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.

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.

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

 

 

Dear Lord, I regret…nothing?

The interesting thing about coming to G&J in my 40s is the somewhat colourful history I shoved in front of the high-pressure gurney of grace. imgres-1.jpg

As I commented to the SAP, at least I am under no illusions as to what my son and daughter could get up to. His reply: “Well, perhaps. But if they grow up in a church’s youth ministry with great leaders around them, they might walk a different path.”

It was interesting observing my initial (prideful?) internal response. It was along the lines of: But all that messy and colourful history created someone I’m actually quite fond of. Taught me a lot about life, human relations and gave me the excellent fine motor skills to create a roll your own…umm..swiss cake. Cough…

I don’t intend to glamourise here. Certain sections of my teens and early 20s, but for the grace of God and my character wiring to be (relatively) responsible and in charge, could have caused me to a) screw up my exams b) get kicked out of school or c) be splattered across the road from choosing to ride pillion behind less than responsible fast motorcycle riders.

Was I hurting others? Not by chosen malice, but by sheer age and selfishness. Did I hurt myself? Yes (emotionally) and No, not much, (physically). Did I hurt God? Absolutely.

To hold him as Abba, as a Daddy who paces the floors when his daughter is out until all hours, who would seek to drag disrespectful young men away by the scruff of their neck..then yes, I hurt Him terribly. Each time I dragged on the battered motorcycle jacket to drink Red Stripe with Rastafarians, or used His gifts of caustic dry wit and irreverent humour to test out my attractiveness to the opposite gender, walking a dangerous, sexualised line between flirtation and verbal insult… then yes.

I would have seared Him. My name that He had written on His palm would have itched and burnt. Yet I didn’t comprehend why. It wasn’t because of thundering anger, fire and brimstone, ‘Thou Shalt NOT go out wearing THAT, Young Lady!’ retribution. But because of love.  “She knows not what she does, Dad,” is a line I imagine Jesus whispering regularly on my behalf.

So do I regret? Today I do make an excellent swiss roulade sponge, so perhaps not all. But do I repent? Yes. I reflect back with contrition. God whispered more for for me in my heart, singing a watermark onto my soul. So I regret every day I didn’t return home. Just like Prodigal, I am overjoyed that, despite my flaws – in fact, because of them – He continues to open His arms wide and welcome me in.

 

Hello, Bunny-Boiler Christian

I think if God and Jesus had a ‘restraining order, dodgy stalker’ list, I’d be on it.

No, I’ve not uncovered some seductive ancestor of mine who snuck around Nazareth with her bunny stew-pot as a result of being jilted for Mary Magdalene (if that well-known theologian Dan Brown is to be believed) – no. It’s just that the shift in my behaviour over the past 12-18 months could be classed as somewhat Glenn Close, ‘Fatal Attraction’esque if you look at it through a secular, modern-day (tongue firmly-in-cheek) lens: imgres

Girl meets new boy. Catches her eye. Suddenly she wants to know all about him, so reads every book she can find written about him and his Dad. Just to understand his family history and have something in common.

She discovers there’s a certain type of music he likes. So she starts listening to it too. A lot. She even ends up dancing and clapping along in front of him (so he knows that she likes the same things he does).

She begins to follow him. Works out his routine and figures out that he regularly goes to a certain place on a Sunday morning. She casually turns up there too, “Oh, fancy seeing you here!”

Gets to know a LOT of his friends. He can’t have a quiet bit of bread and wine with a few of his mates without her having a reason to sit down next to him.

She starts to talk about him in a really familiar way. Hangs off his every word. “Oh, Jayson said this. Jayson said that.” Takes every opportunity to be part of his family: “I’m going to have a coffee with Jayson’s Dad this afternoon.” Wrangles invites to family holidays: “Oooh, I’m so looking forward to this Christmas. Jayson and his Dad are having a special lunch and I’m going to go along.”

Plus she tries to call him virtually every spare moment she has. His phone is constantly pinging with SMS messages and gushy voicemail. “Hi, how are you? I’m just driving ten minutes in my car so thought I’d tell you that I’m thinking of you and I love what you wrote about sex and relationships in that middle book.”

Anyone else have the ‘Psycho’ theme tune in their head right now? If your son started hanging out with some girl who behaved like that, you’d be hiding the pet rabbit and changing the alarm code, right?

Then, to add a twist, she’s just as head over heels with his Dad as she is with him….and to really make it a bit odd, he chooses to be falsely imprisoned on her behalf, takes the blame for the mess she’s been making and accepts a death penalty because he loves her so much – all with his Dad’s blessing.

Weird right? I mean, you really couldn’t make it up. Yet, in this Days Of Our Lives story of passion, love, lies, lust and betrayal…

…They all lived happily ever after.

