Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why I haven't gone to church this Easter

While churches every where expand with the holiday Christians, we - who go most Sundays - haven't gone once.


Firstly, I assure you it's not some deliberate boycott. We're not making a protest.

But to me it just doesn't seem that important to make sure I get myself to a church building at Easter.

I spend every day of my life thinking of Jesus' sacrifice for us - my blog is named after it - and every day learning what it means to live because of his resurrection.

I've met together with friends. We've broken bread (it was garlic bread) and there was even red wine.

Isn't that what being a Christian is about? Living daily in the amazing love God shows for us? And sharing that love with others?

I'm not saying don't go to church at Easter. It's good to be reminded of the story in full.

But I don't think not going this year makes me a bad Christian. Forgoing the tradition doesn't make it less real to me.

What do you think? Does it matter if you go to any church services over Easter?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Where's the fruit.

Maybe I'm too skeptical. Though many would say not skeptical enough. But when I turned on the TV this morning to the Christian channel and saw a moodily lit band leading a large auditorium of people in arm raising, eye closed worship, I thought...


Every single one of you is having an encounter with God that causes you to sway in rapture? Is it a real moment?

Or is it a feel good moment? One you could get from a good piece of chocolate if the mood was right, and someone dimmed the lighting just so....

I can't judge what is going on in people's hearts, though. And it's not as if I don't think that during corporate worship it's all emotionalism. I know God can be with each and every person in a powerful way. I've experienced it. Worship where I lay it all down and came away changed.

But there have also been times where I felt the warm and fuzzies, but I've been firmly planted in my own head rather than laying at the feet of Jesus.

And I came away on a little high, but I wasn't changed. Once away from that experience, everything felt as flat and empty as before.

And that's the difference. We can't judge people's hearts - sometimes even our own are confusing mysteries to us - but we can look for fruit. Are we being changed by our worship and glorifying of God?

And it's not because I think the purpose of worship is all about us - because it's not. But I know that when you lay yourself down and come in to the presence of God, you cannot help but be changed.

Not necessarily in big ways. It doesn't mean you should be going in like a murderer and coming out like a nun each time you get together and sing some songs. But if we are really being filled with the spirit during our worship, we should be seeing a bit more of his fruit. We should be a little more patient as we try to exit the car park after the meeting. We should have a little more joy on Monday morning when we get up to start the week.

Not because we've been inspired by great music and a rousing sermon, and are trying extra hard this week to be a good person, but because its the natural fruit of coming close to God.

If we're not seeing any fruit - not even just a tiny bit - what are we doing as we worship? Who are we worshipping? The people singing up the front? You could be mistaken for thinking that sometimes, the way we all face them and reach our hands out in their direction, like we think that's where God is standing.

Are we worshipping ourselves? Admiring the sounds of our own voices in our heads? Thinking how holy we are for lifting our hands a little higher than the person next to us?

Are we just carried off emotionally by the corporate experience? By peer pressure?

Maybe I'm being cynical, but I'm not happy to substitute and emotional experience for a true spiritual one anymore. None of us should be.

Lets not settle for just a great high like we are mindless worship-drug addicts.

I'm not saying everything is all wrong. I'm not saying that we should just chuck anything out.

But I'm not saying everything is all right either.

Let's all not just settle for emotion. It might make things quieter for a moment. It might not seem so exciting at first. Maybe you won't come away on a high like you are used to.

But then you will see the fruit. Then you will know that your roots run deeper than ever before. The changes we will see from real worship are better than a thousand mega-bands and technical light shows.

And the best bit - you won't need a room full of people, or even any music playing to come into the presence of God. You're living room won't feel empty when you worship there alone or with just a few people because you will learn to be filled with the real, life changing, heart changing presence of God.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

God cares about your ordinary

For some reason I find it much easier to believe that God cares about the big things in our lives than the little, ordinary things. (And I say 'easier', not 'easy' because I still don't always find it easy to have faith.

