No-one wants to punch Jesus in the nose!

The more I write the less I feel qualified to do so. Last week I wrote a blog post which I had started once, deleted and started again before I finally posted it. Like most bloggers probably do I re-read the day after. I’ve done it with all of them but with this one I was annoyed at myself for posting it. I’d had a bit of a rant about several areas of Christianity that concern me at the moment. I tried to make them link and flow to be one profound, mind stretching, life changing piece of writing. It wasn’t! You may not have thought that if you’d read it. I had a few compliments about it but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted this blog to be. It was a self-rightiousy “I know best” post, pretending to myself it’s what I’m being challenged about but in reality, using my writing to vent frustrations about others. So I deleted it.

Even now as I write this I hear the quiet voice of God, reminding me to get the ruddy forest out of my own eyes before I use the tweezers to get the tiny splinters out of others. Gosh it’s so easy to look down on others!

Last night my husband and I went to a bible study. It’s run by some friends of ours who are two of the most faith-filled, inspiring people I know. They have devoted their lives to helping as many people as they possibly can to discover Jesus and know him and love him and the bible. Their name’s aren’t up in lights. In fact they are removing their names from any lights that are currently shining on them. They are humble, and brave. I admire them.

The bible study took a simple format. Read a bit from the bible. Read it again. Re-tell the story so it really sticks and then chat about it. We read The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Read it now if you can. I’ve read this parable hundreds of times. It’s one that most people will know, irrelevant of faith. I was read it roughly every month at Sunday school growing up but last night IT BLEW ME AWAY! We were challenged to think about it from different angles. What follows are some of my thoughts and some shared by others.

The first question was What do we learn about God? Early on we see it there in black and white: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”. God’s asking us to be totally devoted to him. Am I? Do love him like that? I could write a gushing paragraph about when my husband and I were (as my 6 year old says every time we show any affection to one another, with a disdained look on her face) “falling in love”. It would make us all puke so I won’t, but that’s the all consuming love God want’s from us. The Message version of the bible (a kind of modern day, easier to understand version) says “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence”. I want to love him with all my heart, every heart beat. Pray, pray and pray some more. Use my energy and effort for his purpose and use my brain for his good. A lot of the above goes on other nonsense, a lot of the time!

heart

The next bit says “Love your neighbour”. I think it tells us that God genuinely wants and needs us to give 2 hoots about one another. It also tells us that God is not bothered by status or titles. His highest value is on the merciful and those in need of mercy. I can write as many wonderful, inspiring blog posts as I want but if I don’t really love my “neighbour” then I’m like the priest or the Levite (someone who was highly regarded and given lay-responsibilities in the temple). My title or the perception others have of me means nothing if I don’t care for people I come across when I’m on my own.

The second question was What do we learn about people? Ouch! The road where the parable takes place was notorious. Imagine driving through Moss Side at night and seeing someone stabbed. Would it be risky to help? Yes. People are fearful. I was massively struck where the expert in the Law”wanted to justify himself so he asked Jesus “and who is my neighbour”. That word “justify”. So many times I have justified not helping someone who needed it. Here are a few examples:

  1. Inappropriateness – I am female, person is male.
  2. Ineffective – Giving money is not the best way to help someone who is homeless, for example.
  3. Someone else can help better – Lots of charities are set up for people in need so leave it to the experts.
  4. Too busy – In a rush to meet someone, get something, go somewhere.
  5. Fear – That person can’t come and stay because I have two young children.

I justify why I can’t help. It’s easy to. It’s reasonable to. But what if the person that needed my help was Jesus in disguise. Read the story again as if Jesus was the man who was hurt. How would I feel if I’d walked on by? My heart sank!

We chatted further in the group about the parable and what it was teaching us. At the end we were asked what we’d do differently this week as a result of looking at this bit of the bible and if we would tell anyone about it? Yesterday I had spent a good few hours in a mood with someone who, as I shared with the group, had been a total boob! My challenge was to treat everyone as if they were Jesus in disguise. I can imagine Jesus hurt, in the gutter. But what if he is my friend who’s annoyed me who I’d quite like to punch in the nose? No-one wants to punch Jesus in the nose.

