God in the midst

I LOVE the Christian Church – the Body of Christ. But I do not like church.

What a contradiction that is!

Ever since I accepted Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord, I had been actively involved in the local church. My whole life revolved around the church; I believed that was what it meant to be a Christian, a follower of Christ. Then, in the 1990s, my world turned upside down – and I left the church.

I never left God. In fact, in my isolation from Christian fellowship he became my Rock, my Shepherd, the Lover of my soul, my Guide, my God. Without him I would never have come through the decades of intense psychotherapy needed to deal with deep psychological trauma from a problematic past, and become the person I am today.

In time, I tried to return to church. For years I struggled to connect with a local congregation. I went to churches of all denominational persuasions, staying at some for weeks, months; leaving others after my initial visit and one even mid-way through the first service. The whole process was excruciatingly painful; my church visits often ended in tears. I have finally accepted that, for me, trying to find a contemporary church of the twenty-first century is a futile exercise. Not only do I not fit into that scene, I find so much of church culture incongruent with the teachings of Christ, and with New Testament examples of Christian fellowship.

At present, church for me is meeting with one or two people at a time, talking with them in a mutually supportive way about God and what he means to us. It is often in these informal ways that we come to better understand one another, connect in significant ways, be an encouragement to each other and together grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). I am sure this is what Jesus meant when he said:  For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20).

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 PRESENTS CHRISTMAS PRESENCE

CHRISTMAS IS HERE and once again the festivities of this joyous time have begun.

As I thought about Christmas I was reminded of one of my ‘must have’ presents from 2016. I wanted a book on blogging, something that would not only inspire me but would help me create the most amazing blogs ever. Well, 12 months on and this year, so far, I’ve written about three posts; I’m not much further advanced now with my blog than I was back then. Other priorities took over, in other words—Life got in the way. But then my 2016 present is reusable and will do wonders throughout 2018!

A lot of thought goes into our Christmas presents, what to give the special people in our lives, to those not so special but who nonetheless are important, and to the ‘Secret Santa’ who seems to pop up in the most unlikely of places. But most of us have forgotten what we got last year, where it is now or what we’ve done with it.

The greatest gift I receive every Christmas Day is to be with my son, Darren, his wife Rebekah, and my beautiful granddaughters, Imogen and Bethany, with the additional blessing of being with Rebekah’s extended family. For the past fifteen or more years they have welcomed me into their celebrations; to be with them is precious beyond compare.

NativityThat to me is the perfect Christmas present: the presence of Christmas, of being with family and friends, or a special community—a reflection of God’s love, grace and generosity for all people to come to know him and enjoy his peace and presence through the lives of those who care for and about us, as well as in our alone times.

At this time of the year may each one of us receive and experience the most exceptional Christmas Present ever given to humanity—the Christmas presence that is beyond compare:

           Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  

            Immanuel – God with us!

 

 

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.

That’s Freedom!

MANY YEARS AGO, long before my kids—and many of my friends—were born, I came into an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. At the time, life at home was problematic and I was hurting like crazy.   I was 16 years old when I heard about God’s love for me, and how he had sent his Son into the world to demonstrate his love for all people. I responded to Jesus’ gentle call, a call that remains the same today as it was back then:

JesusCome to me…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.   (Matthew 11:28-30).

It was so simple. The words I read in the Bible, particularly the words of Jesus, captured my heart and I was sold out for him. Just as much as he loved me and gave his all for me, so I wanted to love and serve him.

But very quickly Church got in the way. In particular, fundamental evangelical churches, followed by Pentecostal, Charismatic and Anglican. I got sucked into a range of teachings that all but destroyed my understanding of what it really means to follow Jesus.

Over the decades I tried so hard to fit into church life, to conform to the particular brand of Christendom I happened to be in at the time—and failed miserably. In the meantime, with an horrific history of abuse to process, my life began to unravel and I had to step out of church while I concentrated on the hell of healing, a process that took many years. With my life back on track, I once again tried to ‘get back to church’.

God had other ideas, and with one final revelation of a horrid incident of sexual abuse by a denominational church leader, I realised that ‘church’— at least not the ‘church’ others may perceive it to be—is not for me. What I had been trying to follow for decades was nothing but a bunch of lies that came with utter betrayal that was clearly ‘not of God’!

As a result of the healing work God has been doing these past months, using a surprising choice of people, I am not only rid of the restrictive baggage of a blinkered religion that tried to put God in a box, but I have entered into the most joyous time of my life. I now have a precious, intimate relationship with my God, including with his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, that is life-enriching and one that I can gladly, freely share with those around me—regardless of whether they go to church or not. To quote the title of John Farnham’s song, something of an anthem for me: ‘That’s freedom!’

