This third Easter is a charm

Many of my childhood Easter memories revolve around chocolate eggs and holidaying with my surrogate family in a lovely english coastal town called Beer. A single-parent, my Mum arranged for us to get away in the school holidays with neighbours. It worked out well for all: as the eldest I was able to keep an eye on their younger offspring and my Mum got some much needed adult time.

It was an annual tradition. Waking up early on Easter morning to discover chocolate eggs at the end of the bed. My neighbour’s youngest son devouring a Yorkie Trucker’s Egg before 8am. Me tracing my fingers over the correctly-spelt Philippa on the hand-made Thornton’s egg.

I don’t recall us attending church on Easter day. Then as I grew up and away from C of E schooling into agnostic new-ageism, Easter simply signified an handy long weekend. I’d roll my eyes at Big T wanting to only eat fish on Good Friday, but for me it simply was about the chance to drink wine with friends, maybe get away camping, and chocolate.

Nowadays I’d categorise my most recent Easters as akin to ‘Grumpy’ ‘Weepy’ and ‘Smiley’

Grumpy Easter

This was the ‘wake me up at 3am with song lyrics and shove bibles at me’ Easter. I was not impressed. I couldn’t take a step on the beach without a sailboat thrusting Christian logos at me. What? Are you talking to me? For goodness sake, leave me alone.

Weepy Easter

A year down the track and I’d done plenty of cage-fights with God by the time my second Easter rolled around. It was a pensive, reflective time. I’d moth-dived towards the light, spent some time in the gospels and had got stuck in the Groundhog Day nature of how humanity had crucified an undeserving man. Reflecting back, the enormity of the suffering outweighed my joy in the resurrection.

I spent Weepy Easter uncertain that I could do it again the following year because, not only was I in sorrow due to the enormity of what Jesus sacrificed, I was weighed down by how little humanity has learnt since. I found myself wishing that something would change. That, somehow, there would be a different ending. That we’d learn.

grass_egg_smiley_smile_humor_macro_54212_300x300.jpgSmiley Easter

I write this at the start of my third, Smiley Easter. And I cannot wait. Whether it’s because I prayed earlier this week for God to show me how to embrace the Holy Spirit within, or because – miracle of miracles – Big T and I have almost managed a week of daily ‘his n her’ prayer, but I am behaving in a decidedly unAnglican manner.

The poor check-out chick who wished me a dour happy easter at the shopping centre earlier is now probably shaking her head over the nutbag happy-clappy Christian who jumped behind the counter, washed her feet and tried to anoint her head with oil. Luckily the SAP was willing to take the call when I asked for bail to be posted…

But you know what? Deal with it.  As Brussels shudders in shock, we need something more substantial to put our hope in than ourselves. Our selves are the problem. And anyone who honestly thinks we’re doing OK as a DIY society is delusional.

Easter is a chance to reflect on what we could all learn from Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection: This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12).

Easter reminds us that Jesus offered the selfless laying down of his life for our eternal gift. Compare that to the selfish blowing up of life we saw in Brussels two days ago. If you haven’t yet thought about what Jesus offers in comparison to such worldly horror, there’s no better time than Easter to do it. 

Over achievers don’t need Jesus. They’ve got DIY.

It’s easier to take Jesus to the starving in the slums than it is to the over-achiever.images-4

The handful of pastors I’ve polled on this agree. Yet while they all agreed ministering in less well to do suburbs is easier, it isn’t for the reasons one might assume.

Suburbs that suffer from generational unemployment, poor job opportunities, low education — low hope, you might say — are more honest, gritty and real about their issues. Which makes ministering easier because people living in that world can’t help but look at the issues, experience the pain, and, for the most part, let it all hang out:

“I need another drink because that no-hoper boyfriend of mine just smacked me around again and my dickhead boss cut my shifts.” There is no glitz and gloss. Life is harsh, cruel and there’s no shame in letting everyone know. Which makes opening up the Jesus conversation a little easier.

“Your mate Jesus wants to come in and take a look and help? He wants to show me I’ve got more worth than the next no-hoper boyfriend? I’d like to see him try. But, hell, Ok then, I’ll have a listen.”

It’s harder amongst the demographics where do it yourself (DIY) has displaced Jesus. Where resilience has shifted into papering over the cracks. There are still issues – domestic violence, gambling, drinking, financial insecurity, adultery, pornography addiction and over-stretching – but heaven forbid anyone talks about it. Stepford suffering. Pastors have a harder gig breaking through the facades.

Yet what if you’re not suffering, are meeting your mortgage payments with ease, can afford a nice holiday once or twice a year, you’ve got a good good group of friends you can call on in a moment for help, are building up your self-managed super fund and life is sweet?

You don’t perceive you have any lack. You’re confident, with a great job, with well-rounded kids attending a well-rounded school for which you pay well-rounded fees.  So what does Jesus offer you? Aside from eternal life…which you possibly think is a crock anyway.

The ‘surrender to Jesus’ message doesn’t gain traction here. Not only has DIY displaced Jesus,  DIY is done so well it’s easy to say, “Sorry, God and Jesus, you don’t fit in with our decor.” Hell is imaginary. God being in charge, with talk of hell at the end of your unbelieving life, is to be scoffed at.

I write from first-hand experience. To all intents and purposes my BC life was sweet. I wasn’t filling up any gaping psyche wounds with alcohol or trinkets. But I was always a ‘seeker’. I have always been drawn to the mysteries of life, not because I was filling a gap but because I wanted to understand more. This odd siren call in my heart that would have me look around at the world and know – quite fiercely – that it was all a facade. That there was much, much more hiding in the heights and depths.

So why do some seek out the mysteries while others sit firmly in reality? If God writes all our names on His palm, when He drops eternity in all our hearts, how come some of us recall the watermark echo and others don’t?

It can’t simply be upbringing – I have friends who grew up in God-loving homes who are atheists, and others, like myself, who have come to Christ despite the lack of presence of anything Godly or spiritual in childhood.

It isn’t always suffering – but I suspect that has a great deal to do with it. It was really only when my Mum passed away that I paid more attention to what God was trying to tell me. It’s like I say about the year Big T and I split up early in our relationship: sometimes you have to hurt a bit; and then go back and scrabble around in the mess, dust and coal to realise there’s a diamond right under your nose.

My largest frustration is how to describe exactly what has changed since G&J rocked in. Sure, I record what’s lost in translation between what I thought I knew and what actually is in these posts – but it’s a poor facsimile of what has occurred in my brain, heart, soul and cells.

Before he became a Christian, Sydney’s new Dean, Kanishka Raffel, recalls asking his friend, now Moore College lecturer, Andrew Shead, what the big deal was. What being a Christian actually meant. Shead replied, “It means I’ve lost control of my life to Christ.”

That’s it. My life is no longer my own. Which is desperately hard to explain to the ‘DIY, in control of my life’ demographic. Why on earth would I give away control of my life?

Simply, I had no choice. Approaching my second Easter on this Christian journey, I am reminded of how I kept expecting ‘it’ to wear off. That the joyful, fizzing feeling that invaded my soul would fade away. That my sensible, educated, degree-holding, rational brain would argue Jesus away.