And then I said I would share it through my blog. It’s what I’m feeling at the moment. It’s me bare, spiritually naked and trying really hard with this whole faith thing.

We’ll be starting a similar bible study (simply looking at a bible story and having a think about how it can challenge us) at our house. It’ll be on Monday evenings from 8pm. If you want to join us (yes I mean you, secret blog reader!), especially if you’ve never really read the bible, please let me know. It might just be incredible!

 

 

 

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STOP IT!

 

It would appear that there is a widespread feeling of discontentment from Christians at the moment. As a result of posting my first two blogs I have had lots of conversations with people feeling a similar way. A feeling that if we don’t step up, really encounter Jesus, really know God’s heart then we’ve missed the whole point of why Christ came. It’s been exciting and reassuring that I’m not on my own in this. If we’re gonna do it, let’s do it properly. But how?

The last couple of weeks I have been genuinely excited about going to church. The week before last our Church Leader Anthony gave another incredibly helpful talk about how Jesus walks with us even when our commitment to him fluctuates. Peter, one of the disciples was like this, on a grand scale. He denied Jesus not once but three times. He would be super committed and enthusiastic and then falter. Jesus not only loved him uncompromisingly but also used him as a key player in the early church and the advancement of Christianity. “YES” I thought…hope for me yet!

Then this Sunday a guest speaker came to speak. His name is Simon Guillebaud. He lives in Burundi, East Africa with his wife and three children and he gets it. He gets what I’m feeling on another level. Burundi is the 2nd poorest country in the world. It is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Simon should be dead, countless times over he should be dead. He has had threats that would have given me a heart attack even without them being carried out. He and his wife put their kids to bed with loud fans on to drown out the sound of gunfire. He told stories of such horror that even he who is well versed in suffering was in tears. But he also told of INCREDIBLE hope and miracles. Whilst driving down the most notorious road in the country his colleague turned to him and said “you know we’re invincible until God calls us home?”. What a great mantra (am I allowed to say that?? Anyway..) for life! WE ARE INVINCIBLE UNTIL GOD CALLS US HOME! So why the absolute chuffers do we spend so much time worrying about ridiculous things? Why the chuffers do we spend so much money on rubbish, trying to lengthen our lives and make us happy (and probably in debt) in the mean time? Why do we not live for Jesus like WE ARE INVINCIBLE UNTIL GOD CALLS US HOME?

That was just the introduction. He went on to speak about 9 questions that Western Christians need to answer. I won’t list them all here but please, if you like my blog (thanks) listen to the podcast of the talk (www.ivychurch.org/media), and write some notes. But beware, it is challenging. It looks at some traits of many, many Christians. He called us into a higher standard of living God’s way. This way isn’t bound by regulations, routine, knowing the plan, or justifying our behaviour…ouch! God’s way is LIFE, FREEDOM, LOVE, GRACE. It is eternal life with Him.

So being me, I come home and start packing for Burundi. I’ll do everything Simon said and more. Let me loose on the world. I’ll buy a lorry and fill it up with broken people to love and dodge bullets and see daily miracles and fight fires and become a Dr and an architect and do a theology degree and learn 8 languages. Then they’ll write a book about me being the Christian Lara Croft (with less lycra) and we’ll all be merry and bright. But then it all got a bit busy. I had organised a picnic for some neighbours from our church. Then I had to collect my eldest from a party, do spellings and reading with her, sort out school uniform and put on another load of washing. Then my youngest was being really cute before bed so we did lots of playing and laughing which wound her up no end so she needed to be cuddled to sleep. Then I was tired.

So Monday morning I woke, feeling no less inspired but maybe a bit less feisty. One thing that had really got me thinking during Simon’s talk was that he could recite lengthy passages of the Bible from memory, word for word. So my 6 year old and I sat down to write out a bible verse each to learn this week. I looked at a blog written by a fellow busy Mum trying to focus on one verse a week…great, that’ll do;

Psalm 37:23-24 “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him. though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.”

