Sunday, 29 March 2020

Hope in a Time of Despair

Amidst a pandemic health problem that is real and threatening it imperative that we need to “socially isolate” from each other. This for some is exciting, and for some scary. All the extroverts are thinking OMG how will I survive, Introverts are saying “yay”, but over time everyone will feel the strain of all that it will mean.  

I must say at first, I was tempted to put my head down and hibernate for while. It suited me just fine.  And probably “like a sabbath”, that many like me are not good at taking, for a time it might be just what everyone needs. But it didn't take me long before the guilt of “ease and comfort” set in and I realised this might be just the time when God is calling us to rise up. I mean, what would the world say about Christians during this time if all they saw is that we were hiding in our houses, keeping to ourselves?

“The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest”  
(Matthew 9:37-38)

Never before in my life, have I had a chance to help my neighbour as I have this week, to connect with people who have been otherwise too busy and share feelings and listen to each other.  The faith community I am a part of, that I would say is pretty connected usually, has been more connected that ever before. 

With Messenger, Facebook, Text, Phone calls, there is sharing going on everywhere. We had a ZOOM prayer and worship morning this Sunday morning. The young people stayed on an hour after we finished just to talk to each other. And one of our community who now lives in Paris, France, was able to join us for the first time in 6 months. 

A few days before that we had a practice for those new to ZOOM to get on and make sure everything was working. What a laugh. People were so funny, all trying to talk to each other at the same time, while some people were trying to do funny things, the young people chatting on the side, the oldies trying to get their camera focused. As we all share what God is challenging and comforting us with, we are all hearing God’s heart and word from all different people. Every person has the chance to make someone else's day. And this is not happening just on Sundays, it is happening every day of the week.

We have also found that our outward/missional expression has increased tenfold. In the past week, as a community, we have created a “Love and Care for each other” notice board and people are pitching in to create baskets for shut ins and struggling families. We have worked out how we can get FREE food parcels to families. We have created a “card” that people can fill out and drop in neighbours’ boxes to offer help. We have considered starting to write “old fashioned” letters to people and create a pen pal system. Young people have helped older people hook up ZOOM and Messenger. Our people are putting together “craft kits” for kids, Easter hampers for others. Some are making cards and others are just enjoying a lot more time to chat. 

People we haven’t heard from in ages are now connecting back in and appreciating the community. And every day offers a chance to make someone’s day. For the numbers of shopkeepers and workers who have been yelled at each day, it doesn’t take much to counteract that with a smile and a thank you.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  
Hebrews 10-20-25

All this to say that if we have eyes to see, and ears to hear, now is the time to bring “Hope” in a time of despair, to walk together more deeply and make sure people don't feel alone.

Let’s share the stories of what is possible, because now more than ever, every little bit helps.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

The panic of not having, and knowing what we really need.

In the wake of the current climate, where so much is unknown, the panic over toilet paper (non-essentials) and not having enough food stocked in cupboards, is an interesting response. 

As many followed Jesus out onto the hillside one day, longing for something more than what food and money can buy, they found themselves in a place where they had nothing to eat that day. They were not prepared with food, as to follow Jesus and the nourishment He was giving was the main focus. So they listened to Him speak and pondered on the depth of His words.

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “you feed them”. Maybe like us right now, they looked at each other with bewilderment and felt straight away, “We can’t do that”.  

We look right now at the situation, and although the really important conversation is about health, it seems that the panic is about the fear of not having the food we want, when we want it. So much so that there needs to be a set time for the elderly and disabled to have a time when they are not being rushed by everyone else, simply as they get a few items. The hoarding and panic of food and toilet paper that is happening around the country seems like such an overreaction to something far more important. We are blessed to live in a country where supply of these things would never be in jeopardy. Imagine how people might respond if this was really the issue. Something many third world countries face daily.

But deeper than this and sadder for me is that many churches all over the world seem to be focusing on the sadness of not being able to meet in their usual crowds. As solutions are becoming apparent there seems to be a sense that everything will be okay because you can stay in your house and your pastor will “live stream” in his message. Is this really a solution to the problems arriving? Is this even the problem? Is this even the calling?  Maybe we have strayed so far from our calling that at this time it is surely important to ask, “what should our focus be on right now?” I believe it is the same focus that it has always been. It has never changed? 