Neither happened. Instead, Jesus delivered evidence to my head and miracles to my heart. God forged His relationship with me in such an intensely personal, bespoke way, I was a goner.

I mean, what are the odds? A straight-talking ex-journo with a dry sense of humour calls a church. She gets a straight-talking, smart-alec pastor (SAP) with a similar sense of humour on the other end. Who – when I made my first visit to church – turned out to be an excellent type of preacher that didn’t annoy or aggravate this communications professional with monotone delivery, verbal ticks, squeaky voice and boring content.

I mean, let’s be honest, on the scale of probabilities the odds were higher of me getting someone, ahem, less likely to engage and entertain. I’d experienced plenty of snoozy sermons at school.

Of course it wasn’t odds. It was God. His tailor-made, bespoke, personal call for engagement. He knows me so well. That he would give his son at Easter so I may be in a closer relationship with Him is amazing enough. But to think He would take the time, care and attention to understand my impatient, judgemental heart.

To know, that first day back at church, the likelihood of my rolling my eyes at a poorly-executed sermon was high. That I was looking for excuses not to be engaged. That when I first called the church, I would have run rough-shod over some more polite, diplomatic pastor whilst making awful judgements about boring Anglican Revs who were out of touch with the real world.

And all because He wanted me back. That’s personal. And it doesn’t wear off.

No dry spells or struggles? Don’t believe you.

Anyone look around their church and think they’re the only one doing it tough in their faith walk? Watched a charismatic preacher ‘in the groove’ and haven’t left inspired but flat because, dear God, it feels like tumbleweed in my soul at the moment?images-3.jpg

The hymns start and everyone around is doing the clap, the sway, the hands in the air downloading the holy spirit like it’s on super-speed broadband and me….me? Well, God, my faith has got so much lactic acid pressing down right now I can barely lift a finger to turn a bible page.

The SAP calls it time in the desert. A testing drought. When you’re going through a dry spell, turning up to church is more than necessary, it’s essential. Trouble is, unless you are really clear about the space you are in, it can be more isolating than uplifting. It’s like a depressive being told to cheer up and get over it.

I’m naturally a fairly optimistic person. I have been hugely blessed with a fast faith metabolism. I sort of dive in, try some freestyle, get bored with the synchronised stuff, throw myself at a few big waves, and then attempt to float in the shallows with God at the end of it all. Recently, a new Christian friend prayed for me quite beautifully, during which she thanked God for my amazing faith. Was she nuts? My faith isn’t amazing. It’s quirky, a little off-kilter, and beset and bedevilled just like anyone else’s.

Take the other day. I was done. Slanging at God that I was ready to get my Sundays back. I was muttering around the house like I was pursuing my own, personal Spanish Inquisition.

At such times, his ‘n’ her prayer is a massive blessing. Big T and I are new to praying together as a couple. We stall like learners at the lights most often, with good intentions sliding away in the busyness of life. Yet when we are praying together, life reflects a better order. Putting God and time for prayer first delivers a better order? Well, duh.

So with me slanging and stumbling around the desert, barely able to vocalise to my husband my own arid confusion, it was a great blessing to have Big T pray for us as a family and for me as his wife.  I couldn’t gather the mental wherewithal to even stutter the Lord’s Prayer. So Big T especially prayed to God for me to receive clarity. As he closed, I added a feeble ‘Amen’ and fell asleep. Bah humbug.

Once again, God has to be glorified and thanked because, let’s be frank, if someone treated me the way I’d ranted at God last week? I’d likely have punched them. Or, at the very least, turned my back, deleted them from my phone, and dismissed them as a whiny so and so who was being incredibly ungrateful.

Yet He doesn’t. Nor does Jesus. Nor the Holy Spirit that resides within and prods me with prevenient grace whenever I spit the dummy.

The following day, God delivered me a series of beautiful, bespoke gifts. The totally humbling part was I hadn’t even said, “I’m sorry.”

I would have done – eventually. Yet He still sweetly answered Big T’s prayers for clarity on my behalf and reminded me – again – just how patient He is, how much love He is willing to pour out, how much He glories in me – all of us – being back in the fold. There was I behaving like a tough, gnarly bit of mutton and He’s ensuring I remember the lamb.

I can’t ever get over those times when I’m sooo frustrated and stomping off ready to be all secular and independent…. and God slings an arm around me and says, “Hang on, look what I’ve got here for you.”

So I walked up the main street of a busy Sydney suburb in grateful tears getting odd looks. Thank you, God. I’m so sorry I was slanging and petulantly stomping yesterday saying I couldn’t be bothered to pray or read the bible. I’ll return to trusting whatever You are up to and slug down the grace like an irishman on Guinness… Just wow.

The SAP, of course, in his supportive pastoral way had a good laugh at my antics. “Did that whole, ‘I freaked out a day too early’ thing, didn’t you?” he chortled. Smart alec.

Yet something even funnier and humbling happened, that shows how ridiculously we can behave in our relationship with God. As soon as the SAP suggested I’d freaked out a day too early, my immediate response was this:

Blame God. He wired me for a million miles an hour. What does He expect? Oops. Sorry God, I will try harder to slow my processing speed at such future junctures.

Which then left me giggling at my imagination of Jesus shaking his head at me saying, “No, Phil, no, no. You don’t get to tell God to keep up.”

Yet the beautiful thing is, God gets me. He knows I know, deep down, that I can never keep up. And that my mostly optimistic, cheeky, quirky and somewhat off-kilter faith is my way of trying to keep Him entertained. Most days I begin with praying, “So, God, what can I do today to make you smile?”

Sometimes it is slapstick. Other times I may even take a step closer to emulating a Jesus moment.

Either way, at speed or faltering, forward is forward. Whether it is through a lush field strewn with wildflowers or across dry desert, God tells me He’s there, He’s got me, and to just keep aiming forward.

If only you could see yourself as I do

Her Mummy clicked on the bedroom light and burst crying through the doorway. The little girl sat up groggily in bed, rubbing her eyes against the brightness, squinting.

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Photographs of Sunsets Through Broken Glass by Bing Wright

Dragged out of sleep, she stared bewildered. She had gone to bed early the night before after vomiting all afternoon. It wasn’t – as all assumed – the odd banana flavoured chocolate she’d eaten at the six-year old birthday party she had attended. It was something in the air of their home yesterday afternoon. Her Daddy had gotten really upset at the lunch table about the lid being left off the toothpaste. Why was he so angry over toothpaste? And the invisible crows had come back, pecking at her, flying in currents of the adults’ wake that she could feel but couldn’t see to navigate.

It made her confused. Her head ached and the paracetamol tablet her mummy gave her sat dizzily in her tummy. She had run out of the ‘Pass the Parcel’ game at the party, vomiting into the bowl of the downstairs toilet. She had felt miserable and alone but hadn’t told the mother of the birthday girl because she didn’t want to go home yet. She dreaded stepping back into those unseen currents that bit and buffeted her invisibly; she worried they would again flare into rapids of angry, bitter words between her parents that made her head hurt and clogged up the words in her own throat. Staying quiet might mean the currents would stay quiet too.

“He’s leaving us,” her mother sobbed. The child stared up from her bed. Her mother added: “Daddy has met another woman and he’s leaving us for her.”

