That’s Freedom!

MANY YEARS AGO, long before my kids—and many of my friends—were born, I came into an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. At the time, life at home was problematic and I was hurting like crazy.   I was 16 years old when I heard about God’s love for me, and how he had sent his Son into the world to demonstrate his love for all people. I responded to Jesus’ gentle call, a call that remains the same today as it was back then:

JesusCome to me…and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.   (Matthew 11:28-30).

It was so simple. The words I read in the Bible, particularly the words of Jesus, captured my heart and I was sold out for him. Just as much as he loved me and gave his all for me, so I wanted to love and serve him.

But very quickly Church got in the way. In particular, fundamental evangelical churches, followed by Pentecostal, Charismatic and Anglican. I got sucked into a range of teachings that all but destroyed my understanding of what it really means to follow Jesus.

Over the decades I tried so hard to fit into church life, to conform to the particular brand of Christendom I happened to be in at the time—and failed miserably. In the meantime, with an horrific history of abuse to process, my life began to unravel and I had to step out of church while I concentrated on the hell of healing, a process that took many years. With my life back on track, I once again tried to ‘get back to church’.

God had other ideas, and with one final revelation of a horrid incident of sexual abuse by a denominational church leader, I realised that ‘church’— at least not the ‘church’ others may perceive it to be—is not for me. What I had been trying to follow for decades was nothing but a bunch of lies that came with utter betrayal that was clearly ‘not of God’!

As a result of the healing work God has been doing these past months, using a surprising choice of people, I am not only rid of the restrictive baggage of a blinkered religion that tried to put God in a box, but I have entered into the most joyous time of my life. I now have a precious, intimate relationship with my God, including with his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, that is life-enriching and one that I can gladly, freely share with those around me—regardless of whether they go to church or not. To quote the title of John Farnham’s song, something of an anthem for me: ‘That’s freedom!’

My kind of Church

My kind of church

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To be like Jesus

THIS WEEK I felt bombarded by images of the Church – capital ‘c’, the Church as a whole – behaving badly. I say the Church as a whole because, whether we like it or not, we have all sinned and well and truly fallen short of what God intends for his people.

When I read our national broadcaster’s report on domestic violence in the Church, I felt like crying. Crying for those women mentioned in that report (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-18/domestic-violence-church-submit-to-husbands/8652028) who experienced such ungodly behaviour from those in their homes and churches who claimed to be followers of Jesus. And I felt like crying for what we the Church have done to others down through the ages in the name of Christ. I felt sickened by our hypocrisy, our lack of love and kindness, our pride and sanctimonious attitude towards those who struggle with life’s cruelty.

Then I met up with a guy in my resort community who mentioned he and his wife went to church. When I expressed interest he told me that he was very different from those in his fellowship. Oh? ‘Yes,’ he told me. ‘My ideas on the apocalypse, the end times, differ from most people in the church. They base their thoughts on…’ I politely cut him off and gently told him I try to base my faith on Jesus, his example and teachings.

As I thought about the many failings of the Church and the distress and heartache many experience there, I looked at what I really believe about God and how I want to live for him, perhaps how I could make a difference in our confusing, chaotic world. I realised that at the core of my being and the way I want to live my life is, to put it simply, to be like Jesus.

What a difference we could make in our own lives and in the lives of our families and friends if we lived as Jesus lived, if we treated one another with his loving kindness, respect and concern.

What a difference we could make in the lives of those in and outside of the Church who struggle with life and are screaming out for love, acceptance, kindness and care – if we treated them as we ourselves want to be treated.

What a difference we could make in our communities, our churches, our world if those of us who claim to be his followers were just like him, without our religious trappings, our denominational differences, pride, prejudice, cruel condemnation and judgemental stance.

Many years ago Jesus called people to ‘Come, follow me.’ That call remains today. Now, more than ever, the Church – all who call themselves his followers, and those who stand and watch on in dismay – must heed that call and become once again the salt of the earth and the light of the world that he has called us to be. To be like Jesus:

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11:28-30, New International Version)

Just write

EVER SINCE I was a kid I’ve had the urge to write, putting pen to paper to try to capture my thoughts and share them with others. When I was eight I wrote a poem about autumn leaves, though there was never an autumn in the tropics where I lived. Like many kids of my era I belonged to the Argonauts Club, a national radio program presented by the then Australian Broadcasting Commission as part of their Children’s Hour.

My prize, 1956

My prize, 1956

The Argonauts Club was open to children aged from seven to 17 and was hugely popular with a reportedly 100,000 members in 1950. Members took on the name of an Argonaut—I was Abaris 19—and sent in contributions of writing, art and music that earned points towards a book prize or advanced certificates. I still have the book I earned—Eleanor Dark’s The Timeless Land—something I treasure to this day.

Over the years I dabbled with my writing co-authoring several autobiographies then gaining my Bachelor of Arts with majors in Journalism and Studies in Religion before taking up the role of Communications Officer with the Baptist Union of Queensland and being Editor of their monthly publication, The Queensland Baptist. In that role I encouraged readers to get off the pews and be Christ in the community. Sensing that God wanted me to do the same, I gave up my writing and went back to university and studied social work.

In my early years as a social worker I struggled with the traumatic consequences of an extremely abusive childhood.  My world centred on admissions to a private psychiatric hospital and all the hell that went with that. It took years of extensive psychotherapy before I regained my sanity and peace replaced my inner turmoil. During my first attempt at retirement, in 2009, I self-published my autobiography, Peace and Freedom are My Names, a story described as ‘riveting reading’, and one of hope, healing and wholeness—the ongoing theme of my life.

Now once again retired after a three-year sojourn back in my social work career, my love of writing is bursting out of me. This has not been easy. Thoughts of unworthiness and lack of confidence, not to mention awful memories stemming from childhood and writing for different churches, have stymied my every attempt at writing.  But the urge to write wouldn’t go away.  Just as I was wondering what to do about this blockade a friend directed me to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative living beyond fear. This book has been extremely liberating and has enabled me to challenge the myths that have prevented me from enjoying my true vocation.  In a nutshell Gilbert says, ‘Just write! For goodness sake, Irene, just write!’

And my response? ‘Yep, I’ll do that. I will just write.’  And I plan to keep on writing as often as I like and as much as I want to.  After all, that is what I’m meant to be doing in this latter part of my life: Just write!