I didn’t really read it properly. I drew it on a big bit of paper in fancy writing (not very me but never mind) decorated it with flowers (even less me) and stuck it on my bedroom wall. It was only as I went in the room later that it hit me. “STOP IT” was almost audible. I felt God guide me back to my original plan of slowing down, listening more and not putting a 10 step plan in place. I  need to delight in him. Spend time with him. Enjoy being a child of the King. Experience his infallible joy. Then he will make my steps, and they’ll be firm and they’ll be mine. They won’t be Simon Guillebaud’s. They won’t be anyone else’s. They’ll be my steps. And I won’t be able to fall or fail. I might stumble but I’ll be upheld by the one who made me and knows be best.

Later I met with a friend who is going through an incredibly tough time. She said about her dramatic life event “everything’s changed and nothing’s changed”. That’s how I feel. That God is awakening something in me that is huge, something that I can’t imagine but that will be incredible. But I still have to make the dinner, do the washing, change nappies and clean the bathroom.

It’s a tension and balance that I need to stop trying to work out. At the moment, the day to day is what I need to do, and do well. My kids are young and my husband is busy, serving God in another way. I need to not belittle this time or see it as inferior. Yes I feel this real sense of seeing greater things, but God is calling me, my character and my dependence on him to be greater. Not through pressure or striving or working too hard and burning myself out. But by being loved, by delighting in him and by trusting that he’s got my future. Delighting and trusting like never before.

Starkers and Stories!

So I’ve started this blog ‘Bare Naked Faith’ and I feel like the first post I wrote 2 weeks ago really did leave me emotionally and spiritually butt naked. I’ve shared it with a very select few people but I’ve not been brave enough, until now for public viewing. Did you ever see Gok Wan force poor, post-children, wobbly, cellulite clad women to parade on a stage for all to glare at? Well that’s what I feel like; vulnerable, unhidden, wobbly but strangely proud that I’ve been totally honest and not held back. Now I want to get dressed, paint a smile on my face, do the school run and carry on as before. However there’s no point in writing a ‘Bare Naked Faith’ blog fully clothed. So I’m leaving the Gok Wan stage and I’m still stark b*****k naked (sorry Mum).

After I’d written my last post I thought about how I’d explain it in more detail to someone who doesn’t share my faith why it is all so important. Here I am, admitting to hearing from God, being completely broken and wanting to live in a completely different way. I want to make clear that I am still me. I love all things funny. I belly laugh at risky birthday cards and Dad jokes, gogglebox is my favourite show (I LOVE Scarlett), coco pops and weetabix are my favourite late night cereal combination, with blue milk. I enjoy moderate amounts of gin and cannot sit through films. I detest pinterest and it’s fake ideals. I love my kids and quite frankly they are, and always will be better than all the rest. I am still human and that’s ok. But I am also deeply spiritual and that cannot help but become more of the every day and make me who I am. Some of you will understand what I’m talking about and some of you will probably think I’m crazy. So I want to explain it better.

As part of my “listening” phase I decided to stop making excuses about the kids, stop taking time out in Starbucks (unhelpfully in the same building) and get my sorry behind into church every Sunday morning to actually listen and engage with the talk (preach). So on Sunday the 1st May, the day after my 33rd birthday and the start of my Jesus year (He was 33 when he died and rose again) I went to church and sat and listened. Anthony Delaney our Church leader was speaking. After a comedy story about begging for a carrier bag in Tesco he said “At the end of the talk today I want to encourage you to get out your seat, come to the front and kneel if you are wanting to give your life fully over to Jesus Christ. Now maybe you’ve done that before but you’ve realised that actually you’ve started to be in charge of your life again yourself and you want to give your life back to him.” Even though I felt like I’d already done this the week before, I laughed to myself knowing that I was absolutely gonna need to hear what he was about to say.

He went on to describe our lives as a story, with lots of changing scenes.. A French philosopher spoke once about “the death of the meta-narrative”. This means that people have lost the idea of the big story. That’s completely what I had been doing. I had been focusing so much on my past and the here and now of young children, school runs, sleepless nights, being skint and feeling super busy but not productive. I had forgotten that this time of having young children is just a few pages of my life book. I had focused so much on what I had failed at that I forgot how much I had and WILL achieve. I forgot who was directing. My story is bigger than my past, my present and my failures. If it just focuses on that then quite frankly it won’t be on Richard and Judy’s best books list.