—–

The child sat in front of the TV eating her supper from a small table in front of her. The lounge room door was shoved open suddenly and her mother appeared, in nightdress and dressing gown, Daddy just behind. Her mother’s clothes fluttered behind her as she half ran, half stumbled across the room. She thrust a buff A6 envelope onto the little girl’s lap, where it caught between the underside of the table and her knees. “This is for you, don’t read it yet,” her mother said, sounding angry.

Her Daddy left the room, saying he was calling an ambulance. Her mother chased after him, sobbing hysterically. Small egg-shaped, yellow tablets scattered on the floor. The child stood to follow them out, the envelope falling onto the carpet. She waited in the lounge doorway, staring up the hall. Her Daddy was on the phone, trying to call, but her Mummy kept slapping her hand over the cradle so it disconnected. He ran out the front door saying something about the public telephone box. The child didn’t want him to leave her alone with this strange version of her mother,  collapsed at an odd angle up the stairs. Nor did she want to get any closer. So she stood at a distance, watching her through the slats of the wooden bannisters, feeling a little scared but mostly removed.

The ambulance man with dark hair wore a dark navy jumper with patches at the elbows. Proper patches, not ones to cover holes. He helped stretcher her mother into the ambulance. “She bit my hand,” said her Daddy, over and over. “I tried to get my fingers in her mouth to get the tablets out, and she bit my hand.”

——-

“He didn’t even bring me clothes to the hospital,” her mother  told her bitterly. “The nurses thought it was awful of him. I had to come home in a hospital blanket over my nightdress.”

——–

“Wake-up, get up, you have to get up,” her mother cried, snapping on the bedroom light. The child woke up quickly, a pit of dread in her stomach, clamping her muscles against the panic drops of urine that wanted to escape as she sat up. “You have to call him, come on, get up. I’ve got her phone number. Call her. Tell her he has to come home.”

But I can’t, thought the little girl. I’m too scared to call her. You’ve told me how awful she is. How nasty. She is dark-haired and so much bigger than me, you’ve told me. You told me she works opposite my school and is watching me. You told me she might steal me. I’m too scared to call her. 

But then the little girl remembers the small, egg-shaped yellow tablets. The ones she had quietly picked up from the floor. The ones with the tiny black writing that matched the title on the paper sheet she had found in her mother’s bedside drawer. She was a very good reader for her age. Everyone told her.

If she didn’t make the phone calls, then her Mummy might take more of those yellow tablets. And if she didn’t wake up this time, if they didn’t pump her stomach the way her Mummy had told her they’d done in the hospital, then she’d have to live with her Daddy and the big, dark-haired lady who was waiting to steal her.

She sat on the stairs and dialled the number her Mummy told her. But Mummy hadn’t given her a chance to do her morning bathroom pee. It was wet and uncomfortable, her nightdress sticking to her bottom. Her mother stood at the top of the stairs, making sure she called, listening to her cry and sob and ask for her Daddy to come home. The next morning was the same. And the next. And the next…

——————

When she was 11-years old, her mum went out to an evening meeting. The man who had moved in, who would eventually marry her mother, jovial, tall, always smiling and clapping his hands, told her to climb into bed for a bedtime cuddle. “I’ll keep my hands clasped under my chin,” he whispered. “No need to worry. No need to tell anyone.” He kept his hands clasped but the 11-year old never quite relaxed around him again. If there was nothing to worry about, why did it have to be kept a secret?

——————

Before she was fourteen, she had defended herself with a knife against the same man who now liked to use his fists in places it didn’t show.  He wasn’t so jovial now. She had watched a tea-tray thrown from the top of a three-storey house because his cup was not placed on it – and it wasn’t a leap of her imagination to suppose he would push her mother out too. His son, who lived with them, watched with empty eyes. She watched where he put his hands too.

—————–

That girl today is 44-years old. She has written about domestic violence, but never about the personal damage of divorce, emotional blackmail and abuse. Never. It was locked away.

She is me. And, finally, she is happy to own her story.

I can only thank God, Jesus and Holy Spirit for the work they have activated in the past two weeks. For a SAP, with whom I became irrationally angry for prompting me to read Psalm 139.

Why was I angry? Anger is a secondary emotion. The real response was fear. Psalm 139 was calling me to look at something beautiful about myself and all I wanted was to run away as fast as I could.

Because, oh my God, hadn’t I already done this? Hadn’t I built something of myself? All that history, it had built me.  It gave me the guts and resilience to move on and through. In a fiery, fiesty, flicking-the-bird, sort of way, I had overcome. With so many benefits, not least knowing myself intensely as a result. I know:

  • I can over-read and internally over-react to emotional cues. Not externally. Externally I am poker-face solid
  • Silent tension in a house is my absolute undoing because of what it heralded 
  • I hate confrontation – when your childhood is soaked with echoes of suicide and violence, keeping quiet is a great thing
  • I will go a long way to avoid asking anyone to meet my needs. I’ll meet them all myself, thanks, way safer.
  • I don’t do vulnerable easily. Emotional independence is, literally, in my make-up. S*&t happens when you  are emotionally dependent
  • Deep down struggling with being deserving of love, no matter how many achievements I could list, how much value I could attach to my life because if your mum attempts suicide the childish synapse locks onto her not loving you enough to want to live and be your mother; and then your dad has left…and then the next husband liked to use his fists…

So I know why I have certain behaviours.  I acknowledge them and have checks and strategies to manage them all healthily. I had therapied myself to self-awareness – which brought forgiveness and insight. You may read the above and judge my Mum. How could she do that to a child? Why didn’t she leave her second husband? But take a step in her shoes. Imagine how lost, how raw, how broken her internal life must have been. So I can forgive her all of it because of how she had been taught to love and be in relationship. My lesson has been not to repeat hers.

So why was Psalm 139 so gut-wrenchingly confronting?

Because of what God wanted me desperately to see. He didn’t want me to look at who I had created in response to life’s circumstances. But at who He had created. Who was incredibly different.

Yet I couldn’t see her because it meant I had to look closely at the experiences that forged the current me; to look back past them to who He created.  And I really didn’t want to. It made me sob and hiccup and be vulnerable. To get back to what He created meant I had to walk back through the car-crash.

“No,” I raged. “I’m not looking. Not there. Not when I have to walk back through that. Leave me alone. I’ve done more than ok despite it all. Let me be. I’m going back to my cave.” I may even have pouted that I was ‘magnificent enough’ to the Lord.

The irony? The SAP had done a sermon series on Jonah as irrational prophet just a few weeks before. As I raged, pouted and refused to do what God asked, I couldn’t help but think of Jonah, stinking of fish guts and sulking under his plant.

My surrender took less than 20 hours, with low to no eye-rolling. A record. “Whatever I need to learn, whatever I need to let go, over to You. And if am wading back through that, be ready for my fingernail imprints in Your palm because I’ll be gripping real tight.”

“Like your fingernails bother me,” replied God: “Did you look at Jesus’ hands lately?”

It took less than five minutes for God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit to answer my prayer and do Their business.

Directly with Psalm 139, verse 6, to how intimately God loves and knows me, that is ‘too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.’

