The testimony blooper reel

I love the bloopers at the end of shows. I think it started as a child watching Smokey and the Bandit movies. I loved how I could move from pure fiction to authentic reality. There was also a massive lesson about failing fast and failing with fun. All these people getting it wrong, stuffing up lines, enjoying it, trying again and succeeding. d5e933bd4c28f20cd1ac927e8a14a7cf38935364324fa876f2d56730d5a0e7a6.jpg

Upon reflection, my getting up on stage to give my testimony almost two years ago was a fairly interesting exercise on the SAP’s part. He’d observed me pinging around like meerkat on speed as I wrestled and questioned with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And whilst he knew I was more than solid with what GJ&HS had delivered – I’d not have been lipton’d otherwise – he’d also had plenty of insight into my, um, somewhat colourful communication methods.

I wonder if pastors ever have a moment when they wish for the same nine-second delay button that allows live broadcasters to dump any content that’s off-piste before it goes out to air?

After all, live testimony is a fairly public litmus test of a pastor’s efforts in the soul-saving funnel. Yes, yes, I know, God is sovereign, it’s not really the pastor’s fault if someone doesn’t get it 100%….but, still, you’ve surely got to feel a bit of the pressure.

Something has prompted the newbie to come to (or call) the church, they’ve asked lots of questions, likely attended the gospel 101, Christianity Explored course, totally gotten with the program that Jesus’ grace is an underserved gift and are ready to publicly give testimony. But imagine if something has been lost in translation, and, up on stage, there’s some major faux-pas.

Like the live testimony where the person expressed hope they had done enough.

Whoops. I imagine it caused the pastor a mental forehead-slap, a quick grab of the microphone and a, “Ahem, right, well, actually, before you continue let me quickly open up to Ephesians 2:9.”

Testimony is a funny thing. There are the big, headliner, “Jesus turned my life around saved me from drugs/drink/prostitution” testimonies. Or the no less headlining, but somehow less attention-getting, “I grew up in a Christian home, with happy parents, their solid marriage and embrace Jesus as my saviour because I have seen so much joy in him throughout my life why on earth would I put anything else above him?”

Why don’t churches do more ‘where are they now?’ testimonies and report on some follow up stories? I think many congregants would be greatly encouraged by how and where the newbies are growing in their faith. It would also spread some colour and awareness of how gloriously different everyone’s faith walk can be. Hints and tips could be shared. Honest bloopers too.

Imagine sharing all those lessons about failing fast and failing with fun. Grabbing grace. All these people getting it wrong, stuffing up lines, enjoying it, and trying again through faith. Real life, real church.

Bleepin’ awesome.

 

Newsflash: Mother Truckin’ Devil steals Smart-Alec Pastor

imagesSatan, Lucifer, Mephistopheles, Diabolus, Prince of Darkness. Or, as I now call him after the weekend: Horned Mother Trucker.

According to a 2009 survey by the Barna Group, the majority of Christians do not believe that Satan or the devil actually exists.2 However, according to an AP-AOL news poll, up to 97% of evangelical Christians believe that angels exist.3

Now this is an irony, given that – contrary to the beliefs of many – Satan is not the opposite of God (an anti-god) but rather an angel who rebelled against God. So he’s an angel too. Without the harp and cream cheese.

Much as I’d like to dismiss him as some safe, Prada-wearing character, I have to own the Horned Mother Trucker is far bigger and scarier than that. How do I know? Well, scripture tells me on the one hand. Biblical descriptions of him include everything from an angel of light to a ravenous beast.

Both Christ and Paul were so aware of his influence that their teaching is filled with warnings and dangers (Matthew 24:24; II Corinthians 11:13-15; II Thessalonians 2:7-11; Galatians 1:8). Yet some theologians are persuaded he is non-existent – and therein lies the danger. If you don’t realise you have an enemy to fight, how can you be prepared for the war?

‘Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil,’ (Eph. 6:11). Wiles have to do with cunning or skill. The Bible teaches the devil – as he works his craft against us – personifies wiles. He lies to us, wants to trap us, discourage us and snare us. He goes to work daily to produce discouragement, confusion, indifference and imbalance. He will steal our joy if we allow him.

This weekend past I allowed him. How do I know he exists? Because, outside what I have read in the scripture, this weekend my finger hovered over the delete button in my phone’s contacts list. I was set to erase The SAP. 

No, this isn’t some crazy cliff-hanging blog post where I randomly make up SAP storylines for creative adventures. In the here and now I was ready to make a deleting sweep through one of my most significant Christian touchstones. Whatever possessed me? Don’t answer that.

