The week I retired from preaching

Retirement_imageLast week, I prayed over something dear to my heart. Running close to empty I needed encouragement. Was preaching a path God really wanted me on? People like the SAP were saying, “Yes, don’t you dare stop.” But the month prior it had felt hard and lonely.

In the month prior, I’d tried to find a spot to do live expository sermons (one that’s on a specific Bible passage). Without it I couldn’t be assessed for a unit in my Grad Dip Divinity.

Attending church within a denomination that can get itchy over women preaching -whilst studying at a denominational college that doesn’t – has its challenges.

So, emboldened by an idea God whispered, I suggested sermon salons.  A place where I could practise my sermons on willing guinea pigs. And it grew. The first one outgrew the original idea of my lounge room venue. Which meant I needed a larger space. So, armed with a registration list of Christians and non – and an audience of both genders – I asked my church for a room.

A room I received. I did feel I had to explain why the men wanting to attend weren’t unwillingly under my preaching authority. I also had to quiet the sense of unfairness I felt when, setting up the room with tables and chairs, plugging in the data projector, managing my own AV, I thought of my brothers in Christ also being assessed. Who likely have walked into ‘church proper’ on a Sunday, to a pre-prepared room, with a pre-prepared AV desk, with a pre-supplied audience. ‘Just’ walk in and preach.

God is kind and gracious, packing my virtual sermon salons with 70+ interested people and 15 to my first ‘live’. But still the sense of unfairness dogged me.

Sometimes using my female voice for the Jesus-fella can feel a struggle, as I’ve blogged before. Sometimes I wonder why it’s 2019 and my gender is getting in the way of me being assessed for a course of study.

So, at the start of last week, feeling tender, tired and lonely, I asked if He wanted me to give up. I sought out a wise woman who, also in a denomination that can get itchy over women preaching, has been supported by many male senior ministers over 20 years of her preaching ministry.

Before I went to meet her, God – in His gracious way during my prayer yurt/ journal/ Bible time – had pressed 2 Cor 3:12 upon me: You have hope in Jesus. So be bold. 

Except I wasn’t feeling bold. I was needing more. More than what my prayer yurt quiet time was revealing. More than the encouraging SMS from the SAP – Don’t you dare give up! –  who had heard the dark creeping in.

So, as my my wise friend and I prayed in the glaring surrounds of a coffee shop, I asked for neon. Like He used to use with me back at the start. Forgive me, Lord, but solo Bible time in a prayer yurt is only reminding me of how solo this is feeling. You made it fairly clear a few years ago you wanted me on this preaching path. But perhaps not anymore? If you do want me to keep pressing on, I’m sorry, but I’m really going to need neon to do so. 

The rest of the week illustrates again the intimacy with which God seeks be close to us. To grow us. To help us. He’s God for goodness sake. He doesn’t have to meet my lonely needs to help me feel better. It’s not like He gave Moses a pep talk as Moses stood there shuddering over, “ooh, how will Pharaoh know I’m really speaking a message from You?” and, “You do know I’m a terrible public speaker?”

It’s not like he ever picks worthy people! Abraham had little to commend him – but in God’s initiating grace He chose Abraham to start the nation through whom He would bless all the nations.

In fact, that’s likely what freaks me out the most. I am the least likely, most obtuse, complaining soul. I ran from Him, for goodness sake, for years. I didn’t want His love, His grace, His offer of hope and forgiveness. When I finally stopped fleeing, I stood there with my hands behind my back, like a small child unwilling to touch the amazing gift because… what if? What if He’d got it wrong? And, oh, even worse, what if I let Him down?

“He doesn’t and you can’t,” is a whisper I have heard time and time again from Jesus. From a patient, kind SAP. I have grown and I have learnt that my God makes no mistakes. Even when – especially when – I disagree with the choices He makes in regards asking me to do stuff! As the song goes, there’s no wall God won’t kick down, no lie He won’t tear down, coming after me. 

And so God began to light my path like a blazing runway at night. The day after my wise friend and I prayed, I received an out the blue to an ‘invite-only’ preachers development workshop – run by someone who amazes me with his storytelling preaching talent and will, I know – with that HS scary certainty – challenge and push me to more. The same preacher whose name my wise friend had shared the day before over coffee – and, no, she hadn’t approached him either.

The day after that, another out the blue invite to the same preaching workshop from an attendee. Someone who had prayed and prayed and prayed over me five years ago when she learnt I – supremely unqualified – was applying for a job that had Christianity as one of its essential criteria and could I blag a reference off her? Not being head over heels with the Jesus fella wasn’t going to stop me, was it? Today she is like my favourite bra: lots of support, colourful and close to my heart.

The evening after that, asked to jump up and speak, to share my voice, wisdom and opinion at a large, mixed Christian gathering. Yes, God reminded me, I do want your voice out there.