He went on to speak about the point of our stories. If we are here just by accident and the world ends by accident then what is the point? Some may call me completely crazy but I KNOW I was created. I know there is a reason bigger than I can imagine for me being here. I know that that my life is not meaningless. The bible says that “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” I have faith. Faith in something bigger. An author of my story. I have faith in God.

Some research has been done about university students. 2 of the biggest things they struggle with are porn and suicidal thoughts. The first is devaluing others and the second is devaluing ourselves. These are of course extreme ends of the spectrum but surely we all devalue others and ourselves in some ways? Story’s without purpose will always do one or the other. In my last blog I was open about my failures and the priority I had given them. At no point was I suicidal but gosh, I wasn’t placing high value on myself. And when I’m in a bad place I think badly of others. I think they’ve not been a great friend or selfish or oblivious of their faults. It’s horrible to write and admit to but I have certainly devalued others. There has to be a better way.

So how do I take hold of  my story and make it a better one? I give it back over to God. The three in one God. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. It’s the only way I can find true meaning.

Anthony went on to explain that great stories always include love, adventure, an enemy to fight, a hero, a sacrifice, a resurrection and Hope. The Christian story follows exactly this framework…which is why it’s so incredible.

 

Act 1: A love story. God created us and made us in his image. We are close to God, working together with him.

Act 2: The enemy enters in. He hates and opposes God. He can’t hurt God so he goes after his kids.He convinces God’s children to turn their backs on God. But GOD IS LOVE.

Act 3: A hero is needed. A rescuer has to come. Jesus volunteers for the rescue mission. Even though we didn’t deserve it, Christ died for us. He swapped our truck-load of rubbish and gave us treasure.

So in a nutshell it’s all there; love, adventure, an enemy to fight, a hero, a sacrifice, a resurrection BUT then there’s hope. Huge hope. Monumental hope. Jesus took my place. All the secret things I have done, the horrible thoughts, the poor, poor choices, the debt, the pain, the damage, the mistakes that some of you have seen me make or even made with me. Jesus took it. And not only did he take it but he gave me a crown instead. He made me right and let me come and sit with God, the almighty one. To be not only a friend but a co-heir, a co-inheritor of everything he has. He has made me perfect and new and more alive than I have ever been.

While I am on earth I know life will throw challenges and difficulties, hardship and doubt. But whatever happens to me I am a citizen of heaven. I have the hope of all eternity. My story is bigger than I can ever imagine. God is the author and director. This movie is gonna be incredible, not because of what I have done but what he has done.

 

I want to help you find your story. To be reconciled to God. Find your place, find your purpose. I am never, ever, ever gonna force anyone to do this. But if you want to know more then please come to church www.ivychurch.org, or just come and have a chat.

Below is the podcast from Anthony’s talk. I hope it helps you to have a bigger story.

 

 

 

 

Faith and Failure

This week I finally admitted it. “I’m not sure I’m a Christian.”

I think my husband thought I was being dramatic. Hard to believe but I can be. But this time I meant it.

I have been a Christian my whole life. I genuinely can’t remember the first time I said “Jesus, save me”. He was always there. Throughout my teens and adulthood I’ve said it again, and again, and again. I’ve said it so many times it must be a given, but I’m just not sure I really get it.

And so here I am, at rock bottom. I’m done. I’m tired. I’m exhausted from trying so hard for 32 years.

I’m done doing half-hearted Christianity. The world is full of half-hearted, lukewarm, seasonal Christians and I don’t want to be another one.

Don’t get me wrong, I love God. I one million percent believe in him. He is creator of the universe, Father to the Fatherless, name above all other names. I believe in Jesus. That he came to earth to experience being a human, to set people free and to ultimately die an horrendous death and be raised again so that we could be inextricably linked to God. And I believe in Holy Spirit. That he lives in us and chooses to dwell with us so that we can have guidance, wisdom, know truth and be continually at one with God. I believe in the Trinity. In God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. I believe.

BUT I don’t offer what God deserves.