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart … and love your neighbour as yourself.” Matthew 22: 37-39.

Yes, this IS our call. So, what does that look like right now, today?  So many Christians, ministries are so focused on how to maintain all that they have created, that to ask how best to love God and love each other in this difficult time is hard right now. 

Like the disciples, we look at each other and say, “We can’t do that. We have to answer bigger questions: people are not coming to our services anymore. What do we do about all our planned Easter Celebrations? How do I televise my message so everyone can hear it?”

Jesus said bring me what you have … 2 fish, 5 small loaves of bread, and He used it to feed over 5000 right there and then, reminding us that God provides us with even more than what we think we need and we can find peace and comfort in His provision. Then He drew away from the crowds to be by Himself and with His father because He knew they wanted to idolise Him, make it all about Kingdom building here on this earth, create bigger crowd gatherings. (John 6:5-15).  The next day the crowd found out where Jesus was and followed him again. He said to them, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs - and for free. Don't waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides.” (Jn 6:26-27MSG)

Last night my daughter came home from her life group, a small group of people (less than 10) meeting together to share stories, their life and their struggles and read God’s word. She was buzzing as she shared how life-giving it was to hear and share real challenges in the midst of such pain. While I love a podcast of a great preacher/pastor and there is a place for that, especially today, in times like these I believe we must be a shining light, of people who know what is most important and can we live in a way that brings peace and love and generosity in the place of panic, hoarding and self-doubt.  What gives us real nourishment? We all have access to His “Word” here in Australia. We are blessed. This is the food that sticks with you.  With that assurance, we are then called to be together and love our neighbour.  What a great time in history to be asking the question, 

“What does being together and loving our neighbour look like today?” 

Oh, that we should be known as people who loved well and cared well, who shared well, who asked, “What can we do for others today?”

The 5000 on the hillside that day, didn't seem panicked that they didn't have food, much less toilet paper. They seemed more panicked that Jesus had left and they wanted to know where He was. As they carried their many baskets of leftover food with them (more than they needed), they walked around the Sea of Galilee to hear Jesus speak again. 

“I am the bread of life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.”  (John 6:35) As the Jews started arguing about what he just said, Jesus continued with stunning words that stop me in my tracks when I read them: 

“Don’t bicker among yourselves over me. You’re not in charge here. The Father who sent me is in charge. He draws people to me. That’s the only way you’ll ever come. Only then do I do my work, putting people together, setting them on their feet, ready for the End.” (John 6:43-44MSG)

What do we really need today? What does the world really need today? How can we be a part of the solution and not be a part of the problem? Do we really believe what is happening today is a surprise to God? Let us to seek Him for how we are called to be His people today and maybe in the process we might find that the things we thought were really important,  like how we gather, how we function as His body, might even set us on a better course for the future.  

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

A Collision of Old and Young

As a faith community we have created an environment we call “Upward Worship”. It has elements of food and fellowship, input and worship, reflection and mediation, prayer and ministry.  People enter in at all different levels during the worship and reflection space and all ages are present. 

I remember this one night when a young single mother came with her twin 12 month old babies. We had cushions and rugs all over the floor and while the worship was happening the children were playing up the front on the cushions. They would adventure to different spaces and at times they were hard to take your eyes off. They were so gorgeous. I wondered a few times if it was too distracting. I watched a few of our elderly and wondered if this would be a problem. The mother was so gentle with the children and had to rescue them a few times, but generally they we just being 12 month old babies and their innocent play was captivating, but not distracting if you didn't allow it. 

A few weeks later, one of the elderly women in our community asked me if at next “Upward Worship” she could share a story. I was delighted and then she asked me the name of the mother with the young children. It was an unusual name and she kept forgetting it. I giggled and wondered what that was all about, but didn't think much of it. 

So “Upward Worship” came around again and Ruth took the mic, sat on the edge of the stage and began to share. 

