Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Flick the switch


Have you ever plugged something in then tried to turn it on, like trying to switch on a lamp, charge your phone, make toast, turn on the blender...but nothing happens. You wiggle things, turn them on and off, shake them and declare something is wrong. Has the power gone out? Something must be broken, because it's not working...

Then you realise it's not switched on at the power point. (D'oh)

We sometimes live like this as Christians. We think there is no power, something is broken, we aren't doing something right, the connection with God isn't there. So we try harder, we shake things around, we inspect our lives and pick out all the things we think might be wrong... and then, often, ultimately declare that it's useless. We can't do it.

When really we just haven't flicked the switch. (D'oh)

The power supply is there. If we are a Christian, we are plugged straight in to God. He has made us whole and sound. We are no longer broken.

We just need to turn on the power point - we need to say Yes to the Holy Spirit.

What good is a lamp - even a perfect lamp with an undamaged cord, plugged in to the wall, with a brand new light bulb - if the electricity isn't ever allowed to flow through it. No matter how hard that lamp tries, if it the switch isn't on, it will never be able light up by itself.

What good is being a Christian - made new in Christ - if we never let the power to live that life flow through us? We are a lamp that never gets switched on. We might look pretty sitting there, but we aren't fulfilling our purpose.

Jesus didn't just show us what a good life looks like, he sent the Holy Spirit after him to give us the power to actually live it.

What are you waiting for? Don't you want some real electricity in your life?



***

Not sure about this Holy Spirit stuff?  I recommend Forgotten God by Francis Chan. I'm not affiliated in any way, I just loved the book...

I wrote a bit about it here







Monday, April 29, 2013

Seems like a no brainer...

If someone offered me this choice...

Option 1- You can be sick for 20 years, but then possibly healthy for the rest of your life

OR

Option 2 - be healthy and vital for 20 years starting now, and then even more healthy for the rest of your life.

No brainer, right?

Why would you choose to stay sick and have only the possibility of health, when you could choose health now and forever?

And if you were able to pass this choice on, to give others the chance to choose one of those two options for themselves, how would you present it?

"There's these two options, pretty much 50/50 which way you might want to go. I'm not going to sway you either way."

No, I'd be saying - "look at what you can get! Look at option 2! I picked it, it's fantastic! You should definitely do it!"

Yet, substitute that choice of physical health with Jesus and spiritual life, and I feel like we are acting like the choice is not so obvious. In fact, sometimes I feel like Christians are selling the idea that being a Christian is more like option 1 - "Be a Christian. Life doesn't look much different to before - except you can't do the "fun" stuff and have to sit through church every Sunday - but you might get to heaven one day..."

Why are we doing this? Why aren't we shouting from the roof tops about this choice we made that gave us abundant life, now and forever!?

Maybe because we haven't actually received it. Consequently we deep down feel like really 'selling' Christianity as option 2 would be false advertising.

We haven't realised ourselves that being a Christian is option 2, not option 1. We haven't realised that the Kingdom of God is now, not only a dim, distant future. We haven't realised what the Kingdom of God being here now really means!!

That's not God's fault. It's not because we made the choice but then found it wasn't real. God is ready and willing to come through, and give us the life we chose.

A lot of us just haven't taken it yet. Maybe we think it looks too good to be true - to receive abundant life, with no catch. That's what grace is.

Receive Jesus. Life changed. No catch.

But until we realise the truth of Jesus, we're never going to sell anyone else on the idea.

And even more, when you do realise it - when you do choose Jesus and accept the life-heart-spirit changing gift of grace - you don't have to "sell" anyone. You won't have to convince anyone, make the best argument, throw in a few sweeteners to get them to 'buy'...

Your changed life will be the only thing they need to see. There won't even be a choice. They'll want that life and love that flows out of you straight from the throne room...

It will be a no brainer.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Is Jesus enough?



The book Pagan Christianity is an interesting, and for some, a challenging look at the origins of the modern Protestant church traditions and structure. While some find it controversial or dismiss it, I feel no one can deny the main point is true - our modern church looks very little like the early church as it began at Pentecost.

This can be - and should be - challenging when we compare how we 'do church' now and ask ourselves why this is.

Even though I loved the book, I wouldn't advocate (and I don't think the book is advocating this either) just chucking everything we have now out.... Not yet, anyway..... and I wouldn't say the traditions or structure we have now are inherently wrong even if they did have roots in pagan or other customs. But I definitely think as Christians we should all be aware of where our traditions and current church structure comes from, and recognise them as just that - man made traditions and world-imitating structure.

I think this is hard to grapple with for some people. It feels foundation shaking to suggest removing the system they are comfortable with. It is tempting to say we 'need' these rules and structures we have in place within churches otherwise people would do whatever they want, or things may fall apart.

And maybe that is true as things currently stand. Take the hierarchy and policies out of the church organizations and many people would struggle.

But I would suggest, if chaos insued, that is only because we have set it up to be that way - to rely on the hierarchy and system to keep us going.

And what does that say about our faith, if taking away the 'system' and the rules would cause us to fall apart? Do we rely on the pastor to make us a Christian? Do we rely on the system to show us to live? Do we rely on the rules to know how to treat people? Do we rely on the building to know God? Are our foundations on anything other than Jesus?

If we say "we need the structure" then we are essentially saying yes - we are saying we don't know how to be a Christian without the organisation we call church....

We are saying Jesus isn't enough!!

We aren't alone in this. The Israelites did the same thing to God all those years ago. They said He wasn't good enough as their King. They wanted a human king, just like everyone else. They didnt want to be different.

Have we done the same? Have we brought the worlds customs, structures and heirarchical systems into the church because we are more comfortable that way? Because we don't want to be different?

I suspect it is because being different requires much more active effort. It's not always comfortable. And it doesn't allow for passivity.

Are we allowing the pastor to run our faith for us? Are we relying on the structure to help us live as Christians?

Or are we relying on Jesus as Lord of our lives? Are we allowing the Holy Spirit to empower our faith? Are we trusting that God knows how to build his church better than we do?

If we took away everything else holding us up - is Jesus enough?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

God Doesn't Play Limbo

He'd dominate celebrity heads, and may or may not play monopoly, but God doesn't play limbo.