And then, in case I needed more, right at the end of the week, beautifully timed on International Women’s Day (IWD), God delivered me a neon blast from my BC past.  Not on any day, but on a day designed to recognise and promote unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action for women.

“I know you!’ she called out as I walked through Circular Quay towards a Christian IWD event. She did? I knew her face too, but couldn’t place why. Turns out she was the guest speaker. A vital, engaging preacher from a Sydney north shore church.

But we worked out we knew each other from 20 years ago. Neither of us Christians, then. Back then, we were non-believing, pommie, opinionated, quick-thinking PR pros with our own agencies. Both of us thinking  – back then – that GJ&HS needed PR agents, but, ha,ha,ha, we weren’t ever going to be part of THAT campaign. No siree.

Ah. No God-incidences. Look. Look what I’ve done with someone so like you.

Maybe this sense of struggle makes me appreciate my preaching opportunities even more? It keeps me humble – but it also reminds me what a privilege it is. Perhaps it’s a reminder, too, for all my preaching brothers, to not take for granted the opportunities they have. To not – and I’ve heard it done – pronounce from the front in an aggrieved tone, “Oh, I got the really tricky passage to preach on this week.

God closed the week with three other gifts. Less neon, as I’d already expressed my snot-monstering, hiccupping awe at what He had provided. Just quiet underlines to keep me steady. An email asking me to preach at a local church. And two people from my church asking to come along to the next sermon salon.

Sometimes I need neon.

But I also need quiet time in a payer yurt to appreciate and reflect upon just how amazing all God’s neon is.

I will blog of His faithfulness? That’s it?

shrugIf my past five years being a Christian had ALL been cage fighting wrestles, as per my last blog post, I’m sure the smart-alec pastor (SAP) would have expired. Or accepted a mission role somewhere remote without cellular or internet. I think I might have burnt out too. But sometimes, sometimes I miss it. The neon. The unmissable insights that God is taking action in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I love the quiet prayer yurt times. But the WHOO HOO moments are fantastic.

Last post, I explained how I’d not written because I worried how boring my faith travels might sound. Sedate, safe, Bible-reading, Bible-college attending, preaching Phil. Compared to the ‘skidding, whoo, WHAT is going on?’ from three-to-five years ago. I’d made me the arbiter of interesting. Not God. How foolish.

I worried at it like a kid with a fidget-spinner. I wanted to blog, but what about? I realised – as Godspiration began to strike less over the past three years – I had egocentrically put my own, somewhat pious parameters around it: “I won’t blog unless I am called to.”

Really? Who kidnapped me, made me editor of the universe and puffed me up with such writing importance??! Unless I’m called to. Dear God. Anyone would think I’d been marinating a bit too long in theological college and mission. Ah… possibly.

I thought the only way to keep writing about GJ&HS was to either get all Bible study exegetical each blog (yikes) or draw out what they were up to with me. But, truly, all eye-rolling nonsense about waiting to be called to write aside – I didn’t want it to be about me!

“Write about your new story being part of the old, old story,” advised the SAP. Which – three days ago – made zero sense.

I imagine God and Jesus doing the divine forehead slap. Then – offering more kindness and patience with me than I ever manage with myself or others – agreeing: “She’s not quite picked up on the point, yet. Let’s try again.”

As they so often do, they used an early morning wake-up call today and a pressing to listen. This time to an Exodus sermon. Finally, what they were trying to tell me clicked.

(Sidebar: If you don’t understand how Israel wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years in the Old Testament makes sense of God’s massive, crazy promise in Jesus in the New, it’s well worth the 29 mins. Link at the end).

The main point of the sermon: look at how faithful God was – and is. He made these massive promises to His people that, frankly, looked impossible.

How was God going to create a massive nation using the dry and likely limp fertility of two old age Israelites? But He did. Through famine, slavery and desert dust He went from one man with no land to a nation overloaded with loot – blessing after faithful blessing poured out, promise after promise kept.

How much more then His promise to us in Jesus? That one day every knee will bow, every tongue confess, that there will be no more tears or pain, and the world that so cuts and grieves us one day will be but a mirage in the review mirror as we step into His eternal banquet. As we step into God’s house, His home, His peace.

But while we wait, what do we do? asked the preacher. Do we give up on the promises entirely? Make them small and attainable? Make them more suitable to our small, not God-sized lives? Refuse to accept the super-size me God serving on offer and simply settle?

Oh. That struck. Like me: settle for a quiet life that stops writing, Phil, because, gosh, you think you might sound a little like Ned Flanders going on and on and on and on about what GJ&HS are doing in your life.

No, the sermon reminded me, as God ricocheted through my headphones and shook my heart. No. The promises of God are not to keep me comfortable. So what if me writing about God makes me fret and worry about looking self-centred (here she goes, writing about her GJ&HS encounters again)?