But I can pray about a big disaster or a major decision and have faith that God cares. But when it comes to the everyday, some part of me figures he's got better things to do.

But recently my 4 month old daughter's sleep switch seemed faulty. A wonder week they call it. But what it means is if you put her down it basically triggers her eyes to open... and the rocking and bouncing and feeding recommences.

I've been surprised at how little sleep I can actually function on since having a baby, and so I guess I just got used to it being the status quo. Just something I had to deal with in this phase of life. So I while I gave the odd desperate prayer, like 'God, please, please put her to sleep' I didn't really think about him being too worried about it.

Then just the other night I was gearing myself for another cycle of putting her to sleep, I thought - why wouldn't God care about this? It is affecting me negatively because I have no time for anything else; and when I'm tired I give less to my husband, less to my daughter, and less to anything else God wants from me. And if my daughter isn't sleeping properly, it could affect her mood and learning and growth as well. Why wouldn't God care about that?

So my only conclusion was that he would care. And if he cares about it, then I can confidently expect his help.

So I prayed. As I bounced on the exercise ball with my squirming daughter in my arms I prayed for peace, and sleep, and rest. Healing, growth-supporting rest.

She fell asleep within minutes.

And she stayed asleep.

Over the night I continued to pray. Any time she stirred when it wasn't for feeding, I prayed. And she slept. She slept in until 7.30 - the first time she has slept past 6am for a while now.

I don't know if I am conveying the real meaning of this - you may just be thinking - so... your baby slept? So? Babies sometimes do that...

So if my point is not coming across, I hope you will take my word that I could sense God with me all night, protecting my daughter even as I slept. His hand on us was so real to me, it brought me near to tears with gratitude in the kitchen the next morning as I considered it.

God cares about our ordinary.

He multiplied the loaves and fishes so people could do something as ordinary as eat food. Jesus used the ordinary in of everyday life in his parables to explain the kingdom of God. He walked and talked and had compassion on the ordinary people. Throughout the Bible God used the ordinary people to accomplish His purposes.

He not only cares about the ordinary, he created it. There is great value in your ordinary.

And I realised God was also teaching me a lesson. Have faith in the small to practise your faith for the big. Because even though said I find it 'easier' to imagine God caring about the big, that doesn't always translate into having faith that He will actually do something when I pray.

Even when God is calling us on to bigger things in the future, it is your faith during the ordinary that will make you ready for anything God has for you. If you can be trusted with little, if you can have faith when you pray for the small things in life, then you will be trusted with much when the time comes.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Then and Now

What my mornings used to look like.

And what they look like now...

With one obvious addition, they might look pretty similar. Except that what you can't tell is that cup of tea is cold and approximately every 30 seconds I'll reach over to put that green ring back in her hands.

Not much is the same after you have a baby. But I thank God that he is, and even though I have less time for sitting down for devotions, he finds ways to speak to me just the same.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

We are the church

I think we'd all agree that a hand is pretty useful, important body part. But that's only when it is attached to something. Alone and unconnected, your hand is pretty useless to you. It cannot fulfill it's purpose, and the rest of the body receives no benefit from it.

I'm sure you've probably heard this kind of analogy before and know where I'm going with it. The physical body as a metaphor for the body of Christ - it's a good one. Paul even used it. But it's pretty basic, Christianity 101. 

Well, it should be. But why does it seem like the basics are the things that we forget. Is it because they get crowded out by all the religious stuff we add to Christianity?

Just think, if I said to anyone, Christian or not, the word 'church', what are they going to think. Probably a building, a place people go on Sunday morning. (Or Saturday). Or just at Easter and Christmas.
What's wrong with this picture?

When Jesus said he would raise the temple again in three days,* he didn't mean a new physical building to replace to an old one. He was talking about the new dwelling place of God, with us. In us.

This leads me to two conclusions:

1. The church building is NOT 'God's house'.
God doesn't live in a building. We aren't going to 'pay him a visit' when we go there Sundays. 