I recorded this moment so I am going to use her words for the next few paragraphs. I don't want to miss a word of her wisdom. 

She began to share… “how great it is to be in a church from young to old, and old to young”.  She said she wanted to encourage us and began to talk about the mother and her two beautiful children. She stopped and began to cry as she tried to describe how beautiful they were. She continued on to say that the mother “was such a beautiful mother, she just let those little children investigate, and then rescued them if they needed it, gave them a cuddle when they needed that. It really touched my heart”. She continued … “One of them climbed up onto the stage and then wanted to get down and he came up and touched the pillow and realised it wasn’t secure, so he turned around and went down backwards…and I thought it was just so beautiful". 

She was clearly enamoured by these children and after the worship had finished she went up to the young mother and told her she thought she was doing such a beautiful job with these children. How amazing it must have been for that young mum to hear those words of encouragement.

Ruth continued to share about … “how good is it that we can be in a group where we appreciate each other so much”.  

So then she said … “I went home and in the early hours of the morning I believe the Lord gave me a picture. A beautiful picture of myself and my heavenly father. How He is allowing me to go out and discover new things, experience new things and if I trip He just picks me up and loves me and holds me.  I want to say, those children ministered to me”. 

She talked about the power of a smile. She said, “A friend and I were talking not long after that about the power of a smile, and how if we smile to each other, we can affect and minister to others.   Isn't it amazing that God has created us with a muscle in our face that can effect someone’s heart”. (This was a statement of Gold to me) 

“I had this beautiful thought that not only was my father looking after me in that lovely time I had with him that morning, but He was also smiling at me. I am not special. He does the same for all His children and I just wanted to encourage our hearts tonight to the reality of God with us, caring for us, watching over us, helping us when we get into trouble and go the wrong direction.” 

She continued …  “When I was bringing up my children I would have smacked them and said “get down”, but this mother was just so gentle and I think that is what struck me most. You are all very precious to Him. He loves you very much, and He is on your case, but with a smile”. 

She asked if she could pray for us all and as we bowed our heads and closed our eyes, I could see her weeping, as she found it hard to get the words out. Her love for God often overflows in this way and as she prayed you could see the ways in which God overwhelms this beautiful woman. She prayed …

           “I thank you God for the compassion that you 
have for the youngest to the oldest. 
That you have brought us together as a 
community to share life together. 
 I thank you so much for your great heart of love for us. We can never thank you enough. 
I commit these precious people to you tonight, 
that they may know the deep reality of your 
powerful and gracious love. To be able to smile at you 
and to give us the awareness that you are not a Judge, 
but someone who loves us.” 

She finished with a verse …

Is 40:10-11
“The sovereign Lord comes with the power. The Sovereign Lord tends to his flock like a shepherd. He gathers His lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart. He gently leads those that have young.”

Ruth was open and willing to be taught by the play of two innocent babes and a young mother’s love. God can use anything, if we have eyes and hearts that are open.  When I consider all the things we could be doing as a “faith community”, it is moments like this that remind me that all He wants from us it to be together, to care and appreciate each other, to learn from each other and to honour Him with all that we have.  Is there anything more wonderful than that?

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Faith Holds

There are modern parables everywhere if you have eyes to see. ‘The winds will blow and the storms will come, but the house on the rock stood firm (Matthew 7:24-27). It was all I could see as I walked the beach today. The morning after a big storm and there was seaweed all over the beach. It had been uprooted and thrown about by the sea all night. The storm had been violent and rough, the lightning lit up the sky, the rain heavy. The seaweed’s roots were planted in the sand and as the wind blew and the storms rolled in, the seaweed was easily tossed around. There it lay, all over the beach, being tossed by the waves back and forward as each new set came in. 

And then I saw a whole lot more seaweed that had been
knocked around, but their roots were still intact. As I pulled and dug down deep … they were in the sand but had laid their foundations tightly around a rock that was buried in the sand. During the storm and winds, those that had built their life around the rock, stood firm.  

