THE SPLENDOUR OF OUR GOD

GOD CONTINUES TO prove his immovability simply by being himself. God is good. God is love.

What more can I say?

Father and child 2My heart and soul rejoice in the wonder of who God is—his awesomeness, power and might, his love, grace and mercy.  The greatness of his vast creation, the gentleness of his individual care and concern for each of his creatures.

Awesome God, faithful Father, saving Son, empowering Holy Spirit—how great you are!

With all my being I explode with gratitude for all you are, all you are doing in my life, and in the lives of those I love and care about.  Thank you.

The heavens declare the awesomeness of your might and power—and my humble heart echoes the expression of that declaration.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:1, 14)
    SUNSET

FORGIVENESS—WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?

RECENTLY I WAS with a group of acquaintances, mainly fundamental Christians. The conversation got on to estrangement from one’s family. This was something one of the ladies had recently begun to experience, while for me it has been nine years since I saw my two daughters and their five children, my grandchildren. Immediately, one of the women in the group told me that the answer to this problem was forgiveness. I was not amused.

Firstly, that woman did not know me at all; it was the first time we had met. Secondly, she had not even heard my story—the dreadful complex challenges that had marred my life from birth and that had flowed on to my daughters turning their backs on me; and, thirdly, she did not know that forgiveness had already been a integral part of my healing journey.

I was angry with that woman. She was typical of so many people in many churches who are so swift to mete out judgment on those experiencing deep wounds from problematic families, wounds that they often have no idea what happened to cause them and from which they seek healing in the midst of a mess they did not create. Even when I challenged her belief, the woman remained adamant that all you need to do when life is tough is to forgive. I learned later that she herself was struggling with a difficult relationship with her daughter and could not understand why it was continuing, even after she had forgiven her—or at least tried to forgive her. Such situations are far more complex than simply mouthing words of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process, an often arduous journey dependant upon the circumstances leading up to the need to forgive.

So, what is forgiveness? What’s it all about?

Perhaps we need to first understand what unforgiveness looks like. Unforgiveness is about holding grudges, becoming bitter, resentful, judgemental; holding onto the anger, hurt and desire for revenge that comes through a whole range of distressing and disturbing situations that cause us deep heartache, grief and despair.  When people are devastated by the actions of others that lead to crushing feelings of intense angst and anguish the last they need are words of judgment from the pulpit or supposed “godly” counsellors telling them that unless they forgive their abusers they themselves will not know God’s love or forgiveness. In times of such overwhelming devastation, people need to know God’s compassion, kindness and care. They need to be held in his arms of love, Bruised reedhear his promises to be with those who are bruised and broken, understand that he does not condemn them for hurting, being vulnerable, feeling foolish for being in situations that led to their distress and for which they were not responsible.

Christians, do you understand this?

Before you go preaching forgiveness, walk with the wounded in their distress. Hold their hands to help steady them in the mess of their lives. Hold your tongue—desist from mouthing words that can kill, cruel words that come from the pit of hell, not from the Word of God who is himself love.

There is a time for forgiveness. But ideally it should come in an environment where the intensity of one’s pain has eased, one’s emotions have settled, and when one can once again make lucid decisions about how best to cope with life’s difficulties.

Forgiveness is a rational response that helps us address our most painful situations. It includes the releasing of our hatred towards those who have betrayed us, our desire for revenge, and the need to know they are sorry for what they have done—none of which removes the power they still have over us if we hang onto our own bitterness and unforgiveness.

Forgiveness, the letting go of the wrong that was done to us and learning to release those who have caused our pain into the loving care of our Father who knows how best to deal with the whole situation, enables us to move on in life’s journey free from the heavy burden others have tried to place upon us.Cross

When I think of the distress others have caused me, my thoughts move towards Christ on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they have no idea what they have done.” I am reminded that not only did he speak those words to those who hurt me, but to myself who so often needs his forgiveness for the wrongs I do, both knowingly and unknowingly.

Forgiveness. It is a journey—one we all need to be on.

