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)

 

CHRISTMAS GIFTS

A VISIT TO Israel, the land God chose for the birth of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, brings with it an awareness of the richness of God’s love and the gifts he has for each one of us.  During my time there I was touched by the profoundness of his love, grace and mercy.

angels_singingVisiting Bethlehem, the town where Jesus was born, and standing in the Shepherds’ Field where angels proclaimed the arrival of the Christ-child, brought a fresh awareness of the Christmas story. I understood anew the wonder of my Lord and my God – Immanuel, God with us.

As I sat in the magnificent church on the Mount of Beatitudes, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the words of one of the Beatitudes captured my heart: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Many people find Christmas particularly difficult, the grief of their lives intensifies in the midst of the heightened air of excitement and anticipation. There are those who are mourning – those who are bereaved, those with broken relationships, the loss of hopes and dreams. To each one, Jesus brings his gift of comfort. He gently says: Blessed are you who mourn, for you shall be comforted.

As I walked the streets of Jerusalem, where Jesus once walked, I was reminded of how heJesus and leper reached out to the poor and needy, those who lived on the edge of their communities. Jesus reached out to all in need – and he does that for all of us today. At Christmas time there are those who feel alone and lonely. To each one Jesus brings his gifts of love and acceptance.

As I talked with Jesus in the serenity of the Garden of Gethsemane, the words of an old hymn came to mind:

I come to the Garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses
And He walks with me,
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own

The words of the contemporary Christian song, Servant King, also capture the pathos of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane as he awaited his arrest and pending crucifixion. It speaks of the garden of tears where Christ chose to bear our heavy load, where his heart was torn with sorrow, but in obedience to his Father, he declared: ‘Not my will, but Yours be done.’

At Christmas time there are those who are carrying heavy loads. To all, Jesus offers his gifts of empathy, kindness, care and compassion. He invites everyone to give him that heavy load, and receive from him his love, joy and peace.

His name shall be calledChristmas is a time to reflect upon the love of God, demonstrated to us through the birth of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ – our Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – the One who knows us intimately, loves us deeply, and who offers us Life with a capital ‘L’.

At Christmas time, may each one of us accept his gift and embrace it in all its fullness. The love of God – a wonderful gift that He has given for all of us to know and experience.

WHERE TO FROM HERE?

I HAVE COME to accept that I may never attend church again.  Given what I have been through, it is understandable.  However, this decision did not fit comfortably.  Some time ago I came across Greg Albrecht’s book Rejecting Religion – Embracing Grace[1], a book that was so timely for me.  Based on Jesus’s message about religious leaders (Matthew 23), it helped me comprehend what I was going through, particularly the way many church leaders mislead and abuse their faith communities and prevent them from knowing the reality of God’s love, joy, peace, acceptance, kindness and care.  However, Albrecht does not leave the message there.  He is keen to have readers embrace God’s grace, and in so doing have a “dynamic relationship with God”.

Rejecting Religion Embracing GraceAs I began to re-read this book, I felt guilty for not wanting to go to church and wondered how I could be a Christian, a follower of Christ, on my own in my small community.  I decided to contact  the publishers of Rejecting Religion – Embracing Grace for their comment.  I was grateful to have a response from the author, Greg Albrecht, and thought I would share this interaction with my followers.

In my first email, I wrote:

JUST OVER THREE YEARS ago I finally realised that the reason I could not find a spiritual home was not my supposed rebellion, but that I was seeing through the sham of religion. I am in a similar position as Greg, loving God – hating religion (and with very serious reasons). My query is – can I do this faith journey on my own? I am 73 years old and live alone. I have a precious, very close relationship with God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – but I feel guilty for not being “in fellowship”, but the thought of church makes me physically ill (please don’t judge me for saying that, there is a very serious reason for that reaction). Greg’s book Rejecting Religion – Embracing Grace has been so helpful for me to work through the many issues that came with the realisation I had been well and truly duped by fundamental evangelicalism.

It’s been a huge journey these past three years. I would appreciate your response.

I was grateful for Greg Albrecht’s response was:

While religious traditions, buildings, rituals and ceremonies are not fundamental and We are the churchnecessary in the life of a Christ follower, loving God and loving neighbor are central products of the life of our risen Lord – products of the love he lives in us.  We are not alone because he is in us, and his life in us will spread his light into the lives of others. Others we positively effect are those most naturally in our lives – as basic and common as people we meet shopping, at doctor’s offices, commuting to and from destinations, etc. Our Christ-centered dispositions then lead us to exude his love, to be kind, gentle and patient.  While such a Spirit-led life does not guarantee deep and lasting friendships, it will produce friendship and relationship at one level or another – as simple as having a cup of coffee or tea with another.

 Your faith journey then may be shared with others informally, with or without the benefit of an organization.  One may discuss and share their faith in a variety of ways – we speak of this mutuality as fellowship.   If you never attend or join a church again, you still might find, share and give such fellowship through joining and serving in and with a charitable group, volunteer work to help others …  does this provide a few thoughts for your consideration?

 And to this I replied:

Thank you so much for your response to my email.  Your words certainly make sense and resonate with this journey I am on.