Seeing how low we can set the bar and still get away with it purely the domain of us humans.

How little housework can I do and get away with it.

What's the least amount of time I have to spend on others, and still be seen as a good person.

What's the least amount of work I can do, and still get paid / pass this course / be liked...

When I was in Uni I remember going over the English assignments and exams I had for the year, and calculating exactly how few books I would have to read off the syllabus and the minimum marks on each I would need to still pass the course.

I'm not saying everyone does this with everything, but I think most people do it at some point, with something. And even if we conquer this habit, we frequently transfer this human mindset on to our perception of God.

Sure God wants to heal us, but he's going to get away with as little healing as possible... so I won't ask for or expect too much. Just make me a feel a little bit better for today, ok?

Sure God loves us, but He's going to see how little He can get away with showing it, and still have us appreciate Him. So I'll try and be good, and hope I get a bit of that love.

Sure God cares about us, but probably can't be bothered doing too much for me, so I'll only bother him with the big stuff that I can't handle myself.

Sure God can do miracles, but he'll just see how little he can get away with and still impress us, so maybe if you just... help me find my lost keys? That'll do. 

It kind of seems ridiculous when you lay it out, that we expect so little from God, the One who spoke the expansiveness and diversity of the universe into being, who created us with His own hands, who breathed life into us, who sent His son to die for us and save us, sinners,  from death.

Why would he love us so lavishly, to then just sit back and leave us to our own devices, only helping us out if we ask really nicely?

That's the sort of thing we do, in our weakness - give a good effort and then hope that will tide us over with people for a while. 

But God doesnt get tired or jaded like us. He's not selfish or bitter. Hes not about half hearted or the bare minimum.

No. God has lavished His love on us


The greek word is Perisseuo - "exceeding the requirements, of overflowing or overdoing. It means to exceed a fixed number of measure, to be left over and above a certain number or measure. It means to have or to be more than enough, to be extremely rich or abundant. To exceed or remain over (as used in loaves left over after feeding the 5000 [Mt 14:20]! When Jesus supplies there is more than enough so that some is even left over! How quick we are to forget this basic principle!) The idea is to overflow like a river out of its banks!"

He's not trying to see how little He can do for us and get us to still love Him. No, he wants to give lavishly, more than we can imagine, far more than we deserve. He's challenging us every day, not to see how much we will do without, but how much more we will have the faith to ask for.

We mostly have no idea of the love, blessings, power and grace God wants to give you, so we don't really know how to ask for it.

If this is you, if you have been putting human limits on our all powerful God, setting the bar low on your spiritual life, its time to expect more.

Seek more of God, ask God to raise the bar.

I think if we all learn to let go of our self imposed limits on who God is and what He wants to do, we will be overwhelmed by how lavish He will be!!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Did God really say...?




Those four little words, introduced in Eden, have been plaguing our thoughts ever since.

Any time we feel God asking something challenging of us, we hear "Did God really say..." - and I'll bet I'm not the only one tempted to listen.

Or I'll say Yes, but only a 95% yes. The other 5% I've kept back, just incase I think of a way to get out of it in time.

But when confront with the temptation to justify, argue and reason our way out of obedience - sometimes we just have to say YES

And mean it.

Not, "Sure, God, I'll do that" *

*...but you don't really mean it, right?

Really completely surrendering to God's will, whatever it is, can be hard. It is hard to silence the voices and arguments and justifications as to why that can't really be God's will, why there must be a way around it, why we're not sure if we really heard Him, so we won't really commit.

The danger of "Did God really say..."

Think of Abraham. When God asked him to sacrifice his long-awaited son, Abraham must have had reservations. The understatement of the Bible makes it seem like Abraham just got up and did it without much delay. But I can't imagine the man who negotiated with God about Sodom and Gomorrah not having any second thoughts or hesitations, about his own son!

He would have been tempted to justify to himself, to reason it away. God gave me this son, promised him to me, surely he wouldn't want to take him away? I'm sure he would have come up with some pretty compelling reasons as to why sacrificing his own son was not really what God wanted.

Abraham would have been sorely tempted by "Did God really say...?"

And yet he went. He said Yes, and he meant it. No matter how much he would have hoped there was another way, he was willing to obey anyway. To the full extent. If God hadn't stayed his hand, Abraham would have carried through with it.

Chances are, what God is asking us to do hasn't come close to the level of sacrificing our only child any time recently. And yet we are still tempted by "Did God really say...?"

We are tempted to withhold our complete submission, our complete trust, our complete Yes.

It is not a sin to want or ask for a different way. Jesus himself asked for it. But don't let that turn into disobedience. We have to really be willing to give it all, even if we think it's going to cost us dearly.

And we can do it with confidence. Because we know God is just, loving and compassionate. He will always do what is right, good and fair. Even if it hurts in the short term, it will have eternal benefits in the long run. We can trust Him with that - we have to trust Him with that, because to our limited sight, we can't see the big picture like He does. We don't often know what the full outcome of our obedience or disobedience will be.

There have been times when I have been terribly afraid to do something that I knew God had been asking me to do. Sometimes I have justified my way out of it. Given in to "Did God really say..." and missed out. But other times - though I certainly argued first - I have said Yes, without keeping anything back. I'm scared, but I'll do whatever you ask.

Sometimes God has gotten me out of it, at the last minute, like Abraham. Sometimes I've had to go through with it, but have found the outcome of that obedience has results that far outweigh the fear and discomfort of actually following through.

So we say Yes, fully. We take that step of faith and let God help us with the doubts and fears.

Because in the end, everything works together for good. You don't know what God will do.

For Abraham, God spared Isaac. Jesus still had to take our sin on the cross - but aren't we glad he meant it when he said "Not my will, but yours" even in the face of "Did God really say..."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"6 Ways to Kick Fear and Anxiety in the Teeth"

"Borrowed" from Sammy A
This is not my list, but I always figure why reinvent the wheel when someone else has written something that already sums up what I would say myself.



" Posted this on twitter yesterday and it seemed to resonate with some folks so I thought I'd share it on Facebook. Not sure who this is for but here goes. 