He is with us always. Wherever we go, we are the church - just two or three together, there is God.*

Does that change the way you view your life and want to live your life if you think of yourself as the church? Whenever you are together with other believers, that is the church.

Could people tell that by our lives? Can they see God living in us when they look at us together?

And that brings me to the second conclusion...

2. You cannot be the church alone.

A hand detached from the physical body ceases to be of any use to itself or the body. A Christian detached from the body of Christ is doing no favours to themselves, and is being no benefit to the rest of the body.

We've go too many individual body parts floating around, disconnected from anyone else. No wonder people on the outside don't see a united Church when they look at us - just a bunch of dismembered people gathering in a building, pretending we aren't as handicapped as we actually are, while hoping we'll somehow get put back together just by being there.

Or not getting together at all, because we feel like there's no need or no point.

I don't actually blame you. I've known times where 'going to church' has been far more painful than beneficial. And sometimes it's even damaging. The church as a building is failing to live up to what the church is meant to be.

But the question of whether or not a Christian should attend church is missing the point. How often you go to a building and on what days is not the important thing.

The point is, if WE are the body, the needs to be a WE in some way. What that looks like shouldn't be defined by a building, but by the fruit.

For yourself - your life will be much more purposeful and fulfilled if you are connected and being part of what God designed you for.

For other Christians - we have all been giving different gifts for the edification of the body. When we are using those gifts, the whole body benefits. When we are disparate and disconnected, the whole body suffers.

For the glory of God - the early church grew rapidly and daily not because they saw a bunch of people going faithfully to a building once a week, but because they saw Jesus in his living body, the church, played out before them in the power of the Holy Spirit.

And that is my final point - God will build his church. It is not up to us to come up with the perfect model and mission statement. We've been trying that unsuccessfully for the entire history of the church.
God will build his church,* we just have to be there, joining with the body, willing and ready.

Even in a state of complete imperfection, even while we feel like we are not even close to functioning like we should be, I think it would make a huge difference if we just at least acted like we remembered this one simple truth -  It's not about the building. Wherever we are, we are the church. God goes with us.

How will that change how you live?

*Verse references

Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." John 2:19

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. Matthew 18:20

...on this rock I will build my church... Matthew 16:18

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Spiritual Heart Transplant

If you've never experienced heart problems before, you may not realise how vital it is for living life. Of course you know you need it to pump your blood, and if it stops you're in big trouble. But what about for living day to day life. Even when it's still going, if your heart is failing you can only live a shadow of a life. Forget playing sport; getting out of bed can be an impossible proposition.

So imagine a person waiting for a new heart. They are dreaming of being able to get up in the morning without difficulty, to climb stairs, walk the dog, play sport, play with their kids - live their life!

One day they get the call - there is a heart. They receive the transplant and a new, healthy heart beats in their chest. Life is no longer off limits to them.

Now imagine that person goes back home and just lays in bed again. They could live now, but they don't. They are just happy to know their heart works, but they don't bother using it.

Someone died for them to gain life, and yet they make no use of it. Wouldn't you imagine they would want to make the most of the new lease on life they have been gifted with?

Doing nothing seems crazy in that situation. And yet we do it every day.

The symbolic heart in us has been transplanted with Gods heart. Jesus died and rose again to give it to us so that we could have new life, and life abundant!

And yet we go back to laying in bed. We go on as if we have received nothing out of the ordinary. Just happy to get to heaven. The heart of God lies dormant in our chests. We are missing out on the joy and fullness.

Perhaps it is because we have lived so long with the old heart that we don't quite believe that it is possible that we can actually live differently.

Perhaps that person with the heart transplant is afraid of disappointment, of failure, of life not living up to their dreams and expectations.

Perhaps that is what we are afraid of. If we step out in faith that this new heart really has transformed us, that the power of God is in us... Will we be disappointed? The weight of disappointment seems far worse than the unrealised, shadow of a life we are now living, so we stick with what we know.

