Friday, 27 June 2014

Catching frogs and building cricket farms.

 The Cambodian village is full of life. In this village, the church is a vital hub of the whole community, a true place where people gather, play and worship. Every time we go there I am presented with a picture of true community, with all the joys and sorrows that it brings. We arrive there on a Sunday. The community worship God together, and then after lunch together we have work to do. This year’s project was to build a cricket farm for the pastor and his family to be able to survive financially so they can continue to minister in the village. In Cambodia "crickets" are a favoured snack to eat, like we would eat chips and chocolate. The Cricket farm will give them a good income as the demand is high for a good cricket snack.

It is hot and the rain is a welcome friend as it cools the air, but it creates mud. This makes building the brick farm more of a challenge. As we arrive we find pastor pip's whole family and some friends building away in the mud. We begin to help and the mud between our toes adds to the fun and challenge, if you are willing to see it that way. There are all ages, from 8 - 66 year olds all pitching in, brick by brick, filling the gaps with cement and carrying the bricks from one place to the other.  This is community, this is life. In the background there is music from a funeral coming from one end of the village and music from a wedding coming from the other end. You cannot escape it, it is all around us. Life, death, work, play, laughter and hardship all mixed together. The mud gets thicker and a group of people get together and fix the road so cars and bikes can drive in and out. Whatever needs to be done, will get done and it will get done all together.

We finish work as the rain gets heavier and makes it hard to continue. But when it is raining, it's the best time to go frog and crab hunting. Nothing like going out together for an adventure to catch crabs after a good days work! All ages join together, young children, youth and oldies alike, the pastor brings up the rear and the race is on to see who can catch the most crabs and frogs. People join from all over the village as the word gets out that crab hunting is on. All are included and welcome. The Oldies have the Wisdom to know where to best catch the crabs. The young ones have the small hands to go deep into the mud holes and grab the crabs. 

In this village this is not just for pure fun to fill the time, this assures that everyone will get to eat that night, fresh cooked crab and frogs will be on the menu. Life, fun and adventure are all integrated. There is certainly a sense of achievement when you have worked hard to catch the food yourself, especially as this a great way for the children to feel like they can contribute to the family by providing some food.

The day is full of worship, working, eating and playing together across the ages. Even though these people have very little, you get the feeling that time to be together, to love each other, to laugh and have fun, to being available and to serve each other is important to them. What a great way to spend a Sunday.
Next Sunday I will be home in Australia where we go back into our little boxes (houses) and many are way to busy to even gather together on a Sunday (in a bigger box) to worship our God, let alone go out and serve Him and enjoy being together in the community, for all the other things we MUST do that are so much more important.
As we leave the village the next day my kids almost cry, they don't want to leave. They sense something here that we just don't have at home. It's Interesting that I hear people say to me "oh that is just the country, you can't do that in the city" and yet we spend the next week In Phnom Penh experiencing the "same, same but different" things with a community of peoples in an inner city ministry called "Transform Cambodia" (but that's another blog)

Lord, help us to never forget what is important, and although the task may seem impossible in Western Culture help us fight as a family for TRUE community, TRUE Worship and TRUE family of God experiences, where Christ is central, passion is high and time and people are more precious than money and possessions.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

So removed from the vine...

We tell our children to eat fruit because it is healthy, I was always taught that "an apple a day keeps the doctor away". My son doesn't like fruit, but he devours fruit juice on the occasion that I buy it. It is sweet and it goes down easy. I wonder how many children think that fruit juice is just as healthy as actually eating fruit. I wonder which you would prefer? I remember when I was pregnant I drank a lot of fruit juice and the doctor told me I was putting on too much weight. When we discussed what I was eating and drinking, he said, 'Stop drinking the fruit juice. It's full of sugar.' So I did and it really helped. I know today we are all more aware of this and there are freshly squeezed options of fruit juices, but can it ever replace the piece of fruit?

So, let's consider the fruit. How often in my house do we throw away fruit? Is it just my house or does fruit just not last that long before it goes off. We live In a fast paced, processed world where the fruit in the supermarket is not always fresh. it's designed to last till we buy it and then it tends to go off in the next few days in the fruit bowl, not to mention certain fruit that never really ripens at all, but stays hard and tasteless. The challenge is that we don't know where it has come from and how fresh it is or whether it has been sitting in cold storage for 6 months.

It made me consider how far away we have come from eating the fruit of the true vine, what it means to bear fruit that is attractive, how to know where to get the good fruit! It challenges me to think about what kind of fruit are we giving to our families? Are we guilty of watering down the fruit till it is only experienced in a sweet, watery substance, instead of the original freshly picked fruit?

We are so far removed from picking fresh fruit from the vine and appreciating where it has come from and enjoy the nourishment of it!

It is true,  fruit once picked is not designed to last, but knowing when it is picked and where to go to get fresh fruit, would make a difference to the enjoyment of it.

When I think of the Christian life, I am challenged to consider whether we are we guilty of doing this as well.

The word says in John 15 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener (v1)."

The Greek word translated 'true' in that sentence means real, actual, not counterfeit but genuine. Jesus said: 'I am the real, the true, the actual, the genuine vine.'

There are many counterfeit vines in this world that we can attach ourselves to— But there is only one true vine who will enable us to bear fruit for God, and that vine is Jesus Christ.

