AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS

THREE YEARS AGO, at the age of 70, my life was shattered by the eruption of well impacted memories of atrocious sexual abuse by a church leader.  The man was also a Christian psychiatrist who used his power to force me to stay in my loveless marriage and remain the good, submissive Christian wife he decided I should be.

Shattered glassThere are no words to describe the torment that took over my life as I tried to make sense of the enormous damage that man had done to me, and the dreadful consequences for me and my kids; no words to describe the terror of trying to regain control of my life when everything had been torn from me—my faith in God, as flawed as I now know it to be, my sense of self, the injustice that my daughters had dumped on me while supporting their father when he eventually told me our marriage was over.  I was utterly devastated.  I felt cheated by God and completely betrayed by the Church.

When the full force of those memories slammed into me I was devastated and so angry, furious with God for allowing that man to do what he did, in effect robbing me of any choice to get out of that sham marriage and find happiness elsewhere, and anger that he allowed those memories to come at all, at my age.  Hadn’t I been through enough without this?  Couldn’t he leave me in peace for the remaining years of my life?  He could have, but he didn’t.  And now that I have moved through this agonisingly painful, confusing and heart-breaking healing journey I am once again grateful that he did not leave me alone.  Rather, he loved me enough—and believed in me enough—to take me through yet another incredible phase in my life that has brought with it deep healing and an even greater measure of wholeness.

The full story of this part of my life will be told in another format.  However, where I am right now could be summed up in two words “complete” and “liberated”.

Yesterday, after feeling so complete after the final work of healing, I heard again Don Moen’s song At the Foot of the Crosswhere grace and suffering meet…At the foot of the cross where I am made complete.     https://youtu.be/Z_e9Mzuk-RU

This morning I woke feeling liberated; by chance today’s Bible verse was Galatians 5:1

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

 This morning, sitting at the foot of the cross pondering upon all I have been through, I am truly amazed at the awesomeness of my God, all he means to me and all he has done for me.  I am grateful that he cares enough for his kids that he wants the best for each one of us and has promised never to leave or forsake us on the journeys he takes us on.

Foot of the cross

Sunday, 23rd September 2018

 

FRESH INSIGHTS

The Shack bookGOD HAS BEEN showing me precious truths about who he is. Through the movie The Shack I learned that his concept of vengeance differs so much from mine. Just as he chastises me for my misdeeds with love and grace, so he deals with all people fairly and appropriately. Vengeance is his, and I can leave the way he deals with others in his hands. That is none of my business.

From J.B. Phillips’ book Your God is Too Small I learned of the need to have a focussed view of God, as presented through the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ—his life, teachings, suffering, death and resurrection. Otherwise, for us mere mortals, we would each hold a very distorted, wishy washy image of the awesomeness of who God really is and how, in his majestic wonder and power, he could possibly care for each one of us intimately and individually.Almighty God

From Come Sunday, the movie about Oral Roberts’ disciple Bishop Carlton Pearson and his revelation of God’s deep, profound, all-embracing love for all people—regardless of race, colour or creed—and the falseness of the bigoted teaching that God only loves those who have accepted Jesus as Saviour and the rest were going to hell, I learned more of just how distorted my understanding of God’s love was.

And from Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward, in which he demonstrates how the first half of life is about forming the container of who we are, the second of focussing on what needs to be in there to be an expression of the True Self we were born to be.

This has been a lot to take in, but what a privilege to have the time to reflect upon this and particularly to have the Holy Spirit as my Teacher and Guide, so patient and so willing to reveal his truths to me.

Oh how I love Jesus—in this journey called life, he takes my breath away!

Worship the KingReferences:

Wm Paul Young, The Shack. Newbury Park, California: Windblown Media, 2007.
J.B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small. New York: Macmillan, 1953.
Come Sunday, Netflix, 2018.
Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.

IS YOUR GOD TOO SMALL?