Every time I speak, I feel inadequate/nervous or prideful so I wrote these 6 things down in my phone so I can read, remember and meditate on them right before I go on stage: 

1) Be humble: Remember that this is SO much bigger than u. It's not your story. You're not the star of the show. Jesus is.

2) Be faithful: Remember that small is always big in God's story. Do the best that you can with what God has given you. Swing for the fences

3) Have Faith: Remember that God is always working whether u see it or not. He can do more than u can imagine. Play & let him keep the score

4) You're called: Remember that the God of the universe is FOR YOU. He's in your corner. He's in you. He gifted & called you to do this.

5) Take Delight: Remember to have fun. Don't take yourself too seriously. Enjoy God by enjoying what he gifted u to do. It's ok to have fun

6) Holy Spirit: Remember that nothing you do or say matters without him. Only the Spirit of God can change hearts. Good news: He wants to.

There u go folks. 6 things I read from my phone before I speak. Steal it, rip it, make it better. Use it when voices of doubt/fear creep up.

Question: which one did you need to hear or have the hardest time remembering? "



For me, it's every single one! I have always struggled with fear when it comes to doing anything that might put me in the spotlight. I would stay home from school to try and avoid having to give a speech. If I even answered a question and everyone turned to look at me, I'd go red. 

And now, I'm much more comfortable with the distance created by a computer screen, that talking face to face. But I feel God calling me to speak up... and it's a little terrifying.

But I've got to remember - it's not about me. I'm not trying to bring glory to myself, but to God. And God doesn't get tongue tied.

I can't be half hearted, just so I've got something to blame failure on. Go big and take the risk.

What looks small to me in the natural, can mean big things for the Kingdom of God.

God is for me. He's not setting me up for humiliation. (So any humiliation I feel is another issue I need to take to God.)

It is fun. It is a joyful thing to be used by God, to rely on Him fully. 

The Holy Spirit does the work, creates the change and draws people. Not me. 

I can relax!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Worshipping 'ministry' rather than Christ




Six days before the Passover feast, Jesus journeyed to the village of Bethany, to the home of Lazarus who had recently been raised from the dead, where they hosted Him for dinner. Martha was busy serving as the hostess, Lazarus reclined at the table with Him, and Mary took a pound of fine ointment, pure nard (which is both rare and expensive), and anointed Jesus’ feet with it; and then she wiped them with her hair. As the pleasant fragrance of this extravagant ointment filled the entire house, Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples (who was plotting to betray Jesus), began to speak.

Judas Iscariot: How could she pour out this vast amount of fine oil? Why didn’t she sell it? It is worth nearly a year’s wages; the money could have been given to the poor.

This had nothing to do with Judas’s desire to help the poor. The truth is he served as the treasurer, and he helped himself to the money from the common pot at every opportunity.
John 12:3-6


I wonder how often we are Judas in this story, rather than Mary.

The perfume she poured over Jesus was worth a years wages. It is true that amount of money could help a lot of people.

But Jesus is more important than people. Yes, you heard me. Even poor people.

But doesn't Jesus care about poor people? Of course He does. And of course he wants us to care about them also. He wants us to love others as He does. But the thing is, if we are focused on the others without first focusing on Jesus, then we are actually missing the point.

Jesus is more important. If we can get that, and truly live it, then our lives will become Christlike. Then the compassion and service and ministry to others will follow, as Jesus leads.

But if we focus on 'doing' - even if it is for others - and just try to add Jesus in to it, then we have made 'ministry' our idol and object of worship.

Perhaps we are trying to cover up our own fallibility, insecurity or guilt. Deflect from our own faults. Or gain for ourselves. Like Judas. If we make an obvious show of how much we care for others, perhaps people won't notice how broken we still are ourselves. Perhaps others will look up to us. Perhaps we can even fool ourselves into thinking that we are 'good' enough because of everything we sacrifice for others.

How much of our desire to help those 'less fortunate' comes from our love for Jesus overflowing, and how much comes from self focused desires?

It is a tough question and sometimes takes laying bare the deepest corners of your heart and motivations.

How can something 'good' be bad?
When it's motivated by self and not love.

It's a question I've had to ask myself. In writing this blog. In wanting to go on volunteer and missions trips. All 'good' things, objectively. But too much of my motivation at times rested in myself, and not in God.

Have you ever told God you are willing to sacrifice anything for Him, but heard yourself add in the mental footnotes a few conditions about what that actually looks like, about the recognition, about how much, how often or where?

Are we willing to pour out our whole jar of perfume - our whole life in worship - on Jesus feet, regardless of how others react, regardless of how 'wasteful' it seems to the natural mind to not be 'doing' something more.

Even when we truly want to be serving Jesus, we often find it difficult to take the time to just lay everything down at His feet first. To stop and be lavishly excessive with our worship and praise and sacrifice.

Just worship. Without thinking of what we are getting, what others are thinking, what we will do with it later...

What use is all the service and ministry we can muster if we didn't give it all to Jesus first.

I hope it's clear I'm not saying doing things in service of God and others in bad. I'm not saying helping the poor is bad. Of course not! How we love others is a direct and natural result of how we love God.

But I think this time is coming where we will be called on to do big things, to have great compassion, to radically change the world and radically love those whom others have oppressed and ignored.

If we are going to do that right, we need Jesus. We need to know what it means to really pour out ourselves in worship of God first. Because if we can't first give ourselves wholly and unreservedly to Jesus, then we will never be able to do it for others. There will always be a large portion of 'self' tying it up.

No matter how much we act or give or do, it will be empty. No matter how powerful and influential our lives seem to be, without Jesus as Lord first of all, our lives will be shallow. And what is the good in our 'good' deeds if they are motivated by self. If we end up saying 'Lord, Lord' only to hear "I never knew you."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Don't skip the small or you might not survive the big


I dream of a big life, of changing the world, of doing big things that really matter.

But then sometimes, I'm too afraid to do the little things.

I just want to skip over them. As if they are too little to matter. Too little to spend energy on. Too little to take a risk on. I just want to get to the big stuff.


"God, I'll not deny you even in the face of torture and death!...just please don't make me talk to a stranger...."