The preacher asked: “how do we maintain our trust in the promises of God while we’re facing the brokenness and the famine and the hardship of life right now? How am I going to say to my children, and my children’s children, that the promises of God are good and never fail? How do we maintain our faith in the massive, preposterous promises of God to us in Christ?”

The sermon suggested: first to look for the places where we see God at work. The small signs that He is still rolling out His love and blessings.

Yes, Phil, God whispered, for you to see the small and large ways I have changed your life today and over the past five years as part of My larger gathering of you to Me. 

All those God shoves, all those answered prayers, those crazy Godincidences I used to blog about so often, that blew me away and took me out with awe-full tears at the heart and the knees? They were never simply exciting new God news. They were blogs that strived to unpack GJ&HS. To examine more closely, like a bower-bird returning to the blue shiny glistening gem in the dirt of life, how they were building and sustaining my faith.

And then what this preacher said? The most important thing to do, to learn from Exodus is to keep telling the story of God’s faithfulness. “You’ve gotta tell the story,” he said.

A cracking one liner, delivered with Canadian-accented colour.

THAT line? Right there, today at 3am, wet my eyes with God’s love.

“You’ve gotta tell the story,” said this preacher.

“Write about your new story being part of the old, old story,” said the SAP.

Who gave me this talent with words? Who created my tongue?

Phil, you’ve just gotta tell the story.

I don’t have to make the story. Heck, I don’t even have to be the story. I just gotta tell it. Over and over, sharing the bower-bird shiny blue gems. Because it gives me hope.

So, much as it feels a little presumptuous and scary, I figure, dear reader, it gives you hope too. Of what He is doing in your life and mine, your family’s life and mine, in the lives of the people around us.

So I’ll keep telling the story of those God shoves, of the quiet Yurt times and the crazy who-hoo times. I will blog of His faithfulness.

Phil, you’ve gotta tell the story.

Thank God I’ve got one hell of a subject.


Link to Exodus: The Story So Far.  Exodus 1: 1-24. By Marc Rader, Gymea Baptist Church

Can one get too close to God?

I have been at God’s boarding school for the past couple of years. Which is kind of weird, considering I had no clue I was there – but bear with me.

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Source: http://www.jeansinboots.com/the-higher-the-heels-the-closer-to-god/

You see, after the crazy pace and race of the first eighteen months with GJ&HS, it all skidded to an abrupt….I don’t know what. I’ve been trying to figure it out:

Halt? No. I used to blog how I expected it all to wear off, but it certainly didn’t stop.

Cruise control? Like the set and forget, take your eyes off the speedo, and autopilot takes you along in fifth gear. No way. I can’t describe the past couple of years as cruising. GJ&HS (especially HS) were still in action and I was still active in trying to figure out why God had hunted me down in my forties.

Heck, you could call me the conversion chick poster girl: from meditating on runes and crystals one minute to working in an international Christian mission, serving and learning about GJ&HS, receiving a scholarship to complete a year-long Christian leadership course, moving on to study part-time at bible college for a Graduate Diploma in Divinity, leading a new growth group in the church, plus – the real crazy icing on the cake – speaking and preaching in a variety of settings across churches and conferences.

I’ve hung around plenty of UHT Christians now to understand what an anomaly this is. The most common comment I’ve received in the past four years is, “That’s not typical, you know, what happened to you.” (Closely followed by, “You do know you’re not Anglican…”)

The typical getting to know Jesus route involves Sunday school, Christian parents, youth group etc etc.  A nice linear path that appears measured and within certain speed limits. Not my UFC cage-fight followed by full-throttle around the racetrack on a Kawasaki ZZR 1100. I used to feel I had to apologise for it, as if such speed was unseemly.

But so too was the speed at which the Father ran towards The Prodigal Son in Luke 15, so I decided to stop worrying what everyone else thought about the pace, and started to accept rather than worry about it.

The other comment (about my surprising Anglicanism) could be to do with my preference for expressing my opinions with a glint in my eye, ribald humour, red-to-purple hair and leather pants.  Whilst I turn myself over to the HS daily for ongoing application of the J-factor (sort of like the X-factor, just with better gifts, talents and far more kindness and patience than Simon Cowell), I’ve not yet been overcome by a need to return my hair to its natural, dirty-dishwater blond or change my wardrobe.

As the Bible tells me, God loves every hair on my head, He knows what I’m about to say before I do…. and I don’t have to change outwardly to fit. He changes me as He sees fit, but that’s hugely different.

So if I grew more secure in my relationship with GJ&HS, recognised that the three of them were handling the makeover, not I, why have the past couple of years felt bereft?

This is the description I landed on. Bereft. It hadn’t halted. I wasn’t in cruise control. But I felt bereft.  I was still loved, but the tangent and tenor of my conversations with GJ&HS had shifted.