It's time we stopped wasting the gift of life we have been given. Jesus died to give us a transplant, to transform us. But the difference is that he also rose again and lives with us, to give us the power to live the full lives we have dreamed of. Being a Christian is about more than just making sure we get to heaven in the end.

Far from being disappointed with reality, we will discover that a life lived for Jesus is far richer and more satisfying than we ever imagined!

The old life is gone—and see—a new life has begun! (2 cor 5:17)

I will plant a new heart and new spirit inside of you. I will take out your stubborn, stony heart and give you a willing, tender heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit inside of you and inspire you to live by My statutes and follow My laws. (Ezekiel 35:26-27)

We Will Know When the Spirit Says Go!

If you feel God is prompting something in you, when you feel the spirit is moving in some way, when you feel something needs to change - one of the first things we ask is, "Is that really you God? Are you saying something?"

I believe a time is coming of renewal and refreshing of the church - the body of Christ. In many ways we have closed our eyes and our hearts to the real power and transforming love of Jesus that the first Christians knew. That needs to change. People need to know Jesus as they did, to have lives transformed, not simply a religious routine to rely on.

But how to you go about making such a change?

The answer is, you don't.

That isn't to say you decide it's too a big a job, would cause too much disruption and discomfort so do nothing.

It means, it's not up to you to cause the changes. In fact, purely human effort will produce only minor changes with just as many flaws as before, just perhaps under a different name and with different permutations.

We credit Paul with starting many churches in his time. But Paul did not create the church. God did. God sent his Spirit to us, which caused an irresistible drawing of people to Jesus.

What did those early Christians do until then? They waited.

And when the Spirit came, He didnt come as a whisper. They didn't turn to each other and say, "Did you hear that? Did God say something? What are we meant to do now?"

No! Into that room in Jerusalem came a mighty wind, and tongues of flame. It was a pretty obvious sign that the Spirit was there! No question!

And they began to speak in other languages, and it was so loud that others heard the commotion and were drawn to find out what was happening.

And numbers were added to the believers daily. It was an irresistible force. People witness the transformation, the love pouring out of them, and were drawn to Jesus.

There was no questioning, hesitation or doubt as to whether the Spirit was with them or what he was doing.

We can be assured of the same - when God revives his people, we will know when the Spirit says go! We won't be able to help it!

Until then, we wait. But remember, waiting on God is not just passive or idle. Much transformation and preparation happens during times of waiting. Seek after His heart and he will lead.

Learning from Hindsight

We all want to know what our purpose is. God, what is your plan for my life? When are you going to reveal it to me?

Sometimes there is a period of waiting before God shows us something. Sometimes God will reveal something specific he wants us to do. But something that hindsight has taught me, is at most often while we are waiting to discover the plan and purpose for our lives, it's already unfolding.

We expect or hope for a sudden flash of revelation. It could happen; Saul/Paul would attest to that. But looking back over my life I see the gradual gentle unfolding of God's plans and purposes. I didn't recognise it while I was in it, but in hindsight I can see such carefully crafted plans and moments and opportunities. I was walking in God's plans already and I didn't even notice.

We should learn from hindsight, and let it give us faith for this moment. No matter how many times I look back and realise, 'So that's what God was doing! Now it all make perfect sense!' I still tend to look back at the present and say, 'Ok, God, what now? Why aren't you doing anything now? I'm getting impatient!'

How quickly we forget.

We keep waiting for that flash if revelation about what our purpose is in life, and then off we'll go. But what difference would it make to you now if you could see that natural unfolding that is already happening? You are already in God's purpose.

You might only see it in hindsight, but have faith that he is working now. One day you might look back and see that insignificant conversation, that simple moment, those daly decisions all led you to where God wanted you without you even realising.

I used to worry about the decisions I made - 'God, how can I know which is the right decision? What if I make the wrong one and stuff it all up?'

But learning from hindsight I can see that many of the choices that mattered I made without even realising their significance. Especially when I was trusting God and tuned in to his voice.

Of course there will be some decisions that are important, times when we can choose to listen to God or to shut our ears, but they will be made plain to us. I believe that if in our hearts we want to follow God and hear his voice guiding us, even if we don't know how, he will lead us.