“Look,” He kept whispered to me. “Look at how fearfully and wonderfully I made you. Before. Before you had to create yourself on top. Because until you see that, you can’t do what I want you to do next. My works are wonderful. You know that full well. And you are one of my works. Look.”

So I sat in my car, in a Sydney suburban side street, had a purging, fast, howl for the teen and for the child, and came out the other side . That the Holy Spirit is so often referred to as fire does not surprise me. Bushfire regeneration before growth. Cauterising and cleansing. G, J & the HS did in less than 30 minutes what many hours of talking with professionals had not delivered. Integrated peace.

God sees me as He sees His son. Holy without blemish. My job now is to live out who I already am.

———

Footnote/Disclaimer: I am not waving my hands in the air, yelling “Praise the Lord, I am healed, cancel all your therapy appointments and give your life to Jesus.” No.

Keep the therapy. Keep the meds if you take them. Keep loving and being kind to yourself. For me, I have simply found it much easier to love and be kind to myself with God and Jesus as the lens and accepting the gift of grace. For me.

For you, there may be psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, medications and help lines. Abuse – whatever its type – leaves a scar. You may have been abused at the hands of the church, for which I am deeply sorry and wish more people who say they are Christians behave like it more often.

All I know from my experience is this: you can’t ever heal by yourself. Tucking the last little remnants away deep inside, whilst congratulating yourself on how well you are doing, rarely works. Those remnants have a pesky way of jabbing to the surface when you least expect it.

Resources

Psalm 139 

www.lifeline.org.au or call 13 11 44. 

https://www.anglicare.org.au/

http://www.salvationarmy.org.au  or call 13 SALVOS

 

 

 

 

Holy fixer-uperer

Sometimes I take a skim back through the first bogs I wrote about this journey to God through his son Jesus. It is a reminder of not how far I have come, but of how far they have brought me. Radical renovation. The fixer-uperer. I suspect God and Jesus look at all of us and spot potential.

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By Matthew Christopher, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I came to a heart understanding of G&J long before my head caught up. It is my heart that keeps me in step, or reminds me when I’m out of sync. Whenever my God signal goes on the fritz it’s usually because I’ve been over-thinking.

Which makes it kind of hilarious that have I wound up in one of the most brain-dominant, intellectual denominations. I’ve written enough publicly now to receive some intellectual critiques. Suggestions how I could have better presented doctrine. While I graciously take it aboard, and enjoy the perspectives, I’m happy to say I don’t write in order to defend my head understanding of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

I write to celebrate them. The way they touch my heart and make me cry over the gifts they send me, even when I’ve been spending too much time in my head.

2016 started up with a bang for our household. Challenges and sadness. Lies and egos. Death and more death. A time when the heart stutters and my head sought to butt its way through the obstacles, because if I plough through fast enough that hurt may just be outrun.

I have learnt a few lessons in the past 18 months or so. Rather than ploughing through, I now plough down with a Psalm or two. As I dragged myself out of my head and back into my heart a week ago, spitting plum stones and tears at a scripture passage, all I could say was, “I really need some encouragement right now.”

I know, this is hardly the ACTS approach to prayer (Adoration, Confession, give Thanks,  Supplication). But ACTS is head structure and I needed to take heart. Given my dialogues with G&J are typically like an ongoing conversation, it may feel to them that I have a ACTSTCASASTACTSAAASTT morse code kind of prayer stuttering and beeping away…or even SACT when I’m slanging…

The amazing thing about staying in my heart with God and Jesus is how quickly they respond. It’s almost like when I withdraw into my head they shake their own – not in a negative way, but in a ‘Really? Are you going to try that again? Ok, dear heart, we’ll be here when you’re ready’ and they wait kindly and patiently for me to sort it out.

Within ten minutes of my prayer, I took a call in my office sharing encouragement over some changes taking place on quite a broad level at the Christian charity I am involved with; the next day there was an engagement spike in a campaign we had been testing; and then small yellow post it notes of God’s love started appearing all around, day in, day out. Even just hours ago, battling with an emotional dragon, there popped a perfect article into my inbox. Today? Of all days? Really?

I can’t dismiss them as coincidence because they are too specific, too personal and too bespoke tailored to what my heart seeks when they happen. The lesson – as always – is staying out of my head and simply having faith in what I know in my heart.

God and Jesus don’t want our heads. They want all of us. But especially our hearts. Spitting plum stones and slanging Psalms. Shaking metaphorical fists and then being moved to weep because the amount of love they pour out is simply too overwhelming to pack into this broken human vessel.

Their radical renovation skills work best when I stop rationalising in my head and start allowing in my heart. When I throw everything wide and offer them holy squatters rights. Allow the HS building squad to move in and do the fixer-uppering.

Equal opportunity biblical headship. Apply now.

So the Smart-Alec Pastor (SAP) didn’t earn the SA part of his nickname for his willingness to act like a wallflower, hanging out at home and doing all the cooking, cleaning, ironing and sewing. Not that he couldn’t. This is a chai-sipping, pastoring epitome of 21st century equality church, after all. Anything Mrs SAP can do, the SAP can do also. But wait..sewing

Recently the Archbishop of the Sydney Anglican diocese found himself under media and student fire. Before delivering a speech to year 12 prefects during the Annual Service for Anglican School Leaders, Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies faced a series of robust questions from male and female students about the place of women.

My PR heart feels for the bloke. It really does. In today’s life of equal opportunities, women can have it ALL. On our terms. When he replied scripturally regarding the message of ‘headship’ – that God intended men to be the ‘heads’ of women – many present thought he was saying women should not aspire to the same career heights as men.

It was a media skirmish waiting to happen. Let me remind you of one of the key elements of the news agenda: conflict. In our ‘chicks rule’ landscape, any hint of a parochial, “oh no you can’t dear,” is going to make headlines.

And headline it did. Chatting to the ABC producer who was involved in breaking the story, students and teachers were on the phones to media outlets and onto Facebook etc. within minutes.

I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Glenn Davies, but from various reliable sources I’m told one of the reasons the ‘old guard’ of Sydney Anglicanism struggle with him is because he has a softer line on women in ministry. So it doesn’t follow that he’d come over all ‘maler than thou’ to school leavers.

Yet, as reported by the ABC, a prefect at one of Sydney’s most prestigious girls’ schools, said she and her friends were “angry” and “confused” that the Church was telling them the opposite message about gender equality to that told to them by their parents, educators and society in general. Another said: “We’re trying as much as we can, and to be told that in the end we’re not going to get there because of our gender? … It was disrespectful to us, as girls.”

Ever played Chinese whispers? What Archbish. Davies actually said probably translated differently when replayed through the brain filters of 18 year old girls. I’ll get onto that later. But firstly I want to address the whole notion of headship being disrespectful to women.

What headship is not

If the 18 year olds in that audience found the headship message disrespectful, try being me, coming to Christianity in my 40s, having built a couple of businesses, won a few scholarships and awards, and a resume that includes working with BRW fast growth entrepreneurs. Now that’s when figuring out the headship message gets fun.

A few Christians (and Big T) have called me ‘scary’ for my skills. I’ve met lovely people who find it easier dealing with job categories of stay-at-home mum, secretary or teacher. Nice, safe, Jane Eyre type roles. So how do I place my own education and achievements in the scriptural framework of headship?

