my disappointed hope was because I was placing parameters around events that were not His. I was setting time frames and outcomes that I wanted, that didn't quite match up with what He had in mind. Hence my disappointment and weariness. 

So, as I sang those words, "Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, where my faith will be made stronger", I felt a gentle nudge.

"What if going deeper is not all about 'exciting, life-changing stuff', but just about normal, everyday life, even the harder aspects of life? What if that is the deeper I want to take you?"

Gulp. Not the direction I was looking for. 

But I do have a sneaking suspicion, that as with all the paths Father God takes us down, it is one that is important, necessary for my growth and development, and perhaps even survival. Resilience, the ability to bounce forward, in tough situations enables us to continue to move ahead even in the worst scenario. Just like my ability to travel underwater without taking a breath increased with practice, maybe He is calling me to practice greater resilience in life.

In further reading*, I came across two pointers for the way ahead. The first was the idea that if God asks me to do more than I can (or feel I can), when I feel like I am at the end of my strength, He steps in. The example was used of Ezekiel (from Ez 1-2). When Ezekiel was confronted with the glory of the Lord, he found himself face down on the ground. He had no strength to rise. In the midst of this, God told him to stand on his feet. He had no ability to do this, but at the same time, the Spirit came and lifted him to his feet. I am to have confidence in His enabling, His grace me to get through.

The second pointer is closely aligned. The idea is that we are often so focussed on the final outcome we would like that we miss the seed that is being planted and growing. We are so hungry to see the whole result at once (and yes, sometimes that does happen!), that anything less is a disappointment. Instead of being grateful for seeing the beginning of the process of change, we complain or get bitter about what is not.

If I had set my goal in the pool as three laps underwater from the start and given up because I didn't even make one, I would never have gone any further. By celebrating the little signs of growth or change, I gained confidence and was energised to keep doing more.

How much more would we be encouraged if we focussed on the growth and change that is happening, rather than our failures and struggles?  

Staying safe and comfortable won't stretch me to grow, won't increase my ability. Re-framing my understanding of the struggles into growth means I change my attitude to what is going on. Going deeper into Father God can be scary if I am trying to hold on to me and my wants. I have to let go of my desire to breath on my own, if I want to get closer to Him. The goal and pleasure is that the deeper I am found in Him, the safer I am, the stronger I get and the further I can go. Time to take a big breath and dive in!

* Experience the Impossible, by Bill Johnson - I highly recommend it!

 

Relentless Pursuit

"Relentless Pursuit"

These were the words I found coming out of my mouth during a marathon four hour coffee catch up the other week (that didn't feel anywhere near that long!).

The discussion was about aspects of both our lives, and also encompassed someone passing who was encouraged by the snippets she heard of our conversation. As she shared the way God had broken into her life, had pursued her, I was encouraged with the affirmation that what He did for her, what He has done for me, what He has done for my friend, He can and will do for our loved ones and others, whether they seek Him or not.

The theme of Father God's pursuit of us has been recurring for me more recently and it continues to cry out for further reflection. It has been presented to me in song, in sermon and in what I have been reading on a number of fronts. 

However,it can be so easy for us to think our relationship with God is all about us, about our efforts. WE must spend more time praying, more time worshipping, more time reading the Word. WE must pursue God. And despite best efforts and beliefs otherwise, so many messages we hear from pulpits and every other media can reinforce this: If you want to be closer to God, then you need to do this; you should do that; you must do the other. And it's exhausting!

How much more restful would it be if we realised that so many of our problems in our relationship with God are not about what we should do more of, but what we should stop doing?

If we stopped believing that we are unacceptable to God, or unworthy of His love, how would that look?

If we stopped believing that we are responsible for making ourselves more Christlike to be acceptable to God, and recognised that Jesus has come to dwell in us through His Spirit, that His indwelling is the only mark of acceptability we need, what would be different in us?

If we stopped holding onto all the "Christian sanctioned" false humilities of thinking less of ourselves and minimalising our importance, gifts and dreams, where could we go?

If we stopped trying to hide all our imperfections, sin and brokenness from God, and faced Him with them, what new freedoms would we find?

I am so painfully aware of my own tendency to fall back into that pattern of thinking that I must be the relentless one, that I must chase God with all my being to not miss out, to catch up to where He is at, to where I "should" be. Instead, it is time to stop; time to rest; and time to remember that it is He who pursued me from the start and that it is He who continues to pursue me today. 