I know deep down that if I can't do these little, day to day things, if I can't trust God to be faithful in the small and seemingly insignificant, then I'm not going to survive the big stuff.

Sure, God might still use me. He might even do big and powerful things with me, even if I struggle with the little. But I might not survive it.

I might not even get there in the first place - I won't be ready for the opportunities when they come. But even if I did get to those big, life changing things I want to be a part of, even if in the power of God I could handle it at the time, I think ultimately I wouldn't survive it in the long run.

All those lessons you learn in the small stuff - the patience, the faith, the prayer, the commitment, the perseverance, the resilience, the eye for the big picture even in the face of set backs - if you skip over them, you might still fly high and bright for a few moments, but you will burn out fast.

God can still use you to impact people, because He is God, and it is always Him working, and not you. But if you want Him to use you for the long haul, if you want your life to be dedicated to changing hearts and lives forever and not just a brief moment, don't skip the small. You never know how those little lessons will serve you later on.

Sometimes I sense God prompting me to do something that scares me a little. Not something particularly momentous, just something that takes a step of faith outside of my comfort zone. (This normally means speaking, or putting myself on the spot, where there is potential for embarrassment.)

My first instinct is to dodge it. How can I get out of this? How can I justify it away so that I convince myself it isn't really important whether I do it or not?

Then when I realise I can't get out of it, I try to renegotiate the deal. Can I write it, instead of speaking? Can I just talk to a couple of people, instead of all of them? How can I do this so I feel like I'm doing what I'm told, but it's still within my comfort zone?

I do this because I'm afraid God won't really show up. Or that people won't understand and I'll look foolish. Or that I'll put myself on the line of hoping for something big, but it turns out to be something small.

Because I think often our definition of big and significant is different to God's. We think if we speak and the whole room doesn't fall to their knees praising God, then it wasn't big, then it didn't really matter.

Don't get me wrong, I hope and pray we all see thousands coming to Jesus.

But before we get to the big, we've got to be satisfied with the seemingly small. Because God sees the big picture, the foundation He is laying now, and all the little pieces that go in to the whole story He is writing.

Speak to one person, no matter the potential for failure and embarrassment. Say or do those things God is prompting you to do, no matter what you fear the consequences will be.

Maybe God will surprise you by showing up in bigger ways than you expected. And I'm sure He's planting seeds that we aren't always aware of.

If there's one thing we can count on, it's that God is faithful.

But maybe He doing more than just puffing up your self confidence. Maybe, even when you act with obedience and not much seems to happen, God is preparing you. He's training you to recognise His voice. He's teaching you to act quickly without hesitation. He's teaching you to have faith and see with your spiritual eyes, not just the natural where it appears nothing is happening.

He's teaching you to trust Him, no matter what.

These little steps and little moves matter - one day you will live in the fruit of those small steps of obedience. So when the big moves for God come, and the inevitable big obstacles and attacks follow, you will have no doubt of God's faithfulness, and no doubt of the sound of His voice.


Friday, April 12, 2013

I want people to look at me and say "God is real!"


The prophets of Baal put on an impressive display. But in the end, nothing happened. (1 Kings 18)

Elijah did the opposite, and God showed up. The people didnt look at Elijah and say, "Wow, what a powerful guy", they said "Your Lord really is God!"

I want people to look at me and say "God is real!"

Not, "Your religion seems to make you happy" or "that's nice that you have God to help you out", but "God is real!"

I want there to be no other explanation for my life.

I'm a long way from that being the case right now, but I want it to be, no matter what that means, no matter what it costs.

I'm might be afraid and shy and tired and lacking any real knowledge of how to go about this, but I want this. For me. For you. For the Church.

I want people to look at us and say "God is real! How can I know Him too?"

Don't you?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

They devoted themselves to constant prayer

This whole group devoted themselves to constant prayer with one accord - Acts 1:14

Have you ever asked or wondered why the Holy Spirit doesn't seem to show up much in your life? Have you ever wonder why you're not seeing miracles happen, and lives changed? Why you're a bit to afraid to even strike up a spiritual conversation with someone even when you think you should? Why nothing much seems to happen?

Have you then also asked yourself, how often do I devote myself to constant prayer? How often do I devote time to meet with others and constantly pray together?

You may notice a bit of an oxymoron in those sentences...how can we say 'devote' and 'constant' in the same breath as 'how often', like we can set aside half an hour a week to be 'constantly devoted' and then go about our lives.

No wonder we don't see much happen.

No matter how much we like to avoid thinking about it, this Christian life is an all or nothing deal.

It's a big scary question, and we like to water it down and rationalise and justify - there are plenty of reasons why it is difficult, why there isn't enough time, why it's not practical... But...

If we aren't all in, what are we even doing this for?



Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Giving something up doesn't mean missing out


My husband and I are a bit over half way through a 100 day no-added-sugar challenge.

In response to hearing that we are doing this - usually after we've just refused a piece of cake or dessert and explained why - people's reactions are mixed, but often fall on the side of "glad it's you and not me. That sounds too hard."

People seem to worry for us that we are missing out on something, that it sounds too difficult, "this doesn't have much sugar, does it?" And they ask us "Don't you have less energy?"

But I've actually found the opposite is true. I have more energy because my body is not burdened with dealing with processed sugar. When I removed refined foods and replaced them with more healthful ones, I found the benefits have meant I don't feel like I'm 'missing out'. And you realise all the places sugar is hiding. Sometimes the cakes and chocolates might look tempting, but when I consider how much better I feel without them, it's much easier to say no and feel genuinely happy about it.

I'm not saying any food is evil, but I do think we've been lulled into believing some of the things we eat aren't really that bad, even when they are devastating our health.

But my point in this is not actually focused on our physical health. There's definitely a spiritual analogy in this.

When we make changes in our lives, when we let the Holy Spirit lead, our lives might look a bit radical, a bit different to others. We might give up things or let go of things that others look on and don't understand.

Isn't that too difficult?
Don't you feel like you're missing out?
Surely you don't need to be extreme about it?

But when you experience the real benefits and real power of the Holy Spirit, nothing else compares anymore. Giving up your old nature, your old values, you old way of thinking seems trifling in comparison.