It started with the Suffer The Little Children blog. Readers told me it left them in tears. That it was ‘power-full’. Amongst the best I had ever written. And every compliment left me flayed raw. To know your writing evokes an emotional response is most probably the greatest gift for a writer. Yet on this topic? The compliments were bitter. Yes, I wanted readers to think. I wanted to examine Love Thy Neighbour. But by choosing to imagine how a mother would be with her child in those final, drowning moments was possibly an imagination too far and by the end it left me empty. With defences down.

So in the horned Mother Trucker crept. ‘What difference can you make?’ he whispered. ‘Where’s Jesus in all this? How does meek and mild and tuning the other cheek help that drowned boy? And what about your own sins? What if you get there and, despite grace, Jesus says he does not know you.  Because, what, you write a blog about Christianity referencing a smart-alec pastor? Ha, you reckon it’s about God, Jesus and Christianity. What about the SAP? Hasn’t the SAP been turned into some news hook, some story-writing character idolatry? How often do you check the readership numbers? The likes and shares and comments. Are you still sure it’s about God and Jesus?”

I was raw, tired, and despairing enough over small drowned boys in red t-shirts to listen. And wonder. I pressed play on ‘Clear The Stage’ and these lyrics tumbled at me like barbs:

Anything I put before my God is an idol. Anything I want with all my heart is an idol. Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol. Anything that I give all my love is an idol. 

So I did what all good introverts do when they are feeling flayed and bitter and despairing. I took cover. Dived deeper. Removed myself from Facebook. And tried to pray. Please let me warn you, if you ever hit this sort of low, Jimmy Needham’s ‘Clear The Stage’ is not the soundtrack with which to do it. It’s beautiful at any other time. But not when you’re already wrestling in the deep:

Take a break from all the plans that you have made
And sit at home alone and wait for god to whisper
Beg him please to open up his mouth and speak
And pray for real upon your knees until they blister
Shine the light on every corner of your life
Until the pride and lust and lies are in the open
Then read the word and put to test the things you’ve heard
Until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken

Trouble was, after writing that blog, my heart and soul were already stirred and rocked and broken. Shining light on those devilish whispers of ‘pride and lust and lies’ just added to my sense of anguish. There were tears. And stomping. Lots of, ‘well, why the hell would You deliver me a SAP, then, because You are omnipotent, so You knew already what would happen, so what am I meant to understand from this and I am TIRED. There are toddlers DROWNING. And I’m meant to get saved by MEEK and MILD Jesus?!’

So I arrived at the conclusion that I should cease all blogs because it HURT. And if there was some weird idolatry shit going down over readership spikes and SAP story lines, then I’d have to rip out my eye, suck it up and go it alone. No temptation here, no siree. Open contacts. Search The SAP. Finger hovers to press delete.

Trouble is, I couldn’t do it. Which made me wonder if I was being a bad and unfaithful servant, which led me straight back to the whole “I won’t know you” scenario. But another voice was whispering this didn’t make sense. God doesn’t pull the rug from under us.

The Horned Mother Trucker had cleverly made it all about me. Me, my self and I. Am I really proud about my writing? Is it all about the shares and comments? Honestly, no. But then – then, in the dark and feeling miserable about humanity – it was a wily reverse psychology.

James 4:7: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” Until then, I’d not been resisting. I’d allowed myself to be sucked down the rabbit hole where the echoes of doubts became louder and louder. I didn’t have it in me to resist, to take any action. But I could submit.

So I knelt down on the floor next to the bed, put my forehead on the mattress, and said, “Ok. I’m not strong enough to delete this number. The SAP’s a good guy. I value him. So if I need to sort out pride and readership in connection to this and the SAP, You are going to have to fry my phone or something. You take over. I can’t.”

No lightning strikes. But I was well into self-flagellation by that point. So bruised, battered and bewildered – at the very lowest point in all my Christian journey to date when the SAP would have been yelling, “Pick up the phone and call me!” – I said: “OK, God, I’m admitting I’m not strong enough to delete it. So I’ll stop writing. And I won’t call and get his opinion. That’ll sort out the bad and unfaithful bit, right?”

Again, God was strangely quiet. I grieved for the next two days for a toddler in a red t-shirt and a SAP.

Until 2am today. Shoved awake. With a ridiculous urge to download the last in the SAP’s recent sermon series on Daniel. I tossed and turned and ignored it. And it kept shoving. Was this Mother Trucker temptation or God trying to tell me something?

I grabbed my phone and plugged in my headphones. “Screw idolatry, God. You’d better not be messing with me,” I muttered.

Not messing at all. God did one better. Daniel 7. With cross reference to Revelation 19: 11-16. That so grabbed me at 2am I had to replay it over a few times, before opening the Bible and digging into Revelation some more.