I know I am a broken being. The whole point of Jesus’ death and resurrection and him leaving his spirit with us is because we fail, all the time. If we were perfect we wouldn’t need Jesus. But we’re not, so we do.

But I have a lifelong behavioural pattern that does not begin to do God justice. I explained it to some friends today as Jesus being like my right arm. He’s really useful. He uses me to do good things, he is an integral part of who I am. But if I don’t access him, use him, connect with him then it’s not the end of my world. Life is, of course better when you have use of your arm, but if you don’t then you still live and can do almost anything everyone else does. It’s an inconvenience but it’s not the be all and end all.

I want Jesus to be my heartbeat. My everything. The pulse in my every move, my source of life. I want to be so dependent on him, so filled with him that without him I would literally die.

But I have never got to that point. It’s not for want of trying. I’ve tried reading the bible and praying every day. I’ve tried groups, reading plans, apps, devotional booklets before apps existed. I’ve joined training programmes, moved onto a deprived estate with lots of other Christians to try and bring hope, I’ve worked for the church, preached, started blogging, vlogging and mentoring others about how to do the Christian thing better. I’ve nagged at my husband to make us sit down and study the bible together, and pray more. I’ve served on every church team going. Music, kids work, welcome, tea making, toilet decorating. You name it, I’ve done it. But in all of it, Jesus has never been my heartbeat.

I feel like I try for him to be my all but I fail. I have a history of failure. It started at primary school when I learnt to play the piano, then the violin, then the keyboard, then the recorder, then the cello and gave them all up. I am the worst orchestra…literally. Then I went to secondary school. I chose friends badly, got bullied and ran away to my next school. There I had friends but failed to study. I went to college, quit, got a job, quit, went back to college, failed, scraped in to university, quit…the list goes on. So failure has been a constant in my life.

But so has God. He is always constant. Always loves me. Why then can I not be constant back?

I know that despite my failure, God uses me. I know I can hear him. Recently, out of nowhere, God gave me 2 specific words for 2 separate people. So in my doubt that I can hear God I said to them ” I feel like God has told me something he wants to say to you. It is probably me making it up so please don’t take this as read and please test it but…..” And to my genuine astonishment these specific words rang clear for those they were given to. God wanted them to hear something specific that would alter the course of their thoughts and lives. Incredibly he used broken me to share it with them.

But I want more. I want more of him. I want him to have more of me.

This evening, I went to church and two dear friends prayed very insightfully with me. One prayed that God would take away any feeling of failure. (As you can tell, this has yet to take hold.) That I had not failed but God was building a catalogue of experience that he would use for my good and his glory. She also (in a bit of a strict voice) told me to stop. To not take on things that were my idea. To sit, to listen. Ouch! I am a constant doer. I can’t sit still. I like a programme, schedule, tick list. If I see a problem I want a methodical way to solve it. And I guess that’s what I’ve always done. If there’s a course, or a job, or a book, or a bible reading plan, or someone else I can depend on to make me right with God then I’ll try it. But I can’t recall ever just taking time out of each day to listen. Just a few minutes to stop, listen and do nothing else. Then the other said that tonight God would give me a song. Immediately after she prayed I had to leave to get home to swap childcare with my working husband (no way I could stay). I felt disheartened that she had not heard right. But she is on it. Jesus is her heartbeat so I knew she was right.

So I’m done being a lukewarm, half-hearted Christian. I want Jesus to be my first love. my heartbeat. From right now, forevermore. But I’m scared I’m going to fail. Again. Really scared. But I’m not going to give up before I start so I will start with stopping and listening. And the journey might be long, and hard but nothing else has ever been more worth it.

And here is my song:

Jesus I’m desperate for you.

Jesus I’m desperate for more of you.

In my brokenness, in my hopelessness, break through.

 

Jesus I’m hurting and I long for you.

Jesus every part of me needs more of you.

In my brokenness, in my weakness break through.

 

Be my heartbeat, be my life source, be my everything and more,

Jesus you’re the one, my purpose, I am free.

When you died and shed your blood for me all my failure washed away

Help me live as one forgiven and redeemed.

 

Every time your heart beats let my heart beat just the same,

Let me be consumed by you again,

Be my everything, have my everything, break through.