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

 

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

 

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

 

I STAND AMAZED

I SOMETIMES BECOME overwhelmed with the grandeur of my God, his awesomeness, majesty, might and power, and how, though Creator King, Maker of the Universe, he still has time for us mere mortals.

Shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks in America, I began my morning community radio program with two songs: Bette Midler’s From a Distance, and The Bachelors’ I Believe. The first describes how God watches over us from a distance, the second that in the storms of life he hears our smallest prayers.

Psalm 8’s anthem of adoration to Almighty God captures the paradox that, while launching the sun, moon and stars into space, his thoughts were upon his people, making them a little lower than angels and crowning them with glory and honour (Psalm 8:5)

So many people have such a limited view of God, created according to their church’s creeds, their brand of biblical exegesis, according to their status in life or because of the unacceptable behaviour of those who claim to know him, but who fail miserably to demonstrate his reality. These restrictive images, the idols we make, leave little room for us to know God in all his glory or to experience the life and liberty he has for us.

On one of the many occasions when my life had fallen apart, I realised that the image I had of God, formed by restrictive church teachings, was far too small for the enormity of what I was going through. At my lowest point I decided to go back to the Gospels and learn for myself who Jesus is and what he really taught. It was a revelation like no other. Through him I experienced the reality of his love, grace and mercy and came to know his Father as my own. The words of an old hymn came to mind:Jesus

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how he could love me 
A sinner condemned, unclean
How marvellous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvellous! How wonderful!
Is my Saviour’s love for me.

 

 

IN HIS STEPS

AS I HAVE continued to mull over what authentic Christian living means, my thoughts turned to the words of the apostle Peter:

  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21, New International Version).

Those words reminded me of the Christian classic, In His Steps, written by Charles Sheldon in the late nineteenth century. In it he relates the story of Reverend Henry Maxwell who challenges his upper middle class congregants to live as Jesus would live, asking themselves before they did anything, “What would Jesus do?”

Over the following twelve months the impact upon those who accepted the call, upon the church and community was outstandingly revolutionary. The impact of such a challenge illustrated vividly what authentic Christian living really means. There would be a similar response today if all church people accepted such a call.

Several issues struck me about this story. Individuals were encouraged to respond to this call for themselves in their unique situations without basing their decisions on what others thought and without judging others for how they may or may not have responded.   Christians were challenged to consider Jesus in every aspect of their lives: their work ethic, relationships, finances, community and church involvement. The issue delved deep into the core of one’s faith, just as it would for us today.

It is no secret that I struggle with today’s institutionalised church. So much of what I have experienced has been detrimental to my mental, emotional and spiritual well being—it is impossible to share the full extent of what all but destroyed me, so disturbing was its enormity. And yet, despite all I have been through, my faith in God has remained strong. I value significant interaction with fellow believers; I crave meaningful Christian conversation, and I thrive on solid godly teaching.

Since picking up In His Steps, and as I seek to live each day for him, I have begun to ask myself the question—“What would Jesus do?”  This is just the beginning of a fresh phase in my life; one I trust will become life enriching for myself and for those around me.

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.footprints

Unforced rhythms of grace

My favourite Bible passage is from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 11, verses 28 to 30. Jesus gives us all a simple, sincere, significant invitation:

“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,” (New International Version).

Those words of welcome have had a profound impact upon me throughout my life, particularly when I was going through times of distress and heartache, doubt and confusion.  Always, they drew me back to my Saviour, my Lord and my God.

Recently I read that passage in Eugene Peterson’s version of the Bible, The Message.  It was so refreshing!

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?  Come to me.  Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.  I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I sure have been “burned out on religion”, well and truly.  But what struck me even more was the intent of God’s invitation to “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” That is such an exquisite expression of God’s love, kindness and care—the “unforced rhythms of grace”. It is as though he has all the time in the world to bathe us with his love, his grace and his mercy.

“Unforced rhythms of grace.”

May that be our reality as we nestle into the arms of our loving God and experience the joy of knowing him more fully and more deeply than we’ve ever known before.