No meek and mild Jesus there. No turning the other cheek. Instead there was the warrior Lord ‘dressed in a robe dipped in blood’ with ‘king of kings and lord of lords’ tattooed on his thigh. That was who I sought. Treading the ‘winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty’ was the warrior I wanted to sweep up and defend that drowned, refugee child.

Was I instantly revived and healed? I wish. But it gave me some fantastic lessons. And as the horned Mother Trucker whispered that I’d got away with it, no need to mention this to anyone, I smiled fiercely. Because I’m not the only one who struggles. Who gets sucked into wily, hurtful, joy-stealing temptation.

Which is why I write this blog. Which is why, taking a deep breath, I admitted to the SAP I’d almost deleted him from my phone. Because by mentioning it to everyone, rather than being ashamed about it, I shine a light on my darkest corners and shove that Mother Trucker out.

Mother Trucker almost made an absolute mockery of my testimony. And that just pisses me off. Did he think that my God and my freakin’ warrior Lord Jesus would be so evil as to deliver a miracle at the end of the phone in order that I be properly introduced to them and then tell me all that hilarious, honest, joyful adventure was false?

No siree. Get behind me you Mother Trucker. I am stealing back my joy, smiling fiercely and telling you to watch your back.  My warrior Lord is on the throne.

Hide & Seek with God

Forgive me Father, for it has been 37 days since my last blog post… I went from livin’ on a prayer and swinging between trapezes to….the vortex. You might know the vortex. A rabbit hole of commuting, packing lunchboxes, getting blood tests, feeding anti-virals to snot-monster, hacking up a lung, kids. A little matter of organising a fundraiser for close to 300 folks, smiling at clients whist chomping on deadlines as if they were smarties (or Valium, or something slightly speedier), taking on a new work gig whilst keeping all my others, and fighting off the Dark Lord.

I feel God slipping through my fingers like water. Which deep in my heart I know to be impossible, but when the 18-hour work days mount up, when the to-do list of simply getting the days done and delivered is banal and repetitive, it’s too easy to be sucked down into the vortex of life, rather than up into the life of the vortex. images

I also know now that my relationship with God and Jesus is strengthened when I write. Sometimes it feels like I pick over my faith bleached-bones like a vulture, others it’s more Satin bower bird, where I pounce triumphantly on a glimpse of azure. Lately it’s been tumbleweed blowing through the nest.

As I’ve written before, the trick to writer’s block is to write. So these words are dragging out across the keyboard like an vagrant being told to move along. There is no azure. Just tumbleweed tiredness. Not even slanging, vodka-cruiser style prayer.

“I want You back,” I whisper.

“I never left,” He answers.

“Then how come I feel like I miss You?” I implore.

“Because you’re looking too hard, Phil.”

Ah. And there it is. The brilliant blue amongst the tumbleweed. That has been worth the deletions and frustrations in getting a measly 390 words onto a blog post. At an average 2.3 words per minute.

God is in my seasons. I am learning, unlike my fast-paced entrance into His world, that our relationship does not always rely on the original, singular hard focus I once required to change course and establish traction.

Sometimes it’s soft focus. Returning back to being in a world of doing. And sometimes the only way you can simply let it be is by blurring out the hard edges. That’s where He waits.

It Takes All Types…. To Be In A Book.

I need your help to write a book. If you’ve read these posts for any amount of time, you hopefully understand that whilst I take G&J seriously, I rarely take myself seriously. Life is too full of joy, daftness, fools and jesters for me to take myself seriously. But there are days imageswhen I get a little self-intense. Oddly, those days seem to happen within a tight window once a month. Let’s call them Personal Maudlin Terror days. Often relieved by chocolate and soy milk (think plant oestrogen, lads).

So, in between soy lattes yesterday, I dipped into personal maudlin terror. And had what only can be described as a Holy F%$& moment. 2 Corinthians 11-19 had risen up and slapped me about the head. Putting up with fools gladly because I am wise? Well, I’m either not wise or my definition of gladly is very different to St Paul’s.

Despite knowing fantastic grace, I hit the skids of, “Well, if you’re not suffering this particular fool gladly, Phil, then what hope have you got? Seriously, who are you to think you’ve any chance of being all kind, giving and Christian if you can’t even get to grips with someone whom you feel ready to batter with a tyre-iron?”

(I don’t often have such homicidal urges, BTW. Just between soy lattes on certain days in the month).

As I reached into my wardrobe to don sackcloth and ashes, the oestrogen fog lifted. God’s yellow post it note of grace floated down.

It takes all types. Retired teachers. Recovering gambling addicts. Dieticians. Make-up artists. Economists. Psychologists. Business consultants. Mouthy, cheeky communication consultants. The woman in front of me in the supermarket who had bought one of those motivational ‘rules’ signs for her home because it included ‘Say Your Prayers’. Smart-alecs who become pastors.