Something was lacking. I was deprived of the almost compulsive need to blog, for example. Despite desperately missing the medium, it felt like my brain was clogged down with chronic fatigue each time I tried to write. What had poured out of me four years ago – for almost two years solid –  felt as unwieldy and as appealing as wet cement.

I was also rubbing shoulders with more Christians than ever before too: learning from them, being inspired by them….

…and being knocked down by them.

It should come as no surprise that Christians behave badly. We are God’s broken people, after all. But doesn’t it wound and take your breath away when it happens? It hurts more – much like the awfulness of churches sweeping child and domestic abuse into hidden corners. It explains our wider society’s struggle to forgive – because so much more than brokenness is expected of God’s people. We are asked to be His lights, His image-bearers, to walk and talk as Jesus would in this broken world – so when Christians behave badly it strikes as so much worse, so much more damaging.

God thrust me right amongst it: the wounding, the lies, the gossip, the inability to forgive as He has forgiven. Verbal and spiritual abuse amidst pious proclamations. The only things that didn’t cross my path were heresy and adultery.

Yet for every illustration of brokenness, God delivered me 20 Christians who lit a path. He knew how much I needed them.

Truthfully, I wanted to both retreat and retaliate with cynicism. To doubt that anything good was at work here. Yet it also took me to new depths of scriptural wrestling, of really listening to the HS and trusting each time He would guide me. While I wanted to distrust, doubt, be suspicious – all traits of cynicism that eat away at faith – the HS took over. It was like the HS ring-fenced my heart. He showed me when to be suspicious of what I heard, whilst showing me my heart need not be damaged by what I experienced.

I name it the HS vomit. It ranges within me from a faint queasy seasickness to a full, oily rolling in the stomach when something is off-piste. It has protected me during spiritual abuse, when I have been subtly demeaned, diminished, bullied and told I am ‘only a new Christian’, ‘unable to understand theologically’ or when my gender has been used against me – as if my ovaries somehow get in the way of my understanding God’s Word.

The oily sickness would rise and I would find myself better able to discern the lack of truth being uttered. I would reach for His word and find out just how far scripture was being twisted to suit agendas.

Little wonder I felt bereft. I have felt a little bit of me has been missing. But I couldn’t figure out what it was.

The problem wasn’t me getting too close to God in all this. At times I didn’t feel close enough. It became a dark balancing act: yes, I was learning and growing like a weed, but there were days when I felt so choked by thorns I would wonder what on earth was going on. “So what if I’m working in a mission, so what if I’m at Bible College – when was the last time I had a decent, open, generous conversation with someone about Jesus?” I would implore God. “It’s all so…theoretical. But, agh, (exhale), sorry, Your will not mine.”

Kindly, God placed an image of an arrowhead being sharpened with flint in my mind. Which – you’d think – would be sufficient for me to simmer down. But no. Akin to a petulant Israelite whining about wanting smashed avo on toast instead of manna, I returned: “Okay, okay, I get it. Sharpening. Preparation. But leaving me in the equivalent of a forest feeling frustrated with flint might mean I burn the place down out of boredom.”

As you will no doubt pick up, dear reader, the HS is still working on my download of the gift of patience. Yet in illustration of how much He loves, the very next day I received two calls to preach at two different events. Maybe, just maybe, this strange, bereft time in the ‘wilderness’ was coming to an end…

 

It did. Two and a half weeks ago God picked me up from boarding school – which is the only metaphor I can think of to explain the move from bereft to fullness again.

I’d gone to listen to the SAP preach in a new church. For a variety of reasons, I’d originally cancelled my plans to attend. It wouldn’t be the last sermon the SAP preaches, and the beauty of podcasts hardly made the four-hour round trip a necessity. Yet, once I’d cancelled, God had been persistently insistent, shoving hard at me the need for me to go. in. person.

Maybe the SAP needed some encouragement? So, travel coffee in hand, I blearily took a long drive to attend early Sunday service (taking in a radio sermon en route about Israel travelling widely in the desert… God’s humour ;-))

Outside the church, I had my first clue that maybe this was less to do with the SAP and more to do with me. Overhearing the soundcheck, the lyric “it’s your breath in our lungs” landed like a shock on my chest. Hang on… this intensity was familiar: the same pulling me into God’s embrace that I’d experienced so viscerally in my early Christian walk. One that I had been missing, that had contributed to my sense of bereft.

The sermon packed a similar punch. I physically felt I’d received a filling of my lungs – a full 100%, powerful, oxygenated lung capacity that I’d not experienced for a while. Now, I appreciate the SAP’s talents as a preacher, I do. But this wasn’t about the SAP. This was a Holy Spirit rush.

I remember when my son went for his first school camp, age 5. He was away for three nights, over 200km away. On his return he stood on the steps of the coach, looking out over the crowd of parents. He looked so contained – still terribly young and yet he had grown within himself. Then, scanning the crowd, he saw me. As our eyes met, just for a split second, the mask of accomplishment fell away. It was pure love mingled with relief: you are here and I need you so. I’ve been brave, I’ve grown while I’ve been away…. but, Mum, I’m so glad you’re here.