JUST AS I began reassessing my understanding of God that had largely been formed from pulpits of fundamental evangelical preachers, I was reminded of J.B. Phillips’ book, Your God Is Too Small[1].  Written in the early 1950s, Your God Is Too Small has as its premise that most people’s understanding of God is far too inadequate to cope with the challenges of the 20th Century. Phillips describes different perceptions people have of God—unreal gods—that fail miserably in the midst of life’s trials:

• Resident policeman
• Parental hangover
• Grand old man
• Meek-and-mild
• Absolute perfection
• Heavenly bosom
• God-in-a-box
• Managing director
• Second-hand God
• Perennial grievance
• Pale Galilean
• Projected image

Christ's handPhillips then goes on to demonstrate the rationale of how and why God chose to show himself to humanity, in the form of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The enormity of Almighty God is beyond comprehension for mere mortals who, since the beginning of time, have sought to know him, the Creator of this vast universe. By having his Son come to earth in the form of man, live alongside humans in a way that reflected his character being worked out in relationships, through his teachings, resultant abuse, suffering and execution on a cross, enabled people to have a focussed understanding of what had otherwise been indefinable.

Had the story ended with the crucifixion, Jesus would have faded into history. However, to complete the revelation of his uniqueness, Christ rose from the dead, overcoming the powers of death and darkness. There is significant historical proof of the resurrection, including not just that his grave stone had been rolled away, but that after his death he had been seen alive, in bodily form, by hundreds of witnesses. Anticipating that those who would follow him, mere men and women, would fail miserably on their own, God provided the Holy Spirit to continue his mission of redemption in the world.

Phillips captures the essence of Christianity, not shying away from the question ofJesus..prophet suffering, and giving the argument for and against following Christ, and the failure of the Church to present him in all his glorious, life-changing reality.

Your God Is Too Small is a timely book for the 21st Century, particularly with church attendance being seen as irrelevant leaving many people floundering in their faith and grasping for meaningful direction and purpose. A great read.

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

UN-BOXED!

A FRIEND recently commented that religion puts people in boxes, and I had to agree. Not only does organised religion, particularly Christianity, herd people into their particular corral, but within their specific congregation individuals end up being in separate, personal boxes in which they have to work out their own understanding of God as best they can. To question becomes fraught with fear, to challenge invites ostracism and being labelled a heretic.

BoxedMost people who have been in churches for decades are oblivious to this. Their particular ritualistic worship—whatever brand of faith community they are in—has become so ingrained in them that it blinds them to even the possibility that there are other ways of experiencing God and the wonder of who he is. They crouch inside their little boxes within the bigger box of their denomination in the confines of a very narrow, restrictive comprehension of God.

However, more and more people are breaking out of the bigoted barriers of their little boxes that have stopped them from seeing God in all his awesomeness, majesty and power, and with his unlimited love, joy and peace, infinite grace and mercy.

It can be quite scary being flung from one’s religious restraints into the vast expansiveness of God’s creation with a smorgasbord of options on how to know and experience God spread out before us. When once we were very sure of our faith, convinced it was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we are left flailing to pick up the pieces and begin the task of rebuilding a much broader and less flawed–though still far from perfect–understanding of who God is, what he means to us and how we can relate this fresh awareness to our daily lives and to those around us.

Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward[1], addresses life’s tasks that need to be undertaken for us to become spiritually mature and authentic.  We devote the first half of life to building our identity; in the second, we need to sort through what we have gathered and work through what has prevented us from becoming truly authentic—a time of “falling down” that ultimately leads to one “falling upward”.  The richness of the teachings in Falling Upward are so pertinent for those of us who have emerged from our bigoted blindness into the panoramic splendour of God’s radiant, all-inclusive, glorious light.

It is not easy becoming un-boxed…but it sure beats being alone in the dark.  It is as the Apostle Paul wrote:  “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12, King James Version).
Unboxed

[1] Rohr, Richard.  Falling Upward: a spirituality for the two halves of life.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.

SPRING SPRINGS FORTH!

SPRING IS SPRINGING forth! I am so thankful for that. Here in South East Queensland it has been an exceptionally cold winter with the mornings often down to freezing—on one occasion -3 degrees. Quite frankly, I was over winter months ago! I am not a winter person at all.

Butterfly on wisteriaAnd yet, there are many people who love the cold and thrive in the cooler months. They have a bounce in their steps that reflects their enjoyment of the crisp days and chilly evenings. Similarly, there are those who embrace summer with a fervour that energises them and brings them alive, the sweltering days enlivening them in ways that others just don’t understand.

I come alive in spring, the season that bridges the two extremes of winter and summer bringing with it newness of life, fresh optimism, hope, joy, gladness. It’s as though the world stirs from its slumber, ready to embrace life once again. The harshness of a cold winter is shed and the starkness of a hot summer is yet to come.