First, you have to stop looking at headship via a narrow, secular, ‘ooh, media conflict’ lens.

Glenn Davies did not mean, nor did God say or The Bible record that headship is about having the upper hand. Headship is not meant to mean that a woman has no rights or is a second-class citizen. That she cannot ‘do as well’ as a male.

On the contrary, God tells the husband some very serious commands. Headship isn’t about giving women fewer rights or lesser standing. It’s about giving women more.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless,” (Eph. 5:25-27).

Women, wives, girlfriends: when was the last time your man nailed himself to a cross for you? Paid you so much attention that you were noticed, validated and glorified? Made you blameless? Gave himself up for you? Revered you above all else? All else. Above popping along to the pub for a beer with his mates. Above the latest cricket game or footy show. XBox. Close your eyes and imagine what your relationship would look like if that took place. I imagine it’d look and feel pretty good. I think I’d be buying up big at every lingerie store I wandered past…

Second, understand that headship is an issue of order. Not about who is better or more important. Or who makes up all the rules. But scripturally the husband is described as the head of the whole family, and therefore he has the responsibility of guiding his family to a closer relationship with the Lord. And God will require the husband to give an account of that guidance.

It does not mean that whatever my husband Big T says goes. But as a woman with Christian faith, if I believe that my husband will be judged by God for how he guides our family towards a closer relationship with G&J, then of course I want to support him in getting it as close to right as possible. Back to my first point about headship encouraging men to give more to their women… if I was being revered like that – man, Big T would be so supported he’d probably tell me to ease up on the lingerie shopping!

I may also want to dance a saucy ‘getting away with it’ jig…so does headship mean I get to hide behind Big T’s broad, husbandly shoulders when God asks me about some of my off-piste blogs? Abdicate my thinking brain and mind to my husband?

Of course not! I’m just as responsible as Big T is on this journey. But – if it comes to a tie-break – the Bible does tell me that Big T gets the final say.

Big T is now running victory laps around the kitchen, hands clasped above his head. “You’ve just told thousands of readers that I get to win every argument,” he hoots. Ah, no. Settle down, big fella.

Third, headship has nothing to do with the husband having ‘higher status’ or ‘power’. It ought never reach a tie-break because Big T and I grow and work together toward God.

Headship can only be understood when Big T and I both understand that neither of us are ‘in charge’. God is. So as we grow together towards Him, we grow towards each other.

In a world that talks in language of conflict, of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ that’s a counter-cultural approach. But it is frankly far more fulfilling and relaxing than thinking in terms of ‘who is right?’ all the time. It doesn’t mean our egos don’t rile up, but that’s part of the faith journey. Quietening the ego and growing with grace.

(Yes, I do understand and get riled by inequality of pay, poor female representation on boards, chauvinism, misogyny, unconscious gender bias, domestic violence.. the list goes on. But, for now, I’m simply attempting to unpack what headship does and does not mean.)

In the Bible – and what Glenn Davies would have laboured to get across, but it was doubtless lost in the conflict lens of media agendas and teenage translation – is that women and men are different. Praise God. If Big T and I were the same, our relationship would not work. And I’m not referring to plumbing. But rather how we complement each other from our strengths and weaknesses. Physically, spiritually and mentally.

It’s really OK for Big T to be better suited to a job than me – it’s not that I can’t do the job, but if that job is easier for him to do – and visa-versa – then by all means, he is welcome to do it. Big T is significantly broader and stronger than I. I’m more than capable of starting the mower and whizzing it around the lawn…but for basic efficiency why would I when he gets it done faster and quicker? It doesn’t make me feel ‘less’ at all. My sense of self is firmly intact.

These are all relationship lessons that come through wisdom, patience and age. The key issue with the media fallout from Glenn Davies’ school leavers’ Q&A is that the school leavers are possibly not yet mature enough to understand it. How can you understand the give and take required in a Christian relationship between a wife and her husband when you are just 18 years old?

At 18, if you’ve not grown up in a Christian household that models true headship (husbands revering their wives as Christ did the church)  you are not going to be equipped to hear the real freedom of what it means. It simply won’t compute. Lost in translation.

Of course there’s more. Including:

  • Challenging 18 year olds – in fact everyone – to view headship as God’s scriptural framework. Not a competition between genders.
  • If you are a student who struggles with the bible’s teachings and headship, why attend a Christian school?
  • If you attend a Christian school and you don’t understand it and find headship offensive, I’d wonder how well you have really been taught about it in a scriptural context and suggest you take it up with your teaching faculty.
  • Recommending the Archbish not go near headship with a barge pole with 18-year-old students unless the students hold theology degrees.

Now, if Archbishop Davies does come across this blog, I’d urge him, respectfully, to have a serious chat to his media manager. You are never off the record. Ever. It’s a pain, but it’s true.

Instead, find a media manager who will drill you on every possible nuance of every possible media message and allow yourself to master the bridging technique. Try this role-play scenario:

18 yo Anglican school leaver: “Archbishop Davies, how can you explain the gender inequality taught in the Bible in light of what society teaches us about what we, as young women, can achieve?”

Archbish: “Now that’s an excellent question. However I don’t think the issue here is gender inequality, but rather the excellent role models the bible offers you as examples of what you can achieve in a 21st century world after being constantly deluged with messages about pornography, cheap sexuality and music videos that exploit women. For example, there’s Miriam, Deborah or Huldah. These women more than smashed through the ‘glass ceilings’ of the Old Testament times. They re-mapped it. Trail-blazers.

“And it’s not just the female role models. Plenty of young women have told me how frustrated they get by young men who don’t step up and invite them out on dates. So I’d suggest the young men check out Nehemiah – an excellent leader who rocked up to another powerful leader and asked him to help rebuild his home city. That took some cojones. And faith in the successful outcome. Great role model next time you need to learn how to ask someone out. Way better than using an SMS.”

See? Easy. I’d offer my services but I’ve got to go lingerie shopping.

(P.S: That’s me, the writer, going lingerie shopping. Just in case).

 

 

Sounds like God on the radio

Not only was the weekend Valentine’s Day, it was also world radio day on February 13th. I used to work in both BBC and ABC radio donkey’s years ago and, after producing a three-episode series on divorce over three generations, some lovely souls at Radio National gave me an award. So whilst I love to write, I’m fairly aural – probably why God shoves songs and lyrics at me in the early hours to get my attention. 12107060_537762879709626_4083684520642864060_n

Which He did fairly strongly in June last year regarding a job application, meaning today I write this as operations manager of the Australian arm of Far East Broadcasting Company, a global not-for-profit that uses radio and internet to broadcast the gospel into impossibly hard to reach places.

Not simply broadcasting tracts of scripture. Christ’s love may be captured in the Bible, but it was also seen through his acts, so FEBC’s radio programs cover education, social issues, literacy,  and health. Practical love and help broadcast in the listener’s own language, produced by volunteers who come from the communities they are broadcasting to. This is no ‘fly in, fly out’ mission. It is vine and trellis, tent-spreading mission with longevity, insight and understanding.