Learn from hindsight - look back and recognise the times God had been leading you even when you didn't know it at the time. Have faith that he is doing the same right now, even if you don't see it!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Don't fool yourself; You're not fooling God

You may have everyone else convinced, by your presence at church on Sunday, even by your closed eyes and raised hands.

But God's not fooled.

We know that God looks not at outward appearances, but at our heart, but somehow we still think if we fake it well enough, if we put up a convincing enough facade, that even God will be fooled into believing that we are 'good Christians'.

But God's not fooled.

No matter how Christian your life looks on the outside, if your heart isn't changed, you are missing out.

And that's the point - God is not scouring the earth for 'fakers' reading to take them down. He is searching, like a shepherd for his lost sheep, to bring you home. He knows that you are missing out on the real fulness, peace and joy to be found by knowing Him. You're missing it because you're too busy pretending you already have it.

Christian is not a synonym for perfect. If anything, it's a synonym for broken and in need of saviour.

Don't hide behind a facade of how you think a Christian is supposed to look, or behind a fear of really letting your guard down in case your life has to change.

If you are attending Church on Sunday to make you feel better about keeping your life exactly as it is the rest of the week, let me assure you - you are missing out! And God isn't fooled by it. He knows where your heart is. 

And he wants it - your heart. All of it. Not just the bit labelled 'Sunday morning'.

Your life will change, but it will be far better than anything you can imagine.

I promise you.

Don't coast through your life until you can 'get to heaven' The Kingdom of God is here now!

Don't be afraid of it. Perfect love casts out fear, and God is that perfect love.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Project 3:11 - Unexpected outcomes

Project 3:11 started as a simple experiment to go a year without buying clothes. I planned to take it as a time to think about the way I used my money, and consider how I could help others less fortunate rather than thinking about my own material gain.

But God had more in store.

Not long after starting my no shopping experiment, I became pregnant and most other things took a back seat to the beginning of my family.

I had to buy a few clothes, or I would have literally had to wear nothing once my belly got too big to just stretch my tops over. But I still limited my purchases to a minimum - I think I only bought a total of 5 pieces of clothing in the year period I had set myself.

Because of pregnancy and morning sickness and all that goes with it, I didn't really have a chance to explore the subject like I was going to but over the last year or so, both my husband and I have come to knew understandings and new attitudes about money and possessions.

It just goes to show that when God puts something on your heart, it is Him at work, even when it seems like life gets in the way. His purposes still prevail - we don't have to worry. We just have to be obedient and willing to listen to his voice. Once we let Him in, He does the rest.

My husband has even given up guaranteed job security to put his faith in God to provide, and open the doors He has said he will. We are not completely sure of the path God is leading us on yet, but we are open to wherever he takes us.

The results of listening to God's promptings often takes us to unexpected, but ultimately perfect places.

Sometimes the lessons can seem hard and maybe even painful - letting go of worry about what others think, of the guarantee of a steady income, going against the status quo... it can be scary to take that leap of faith. But it is often only a perception of coming pain that frightens us; in the reality after we do leap, we find no matter where it takes us God has already gone before and prepared a way.

We can walk boldly in to anything that God has set before us knowing we go with his protection and power.

So the unexpected results of Project 3:11 went far beyond just curbing a shopping habit, and reached into the very fabric of our family values and the direction of our lives. Totally God, and not down to me. I was too busy watching my belly grow to even notice it was happening.

It's only now that I look back over the last year, and over the years before that, and see the path that God has been gently coaxing us along the whole time.

And because God did it, it was almost easy. The times it was hard were usually because I took my eyes of Jesus and started worry, like Peter stepping out of the boat and then looking away to the wind and the waves.

Money has become much less of a focus, a career for the sake of getting rich is not our goal, and the purposes of God are far more important and fulfilling than any amount of security money can buy.

And we have learned a lot of lessons about complete faith. We have a long way to go to even reach mustard seed size I'm sure, but they have been valuable lessons.

