Sunday, February 23, 2020

Praying for you if you’re lonelier than sad right now

We all feel it from time to time if we’re honest.  Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking you’re the only one.  Feeling lonelier than sad is a frightfully desolate place the soul comes to rest; a place resembling anything other than rest.  And don’t let anyone gaslight you into thinking you’re ‘less than’ for feeling perfectly human.
Lord, oh dear God,
You know so well that restlessness of soul begotten of the Gethsemane place.  You know those blood-shaped tears, and You know them ever so personally.
As human beings, we think we have the market cornered on feeling abandoned, and yet You were there to taste that sort of forsakenness Yourself.  You know sorrow like we rarely encounter it, and still You know that we DO encounter it.
This prayer is for that one right now, whose heart is broken and whose soul is torn in an anguish they cannot quell.  You are there with them, right now, by Your Presence, by Your Spirit, in that bout of spiritual attack that leaves them feeling utterly forsaken.
Remind them now, Lord, via this prayer, that they’re not alone, that they’re not forsaken.  Be with them in their lonelier-than-sad kind of sorrow and help them get the relief they so sorely seek.
Beckon to them hope for the coming day, that Your rescue is on its way and that their joy is set to return.  Abide with them even as they abide with You in this bitter and terrifying lament.
As the weeps turn to wails, as the reflex shivers and sniffs ebb and flow, as the thoughts come in to distract and destroy, Lord, come!
Keep them safe from harm, Lord, as You know our human capacity to render to enemy what can never be his to take.  As the stormfront of depression makes its hit, give to the one I pray for some testimony of their ability to withstand its force.
As those winds roar, Lord God, make it so they have a faith within that rises up in spite of their felt weakness.  Help them take to the shelter You have prepared for them; the shelter of a kind person, who may listen, notwithstanding Your covenant and faithful shelter — as they may encamp under the shadow of Your wings.
Present them with a new hope, now, Lord.
In and through the name of Jesus,

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

Saturday, February 22, 2020

What an alcoholic says to anyone who insists their drinking is harmless

Not only is pornography a big issue in society, but it is just as big an issue in Christian circles.  And the same trend is revealed with alcohol.  Alcohol advertising together with the societal impact of alcohol abuse shows just how troubled a relationship our culture has with alcohol.
I’m an alcoholic.  Yet, I haven’t had a drink since September 20, 2003.
I may not have stepped into the rooms of AA at all in the past 13 years, but there was a time when I would go to meetings four, five, six times a week.  Probably not so much to help me get over the drink!  Once I decided I never looked back.  But I have counted the number of times I’ve been at AA meetings and was invited to share.  On 160 occasions I started my ten minutes of sharing time in the customary way with, “Hello everyone, I’m Steve and I’m an alcoholic.”
When I say I’m alcoholic it means I don’t drink and will never drink again because I lost the right to drink — yes, to partake in even one!  I can tell you now, it’s not the stopping drinking that gives you the power for sobriety.  It’s everything else you do as far as the AA program of things goes.
I found, like millions before me, that when you put everything into it — boots and all — you succeed.  It works.  It simply does.  The program for recovery works on honesty, humility, unity with others on the journey, and a commitment to service.
But this isn’t about singing the praises of AA or Celebrate Recovery or the 12 Steps.
This is about the concern I have that our churches and Christian groups are giving ascent to a drinking culture more and more, year by year.  I see Christians going out and posting about the drinks they’re drinking.  I see them stocking up on booze (the rare Scotch’s they have and the souvenir beers they keep).  I see them scheduling “fellowship” get-togethers with drinks.  Particularly the younger set — anyone from the twenties to the forties.  I see them talking about their favourite drinks, bars, and local eateries — yes, I know, you have to have your Shiraz or Cab Sav with a luscious steak, or a Semillon blanc with your chicken or fish (that used to be my excuse too).
I know some who have discussed their drinking with me, and deeper down they know there is an issue with how much and how often they drink.  It’s become habit.  And it’s a slippery slope that ends up nowhere good, even if they insist that they’re only “moderate” drinkers.  Anyone who drinks every week, more than once a week, for every week of their lives has a problem with the drink.  I drank no more often than that.
It’s more about how we protect our right to drink, like we can’t survive without it.  Ironically, it’s those who insist they can go without it who often clutch hardest to their bottle.
We need to be honest.  If we drink for the effect — just to get a little tipsy — you know, to take the edge off — we’re dealing with our feelings in a way that’s not healing.  God’s not in on it.  It’s the same when we need to alter our mental state with anything.
There is only freedom in the purest joyousness of sobriety.
I’ve always told my daughters that if they can drink one or two (literally that amount and stop) every now and then (not weekly) and they were never preoccupied with wanting to drink, they had every right to drink.
Anyone who drinks more than this, in my view, especially if they’re Christian, is on the slippery slope, and they could be relying on the drink more than they rely on God.
Our drinking isn’t harmless.  It can slowly become deeply habitual and even ritualistic.  Of course, there are so many of us who are (or were) closet alcoholics.  In 2002-2003, I was a safety manager for an oil and fuel distributor breathalysing truck drivers every Monday morning and at other random times.  I would counsel them if they blew over and would be part of their performance management — all the while I knew I had a drinking problem, myself.  Utter hypocrisy, I know!
If we don’t tell on the sin, the sin will eventually tell on us, as Sy Rogers would say.
If you have committed your life to the Lord, and you drink, all I say is can you honestly ask God if change is needed?
From my experience, anyone who has to insist their drinking is harmless may well have a bigger problem than they think.
Oh, and by the way, I have a tougher stance again on Christians partaking in illicit, mind-altering drugs.
We must ask ourselves, what are we running away from?

