Tuesday, 20 September 2016

My Own Fight Club

After a spell away from the blogging world, I want to come back. I hope I'm allowed, I bowed out, maybe in a bit of a huff, not with anyone in particular, more with my situation and my lack of anything to give or share. Not that I have anything new to say now - I don't.  As I said in my previous rant, there is nothing new under the sun, but then again ...

After returning to our home country after two years doing cross-cultural missions work, we are looking at buying a car ... this car isn't new, in fact we would be the third owner, but it's new to us so feels pretty special.  Life lessons are like that, maybe not new to everyone, but new to us special.  And just to clarify, by 'special' I don't always (or rarely) mean 'sweet' special, I may (probably more often than not) mean 'fight club' special.

We can mark the last two years off as the HARDEST in our lives so far.  Some may assume we had lead relatively sheltered lives up until two years ago, others my hail us as brave.  It's irrelevant. It was hard.

I learnt that expectations are dangerous.  People are jerks, especially Christians.  And I might just be the biggest jerk of all.

A long time ago, I started asking God to highlight my sin, as I knew I was a self-righteous git, and as much as I didn't want to be, I found it hard to see my way around the fact that I wasn't a fornicating, potty mouth (not often anyway), drunk who slit peoples throats for $10. My sin wasn't in bold italic underlined 72 font, it was in boring arial 11 font. But I wasn't alright, I knew that much. I struggled with anger. But I prayed about it (after the fact) and pulled my socks up and did my best, failing miserably.  But everyone gets angry, so I justified my sin as 'normal' or arial 11 font, same as everyone else's.

Two years living cross culturally was a highlighter of gigantic proportions that I asked for.  Sin revealed.  Mostly everyone elses, if I'm honest with you, which I can be, as you are a computer.  People are jerks, that is my conclusion.  But worst of all, Christians are jerks.  Then last week, it dawned on me, I am a jerk, and I asked to know this? And this is how it was delivered!  What a stupid question to ask on a practical level, and what a painful question to ask on a spiritual level. Maybe it was wisdom, but right now it feels like antiseptic ointment in a brutal and bloody wound.

And so I am back, slightly damaged, slowly recovering, writing again, my own fight club story.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

See You Later

On the 6th of September, 2011 at 8.09 am, I published the first Jeans and Pink Jandals article called The Good, Bad and Ugly

Since then, I have published a little over 30 articles, full of thoughts, challenges, verses, quotes, and odd anecdotes.

The last 3 years have been massive learning for me. But I keep coming back to the same thing, a verse in my favourite book of the Bible, the 'Grumpy Old Man' view of life, 'say it how it is', 'don't mince words', 'wisdom with experience', the book of the Bible that is so honest it makes you nervously giggle, for fear that someone is being so honest and all of us may get offended.  Yup, you know I'm talking Ecclesiastes.  Chapter 1 verse 19 says "there is nothing new under the sun."

In a very loose way, I have viewed this privileged, to write and share with my family at Hope Community Church and with others interested enough to find this blog, as ministry.  But ultimately there are hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of Christian bloggers out there.  All with something to say, and 99.9% of the time it is nothing new under the sun.  The only difference is delivery, unless they are agitators, or diagnosable, then what they have to say is probably new to the general population, but perhaps not those in mental health services... What I am saying is that, in my lucid moments, what I have to say is not a lot different to the millions of other 'at home' Christian mothers blogs.  And I'm not having a go at them, I just don't see the need for everyone to have a blog, and so I think this blogger with nothing new under the sun to say, is going to take a break.  

Until next time, if there is a next time ....

Thursday, 4 December 2014

39 Christmas

Where I am living at the moment they make a big celebration of a child’s first birthday because it’s a big deal for a baby to make it to one year old.  When this milestone has been reached and the child has survived, they celebrate and in many cases that’s when they give them a name.  As each year passes, they have a unique way of telling how old they are. Instead of talking about birthdays they will ask how many Christmases you have seen. Just so you know I’ve seen 39 Christmases!

