Saturday, 20 December 2014

The "Journey" IS the Destination

“The Lord said to him “This is the Land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob….I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there. Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the Land of Moab at the Lord’s command.  Deuteronomy 34:4-5
Dead sea looking over to Jordan today.

I ALWAYS felt sad when I read about Moses not entering into the Promised Land. To let him see, but not to cross felt cruel. I thought his punishment for striking the rock was a little harsh in the light of what the Israelites did over and over again (Num 20:12). It is just not fair. In the light of what Moses did, I am guilty of so much more. I fear if that’s what happens if you strike a rock instead of speak to it. I could relate to it more as Moses just giving the people a little drama to make the point as they seemed so easily discouraged and ready to blame God for everything. I understand why he would do that! Maybe Ministry has been a constant struggle as the dramatic in me has clearly stepped into spaces that probably cross that line a million times over.
I was encouraged recently when I read Ruth Barton’s book, “Strengthening the soul of your leadership,” as she eloquently penned my exact thoughts and the processing that I have felt numerous times this year.

“It’s possible that this could happen to me. That I, too, could work hard and serve long – straining toward the goal or dream – and that God might someday say to me, “you can look, but you can’t go in. You can long for it, but someone else will take it across the finish line. You might be the one who saw it, but someone else will take it the rest of the way. For anyone who has dreamed dreams and visions, this possibility is almost too much to bear.”  (pg 213)
This year God has taken me on a journey, of letting go, of giving over my dreams for His dreams, of stepping into the wilderness again and trusting Him, of learning to pray the “prayer of the serene disciple” and of accepting that I may not be taking something to the finishing line, but to learn to be happy to cheer from the sidelines and support those who continue the dreams.  For Moses, this had moved way beyond “punishment” or what he did or did not do. This was about acknowledging HIS story, and that we even get to play a part is simply a privilege. 
As I read through the story of Moses again, I actually felt a peace and a sense that Moses wasn’t standing on that mountain with suddenness or a sense that he was “just a very naughty boy” (in the words of “Life of Brian”). I felt God show me through His eyes that the destination was not actually as important as the journey, and what we learn along the way. That in fact for Moses, the TRUE Promised Land was actually being with God……it was not a PLACE or country that made this so.    

“Clearly something happened to Moses – he was so changed by the journey that he was completely at Peace with himself and God. Nothing of this world had any hold on him at all. ”. (R. Haley Barton, “Strengthening the soul of your leadership” pg 215)

I have known for a long time that it is more about the journey than the destination. I had just never considered NOT ever getting to the destination while here on earth that I would need to give that over and cheer others along. That maybe God has called me to watch from the sidelines was something I was not prepared for till now. It is one thing to come to the end of your life and know you have played your part, it is quite another to feel like you want to do so much more and God is saying “No, this is not what I have called you to. I want you to pass the baton and be the stagehand, a valued role, but very different to being on stage.” 

While I am mixing my metaphors here… Leadership sure does have its twists and turns.

Lord help us to make sure YOU are always the LEADER and we are simply to say YES to YOU in the deepest way, wherever that takes us on the journey.  
As Paul says in Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ to die is gain”   (vs 1:21, NIV)

Help me to LIVE for you, daily.

Monday, 8 December 2014

What are we passing on - fear of faith?

Recently, at a women's retreat I took a group of girls for a walk to a stunning lookout.   The walk was through bush, over logs and pushing through scrub at times. It was a bit of an adventure but worth it in the end for the spectacular view of the beautiful national park rolling down to the sea. I noticed during the walk one young girl in particular was struggling with it all, as this was clearly the first time she had had to "rough" it a bit.  To her credit she pushed through as we all encouraged her and we eventually got to the lookout.  It is very high and granted the railings are falling apart; but standing on the rocks, back from the edge, is exhilarating and exciting.

I understand that many suffer from the fear of heights but this is not something that I personally struggle with, so while still holding the girls’ hands I showed them the beautiful view and they loved it.  The young girl who had struggled at first went home to her mum and shared how much she loved the walk that I had taken them on.  She talked to her mum so much about it that her mother asked me to take her to the lookout too, which I was more than happy to do.  This time, I noticed that the young girl was quite courageous and adventurous as she led the way to the lookout.  