Just as some come alive in winter, others in spring, summer or autumn, so we are all different in many other ways. That’s what adds to the vibrancy of life, the effervescence and enthusiasm that we enjoy in our small corner of the world.

How we relate to one another in our diversity builds community, accepting one another as we are and respecting each other, as we would like others to respect us. It makes such a difference, and it begins with each one of us—you and me—right here, right now.

Four seasons

FEAR NOT!

FEAR TAKES MANY forms and for me it has often been with me when I set out in the car. Why? Whether it is to Christian events such as an inter-church meeting on the Sunshine Coast eight years ago, or non-church outings such as driving up the Toowoomba Range, going to and from Charleville, to Karana Downs and Ipswich, Manly, Highgate Hill, Norman Park or Brisbane’s northside—always, always fear and anxiety abound. Why?
Fear

Fear, in particular of breaking down—even when my car was brand new!  Fear now, with the slight “hiccup” when I move from 80 to 90kph—but which has caused no other problems, and which so seldom happens.  Why fear?

Is this a hangover from when I was married and never drove when my husband was in the car because I felt inadequate compared to him? Is it because I don’t think I can look after myself on the road? To call the RACQ if I need them? To trust my car that I have kept well serviced?

Is this telling me I am afraid of being alone—a woman on my own—when the reality is I am not alone and I know God is always with me? Why am I afraid of driving? On two occasions when I have had significant issues with the car—once when it needed a new gearbox and I was a long way from my home in Charleville, and another time when I had two flat tyres, again a long way from home—I managed the situations with ease, called RACQ and was able to have both issues attended to quickly with no added hassles. Because the problems happened where I could access a mechanic they were attended to before I had to get back on the road for the long drive home.

I had never thought about this fear until recently when I was about to set out for the Sunshine Coast and felt yet again fear take over. I was looking forward to my time away, and I did not want my journey to be spoiled by fear. Enough was enough.

We’re encouraged to face our fears, and as I did—very definitFaith over fearely questioning what was going on and why—they suddenly dissipated. I was rid of them. I knew that I was a competent driver and that if needed the RACQ would be there to help along the way. In particular I reminded myself that wherever I may be, on the road or at home, my awesome God is with me watching over me and protecting me.

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah repeatedly encourages us not to fear—at last I’m taking notice:

“Be strong, do not fear; your God will come” (Isaiah 35:4).

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:14).

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).Faith over fear 2

I had the smoothest drive to the Sunshine Coast and arrived safely without getting lost, something of a miracle for me—I have often wound up in the weirdest places  when my lack of navigation skills and inability to read a map have led me astray. But that’s another story.

 

THE JESUS I KNOW

WHAT IS IT about Christians that they think they can treat other believers with contempt, but not be held responsible for their own bad behaviour? Are we really meant to be all sweetness and angelic niceness towards those who abuse us?

Recently I lost my temper. It was not pretty. I was very angry with a guy, a Christian, who had, for the past twelve months, promised to do a job for me but who had no intention of doing it. When I decided to do the task myself, and was thoroughly enjoying myself, he was not happy. And I reacted, badly. His response was to tell me I was not a good Christian and that I was just having a bad day. I was not amused.

I wasn’t happy with my reaction to this guy. Although I wanted to respond appropriately – nicely – I also want to be real in how I relate to others. As I talked with God about the incident and how it was the authenticity of Jesus in his humanity that drew me to himself, I told him how my reality was not like his, my reality is not pretty. It is not neat or attractive, not like his. It is ugly. I was surprised and encouraged by his response:

“Not so, Irene. Do you think it was pretty when I raged against the tax collectors, the money changers in the temple, the Pharisees—those white sepulchred beings who destroyed my people with their religious lies and false teachings? There was nothing pretty about that.  Being real is often not pretty.”

That is so true. I baulk at being with church people who are all niceness, but who are not genuine. I long to be with fellow believers who are not afraid to acknowledge they’re finding life tough and who, by conceding that, are authentic in their walk with God.

God’s call to me is to be real, that I must be real so that those around me can see Christ in me—despite my failings. Jesus related to those around him with love and compassion, kindness and care and, at times, very assertively and forthrightly.  I have much to learn about living authentically for him.Jesus in the temple