Maranatha in the mirror. Hosanna

Is regards to worldly horror, is Paris any different to drowned refugee toddlers? To the bombings in Beirut? No. Only a few short months ago, I struggled with the horned mother trucker after a small boy washed up on the beach. Paris, however, has delivered me a new clarity. That light will overcome.

What changed? Well, I had a decidedly trippy God encounter in church (good place to have it) on the Sunday morning after the news of Paris.

There I was, singing away to Hosanna. Dancing a little, which is my thing. My palms may even have been tempted up past my elbows thanks to some excellent drumming and vocals from the musicians at the front. images-1

Recall my journey to G&J: UK-born, Church of England schooled, Christian hangover via new age agnosticism into Sydney Anglican.

It’s an odd mongrel path of faith, not least because I combine British stiff-upper lip with a willingness to pay attention to the songs, signs and symbols that God shoves at me.

As I sang the Hosanna lyrics it all got terribly ‘new age’ in my brain, but really was what the SAP would call holy spirit action. I describe it as God getting cellular because, with a type of bone marrow certainty, He suggested the following as I sang each line:

I see a near revival, Stirring as we pray and seek….. “

God: Phil, the bombings in Paris, Beirut and beyond, the sight of persecuted refugees, of drowned toddlers, they are the pivotal moment. Stirring you and others as you pray and seek.

“Break my heart for what breaks yours..”

God: Phil, this can be the moment that every heart gets broken by what breaks Mine.

“Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause..”

God: The moment that every Christian begs to be filled with My spirit and turns themselves fully over to My Kingdom’s cause. Phil, what would that look like?

Me: Well, frankly God, as You can see, it literally looks a bit messy (as by this point, my stiff-upper lip has given way to a sort of smiling, sobbing, saline but still joyful singing). But I know what You mean.

It would look like Jesus had come. To all of us. Through all of us. Pretty powerful, don’t you think?

“I see the king of glory, Coming on the clouds with fire.”

Since Paris, you may have seen the phrase ‘Come Lord Jesus Come’ a lot on social media. For those not in the know, this is from Maranatha, an Aramaic word that means “the Lord is coming” or “come, O Lord.”

Christians use it as a reminder of the hope of the coming of the Lord. In the days of the early church, “Maranatha!” became the common greeting of the oppressed believers. Now it reminds us to keep our eyes on the eternal things of the Spirit.

Early followers of Jesus knew there would be no peace because Jesus had told them so (Matthew 10:34; Luke 12:51). But they also knew the Lord would be returning to set up His kingdom, and from that truth they drew great comfort. They were constantly reminding and being reminded that the Lord is coming (Luke 21:28; Revelation 22:12). Jesus taught several parables on this same theme of watching and waiting and being prepared for His return (Matthew 25:1-13; Luke 12:35-40).

So my blogging and asking God for one more day after Paris had a few UHT Christians giving me gentle guidance. Who was I to ask God to delay the second coming?

Respectfully,  I am on the same page as God on this one. It’s His will not mine, His timing not mine. Yet I figure he knew what he was doing when he called a feisty, questioning, direct-marketing, try to sell ice-to-Eskimos, PR personality to Christianity in her forties.

I’m fairly sure He knows I’m always going to push for a few response rate campaign extensions on the Great Commission. Every teenager daughter pushes her Father for just a little extra; I am open and honest with my Abba the same way.

Maranatha may remind me to keep my Christian heart and eyes on the eternal things of spirit and not be soul-swiped by the atrocities of drowned toddlers, bombs and cowardly terrorism. Do I long for him to come on clouds of fire to fulfil my heart ? Yes. But I am human. I have friends who are oh so close to getting to know G&J better than they ever have so I’ve got to be selfishly frank: I’d hate for them to miss out.

So I prayed for one more day after Paris. To keep treading the path and let Jesus spirit fill me so I can try, in my human stumbling way, to do what he would.

As I read vitriol on social media, of trending hate towards Muslims, I believe now more than ever it is Christians especially who need to shine a light in what could become a terrifying darkness. To look in the mirror and pray maranatha:

Come Lord Jesus, Come – fill me. Give me the strength to do what might be tough and hard. To stand up and defend others and not join in the call for eye for an eye. To gently challenge those who may confuse religion with Jesus, who say we shouldn’t even #prayforParis – pray for anything -because prayer is connected to religion and religion causes war.