 

 

CAN A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST BELONG TO A DENOMINATIONAL CHURCH?

FOR MANY YEARS church has been problematic for me. I hadn’t realised why until some scary memories drifted into consciousness of my being sexually abused by a supposed “Christian” psychiatrist, a Queensland denominational church leader. I had entrusted my life to that man; he completely betrayed me. When the memories erupted my entire understanding of God, developed primarily through fundamental evangelical teachings, Shardsshattered. I had to pick through jagged shards, try to make some sense of the dreadful consequences of what that man had done, and begin the slow process of trying to rebuild my faith. It was a terrible time. Now, with the resultant early crises settled, I need to reconsider my understanding of church and where—if anywhere—I might belong.

I left the church back in the 1990s, when my life had first crashed about me and a private Welcome to churchpsychiatric hospital had become my second home. My challenges were far too complex for any church to manage, and I had to leave. Eventually, with the rubble of my life settling I tried to reconnect with a faith community. So far it has been a futile exercise, one that has brought much hurt, angst and despair. Churches of all denominational persuasions have made it so difficult for newcomers to feel welcome; the iciness of some has been distressing.  So what am I looking for in a church?

I want to be with real people who really know and relate to Jesus, as though he’s their Friend as well as Saviour and Lord. I want to be with people who are more aware of the Scriptures than they are of church doctrine, who know the difference between genuine Christianity and “churchianity”.

I want to be in a faith community that is inclusive, sincerely warm and welcoming, that understands that not everyone has the same comprehension of who God is—how we express our faith in God differsand that’s okay.

I need a place to belong, a mutually supportive faith community where I feel accepted, needed and wanted, where I can find my niche and serve God where he wants me; where I can share my understanding of God, listen to how others perceive him to be, and together grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

I want to belong to a church where I can simply conform to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), rather than to a particular denominational brand or church tag. I am a Christian—a follower of Christ. I am not a Baptist, fundamental evangelical, liberal, Protestant or Catholic.  I am a Christian.

Having said that—I am not looking for a perfect church. There is no such place. I just want to belong to an authentic Christian community. That’s what I’m looking for. Is there such a place? I don’t know…I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.  But I live in hope.

Welcome church

IS YOUR GOD TOO SMALL?

MY GOD IS an awesome God, full of majesty, power and might, grace, mercy, kindness and care. I haven’t always known him like that. For many years he was frightening, somebody to be feared and shunned, a judge who sat upon a lofty throne glaring down at us mere mortals who, no matter how hard we tried, could never attain his standard of  perfection or righteousness. Though I was fascinated by him and wanted to know more about him, my childish comprehension kept me from ever getting to know him. I am not alone in what was my faulty, fictional understanding of who God is.

J.B. Phillips, in his book Your God is Too Small described the different perceptions God on throne 2people have about God. Many still hold the view of him that they had in Sunday School, a benevolent old man in the sky meting out blessings to those who were good and punishing those who were bad. Others see him as a “resident policeman” making sure they obey the myriad rules placed upon them, while others understand God as the “managing director” of their lives making decisions for them and taking away any responsibility for what they determine to be “God’s will”. Many others have placed God in a box that has been created by their brand of Christianity, Protestant or Catholic, or by their individual life story. None of those concepts, Phillips states, is adequate when one experiences the challenges of today’s society—and he was writing more than sixty years ago!

My understanding of God leapt out at me many years ago when I was speaking with a pastor about some persistent concerns that had nagged me since childhood. He suggested that I visualise myself as a little girl running towards God in his throne room and experiencing his loving acceptance of his daughter. I guess the pastor thought it would be rather like how JFK Junior would rush into the White House to be with his father. He had unprecedented access to the most powerful man on earth, the President of the United States of America. But for me, I was terrified and blurted out, “He says he won’t!” And my God remained even more distant than I had already known him to be. I have come a long way since then.

