Sunday, 25 May 2014

It's Life-Changing!

I was talking with a friend the other day and we touched on the subject of christian conferences. I recalled attending one a few years ago and sending my friend a text saying how life-changing it all was.

But the truth is it wasn't.

Yes, I got stirred and excited at the time, but it didn't actually change my life. There was some good teaching, but I didn't really change because of it.

Like almost every other christian in the western world, I've flocked to the latest (christian) conference, listened to the newest (christian) music, read the most recent (christian) bestseller. But very little of it has made a lasting impact on how I live. At best, the effect has been superficial and short-lived.

So I asked the question, "What has been life-changing for me?" And then I realised.

Pain and suffering.

Experiences of deep wounding and grief have left their mark on my life.

I've changed.

I've grown.

I'm not the same person I was before I went through the 'dark night of the soul'. Pain and suffering produced a type of death in me. And after death, a new way of living. Life-changing.

Life changed!

And it occurs to me that just maybe Jesus knew a thing or two when he spoke about losing life to gain it... taking up our cross... dying so that we might live. Just maybe...

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Go and Learn What This Means: I Desire Honesty, Not Christianity

I am a Christian.

I love Christians.

I have great hope for the Christian church.

But throughout my journey one thing has repeatedly frustrated me. And that is the tendency among Christians to value the identity marker of “Christian” over basic truth and honesty.

Oh sure, we’ve got the “truth.” But that truth revolves around theological realities about how one secures salvation or lives the Christian life that must be defended and upheld no matter what, along with the institutions that contain those same realities. In other words, the politics of protecting theological truth turn that truth into a set of ideological markers, showing us who is in and who is out. Who is totally Christian and who is definitely not.

What matters most is to be found in, to not cross the ideological line. What matters most is to fight those who tamper with the ideology. What matters most is the survival of the “truth” in the midst of political forces that might seek to destroy it.

And in the process of the superficial politicking, the actual truth is nowhere to be found.

I think this is why Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” It’s because theological truth is prone to missing the forest for the trees. It’s prone to protecting ideas – institutionalized as rituals – instead of people. It’s prone to the majestic maneuverings of language that seem to prove the point sublimely while missing the point entirely. It’s prone to decrying “positions” in favor of its pure and abstract idea – which is, of course, a position.

Often, a position that harms people.

I’ve come to believe that God desires honesty, not Christianity. Continue reading...

Friday, 16 May 2014

Church as Business

In The Power of Intimacy I shared a little of our group's experience when we were led to make the pursuit of relationship with God and each other our greatest priority. We discovered how compelling a reality it is to live free from the need to pretend or perform, and how liberating it is to be real with each other.

Sadly, the things we were learning and encountering in that context stood in increasingly stark contrast to the direction the elders meetings were taking. In April, 2012 this is what I wrote to my fellow elders:
In recent times, there have been some things happening which I believe are warning signs to us that we are not journeying together well, or indeed the way God has called us to. We talk about operating through relationship, but we seem to have devolved to a corporate business model. We meet once a fortnight to "do business" and then spend the time in between having very little to do with each other, except for the email traffic doing more "business". The exception to this is that [M] and I meet every Wednesday night to hang out, share ourselves, pray and have intimate relationship with each other. This makes a world of difference and I believe that God is revealing to us that this is the much more substantial and significant "business" to be engaged in...
As you know, a few weeks ago we found ourselves in a sharp disagreement which ended with us misunderstanding and judging each other. I believe that was a direct result of the lack of relational intimacy between us and that unless we change the way we do business, we run the danger of tearing ourselves apart and destroying the amazing work that God has established in and through us. We talked about establishing some guidelines or principles for future reference, but no amount of making rules will compensate for a lack of intimate relationship - knowing and being known. I believe we desperately need to spend (regular and frequent) time with each other and the Father, sharing our hopes, struggles, dreams and victories. Meeting without agenda. Love covers a multitude of sins, and intimacy generates both understanding and grace in relationship.
My attempts to engage were met with outright refusal. I was politely thanked for my "thoughts on the operation of the elders" and then dismissed. But I can't help but be struck by how prophetic my words actually were!

Since that time, I have spent a great deal of time reading, studying and pondering. And I have come to the realisation that the way we 'do church' is broken. It actually sets us up to hurt each other.

When you run church like a business, you have to protect your 'product' at all costs. So you impose hierarchy, you demand conformity, you exercise control.

And the advertising executives sell the product using soft-focus images of healing, unconditional love, safety, acceptance, community… but the business repeatedly fails to deliver.

People end up damaged and disillusioned and they want their money back. But there are no refunds available.

As one particular CEO er… pastor said, "You either get on the bus, or you get run over by the bus. Those are the options."

Do you really think this is what Jesus had in mind when he said he would build his church!?

Friday, 9 May 2014

Who's in Charge Here?

I had an interesting experience during the week which has got me thinking.