Once we got to the lookout I held some other children's hands and led them to a place on the rocks where the view is wide and open and the most stunning. As we were admiring the view, I noticed that the young girl and her mother were not with us. I turned to find them over in the corner and the young girl had a shivering look of fear on her face. I called out to ask if anything was wrong and the mother said, "We are ok here, I am too afraid to come any closer!"  Where they were standing the view was obscured and they really couldn't see a lot.  I saw a child who only minutes earlier had been eagerly enjoying the journey, quickly change having been told that it was too dangerous.  As a result "fear" was all over her face. When I tried to encourage them to trust me and come to the place where they could see better, the young girl looked as if she wanted to but was stopped by her mother.

I initially felt a little guilty that I had done something wrong the day before in not even thinking about how this mother might have felt about me taking her daughter to the edge of a cliff. But then I felt sad as I watched the fear on both their faces and realised that what was fear today; in a different environment yesterday, was an adventurous, exciting experience for the young girl.  
I saw the sudden physical, psychological and emotional change in a child with just one statement from her mother, paralysing her from moving forward.  Whereas the previous day, only one word of encouragement had helped her to push through and gain the full experience.

As I said, I clearly don't have a fear of heights, so I don't understand the feeling of not wanting to go the edge and see the awesome view but it did make me stop and think about what fears I do have and whether or not I impose them onto my children, depriving them of their own experiences and adventures.   I realised how affected our children are by how we respond to any given situation.  We are either adults who empower or adults who stifle.   Like the mother in this situation it is usually not deliberate or with the desire to harm our children, rather more often it is out of the desire to protect. 

We left that lookout with the mother never really seeing the full view and often it is our fear that stops us from seeing all that God wants to show us.  The step of faith leads us into places that are not always comfortable or that require risk, but this is the road He calls us to walk.  Fear has the power to stop this, which is why God talks about fear a lot.
"Don't panic. I'm with you. There's no need to
 fear for I'm your God. 
I'll give you strength. 
I'll help you. I'll hold you steady, 
keep a firm grip on you" 
(Is 41:10, The Message)

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, 
life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a 
childlike "What's next, Papa?" 
(Romans 8:15, The Message)

What are we passing on to our children - fear or faith?  Do we need to trust God more and let our children go so that they might even teach us things and lead us into adventures and experiences?  What fears stifle us from all that God wants to show us?  As a parent how can we ensure that we empower our kids in their journey by modelling a life of faith not fear?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

“Game on” in the faith community

Basketball was one of my favourite sports to play when I was young. I even had the privilege of representing the region in Basketball, I was a point guard.

Although he helped me to get and stay fit, he never actually moved my muscles for me, I had to do that myself and what’s more it was expected that I would turn up and be fit enough to play each week. When I didn’t turn up I let the team down. Sure, they went on without me, but each member brought something unique to that team and we knew it when we were a team member down. We were on the team because (partly) we were a good team player and not just hogging the ball to ourselves and certainly because we were encouraging to the others on the team. We took responsibility for each other and when someone wasn’t playing well the whole team suffered. This was not just the coach’s responsibility. This was just expected, accepted and valued if we wanted to play in the team. We knew that if we didn’t turn up ready and if we weren’t a good member of the team, we may get booted off the team. A really good training session was important leading up to the big game. It was important for every team member to be there or they often didn’t get to play on the day.

In the team I was in, the coach never played in our games, but rather he was an encouragement from the sidelines. He had been playing for a long time and had learnt skills to help us all improve our game.

This is pretty standard in most team sports. We understand the rules and rise to them, and what’s more, the world looks on and applauds this ethos in team sports.

As I read the Bible I see similar things in the way that God’s people were asked to function here on this earth. The chosen people, the faith community, the disciples, dare I say the “Church” are supposed to function as a team; the biblical term is called “the Body.”

But I fear that something has been lost in the translation over time, for now the “Church” seems to function not so much as a “team we play with” but rather an “event” to attend.

The expectation is that the Coach (minister) must flex his/her muscles for us, he/she must get us fit, he/she must feed us the right things and make sure we are “match” ready.

For many churches, the coach seems to have moved from the bench, to become the star, the lone player (In the game of basketball we would call him a HOG and not a team player, as talented as he may be).

Nowadays, if you don’t feel the coach is training you in the way you want, you simply change teams, to look for someone who better meets your needs. Then for some, there’s the opposite where they leave because they feel too much is being asked of them, and they simply want to “sit and soak.” Imagine if we turned up to a Basketball training session and everyone wanted to watch the coach shoot three pointers all session. This would frustrate everyone very quickly.