In Northern India, rife with sex trafficking, fathers hear FEBC’s radio programs and are educated to understand that their daughter being sold ‘to a better life away from poverty’ is actually a life of brothels and hopelessness. As a direct result of FEBC’s radio programs about legal rights and the importance of each individual, no matter their gender, there has been a drop in young girls trafficked and the number of female foetuses aborted.

As Ebola ravaged Sierra Leone, FEBC’s first response disaster radio programs offered practical health advice on dealing with the virus but also shared Christ’s hope. That there was love in amongst the horror. Last October, in response to Typhoon Koppu, the Philippines First Response Radio, in partnership with FEBC Philippines, used the suitcase radio station (pictured) in partnership with OCHA, The Office of Civil Defence (OCD) and other NGOs to get vital health and infrastructure messages broadcast.

You see, like God, radio gets in. On a loop. It may be the background noise to everyday life, but the message is there. From mobilising Russian Christians to adopt over 50,000 social orphans out of terrible situations in orphanages, to offering the means to educate new pastors via Bible Correspondence courses for effective church planting in Mongolia, I have been slack-jawed by the breadth, depth and width of the work that FEBC does. Which can all start from a tiny, A$30 wind-up or solar radio.

Could I EVER have imagined myself working there? Well, given the first Christian job I applied for knocked me back for having no faith and set me on a path to Christianity, I’ve learnt to be cautious with what God imagines! There’s a danger in praying ‘over to You.’

He has heard me mutter, “what were You thinking?” plenty of times in my short time at FEBC. I bring a default of commercial leadership to this Christian not-for-profit because, dear Lord, I’ve only being doing this G&J biz for not quite two years. The wiring is sometimes off. There can be a tension in that – there have been plenty of meetings when I’m on my knees ahead of time. Only recently I was battling with what I term ‘commercial rigour’ and the SAP gently suggested I used ‘good stewardship’. Ah, yes. Same intent, yet more positive and Christian.

The BC (before Christ) me wants to sprint at speed, get stuff done, and struggles with impatience. Re-wiring to ‘lead like Jesus’ does not happen overnight, no matter how much of the Holy Spirit God is gracious in bestowing.  “Because that would be too easy,” He whispers. Some tests are needed to prove mettle. Thank God for grace.

I’ve also learnt that working in a Christian mission is harder than secular. Harder to get stuff done. Not simply due to lack of funds or skills, as often can be cited in NFPs. It may read as ‘woo-woo’ but when you work in a mission that spreads God’s word across the globe, I’m certain the horned mother-trucker throws extra obstacles. I have learnt I cannot race and get stuff done at all unless I pray for God’s help, blessing, guidance and, yes, protection too, first.

It has proved both my biggest challenge and greatest blessing (discounting coming to G&J in my 40s!). If you want to know more about a cost-effective mission that you or your church could be involved in,  please take some time to learn about FEBC Australia’s work, especially if you didn’t know they turned 50 last year. This month’s story in Eternity is a great place to start. Download is below. Happy World Radio day!
http://issuu.com/biblesocietyau/docs/e66_p1_p20_final/4

 

 

Urgent, evangelise. With Salt (& Tequila).

“It’s liver cancer.”

“How long?”

“Six months without treatment. 18 months with.”

As she dashed tears from her eyes, I swept this valiant 42-year-old woman into a hug. “I’m so sorry,” I told her, adding some slightly bluer language under my breath for good measure.

Yet like a neon question mark flashing at the back of my brain, there was only this: ‘What does she believe? And how do I ask without sounding like an awful end of days prepper?’

Through business circles, I had known her for years. Not closely, not until the start of 2015 when we ‘just clicked’ as members of the same networking group. We discovered a similar outlook on life. Offered complementary business services. Wicked senses of humour. Some shared emotional baggage that we unpacked over wine as only new friends on discovery can, laughing at each other with a gentleness that said, yes; I understand that screwed up bit of you too.

She was the coolest of cool friends, yet without ego or notion of how beautiful or cool she really was.

“I’m not telling many people about my diagnosis because I want my business to go on as normal,” she told me. “But I’ve seen what you post on Facebook and I see you have faith. I feel ok about it. I’ve enjoyed my life. There’s nothing else I really want to do. I’ve always tried to treat others how I would like to be treated myself. But I don’t believe anything comes next.”

Really God and Jesus? Really?

After six plus years of knowing her around the business traps, we properly connect in the year she is given a terminal cancer diagnosis; her without any belief or faith about what comes after death, and me a scant 18 months after becoming a Christian?

There are no Godincidences.

But, really? Pressure much?

For anyone who doesn’t understand why some Christians behave like shiny-suited TV evangelists, it’s because Jesus said some serious stuff in the Bible about what happens when we die.

“The only way to the Father is through me,” he told his disciples. “The promise of eternal life, the resurrection, the free gift of grace comes only if you are willing to lay down your life and follow me.” (I’m paraphrasing).

If not? Well, it’s not pretty. Too many Christians like to gloss over it, playing safe in the more new-agey pools of God being nothing but love.

Who can blame them? Hellfire Bible-thumping religion has done G&J a huge disservice. In reaction, the pendulum has swung the other way in today’s world of free choice, self-service and freedom.

Standing up and saying, “Well, actually, I do believe that God calls us to account when we die,” is not welcome. Too often the fire ‘n’ brimstone hangover of being called to account overshadows the good news of that Jesus fella.

The good news that through the grace of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection, I can stand in front of God as a child in front of her loving Father, and receive forgiveness and an eternal gift of life.

But here’s the kicker: you’ve got to get to know and accept Jesus first.

As I sat in front of my friend, reeling from the news of her cancer diagnosis, listening to her dismiss her Roman Catholic schooling (heavy on the guilt and wrong doing) and what she’d heard from her brother-in-law pastor (I know, I know, the irony), the true punch in my solar plexus was this:

‘She can’t die without sorting out where she stands with God and Jesus. But, on the face of it, she’s lived a good life. She has an amazing moral code and value system. How do I explain that none of that matters? That compared to Jesus on the cross, because of our very distance from God, we are all broken and needing saving? No matter the amount of our virtue and strength of moral fibre.’

I cried a lot that night. And prayed. I visualised the Holy Spirit (HS) firing through that liver of hers so often it was more lighthouse than vital organ in my prayers. I had one of those slanging, bargaining type conversations with God: “Quick zap of the HS and all will be well. I’ve got my prayer warriors on it too. I know You can hear us. She knows we are all praying. C’mon, what better way to prove You exist than a miracle cure?”

I don’t believe slapping people round the head with G&J gets them closer to understanding. Yet the urgency was horrible. Even more as her treatment failed. It got to the point that if another well-meaning Christian had asked, “Has she said the Jesus prayer yet?” I may well have reached over and ripped out their throat in a very unchristian manner. When one of them asked, quite seriously, “Do you think you’ve done enough?” my tongue bled from my biting it. To ask me, tripping around in my flawed way, if I’d done enough, dismissed God’s sovereignty and my friend’s heart. Whilst it was ultimately down to God and her, not me, it still made me feel like hell. I couldn’t make her become a Christian.

So what could I do? I prayed (as did others) and kept on being the sort of Christian I am: irreverent, flawed, and prone to explaining G&J in my own quirky way. It is less theological college, checklist ‘shiny’ and more sweary, eye-rolling ‘I know, I can’t quite believe I’m a Christian either,” reality.