As I turn the calendar over to December 2014 and begin to focus on the next Christmas I can count against my age, the thought comes to me, I wonder if the more Christmases you see the more you wonder about the view. I should ask a wise old person like my Dad. He has seen 67 Christmases!  That’s a lot of tinsel, wrapping paper, handkerchiefs, screwdrivers and scorched almonds. I don’t want to sound sentimental, but I bet the view has changed over his life time of Christmases.

I apologise in advance, I really do, but I have to tell you that I find the whole palaver of western style celebrations at Christmas time really unappealing. I’m so sorry Christmas fans, I just find myself turned off Christmas more each year. In my conscious lack of enthusiasm, I lose sight of the real celebration at Christmas time, Jesus’ birth.  I find it shoved to the back of the window display nativity scene and drowned out by inappropriate, cheesy seasonal songs. 
This Christmas is my first celebrated in a developing country. I wonder at the impending differences comparing the two other locations I have experienced Christmases, in sunny New Zealand and in a traditional wintery England. In this country where life is literally about growing your own food and working hard to raise enough money to educate your children and hoping for a better future for them, I wonder what Christmas will look like.  I suspect it won’t look the least bit like my previous experiences.

I don’t want to strip away your tinsel before the 25th, but I do want to probe into why we do Christmas the way we do.  And is “because we’ve always done it this way”, a good enough reason? Maybe this year is the year to claim Christmas for your family and take it in the direction you want it to go, rather than going with the flow. 

Family traditions are beautiful memory makers for children, yet if you asked me what gifts I got for Christmas in 1998, I will have absolutely no clue.  If you asked me however who we had around for Christmas lunch that year, I could tell you.  When my siblings had flown the coop, my folks and I began what we called a “Waifs and Strays” meal at Christmas. This usually involved inviting around friends who didn’t have family locally, or didn’t have easy relationships with their families.  It was so much fun and we did this for a number of years. This was a very special way to celebrate Christmas as well as making some lasting memories. 

The first Christmas we were married, I was unwell for months leading up to Christmas and wasn’t able to work at all, so we had a very lean budget. Consequently my family received gifts of homemade garden art, which equated to stones being glued together.  It’s safe to say the artwork didn’t last very long, in fact, I think most probably broke before they even made it into the garden!

Christmas doesn’t need to be expensive, in fact it shouldn’t be expensive. Do you think the celebration of the birth of Jesus our Saviour should leave us in debt?  The whole point of His coming was to pay our debt, not make us feel that we should rack up a huge visa bill to please our family and friends. 

One year while we were living in the UK, we asked our family members to give to an Aid Agency instead of gifts to us. This actually felt like a really worthwhile Christmas present.  On our behalf, Marcus’ parents bought a goat for a family in Africa which had the potential to change a families circumstances for generations.

These are a few random things done to celebrate Christmas, yet I can still recall them and they mean a lot to me. It has challenged me to think about how we can ensure Christmas for our families is indeed memory making, rather than doing what we have always done because we have always done it.

As we mark off another Christmas, may we make it more meaningful for our family this year by taking some time to make it what we want it to be by making Jesus the focus. Jesus gave us the greatest gift through his incarnation, so it’s not surprising for us to want to share practical gifts with others to celebrate what Jesus has done.  The Magi began the tradition of gift giving. They gave expensive gifts but that doesn’t mean we have to.  I would hazard a guess their worship meant more to Christ than the gold, frankincense, and myrrh put together. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Jesus is Totally Human

Back in April 2014 I attended Theology Café at church, which looked at Easter and the identity of Jesus. For as long as I can remember I have heard that Jesus was fully God and fully human, but this particular evening brought about a discussion that caused me to see for the first time that Jesus is indeed truly human. Fully human just like me.  Now I realise that last sentence needs some more unpacking but bear with me please.