And it's even better than just giving up some unhealthy food and feeling more energetic, because it is a supernatural energy. It is all down to the Holy Spirit, not your own strength, drive or will power.

Sometimes you might feel tempted. Sometimes your old self beckons like a sugar laden bowl of lollies. "But I'll taste so good. Just have a little bit..."

But the closer you are with the Spirit, and the longer you stay this way, the easier it is to recognise the temptation and realise it doesn't have the power over you it once did.

Though you can choose to turn away if you decide to.

We had chocolate and soft drink when it was my husbands birthday. It wasn't that we gave in on the spur of the moment because the temptation was too great. A bit like Eve, I decided I was going to eat sugar that day and make the most of it, and I think my husband went along with me. Then we both got sick and felt horrible for the next week. We'd cleaned out our systems and they now recognised this stuff as foreign and utterly useless to our bodies.

It is the same when you are in tune with the things of God.

The things of the world are seen as the pale imitations they really are. The things that we once thought weren't that bad, that we only did it sometimes, that it was just a white lie, that its not really hurting anyone... they stand out in stark relief and we see that our lives were being whittled down and the lines blurred so we lived in complacency, apathy and impotency.

Don't be afraid of what others will think. Don't be afraid that you'll be missing out on the 'cake' of life if you give everything over to God. 

Have faith that the God who created you knows the things that will really satisfy -  not momentarily and fleetingly, leaving you empty and guilty - but a lasting purpose, vitality and satisfaction that can only come from being fully committed to the relationship with God for which you were made.

Brothers and sisters, in light of all I have shared with you aboutGod’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship. Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.
Romans 12:1-2

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Small Group Study resources on Acts

Matt and I are running a study on Acts with our own Small Group at the moment.

We were looking for resources that were more than reading comprehension, but couldn't find anything that seemed quite right. If you want any 'study' to have a feeling of life and power as you journey through it, it would be Acts!

So we are coming up with our own resources. We are both teachers, so we thought we may as well put our lesson planning skills to use!

I'll be sharing everything we come up with on the Small Group page so if you are looking for materials on Acts, or other general Small Group tips, then check that page periodically.

Session 1 is up now - plus some general Small Group leading tips - and we'll upload more as we go. Feel free to use these as you like - as is, or take bits and pieces in coming up with your own study, photocopy, cut and paste etc etc. Just like we wanted to come up with resources that we feel are right for our specific group of people, you might just be looking for inspiration and ideas to do the same. Just please don't incorporate them into anything you are going to sell or make a profit from.

And if you do pass anything on to others, if you'd point them back to this blog as where you found them, that would be dandy!

May you feel the Spirit like it's pentecost with the disciples all over again! That's what I'm hoping for :)

Monday, April 8, 2013

My heart breaks

I'm not even sure how I went down this path... I think I happened to see in my blog stats that I had an inordinate number of hits from Romania one day. I don't know why.

And then that reminded me of when I was a child, I wanted to grow up and go and work in Romanian orphanages. I'd forgotten about that. I couldn't even remember why my child-self even specified Romania?

So I googled it. And discovered that the plight of orphans in Romania was big news at the beginning of the 90s, when I was a child, so that must have been why I heard about it. I never knew that until now.

And then I read more. And maybe I shouldn't have, but I read more. And I looked a pictures.

And after reading about an orphan who is now in his twenties, but never recovered developmentally after being mostly alone in a cot for the first year of his life.... I wept.

I'm still crying now. At some points I can barely see the screen through my tears.

I just thought of my own daughter, how joyfully she smiles back at me, her little hands reaching and touching, her little face in concentration as she learns and develops every day, as she looks into my face as I talk to her and sing to her.

And I think of how I get sad if she has to cry for one minute, and how I worry about if she's getting everything she needs, if I'm giving her everything I possibly can.

The thought of children not having this, not even having one person to hold them and smile at them and touch them. I can hardly bear the thought of it.

There are still children in institutions around the world today. This is still happening. Tiny babies with no-one to love them and hold them.

And at the same time as it makes me cry out inside, "We have to do something!", it paralyses me.

What do we do about it? How can we do something?

I just want to go to them and love them and hold them.

And if I, a flawed human, can feel this much grief and love for them, I can only imagine how God feels towards them.

All this makes it painfully obvious to me that I am lacking any sort of practical knowledge of how to make a difference in the world. A difference that really counts.

Before this I thought of myself as compassionate and charitably-minded. But what am I really doing? This goes deeper than just giving a bit of money, or going on a volunteer-holiday. I don't even know how to help people in my own city, let alone the world. I call myself a follower of Jesus, and yet I walk past the charities outside supermarkets looking the other way, hoping they won't stop me.

If we really got the reality of what the world is like beyond our comfortable doorsteps, of how so many people actually live, how could we continue to spend everything on ourselves and live just for ourselves without feeling sick to our stomachs at the injustice?!

We don't get it, obviously. Our senses have been dulled by the overdose of comfortable living. We think hunger is when we skipped breakfast and had to wait for our lunch. We think poor is not being able to have a Playstation AND an Xbox. We think lonely is when only 1 person likes our Facebook status.

I don't blame you. I don't blame you even if you read this blog post and it stirs nothing, if you feel nothing. Apathy is the devil's favourite game, and he's perfected it. We've all been shrouded in the fog of indifference, and believed that it is normal life; that the sum of the gospel is that Jesus died to make us comfortable. I don't blame you - but be challenged.

Think about how much you care for your own family, your own children. We should be loving everyone that much, and more.

We need new hearts. Bigger hearts. We need God's heart in place of ours.

I don't know what to do with this heart break right now, other than to pray. To pray that God wakes us up and sends us out with His love and His heart and His Spirit. And to pray and trust that God comforts his hurting children until we get there.



***


Jesus: You’d better be on your guard against any type of greed, for a person’s life is not about having a lot of possessions.

A wealthy man owned some land that produced a huge harvest. He often thought to himself, “I have a problem here. I don’t have anywhere to store all my crops. What should I do? I know! I’ll tear down my small barns and build even bigger ones, and then I’ll have plenty of storage space for my grain and all my other goods. Then I’ll be able to say to myself, ‘I have it made! I can relax and take it easy for years! So I’ll just sit back, eat, drink, and have a good time!’”