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Friday, February 21, 2020

When a child endures the injustice of becoming pseudo parent

For many years we have discussed this fact, my eldest daughter and I.  The time when I was utterly a broken man, and she, at eleven years of age, was part of my support.  Oh, I had my parents, my newfound friends at AA, two sponsors, and others, but the truth was, when I cared for my three daughters, my eldest daughter, and perhaps to a degree my middle daughter too, often propped me up emotionally when life was brutally tough and just too hard.
The process of grief lasted at least a year, but was interspersed with much growth.  But there were inevitably times when I was still so enamoured with the life I’d had that had come to an end.  I very much understand the enormous challenges single dads face, not that I didn’t see I had changes I needed to make.
Yet, there she was, my eleven-year-old.  In many ways, when my first marriage dissolved, so did her childhood.  I’ll never forget the single tear that rolled down her cheek the day I had to break the news.  I had made a promise that as it worked out, I couldn’t keep.  I would never have ended the marriage, but, as it worked out, the marriage was ending.
The ensuing months I made dramatic changes.  Quit drinking and every other problematic habit.  Committed my life to God.  Gave much of what I had away.  Devoted my life to service.  Received the call of God.  I was a transformed person.  But the marriage was over.  It wasn’t too little, but it was too late.  And I wasn’t the only one picking up the pieces.
I did become the kind of father I always wanted to become, indeed a father I probably couldn’t have been in that marriage.  But I did rely on my older daughters, particularly my eldest, too much.  My eldest was required to take on too much for someone her age.  And I wasn’t the only adult to fail her at that point in her life.
Probably the worst of it is the fact that after three years of grieving and recovering, when I was finally in a position to embrace love, marrying again meant even more change for my then fourteen-year-old eldest daughter.  Again, she was required to change.  I faced grief in the changes that were forced upon me, but her grief was a vicarious one.  She was a reluctant and quite innocent a victim, as children are.
We tend to think and say, “Well, they’re children, and they’ll be fine; children are resilient, don’t you know?!”  It’s a cop out for the abuse adults do to children.  And the cycle continues when those children become adults if they don’t recognise it must stop with them.
My daughter’s grandmother (my mother) has been a saving grace all the way through.  They have about as close a bond as any grandmother and grandchild could.  And this is not said in any other way than to point out that they have been there for each other at the depths.  My mother has been there for my eldest daughter when I couldn’t be.  I’m eternally thankful for that!
Why do I write this?  There are times in many of our lives when our children, or one of them, is required to do more than their age ought to require of them.  Whether it’s in broken families or in those apparently together, these dynamics can happen — where parent becomes “a friend” to their child in order that they might be assisted to cope.  And whether it happens or not is not so much the point.  The point is it’s unfair on the child.  They lose part of their childhood (or the whole thing), because they’ve busy doing a role they’re not ready for.
I don’t know how to compensate for this other than to be honest.  I trust that in being transparent some healing is still available.  And that’s my prayer.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Learning is Succeeding