It was the same for me. It was like God was waiting in the arrivals hall of the airport and pulling me in to Him.

Me: “But, but, hang on…I didn’t think I’d moved? Did I? Oh, Lord, really? Did I go away? I’m so sorry if I did.”

He smiled and pulled me closer: “Not at all. I planned this. Haven’t you learnt the last couple of years about Me, and you, and My people – all the good, all the broken and everything in between?”

I nodded, wiping my hands over my face to clear the tears. “Yes. And there were plenty of times I prayed if were time for me to move on from the situations You had placed me in. PLENTY.”

God smiled. “And what did I say?”

Me: “You kept saying, “No. Not yet.””

God (smiling): “Yes, and I know it drove you nuts. You slanged and wrestled with Psalms. But you did as I asked, dear heart.  Plus you had to seek Me in My word first. Which you did before, but not as much as you have done as a consequence of the past couple of years.”

 

 

It explains my idea of being at God’s boarding school. I was bereft because the level of intensity I’d experienced when I first got to know GJ&HS had altered. At the time, it was a real, vivid, loving intensity that God knew was so desperately needed in order to reach through the cynicism and armour I had erected around myself.

Nor do I want to imply that God withheld His love. That either of us moved. But I needed to learn how to stand on Him as my rock, not as my giddy fairground attraction. The most wonderful part of the past two weeks has been recognising I now have both.

Talking conversion on national ABC radio

If you’d told me five years ago I’d be on national radio discussing my embracing of the Jesus-fella, I’d have told you to go away…. but a lot less politely.

It began with a message from a journalist friend:

“Radio National has a show called God Forbid. James Carleton is the host. The late great Richard Carleton’s son. He has asked me for the name of someone who ‘converted to Christianity preferably from another religion.’ He is doing a show about conversion and has someone who converted to Judaism, wants a second panelist. I told him I know someone who converted to Christianity from a secular background and he’s interested. I think you would be excellent because of the fresh way you communicate.”

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Calvin & Hobbes (c) 2014 Bill Waterson.
After some research calls with the presenter James (and a sharing of this blog which means he now knows a lot more about me than I about him), I was off to the studio for two hours of recording.

Half an hour out and I was messaging the SAP saying I was ready to do a Jonah (run off to sea and jump in a large fish). This plagued me: “what happens if I make some massive theological error and end up making my faith in Jesus look just weird and awkward?!”

My Before Christ standing joke was that G&J needed a PR agent; I never imagined they’d hunt me down for the gig! And now, here I sat in the ABC’s Sydney recording studio, doing just that.

It only struck afterwards that God opened this particular door not simply because of my quirky way of expressing my faith. But also due to the 20 years of journalism and PR experience with which I entered the studio.

Without it, I’m not so certain how I’d have gone. Without it, I’d likely not have enquired beforehand about the conversion background of the other panel member. Without it, I’d not have contacted a past guest on the show and done my research on the sort of presenter and journalist interviewing me. After all, I wouldn’t send one of our agency’s clients into a media interview unprepared – I wasn’t going to do it to myself or G&J!

It was a little disingenuous for the ABC to say it was a program ‘just’ about conversion. A newbie, freshly entering their relationship with the Jesus-fella, could have been left portrayed as some mystical thinker without rhyme or reason to back up their faith decision.

The questions would have been far harder to answer without a grasp of the Bible. So God was right to put in a journo thinker with some bible college under her belt because Christianity could have had a media thumping. Particularly when compared against the involvement and training described by Ike Curtis, the 21 year old convert to Orthodox Judaism who was the other guest on the panel.

You see, the very simplicity of Jesus and his gift of undeserved, amazing grace is quite a ‘What The?’ moment for many. Let’s recap: God crams all his heavenly magnificence into an earthly body, to live a sinless life that saw him mocked, scorned, beaten, spat upon and murdered in the most painful way…for ME? Why?!

Because He loves. Every hair on our head and wants us back. God pursues us with an intense, reckless, all or nothing kind of love.

It’s insane that sort of self-sacrificial love. It’s confronting. It demands surrender. In our self-led, self-directed lives, it demands we be less when all our egos want to do is show that we are more. It makes no sense! It doesn’t follow any sort of rules. It’s illogical. Just trust and just be loved. Huh? It can’t be that easy, surely?

It can. And compared to Ike describing his food rules and training to convert to Orthodox Judaism, I am grateful it is.

I did have one unfaithful wobble: would my faith sound too simple? Does the complexity of having a second kitchen and fasting and not combining certain foods – let alone ceremonial washing and circumcision – make a faith more explainable? Rules suit our ordered, lineal thinking minds. There’s been a rise in younger Christians attending traditional, methodical, Anglican Prayer Book liturgy services, after all. In a world of uncertainty, we seek structure.