When Jesus told his early followers to be like salt – let their faith stand out, be a well-flavoured advertisement for Christianity – I’m sure he didn’t expect me to pair it with tequila slammers. By my being the least expected ‘type’ of Christian person (ie: not religious), I pray daily that Jesus can be seen in his true light. Which is all I wished for my friend.

So when she asked what I believed, I said God doesn’t promise me a pain-free this life, but he promises me an eternal next one. Told her, no, her cancer wasn’t punishment for wanting to die during her own brush with depression years before.

I said, simply, how we live in a broken world. That we are all more flawed than we  images-1.jpgcould ever believe, yet more loved by Jesus and God than we could ever dare imagine. And that heaven was way, way better. How I dearly wanted to see her when I got there, so could she please get with the resurrection program that Jesus offers. Plus, when my time is up here on earth, could she start lining up the margaritas for my arrival.

Sadly, the doctors were wrong. My friend died just four months after her diagnosis. We didn’t do any shiny ‘I give my life to Jesus’ prayers. But in those four months she humbled me by reading all my blogs and asking questions. She came along to church – which was a touch and go first visit  – but she came back to sing carols with a passion and hold my hand as she did so. She even whispered that I ought not be frustrated by her experience back at church, “because you made sure you explained it afterwards. I get it.” I don’t think she understood just how much she taught me about God and Jesus as I tried to show them to her. Is still teaching me.

In the final week of her life, as she drifted in and out of consciousness I asked how she and God were doing. “He’s really helping me,” she whispered. I went back most days to sit next to the bed and, when the opportunities arose, read her Psalms and gospel verses. “Beautiful,” she whispered over Psalm 121, my voice breaking at verse 8.

Being a Christian is tough. Being a Christian in the hospital room of someone who is dying, surrounded by her friends and family, who may or may not share your faith, is tougher. They needed their own time with her; who was I – more of an outsider with what may have appeared to be a lesser friendship/business connection – to keep turning up at her bedside?

Back to salt: how could I not? On the first night she was admitted, she had whispered to me: “I don’t want to die.” So even if she – and her other friends and family – did not share my faith and hope in Jesus, perhaps they could find some solace in mine. Sometimes it felt like I was sharing him across eggshells. Like sending John 14:27 to her husband – who at the time may have felt least able to let his heart be untroubled – and carefully adding: “Sometimes it’s like tasting nails…but sometimes there is comfort.”

The last afternoon, her barely conscious, a shadow of the woman admitted eight days before, I said one final prayer to this lover of all things bright and beautiful. “You know, I think Jesus is standing right in front of you now, holding out the most amazing technicolour coat. All you have to do is reach forward, take it, and let him wrap you in it.” Her hand under mine gave the faintest of flexes. She died early the next morning. New Year’s Day.

But the tribe of shiny Christians asking about her ‘doing’ the Jesus prayer scared me. I spent the hours after her death proclaiming God’s sovereignty on one hand, and then whispering how I’d love to know He’d got her on the other. “Just a sign,” I implored. “Just so I know. Please.”

What happened next is how I describe God’s personal love for us all. He didn’t have to offer me comfort. He is sovereign and my exhibiting control freakery over the outcome of His conversations with my dying friend totally disses His sovereign bit. Who am I to be asking, “how did You and she go?”

Yet that day, on the drive south of Sydney to grieve on a less-populated beach with waves and my surfboard, every car I passed seemed to have either a fish sticker on the back or a crucifix swinging from its rear-view mirror. I coughed and hiccupped and saline snot-monstered my hope: “Is that the sign? Or am I imagining things? I’m so sorry God. You know how I need it up emblazoned on a billboard so I don’t miss it.”

At the last minute, I changed my mind over the beach I was going to. As I pulled into the car park, the beachside meeting room boasted this red sign:

Beachposter

Praise God for His graciousness. I imagined Him asking, “Now, dear heart, is that literally a big enough sign for you?” I sighed, cried some more, smiled and recalled, Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. – Hebrews 11:1

I have faith He has her. Which means, along with no more pain, sorrow or hurt, I have confidence she’s going to have a margarita waiting in heaven with my name on it.

Not because of anything I’ve done, not because of works, not because I deserve a lemon, salty, triple-sec, tequila cocktail for facilitating an introduction between God and my friend. But because of His love and Jesus’ grace I get to see her again.

Amen.

The dangers of bringing a plus one to church

Christmas, as many ministry teams tell their congregations, is the time to invite non-church goers along to church. I’d done just that. As I sat next to my guest, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit excited. It had been a lovely welcome, everyone had been friendly and gracious. The kids’ minister had us in laughter, the prayers were lovely and inclusive and the music was vibrant and upbeat. My guest smiled over at me. “Nice that it has a relaxed vibe,” she commented.images.jpg

And then the sermon started. Halfway through she glanced at me and whispered, “What’s this all about? I don’t get why this God of yours is all about punishment and judgement.”

I’d been feeling pretty bummed out about what I was hearing too. Not because it was a ‘bad’ sermon. But for the average person who may have wandered back to church after a long time away? I understand why she asked what she did.

Whilst I knew it was a bit of Old Testament scene-setting in order to relate the gift of Jesus at Christmas time, there’s enough of my ‘before Christ’ (BC) PR persona left to recognise a message totally missing its mark. God & Jesus lost in translation.

You see, the sermon didn’t close the loop. It set the scene, but didn’t make enough of the climax. Jesus, grace and joy deserve an ending of fireworks. Not a damp squib that leaves the listener with echoes of brimstone.

When will pastors understand that the church has done such a disservice to G&J over the years – has lost them so often in translation – that a newcomer is going to hear the ‘negative’ stereotypes one thousand times louder than anything else? You say ‘sin’ and ‘punishment’ and ‘obedience’ three times in a sermon, then please make sure you are saying ‘love’, ‘Jesus’, ‘free gift, not works’ and ‘grace’ at least ten times each to balance it out.

It’s basic message adoption principles: our brains are wired to hear the negatives, so offset each one with at least three positives. Please. Just in case there’s a brand new visitor cautiously finding his or her way back to church that day.

Please don’t pre-suppose knowledge. You may have 99% ‘old faithful’ in the pews, but that 1% newcomer who really needs to get the message – they may not be ready to unpack it. Forget the cliff-hanger sermon series for the next week – because they may not come back. I understand the power of a sermon series, I do. But build it well. Let each week stand alone. Remind, wrap up, and make sure you’re covering off on the grace, goodness and joy each time. Just in case.

I tried to do a fast crisis PR repair job for G&J in the car park before my friend climbed into her car and drove away. But how do you explain it’s a misconception when a 20-minute sermon ‘sort-of’ reinforced the misconception?

I can send her this link, and this one, and this one, all of which I hope explain the real, close, loving relationship God seeks with us, from my own personal experience.

I can try to explain that when the word obedience is used in a sermon, it isn’t because we have a growling, arrogant, up-Himself, punishing God who demands our grovelling to feed His gargantuan thundering ego saying, “I MADE THE WORLD, SO OBEY ME, PRAISE ME, AND GROVEL BEFORE ME, MINION, OR ELSE!”

