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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you remember your first love?

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

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

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

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

“We love because He first loved us.”

“First love”!

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

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

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

before anything was created there was love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We love because He first loved us!”

 

 

Got protection?

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

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

So why do they work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the answer?

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

How do I actually engage with God as the answer?

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

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

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

 

Can the dry bones of the Church live again?

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

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

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

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

In our disconnection, we have lost our life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is the answer? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 17:20-23

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)
 

Promises, promises

Some brides choose hideous dresses for their bridesmaids to ensure they don't upstage the her on the Big Day.

But most are far more interested in their own dress than much else...

...Well, perhaps apart from their groom!

Weddings are big business and the price women are prepared to pay to look their very best on their wedding day is jaw dropping. The cost and effort put into wedding dresses can be exorbitant. A cynic would suggest that you wear it for a few hours on one day of your life, and then it gets shoved into a box somewhere, maybe only to see the light of day when any daughters you might have are old enough show some interest. 

For my mother, this storage place was her glory box, a beautifully carved wooden chest made for her by my father.

As she is now in the process of moving to a smaller home, I have been helping my mother clean out. She particularly asked if we could go through her glory box together. In amongst old school books, baby clothes, cards and other memorabilia was her wedding dress. As we pulled it out and looked at it, with all its lace and tulle, (and there is an vast amount of both!), she wondered what to do with it. 

On one hand, I feel that it has some importance as it is nearly 60 years old - my parents married in 1959. As it is now a vintage item it has some historical significance.

However, as I brought it home and looked at it, I was struck by another aspect to this significance.

I realised that her dress is actually a tangible reminder of far more than one day, of far more than a ceremony and a party.

The thoughts and feelings my mother had when she and her mother chose the dress and when she wore it; all her hopes and dreams for her life ahead seem encapsulated in this dress. And then, it is also symbolic of the commitment two individuals made at the beginning of the road to becoming one.

This dress is not just an interesting relic of something that happened long ago, but has come to represent all that occurred in the ensuing years; not just about a wedding but about a marriage, about children, about grandchildren and about all the bits between. Sure, not all of it was perfect, not all of it was happy. But much of it was, and much was the fulfilment of the promises made on that day. 

In an era where marriages lasting the distance of life are not so common and perhaps not even cherished as much, I wonder do we really understand the importance of promises or vows that are made?

What does true commitment actually mean? Even when vows are made with heartfelt passion, how many people are prepared to stick to their promises after the passion fades? And is it even important?

Do we really comprehend the vast impact and possibilities of promises?

Having been through divorce and experienced the ongoing disruption of broken vows on family, on friends, on children, revisited at each new life event, I see promises as powerful. While we might make them lightly, or even without much thought of the consequences of our failure to keep them, there is no lessening of the capacity they possess to influence the lives of many.

So often our promises and commitments are contingent, though: I will as long as you do; I will as long as I feel like it; I will as long as you make me happy, or it is convenient. I will forever, but if I am not happy, I will make sure you aren't happy either.

And there can be a tendency to carry these attitudes and beliefs over into our relationship with God. We are committed to Him when we feel like it, as long as it is convenient or comfortable, or while we need Him. And when it is not, we cast Him aside or ignore Him, with no concern over the wider impact.

Fortunately, God is not like us.

Although some of God's promises in the Old Testament were conditional, many of His promises actually require nothing of us. They demonstrate that He is faithful to us and to His word no matter what we do or don't do. His faithfulness and His passion for us never ends. We may not want to connect with these or with Him, but it doesn't change the way He feels about us. We can't do anything to deserve more from Him, or to deserve less.

And like all promises and commitments, our interactions with God's promises may have greater consequences than we ever know.

"The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does."

Psalm 145:13