Today, if you come to a Church service, we feel privileged that you showed up. Often you don’t feel that anyone would miss you if you don’t come, because for so much of the event you are simply a passive bystander. I can’t imagine what Church might look like if all we came ready to “train, to flex our muscles and to participate in the process as a member of the team.”

When Paul travelled, training the Church, he went from Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, coaching them to live Christ-centred, to BE the church to everyone who would listen. Acts 14 says:
“After proclaiming the Message in Derbe and establishing a strong core of disciples, they retraced their steps to Lystra, then Iconium, and then Antioch, 22 putting muscle and sinew in the lives of the disciples, urging them to stick with what they had begun to believe and not quit, making it clear to them that it wouldn't be easy: "Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times." 23 Paul and Barnabas handpicked leaders in each church. After praying - their prayers intensified by fasting - they presented these new leaders to the Master to whom they had entrusted their lives.”

The words “muscle and sinew” was highlighted to me just recently and the visual just wouldn’t leave my mind. What does it take to build “Muscle and sinew”? I can guarantee it takes more than listening to a good sermon. It is one thing for the coach to flex his muscles, for you to read about how to build your muscles, to wish you could be muscly, but it is quite another to actually BE someone who has built up “muscle and sinew.” It is hard to hear, but someone else can’t do that for us. They can encourage, they can model, they can inspire, but until you get up and move you have no hope of building muscle.

Michelle Bridges (a fitness trainer) says “Get up off the couch, you don’t burn muscle by sitting and watching.” I could easily replace the word “couch” with “pew” for the community of faith. What’s more, in the community of faith, we have more to lose then a ball game or flabby muscles. God needs us to be good team players, with strong muscles and sinew for the sake of seeing many come to salvation, as well as for our own personal transformation, which happens in the process.

If Paul came to your town, what would he find? Would he find a faith community, a “body of Christ,” a whole team ready to play together, a team that trains together, a team of spiritually fit and muscly people willing to say “game on,” or would he find a group of people that wants to sit and listen and watch from the sidelines, ready to leave when it is not entertaining enough.

"Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times." 23 Paul and Barnabas handpicked leaders in each church. After praying - their prayers intensified by fasting - they presented these new leaders to the Master to whom they had entrusted their lives”.
I pray that he would handpick me, pray and send me out to those he has entrusted me with, and I would say “game on!”

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Messy families

There is a new movement in faith communities around the world called ‘Messy Church”.  The heartbeat of this ministry is to create a space where families of all ages can grow, learn and be together. The environment created is often messy with craft, games, food, noise, and many interactive activities for all age to engage in. It is acceptable and fun to make a MESS together.  This is often a more comfortable environment to bring people into to meet than more traditional church experiences.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a BIG fan of these types of gatherings and in fact I am usually the one making most of the mess or instigating the ideas that create the MESS. 
It is funny how MESS in this context is not only accepted, but expected, but when it comes to family MESS we are very good at covering it up.  Let’s face it, if we are honest FAMILY LIFE can be some of the messiest places and I am not just talking about the physical mess of a home. Yet, one of the greatest challenges in living in an intergenerational faith community has been the people that come and leave because.....  honestly they find it too confronting to actually be a part of a community where others might see that parts of their lives are a MESS. In a smaller faith community this is not as easy to hide as it is in a larger community.   We try so hard to HIDE our struggles, our dysfunction, our imperfections. Sunday mornings has become the place where Christians can be guilty of putting their best clothes on, their best happy face and their best behaviour ensuring everyone only sees the good bits. I have watched hurting families who feel that when things get really MESSY the first place they must pull away from is their “Faith Community”.  They fear what people will think or how they will be treated.  What saddens me most is that we are so conditioned by this that our goals for our worship experiences can become more about creating an environment where the truth can be hidden and masked, rather than creating an environment where the MESS can be shared, restored,  supported and  listened to.  I want to ask is this TRUE community?
When I look at the families in the Bible, I love that they don’t try to mask or hide anything.  All the dysfunction, the lies, the deceit, the pain and the forgiveness and healing is all out there for all to see. Have you ever thought while you are reading, “OMG, how did YOU ever get into the BIBLE?!”  But then quickly say, “But I am so glad you are there, to remind me that I am not the only one who makes a MESS!”
Let’s start at Genesis. Fathers switching brides on the wedding night (Genesis 29:23), Fathers sleeping with multiple woman (Genesis 29-30), children cheating, lying and stealing from each other (Genesis 27:35), mothers favouring one child over another and scheming for them to take  something that is not theirs (Genesis  27: 13), wife’s deceiving husbands (Genesis 27:42-46), brothers plotting to kill their brother (Genesis 37:18), husbands pretending they are not married so they protect themselves from being killed (Genesis 12:11-20), Generations repeating the same hurtful behaviour over and over again and this is just the chosen ones, God’s people destined to fulfil God’s purposes here on earth.  This is not the latest Hollywood sitcom, this is the BIBLE. This is real and this is MESSY! You don’t have to scrape very deep to know that the same pain and hurt is riddled within families today but we have just become very good at hiding it.
So you may be wondering is there a happy ending to this?  Where are you going with this Tammy?  Well, for me there is so much comfort in knowing that from the beginning of time people have always made MESSY mistakes and from the beginning of time families have been MESSY. Yes, I do find comfort in the fact that there is no PERFECT family.  But I find even greater comfort in the fact that from the beginning of time God has always had a plan.  That He uses MESSY families in mighty ways and that it is often IN the MESS that HE is glorified and HIS purposes are fulfilled. 
So my big question is why do we continue to hide and mask the MESS?  Why do we run from God and Christian community when the MESS hits? Why do only parents who are doing OK go to parenting seminars and not the ones that could really do with some support? Why, when we feel like a MESS do we feel we have to put on a happy face and pretend that everything is OK?  When I feel like a MESS as parent, why do I retreat and think that I can’t be in ministry if I can’t get my own family matters correct? If this was the TRUTH then ABRAHAM, ISAAC, JACOB, JOSEPH, DAVID and the list goes on......don’t deserve to be used by God either!
Maybe we need to get MESSIER, more REAL, and more HONEST.  Maybe then the world would see my God who gives me daily strength to serve and follow Him and to be the kind of parent, wife, daughter, aunty and friend He desires me to be.  They will see that He is one that can walk with them too, EVEN IN THE MESS.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Parenting is like “Tetris Building”

