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.