He failed.  In the failing, however, he succeeded.  Every time.  Well, every time he chose to learn, that is!
Every time he didn’t learn, he didn’t succeed.  God was that patiently loving that he gave him more opportunities to succeed, as if the success itself was the learning, for it was.
So, whenever he failed, he tried to remember that in his failing there was a choice.  Choosing to try again, in and of itself, was success, and perhaps success of the most important kind.  Not that choosing to learn is usually a comfortable experience.  But he chose to learn to embrace his failures.  At last, he smiled.  
He discovered something hidden about life.  Rarely do people see this.  Perhaps it’s only the heroes who do.  Failures define them, but not in the way you’d think.
In the mixed-up world of success, we only see or notice or care for the end result.  We hardly pay attention to ugliness of the process.  But the ugliness of the process makes every success all the sweeter.  There would be no success if it weren’t for failure.
True success doesn’t come unless it is shrouded in many failures.  True success is always a journey.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

God’s love must change our hearts before we can love others

Are you up for a wrestle?  We think we know love, but I often need reminding; the concept of love came from God, not us.
It seems so simple — love — but the trouble is we’re often a whole lot better at talking about it than we are at doing it.  My heart is not geared toward love by its natural inclination.  None of our hearts are.
God must change my heart before I can love others.
As a segue, here is a revolutionary quote from Mister Rogers in terms of how God’s love can work through us in our relationships:
“I don’t think anyone can grow unless they’re loved exactly as they are now, appreciated for what they ARE rather than what they might become.”
It is hard to love those who are doing things we dislike.  And I don’t mean, “I love you; I just don’t like you much at present.”  What I mean is love is practicing faith in the person, no matter how they’re behaving in the present situation or toward us.  Love is impervious to indifference.
Practicing faith in someone requires patience, especially when they’re not responding as we’d like.  This requires a heart that is FOR them, which is a heart that has the capacity to offer grace; that gift of undeserved favour.
As Christians we commonly talk about the grace of God in Christ’s going to the cross as the means of atoning for our sins.  We far less commonly extend that grace, yet we often expect that grace to be extended toward us.
To extend God’s grace to someone requires us to bear the cost.  I must admit that while I’d like to think I do this often, it is a comparatively rare event when I do it — AND when my heart joins in I mean.
What I mean is it’s relatively easy to extend God’s grace begrudgingly.
It’s much tougher to “overcome evil with good,” because that requires faith, which is trust that vindication will come through the means of an opposite action.  Faith that in giving something valuable away, that it will come back.
Only those who have faith can love like this.  And yet I know how often I fail the grade.
It’s infinitely tougher to love in a good-hearted way when our hearts are oriented the other way.  It’s like steering a ship into a force-10 gale.
When God’s love emanates from our hearts it’s because we’ve chosen what God wants.  Our heart has been convicted, which means God’s Spirit has convinced us.
See how easy it is to love with God’s love when God’s love has convinced us?
We can talk about God’s love all we want, but we never rise to the radical standard of God’s love unless we choose to lose.  Doesn’t sound very attractive, does it?
What if we told those seriously considering faith in Jesus that they would have to lose everything to inherit the Kingdom.  Would there be many converts?
Well, you don’t need to convince a convert to Christ — they’re already convinced!  This is because the work of conversion doesn’t rely on us, but on the Holy Spirit.
The Mister Rogers quote stands as a perennial example of what God’s love is: 
A love that sees the best in a person especially when they’re not at their best.
It’s the sort of love we all expect to receive but are reluctant to extend.
It’s a love that sees the potential in every human being.  It’s a love that believes a person can grow, and when people see we believe such things a funny thing happens.
They do tend to grow!
God’s love changes us from the inside out, so when others receive God’s love through us, they’re loved from the outside in.

