We have just returned home from a remarkable week away with the national leaders from across our movement. I went into the week with a strong hope in what God would do amongst us but no clear picture of what the journey or the outcomes would look like; by the end of the week I felt like child, wide eyed with wonder, who’s parent was showing them round a new exciting adventure park! Much of what happened is not for me to share in this forum, however there are a number of things I have been exploring recently that came together in high definition for me during the week; these I will share.
I have heard it said that God often reaches us through those he places around us. Till a couple of weeks ago I have believed this to be true only of the common graces like encouragement, provision, confirmation, direction – that sort of thing; it couldn’t possibly mean the more fundamental graces like God’s forgiveness or his act of redemption or his self-sacrificing, love… could it?
Just a couple of days ago a hurt happened between myself and a friend. We had to put it right. As we talked honestly, sharing our weaknesses and exchanging forgiveness, I realised something significant was taking place. It wasn’t just my forgiveness that I was releasing, it was Jesus’ forgiveness. I wasn’t just receiving my friends forgiveness, I was receiving the Father’s. Suddenly in that moment, ‘forgive us as we forgive others’ and ‘if you forgive anyone sin’s they are forgiven, if you don’t they aren’t’ made perfect sense. I felt the reality of God’s forgiveness and grace in that moment.
The giving of forgiveness not only releases us from emotional angst, it actually releases something in the heavens. ‘Whatever you lose on earth will be loosed in heaven and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.’ God makes you and I the deliverers and distributers of the most precious gift of grace that he created for us. If I was God I would make sure it was hand delivered every time, I would not trust another soul with that task, after all it cost me my whole life and an eternity of suffering. He obviously thinks otherwise!
So, over the last two weeks I have seen in ways both small and big how your selfless love for me keeps me in the Father’s love and how, when you forgive me, I experience heaven’s forgiveness and grace.
This morning I was thinking about how uncomfortable living and working with others can be! Its like the person who said ‘I have no problem being holy when I am on my own!’. Doing life with others, at least authentically, is kind of like living life under a massive magnifying glass so that all your blemishes and brokenness are made clear for all to see. It doesn’t stop there, in that place I then have a choice, I can protest, deny and defend out of my brokenness, and remain in my dysfunctionality, or I can surrender to the light and to the fellowship and hopefully find grace and healing.
Each week I meet up with two amazing women, one is in Tasmania and the other is in Perth Australia, we connect over skype for about an hour. In that context we can each share what life is like. In the light and love of fellowship I can share my frailties and how I rail against them. The interesting thing is that in the sharing and receiving we also minister grace and truth and life to one another. Sometimes things are explicitly said that call us back to the cross, other times we just talk, cry, laugh and pray, but every time I leave more aware of God’s love and forgiveness and more aware of how he continues to grow me, never giving up or leaving me.
When we have a physical wound we usually need to expose it to some extent so that it can take the journey of healing; it needs to be rubbed or kissed, cleaned, strapped or splinted, stitched or left open to the air. Sometimes for our inner brokenness to be healed, it needs to be deliberately exposed to the blood of Jesus. It appears that the way God meant that to happen was in fellowship with others.
‘If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we will have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness’. I have been pondering those words for a couple of years and I think I am understanding them better, slowly!
It is November 2011, I am in Poatina village, Tasmania. My heart is somewhat heavy as I consider the journey i find myself on with my brothers and sisters, as I consider the future… as I sense the depth of God’s compassion towards us, his unequivocal, complete response to us on the cross. And I pray these words:
We have become weary of soul, we have done unwise things, we have lost our joy in your presence and we have lost our sight and vision, we have not seen clearly.
Father would you bring your word to us once again, that we might together be revived again, that we would know the moment and be wise, that our joy in you would be restored and we would once more see clearly – see you, your path and each other.
- The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.
- The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple
- The commandments of the Lord are right bringing joy to the heart.
- The commands of the Lord are pure, enlightening the eyes.
God’s word, that is Jesus, brings life, joy, wisdom and vision.
It is July 2012, I am in Oxford, UK. My heart draws strength as I read and pray these words again and consider that although we have not yet reached the destination, we are not where we were, and God’s compassion has not wavered.
We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to about 15 people on Wednesday! They all came up to the front of the hall (in fact I was one of them) and the community sang an extended round of the Happy Birthday song with everyone named by name. it had been more than a couple of months since we had all met together in the hall for community tea, so there were lots of birthdays and things to celebrate! It was nice to be together for no other reason than to share a meal and celebrate our shared life.
Looking round the hall I was reminded of what a special place this is. Old and young, weak and strong – and lets face it, we all have our weak days and our strong days – each called to be here, part of this peculiar family, making their unique contribution to its community. i am so grateful to be part of this band of pilgrims! The last couple of years have knocked the stuffing out of many of us, and each one is on our own unique journey of recovery and rediscovering God’s heart again. This means that living together isn’t always straight forward, but there was a call, a hope, a dream for each of us that brought us here, and it helps us hang on – even when we lose sight of it. So each day there is so much to celebrate as each one does the very best they can with the resources that they have in each moment; a smile, a kind word, just simply turning up for work, or having the humility to admit our own frailty when we can do no more. It is an honour to live amongst such people.
Some days I imagine the cross of Christ lifted up high above the community. It’s as I look to the cross and remember the breathtaking act of grace that was my own complete redemption, that I am reminded that with God all things are possible – forgiveness, healing, love and restoration. Its in the shadow of the cross that i find the grace I need to get up again when I’ve taken a tumble, its in its shadow that I dare not withold the grace that I have been given. We have to look to the cross – like the Israelites looked to the pole with the bronze snake on it and were healed. Whatever path it is God has you and I on, the more I live and observe, the more I realize that without the cross it wont work, it’s simply part of the design.
I am still reflecting on my trip last week to KwazuluNatal and Johannesburg, and I think I will be for some time! The last time I had seen many of those we met in KZN was January 2010 just before I left for Australia expecting to return 7 days later. Things didn’t work out as I had planned and over a year has passed before meeting again. I wanted to go and meet with my friends who may have felt let down by me, and to extend a hand of friendship again. Well actually, a part of me wanted to do that, another part of me, the part that fears conflict, felt positively nauseous at the thought! There were many that I didn’t manage to connect with but I was bowled over by the warmth and open heartedness of those with whom we did.
I guess I am reflecting again on the unique way in which God made us. Have you ever been in the situation where someone has wronged you, but as soon as they apologize it stops being a big deal? When relationships are broken and trust has been damaged, when I am prepared to come together in honesty and openness, grace and freedom seems to flow. It’s as if we have all been made is such a way that truth really does have the power to bring freedom. If I can do the work to stay open and lay aside pride but speak the truth, together we will eventually move beyond the emotions and blame to a place of shared responsibility and reconciliation. This was what I experienced last week, and I was humbled and instructed by the journey.
It does make me wonder though, I wonder if it would have been so easy in another culture? South Africans have been on a truly remarkable journey, less than a generation ago the nation suffered a type of systematic rape, since the end of apartheid, the journey of truth and reconciliation and the task of rebuilding trust in a traumatized society remains large. But the theme that keeps coming through is the remarkable resilience and capacity to forgive, the desire to rebuild relationship and to keep going with a smile.
We returned from our trip a week ago and during this past week I have been exhausted and very crabby; I have even earned the nick-name ‘Tiger’! But there have been moments when I have been present enough to shift to the place of humility where I know that I have nothing of worth to know or share apart from Christ’s redemptive cross and grace, and the strong eternal love of the Father; in that place nothing else really matters, and I am constantly amazed by grace not just from my Father but also from those around me who are just like me.