Where do I begin to explain who God is? So awesome, magnificent, majestic and mighty, ruler of the universe, our sovereign Deity, bursting with glory and wonder, power and might; all knowing, ever present and in supreme control of this world we live in. And yet this breathtaking Being who holds the world in his enormous hands, is so cognisant of the pinnacle of his creation, humankind. The Psalmist of old captures the dilemma we have:

LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:1-4)

How can we make sense of our majestic God’s desire to have a relationship with us mere mortals, particularly when for many of us our comprehension of him comes from distorted teachings flowing from the pulpit that have failed to represent the reality of our loving God?

God is love. The whole message of his creation is that of love. Despite mankind’s disobedience and rebellion, God’s message remains that of love. Throughout the ages, as he interacted with the Israelites—his chosen people—his message was that of love. And his plan of salvation, the sending into our sin-sick world of his only, dearly beloved Son to demonstrate in tangible ways the reality of God’s love for all peoples, was an unarguable message of extreme, extravagant love. The suffering and brutal crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ on that wretched cross at Calvary was the ultimate message of love for humanity and God’s creation. The resurrection brought with it the triumph of that message of love, culminating in the awesomeness of his ascension followed by the promised empowerment of the Holy Spirit upon those who chose to receive him.

God is love. And his message for all people everywhere, regardless of colour or creed, gender, race or religion, social standing or marital status, is that of love.

Jesus and lambThe message of salvation begins and ends with God. God is love. God loves me with an unconditional, welcoming love that accepts me just as I am—just as I was when I first met him and began to understand something of who he was and is. Just as I was in the mire of my life when chaos ruled, when my faith in him was as fragile as that of a lost lamb who had wandered far from her Shepherd’s care, when my anger at what others had done to me through their atrocious abuse, betrayals, lies and the distortion of God’s truth raged. God loves me. And because God loves me with that pure, unadulterated love—unconditionally and with no holds barred—I want to love him back, and love others in that same exquisitely perfect way.  I have much to learn.

Reference:  J.B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small, London: Epworth Press, 1952

MY DESIRE.. TO BE LIKE JESUS

RECENTLY AS I thought about my desire to live an authentic Christian life, the words of an old hymn came to mind. Lillian Plankenhorn based her 1946 song, My Desire, on the words of Jesus: “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11:24, King James Version). My desire has always been to be like to Jesus and to live for him. Sadly, the church got in the way and I got lost in religion, so far removed from the simplicity of following Jesus and experiencing the wonder of who he is.

CrossFor decades I believed that the church had all the answers, that I could learn to be a follower of Christ simply by doing what was preached from the pulpit: repent of my sins, have a daily “quiet time”, pray and read the Bible, tithe, be totally committed to, and fully involved in the local church, attend church twice on Sundays as well as the weekly prayer meeting, obey the church leaders unquestioningly—regardless of what they said or did, be a good, submissive wife and honour my husband as the head of the home, deny myself, and love all people regardless of how they treated me. Even as I write, I am shocked at how much my life was consumed by the church. There was so little room for me as a person, a wife or mother. And there was no room for Jesus, the one I had been so attracted to when I first became aware of how much God loved me.

My life fell apart when memories of an abusive childhood erupted into consciousness. My understanding of God, faulty as I now know it to have been, disintegrated when my husband, a supposed Christian who had been very much involved in the church, told me he would not be with me on what would be a lengthy journey to healing and wholeness. Shattered beyond comprehension, completely bruised and broken, I left the church and concentrated on the hell of healing, a story all of its own. I gathered up the crumbs of my faith and let the words of Jesus become a healing balm as I trod that long and lonely path.

During those dreadful years I clung to God as a drowning woman to a lifebuoy. I began Woman at wellto read the Gospels again, picturing myself with Jesus as he touched the lepers, healed the sick, brought sight to the blind, forgave the sinners, fed the multitudes and taught the crowds about how to live for him and experience his love, joy and peace. Through the richness of my developing relationship with him I grew in my walk with God in ways I had not known when I went to church.

Life was not easy and there were many tough times that would repeatedly throw me into confusion, grief and heartache.  However, despite all I have been through, I have learnt so much about the wonder of our awesome God and what it means to live for him. The words of that old hymn capture my heart’s desire:

My desire, to be like Jesus;
My desire to be like Him.
His Spirit fill me, His love o’er whelm me;
In deed and word to be like Him.