As I walked a little further, there were a few that had been uprooted by the storm. It was a strong and violent storm that night, but when this seaweed had been dislodged the rock came with them and the connection between the roots and the rock were very firm. I liked the thought that even though they got tossed around and even thrown off course, the rock stayed with the seaweed. 

“I will always be with you, even to the ends of the earth”. (Matt 28:20)

The wise man builds his house upon the rock; a parable, my childhood song, a simple but valuable teaching. Today as I walked on the beach, it had another strong reminder.  As a child I could never imagine being uprooted, being dislodged, being thrown around by life. I was blessed with a strong and stable life, living life with Christ as the centre and a family that was stable. I always thought that was a story about the importance of building your life with Christ as your foundation and if you did all would be fine. I chose to do that from a very young age. A simple and “childish” faith. 

Today I still hold onto that faith as if a child. But it is no longer “childish”. It has been tested, pushed around, knocked down at times and even at times hard to get back again. Because of that it is now a strong faith.  Seeing the seaweed today,  holding tightly to the rock as it was getting tossed by the waves in the aftermath of what would have been a big night of being thrown around, there was something about the desperate way the roots clung onto the rock, that reminded me of myself, and brought me a sense of peace. 

A reminder of when you are only holding on by a small strand, but it is enough to get you through. The thought that even when you want to let go, your roots have been growing for so long they are entwined together and very hard to break. The hope that whatever is the connection between the rock and the roots, the rock is playing a part we can’t see and we should never let us go. 

Today, I needed to know He would never let me go. We all need to know this most days, more than we are sometimes willing to admit. The storm has passed today, the calm is here. But the storm will come again. Lord, like the seaweed, give us enough time to catch our breath, to plant ourselves deeply in You even more before the next storm comes. Help us to know that when the storm comes we will be ready and that You will never leave us. All that is required is the faith of a child, a simple story, a simple visual. Today it will be all we need to face another day. Thank you.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

When "crap" literally gets in the way

I have always been fascinated with the sunrise. Something about watching it creep up and
say “hello”, turning darkness into light, and especially over the beach.  That moment when you can see the sparkle it puts on the water.  It is as if you can reach down and touch it. It is in that moment that I feel more connected to the sun, even more connected to my Creator.

I haven’t noticed it before but early in the morning as you walk along the beach the sun’s beam follows you as you walk. Sometimes leading, sometimes walking beside, sometimes slightly behind, but always close. I suspect if someone else was walking one mile behind me it would also feel the same for them. It is amazing that the sun can feel so close to everyone at the same time.

As the sun goes higher and higher, it no longer feels so close. I know it is always there, it is just harder to feel as close to it. But you know it will come close again the next morning … if you are willing to meet it again that early. It is important that the sun keeps moving.  The whole world needs to it too.  It is the sun’s job, but those precise moments when you can draw close to such a force is “life-giving”.

I think that’s why I love an early morning beach walk so much ... so why is it then that I only do it once or twice a year?

Cause crap” gets in the way, even when you make the grandest plans. 

So just recently, I planned to take my camera and watch the sunrise. I was staying right near the beach, so I thought this was a no brainer. I got up at 5:50am in the morning to capture the sunrise with my camera. It is not so easy for me to get up early. It takes more effort than I want to give in the morning but I am never disappointed. I got dressed and ran down to the beach. I had found a good position, poised ready and set with my camera to capture the moment. It was so beautiful, watching the colours change in the sky. I knew it wouldn’t be long now, the sun never disappoints.

Asthe sun starts to creep over the edge of the world, I feel a sensation in my lower region and know exactly what it meant. OMG, I need to poo”. Okay, clench hard, hold it in, this too will pass, I am staying here, this is where I want to be.

So, I am taking photos and trying so hard to ignore the urges that are getting stronger and stronger and not going away. This one is persistent. Seriously, why now? I can’t hold it in. I take as many photos as I can and then stand to walk back to my cabin.  I am walking backwards, taking photos and hoping I can control this urge. But it gets the better of me and it is not stopping. I run back to my cabin and the explosion into the toilet is impressive. But sorry to say that some did not make it to the toilet! I have the stains to prove it.