Disclaimer: Anyone who sends comments saying this is eerily reminiscent of some full-on, evangelistic, bible-thumpers may I say: cool your jets. You have probably met a religious nutter, rather than someone who’s head over heels with the Jesus fella. 

After Paris, Lord, please give me one more day.

There is a lyric sung by City Harmonic: “Praise the Lord, when you’re on top of the world.” Then the next verse: “Praise the Lord, with the world on your shoulders…when it seems too hard.”

Photo: Mike Baird / Twitter
Photo: Mike Baird / Twitter

It’s easy to be joyful and gracious and filled with gratitude towards God when life is going well. But in the middle of long, dark tracts of hardship, it’s easy to forget to praise Him.

Today, as I stood in church, my head filled with images of terrorist attacks in Paris, we sang another song of worship. It reminded me that despite my being world wearied, light has overcome the darkness already. Jesus, with his love of sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, the weary, the down-trodden and the broken, is restored. He sits at the Father’s right hand. He overcame death – and this world I live in, the one that tears at me and bewilders me one day, whilst making me smile and exclaim the next, is but a veil.

When Jesus overcame death for me and asked if I would know who he was, he didn’t promise me an easy this life. But he does promise a joy-filled next one. While the war of light over darkness has been won in the heavens, there’s a mopping up process here below. Where darkness still creeps in.

Paris mourned in darkness. And the rest of the world lit up in solidarity. Jesus is on the throne, and while Paris, and Lebanon, and Kenya and more in this world breaks his heart and mine, I’m thankful he’s not swooping down treading ‘the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty’ yet.

Because it gives me another day. To praise him and ‘walk the talk’ that Jesus is more than religion. That I can try each new day to be more like him. To invite someone to church who is feeling challenged by life and have them accept because, “well, Phil, you’re not one of those shiny, stereotypical Christians so maybe I will.” And when they come they learn love, support, hope and redemption and everything that is a million miles from the scary Christian stereotypes they hold.

So, after Paris, even as my heart breaks and I want to whisper, “Come Lord Jesus, come” for Revelation’s warrior Prince, instead I pray for one more day. And another. And another. Because there is still work to be done. People who I want to see in eternity with me. Who carry heavy burdens. How do I get to share the news of Jesus’ lighter yoke if he swoops in tomorrow as my warrior Lord?

Why my testimony was wrong and God (of course) was right

It’s coming up to a year since I stood on stage in church and gave testimony. I’m sorry to say I got it totally, utterly wrong. are_you_fracking_kidding_me_womens_light_t_tshirt-r4c6d415942264f528b99590b00d604ba_8nhmp_324

The SAP may well be reaching for his holy intervention kit right now. After all, being chased by the hound of heaven, bibles falling off shelves, songs shoving you awake at 3am, rounded off by a hilarious phone call to a smart-alec pastor are quite the testimony.

Don’t get me wrong. Every word I spoke on the stage was the truth. Now, a year on, I’m recognising I wasn’t truthful enough.

You see, the holy spirit download that accompanies embracing G&J is something I equate to the equivalent of soul fracking. It’s possibly a lot more gentle than its geological equivalent, however I have been known to mutter “fracking hell” as certain soul seams are tapped.

What I didn’t utter on stage during testimony was how Jesus had made me look at my shame around being unloveable. There are some life chapters you don’t read aloud. And, really? Soooo boring. Built a bridge and got over it in my 20s. So God stopped me in my tracks when the excavating holy spirit pressed gently on that carefully hidden soul seam a few weeks back.

“Oh c’mon, really?” I blustered. “That was one threrapied a while back. You’re surely not trying to tell me I’m still missing the point on that one are You, God?”

God smiled. “I know you’re capable. I know you’re confident. I know you’ve done the therapy sessions, and I also know you’re yawning at Me right now in some strange protectionist denial because you did it your way so fiercely and so well. But just stop. Because until you really look and accept that scar – and I know it it is there, dear heart, despite how much you yawn, roll your eyes, and bluster about therapy and moving on – but until you accept and sit with it, there’s always going to be the tiniest bit of you that you try to hide from Me.”

And then do you know what He said?

“Don’t you know, Phil, how much it hurts Me when even the tiniest, faintest scarred part of you refuses to accept just how much I love you?”

Which is what stopped me in my tracks. I forget I have the ability to wound God. He’s God, after all. How can a mere mortal like me wound Him? Yet he hurts like a parent over us. He bears our wounds and feels our pain. He wants all of us, even the scar-tissued, unloveable bits we paper over. It’s a demanding, honest, confronting all or nothing kind of love. Which I thought I grasped 12 months ago as I gave testimony. And yet, day after day, He reveals there is never any way I can rely on my own, limited, human understanding of it.

Fracking amazing.