Monday, 12 April 2021

It Starts in the Heart

I have had the privilege of spending time with some faith communities around Australia. I spent 4 days across 2 churches in South Australia. I didnt realise at the time, but God knew. On the outside they couldn’t have been two more different church communities. One that met in the middle-class suburbs with members who are all either doctors, lawyers or training to be. The other was based right in the inner city with a main mission to helping and serving the homeless. One that met in a traditional church building with comfortable chairs, life groups, children’s and young adults ministry and good audio-visual. The other met in the park, bring your own camp chair and share a piece of paper with some words on it. Some of this community would have spent the morning feeding the homeless, offering showers, toilets and laundry. They had been a part of the South Australian fringe festival with the arts … sharing their gifts and being a light in the mainstream community as the fringe festival is going on all over the city.  

If you were to draw conclusions based on what you see on the outside, I can guarantee what you assume would be wrong. There may be one of those communities I just described that you may feel more comfortable in, but we must not judge and assume the heart of each person and space. 

It would be a bit like going to a wedding ceremony. Everyone looks their best, there is a certain amount of ceremony that is required for a wedding service to be complete. Some can look formal, some Informal. But there is a joining together, a commitment to each other, words spoken out by some or all, a certain amount of sitting and listening and sharing. 

But if all you thought ‘marriage’ was about was a ceremony, I can guarantee it would not last or be very healthy. No, it is in the ‘day in and day out’ that you see the heart, what really makes a community. It is in the way we love each other outside of the public ceremony that really counts. 

Love starts in the heart, but then life must overflow out of that. Life starts in the heart, but then life must overflow out of that. Faith and community starts in the heart and then life must overflow out of that. It goes beyond what the outside structure looks like.

So, when you get the privilege to sit with people in both of these faith communities you see a heart, where life overflows out of love for each other and for God and for those who do not know Him yet. 

From one lady, who, when things closed down from COVID, said, “That is not right, those on the streets need love now more than ever.  You cant stop me. I will put a chair and table on the street and be there to pray for those who need it.”  So she did. She had no idea how and what was going to happen but for 8 months while COVID shut down the city and many ministries, she sat in the laneway of the inner city and took prayer requests and prayed for people. She said in all that time, she never heard a bad word or a rebuke toward her, but rather many homeless people said, This is what the church should be doing”. Others fell to their knees and wanted to pray with her right there and then. 

To the young man in his 20s, who shared about how he would not be who he is today without this family of God. When he described church camp, a special event when they get together, he said, “It is the closest thing we get to heaven. Everything is so purposed towards God. You give yourself a 2-3 day window to see what humanity is capable of. To bond together and to actually build that community and be a representation of what God intended."

To the 60+ lady who couldnt help share her passion about all age worshipping together. She said, “It is about focusing on the Lord. Age shouldn’t matter, if we focus on God we should be able to work through all the generations.” 

“The Lord your God will change your heart and the hearts of all your descendants, so that you will love him with all your heart and soul and so you may live.” Deut 30:6 (NLT)

To a 50+ single woman. What bubbled out of her when asked about her favourite memory of life together, was, “Curry nights, (she says with a warm tone), everyone mucks around, eats together and talks. It feels like family, fun. Feels like there is a lot of joy. It feels like we use the church space differently. Worshipping in just being ourselves. There’s often some creativity. All are welcome.”

These were people whose love starts in the heart and then life overflows out of that. So maybe it doesnt matter what the ceremony looks like. 

“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh”. (Ez 11:19 ESV)

I do believe that there are things we can do to help create environments to see generations do life together, but the key for me was that each person I spoke to wanted to see that more and more.  

In my last conversations with the pastors and leaders of both these churches they said, “Please tell us what are some key things we can do to connect the generations more”. With hearts like that, God can do anything, change is possible and connections across the ages will happen and will make a difference in everyone’s heart. 