Now I interrupt this story to apologise if I have offended anyone with my detail, but it is strange that we don’t talk about it much. After all, it is a part of daily life, it comes and goes every day and it is NOT a nice substance. Yet we cannot escape it, in fact it MUST come and go each day or we will be in trouble.

When we need to “poo”, it is not a surprise. For some it is a relief, for some it is a pleasure, and for most it is simply a necessary part of life. Maybe if we talked about it more it might help us realise that “crap” is a part of life and we cannot escape it.

Try as I did to hold it in, make it go away, pretend it didn’t exist, stop it from getting in the way of my special sunrise experience, it took over and took me away from the one place I wanted to be. And left me with a yucky remainder of what I now had, in place of the relaxing moment on the beach alone with my camera and the sun.

So when “crap” happens and wants to spoil the moments, you always have a choice.

My choice … 

I got changed and walked back to the beach. The sun was still there, beaming, as if waiting for me to return. I spent two more hours, walking, exploring, taking photos, watching the sun follow me, sometimes lead me, sometimes right beside.

Have you ever wanted to spent time with God, had a plan, and “crap” gets in the way? Of course you have. Any time you want to spend time with God, do the right thing, seek out good things, expect “crap” to happen. It is important to know it will come and go and still the son” will always be there when you return.

That morning it happened again in another form. Someone rang up to bother me about a vacation deal while I was enjoying my walk with my God along the beach.

My fault, you say?  Yes, I made the choice to answer the call in the middle of my beautiful walk with the sun. The world always finds a way to disturb you with things that are a distraction particular to you.  A holiday, a getaway deal ... I am a sucker every time. You might even ask, why do you take your phone with you, if you didn't want to be distracted? Well, I need it to get my steps counted, so I earn more Qantas points so I can fly for free on my next vacation ... oh, the “crap” that surrounds us, the ways we justify the distractions. 

For all of you it will be different. So, what’s your crap? Can you name it? It might help if you expect it. It will come and go, and yet you always have a choice ... to keep choosing to move closer to the “Son”, the one who never leaves, never fails and never gives up on you, always loves, always cares and walks with you every day.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Sticky Faith

This past month I was creating a heart wall mural of our wonderful community; pictures of the many wonderful memories and things God has led us in over the years. But mostly it was all about the people. I got the guys from the men’s shed to make wooden tiles, the designer in our midst to set the photos up, someone to paint, and others with accuracy and precision to stick them up so that they were perfectly placed to form the shape of a large heart on the wall. 

It was a project close to my heart and when the last tile was placed on the wall with double sided industrial tape, which the hardware man swore would hold them there securely, it was a sight to see.  It was so beautiful; the colour, the memories, the joy, the visual, the delight we shared as we stepped back and saw the heart and even more joy as it drew us closer to see the smiles, the faces, those with us and those who have moved on, the many who have called us HOME at least for a while.
Finished Mural
So, you can imagine my distress, when I arrived the next morning to discover that the tape didn't stick and many tiles had fallen to the ground.  Of course, the tape didn't stick to the wall, but it seemed to have no trouble sticking to the floor and sticking some tiles to each other. And so many were ruined, ripped by sticking to each other, dented and chipped by the fall. I was so saddened by the visual. 

So, I did what anyone would/ should do … I sought to find something stronger that would stick them to the wall. The next thing the hardware man recommended was liquid nails. It seemed to work better but each day I would come back to find more tiles had fallen off, were ruined, bent and ripped. I did have spares but they were running out, and how sad it was to see the beautiful photos (people) who had fallen and were ripped and couldn't be put back up again. Someone suggested we leave a few spaces free to remind us of those who are yet to join us, so we left 4 spaces.

Well, a month has gone and this weekend I entered the building to find 4 more had dropped off, even with liquid nails. It really affected me. No-one else seemed to notice, dare I say “care” that day. I suspect they knew that I would fix it, eventually. I know others are not as visually stimulated as me, but I am currently left with trying to find a solution to making sure that none of the tiles fall off again. 