To be the difference: between man’s twisted religion of rules and Jesus’ actions, teachings and love. To stick to the ultimate two: To love the Lord with all my heart and my neighbour as myself. To not keep quiet when people try to tar that with religious fervour.

To let me pray to You first, then act. To pray for wisdom for leaders, healing for the broken-hearted, and understanding for all. That the love and compassion of your son may be seen in the darkness, and that we remember that his light always overcomes.

I ask this in Your son, Jesus’ name.

Amen.

 

What did I do to deserve this, God?

Almost a year ago I sat amongst a group of Christian women, some of whom I would describe as UHT (long, longer Christian life), others just as green and newish as I. We had gathered together over a few weeks to watch the Christianity Explored series, which is essentially an introduction to Jesus, the gospel and grace 101. Whilst I27f82b712677284206c5645e19d68067 originally chose to attend in order to offer my journalist-head some proof, the reality was sitting upon me uncomfortably.

We had reached the point of the crucifixion, Jesus’ exhale “it is finished”,  the temple curtain ripping, of blood, tears and a humiliating public death full of mockery and rivers of spit. The leader of the group asked how it made us feel, Jesus dying on the cross for us. 

I was uncomfortable as hell with the idea. I sat there under no illusions of any sort of self-worthiness. I didn’t feel worthy of someone dying for me, for goodness sake. Die for someone else who deserves it, Jesus, but not me.

I’ve spoken to addicts who, full of shame and self-loathing, were literally delighted in Jesus’ generosity. Feeling broken and unloveable, the unconditional love poured out on them by God – His giving His only son – gave them a sense of worth and esteem that quite literally replaced the need to fill up their inner emptiness with alcohol.

I was less delighted. I recall leaving that evening, driving away and having to pull over due to the tears blinding my vision. They weren’t tears of relief. They were hot, angry, bewildered and irritated. “I didn’t ask You to do this,” I recall firing furiously at the sky. “Now what am I supposed to do with it?”

I suspect, back in the early days, if the SAP was asked for one adjective to describe my coming to Jesus, he would use the word “confronted”. Not because of who Jesus was, but because of what I was and what I didn’t do. For me, Jesus’ gift of love was confronting and uncomfortable.

Love was something I had reason to be cautious of. In my history, love was something I’d learnt to control before it lashed in and tore. My personal thunder road was littered with relationships that, as soon as the magic ‘I love you’ was uttered, I’d exit, rarely gracefully, most often messily, leaving confused suitors behind. Sometimes it descended into restraining orders and, in one memorable case, a young man used a car key to gouge my initials into his hand whilst threatening suicide on a climbing weekend in Snowden. Through it all, I’d wonder at what madness gripped them. I seriously wasn’t worth that much emotional pain. Mata Hari I am not. 

So my experience of love was rarely patient and kind; it was bitter, blackmailing, unforgiving and a wasteland of harsh words. I lived in a hedgehog ball, seeking love and redemption on one hand whilst rolling myself up on another. In my darkest relationship moments, I hurt before I was hurt first.

So Jesus dying for me pressed uncomfortably. Not least because, by the time I’d decided to figure this God and Jesus business out, I was 100% certain I’d therapied all those wounds. Yet there I was again, ridiculously confronted by being loved so much that God would give His son to die for me. Poised to run from the ultimate ‘I love you’ because, oh my God, it’s me. Don’t you know the mess that I make, God? Did you not see what I did to that poor, bewildered man-child on Snowdon? And then there was….  and what about…. and.. I am not a good bet, God. It’s a miracle (and lots of great therapy) I made it to the altar and 20 years with Big T.

Nor did Jesus die cleanly in a way my head and heart could sanitise. It was the equivalent, in my view, of a public beating, dismembering, stuffing the body parts into a suitcase, throwing it into the nearest river, capturing it on video and sharing it on social media to millions of views. This wasn’t gouged initials in a love heart on the back of someone’s hand and frayed climbing rope. It was more, much more – because there were no strings attached.

God gave His son for me before I was born. As God whispered eternity on my heart and sang over me in my mother’s womb, it was already finished. I didn’t have to do anything but trust that this ridiculous, radical, crazy love was for me, all of me. That it would never hurt, wound or blackmail. That it was the most perfect love I could never imagine, yet in a way had always been looking for.

What did I do to deserve this, God? Absolutely nothing. And that’s the miracle.

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.