Image (not quote in the photo) by Ben White on Unsplash

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

God doesn’t work by magic, but the surprises are many

It’s taken me a long time over my past seventeen years as a serious Christian (15 years in ministry) to dispel the idea that God is going to bless me around the corner because of some secret wish.
We all expect God to come through for us in some significant way — “God, if I do this, you’ll do that.”
Many of our prayers can start out this way, or we can even pray thinking that if we pray, we’ll get our way.  God will answer THAT prayer.  But God doesn’t work that way.
I think we pray expecting our prayer to be answered because deep within us we strongly desire control over our lives.  And who could blame us?
When we believe in God, we may have nurtured a belief deep down that we’re not even aware of, that if God is benevolent, that God will be benevolent with me!
We can begin to believe that bad things won’t happen to me, because, quite frankly, God is for me, and if God is for me and focused on blessing me, I’m beyond harm.  This is actually a harmful attitude.
Think of the bargains we make with God.  If we’re remotely honest.  We all have deep wishes we desperately want satisfied.  We can very easily fall into the practice of saying to God, very unconsciously, “Lord, if I’m a good Christian, I know you’ll do such-and-such for me.”
But God doesn’t work like that.  Even if we’ve done everything right, and attended to every detail, there is no guarantee with God that 5 + 5 = 10.  God can’t be bargained with.
I can’t say to God, “I’ll study and get the degree and then you get me that great job...”  There’s no guarantee that even with great grades and grade point average that we’ll get the opportunity we set our hopes on for years.  The truth is there’s a possibility I may never get a job in that field I invested 5-10 years of studies in.  Is that fair?  No, it doesn’t seem that way.  But life also isn’t limited to this one missed golden opportunity.  There are others.
God isn’t transactional.  But God is transformational.  God works by surprises that we never expected.  God blesses us in ways that are too high for us to conceive (Isaiah 55:8-9).
I find that if I wind the clock back five years, I would hardly believe looking forward that I’d be doing some of the things I’m doing.  God also connects us with people and situations that seem bizarrely coincidental — God-incidences I call them.
We must learn to root out of our psyches all the bargains we make with God — “If I do THIS, I know you’ll do THAT, God.”  It’s a recipe for disappointment at best, and at worst, in the long run, it’s a plan for despair.
One of the most empowering things we can do in our faith is to identify all the conditions we place on God, and quickly, thoroughly and often repent of them.  They keep coming up because our hearts are geared to cling to idols.
The fewer the unconscious bargains we make with God — those ‘agreements’ we strike that, in reality of things, will never come to pass — the more content we will be simply to serve God with what we have and who we are.
When we free ourselves of the pressure to manipulate God for our own ends, we’re freer to look for the surprise blessings that God is doing all the time.
We may not be able to successfully bargain with God, but if we’re diligent in our faith, we will soon find that God blesses us in better, more abundant ways than we could have even imagined.

Photo by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash

Monday, February 17, 2020

Are you so desperate to run away but you can’t escape?