I wonder, will anyone else notice?  Will anyone care enough to ask how they can help to make the tiles stick? I wonder what will eventually be sticky enough so they never fall off again? I wonder if there are some that need to come off and stay off? I wonder if it is like the FAITH journey …. many start but all do not stay? I wonder how sticky our methods/message must be. Or are there some people who will never let it stick? I wonder who we are to listen to for advice on how to make things stick? I wonder what substandard glue we are using today, that was never, ever going to work but we keep using it, over and over again and hope that the result changes? 

So much to wonder about. So much I don’t know. But I tell you what I do know. I will not give up until I find out how to stick those tiles on the wall so they don't come off. I will replace the bent and broken ones and even put some of the broken, chipped ones back up again, because they continue to tell the story. And maybe that is all we are asked to do … continue to tell the story, seeking to celebrate the joys and people, accepting everyone, chipped and bent and even broken, and keep seeking to refine the methods/message so that it sticks as well as it can. We must also accept that they are some who just won't allow themselves to stick and we simply must miss them dearly and love them all the same. 

Monday, 29 April 2019

What do we do with our scars?

Just recently my husband accidentally burnt me with a cigar. He doesn't smoke them often, but when you are in Cuba it is hard not to have a go. In his haste of looking at things in a market we were in, he forgot he was given a cigar and that it was in his hand. He turned toward me and the cigar went straight into my arm.  It really hurt and I walked around the rest of the day with an ice cold water bottle on my arm. But we did laugh. It was such an accident and he felt so bad, I could only see the funny side of it, knowing my husband. I took a photo of it and sent it to the kids straight away.

He felt so bad he kept asking me how I was and it was fun to play on it a bit. After a few hours it was fine, but it was going to leave a scar for sure.  

For the next 7 days afterward, it was still looking really sore, so I started putting pure vitamin E oil on it each night. It is amazing stuff and each morning I would wake up and couldn't believe the difference in the healing simply in one night. 

I joked with Dave, that I considered leaving it and not putting the healing balm on it, so I would be scarred for life and when people asked what it was, I would have a good story of my husband burning me with a cigar. Or worse I could play on it and get his sympathy and guilt for the rest of my life with a scar like that.  At one point it was looking better and then I bumped it and it started to bleed again, that was a good time to let David know what he done to me….. again. 

But, instead after 3 weeks it was completely gone, simple by putting the right healing balm on it each night. 

After 35 years of being together, believe me there are deeper scars we both carry, more painful than a cigar burn. It made me think about the scars we carry on the inside and the outside and how quickly they can become the story we hold onto for all the wrong reasons. 

It is a choice what we do with our burns or the painful experiences. We can carry them like an open, painful scar, in order to guilt or shame the one who caused it. We can choose for it to become our victim story, the battle scars we get to tell anyone who will listen, for sympathy or attention. We can chose to use the battle scars as excuses to not venture out and try new things as they are dangerous. We can choose to look at our scars and hold anger and bitterness, that if someone can do that to me, then I can do it to someone else. 

Or we can choose to seek the healing balm that not only takes the pain away, but in some cases can make all things new as if it never happened. 

For many of our deep inner scars it will take more that "Pure Vitamin E oil", but I do know that with the right healing balm all things are possible. The hardest part is the choice, to walk towards healing and not in the other direction. I want to say that there is even more that is possible. When the healing has become so complete that it is not just healed, but has become something more beautiful. Like the refiners fire, more beauty is found only once something has gone through the fire and come out the other end.  But it doesn't have to stop there either, for when that healed scar is so strong it is able to help others who are wounded, it becomes a gift and privilege. This has been my experience over the last 20 years with many of my scars, although I have many more I am working on.  

The greatest gift is that we don't have to do this alone. Christ has been my healing balm, for the deep inner hurts that simply come with life. But I know that the key on my part is to CHOOSE to lean into Him and be willing to use the correct healing balm and to use it regularly. That is why Dave and I can joke about a cigar burn, because we know the real healing power of Jesus’ grace and love and forgiveness in our own lives and in our marriage and it is truly a gift. 

So what do you do with your scars?