Then God interrupted the man’s conversation with himself. “Excuse Me, Mr. Brilliant, but your time has come. Tonight you will die. Now who will enjoy everything you’ve earned and saved?”

This is how it will be for people who accumulate huge assets for themselves but have no assets in relation to God.

Think about those crows flying over there: do they plant and harvest crops? Do they own silos or barns?.....Remember that you are more precious to God than birds!

....If God takes such good care of such transient things, how much more you can depend on God to care for you, weak in faith as you are. Don’t reduce your life to the pursuit of food and drink; don’t let your mind be filled with anxiety....

Since you don’t need to worry—about security and safety, about food and clothing—then pursue God’s kingdom first and foremost, and these other things will come to you as well.

My little flock, don’t be afraid. God is your Father, and your Father’s great joy is to give you His kingdom.

That means you can sell your possessions and give generously to the poor. You can have a different kind of savings plan: one that never depreciates, one that never defaults, one that can’t be plundered by crooks or destroyed by natural calamities. Your treasure will be stored in the heavens, and since your treasure is there, your heart will be lodged there as well.

I’m not just talking theory. There is urgency in all this.

Luke 12
(The Voice)

What about those who haven't heard?

This question has bothered me sometimes - what about the people in the world who have never had the chance to hear about Jesus? What happens to them?

But it doesn't bother me for the reasons you might think. It's not because I worry God is being unfair to them. I know in my heart that this is not some conundrum that God forgot to take into account, and that He has an answer to it.

It bothers me because I don't know how to give an answer to other people.

It doesn't sound very satisfying to say, "It'll be alright, God's got it under control" if it is something that someone is burdened by. But I do sometimes want to say, "Do you think God didn't considered this?"

One factor I think is worth mentioning is that even for people who have heard about Jesus, it isn't just the act of hearing someone talk about Him that brings people, it is the Spirit that draws people and reveals Himself to them.

So I feel confident that when God wants to He is perfectly capable of revealing Himself to people in a myriad of ways. He is not limited by our speech, though he does want to use us.

But when I read John 15:22, I had another thought.

Jesus said, "If I had not spoken within their hearing, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for ignoring My voice."

Perhaps there is an answer in that - that those who have never heard about Jesus are not guilty of sin because they haven't had the choice yet.

Another thing that bothers me about this question, other than not having a concise answer, and other than people underestimating God, is that I feel hidden within the question is a misunderstanding of why we share the gospel. People worry about whether or not these people will go to heaven if they die unconverted. I feel there is a terribly underwhelming amount of concern, love and Christ-like compassion for people's lives while they are still physically living.

Because sharing the good news is not simply to hand out tickets to heaven to those poor 'uncivilised' heathens. It's so that people's lives will transformed now, so they know God now, and live in His love now.

It's not about getting out and imposing our western brand of religion on to every culture we meet, but about introducing people to the God who created them, and Jesus who died and rose so they could have life and freedom in Him.

And while I'm sure there are lot more people who need to be getting out there and sharing Jesus with people,  is it bad that I sometimes feel God would be better revealed to some people through the wonder of nature, through the miracle of the life around them, rather than through our words and religion?

Clearly, I still don't have a concise answer to this big question. 

But I trust, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God has the answer and cares about His children.

Perhaps the real question is, What are we doing with our faith?

It is those of us who have heard His voice I am more worried about. What's our excuse?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Why won't God just give me a million dollars?


Or help me win the lottery, or go on Deal or No Deal and pick the right case.

Ok, so I know there are a lot of answers to that, not least being, I don't really need  a million dollars, money doesn't make you happy, etc etc

But what I'm really writing about here is not money, but blessings.

We often ask God for what we need and, on many levels, expect (or want) the answer to come in a neatly wrapped package on our doorsteps.

Maybe it is money that we need, or food, or patience, or strength. So why, when God could just ZAP! give us anything, does it seem like it always takes time, or comes through round-a-bout and indirect means? And often at the last minute!

While there are many reasons for God working in his own timing for his own purposes, I think the big answer is that God is not only interested in blessing us.

As a Christian, our lives should be synonymous with community. And yet we think of ourselves in very self-centred terms. And that doesn't necessarily mean we are always expecting people to give us everything; being self-centred can also mean we so want to avoid being a burden on anyone that we avoid accepting help from others.

But isn't it more blessed to give than to receive?

That doesn't mean we should never hope, expect or want to receive anything and only give. But God knows best in the way He gives to us, and he knows that it is a blessing on others for them to have that opportunity. He could just give us everything directly, a supernatural gift on our doorsteps, but he knows how much better it is for all of us when we have the chance to bless each other.

When we talk about prosperity, or blessings, or God providing for us, we miss the point if we just think about money and physical needs. God knows the prosperity of our spiritual lives and our relationships with Him and with each other are far more important.

He knows that when he works through us to give to and bless each other, it builds compassion and generosity; it builds community; it builds relationships; it shows the world that we are bound by love, for God's glory.






Friday, April 5, 2013

Living like Jesus is right beside you

The other day I was doing something as simple as making a cup of tea, and I started to imagine, what would it be like to have Jesus physically standing beside me in my kitchen. God has been revealing and healing a lot in me lately, I had been praying for Him to make it easier. I didn't want to struggle any more, for it to be a hard slog to find the 'new creation' I know is in there somewhere.

And so I was imagining how much easier it would be if Jesus was right there next to me. How much peace I would feel, how changed I would be without even trying.

Then - perhaps with a little holy prompting - it dawned on. Jesus is there.

Maybe I can't see him with these physical eyes, but don't we as Christians believe that the Holy Spirit was sent to us for exactly that. To be the presence of God with us - not just beside us, but living in us?

How had I forgotten this simple but profound fact?

I ran straight to my computer, because it seemed too important, that moment, that I wanted to capture it in words, to post it as a blog so that others could be reminded too. But as I tried to write I couldn't find the words. I left the post unfinished. It just didn't seem to be the time to write it.