Gone Before Me

I began the 3 hour return trek to the summit of Wilpena Pound today. I knew it was a difficult walk, but I didn't think I would be scaling rock faces. The destination was clear and I walked the track alone. If you have a destination in mind, sure, there are multiple ways to get there. I mean just keep going up, it will surely get you there in the end.  But isnt it wise to go the track that you know will be safe and will get you there in good time? I do love an adventure and sometimes you can make you own way, but this was not the time. 

And so I began following the markers. Looking for the markers was tough at times, but it was nice to know they were there if you looked. There were a number of times I got off the track, missed the markers and it led to a dead end. When the path wasnt clear, it helped to look for tracks where people had been in the past. This helped me get back on track and assured me that I would make it to the right place. 

Especially when you are on your own, you can get lost very easily. There are some journeys we have to do on our own, but knowing the markers are there that I can trust, helps. I have been aware of how sure footed you need to be when you are on your own. One wrong step can lead to injury. In the middle of nowhere, at least if you are on the track you can be found. If you are off the track you’re not so easy to find.

When you are scrambling up rocks, you are always looking down at your feet, to make sure each step is secure and solid. So, every now and then I needed to stop and look up to check where I was, to see I was going in the right direction and just to see the view around me. I mean, how silly is it to trek up a mountain and not actually stop and see the view. This slows you down, but allows you to enjoy the journey more, rather than always focusing on the destination. 

Of course, making it to the top is a very exhilarating achievement. I stayed at the top for a long while to really soak up the view, the surroundings and the joy it gave to make it to the top. 

Besides the personal achievement of making it to the top, I couldn’t help be reminded that I probably wouldn’t have got here, if it wasn’t for those who had gone before me. Those who had marked the track, those who had painstakingly and tirelessly made steps where they were needed, smoothed the rough places and forged a way up that was accessible to others. Instead of praising myself for my own achievement - there were times when I lost my way - I was so thankful for those who had recently walked the summit and left their shoe tracks for me to find to get me back on track. I simply would not have been able to enjoy the view, the beauty or even the walk as much if there had not been those who had gone before me and to claim this achievement as completely my own would have been wrong. I know I have done this so many times before and really forgotten those who have given so much to make my trek possible. 

So many times in life, we can only achieve or keep moving forward because of what others have done. Our mentors, our early-adopters, our parents, our leaders, anyone who has gone before us.  It is a shame we don't say thank you enough, listen more and learn more from them. So often we simply put our head down and forge ahead with our own path, convinced we know best and are the only one who knows the way forward. I see it happen every day, in families, in culture, in politics, in world affairs, in the streets and homes of every city, and in the Church. 

It is no wonder throughout the Bible, God has implored us to stop, consider, slow down, follow the tracks laid out, listen and trust that those who have gone before us have wisdom and guidance that aims to help us reach the summit, rather than to hinder or stifle or stop us. The right track and the right voices and the right guidance is designed for us to succeed, flourish and find freedom and the joy I found when I reached that summit today. Today I honour those who have gone before me and I pray I will do that more and more.  Today I slow down, look up and savour the view, knowing I can only do that because others have showed me the way. 

Monday, 5 April 2021

The End of the Road

This particular ‘AdVanture’ has been wonderful, one high after another. I call it AdVanture because I am in a VAN as I travel Australia. The joy of soaking in each new scene and experience. Sure, there has been challenges and problems to solve, but it is all part of the adventure, right?  

And then it came to today.  I get to Kakadu and everything is closed. I literally came to the end of the road and could go no further. It is the wet season after all, but then all you read says that Kakadu is beautiful in the wet season. It is when the waterfalls are the most amazing, but of course there is the risk that you can’t get to them, and today was the day. It was raining, floods everywhere, mud and swamp as far as the eye can see. There are crocodiles in every river and you can sense the danger everywhere.  Of course, even when you are semi-prepared for it, it is a shock when they say, “no, you cannot go there”. Up until now, I have found a way around, or through, but not today.  