While living alone, I must add that I live in what is called here an “over-50s active lifestyle resort”, a community of about 200 people within a small semi-rural community south of Brisbane.  Since moving here about 20 months ago I have sought out residents who claim to be “Christian”.  What an interesting exercise!  None of them want to move from their particular brand so each one remains separate.  Given your comments on how I can live for God and be an expression of God’s love for and acceptance of all people, I understand now why I can relate so well to each of them, regardless of their brand, as well as those who have no desire for God.  I relate as a follower of Jesus.  Here in my community I also have the privilege of being the editor of our monthly newsletter; through that I have been sharing something of God’s love and joy as much as appropriately possible for our diverse people.  The response has been quite positive and it has been encouraging to have meaningful conversations with many people about the tough times they are going through and their understanding of God.

As part of my “coming out” from fundamental evangelicalism, I have become much more relaxed talking with those who give little thought to God – the wretched sinners we had to avoid like the plague unless we planned to convert them to Jesus –  something my church would frown upon.  But those people are far more accepting of me, and respectful, than those I tried so hard to connect with in churches.  And they are open in their conversations with me.  It’s as though God has been working with Jesus friend of allme in ways I had not known, but in keeping with his promises that he knows what he is doing with me.  After chatting the other night with a few people from the bowls club, I was a little concerned about mixing with those so far removed from church.  And then God reminded me that that was exactly what Jesus did, and he was accused of being a glutton and drunkard, friend of sinners (Matthew 11:18, 19), and he went on doing just what he was doing.  My question has always been, “How on earth can those who need to know Jesus – all of us, in and out of the church – come to know Jesus if we’re afraid to talk about him?

I have been going through massive changes these past three years, particularly this past year as I’ve come to embrace what God is doing in, with and through me, and not fighting it.  It is an exciting phase of my journey; I have made mistakes, but God and I are doing okay.

Once again, thank you for your response.  I appreciate your understanding of what I have been experiencing.

Sometimes all it takes is for one person who understands the journey we are on to make an enormous difference to how we live it out.  Greg’s words resonated so much with me and have shown me that I am on the right track—very different from what had held me captive for decades—but so very right, at long, long last.  Our God is great, so very great!  And awesome, and incredibly wonderful!

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

HAPPY CHRISTMAS?

CHRISTMAS IS MEANT to be a time of joy and goodwill to all people, a time to pause and reflect upon the birth of Christ, God’s gift of love to His world.

However, for many people Christmas is one of the saddest times of the year, for a variety of reasons. The estrangement from children, death of a loved one, Sad ladydivorce, family issues, significant health concerns and a host of personal challenges seem to make a mockery of what should be a happy occasion.

Somehow the joyfulness of the Christmas Season, the cheerful carols, happy shoppers and plans for another memorable day, intensifies the pain that many people are struggling with, much of which is often hidden behind a mask of bravery, cheerfulness, kindness and concern for others.

Snoop Christmas hugWhether we acknowledge the reality of God or not, we can all share something of His love, joy and peace with those around us. A simple smile, perhaps a hug, words of kindness and concern, may be all that is needed to brighten a person’s day and make their Christmas a little more bearable.

Whatever your circumstances this year, I pray that you will know God’s special touch upon you and your family at Christmas and throughout the coming year.Christmas

SHATTERED! SHALOM

I AM THE mistress of procrastination, finding a thousand things to do to keep me from my writing.  I know what I have to say is vitally important; I have no doubt about that, even though it is a difficult subject to confront.  Nonetheless I have wasted hours and hours in pathetic procrastination.

After what had been a hellish life of abuse and trauma as a child and teenager, and trying to cope in a loveless marriage, I believed I was through all my challenges and was happily enjoying life in my second stint as a social worker in Outback Queensland.  That was until my mind was bombarded with frightening images of my being sexual abused by a supposedly Christian psychiatrist, the then head of a Queensland evangelical denomination.  I was absolutely shattered by what I saw.  It has taken me three years to deal with the repercussions of that abuse: and it is those experiences that I want to capture in a brief memoir.

It is important for me to document this journey, for several reasons.  Firstly, as difficult as it will be for my children to read it, they do need to know the truth of what I have been through, why I struggled to be the perfect mother they believed I should have been, and why I failed.  Secondly, people in the church and broader community must understand the destructive consequences those who have been abused by church leaders need to address—and why many are unable to do so.  Thirdly, I want church people to know that it was not just Catholic priests or Anglican ministers who abused their parishioners; such abuse has also occurred in evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic churches.  Those churches are just as guilty as those they have chosen to condemn.  All churches, regardless of denominational bias, must address this sickening issue that still taints communities today.

I have taken this project very slowly, particularly when I was covering the early weeks, months when those dreadful memories barged into awareness.  One small step at a time was all I could manage.

But now I am through the tough spots and I’m ready to write of the changes I have experienced, particularly in the two most powerful areas of life: spirituality and sexuality.  It is so precious to feel complete in myself, comfortable with who I am, and to realise that just by being me is enough.  I can at last speak my truth from the position of wholeness.

Why am I procrastinating at this point?  Perhaps because I have a bit of work to do to capture the unfolding of these final weeks of the healing process, and I’d rather just glory in the moment of how great it feels, in a sense, to have arrived.  I also want to relate the reality of my God and the journey we have both been on over these past three years.  Not only was he with me right the way through, especially when I railed against him and tried to turn my back on him, and understood the torment I went through as I dealt with this hell, but he also knew the joy I would experience when I finally came to this place of completion, contentment.  The Hebrew word Shalom means much more than peace, it also means wholeness, integration, goodwill—among other things.

Shalom.  That’s what I have found.  What a precious gift for this time of the year!

backlit balance beach cloud

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