Instead I went and danced around my living room with a intense - if fleeting - feeling of joy that Jesus was right there with me.

Little more than a week later - unaware of these thoughts and ideas I had been pondering, for I had not told anyone yet, still unsure how to express it - my mum pointed me in the direction of Forgotten God by Francis Chan.




That is where I read these words, expressed exactly as I had been thinking but unable to put in to words:

"Right now, imagine what it would be like to have Christ standing beside you in the flesh, functioning as your personal Counselor. Imagine the peace that would come from knowing you would always receive perfect truth and flawless direction from Him. That sounds amazing, and none of us could deny the benefit of having Jesus here physically, guiding and enabling us every step of the way.

"Yet why do we assume that this would be any better than the literal presence of the Holy Spirit?" 

This is definitely a theme lately - and it is a challenging and life changing question. Why are we not living as if Jesus is right beside us, when He has done one better - He lives in us!

That fleeting joy I felt that morning, shouldn't that be a permanent thing? God was not any more real or any closer to me that morning than He is every other minute of every day. I just don't notice most days.

It baffles me how I - how many of us - have been living as Christians for so long with such heavy blinders on that we have not noticed that we are missing something.

If our lives are not radically changed by the knowledge that God actually lives IN us - something that is even better than being a person physically beside us - why aren't we saying, "This doesn't seem right. This isn't enough."

I am in no doubt God is doing a new thing, that He wants to reawaken the Spirit within us.

Are you ready? Are you willing? Or have you let yourself become content with sleepwalking through your Christian life?




Thursday, April 4, 2013

Continue to work out your salvation



Becoming a Christian doesn't automatically mean you 'get it'.

Sometimes you might have an instant revelation of the gospel. But, even with an initial revelation, most of us will be working on 'getting it' for years.

**Actually ALL of us will be working on understanding what it's all truly about for our whole lives because what we are trying to understand is the nature of God and the reality of his kingdom, and we won't know that fully until Jesus returns.**

But when I'm talking about just the basic message of Jesus and what it means to be a Christian, I think a large proportion of Christians aren't totally sure what this actually means. We're certainly not living like we do.

How many of us have evidence of a life transformed?

Even those of us - or especially those of us - who have been Christians our whole lives have been so bogged down in the details that we've missed the point. And we wonder why no matter how hard we work at it, our lives don't actually seem that different to people who aren't Christians.

Some of us are like Simon (Acts 8) - we become a Christian, we see the power that comes with it, and we want it. So then we proceed to go about any means we can of acquiring it. We'll try to buy our way into it, we'll try to do good things to earn it, we'll try to find the formula for being the best Christian. We'll try and work for it.

Simon didn't really get it. He believed in Jesus, he was baptised, but he continued to go about his Christian life with the same mindset he had before. His heart was not right.

When I was younger and I read "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12), I didn't get it. I read that small snippet out of context and I thought that maybe it meant my salvation was a personal thing. That it was some deal I brokered with God, that I could pick and choose my salvation, come up with something that worked for me. 

"I'll donate money to the poor once a year, read my Bible on Sundays, and then I can still go out drinking on Friday nights? How does that sound? Ok, ok, I'll even throw in a nightly prayer...."

It sounds ridiculous to put it that way, but who can say they haven't thought this way in some form.

"If I do this, it will make up for not doing that...."

But we're not getting it.

Read the rest of that verse - "for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose."

It is God in us who works. 

This means several things:

- We can't pick and choose - God is doing the work, and he is not going to pick and choose parts of himself. He comes as a complete deal.

- It's not about our 'works'. Again, it's God who works in us. 

- It's not about our personal 'bargain' with God. It's about transformation, aligning us to God's purpose. And it's about community, not what's in it for us.

The Voice Bible notes say about the whole of Philippians 2:
"Paul describes a community where every person considers the needs of others first and does nothing from selfishness; it pulls together rather than pulls apart, and it is a body that knows its purpose and lets nothing interfere with it. It is an extended spiritual family where others line up to become part of this sacred assembly and to make it their home because they feel encouragement and know they are truly loved. So Paul urges the Philippians to strive for this radical unity and fulfill his joy by having the mind of Jesus who humbled Himself, became a servant, and suffered the death of the cross. Jesus becomes the example of humility and service, leading to the kind of unity Paul imagines."

If you're not seeing this 'radical unity' in your life, if you don't feel like your serving anyone but yourself, if you aren't seeing transformation in your life - then maybe you haven't 'got it' yet.

Don't worry, you're far from alone.

But if you want change in your life - even if you just want to want change but you're afraid of it right now - get on your knees before God. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, and God will work in you for his good purpose!



Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Can't live with you, can't live without you



It occurs to me that life would be much easier if we lived in community like we are meant to. Just from a house wife's point of view, and a less than brilliant one at that, imagine one person not having to be responsible for all the cooking, cleaning and childcare all at once. Heaven. Pun intended.

You would have constant entertainment, conversation and support. The financial, physical and emotional burdens would not lie too heavily on anyone person. You would never be lonely.

That's all in ideal community. Community the way I'm sure God intended it.

But we would hate it at the same time. By we, I'm mean western society. Why? Because we don't really like to share.

In theory we are taught to share as children, but it seems to be a case of do what I say, not what I do. Because if a child sees the adults accumulating mine, mine, mine, will they do any differently? Because at heart we are selfish creatures. I include myself completely in that assessment.

For example, I love it when we have all our friends around to our house for a meal. Everyone plays a part in cooking, setting the table, baby sitting and cleaning up afterwards. Because our friends are thoughtful and generous, it all runs like a well oiled machine and everyone gets to have a good time, with no-one feeling like they shouldered all the work.

Or when family comes to visit, and helps out with the washing and dishes while they are there. It feels great.

But if my friends or extended family then said they were moving in to my house permanently, that we were going to do this every day, that now my kitchen was ours, my computer was ours, my house was ours...well, I'd probably have a problem with that. And by probably, I mean definitely.

But why?

I think in western society, we are conditioned to think this is normal. Self-centredness is the status quo. No-one questions it because that's what everyone does. Whether that is the product of a capitalist society or the other way around, I don't know.