I was in a part of town I don't usually visit and as I stood waiting for the person I was meeting there, I became increasingly aware of a heavy, negative spiritual atmosphere in the area. It became quite oppressive and I was getting really uncomfortable when I sensed God asking me a question.

"Who's in charge here?"

Immediately, the atmosphere changed. It was just like a light had been turned on in a dark room as my focus shifted from the very real spiritual darkness around me to the one who has been given ALL authority (Matt 28:18) - the one who was actually in charge in that place.

It was quite a startling experience, and I have been thinking about it ever since.

Now it's obvious from what I've just written that I believe that the spiritual world is very real, as is the battle we face every day. And just for the record, I also believe there are times when we care called to confront those spiritual forces.

But I started to wonder about how much time and effort christians have put into chasing the demonic, 'discerning' and 'driving out the enemy'. And I started to wonder if we might not have been more effective simply agreeing with Christ that the Kingdom of God is, indeed, at hand?

Recognising it.

Declaring it.

Living it.

Knowing beyond a shadow of doubt that the King is in charge here!

It concerns me that we've worried so much about the influence of the enemy that we've hidden ourselves away lest we be contaminated. We've denounced everything from music styles to hair styles. We've lived in fear of the 'other' - other religions, other philosophies, even other christians.

But who really IS in charge here? Do we believe God is in charge, or do we just give mental assent to something that has no reality in our lives? If we truly believe that God is in charge, then why do we live in fear? Shouldn't we be the most free, confident and loving people around?

Sunday, 4 May 2014

The Power of Intimacy

Back in 2007 my then church had just repeated it's history of damaging one another over leadership issues (mentioned in Part 1 of my story), and this time it had ended with the mass resignation of the entire leadership team (pastor and elders).

Those who remained knew we needed to step up and bring what we had to the table. If we wanted the church to keep going, we had to be an active participant.

Even though the circumstances which led us to this place were extremely unhappy, there was a real excitement in me because it felt like God was giving us a chance to explore 'doing church' as described in his written word.
Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. 1Cor 14:26 NLT
I looked at what I had to offer and it didn't take me long to realise that everything I'd done in the past was centred around prayer. That was my passion - and so I started a prayer gathering. The only thing I insisted on was that there be no rules or schedules. We were to gather with no other agenda than to meet with God.

Over time, a small core group of regular attendees developed. As we pressed in, we started to learn the importance of being truly honest and open with each other before God. It seemed that this led us into places of great intimacy with him. He would clearly direct us as we learned to sit and wait on him. Sometimes this meant waiting in silence, learning to enjoy just being with him, and learning to listen and be patient.

We found that God challenged many of our understandings, like learning to worship in new and varied ways (none of which involved music!).

Sometimes I felt like Mary, sitting at Jesus's feet. Overwhelmed by his presence but never wanting to leave.

It is hard to articulate all that we experienced, but the more transparent we became with each other, the more God seemed to guide and speak to us. Not that we were always in agreement or thought and acted alike, but we had such a genuine love for each other that it never became an issue.

Relationship was our priority and we allowed nothing to threaten that.

There is incredible power and authority in the loving unity of the children of God. Throughout the history of the church, the enemy has used dissension, discord and division to stifle the effectiveness of God's people. No wonder Christ's prayer was that we would be one just as he and the Father are one!

Living openly with others - knowing and being known - brings extraordinary freedom.

I remember one night, meditating on the story of Adam and Eve walking with God in intimate relationship and I asked God what it would mean to 'reclaim Eden'. The answer that came to me was simple - "Learn to walk naked and unashamed."

To me, this spoke of the freedom of being who we are, no masks, nothing hidden, just 'nakedly' ourselves - yet fully forgiven and wholly righteous before our God. Accepted. Loved.

Living free from the fear that being known means being rejected.

Living free from the pretence, the pose, the performance.

Living in intimacy with our God and each other. Knowing and reflecting his love. Unashamed.

I firmly believe that the journey we took in our little group is a reflection of Kingdom life as we are called to live it. And I believe that this is part of being the church - being relational with all and learning to live in intimacy and be unafraid.

Thursday, 1 May 2014


Credit: photobucket

My husband and I were sitting with a young friend during the week telling her about an experience we had in 2006 while looking for a church to attend (see this post). The sermon had not been a great experience, but my husband reminded me that the singing worship had been great. For obvious reasons, I flippantly commented, "In hindsight, maybe we should have just stayed there."

The friend, who is like a daughter to us, look slightly shocked and said, "But then you would't have met me!" (We met this precious girl as a direct result of our involvement in the church I've blogged about here.)

It was one of those moments when you see again, with sudden clarity, that even in the darkest times there are rays of redeeming sunshine which break through the pain.

I am reminded again of the goodness of God. It doesn't cancel out the sin and brokenness of our experience, but it reveals the gems concealed in the dirt, but just waiting for us to recognise.

And I am grateful!