How an apostrophe saved my soul

It must be a tough gig being a pastor. As someone reminded me, “terrible pay, but the retirement benefits are eternal.” Working weekends and a Godly number of public holidays. Possibly less time with your own family than you’d hope, given you’ve the whole family of Christ you’re ministering to and, like most families, we can probably be pushy, demanding buggers on occasion. images-1

You probably get less thanks than you’d like, and, when you do, you have to do the modest, Christian thing and allow that it is God’s Holy Spirit at work, and nothing remotely to do with you.

Politely, I would like to advise all pastors, in fact anyone at all involved in pastoral care, that that is bollocks.

Accept all compliments gracefully when you receive them, but, please, accept them. Don’t brush them off. God may be working through you, but, boy, you have to allow it and, I sincerely pray, you are good at it.

Most caring flock members will let you know when we love a sermon because we want you to be encouraged. We want you to know that what you are doing makes a difference. Deflecting the compliment diminishes the grace in which it is intended.

Please, look us in the eye, say thank-you, then, if it makes if easier for you to deal with, throw a few mental words up to Him along the lines of, “Thanks for Your help, I think they got it. Don’t let me get all puffed up about it, but, wow, how encouraging to be complimented.” You can blush, too, if it helps.

Plus, not to put too much pressure on you, it’s the smallest, tiniest things that make the difference. Like me. A writer. Who, quietly impressed by my first phone call with the psychic, confident smart-alec pastor (SAP), let loose with a flurry of questioning emails.

The SAP replied, punctuation perfect.

To a writer, the correct use of an apostrophe can make or break a relationship. Imagine if the SAP, horrors, had replied, ‘Gr8 2 here from u.’ I’d have pressed delete, rolling my eyes.

When the SAP correctly used ’round for around, it was that perfect, tiny, correctly-used bit of typography that kept me reading.

Saved by an apostrophe. Good going God. And SAP.

Choking at Communion

Until relatively recently, I kept choking at communion. Not as in getting the bread wedged in my larynx, but more because I was petrified of participating. The lines would form and I’d start choking like the Australian Cricket team in Nottingham.

It started close to a year ago. I’d been easing my way slowly into church and, at a thanksgiving service, the Senior Pastor asked if anyone wanted to share a story of gratitude.

This was the 8am service (where I’d been sneaking as it was quieter and gave me a place to reflect, surrounded by an older demographic of Christians whom I could spend ages observing) and, my heart in my mouth, I offered to briefly share my thankfulness around my journey to date. imagesAfterwards a lovely older lady invited me to the front to take communion with her.

I declined. My first response internally (based on memories from school): “But I can’t, I didn’t go to the lessons!”

Swiftly followed by: “What if the Senior Pastor sends me back for, I dunno…. giving a wrong answer…. some invisible ink writing on my forehead that says, NO, she’s not done the classes?!”

Yet such a sense of being ‘called’ to do it. Overridden by a stronger feeling that I didn’t want to be ‘on show’ (so writes the extrovert with the introvert soul).

I subsequently discovered that, unlike my experience at school, Communion classes weren’t necessary. It had all changed a bit since I was a child. Which left me feeling relieved. But also teetering.

There were just too many feelings. None of them bad. Simply those feelings that make your eyes leak because they are miraculous and precious. Which was the crux, because each time I physically imagined myself taking communion, all those glorious tears would start up and, hell (oops), how’s a gal going to get through her first communion if she’s a blubbering heap?! With everyone watching! I knew they wouldn’t be watching me at all, really, it was me battling a strange and unusual self-consciousness.

There was such solemnity in my heart around it.  I was conscious of a ‘no going back if you do’ feeling too. But the real fear I had to work through was all mine. Communion became an intensely personal moment. So intensely personal I was frozen by it.

I thought I’d run these fears past the SAP, feverishly banging out one of my questing emails.

His reply?

There. Wasn’t. One.

Writing this post over a year later, I even went back and checked. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

The SAP can be tricky like this. Most times he delivers guidance if he perceives a real struggle. But others, when he suspects God is up to something in your heart, he goes silent to let you both figure it out.

Looks like it was just me and God then.

Communion is a reminder of The Last Supper. Jesus, on the Passover, shared bread and wine with his disciples. It is recorded in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Jesus gave the disciples bread, saying, “This is my body” (Matt. 26:26). Then he gave them a cup, saying, “This is my blood of the covenant” (Matt. 26:28). Luke tells us Jesus instructed his disciples to follow the pattern he gave them: “Do this in remembrance of me” (22:19). Just as Passover was intended to commemorate God’s deliverance over and over again, so was the Lord’s Supper. The meal reminds us that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again.