Yet the difference between Ike’s food rules and my seeking comfort in the regular, familiarity of a traditional Anglican Prayer Book service is vast. I can take comfort in its familiarity, and find it opens a new way of dialoguing with G&J, but I don’t have to do it. There’s no need to add anything with Christianity. It’s Christ alone. Not Jesus PLUS. No extra rules. Jesus is the rule breaker.

God Forbid as a radio show seeks to explore and showcase different religions. Yet this wasn’t a simple, ‘what is your Christian convert story?’ There was a sense of, “well, but why?” – if you’re a convert then explain and justify your decision. I didn’t notice Ike receiving the same sort of question. Possibly because the interviewer focused upon the rules that Ike was explaining in Orthodox Judaism. A wieldy set of rules make a religion much easier to ‘explain’ or understand. No strange, heart-led, soul-shaking, unexplainable bits.

We no longer live in a world where the Christian church and faith is automatically respected. Once one’s money, stance on religion, politics and sex were deemed impolite topics to discuss at the dinner table – let alone on national radio! Not so nowadays. Now it’s up for poking, prodding and questioning – with the expectation of having all the answers to defend your faith choice:

If you’ve converted, Phil, justify why. If there are odd peculiarities to your faith (ie: you’re an intelligent, career-garnished woman, why would you be in a Sydney Anglican church, those un-progressives don’t let women DO anything was one angle pursued) you’d better be ready to justify your choice too.

I was happy to because the answer is and always will be: Jesus. Amazing grace. All the other bits of religion I usually roll my eyes over anyhow.

It was an enervating couple of hours. I had to defend that my faith wasn’t simply coincidence or a product of culture; when tackled about Anglicanism and gender I switched it to talk to how counter-cultural Jesus was when it came to speaking to women in first century Israel as recorded in the Bible. When James played me two recorded sound bytes, with topics of proselytising and the Great Commission bumped up against a quote from the Sydney Anglican ArchBishop, Glenn Davies talking building churches and  baptism, I was happy to challenge James on how the two topics weren’t exactly correctly related and explained how one (baptism) was a response to Jesus. Not a “dunk as many people as you can to build a church” story angle.

That he looked over my shoulder at his producers and said, “let’s not get a journalist next time,” when I gave that answer made me smile.

After all, it’s hardly dramatic is it, when your guest tries her best to always point back to Jesus. Not the stuff of worldly, ooh conflict, news agendas.

There was one response from Ike that was edited out before the final show went to air. After I gave my story about meeting the Jesus fella, and Ike was invited to share his story on converting to Judaism, he said, “I’ve never had an experience with God like Phil just described.”

Which made – and still makes – my heart sad. I pray he does.

If you want to have a listen, the link to the recording of the show is here. 

 

Brace yourself: Jesus and orthodontics

My eldest started high school the other week. The night before I slept like you do when you know you’ve a super-early plane to catch… a wee bit restless and never falling deeply asleep in case you miss the plane.

Four weeks ago the Millennium Falcon also landed in his mouth – a galactic installation of hinges that drop vertically between top and bottom jaw and connect as bars under his tongue, alongside a swathe of shiny metal tracks across all his teeth. He wobbled over it – for a day I wondered if we would ever see his smile again,  his hand creeping up to cover his lips each time he spoke. IMG_9450-e1423232292342

It is painful that the orthodontic work that relies on growth spurts and puberty to achieve its objectives coincides with the time when you don’t want to be different, are dealing with more than enough changes, and heading into an expanded new school grouping.

I ought not be surprised at how he navigated his high school preparation with quiet ease, it’s part of his nature. This is where we pray that all we have planted to date gives him the roots and strength to flourish, grow upwards and, yes, away.

It makes me think about God’s heart bursting with love and pride over us too. Those moments when we walk in His light, when we say no to the stuff of the world and turn to His promises instead, do the three of them give each other a quick high five? A trinity fist-pump of encouragement:

“YES! He navigated away from the porn site.”

“Oh, yes, look! She was so scared in her heart she’d be rejected, but she offered to pray for her work colleague.”

“She went to youth group when everyone else went to the party and got drunk. She’s going to get some stick about it on Monday, but she did it!”

“Their son didn’t get invited to the birthday sleepover because last time they picked him up early on the Sunday to get all the family to church. It hurts them as parents to see the exclusion. But they’re still sticking with church.”

Walking Christianity in a world that is set up to mock and challenge you for your beliefs is much like walking into puberty and a new high school with your mouth full of metal. It looks weird, it can feel weird, a lot of the time you struggle to talk – sometimes breathe – and you can feel the pain of blisters as you rub up differently to ‘the norm’.