The Stair case finally goes in
Our house renovations continue, 5 months later.  Some days it feels like it will take forever and that very little happens in the course of a day and then other days it seems like so much is accomplished.    For months we had no stairs and then in one day a set of stairs appeared and we now have access to the top room. They look great.  The day the stairs went in was the day that I felt we were really getting somewhere. I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The “gyprockers” were putting the walls up and the “renders” were outside working hard, there were people everywhere.   We have had two exceptional builders working on our house but only one of them was here this day.   He comes on to do the finishing off work because of his skills as a carpenter.  

I observed his work throughout the day and couldn’t believe how much time he was spending on ONE pole!  It took him all day to complete, what to my untrained eye was just a pole that will hold the railing up for the stairs.   After all the progress we were beginning to make, ONE pole is all he had to show for a day’s work.  He would position it, step back and look at it, take it out again and work on it some more, and then bring it back again and replace it.  He repeated this process all day. Finally at the end of the day he went to put it into place for the final time but paused and muttered under his breath, “Wait, I will just take a picture of this before I do”.  He looked at me and smiled and said; “This is my Tetris block.”
This is the pole he spent all day on.

I smiled graciously but inside I was thinking, “Well I am happy for you playing games at my expense!  Every day this renovation costs us more and more!”   Watching his pride as he took the picture I just had to ask, “Why are you taking a picture of a piece of wood?”  He replied, “Well, I am just so proud of it. When it goes into place you don’t see the handiwork that has gone in to making it fit perfectly.  It just looks like a pole but only I know the time and effort that goes into something like this.”  (paraphrased,  he was not so eloquent).
So here we have a brawny, tough, classic Australian tradesman talking like a gooey proud dad would about his newborn baby.  It was sweet and I asked if he wouldn’t mind sending me the photo.
He placed his one piece of wood perfectly into position and left a satisfied man having completed a good day’s work.  Anyone else would look at his accomplishment and not even noticed the one pole in relation to the stairs, let alone the whole renovation project.  I certainly would not have had I NOT witnessed this process first hand.
It made me think about parenting.  We look at our children that we spend day in and day out with, at all the little unseen things that we do for them each and every day for the rest of our lives. The tasks that take so much of our time as a parent and yet no one else sees them let alone appreciates them.  Others look at the sum of our parenting from the outside and we HOPE what they see looks good. But they don’t see all the hard work, the tears, the sleepless nights, the loads of washing, the taxi driving, the continual open purse, the cleaning up after them, the worrying when they are not talking to you and you don’t know where they are.  If you are anything like me there are days when you ask, “What did I do all day?”  You know you were busy, and didn’t get a second to sit and stop but you can’t think what took all day to do.
The strategic juggle to make sure all the bits slotted into place in perfect timing and everything got completed just like the game of TETRIS.  Like the builder making sure his one piece of wood fitted perfectly with all the others. The time it took for him to carve each section out perfectly even though no one will see it.  Only He will know how well it was done. Only a SKILLED tradesman will look and know the work that has been done so expertly.
I am thankful my Heavenly Father sees everything  and smiles upon us and  reminds us that  we are His workmanship, created in Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).    We are His created handiwork, each part carved out for a purpose and with a place to belong in this world.  As parents He entrusts us with the job of moulding our children to be all they were created for, helping them fit perfectly into the right spaces.  Thank God He sees it all, even the hidden parts.    They are HIS children and he values all the time, care and love we give to them.  Others may criticize or judge us, like I did with the builder but God sees all the effort and love and uses it for “the good work that He has prepared beforehand”.