The SAP says he prays that God keeps him out the way to allow God to do the work. As I mentally shied away from walking to the front of a church to accept wine and wafer, and with the SAP leaving me with only prayer and reflection, God was working in other mysterious ways.

The next Communion, at a busier 10am service, the Connections pastor announced, “they were doing something new this week.” No-one was required to walk up to the front. Instead the bread and grape juice was served along the rows. Still solemn, still important. But, for me, without an individual spotlight, a gentler easing into a ritual that I had been too overwhelmed to contemplate prior.

So, have I managed to walk up the front and take Communion from another?

Yes.

The first, hours away from home, visiting a new church on Easter Sunday. On that day, of all days, how could I ignore the call to communion? I gave myself a stern talking to, put my heart in my eyes and my hands out to a stranger. And that’s when I truly understood it.

The Lord’s Supper is an invitation: to identify with Christ’s death and resurrection in the power of the Spirit. And we come to the table together, to have communion with Christ and with one another. I could not do this in isolation, as a private act. Communion signifies unity. It demanded more of me. To cease sitting apart and observing. To participate. To be vulnerable.

I bless whomever made that initial internal church decision to try ‘communion by rows’, I really do. Otherwise I may well be typing this having only ever observed communion distantly.

But stepping up, stepping out, stepping in? That has been the greatest part of communion for me. It reminds me that while I can still sit in a row and accept the communion bread and wine as it passes in front of me, there is something in the action of being upstanding. Looking another directly in the eye as they offer you bread and wine, you accept their service, their blessing, the Lord’s grace. There is intimacy there, a closeness that echoes the relationship God seeks with us:

“I found it at the eternal and material core of Christianity: body, blood, bread, wine poured out freely, shared by all. I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table where everyone is welcome, where the poor, the despised and the outcasts are honoured.’ – Sara Miles, Take This Bread. 

Doing a Bon Jovi: Livin’ On A Prayer…

The truly miraculous bit about a faith walk with Jesus and God is how personal it gets. This incredibly specific, custom-made, loving relationship. My lesson, as I attempted to explain during my testimony last November, is keeping all my second guessing, flawed, ego self out of the way to actually trust the process.

This year I committed to vulnerability. To opening up ‘me’ to Him. Handing ‘me’ over and saying, “Ok, then, Your will.” Was it easy? Oh no. I’d had an overwhelm of ‘thought creates‘ new age thinking prior to recovering from my Christian hangover. Our society pushes self. The difference between God’s will and my own, before Christianity, is stamped with action and impatience. Door not opening? Well, let me just kick it in.

Waiting on the will of heaven is an art. Of gently nudging on doors and, if they do not open fully, remaining still – rather than running around the side of the building and climbing through the window. It’s like living on a prayer. Doing a Bon Jovi. God either says “Yes” or “Not Yet.”  images

What Jesus has delivered is a relationship that allows me to wait at the door. To cease striving because he has already done the work. Supported by Jesus’ grace it’s easier for me to wait on the will of heaven without feeling frustration at the lack of momentum. I am not defined by my achievements. I am His achievement. His. No matter all that second-guessing, flawed, cage fighting, impatient self. His.

ColdPlay has a lyric about being in the gap between the trapezes that sums up where I am with G&J right now. As I trust, stay planted and grow in Jesus sacrifice, pray and give thanks, the next trapeze handle appears steady under my palms. I often don’t know which direction that trapeze may be swinging from or to, but God is gracious with any wobbly moments. The insistent shoving in my head up levels to a knowing ‘zap’ that signals strongly He is at work. “Draw closer. Trust. I’ve got this,” He tells me.

There is an absolute delight in that. The closer I draw, the better it gets.

As for doubters who would ascribe it to my over-active imagination, I have to say: my imagination isn’t that good. Take this recent unfurling, as I repeated my regular question/prayer to God:

“Why did you hunt me down at forty something years old? I have a range of communication skills. I love leading a team. I know I can build up a business and serve clients. But, really, is that all? I can keep blogging and try to keep writing about all that is lost in translation when it comes to You, but it seems a little limited,” I prayed.

