Grace distributed

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.

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not yet good….

We are currently in the midst of a mission/training/pilgrimage program called the Fusion UK Summer Experience. As part of this we are following a daily journal that myself and my colleague, Anika put together. The psalm on Friday was the 84th psalm – a classic pilgrim song. I was struck as I read it on Friday night by one of the last verses:

‘No good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose walk is blameless’

I have struggled over the last months, coming to terms with the feeling that God has withheld some pretty important, good, things from me throughout my life and also in recent times. Some of them things which I have felt he had promised. Does this mean that his word and even his promises cannot be trusted? Does it mean that God is not kind and good? These are just a couple of questions I have been living with.

As I read that verse, something stirred within me, the part of me that knows that God is good, he is kind and above all he is God ….. absolutely trustworthy. It occurred to me that things can be blocked and withheld from us in many ways, and for many reasons. But if it is God who is withholding something from us, we can be certain of one thing – the thing withheld is not good, or not YET good. Moreover, its not even a matter of doing and saying the magic, right things, our blamelessness has been taken care of in Jesus – if we trust and receive his gift of redemption.

So as I consider my wrestling and making sense of life’s happenings and non-happenings, I can be sure that in the fullness of God’s purposes, no good thing will he withhold from my life. If I feel something is being withheld by God himself, I can be certain that it wouldn’t be good if it were released in this moment as I would wish. When it’s not God who is withholding and in fact he has given us the promised land, there is often a very real sense of us needing to step in and lay hold of it.

What things has God freely given to you that you need to access and lay hold of? Are there things that he is withholding from you? … perhaps they are not yet good….

Talitha

Sallie came across as we walked in her direction. Of all the ladies we spoke to this evening she was one of the best dressed, she wore good quality make up and her hair was nicely done with highlights. The conversation was in Africaans, so I didn’t get much of it, Caroline stopped to quickly fill me in: ‘ Sallie had been working at the bakers but they soon found out that she previously worked the streets and so had told her they had no more work for her.’ This had happened a few times over the last few months, her ‘boyfriend’ would always turn up at the new work place and tell stories about what ‘she was really like’ and then the work would stop; she had no alternative but to return to the streets, believing what she was being told – that she was worthy of nothing more.

I picked up the gist as Caroline proceeded to tell the story of Rahab, a prostitute who had helped God’s servants and so been blessed – God honoured her and she became the ancestor of the great King David … and of Jesus, God’s own son. The message was clear as tears filled Sallie’s eyes – there is a God who loves and honours people as broken and cast off as she. The conversation continued and we ended with a prayer, we found a clean tissue and gave some homemade sandwiches; Sallie went her way and we moved on.

Sallie was one of about 10 ladies who between us we stopped and spent time with this evening. A little while ago, one afternoon, Sallie had got herself together and with her kids had headed off to the church. ‘Mum, where are we going?’ ‘We’re going to church, ‘cos I’m going to give my life to Jesus again.’ When they got to the church the person she was expecting to meet wasn’t there, Sallie returned home disappointed.

She is longing to return to Jesus but she’s not sure if she can count on the people at church. If she goes will she be introduced as ‘one of the ladies we minister to on a Tuesday night down town’? Will she ever find the fresh start that she so desperately wants. She approaches every glimmer of hope braced for a revisit from her past through well-meaning and malevolent means alike; expecting the bubble to burst at any moment.

The ransom that Jesus paid for Sallie’s redemption was his life, in no universe can that have been in vain. But the powers of darkness and our own well-meant ignorance can sometimes create a perfect storm through which that redemption has to push in order to meet its mark.  Will the body of Christ stand up and push back the darkness so that Sallie, her kids and the hundreds in your neighbourhood like her, can find the life that Christ purchased for them?

Talitha Koum – little girl, get up.  That’s the name of this group because they believe that inside every lady that they meet on the street is a little girl that Jesus is gently calling back to life again.