Thinking that G&J are watching our journeys and cheering us on, helps, no? And not just cheering, but actively helping, with those wonderful God-shoves of the Holy Spirit. The book of James reminds up to persevere with joy – isn’t it cool to imagine the joy that GJ&HS get from us doing just that?

Like me with Master 13. Just bigger. Much bigger. A God-sized heart, bursting with love.

 

Gotta have faith-a-faith-a-faith

Three and a half years ago I was rejected for a job. And, boy, it stung. I was geared up to wow them with what I could do only to find out it was irrelevant compared to what I was not (a person of Christian faith). Anyone who isn’t across the hilarious Jesus journey that ensued, you’ll need to go back to the start to read about it here.

A character on this journey who’s received a lot of blog time is the smart-alec pastor (SAP) who picked up the church phone when I decided I’d get into some tyre-kicking, journalist Jesus research. An individual who’s had a lot, lot less attention is the person who decided against offering me the job. The Rejector.theterminator

The Rejector also deserves some blog time. Credit where credit is due. Why? Because he stuck to his faithful guns and wouldn’t concede ground on seeking a person who shared his beliefs to be his proxy in a public situation.

When he explained that at the time, I confess I mentally rolled my eyes and thought to myself: “oh, but I’m in PR, I can handle any message you need me to spin…” Something prevented me from sharing that obnoxious gem, and it was quickly replaced by something that pressed and intrigued: “He really needs me to believe this. And to reply that I can spin it, would – I sense – make a mockery of something he holds dear.”

I didn’t have a clue then of what a true, faith-based, faith-led life looks like. After the recent same-sex marriage campaigns, I’d argue very few Australians do. To many, it seems extreme and irrelevant to hold God’s word as truth, to confess Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, to be obedient to a single God who tells us He knows what’s best for us.  Instead we often prefer to follow our own personal gods of self, career, money-making, self-validation..to basically follow ME, my feelings and my desires. I’m the god of me. No-one else.

The funny thing is, if you spend any time having a read of the Bible, worshipping the god of ME isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s been happening since Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve chomped down on that apple after the serpent waved it at them. We’re wired to want the apple that is described in Genesis as from ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’

We desire to be the gods of our own good and evil. To know best. That was me back then in response to The Rejector. I knew best.

Now, after my journey with the Jesus-fella, I am far more humbly aware of just how dodgy a proposition that is.

But what if The Rejector hadn’t had faithful guns? What if he’d let those concerns slide? Worried less about the veracity and importance of my faith, and instead focused on filling the short-term need of someone who’d just get the job done. There’s a line in the Bible’s book of Romans (Chapter 12, V2) which springs to mind, and I’m using a modern translation in order to think about it in light of a job interview:

“Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

The Terminator didn’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world in his interview decision. He refused to weigh up my skills and expertise. In fact, he threw out all my skills and expertise against this one criteria: Did I believe in Jesus?

Nothing else mattered.

Now I (and many others, as we wrestle with SSM laws, freedom of religion laws, freedom of expression, and anti-discrimination) could have bleated about it being unfair (and, well, maybe I did for a day or 5 ;-)) but what I actually wanted to know, deep-down, was this:

Why was this Jesus fella so bloody important that he trumped my amazing skills and expertise? And why was he so important to the Rejector? Thank God I was sufficiently self-aware to recognise something more important than my own self-importance and be intrigued.

And thank God for the Rejector. If he’d copied the customs and behaviours of this world, I could well have found myself in a job with a bunch of people I misunderstood and with no clue, still, of the Jesus fella.

It also reminds me that institutions who use faith as a criteria for a job description have a real need and requirement to continue to do so.

Good game God. Good, faithful guns Rejector.

What’s different about Matt?

In the early hours of this morning, a wonderful young man got to go hang out with Jesus and have God wipe away any tears. The resurrection body I believe he now walks in will be healed. He will no longer need the cane/walker/wheelchair/reclined bed that became his progressive modes of transport as the brain tumours that robbed him of his faculties grew. He will be able to see clearly again. Walk straight and tall. I have no doubt he will be dancing with joy in front of the Lord Jesus. IMG_6383

Matt battled brain cancer for over a decade. The man who first bounded up to me close to three years ago, after I shared in church how I’d recently become a Christian and been Lipton’d in a river, was exuberant and without filters – something I adored because I love a lot of joy, a lot of laughter and a lot of cheekiness.

I did not know him before – before the myriad of brain operations and medications that not only removed tumours and surrounding brain tissues but, along with those, the neural pathways that wire our social inhibitions.

Yet the Matt I knew was likely different to the Matt his parents, siblings, wife and children knew. That takes some getting used to, don’t you think? Watching your loved one’s character shift and change as an insidious sickness slips through their brain.

Best of all, Matt was head over heels with the Jesus fella. Which made watching him face the end of his life – as the Doctors told him there was no further operation, no further drug that would stop these damned tumours doing their worst – truly amazing.