 

A MIGHTY REVOLUTION

THERE’S A MIGHTY revolution going on in churches around the world demonstrating against the bigoted beliefs, distorted teachings, abuse of power and lack of love that has bolted religious shackles onto those who want to follow Christ and experience the fullness of the life he offers, but couldn’t. From fundamental evangelicals to Catholics and all shades in between, people of faith are questioning what has been preached from the pulpit and comparing that with the Gospel message. While many refer to this as “progressive Christianity”, it is in fact a call to return back to Christ, to the simplicity of the life he lived and the profoundness of what authentic Christian living really means.

breaking wallThis movement is breaking down religious barricades and drawing together people of all Christian denominations and many from other faiths in a common cause of experiencing the love of God in all its fullness. Many in the church pews see this as a dangerous move, after all the God they know has been based on their particular brand of “churchianity”, and come hell or high water nothing will change that.  Although they may say they accept and love all people, their supposed inclusiveness is soon shown to be shallow and insincere when it comes to acknowledging those who are different, who hold differing beliefs and who would not be welcome in their church and the culture of exclusivity that pervades their congregation.

Ever since I accepted Christ as Saviour I had been looking for him in the many churches I have been in and out of over the decades. I rarely felt that I belonged and once my marriage broke down, that was it as far as church people were concerned—that and the dreadful consequences I was going through as a result of a very abusive childhood and a loveless, supposedly “Christian”, marriage, left me feeling like a leper, a pariah who had no business being in the house of God. I was looking for the Jesus who had offered me his simple invitation to come to him, to learn of him and to find my rest in him, the One who was gentle and humble in heart, and who had promised that his yoke was easy and his burden light (Matthew 11:28-30).  I didn’t find Christ, but I did find so much that was anathema to the Gospel message.  Eventually I turned my back on the church, and found Christ in all his joyful simplicity in the world around me, in the teachings of many authors who have been on a similar journey of discovery and, most importantly, in a close, precious, intimate relationship with my awesome God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I had already been trying to understand what authentic Christian living really means and if it actually existed!  Now my many questions are being answered. I am excited about this movement towards Christ and the love, grace and mercy he has for all creation. As Rabbi Harold Kushner states: “For the spiritually authentic person, God is real, not a label we brazenly attach to our own wishes and opinions” (Harold S. Kushner, Living a Life that Matters.  London: Pan MacMillan, 2001).

Many people are  shaking off their outdated religious views with their “own wishes and opinions” and are embracing the reality of the Gospel in ways they have not known before. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all churches could become part of this mighty revolution—I’d like to see that!

wind of holy spirit and cross

 

MY CHAINS FELL OFF

I HAVE STRUGGLED with church for decades.  So much of what was preached from the churchespulpit and lived out in the congregation did not gel with my understanding of the life and teachings of Christ.  However, to question the contradictions I was experiencing was met with disdain and left me feeling like a heretic, a backslider and sinner who lacked faith and was disrespectful of authority.  So I tried to get along, toe the line and believe that my involvement in the church was commendable; after all, I was working for the Lord and extending his kingdom here on earth.  The “kingdom” that was labelled “Baptist”, “Assembly of God”, “Pentecostal”, “Charismatic”, “Anglican”—whichever church I happened to belong to at the time.

After a particularly unpleasant incident in a small church in Outback Queensland, I gave up completely on my quest for a spiritual home.  I was over it.  I had tried so hard to find a place to belong and had failed.  Nonetheless, deep within I held on to a thin thread of hope that maybe one day I would find that elusive faith community that would accept me as I am, just as I would accept and love others as they were.