Are we really empowering our families to be connected to the 'true' vine.  A topic today that creates so much discussion in the church is, who is the one who teaches and spiritually raises the child in the home? Biblically we know that God deemed this role for parents, and the community of faith is to support that. I hear from parents all the time, "we want to do this but we don't know where to start". For me, if we are the branches and He is the vine, and God is the Gardner, then it seems clear to me that we are called to live our lives close to him and draw others to Him. We are simply called to let him bear fruit in us, and allow the father to be the gardener in our lives.

Then our key role as leaders it to be firmly connected to Him and help others to be connected to Him so they can produce fruit direct from the vine.  I think as leaders sometimes we have fallen Into the trap of thinking we have to bear the fruit and then make it into juice so it is easier and sweeter for children and families to drink.

John 15 goes on to say "Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me. I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relationship is intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing.

Maybe we are not seeing the fruit of our ministries because we are not connecting our families and children to the 'true' vine, but rather a church service, a pastor, a leader, a children's worker, a program. As a parent, I don't want to ever give my children sweetened juice as an alternative to the fruit direct from the 'true' vine. I want to lead them to the 'true' vine and let them become His branches and bear fruit direct from Him.

For me that means I don't simply drop them off at a children's program and hope someone else shows them the way. It means that they don't just watch me serve and love Christ in ministry. It means that I have to create and empower them to connect with God themselves. It means that together we can learn and listen to God and share the faith journey in our very day life. To bear fruit, there must be daily growth. We must always be growing, as fruit once picked needs to be eaten quickly and more must grow in its place. This is more than a 'once week on a Sunday' kind of life.

It means we have to think about living Christian lives in a way that is less church structured and more about opportunities to connect with the 'true' vine in every day life and with others who desire to bear fruit daily. A place where we all  can serve, grow, honour the Gardner and bear fruit for His glory.

What a journey......hence we very rarely have fruit juice in our home today.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

To BE or NOT to BE twisted, that is the question?

Some young adult girls and I have been meeting together in a group called “TWISTED”.  Like Ecc 12 says,  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. The desire was to create a space where young girls aged between 12 and 21 (and myself) could be twisted with each other and with God. To create a space where they could grow and support each other as young “Godly” woman.  The course ended and we sat down together to chat about whether the group wanted to remain TWISTED together.  As each girl, in turn, shared what they had valued about being a part of the group and I sat back and listened.  I was amazed how in such a short time, how deep the relationships had formed. For those who were there, there was a strong hesitancy of not wanting the group to end, and for some the thought of unraveling was a very sad thought.  I wondered, “What does I mean to be or not to be TWISTED?  For, there were some that started with us that unraveled themselves from the group very early and choose not to be connected, not to be vulnerable, not to share. As a result they had drifted away and didn’t make it to the end of the course. There are others that threw themselves right into it and felt so connected that the thought of stopping or not being a part of this group made them cry. There was one young that had to unravel as she was leaving the country and there was pain for many who didn’t want her to leave. There were others that skirted around the edges and stayed close enough to gain something, but didn’t give very much to others. 

I wondered why do we choose to NOT be TWISTED, involved, connected, and accountable even. It is that we are afraid of getting hurt?  Because If that is the reason, I saw a lot of pain from the girls who didn’t want to stop meeting and a lot of pain from the girls as they realized those who weren’t with us. It seems that pain happens either way, we just have to decide what kind of pain is better, the pain were we are all alone or where we get to cry together.

As King Solomon said in Eclesiastes 12:13–14

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

King Solomon reflects back on a life that was long on experience but short on lasting rewards. As king, he had the opportunity and resources to pursue the rewards of wisdom, pleasure, and whatever he desired. Yet I cant help but get the feeling that as was reflecting that he wished for a simpler life, lived in light of God’s direction. And though he was probably never really lonely, one must ask did anyone really know Him?
Ultimately, the great truth of Ecclesiastes lies in the acknowledgment of God’s ever-present hand on our lives. Even when injustice and uncertainty threaten to overwhelm us, we can trust Him and follow after Him.
I see it too many times, when things get tough and uncertain, that people run away rather than push into God and those that love them. That’s when we need to be TWISTED even more, yet it is the time when people most often unravel.
As with the community that I am involved in, we seek to live in a way that reflects true community. We have been surprised how many find this really hard and would rather unravel themselves and stay on the outside, especially if it means avoiding showing weakness, pain, failure or hurt, and especially forgiveness. True community means that it is messy, uncomfortable, embarrassing and yet rich and loving as well.  I am amazed at those who would rather sit in a pew, shake someone’s hand as they leave a service, without noone really knowing them at all rather than live in the kind of community that Christ calls us to.
We see the UNRAVELLING in marriages, friendships, families, churches, and in the workplace. We see it everywhere. The sad thing is that whatever we choose to stay TWISTED or to go it alone, we can’t avoid “pain”. We can numb it, we can distract, we can deny, we can run, we can disconnect, we can isolate but it is still painful. So to be or not to be TWISTED, that is the question. We can do it alone or with others. I understand the desire to run away and hide. I also know that those are the times when we need God the most and often need just ONE person that knows us so well that whatever is going on, you know they will love, forgive and listen. That is what is means to be TWISTED, to live in true community. It is a choice……its your choice, I know which I choose…how about you?