“I’m Ok,” he’d tell us all. “I’m going to heaven to meet Jesus. I just want you all to make sure my wife and two boys are well cared for, and for my boys to get to know and love the Lord Jesus like I do.”

There was something different about Matt. It may have been the removal of those neurons that wire us to worry about what people may think or feel – but I believe it was his whole-hearted embracing of his identity in Jesus.

I recall taking him out to lunch, and those impatient synapses couldn’t order food quick enough, have a glass of coke placed in front of him fast enough. I felt oddly protective – don’t you dare judge this man by how impatient he appears – but, more, it was a gift to sit with someone who damn well knew that time was short, and he no longer wanted to play along with the illusion. I loved the crisp, clean intensity he brought to it.

There was something different about Matt. Every nurse, doctor, patient – anyone  he’d have encountered – would have experienced it. The pure peace with which he talked about the end of his life. It wasn’t the scoffing, bluster of,  ‘oh, when it’s your time, it’s your time’ that dismisses the pain. Nor was it full of fear.  It was peaceful. Beautiful. Matt walked into the very promise that Jesus offers all who believe in him: you will have eternal life. I will draw you in, hold you close, overcome all death and suffering. For my yoke is light.

“I wonder what it will be like?” he asked me one day over coffee. I’d taken him out after church – he’d been too tired to attend – and shared we’d sung I Can Only Imagine – a hymn that asks precisely that question: when we meet Jesus what will it be like? Will we fall to our knees and pray? Will we dance? Sing Hallelujah? Will we be able to speak at all?

“I love that hymn!’ he exclaimed, starting to hum the tune. It will be my enduring memory, sitting in a crowded cafe over Sunday lunch, the pair of us belting out the hymn at the top of our voices in a crazy cappuccino chorus. The look on the face of the bloke at the next table? Priceless.

“I don’t know what death will be like,” he said. “Maybe I’ll just go ZAP, fall asleep, switch off? Like a computer?” I remember replying totally inappropriately, knowing his lack of filters would welcome mine: “Well, can you not do it here with me, in this coffee shop? Or if you do…can we maybe pray for some warning? So I can at least try to get you up and out, at least off the premises? Less paperwork for these poor cafe owners…”

He grinned mightily at me before suggesting another hymn to sing.

There was something different about Matt. He remained other-focused. “Are you still studying at bible college?” he would demand of me. “How are the kids? What’s Big T up to?” It doesn’t automatically assume that all Christians are other-focused (Dear God,  I know I forget so often!) but it’s testament to how much Matt sought to walk like Jesus that even in the midst of the most sorrowful time of illness (for goodness sake, you’re DYING, Matt, who gives a flying fig about my bible study?!?) he wanted to know.

Sidenote: Truthfully, if I was studying knitting, or the migratory habits of the lesser spotted dung beetle, I think Matt would have been less concerned. He was always all about Jesus. Bible college beats dung beetles, after all.

But my best memory of Matt? Just a few weeks ago. Delivered to church in his reclining bed on wheels, he was there to worship, listen to God’s Word, be around his family in Christ. I looked over and saw my smart, thinking, questioning 12 year-old son, who has had plenty of “WHAT THE?” moments over our family going to church.

He was standing next to Matt, holding his hand, poised on that edge of awkwardness where only young adolescents can wobble. I wandered slowly over. I didn’t wish to intrude, but dealing with incurable sickness is hard for all of us, and I wanted to help my son navigate the waters should he need. Matt was holding onto his hand and I could sense Seb’s social uncertainty: ‘Do I just take my hand away? How long ought I stand here for?’

Seb wasn’t aware that Matt likely didn’t even register he was still holding onto his hand. He just didn’t know what to do. He looked up at me with a faint question in his eyes, and I whispered, “You can take your hand away if you want to.”

Seb tugged his hand away and on the return journey back to his side, squeezed Matt on the shoulder. “I’ll see you soon,” he said. “See you soon too, buddy,” Matt replied. It emerged that Seb had turned up at Matt’s side, unprompted, asking how he was. And I cry as I type this because I know – I know – how rare that other-focus can be in one so young. Heck, even in one so old (like me!) But it was a beautiful, poignant moment that encapsulated how church works. How Jesus works. When one hurts, you all hurt. When we hurt, Jesus hurts. Matt delivered my son a wonderful opportunity to lean into the unknown with love.

Last night Seb and I spoke about God, suffering, pain, hope, the promises of Jesus and Matt. This evening, hearing the news of Matt’s passing, he cried. Yet, at 12, he can see there was something different about Matt when it came to pain and death, and the eternal comfort and hope he had in Jesus.

And for that I will always be grateful.

Rest In Peace, Matty. You sowed so many seeds when you were here. Good, faithful and cheeky servant, I look forward to seeing you again. Enjoy singing your hymns and getting your groove on in heaven.

Amen.