I can explain when God talks about obedience, it is from the context of His not being human, but of Him being God. He is so much larger, wiser, holier, cleverer and smarter than I. Because He’s God and I’m me.

So being obedient to his precepts means I submit to Him being just that: larger, wiser, smarter, cleverer, more lovely and amazing. By submitting (being obedient) I relax in the total and utter security that He has my back. That He gets the agenda far better than I do. That He loves me with a breadth and depth I cannot imagine, and He only wants what is best for me. So given He has my back, I can relax and trust Him implicitly. Why would I resist (be disobedient) when the other option is me trying to go it alone and quite often making a mess of it?

Of course it means I have to humble myself. Take a hard look inward. It requires growth.

So where does this leave me sharing what I’ve learnt about G&J? I often only get one shot talking about this ‘Jesus loves you’ business with someone. Whilst it’s always God’s will not mine, I really do want to facilitate the best introduction possible.

It takes guts for me to spill my heart to a non-believer. I risk ridicule. I have horrible images of being seen as some shiny-suited, dodgy TV evangelist. I have to be ready to take tough questions on the chin. Yet that’s OK because G&J have my back and for every snigger, for every person who may scoff at my faith, there may be another who unexpectedly finds peace and hope and love.

Pastors, please be aware, for every guest one of your church members brings through the door, they’ve most likely spent weeks before praying, laying the groundwork, having coffee, gently unpacking their guest’s misconceptions of religion and trying carefully to get Jesus front and centre. Anyone who’s doing evangelism well isn’t spraying and praying out a scatter-gun of church invitations. It’s a hand-reared, personal pitch.

So if you’re standing on stage preaching and people in your congregation have invited new guests along? No pressure, but please don’t stuff it up.

Now, all my readers who are pastors may leap to their own defence by citing the great sermon postscript: “But we always say, at the end of each sermon: if you’re new here today, have any questions about what was in the sermon, or want to talk to someone about Jesus and his great gift, come and see me or xyz on the ministry team.”

I’m sorry, it’s a terrible engagement technique so please don’t think it covers you for any sermon misunderstandings by any new listeners.

There’s absolutely no way I’d have wandered up to a stranger my first day in church, especially if my head was overflowing with their sermon’s berating notions of sin and punishment, and asked to discuss it further. Like my guest at Christmas, I’d have been sprinting to the car park as fast as my legs could carry me.

I Like My Pastors The Way I Like My Steak

I don’t envy pastors the pedestals some people expect them to perch aloft. I prefer my pastors the way I like my steak: raw, a bit bloody, and a little battered by the tenderising mallet of life. Rare. Not tough. And certainly not over done.imgres.jpg

A perfect pastor atop a pedestal is too unapproachable. I figure the more a pastor has engaged with the broken world we live in, the more likely he is to grasp the broken weirdness his congregations will throw at him. A pastor needs to be rusted and real, not shiny and show pony. Church is us and us, not us and them.

I’ve sat with three pastors this past two weeks, all of whom shared a similar look: exhausted. One of them kept saying the right stuff but it didn’t match the sorrow in his eyes. The other two I know well enough to call on any bullshit so simply said they looked rung out, what could be done to help, and had they booked a holiday?

We are a church. A body of Christ. Christ did not tell his leaders to feed the hearts and minds of his flock and let their bleating drain them dry.

We are a church. Which means my hands, your hands, my heart, your hearts, my brain, your brains, my ears, your ears, my eyes, your eyes need to look, listen, feel, and be other focused to help the whole body.

Other focused isn’t simply the people I sit with in the pews, or the people I hope to share Jesus with outside the church: other focused includes the ministry team. The bloke or blokette on stage. How are they doing? 

In corporate world, there’s a saying: as the leadership team goes, so too the rest of the organisation. Apply this in a church and it would follow that if you’ve got a pastor in burn out, the church could lose energy too. But, unlike many corporate organisations, we are encouraged as churches to be the body of Christ. To hurt when one hurts. To laugh when one laughs. So we have an opportunity to give energy back when it is needed. That is a gift, a privilege and a chance to grow. In corporate world, trying to serve that way normally means a demotion 😉

However, may I also gently remind all pastors and pastorettes – you have to let us help you. Let us encourage you. Being eminently un-help-able because you think you are supposed to be strong for your congregation and running the show – maybe because a bunch of parishioners have you either on a ridiculously high pedestal of expectations or, worse, are after you with pitchforks – serves no-one.

As for any readers who attend church regularly, I don’t know about you but while I’m thankful ultimately to G&J, it has been the ministry teams in my life who have allowed God to deliver the goods.

Here’s a (now not so) private example: just over a year ago, my marriage hit a serious obstacle. I didn’t know if I was up or down, left or right, all I knew was, regardless of whether my marriage stayed whole or fell apart, I’d found a new strength in G&J that would see me through.

Yet I was still a snot-monstered mess, papering over the heartbreak with my usual acerbic wit. My rock of God was probably more of a pebble for me at that stage, so it really could have gone either way. It could have been easier for me to allow pride and fear win, let the anger hiding the hurt take centre stage, shove all the blame in one direction, fall off the pebble, and slam the door on my marriage. 

So in response to a caustic SMS on a miserable, rainy day, the SAP carved out time between a Christmas end-of-year staff gathering,  planning for Christmas services, and goodness knows how many other meetings, to meet me face-to-face. He then went on to contact a counsellor he knew and, thanks to the strength of their relationship, the counsellor agreed to see Big T and I immediately and intensively – although he’d already shut up shop for Christmas. The counsellor admitted to me later that he would not have done it had it not been the SAP asking.

Throughout the next couple of weeks, Big T and I received the SAP’s texts of support, guidance and suggested bible passages to read. What I didn’t know at the time was the SAP was also in the midst of finalising his new church role for the following year, having to help prepare a house for sale, move house, enrol in a new course of study, continue pastoring in his current role, finish Christmas sermons, still be a SAP to all the other flock in the church, deal with a horrible health scare in his immediate family, be a Dad, be a husband and, somewhere in all that, keep God top and centre and not go slightly insane.

Today, praise God, the pebble I stood on a year ago is a rock, my marriage is the healthiest it’s ever been, and Big T is growing his own pebble of faith into a larger rock too. The SAP doesn’t get all the credit – God, others in our church, and my husband and I also played roles – but it would be prideful, unkind and selfish of me not to acknowledge the effort and energy the SAP puts into his job.

As do all the pastors I’ve met. They may not have the smart-alec stripes that have worked so well for Big T and I, but they have hearts, souls and a passion to do God’s work. So help them out. Be kind. Acknowledge how much they do that you simply do not see because of the nature of their respectful, confidential work: funerals, death bed visits, taking calls from those who stand in front of a bottle after a year dry and need someone to hold them accountable; the wife whose husband has beaten her again and she needs help getting to the shelter; the family whose four-year old has a cancer diagnosis; even, dear Lord save us, having to attend parish council meetings.

Preparing a sermon each week is the tip of a large, often ungrateful iceberg. So be kind. Hug your pastor this week. Say thank you. Ask how you can help. If you’re holding a pitchfork, put it down. It’s Christmas.