The Deafening Roar of Silence

I am an extrovert. Take away human contact for too long and I quickly cease to function well. My energy and creativity drop and the most mundane tasks become difficult. 

However, in more recent years I have also come to value time alone; time with peace and quiet. 

Fortunately, I live somewhere I get plenty of that, even though noise and people are never far away. But there are those times when I just love to decrease the sensory input. At those times, even music can be an intrusion.

Of course, not everyone is like this. I know many who rarely enjoy a really quiet environment. There are those who, to my amazement, love to have the tv or radio running in the background from morning to night. The idea of not having noise is isolating at best, for them.

For me, though, heading up to the mountains this week for a day of cross-country skiing was one of those welcome time outs. As we left the resort and headed up the trail, all noise of people, vehicles and generators drifted away behind us. Although there were the occasional other skiers, they quickly disappeared and we were on our own again. Eventually, we became aware that the only sound apart from ourselves was the thump and crash of ice and snow falling off the trees.

At one point, we stopped for a snack and a bit of a rest and just listened to the silence. Complete and utter silence. Not even the sound of birds. You don't realise how noisy life is until you are in a space where there is absolute silence. It was beautiful. I longed to just stay there, and if it weren't for the cold and the need to ski back to the car park, I could have quite easily set up camp and remained indefinitely.

As we stood and quietened even our breathing, listening to the sound of silence, the sound of nothing, I became aware of noise that wasn't noise. The words that came to mind were 'the thunder and roar of God'. I am not sure how to really describe it, whether it was just the awareness of His majesty in the beauty of His creation, or the fact that as all other distractions were stripped away, His sovereignty was somehow obvious - we were in the presence of royalty. It was like the majestic music from a movie, or even the reverberating sound check in the cinema. And yet, physically it was silent. It was one of those moments where I would have liked to build a little memorial, like the piles of rocks the Israelites left at places of encounter with God. Like a sign, "God was here".

We had been discussing the whole creation idea earlier in the day, what it was like for God to create from nothing, to dream up the ideas, the seeds of what it would all look like. My husband shared the thought that creation was an expression of God, it is a reflection of who He is, but more than that, He is within and through it. He permeates creation. He is the life blood that pulsates through it all. Perhaps this was part of the thunder and roar. Hearing His heartbeat in His creation. 

Sometimes we can hate the silence because of what we cannot silence - the voices of despair, of pain, of loneliness, of hunger, of anger or bitterness that scream out at us if we don't have enough other distractions. We can fill up our lives with other stuff so we don't have to deal with that which is too hard. Perhaps we don't even realise we are doing it, until silence comes crashing in on us. And for some, silence is to be feared, because we don't want to face that which dwells within. 

And yet, I want to promise, to give a commitment that what we fear, what we dislike so much can be exactly what we need. Like Elijah hiding in the cave (see 1 Kings 19:11-14), in pain and despair, longing for God to speak, make it all right - first there was mighty, loud wind; then an earthquake, then fire, before the gentleness and stillness of God came upon him. He wanted God to act strongly, to be loud and present and forceful, and yet God came in silence, in stillness, because this is what Elijah actually needed.

So it is with us. While we want to keep running from the 'demons' that chase us down, that haunt us, we stay exhausted; we are never free, never rested. We remain trapped in the lie that these things have power over us; that living in fear is the only safe way to live. It is only as we stop and wait on God, that His stillness, peace and gentleness can start to infiltrate us with His answers, His rest for us, and His freedom. It is in this place that we start to find what really defines us - is it Him or the world, Him or our circumstances? It is only when we cease striving to deafen the silence, we discover the space to find the One who truly defines us.

Is God Good?

Another mass shooting in the US, more bombings in Syria, floods, storms and earthquakes. Seeing the news makes it easy to wonder what God is up to. Where is He? Does He even care?

And lurking under these questions is another question; one that we hardly dare admit: 

Is God really good?

I know some who struggle with the idea of God’s existence and this is one of their biggest issues. If God is good, why does He allow so much bad stuff? Why doesn’t He step in and fix it? We might have our stock answers about free will, or even that He might ask us that question: what are we prepared to do about it? But underneath, if we are really honest, God's goodness is a question many of us struggle with. If all this horrible stuff is going on in my life and my world, can God really be good?