But it would come as a shock to us if we found ourselves in a different time or culture, to discover, actually not everyone is like this.

There have been in history and there are in the world now, cultures where there isn't so much importance placed on ownership. There isn't so much of a division between mine and yours. Where free, welcoming hospitality is the highest honour, rather than a select, guarded privilege. Where is more about what you give than what you can get for yourself.

For a society theoretically based on Christian values, we are shockingly bad at caring for other people above, or even equal to ourselves.

Acts 2:44
All the believers were together and had everything in common. (NIV)
There was an intense sense of togetherness among all who believed; they shared all their material possessions in trust. (The Voice)
And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources... (The Message)
And all those who believed were together and everything they had was communal... (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

I don't know about you, but that sounds wonderful and terrifying at the same time.

We love the idea, yet most of us hate the reality.

We'd rather those verses read something like,

"They were together a lot having BBQs, and shared their time, money and stuff sometimes, but on their terms; then they went back to their own houses for some time out."

But no. They were together and shared everything. EVERYTHING.



We as the Church have a long way to go before our lives look anything like this. I have a long way to go. I long for it and I run from it in equal measure.

But the good news?

The people of the early New Testament church weren't just extraordinarily good people. They had something that we need more of.

Something - someone - who came like the sound of a rushing wind, and like tongues of flame, and turned their lives upside down.

We aren't just called to live a certain way and then left to our own devices. Jesus actually gave us the power to put it into action. And once we learn to do that, that's when we will start to see the kingdom of God...heaven on earth.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Jesus take the wheel...but I'll be a backseat driver

When I was younger, whenever I was sick with a fever I would have the same nightmare. Two cars would be driving towards each other, then they would suddenly go up on their back wheels and keep driving towards each other. I would just be watching this scene replay over and over in my head, going "No, you can't do that!"

In the light of day once the fever was gone, I could laugh about it. But while I was sick, it was a truly terrifying nightmare! It haunted my childhood.

The reason I think this dream was scary is that it represented a complete lack of control. The cars were doing things that were impossible, and yet I could not stop them, no matter how hard I tried. And it just repeated over and over; I was a helpless spectator.

Even as an adult, whenever things feel like they are getting out of control in my waking life, I will have car dreams. Not the same one anymore, thankfully. These days I'll be driving and the brakes won't quite work, or I can't quite control the steering wheel, or I'm going just a little too fast but can't stop.

Its a common dream motif. And it's all about control.

No wonder as Christians we sometimes use the image of Jesus taking the drivers seat in the car that is our life. It represents giving over control of the direction and speed of our lives.

And yet, while we might say this is what we are doing, how many of us actually do give him the wheel and sit back?

Instead, it's more like an episode of Keeping Up Appearances. We sit in the passenger seat and make sure Jesus sees the potential problems and hazards.
"Watch out for that tree."
"It's on the other side of the road...."

We like to make sure God is aware of all the potential problems that could arise from his plan for us.
"You do know that it's pretty much impossible, right?"
"So was walking on water."

Now, signing up to follow God's plan for our lives is a good thing. The problem with the 'Jesus in the drivers seat' image is that we view Jesus driving as if it relegates us to a passive role. As if we are meant to just sit in the passenger seat and watch the scenery pass by. Or take a nap. Or, when we feel like things are going wrong, we consider ourselves carjacking victims.

So that's where this metaphor really falls down.

In fact, get rid of it all together. I've never liked cars anyway.

Pick your metaphor - but make it one where Jesus is walking beside you. Holding your hand even. Or running beside you in a race. I don't know, be riding on his shoulders if you want.

Just don't make it about 'control' because we most often associate that with who has the power. And it becomes a struggle, with us always trying to take it back.

But you know what, when we lay down ourselves for Jesus, he doesn't take it as an opportunity to wrestle our power from us. He already is all powerful - he doesn't need ours. Instead, he gives us back our new selves, and we walk with him.

We walk with him, like Adam and Eve in the garden before the fall. He is a father, a friend, a constant companion. We can completely put our faith and trust in him.

Have Jesus drive and you take a nap if that's what you need right now. But I'd rather get out of the back seat and walk with him in my life, and have his guidance and his hand to take.

I want to live my life with him, so I am not just waiting to reach a destination, but I actually live a changed life along the way.



***
How about you? How's your life right now? Do you feel like a passive passenger in your life? Or is it more like a runaway car?

Have you thought about this 'Jesus at the wheel' metaphor before? What metaphor would you use to better describe it?

Monday, April 1, 2013

You Don't Know Who You Are Until You're Tested

When I was in Year 11, I thought I wanted to work with little children - until I did work experience in a kindy.

Before I was married, I thought I was selfless.

Before I had a baby, I thought I was patient.

Before I was called to give freely, I thought I was generous.

Once I was tested with all these things, I realised I wasn't as kind, loving, selfless, patient and generous as I thought. Ouch.

It can be hard to see yourself in a new light - and so sometimes we shy away from anything challenging or testing because we know it's going to show up who we really are. We have to face up to reality; no longer can we just hold an image in our heads of how we'd like to think of ourselves.

It hurts.

But I finally understand this verse...

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:2-4


It doesn't necessarily feel like joy in the midst of the pressure and testing. Lately I feel like I've been tested a lot, and I was starting to feel down. I was starting to not like what I saw. Everything I thought I was, was being broken down and I was starting to wonder what would be left...

But think about it...

If I didn't face up to the reality that I can sometimes (often) be self-centred, I wouldn't still be married.
If I didn't work on my patience, I wouldn't get along with my daughter, or anyone else.
If I didn't realise my need to be more cheerfully generous, I couldn't be used by God to help others.

If I wasn't tested, I'd be alone, stingy and materialistic. And unhappy.

So I consider it pure joy!

Rather than walking around with an idealistic view of myself, but nothing real to show for it, I am discovering who I really am in Christ.

Because in Christ I am a new creation - once the reality of who I am is exposed, my faith grows, and the fruit of the Spirit begins to replace my broken nature.


Don't shy away from testing. Don't settle for a pale imitation of being a 'good person' - let your faith be tested and just watch and see how God can use you! Wait and see the real fruit your life will produce!