Thank you God that today a wonderful Australian carpenter reminded me of the intricate work it takes to shape a human being and that while it is a long slow process, parenting is a privilege.  Help me to remember that when it feels like nothing is changing or progressing as fast as I would like it to, that nothing is ever wasted no matter whether it is seen or unseen.    Where others see it as wasted time YOU never do.   Like the pole fitted perfectly in its place to fulfil its intended role in the renovation, I pray that my children will walk in the ways they were created for.   With your hands guiding me help me to chisel and shape these precious children into your MASTERPIECES.   (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)
You want to see this pole, don’t you?!  ……… Here it is.
This is the inside of the pole that no one will see, the bits all chiselled out so it fits it into all the other things around it,  on the outside it looks like one simple piece of wood. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Be together. Share together, Work together.....

For the past 40 days our faith community has been set the challenge to post photos of "being together, sharing together and working together". We called it the 40/40 challenge. We wanted to try to represent what it looks like every day, not just Sundays to be together, share together and work together.  At the end of the 40 days we celebrated the best 40 photos. On the final day I  placed all the photos all over a table. There were pictures of families, groups of friends, eating, working, serving, laughing, learning, travelling, worshiping together, right across the ages. Then the next step was to surround the photos with written stories to match the photos, we all got into an added our small story.  Finally we wrote “words” that come to us as we looked at the photos. Words that came up were:



We chatted, laughed, created and remembered the events that photos sparked for us all. The room was full of joy, togetherness, celebration and family. There were people of all ages from 2 years to 75 years. Single, married, families, widows, teens and kids all enjoying their time together and listening to the shared, stories. We had just finished having breakfast together and some worship and amidst all the photos and words I placed the cross and the bread and the wine.
We we're reminded that Jesus was not someone distant stature or God far away. He does not want us to perform some ritual that could look like “coming together once a week” to pay homage to, ask for forgiveness and make requests of. But rather amongst all these photos and words that represented our faith community, He is in the midst, in fact He wants to be in the centre of it all, everyday. 
And I imagine in a similar gathering like we were in, while he was hanging out with his community eating, talking and probably singing, he shared with them how much he wants us to remember Him whenever we eat and meet.  As we took the bread and the wine together and remembered, our community prayed. 
One elderly, sick man, who had just got out of hospital, prayed “Thank you for allowing me to be here with my family". This is a man who has not often been welcomed in many churches because he does not fit the mould. To him, we are his family. One newly widowed lady, prayed  a prayer of thankfulness to the amazing love God has shown us all. A young Asian teenager, who has recently become a Christian, prays earnestly in the corner as he seeks God in ways that those of us who have been Christians for a long time are thankful for the reminder. A little autistic 8 year old girl comes to me after asking for the microphone because she simply wants to say Thank you God" for all to hear.
After the prayer time we continued to talk to each other and enjoy the photos, as I watched another teenager walks up to the elderly man and they have a wonderful Conversation. I watched all ages interact and enjoy being together. A 5 year little girl walks up, to me to ask if we could do the pharaoh story (which was a Godly play enactment of the crossing of the red sea, which I have done leading up to communion before). A wonderful wise sage in our midst walked up to a 14 year old and said “You are one of my most favourite people in this world, gee I love you”. I just can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday morning together in a Faith community.
What does it look to “be together, share together and work together”.....I can’t wait for one of our talented ladies to collage all that was done that day, cause I know it is a visual way to answer this question. I wonder if you took up the challenge what you might SEE and LEARN together as you take 40 photos in 40 days and celebrate what God is doing in your community.