Eventually a horrid situation erupted from the depths of my mind, shattering my spiritually stifling fundamental evangelical faith and tearing it apart.  Gone were the constricting constraints that held my black and white, cut and dried beliefs together.  Gone was the narrowness of my understanding of God’s love and acceptance of people that set me apart from the “sinners” who did not know him and those of us who belonged to his chosen few.  Gone were the thick iron chains that had bound me to the belief that I was never good enough to be part of the “really chosen ones”, those in church leadership; the understanding that I had no right to think through life issues on my own, let alone make decisions for myself on matters that affected my life and future.  All of that was gone.  Flung off in a flash with chaos reigning and any sense of normality flying out the window.  It really was a time when “my chains fell off”, as that old hymn says, but in those early days my heart was definitely not free.

dust stormOne of the many challenges I experienced was that I felt so alone with what I was going through.  I thought I was the only one to have walked this path.  I was frightened that I was letting God down, and I was so afraid to even think of reading non-evangelical writings lest I be led further astray.  I was dreadfully confused, particularly because all I had tried to believe in, all that I had given my life to, had turned to dust and been blown away by a mighty gale, never to be gathered together again.

God in his graciousness led me to several organisations that addressed the issues I was going through.  Each one has contributed to my journey, and I am so grateful for them.

Richard Rohr’s Centre for Action and Contemplation[i] and his extensive teachings helped ground me when the storms of confusion battered my soul.  J.B. Phillip’s book, Your God is Too Small[ii], simplified my comprehension of why I had never felt comfortable with what churches had tried to instil in me.  The website Mindful Christianity Today[iii] has been a source of encouragement with many of its messages resonating deep within, strengthening my understanding of God and teaching me how to be still in his presence and in the process learn more about his character, his love, grace and mercy.

In the early weeks of my intense rage at the church for what I had been caught up in, I came across Greg Albrecht’s book Rejecting Religion: Embracing Grace[iv], an incredible eye-opener if ever there was one.  Using the words of Jesus in Matthew 23, Greg Albrecht broke open the lies of the church and her leaders and the resultant bondage they placed upon their congregations.  When I first read that I was dumbfounded.  How dare this man write as he did!  Gosh, if I had have said what he was saying I would have been kicked out of the church for heresy.  But here he was, writing about the very concerns that had all but destroyed my soul and had left me so spiritually bereft.  Greg Albrecht did not leave the book there; he went on to demonstrate that each one of us has a responsibility to forgive those who have hurt us and live a life of grace and mercy, just like Jesus did.

While reading through Rejecting Religion: Embracing Grace a second time, I decided to contact the publisher and was pleased to have Greg respond to my email.  Through that connection I am appreciating the work of Christianity Without the Religion/ Plain Truth Ministries[v], and I look forward to more involvement with both.

Over the past few days I have come across a Facebook site that has been such an encouragement: Progressive Christians[vi].  Like other members, I was  hesitant about becoming involved with this group.  After all, doesn’t “progressive” mean liberal, anti-Christ, ungodly, accepting of all people—including gays and lesbians?  Oh dear.  What was I getting myself into?  What I have been experiencing on this site has been acceptance—that elusive sense of belonging that had evaded me for decades—love, grace, compassion, kindness, care.

Belonging to this group is so far removed from the narrow, bigoted, restricted view of God that I had found so difficult to embrace—and had felt so guilty for being rebellious and lacking in faith for not embracing—and the abiding peace and unfathomable freedom that God has promised for those who love him.

Putting all these contacts together I feel that at long last I have found what I have been looking for.  I feel so content in this fresh awareness of my God who has been with me throughout what has been at times an unbearable journey.  Standing at the threshold of this New Year, I can sing afresh the words of that old hymn that have now taken on such an invigorating new meaning:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.[vii]

chains broken

 

[i] Center for Action and Contemplation, https://cac.or

[ii] J. B. Phillips, Your God Is Too Small.  New York: Macmillan, 1953

[iii] Mindful Christianity Today http://www.mindfulchristianitytoday.com

[iv] Greg Albrecht, Rejecting Religion – Embracing Grace.  Pasadena: Plain Truth Ministries, 2010

[v] Christianity Without the Religion/Plain Truth Ministries https://www.ptm.org

[vi] Progressive Christians, Facebook

[vii] Charles Wesley (1707-1788)