(This is where I am very glad God knows me so intimately and understands His wiring me to think bigger and at a million miles an hour, because did I just tell Him this is a little limited?!?)

I continued: “Blogging is great (5000 readers and counting so far this year, thank you) but wouldn’t it be great to reach further? Like when I worked in radio. Although that’s been over 20 years so I’m probably a bit out of the career space of radio. Plus, you know, the kids are still at school. So if You do have any plans for me, I’d love to stay close to home. But your will not mine. Over to you. But, please, can you make it really clear? You know I need flashing neon signs. Sorry about that. Thank you. Amen.”

The very next morning a job advert landed in my inbox. A global Christian charity was advertising for a leader, to manage a team, work with the CEO and raise the organisation’s profile. Reach further? It radio broadcasts to over 3 billion listeners across the globe. Oh, and local?  Its head office is less than 9km from my home. Hang on, didn’t I just pray about all of this? Really?

I downloaded the job description, read it and, inelegant as is sounds, almost vomited with the adrenalin surge. God zapped into my head: ‘If you apply, Phil, you will get it.”

I wish I could say I smiled and calmly accepted God’s will. Whilst I didn’t descend into the cage fight limbic fight or flight that accompanied my decision-making over getting Lipton’d (yay, growth!) the absolute certainty that God was pressing on me was just as astounding. Help!

I quickly sent the smart-alec pastor (SAP) the job description, accompanied by the sentence, “Please read this. Freakin’ out. Don’t ask me what I prayed over yesterday.”

The reply: “Looks like someone wrote a job description for you, Phil. Of course I have to ask, what was it you prayed for?!”

Remember I also asked God to be really clear. The ‘up in lights’ neon joke I regularly request? As the SAP’s line about it being a job description written for me appeared in the instant messaging window….every light bulb in my office flashed, popped and flared. I kid you not. It was like something out of Poltergeist. I had to step outside and check the electrical safety board. Nothing had tripped.

Seriously, my imagination is not that good. God was more than at work. He was inviting me on a new journey. To trust the air between trapezes. To live on a prayer.

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!

God’s Yellow Post-It Notes

The joy of Christianity was probably my least-expected discovery. Perhaps it is the freedom that accompanies the realisation that you are absolutely, totally loved and there is nothing you can do to change it. No matter how many times you trip up. There isn’t any kind of ledger to tot up. No need to pressure yourself over good deeds minus bad ones that leave you with some net score. Just remember you are precious, you are loved, you are not alone. The grace of Jesus and the Gospel in a nutshell. Blank yellow sticky note block isolated on white background

Then something else crept in along the edges that left the joy behind.

Awe. At the size and enormity of God’s love and grace. It is the awe that regularly fells me. The shock and awe WOW moments that explode and side swipe my heart. Knee buckling, falling down awe. THAT I never expected.

Take my messy past weeks. God and I were having a few issues. Religion and I were having a few issues. The right to bake cake. In the midst of all this religious overwhelm I forgot two important things:

God. Worship. I was desperately trying to get my exploding head around it all, forgetting that I’d never manage that because, well, religion has a jumbled mess of flawed humanity at the centre of it.

I was using a lot of my messy Psalmesque, vodka cruising style slanging laments at God. Stomping ungraciously, asking, “What are You doing? Where are You?”

I have become used to some fairly explicit answers from God but in the week after Easter, as I dived into work before planning a family trip away, I felt more like solitary echoes coming back to me. My God-frequency was on the fritz.  It wasn’t pretty. A series of 3am wake-ups, vivid dreams, and jumbles of blog post ideas and questions flying around my head. The SAP has commented that watching God and I is often like watching a cage fight. He isn’t far wrong.

I often pray that God will pick a really noticeable voice like Manuel from Fawlty Towers so I’m sure to know it is Him. Yet there is a pattern to how God communicates to me. First a insistent pressing into my head. Then a more relentless shoving. That I managed to ignore twice in three weeks because I was so busy being busy and letting my head explode over cake gate.

I recognise that shoving insistence. At one point I actually said aloud, “Yes, I know, I’ll get to it.” And didn’t. Yet, lovingly, God served me the elegant solution I’d been too busy to get to for seven days before. I apologised…..

….and less than two weeks later the same thing happened again. God pressed. I told Him I’d get to it. He shoved. I told Him I’d get to it. And once again He delivered a loving, elegant, caring solution – despite my short-sightedness and willingness to ignore Him for the week prior.

