Tag Archives: jesus

Building up community is like weaving a basket

Standard

  A while ago God gave me an image of church needing to be like weaving a basket.

 The vertical ‘spokes’ which create the initial framework of the basket are like church structures.  They are essential but not enough.  They give the outline shape of the basket but of themselves do not create a basket that can be used. They also have gaps between them, so just like this it is not a strong vessel. This includes the hierarchy/leadership of a church.  It is vital as the backbone of the church but without the weaving is insufficient.

 It is the weaving in and out, under and over the spokes which then creates the vessel which creates the basket shape, the true structure of the basket. Only when the weaving is in place can a basket be used for carrying things.  There is a big emphasis these days on church leadership and training up leaders and this is important. However the ‘ordinary’ folk have as essential role to play in developing a church community as the leaders. It is the weaving on a basket which holds the spokes in place. The spokes on dependent on the weaving not the other way around.

 The basket maker weaves the horizontal strands very close together so that they touch.  This gives it strength and durability.  From a distance you don’t see the individual strands, you only see the finished object.  Those of us ‘ordinary’ folk in church have a role to play in being woven in and out of one another’s lives.  We are not to rely on the leadership for it all to happen but look for our places.  Often we look for our role to play in church life, yet we may have multiple roles to play, living as in a Venn Diagram in overlapping circles being involved in several activities and touching different lives in each.

 At home I have a log basket.  It is starting to fray at the top where some strands have come loose and broken off. Because it is looking a bit tatty, I keep saying that when it falls apart I will get a new one but the overall structure is so strong that it is still going and I am nowhere nearer to getting a new one.  BUT the bits on the top edges have snapped off.  Because they were at the edge they were most vulnerable to coming loose.  Folk who are at the centre of a community have plenty of strong bonds to keep them there, but those who are at the edges (for whatever reason and there are many) are in danger of drifting loose and being snapped off. Therefore, we need to take special care of them.

Basket weaving is very labour intensive.  We live in a world full of labour saving devices and we are forever on the look out for ways to take shortcuts and make our lives easier.  But building up community and relationships is labour intensive and takes time.  The front cover of our church newsletter this week included this section:

 Pastor Evans … gave me this time.  I remember long hours sitting and talking in his study surrounded by books.  Over those early years there were a number of people who took me seriously, and through those conversations I came out wanting to love God more and serve Him better.

 Building up community takes time. It will include lots of interactions and conversations for which you cannot ‘justify’ the inordinate amount of time taken, and in our world of striving to manage every minute of our day, much time will seem to be wasted. Yet looking at Jesus’ life you hardly hold him up as someone who managed his time well. A 1st C time management consultant would have mapped out a far more efficient route which would have covered a lot more ground, taking in far more ‘large’ and ‘important’ places and people in the three years that Jesus spent on his ministry. But Jesus listened to his Father because he ‘wasted’ hours in prayer, so he knew where to go today and who needed he needed to meet with.

 So how do we weave ourselves in and out of each others lives?

  The One Another Scriptures

love one another (John 13:35 – this command comes 16 times)
be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10)
honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:10)
live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)
build up one another (Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:11)
be like-minded towards one another (Romans 15:5)
accept one another (Romans 15:7)
admonish one another (Romans 15:14; Colossians 3:16)
care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25)
serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
forgive one another (Ephesians 4:2, 32; Colossians 3:13)
be patient with one another (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:13)
be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32)
speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19)
submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21, 1 Peter 5:5)
consider others better than yourselves (Philippians 2:3)
look to the interests of one another (Philippians 2:4)
bear with one another (Colossians 3:13)
teach one another (Colossians 3:16)
comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13)
stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24)
show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
employ the gifts that God has given us for the benefit of one another (1 Peter 4:10)
clothe yourselves with humility towards one another (1 Peter 5:5)
pray for one another (James 5:16) confess our faults to one another (James 5:16)
Be honest with one another (Col. 3:9)

Why?

We are to do these things because we belong to one another (Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:25).

 

Advertisements

Emotional angst: on further reflection…

Standard

Thinking on, my quandry WAS solved this morning…

 As I poured out my heart, the person next to me, not only listened to me but affirmed me and what I said. She really listened and heard me and heard the deep cries of my heart beyond what I was able to put into words. And then she did something truly amazing. She affirmed what I felt and said. She didn’t rationalise or explain their behaviour so that I could see the other persons point of view. Instead she affirmed my deep feelings of hurt and rejection. She acknowledged how hurt I was and affirmed that it was ok to feel this way.

 To me this was a revolution in ‘Christian’ care. Normally after pouring out my heart I am given a verse to remember or told how I need to forgive the other person and lots of other advice but never told that my feelings are ‘normal’ or ‘ok’. So I end up believing that my beliefs and feelings are wrong. Hence, I had stopped sharing them with other Christians and ended up suppressing them instead.