I admit I have always viewed Jesus as God in a ‘man skin’ but with the full God backpack of power, who cannot divorce himself from his God-ness and dips into his divine backpack whenever he has need.  It’s true he cannot divorce himself from his God-ness, but he can choose to relinquish the independent use of his power and rely on the Holy Spirit’s power.  Now this gets a little murky as it sounds more like rewording than anything, but in fact it isn’t.  It’s so very relevant to you and me personally. If Jesus chose to use only the power given to him by the Spirit of God and do only as the Father told him, then his humanity looks a lot like ours if we are followers of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit.

This point makes me read the New Testament much differently than I did when I viewed Jesus as fully God with ‘human skin’. As Reverend Dr Andrew Burgess said at Theology Café in April, “Jesus walks out his obedience to God day by day, moment by moment. His obedience is perfected in his death.”

What Jesus went through in the garden of Gethsemane wasn’t easy, nor was it decided – until it was decided.  Jesus had to decide to obey his Father. Exactly when that was decided I have no clue, but you can’t deny he certainly felt the moment of obedience in Gethsemane.

‘A few hours after the foot-washing episode, Jesus wasn’t feeling much like sacrificing his life for humankind; “Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, “My Father, if there is any way , get me out of this. But please, not what I want, but what do you want?” Jesus found the source for obeying his Abba, in his Abba, not in his own emotional reserves. That’s a much better ending than … I was going to save the world … but then I didn’t feel like it.  Thank God, Jesus was who he was and did what the Father asked him to do’” Brennan Manning.

In that moment, Jesus felt the decision to accept the suffering and obey, by taking on sin and wearing it through death. If it was an easy decision, why did he sweat blood?  If it was easy, why did he ask his friends to watch and pray? If it was easy, why did he ask that if at all possible, could it not happen? Matthew 26:39 shows the heart of Jesus. And going a little further he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will."

Henri Nouwen writes, “Jesus didn’t throw the cup away in despair. No, he kept it in his hands, willing to drink it to the dregs. This was not a show of willpower, staunch determination, or great heroism.  This was a deep spiritual yes to Abba, the lover of his wounded heart.”

Hebrews 5:8-9 sums it all up, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
Jesus in his humanity said yes to the Father.  We in our humanity can also say yes to the Father.  Even in the face of the really hard stuff. Even in the face of things terminal. Even in the face of the unfair. If Jesus can say yes in the face of the suffering he foreknew, we can say yes in the face of the unknown.

Today that point made a difference. I had to deal with hard stuff and I could have chosen to metaphorically ‘pull the fingers’ at life and my struggles and give up, but instead I had to constantly remind myself that I am here and here is where God wants me. This reminder works most times, other times I have a tiny strop, but fortunately in most situations we get another chance to obey and surrender. Personally I can only do that because I know that Jesus faced the choice of obedience daily as I do.

Yes Jesus is God.  He is also human, like you and me.  If he can draw on the power to say yes, then so can we.  I hear your argument, but he was God, of course he has to be obedient in all situations, because he’s perfect.  But when we choose to argue this way, we degrade the humanity of Jesus. Fully man, fully God. Jesus could have come solely as God, but he didn’t.  Makes you think that maybe it was important to him that we knew he would understand us in our humanity. 100% God, 100% human.

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Scent of Love or Sour Faced Saints

I don’t know how many times I heard my mother say to me growing up “Stop frowning”. I guess I have a face that naturally rests in a frown or maybe it’s my thinking face, who knows!! Whichever it is, I can only hope my frown doesn’t get misread as ‘sour-faced’, for when I read Teresa of Avilias words “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, spare us O Lord” I sheepishly say Amen. Spare us Lord from the ones who call themselves Christians yet delight in misery. Those who seem by compulsion to judge others. Those who develop a morbid enjoyment of ailments. Those who proudly pronounce how busy they are. Those who take it upon themselves to look down their noses at those who smoke, drink, fornicate or wear last year’s styles. Save us O Lord from the Christian who wants to remain aloof from the world, who seem to dislike or even hate those Jesus died for.  Save us O Lord from those sour-faced saints who find salvation in their disciplines, who love their rule based regimes more than the person in front of them in the supermarket cue.