So, what do you do when your plans are halted? When you are somewhere like Kakadu and you really feel like you are in the middle of no-where, because you are. I was at the “Top End” as they call it, with nowhere to go but back from whence I came.  I was faced with a few choices.   It is late in the afternoon, so to travel back to civilisation would be unwise. I clearly needed to  find a place to bunker down, take stock of the situation and consider what tomorrow could look like.  

Now I know that this is not all that desperate. Many would kill to be in this position; stuck in Kakadu with nothing to do.  I have the motorhome and all the supplies I need and it didn't take long to find a campsite that would allow me to stay safely for the night. It even had a pool where I could safely swim away from crocodiles.  So, this is not a tragic story by any means.  But for some reason today, it really got to me. I was a little shaken and put out.

I sat and listened to the birds fly past me, felt the squishy wet mud under my feet, in an unkept BBQ area. Because the season has not quite opened so much of the campsite looks abandoned and messy.

I found this experience took me by surprise and it triggered many feelings of how life can often feel like this. You know those times when you are sailing along the adventure of life and loving the experiences and then something happens and it is enough to stop you in your tracks and knock you for ‘six.’   Sometimes it can be as simple as an email or text from someone that breaks your heart. Other times it is a major loss or unexpected turn of events that you have no control over. Sometimes you can see them coming and they still take you by surprise. 

When it happens, what do you do?  I know sometimes I simply can’t control myself and I find myself crying. I feel anxious, I feel fear and panic, I feel deep disappointment and sometimes I can even act like a right spoilt brat. Today I felt all these emotions and they were overwhelming. In the midst of being surrounded by flood waters, you could say the flood banks literally broke in my heart.

It is here when you have choices to make.  It is always good to stop, pause, breathe and sometimes simply sit in the space and consider what is really going on for you.   A friend asked me when I was feeling like this, “Sounds like you are lost, what do you do when you are lost?” 

It’s a good question for when you are lost ‘physically’ or ‘emotionally’ or any other “ally”. At any given time there are a multitude of responses, some good and some not so good.   

I walked, cried, journaled, cried some more, listened to worship music, cried again, texted some friends and was so thankful for their kind words or love and encouragement that came right when I needed it.

“The minute I said “I’m slipping, I’m falling, your love, God, took hold and held me fast. When I was upset and beside myself, you calmed me down and cheered me up… God became my hideout, God was my high mountain retreat” Psalm 94:19-22 MSG

“And not a tear is wasted. In time, you’ll understand. I’m painting beauty with the ashes. Your life is in my hands. So, when you are on your knees and answers seem so far away, you’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held.”  (Just Be held - Casting Crowns) 

As the sun sets, the stars come out, the sound of frogs fill the air, even a dingo ran past my table. I know that tomorrow will come. I dried my eyes and headed back to the van. With eyes red raw and a splitting headache, I know it is time to rest, be kind to myself till the morning opens up new options that I don't have to ponder tonight. Tomorrow will come soon enough. 

Tonight I sit in the safety of this space and know that I will be “okay”.  Tomorrow will not be as I would like, it will not be as my plans were hoping. If I can find a way to see the gift of tomorrow for what it is, it might just help me see beyond what right now seems dark and impossible. 

If it is the end of this road, can I be open to another path, another adventure, and new plan? Can you when you find yourself in these spaces?

As I leave the top end of Australia and begin the long trek back toward home, I can’t help but wonder, have I been brought to this place for this revelation, for a living metaphor!  I think God does that for us at times. Sometimes He brings us to the dessert places, the flooded roads that cause dead ends, to help us in these safe places to learn what we need to, if we are listening. He wants to prepare us for the literal life dessert and dead ends we will have to face along life’s adventure

He promises to never change and to sustain us wherever we find ourselves. I thank Him for feeling HELD tonight, for His hiding place and mountain retreat.  I thank Him in advance that I don't know what tomorrow holds, but I know I will not be alone. I know it is not comfortable, not easy, and I don’t like it, but it is inevitable, so it is comforting to know that somehow through it all I will be “okay”.