Brisbane, December 2003, and broken.  I was a state health, safety, security and environment coordinator for Shell oil company, and, having just arrived, on the way to the hotel, there was for about five minutes such a strong temptation to disappear.  I was there for a conference with others, but I had never felt more alone.
My first marriage had crumbled ten weeks earlier, and the pain was more or less constantly unbearable.  I had lost 45lbs in six weeks, the depression was so severe.  And now, for a few fleeting moments, I seriously considered bailing on my entire life.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t see any point; I just couldn’t live it any longer the way it was.
Not that I could have gone through with fleeing, but everything of what my life had become felt worse than death.  Conflict consumed me within me and within my most important relationship at that time.  I couldn’t reconcile it and felt I had nowhere to turn.
There are times in life like that, aren’t there?  Situations of life where all options appear abysmal or to lead to an impending disaster.  Times when panic attacks become the unprecedented reality.  When the pain is so real and incomprehensibly agonising you hate the fact that such pain is even possible.
For me at the time, I was desperately trying to get out of a job that had me in Melbourne one week, Kununurra the next, and the week before that, in two other disparate regional areas.  By plane, by train, or by car I was anywhere and everywhere.  I’d flown 80 flights in a year.  I desperately needed to be home with my three daughters.  They were all I had left and all I had to live for.
And yet for those fleeting moments in the taxi at dusk, lonelier than I could have previously comprehended, I found myself planning an escape.
You might find yourself in a place like this.  Maybe it brings back traumatic memories — I hope not, but I would understand if it did.  Perhaps it’s now.  Maybe you’re facing what is termed an avoidance-avoidance conflict — in this case, where both or all perceived outcomes are unfathomable and unconscionable.
It’s in these situations that we feel that our mere existence is excruciating.  We can feel tormented, and it’s from this place we understand finally how people do desperate and regretful things.
There is such a thing as a burden too heavy to bear, notwithstanding those who would beat us over the head with 1 Corinthians 10:13 or other scriptures.
There is such a thing as being pushed too far, and if any Christian were to come to us and say we’re not relying on God enough, we could fairly call them abusive!
Far too many people who have never been pushed too far sneer at those who are being pushed too far and call them weak.
If you’re in that place, or if you find yourself in that place in the future sometime, from the voice of experience I say this: it feels hellish because it is hellish.
You can get through, but only a moment at a time.  You will get through if you meet the moment as it is, without feeling like you need to overcome the entire situation that you cannot change.
Just being in such a situation is courage and strength and the truest, purest form of faith.
Life includes the reality of desperation when we want to run away when we can’t escape.
Perhaps the ONLY blessing in enduring such an experience is it opens the eyes of our heart.
I don’t believe God sanctions such a crushing, but I do believe our Lord compensates us for what he would never ordain.  Somehow that compensation is a compassion — the very compassion of Jesus.

Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Slaying Satan in the simplest biblical sortie

I’ve always been captivated by the single verse in Psalm 23, where David writes of the Lord in verse 5:
“You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.”
God’s favour toward those who have sanctuary as the saved is vouchsafed in an unequivocal way.  God will never leave nor forsake us.  But it is because God did something that we could not do that we’re even here in a place of perfect safety — even as the enemy, as a lion, crouches, waiting to pounce and defeat us.
Despite every earthly and spiritual opposition, and we know it as we walk our lives out, we each have within our reach the capacity to call upon the confidence of David.
It’s for THIS reason:
In The Simple Faith of Mr Rogers, Amy Hollingsworth relates a story Mister (Fred) Rogers told her about one of his professors, Dr William Orr.
Fred Rogers had gone to see Dr Orr, after a stroke left him partially paralysed, but his professor was still capable in mind and spirit.  Mr Rogers was troubled and so asked Dr Orr about something from the Sunday morning worship service he and his wife had attended earlier that day.  One of the hymns had been Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.  What confounded Mr Rogers was the verse that said:
“The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; 
his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure, 
one little word shall fell him.”
“Dr Orr,” Fred Rogers asked, “What is the one little word that will fell the prince of darkness?”  After a quiet moment, the professor answered, “Forgiveness.  You know, Fred, there is one thing that evil cannot stand, and that’s forgiveness.”
The forgiveness of Jesus and the grace and mercy of the Father completely ambushed Satan, who, despite being unable to conceive such a holy design as forgiveness, was thwarted in the simple act of love of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, despite Jesus having every reason to spit in Satan’s face (and more).
Yet Jesus didn’t do this.  Instead, Jesus forgave the evil done against him.  Satan had no answer for the grace of God.  By this Jesus is our exemplar.  Something that evil cannot understand, and something evil cannot stand, is forgiveness.
Even as we do our forgiving there is something of the purity of holiness in it with which the enemy cannot contend.  As we forgive, God prepares before us a table for us in the presence of our enemies. Can you see it now?  We fear no one.  (Unless for reasons of our own safety we’ve a boundary to prevent would-be attackers which is wisdom.)
God prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies because God favours us when we forgive.  God favours us with love for those who have hurt us, and that love invites them (as much as we feel safe) to fellowship with us.  True reconciliation is possible, but not without the extension of unmerited mercy.  Having forgiven, those who were our enemies reduce in size to normal people.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean they won’t face justice if they need to.
Is such a thing as forgiveness not costly?  Of course, forgiveness is costly.  But it only works when we disregard the cost.  Mercy has power when we forget the cost.
We don’t and cannot forget the wrongs done against us.  But we can forget the cost of giving up our anger.  Indeed, Jesus did.  Had he not, we’d still be in an eternity of trouble.
Thwarting the enemy isn’t hard when we know how and why, but it is still costly.  As soon as we release the ransom condition — that we let go of our right to be angry — forgiveness is possible, and there’s nothing evil hates more, which breeds holy delight in us who love and fear the Lord alone.
So, for serious offences as for minor offences, forgiveness stands as a possibility.
Forgiveness’s only condition is that we extend unconditional mercy, which perhaps until now has been a bridge too far.  Once we extend unconditional mercy, the power evil has over us and our situation is crushed.  Satan can do nothing, and he knows it.
Forgiveness is so nebulous that in this concept of things at least we cannot know it works like this until we try it.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean we won’t occasionally lament the situation we forgave.  We must allow ourselves the odd slip back.  But by and large, when we’ve forgiven, WE are the ones who are freed — and first and foremost from any grip Satan or evil has had over us.
Finishing on the Orr/Rogers wisdom, this we can know: it is only evil that requires forgiving.  When we forgive, we’re not saying it wasn’t evil.  Indeed, by forgiving we’re saying it was, and is, but that we overcome evil’s power in the forgiving of it.