It’s not a new question, though. It actually goes right back into the Garden, right back in our humanity. The serpent responds to Eve with a direct attack on God's goodness - God is withholding something good from you. It is a tension we have been grappling with ever since, every time we feel our lives are not quite how we would like them. "God, you could do better for me. If you were really good, my circumstances would be different." We might not give voice to these thoughts and feelings, but they often dwell somewhere deep inside us.

It is vital we settle the answer to this question in our own heart. It is a foundational aspect of our faith, and if I doubt the answer, I will constantly battle with it and constantly lose that battle. If I do not have a deep conviction of God’s goodness, my circumstances and what I see around me will continually trip me up in my faith. If I doubt God’s goodness at any level, this is where I will put more faith in what I see in the natural than in God. Put another way, when I believe with all my being that God is good, I have a different perspective on what is going on around me.

I recently read a blog about the Israelites having to walk around the walls of Jericho 14 times before the walls did anything, (When the Walls Don't Seem to Move, by Allison Bown). The walls didn’t start to crumble or shake or do even sway in the breeze until the final lap was done. Allison suggests that the battle many of those people were fighting on those seven days of walking was actually in their hearts and minds. Did they really trust God? He had told them what to do, but would He come through? They were investing a great deal into this – time, faith, energy, their reputations! What if it didn’t work? 

I started to see some of my circumstances through the eyes of this marching around the walls. The promise is there, has been given, has been reinforced a number of times, but there are not even any cracks beginning to show. Nothing seems to move. In fact, some of those walls seem to be getting bigger, getting stronger. Do I keep marching, or do I try something different? Maybe I heard wrong? Maybe I should be using a cannon while I walk, or a sledgehammer, or some dynamite, or, or…maybe I just give up and go home because it is all too hard.
And so I come back to this question:

Is God good?

Because if He is, if His word lives up to His promise, then it is a game changer. If I can really trust Him to come through, to cause all things to work together for good to those who love Him, (Rom 8:28), then I don’t need to look at the exterior, to what outward appearances would seem to say. I can have confidence that He will work His good purposes and plans to fruition. I just need to continue to do what He asks me.

In the face of difficulties, in the face of catastrophe, disaster, horrific circumstances, we each have to settle this question for ourselves. 

Is God good? 

If I am not 100% sure, if there is any part of me that struggles to hold on to that belief, then I have some work to do. There is a place that needs healing in me, there is a place I am still allowing fear to reside, a place where I believe what fear says rather than God. I have to break up my partnership with fear. I have to end the deal I have believing everything fear would say to me, and renew my partnership with God. I have to allow Him and His Word to soak into those fear-filled spaces. After all, perfect love casts out all fear. And there, in that place, where His love floods over and through me again, I am able to say with all my strength and conviction:

YES. GOD IS GOOD!

 

Faulty Lenses

 Photo: (C) Ruth Embery

As I sat to have some quiet space with God, the first thing that came to my attention was a tall gum tree in the middle distance of my view. As I asked Father God what He wanted to say to me, I felt the question come back: What do you notice about this tree, what do you see?

Unpacking the implications and message contained in what I observed, I felt that God was showing me about myself. I found myself struggling to accept some of the aspects of it. However, a past conversation with God came to mind. It was a time He gently told me that I was not how I thought others saw me, but in truth, I was how He saw me, which was quite different.

Looking at the tree with clear eyes, I can see it how it really is: growing straight, strong and true, very healthy. However, if I was to put on a pair of ‘funny’ lenses, that were distorted in certain ways, the tree could appear bent, wobbly or even upside down. Although it may look like as though this was an accurate representation, it would be false.

The point is. if we view ourselves through the lenses of the world, through the way we receive messages from those around us, we are at risk of having a deformed view of who we are. Those lenses can distort our view of ourselves. Unfortunately, we tend to believe those messages as reality, as the truth.

To see ourselves truly, from God’s perspective we have to be willing to give Him the lenses the world has given us. Then we are ready to see without the distortion. This is not always easy. We can feel as though we are “thinking more of ourselves than we ought”. But this way of thinking also keeps us trapped and small.

I physically enacted out giving God my distorted lenses, and as I did, I saw them break up in His hands, turn to dust and dissolve. I then asked Him to tell me the truth of how He saw me and He gave me a number of words that I can embrace.

This was not something just for me, though. It is an activity open to any who choose. Are you ready to give up your distorted lenses so you can see yourself clearly through the eyes of your loving Father God?