Brokenness, fellowship and growth

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!

November

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.

 

Re-entry – crash and burn!

It’s hard to imagine that exactly seven days ago I had just returned from my week’s break in Malta. Taking a week’s complete break in the midst of a busy life was a first for me – I have to say, at age 39 that is not something I am particularly proud of – what I wasn’t expecting though, was the entirely foreign experience of re-entry. By day four after returning it felt as if I had been back for 2 weeks already and Malta was a distant memory! On reflection I realised it was because I was attempting to achieve 2 weeks work in 4 days. A friend reflected that I seemed to be working faster than had done for months. I spent most of the last week feeling pressured, frustrated, anxious and ended the week exhausted. I have concluded that I didn’t do the re-entry transition so well!

I have just finished a phone call with a friend. We were sharing together this powerful dilemma in which we and many others find ourselves. We each have a God given purpose or assignment – multiple ones would be my guess. And God has given each one of us gifts and skills, intelligent minds, curiosity and imagination, networks, access to information and the ability to problem solve. He has given them all for us to use towards our purpose… he didn’t say ‘now switch them off and go for it!’. My question this week though, is how do I live the life that God has called me to, with all that he has given me to live it, without doing it all in my own strength? How do I do it in his strength – without falling into the trap of sitting there like a lemon?

I shared last week from Malta’s history about the Knights of St John. It’s interesting that they started out as a catholic order expressing God’s kingdom by running a hospice offering care and hospitality to the poor and needy. Then things changed and they moved to bringing God’s kingdom through force and battle. It is not mine to judge, my point is that I see a lot of me in that. I love God and I want to see his Kingdom come, but sometimes there is a fine line between doing things His way, in his strength and doing things more or less his way but in my style and strength… which turns out not to be so much his way after all. As is always the case, nothing any of us can do will derail God’s purposes or stop him from being Lord of the Universes, he still uses our mishaps and detours, our best and our worst efforts, and he speaks to us and reveals his nature to us through it all. In the story of the Knights and in all our stories I guess, amidst all the human endeavour, we can see glimpses of God hand at work calling us on a pilgrimage to find him and discover what we were made for.

The picture i am getting is that there is a way of doing life, its the way God meant it to be done and I didn’t quite find it this week, I hope to find it soon. My hunch is that its not necessarily slower or less exciting, but rather less frustrating and much less exhausting!

Shalom at Easter

Easter and Christmas are funny times! There’s the excitement of public holidays, time off work to spend with friends and family, going for long walks or doing those ‘bank holiday jobs’ that usually get left till ‘next time’. Then there’s the niggling reminders that the holidays are in actual fact, sacraments – a practical reminder of a profound reality.

This morning as I started the day I came across the words ‘ For Christ himself is our peace’ (Eph 2:14). Yesterday a precious friend and I were sharing the journey we had each taken over the last year. Both of us coming to the end of our thirties, the journey of the last decade has been pretty different to what we had known 15 years ago. There has been and continues to be a lot of waiting, waiting for God to answer. Waiting requires patience, but when, like me, patience is not in abundance, waiting comes all mixed up with frustration, disappointment, disillusionment, doubt, faith and the odd ray of hope! We shared the reality of the struggles of this way and its resulting deepening faith and trust in a faithful God who truly knows.

Today it was good to take a moment in midst of all the waiting and emotions that accompany it. To quietly consider something of the ‘via dolorosa’ that was just a small part of all it cost for me to be able to say to the God of the Universes; ‘Abba, Daddy – God’. As I did, in that moment, I knew again that the God who chose to give everything just so that I could be restored to him, would hold nothing back that made for my Shalom. Shalom, the peace of God, everything coming into its rightful place the way God designed and intended it.

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. The past can be over, a new life and creation has begun, God is unfolding his purposes, bringing everything into its rightful place as he designed it. I waited patiently for the Lord… for he himself is my Shalom. (Ps 40:1/Eph2:14)