Removing the tyre-iron from my fist and brushing the ashes off my forehead the SAP reminded me, “I’m a pastor, Phil. If that doesn’t give everyone hope, nothing will.”

It takes all types. To bring heaven on earth. To walk as a Christian. I’ve met many this past year and their stories range from the everyday to the astounding. People who grew up in Christian homes and can imagine nothing but the peace and joy they draw from it. Others who rebelled against the same Christian upbringing only to return to the fold after looking for love and failing to find it in dodgy, dubious places.

And because I am a writer, editor, story teller, I want more. All the types. All the stories. I’d like to share them here, but I’d also like to put them into a book. Because I’m sure there are plenty of others (male or female) who have PMT days and need a little inspiration.

So will you help? I’d like to interview you about why you are a Christian today and how you got here. The interviews will be conducted via email and possibly phone. Your story needn’t be extreme, like how God reached down and stopped you from suicide. You may just have heard ‘Amazing Grace’, found yourself in tears and never looked back. You may have failed a job interview and had a Bible fall at your feet. If you prefer anonymity, names can be changed.

It takes all types. Strikes me as a pretty good title for a book.

To express interest in participating, please use the form below or click here. Please share the project, too, the more stories the better!

Testing, Testing…. testimony

Put me on a stage in front of 200+ business people and tell me to talk communications, PR and how best to boost your business with free publicity and I will rock your world. I will make you laugh, help you learn, and I will happily share my failures, my worst mistakes, my post-GFC business disaster because I know, by being authentic, I can help you take the next step on your business journey.

But ask me to stand in the front of a church, look each person in the eye, rip open my chest, pluck out my heart and hold it up for all to see? When I realised the fine print in the baptism prospectus, the only rocking I was doing was back and forth in my seat. Foetal-like. writer's block

I think my first response to the SAP was, “Can’t you just put a link to the blog up on screen?” Swiftly followed by, “I can come to the Saturday night church to do it. I know less people there…”

For all this blogging articulation, writing my testimony was the hardest thing I have ever done. Writer’s block descended like a cage. I knew what God and Jesus had delivered me on this journey, but attempting to capture it in order to read it aloud made me feel gauche. Worse, I feared being unable to do it justice. Given the pure joy of newly discovered Christianity has me leaking tears daily, I had horrible images of me standing up there hiccuping into the microphone with saline flooding my face. Testimony by tissues.

Two weeks out, the SAP would send nudging emails, asking how it was going. I would blithely reply that I worked on far tighter deadlines than two weeks – which is true. Then, possibly suspecting my evasive tone, the SAP offered to read the first draft. Ah. A staggered deadline.

The trick to beating writer’s block is to write. Even when the words that vomit from your imagination are leaden, weighing across the page like boulders blocking the path. It’s a bit like ordering that first alcoholic drink when you are hungover. It tastes like nails but the mist begins to lift.

I also had three more on the writing team with me. G, J & the Holy Ghost(writer). “Ok, gang,” I prayed (respectfully). “Show me.”

And then it struck.  I had allowed myself to be sidelined by stereotypes. On the one hand, the SAP was telling me to be myself. On the other, well-intentioned Christians were sharing testimony examples and seriously reminding me that this testimony was about glorifying God and Jesus and ‘What THEY Had Done In My Life.’

Just in case I’d forgotten those two who’d hunted me down and dragged me along this path for the past six months.

Problem was, the testimony examples all used what I term ‘Christian inaccessible language’ and smacked of shiny-suited evangelism. Unreachable, unattainable — all the things that had turned me away from church and contributed to my Christian hangover in the first place. Hadn’t God and Jesus called me just as I was? For me to stand up on stage and adopt a language that was not mine struck me as frankly ridiculous. I sat, stymied at the computer, feeling like I needed to defend my faith journey and style.

“Every hair on your head,” the divine writing team quietly whispered to me.

The hair that is an unnatural five-tone flame red. That is happy to stand up and be counted. That is confident, self-esteemed and humble, for the three are not mutually exclusive. That enjoys wine, martinis, chilli mud crab splatter and more. That drops f-bombs etc. Not for a need to shock, but because I am proud to be gifted by God with the knowledge that language can make a difference; and the right language (even when it is shocking) used well, with talent and timing and wit, creates attention. And with attention comes power. To change. To be heard. To remind. To prompt action. To believe. All of which God deserves a bit more of.

So my testimony offered rust over shine. Wit and irreverence over dulled seriousness.  Because that has been my journey with the Father and Son. They make me laugh at myself each day, whilst having me in tears over the simplicity of grace and in awe at how much more I can be, do and dream when they run my show.