Photo by Dawid ZawiƂa on Unsplash

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The hardest moment of all was seeing the hearse drive away

There are so many moments and many more memories in our times of loss, and though they involve excruciating pain, there is within them the redemptive element: our losses are ours and we can possess them—even as they possess us.  Our opportunity for healing doesn’t come in running from our grief; it comes in facing it.
The funeral for our stillborn son, Nathanael Marcus (who had Pallister-Killian Syndrome), on November 7, 2014 was a surreal event full of salient moments, many of which are driven deep into our memory, however unreal those few hours seemed.
Our memories of not only the funeral, but of the birth, and of the passage of 179 hours with him, have been etched in our souls.  Just like the memory we have of taking Nathanael with us, in utero, on dates, like the one depicted in the picture below, to the Old Roundhouse in Fremantle, Western Australia.  We took him out on as many dates as our busy schedule would allow, given almost weekly medical appointments and amnioreduction surgical procedures—of which there were no fewer than eight in an 11-week period.

I continue to scour that time for meaning, for presences of memory to take hold of; to reclaim.  One such memory was, at the finish of the service, leading Nathanael’s casket out, Sarah and I.
As we were walking out, I can distinctly recall thinking, “I’ve survived this!”  With little doubt, we were both being carried by the Lord.  It’s a bit like the moments immediately before you encounter your deceased child in the flesh — you find yourself in uncharted territory!  “Will I be able to endure this?”  “Will it completely overwhelm me?”  “Do I have enough courage to do this?”
In the same chronological moment, Sarah whispered to me, “After the hearse leaves, can you say something to everyone?” because several of the assembled throng followed us outside the chapel, watched us gently place Nathanael’s little casket into the hearse, say our final prayers, as we waited there for the doors to close, and then as we watched as the hearse slowly departed from view.
It was at this point that it suddenly dawned on me that there was a moment I had completely not anticipated.  I hadn’t prepared for this one.  I felt I was equipped for the previous moments of horror. God with me, God talking to me, God saying, “You can do this, Steve.”
As that hearse got smaller, its tyres rolling forward, taking Nathanael from us for ever, I began to crumble in little involuntary heaves of unrelenting grief.  As the hearse disappeared from view, I felt a new sense of brokenness descend over me, hard as that is to imagine.  I suddenly realise I’d never see him again!  Even as I type these words, I tear up for the sheer sorrow of such a thought.  It was over five years ago!
That moment of fighting the tears back—whether we should or not is debatable—was palpable.  I could not go with my son.  I had to remain in the land of the living with my remaining loved ones, as his body departed for the next legal leg of his earthly journey, though his spirit had been with Jesus, in our time, for over a week.
In that moment there were a dozen or more people waiting a hundred feet away, and we had to greet them, so that brief glimpse into eternity was cut short by the will of God; to be there for those who are living and not be caught up with eternal things that are accessible in a moment of alone time.
Grief is a rocky cavalcade of a plethora of experiences.  Some of these experiences we will not even perceive in their fullness, for every substantial moment is thick with meaning.  We’re limited as far as our humanity.  Often it is too much for us.  And that’s okay.  It has to be.  We have no choice to accept ourselves, frailties and all.
The moment of seeing the hearse drive away was a single heartbreak moment within all the heartbreaking moments.
Even now as I watch Mercy Me sing “I can only imagine,” the processional at our wedding, my heart is caught high in the clouds, because part of my heart went to be with Nathanael that day.
He will not come to us.  We will go to be with him.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Church must transcend Christendom and herald Christ alone, or else