Hindsight is wonderful. So I humbly apologised because, whilst I was diving headlong on my merry way, stressing how I was going to do something, God quietly delivered me the solution. I could have saved myself a week of overwhelm had I listened the first time. So that’s why I get awed. Because in His position I’d be throwing me around the cage-fighting enclosure, thoroughly impatient with my inability to get with the program. But, similarly with Jacob (Genesis 32:22-32), He happily lets me wrestle and waits patiently for me to get it.

I don’t call any of this miraculous. For me, miracles are the roll up your mat and walk variety. These are love notes. Like the yellow post its I sometimes hide in my children’s lunch boxes to remind them that I love them, miss them and please can they eat all the cucumber and raw carrot sticks before the cookies.

“Be as impatient, stubborn and hard-headed as you like, Phil,” God smiles. “I love you and will wait for you to understand. And if you keep missing the point, then I will still gift you the solution, despite your ignoring Me, despite the angst and pressure I see you putting on yourself, despite how I wish you wouldn’t. I gift this to you because I love you. Draw closer.”

And the final yellow post-it note, that shoved into my head as I finished this blog post? This is what it says:

Phil, the only opponent in this cage fight is you.

Love,

God.

Jesus. It’s Groundhog Day.

Human nature likes discovering ‘the catch’. Cynically uncovering the trap, revealing why something is really too good to be true, sets us up a smart thinkers. “You can’t pull the wool over my eyes,” we tell ourselves smugly.

Take unrelenting love and amazing grace. “It’s yours,” says Jesus. “I’ve done all the hard yards. Taken on your sin. Now accept my gift. You get to enjoy an unconditional relationship with my Father, who loves you above all else.”$T2eC16NHJIQFHHZvWbECBSW5kzdrL!~~60_35

What, just like that? There’s no hidden exorbitant interest rate hike if I miss a repayment?  Won’t the divine credit collection agency be chasing me with red-lettered demands? I can’t even be a day late paying the electricity bill before computer-generated letters are fired off accusing me of financial mismanagement, of being some worthless layabout who can’t meet monetary obligations. And that’s for an electricity service. How much more then for eternal life?

C’mon, seriously. What’s the catch?

That’s the problem. There isn’t one. After a few months of blogging, I’ve decided that J&G should possibly have made it a lot harder because, quite frankly, there’s only so many times I can write about loophole-free unconditional love and grace. Only the other Sunday I listened to a sermon on how we can be confident in our relationship with God. “Ooh, why?” I wondered excitedly, poised and ready for fresh insight. It says a lot about the perversity of human nature when, on hearing the answer (Jesus, the cross, in case you’ve missed it so far) I thawned (definition below), “Oh, are we covering this again?”

KISS and Tell

Keep It Simple Sinners, then tell everyone.  That’s the good news and evangelism in a nutshell. You’re flawed and may struggle making eye contact in the mirror, but God loves you just as you are, Jesus died so you can have eternal life in heaven, now enjoy how awesome that is, be brave (which is another blog) and let everyone else know.

The End.

(Thawned = a thought yawn; when you are expecting an answer of great mental significance only to realise you have heard the answer before. Often accompanied by Flair-Wick, where you make up different answers in an attempt to make it new and fresh in your brain. G&J Flair-Wick should only be attempted under the supervision of a qualified SAP, to avoid runs off-piste).

Chastity fail. Getting back on top….

I’m getting back on top…of purity, that is. What were you thinking?

So I’ve looked at why Christian Girls Are Easy, and how, despite purity pledges, true love is struggling to wait for marriage. Your comments have been hugely helpful, thank you, as have been the snippets of dating advice from the smart-alec pastor (SAP). I’m particularly impressed by his entrepreneurial thinking. festisite_costa-coffee

Forget purity pledge rings, he has lined up a range of DIY bundling & tarrying kits, with the SAP logo embroidered on them. The branded beans, for those important ‘getting to know you’ coffee chats are an inspired touch. Shortly followed by the new coffee chain, SAPbucks, opening near churches nationwide…

It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it

There’s a misconception that Christians should be pure and chaste (including no sex) because it’s ‘in the rules’ And by ‘following the rules’ you get into God’s good books. This misunderstands the Good Book. That we are loved more than we can possibly imagine by God is shown by Jesus’ death and resurrection. There’s nothing to do. No ledgers. No self-flagellation. Jesus washes it all away.