In his book the Signature of Jesus, Brennan Manning writes “A life of love lived unpretentiously for others flowing out of a life lived for God, is the imitation of Christ and the only authentic discipleship. A life of service through unglamorous, unpublicised works of mercy is a life marked by the signature of Jesus.”

We are called to be Christ Jesus’ witnesses, to have his signature at the bottom of each page in our lives. If you only had one word to describe Jesus, it would have to be love don’t you think? And as followers of Christ, our call is to live like Jesus Christ. This is the major difference between followers of Christ and those who don’t yet know him personally. Our deep soul calling is not to succeed or gain wealth, it is a call to Love. Not that kindness will not be seen oozing from those who do not yet follow Christ, for some of these God has blessed with charity and grace of character even before they are called to love.

Love isn’t just being nice. It’s not being kind to strangers now and then. It’s not just being generous and smiling all the time, nor is it volunteering sometimes when a need arises. Love is unselfishly putting others before yourself. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”  1Corinthians 13: 4- 6. I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting a phrase in that passage that reminds us of the challenge to love others selflessly. The Apostle John says the same thing another way “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35.

This is hard and it’s not something you just happen to fall into. Love is a verb. It’s something you choose to do, which will mean sometimes being at places you don’t want to be, with people you don’t want to be with, doing things you don’t want to do which at times may be known as church.  Sometimes love, the verb, is sweaty, smelly, dirty, weepy, boring, tiring, and uncomfortable, but it’s never ever impossible! 

Brennan Manning continues to expound the signature of Jesus on our lives by introducing the possibilities of love in our daily lives of faith. “In our words and deeds we give shape and form to our faith every day. We make people a little better or leave them a little worse. We either affirm or deprive, enlarge or diminish the lives of others.” I actually found this idea quite liberating. When I wake up each morning, I am not called to love the whole world or even the country I am living in. I am called to love those I come in contact with.  Loving the one in front of you is powerful. Firstly it’s the very foundation of a faith community. Secondly it’s a powerful witness to those around us. 

Please forgive the following giant quote, but it’s a goodie! Again it’s from Brennan Manning’s book The Signature of Jesus which I have just finished reading. “In the Scent of Love, Keith Miller writes that the early Church grew ‘not because of the spiritual gifts of Christians -such as speaking in tongues - and not because Christianity was such a palatable doctrine but because they had discovered the secret of community’. Generally they did not have to lift a finger to evangelize. Someone would be walking down a back alley in Corinth or Ephesus and would see a group of people sitting together talking about the strangest things- something about a man and a tree and an execution and an empty tomb. What they were talking about made no sense to the onlooker. But there was something about the way they spoke to one another, about the way they looked at one another, about the way they cried together, the way they laughed together, the way they touch one another that was strangely appealing. It gave off the scent of love. The onlooker would start to drift farther down the alley, only to be pulled back to this little group like a bee to a flower. He would listen some more, still not understanding and start to drift away again but he would be pulled back, thinking, I don’t have the slightest idea what these people are talking about, but whatever it is, I want part of it.”

When called to be Christ’s witnesses, we are called to speak of the One who loves more than life and consequently to love more than we are capable of in our own strength. Let’s start a revolution together! Rather than Christians being thought of as those who wear sandwich boards shouting about damnation or those with cruel eyes and sour-faces peering down noses at the unworthy ones, let’s be known for our love. The revolution starts with us as we love each other in such a way that people conclude “I don’t have the slightest idea what these people are talking about, but whatever it is, I want part of it.

No sour faces now looking like you have just chewed on a lemon by mistake, but faces reflecting love, the love of God in Christ. This gift he has given us, reflected in gratitude and love to others, gives off “the scent of love”.