In the combination of Diane Langberg and George Campbell Morgan we have the expounding of a biblical truth: God will move forward of any of us or our cherished institutions the moment we or they stop serving the divine purpose.
God will not languish in the mire with us.
God will not stand idly when we’re
committed to twiddling our thumbs.
Nothing is more important than the divine purpose, and no matter how much we say we’re committed to God—individually or corporately—the Spirit of the Lord is inscrutable, separating soul from spirit to dissect every heart’s motive from all stated intentionality.
We only need to step back from the Bible to see the truth that is laid out for all to see.  Get out of one book or the other.  Look at the whole corpus.  God will not be used.  What did God do with Israel when they stopped serving the divine purpose and served other gods?
God swept them aside.  And God will sweep the current church aside, if and as necessary, to deploy the divine purpose for this era.  We have seen this in #ChurchToo, and within Australia, we’ve had a Royal Commission into institutional responses [and lack thereof] to historical child sexual abuse.
And there are other issues spotlighting the role of the church today, even as our relevance is questioned, and our existence is threatened.  Just think about how readily secular organisations are doing the work of the church, and without Christ!
Diane Langberg herself has postulated that trauma is perhaps the greatest mission field in the 21st Century.  The key word there for me is mission.  This statement is not so much about simply serving the traumatised but serving them so well they’re converted to fresh revelations of Christ such that they are delivered and healed to the extent that they evangelise the world.
We stand at the doorway of an incredible opportunity—not for us!  But for God.  For God to heal a land we’ve made corrupt by putting our power before the ministry of reconciliation.
The church has failed of recent times for the same reason whenever the church and the people of God have always failed.  We fail when we fail the purposes of God, and that can only happen in one situation.  When we put ourselves, our ideals, our power, our motives, and the here-and-now rewards we covet, before God.
That’s right.  It’s not rocket science.  The biblical pattern is there for all to see, and a first-year seminary student knows it all too well.
If only we will turn from our wicked idolatry—of making the church an end in itself; where leaders are protected above all else; when the pockets of the coffers are lined to the point of luxury; when little boys and girls are abused, including the poor, the depressed, the triggered and traumatised, the vulnerable in sum—that God will heal our land.
God is repulsed by our demands that we be blessed when we’ve grown fat off the vulnerable.  God says, “Enough!” when we cry foul for lack of church growth when we’ve refused to reconcile with those who say they’ve been abused.  God must get sick of our prayers when we neglect the basic needs of those we serve who are right in front of us.
God cannot bless those who are committed to their idols.  It is only a church that confesses and regularly repents of its idols that God will use.
We stand at the cusp of a great era for the church if only we as a church can see and choose now to serve the multitudes who have been harmed by the church.
The reality is Christ’s true Church will never be crushed, but that’s not supposed to make us complacent and ambivalent.
We can take great comfort in knowing God always wins.  And we should take even greater comfort when we do things that manifest radical love and promote things that magnify the truth.