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.

Authentic Christian Living

THE CHURCH TODAY has lost its credibility in the community. Incidents of child abuse by members of the clergy have tarnished congregations of all denominations.  Reports of domestic violence within supposedly “Christian” marriages are increasing.  And the teaching of many churches simply bolsters their particular theological brand rather than focussing on the Gospel message of God’s love, grace and mercy, and how we should live for him.

For many decades I had struggled to find a spiritual home where I could feel loved and accepted.  However, trying to find a church to belong to was a painful, futile experience that eventually came to an abrupt end when vivid memories erupted of my being sexually abused by the State leader of my particular denomination.  That betrayal affected every part of my life – body, soul and spirit. It took all my determination to process the many issues that surfaced, in particular aspects of my spirituality and my sexuality.

Although I had many questions about what had been done to me, and why, I could not turn my back on God.  I knew he would once again see me through this difficult time, just as he had with the many other challenges I had been through over the decades.

However it was obvious that there was no way I could belong to a church that had caused such offence.  The church had robbed me of my right to experience the reality of a loving, living God and had replaced that reality with their restrictive, legalistic teachings that I had soaked up for years.

As I worked through the many issues stemming from that spiritual abuse, I began to understand something of what it means to live an authentic Christian life, one that is genuine and which attracts others to the Lord Jesus Christ.   It is aspects of this journey that I want to capture in my blog Authentic Christian Living.

Many people have been wounded in churches.  Many have either lost their faith or are struggling to hold onto it.  It is for them, in particular, that I address this blog Authentic Christian Living.  I pray that it will be a source of comfort and healing for all who read it.

Many blessings,

Irene.

Christmas gifts

CHRISTMAS is a demonstration of the love of God for all people. It embraces not just the birth of Christ, but His life, death and resurrection. Many visitors to Israel experience something of that amazing love in personally enriching ways, and I too have had that privilege.

Visiting Bethlehem 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 reality of the meaning of His name, 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  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 He 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 coming 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.’

In what is meant to be a festive occasion 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.

Christmas 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 Counselor, 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’.

This Christmas may each one of us accept His gifts and embrace them in all their fullness. The love of God, His peace, joy and hope – wonderful gifts that are His personal gifts to each one of us.

Israel – my journey of discovery

HAVING RECENTLY returned from New Zealand where I attended the Australasian Religious Press Association’s conference in Wellington – and learned so much – I am now about to head off to Israel. This will be my third visit to this amazing, complex land. It seems that each time I am there another part of the jigsaw of its complexities falls into place.

When I first went to Israel in 2010, all I knew about the place was that was where Jesus lived. While I was there, walking around the wall of the City of Jerusalem, I was almost overcome with the sense of the reality that this was where Jesus really had walked. It was one of those God-moments when something happens deep within the core of one’s being, and a whole new phase of life begins to unfold.

On my return to Brisbane, I was compelled to learn all I could about Israel. I gathered history books from the library, a chronological Bible, Bible atlas, geography books, devotional and study books – and read with a passion that was almost all consuming. It wasn’t too long into this exploration that I began to read about the Church’s shameful history of anti-Semitism that had spread for centuries, right into the present – accounts of cruelty, persecution, and unimaginable hatred that culminated in the greatest assault against the Jewish people – the Holocaust.

As I read of these atrocities, my heart broke and I sobbed at what we in the Church had done – all supposedly in the name of our God, the God of love, of peace and compassion. I knew I had to respond personally to what I was discovering. I decided to do some volunteer work in Israel; in 2011 I joined a Christian, pro-Israel organisation and worked in their publication department assisting with editing and proofreading of their publications and website. It was a challenging time.

This year, having God cancel my plans to return to Israel as a volunteer for a longer term, I am about to begin another tour – this time one that I sense God is taking me on so that I can learn more about His chosen land and people. My tour – A journey into the heart of the Abrahamic faith – promises to be an enriching spiritual experience. It includes being in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, as well as visiting Messianic congregations to hear something of their ministry in Israel – as well as several other challenging events!

I know this will be a unique experience; I am going with my heart open to learn all that God has in mind for me. It is a privilege to be on this tour – and I plan to share something of it through my blog. What a joy it is to be a daughter of the King and to know how much He loves and cares for me….. just as He cares for all His children.

Sharing my story

I HAVE HAD the opportunity over the past weeks to share my story with social work students, some undergraduates and others completing their masters in social work. It’s not easy telling my story, which has been rather harrowing and very turbulent, but I share it according to the audience. With the masters students it was a small group of mature people, all of whom had been working as social workers for some time. In the smaller group there were many opportunities to talk informally about my experiences and to respond to questions. With the undergraduates – a much larger group of younger people, I’m assuming, I’m telling my story a little differently, brushing over some of the rougher points and omitting others… I don’t want to scare them off working in mental health services!

Why tell my story? There are many reasons, but above all I want to testify to God’s goodness for all He has done over the decades to bring me through to the place of peace and contentment I now enjoy. I do not know why life was so tough for me, but I do know that without God I would never have made it.

Life hasn’t turned out the way I wanted it, and I have had to grieve for lost hopes and dreams. However, life is a whole lot better now than what it had been for so long. For those who would like a glimpse of my journey as I see it, check out Psalm 40; Isaiah 61:1-3; and 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. These help me focus on the reality that God maps out our lives, and He is working out His purposes for us all.

Have a great day!

Marketing my book

It’s two years since I published my autobiography – Peace and Freedom are My Names.  That was quite a feat, even though I made some blunders along the way.  One of my biggest concerns has been trying to market it.  I am not one for promoting myself, nor do I find it easy to ask for assistance.  However, for my book to sell, I need to do both.

Peace and Freedom are My Names is an inspiring account of my journey into and out of madness, a journey that was all-consuming for more than a decade.  It was an incredibly lonely, frightening experience, one that I longed to escape from, but from which there was no escape.

After having ongoing bouts of depression over the years, I was eventually diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder – also known as complex post traumatic stress disorder.  Along the way, I experienced significant anguish from family difficulties and from within the mental health sphere, as well as from churches.

However, had it not been for my strong faith in God, I would never have come through that lonely journey.

As those who’ve met would know, I did eventually emerge from that harrowing ordeal, coming to a place of peace and freedom, joy and contentment that I never thought possible.  Peace and Freedom are My Names is the story of that journey.

All it needs now is for it to be marketed appropriately …. that is one of my projects for 2012.