And our journey is not the same as anyone elses - just because we have given up full time work or secure positions does not mean God is asking everyone to do the same. Just because I felt called to considered my shopping and spending habits doesn't meant everyone else needs to also.

But I think there are clear ideas all Christians should be considering in their lives
- We cannot serve both God and money/possessions/materialistic concerns (Matt 6:24)
- We should not be defined by our outward appearance (1 Sam 16:7, 1 Peter 3:3-4)
- We should be looking for the approval of God before the approval of others (Gal 1:10)
- Every good thing is a gift from God - while we may have worked to earn the money, who gave us    the ability and skills and opportunity to work in the first place? (Dueteronomy 8)
- Everything is God's, we are custodians and stewards. We should give freely out of that. (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 24:1, Luke 6:38)
- We are working ultimately for God, not for men. (Col 3:23)
- We should focus on storing up heavenly treasures, not earthly ones. (Matt 6:20)

And in any area of our lives, when we take steps of faith for God we can be sure...

He cares about our needs.
He will provide for us.
He will bless us with an abundance.
He will never leave us nor forsake us.

Look at the birds - they don't toil and reap, and yet our Heavenly Father provides for them. Aren't we so much more valuable than these? How much more will God care for us? (Matt 6:26)

Go Here for the other posts on Project 3:11

Saturday, March 9, 2013

To become a better prayer, you have to do more than pray.

While browsing Pinterest I saw a pin that said "To become a better runner, you have to do more than run".

I thought about that. To be a good runner, you obviously do have to run. A lot. But if you want to become a great runner, you have to do more training than that. You have to stretch and keep flexible and protected against injury. You have to do different types of exercises and drills to keep your muscles in shape, your aerobic and anaerobic systems firing, and your overall fitness level high. You even have to eat and drink the right things.

I wondered - is it the same in our spiritual lives?

I think a lot of people want to be better pray-ers. How often have you sat down alone to pray and given up after a few minutes of feeling like you are talking to the air? Or have you avoided praying out loud in a group because you feel inept? Or prayed out loud but worried over every stilted word?

How often have you really seen results from your prayers?

There might be some (or many) of us who will never be great runners, but we are all built with the capacity to be great prayers. It's what we were made for.

Adam and Eve were the first great prayers - but their prayer just looked like walking and talking with God. We were made for that - to walk and talk with God as father and friend. It's meant to be the most natural thing in the world.

Sin separated us. But Jesus was sent to bring God's kingdom to us here, and we have access to that now through the Holy Spirit. We are meant to be great prayers.

So what's stopping us? Why does it sometimes seem like we barely know how to walk, let alone run, when it comes to prayer?

I think we should approach it more like a runner. An athlete competing in the Olympics doesn't just front up to the starting line after just sitting on the couch for a few months before hand. Not if they want to win. And how much more do we have to gain than a temporary prize?

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25

And we are fighting an uphill battle. That direct connection to God through prayer is going to be the last thing the devil wants you to have - he's going to make it difficult for you. Making prayer life unsatisfying and seemingly pointless in one of the best weapons in his arsenal.

Prayer does more than just let God know about our needs and problems - he already knows all that. Prayer helps us know God. We get close to his thoughts, and get to know his plans.

So how to we 'train' to pray?

It's not just about becoming more eloquent or verbose. That's like a person putting on fancy shoes and a fashionable outfit and expecting it to win them the race.

We do all the things that God has given us to exercise our spiritual muscles. We read the Word. We fellowship with others. We pour out love.

We continue to pray, even when it hurts. Even if it's just a few words of, "God, I don't even know what to say."

The closer we get to God, the more we hear Him, the better prayer will get. It will never be what it was designed to be until we see Jesus again, but it doesn't have to be the stale, painful exercise that many feel it is right now.

Prayer is powerful. Prayer goes deep. Prayer brings us right to the feet of God.

Exercise your muscles and have faith that God wants you to hear him.