Yet that doesn’t means there’s a hall pass for sinning over and over. God asks us to be confident in our relationship with Him because of the gift of Jesus. And it is a relationship. Draw closer, He asks. Read my words. Observe (follow) them. Not from legalistic obligations or “do what I say or there’ll be trouble” but simply because they are His words and we are motivated to out of love. Not to tick the ‘good deed’ box but because, OMG, I am so loved, how can I not?

I liken my relationship with G&J to first love on steroids. It’s eye-rollingly ridiculous to describe it thus at 40-erm years old, but after close to a year I have not yet found a better descriptor. Remember that somersaulting tumble in your stomach of first love? You want to hang out with the object of your affection all the time. You get a buzz out of being in their company. You want to do stuff for them. You enjoy making them happy. Seeing them smile at something you have done for them lights you up. You derive joy in the offering.

Sex as the wedding gift

So Christians are called to remain pure until marriage because God commanded it. Three times in Song of Songs the Bible says to ‘not awaken love before it so desires’. Which means ‘save it for later’. Words from the SAP:

The Bible refers to marriage and that sex is God’s wedding gift – so to speak – and that sex is this wonderful, fun and exciting thing God has given a married couple. We’ve spoiled what God intended to be a great thing – by taking the wedding present early – by abusing it and treating it as a trivial thing.

Not all Christians succeed in that very difficult task. But many do. And on the dating front, perhaps young Christians are grinding (or not) to a halt because they are really trying to honour God with their bodies and keeping Christian sex where it belongs, within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

No point in beating yourself up over it

The tricky bit comes (ahem) when Christians fall off the chastity wagon before marriage and feel they have ‘failed’ in their relationship with God. Yet, like any relationship fracture, it comes down to asking forgiveness and ‘making it right’ as soon as possible. A very tongue-in-cheek (or elsewhere) example:

Dear God,

I’m so sorry. I’m trying my best here but that final slow dance just did me in, his aftershave sends me weak at the knees, and, oh, did you see the way his forearms flexed nailing the boards when we were building that charity hut together earlier? I never imagined missionary (work) would be so tempting.

It was a balmy night on the deserted beach, the moon was high, one thing led to another….and, well, I guess you saw…which is actually weird in a modern-day voyeristic way, don’t You think? Anyhow. Epic chastity fail. So I’m sorry, I’m asking your forgiveness, and for the strength to resist those forearms again when we work on the deck for the charity hut tomorrow… I’m really going to need Your help there. But I don’t like feeling like I’ve let you down, so with Your help, I’ll brush myself off (literally, because You know, God? Sand gets in everywhere. Everwhere!) and give it another go. The chastity I mean. Not him of the sexy forearms. 

In Jesus name… Amen.

Call to action: get out there and go a courtin’ with care

As one wise woman commented about the Christian Girls Are Easy post, “I think there is a bigger generational issue at play here. Teenagers lives these days are much more open than when we courted. Coffee enabled you to chat and find out more. Today if you want to discover more you check out his/her Facebook page or follow him/her on Instagram. I do think an element of the excitement and fun has gone with a lack of courting – potentially this has less to do with the lack of going out for coffee and more to do with social media and messaging.

I actually see young people today taking others feelings more into account before deciding to date and that cannot be a bad thing. I watched many Christian girls – myself included – bounce from youth group to youth group in search of Mr Right Christian Boy and leave behind a wake of hurt feelings and cold coffee!”

I love her honesty.

So the suggestions are: enjoy your G&J relationship. It’s not what you do, it’s why. If you fall off the purity wagon, dust yourself off and turn to G&J (and your friendly pastor, hopefully one with smart-alec stripes) for support and advice.

Have coffee, have fun and be respectful of each other. Ease up on the social media stalking to preserve some of the mystery and keep the excitement of pheromones alive. You can still enjoy a pheromone buzz whilst observing purity.

Instead of watching each other on social media, watch each other, I don’t know, on the sports field! Guys, get all gallant and carry her tennis racket. Girls, any bloke, from 16 to 60, loves a cheer squad. Go watch him be a gladiator on the rugby field. I myself am a fan of the roller disco. Gives you an excuse to tangle legs and fall in a heap on top of each other without anyone raising an eyebrow.

One final piece of advice: if you do happen to find yourself on a moonlit beach with Mr Right Christian Boy / Girl remember this: sand gets everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Better to wait.