My kind of Church

My kind of church

To be like Jesus

THIS WEEK I felt bombarded by images of the Church – capital ‘c’, the Church as a whole – behaving badly. I say the Church as a whole because, whether we like it or not, we have all sinned and well and truly fallen short of what God intends for his people.

When I read our national broadcaster’s report on domestic violence in the Church, I felt like crying. Crying for those women mentioned in that report (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-18/domestic-violence-church-submit-to-husbands/8652028) who experienced such ungodly behaviour from those in their homes and churches who claimed to be followers of Jesus. And I felt like crying for what we the Church have done to others down through the ages in the name of Christ. I felt sickened by our hypocrisy, our lack of love and kindness, our pride and sanctimonious attitude towards those who struggle with life’s cruelty.

Then I met up with a guy in my resort community who mentioned he and his wife went to church. When I expressed interest he told me that he was very different from those in his fellowship. Oh? ‘Yes,’ he told me. ‘My ideas on the apocalypse, the end times, differ from most people in the church. They base their thoughts on…’ I politely cut him off and gently told him I try to base my faith on Jesus, his example and teachings.

As I thought about the many failings of the Church and the distress and heartache many experience there, I looked at what I really believe about God and how I want to live for him, perhaps how I could make a difference in our confusing, chaotic world. I realised that at the core of my being and the way I want to live my life is, to put it simply, to be like Jesus.

What a difference we could make in our own lives and in the lives of our families and friends if we lived as Jesus lived, if we treated one another with his loving kindness, respect and concern.

What a difference we could make in the lives of those in and outside of the Church who struggle with life and are screaming out for love, acceptance, kindness and care – if we treated them as we ourselves want to be treated.

What a difference we could make in our communities, our churches, our world if those of us who claim to be his followers were just like him, without our religious trappings, our denominational differences, pride, prejudice, cruel condemnation and judgemental stance.

Many years ago Jesus called people to ‘Come, follow me.’ That call remains today. Now, more than ever, the Church – all who call themselves his followers, and those who stand and watch on in dismay – must heed that call and become once again the salt of the earth and the light of the world that he has called us to be. To be like Jesus:

‘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.’ (Matthew 11:28-30, New International Version)

Just write

EVER SINCE I was a kid I’ve had the urge to write, putting pen to paper to try to capture my thoughts and share them with others. When I was eight I wrote a poem about autumn leaves, though there was never an autumn in the tropics where I lived. Like many kids of my era I belonged to the Argonauts Club, a national radio program presented by the then Australian Broadcasting Commission as part of their Children’s Hour.

My prize, 1956

My prize, 1956

The Argonauts Club was open to children aged from seven to 17 and was hugely popular with a reportedly 100,000 members in 1950. Members took on the name of an Argonaut—I was Abaris 19—and sent in contributions of writing, art and music that earned points towards a book prize or advanced certificates. I still have the book I earned—Eleanor Dark’s The Timeless Land—something I treasure to this day.

Over the years I dabbled with my writing co-authoring several autobiographies then gaining my Bachelor of Arts with majors in Journalism and Studies in Religion before taking up the role of Communications Officer with the Baptist Union of Queensland and being Editor of their monthly publication, The Queensland Baptist. In that role I encouraged readers to get off the pews and be Christ in the community. Sensing that God wanted me to do the same, I gave up my writing and went back to university and studied social work.

In my early years as a social worker I struggled with the traumatic consequences of an extremely abusive childhood.  My world centred on admissions to a private psychiatric hospital and all the hell that went with that. It took years of extensive psychotherapy before I regained my sanity and peace replaced my inner turmoil. During my first attempt at retirement, in 2009, I self-published my autobiography, Peace and Freedom are My Names, a story described as ‘riveting reading’, and one of hope, healing and wholeness—the ongoing theme of my life.

Now once again retired after a three-year sojourn back in my social work career, my love of writing is bursting out of me. This has not been easy. Thoughts of unworthiness and lack of confidence, not to mention awful memories stemming from childhood and writing for different churches, have stymied my every attempt at writing.  But the urge to write wouldn’t go away.  Just as I was wondering what to do about this blockade a friend directed me to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative living beyond fear. This book has been extremely liberating and has enabled me to challenge the myths that have prevented me from enjoying my true vocation.  In a nutshell Gilbert says, ‘Just write! For goodness sake, Irene, just write!’

And my response? ‘Yep, I’ll do that. I will just write.’  And I plan to keep on writing as often as I like and as much as I want to.  After all, that is what I’m meant to be doing in this latter part of my life: Just write!