 What is interesting is that after my friend heard me today and allowed me to just speak, I then, of my own volition, acknowledged that the hurt wasn’t intentional and I was able to forgive and let go. All it needed was to be heard and my feelings believed and affirmed, indeed valued.

 Perhaps when reading Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:31 (NLT):

 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour.

 we need to focus on the words ‘get rid’. I have always focused on the fact that rage, anger, etc are bad things to have and felt guilty for having them. Today as I read them now, I realise that that is this is NOT what Paul is saying here. He recognises that these feelings will creep in but the healthy ‘Christian’ thing to do is to ‘get rid of’ them.

 And how do we do that?

 By first of all acknowledging that they are there. We are not perfect, we do all sin. However if as in 1 John 1:9 (NIV):

 we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness

 Just reaching this stage has been a huge journey for me. It took me years to truly believe that when I confessed my sins to God he forgave me there and then. I used to hang around waiting for the words of recrimination and rebuke but instead there was silence. Finally the penny dropped. The silence was God’s way of saying that it was done with and dealt there. There was no further word on the matter.

 However that isn’t enough. We also need to dig down and discover what the pain is behind all those horrible feelings and thoughts. Today I was lucky. There was someone there who helped me to find and admit to them but that is a new experience in my life. I have searched and yearned for someone, a friend, that I could be this honest with. Seeing a counsellor, a professional is all very well but they are paid to listen to you. I wanted someone to listen just because they cared.

 As I write this I realise how important this is in our world and our churches. Those of us who are sensitive, emotional people ARE marginalised yet we have so much to offer to a hurting world. Unfortunately, because we aren’t tough, strong, resilient people we are easily discouraged and give up. And that is how I felt this morning; that my attempts to use my gifts and skills within the church had been dismissed. In fact that I had been dismissed. Yet the following verse has also been rattling around in my head:

 Jesus urges us to keep going even when we feel like giving up. (Luke 5:5-6). However he does not expect us to go it alone. It is not about inner strength of our own. Indeed in our weakness is his strength. Today he sent someone alongside to encourage me to keep going when I felt like giving up. It is at moments like this that we become the body of Christ, when we support one another, not when we stand up strong on our own.

The elephantness of God

Standard

elephant and blind menThere is a tale from India about six blind men who wish to discover what an elephant is. Since none of then could see the animal, each one was given a different part to touch. The first man holds onto a leg and says an elephant is like a tree trunk. The second touches its tail and thinks an elephant is like a rope. The third holds its trunk and so says a snake; the fourth says a fan because he is touching an ear, the fifth feels the animal’s side and says a wall and the sixth likens the elephant’s tusk to a spear.

The moral of the story is clear: each one of the men only hold a small part of the truth about an elephant and therefore in order to get a larger and more accurate perspective they needed to share that knowledge and listen to one another.

From a Christian point of view it is easy to translate that into our perspective on God and life. God is SO big and awesome and beyond us that we hold onto to the little bit about God that we know and are sometimes scared to take on someone else’s experience and perspective because it challenges our own. For example, I am very happy with the gentle merciful side of Jesus which:

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Matthew 9:36

Yet I am extremely uncomfortable with subjects like judgement and hell. I know they are there in the Bible and have to be addressed, so I listen to them, trying to take them on board but they don’t sit nicely with the gentle Jesus I am more at ease with. This is why we need the body of Christ. We all have our own take on God and life. None of us has it pinned down so together we have a much richer and more accurate reflection of God’s nature.

HOWEVER the main point of this post is not about that. My real point is that some of us need to hold onto those parts of God that we KNOW are true in the face of opposing viewpoints. And sometimes the heaviest opposition we face is in church itself. When week in week out I am presented with sermons about how you need to be doing more to becoming transformed like Christ or doing more to serve him it is easy to lose touch with God’s key messages to me this year:

§ Stop striving, instead relax and receive

§ Sit at my feet and listen to me, like Mary of Bethany

§ Learn to live by the unforced rhythms of grace

These are not messages of doing but of being. I ‘do’ best when I focus on ‘being’ with God and ‘being’ myself with him, often gut wrenchingly so. So many times I have come home torn between between what I have personally think I know of God and what I have been told from the front. I end up confused and generally convinced that I must be wrong somewhere, that my experience is false in some way.

Yet there is a positive side to all this: it forces me to go further into God searching for answers. Asking for truth about the matter – his truth not mine or someone else’s. Sometimes it comes quickly such as a verse which leaping out of the page. At others there is no reply and I learn to live with the ambiguity of life but safe in the knowledge that I sought to find answers which in itself gives me an element of peace about it all.

Through it all I am learning to trust the part of God that I know to be true. It is hard and there is much refining to be done and many more parts to discover – however we need to start somewhere with God, whichever part that may be for each of us.

And in the end I just come down to trusting that the God’s elephantness and grace is big enough to make amends when I am blind and deaf to truth.

So which parts of God are you hanging onto or just beginning to explore?  Which ones are you desperately trying to avoid?  Let me know

Jo x

Resilience – or rather, the lack of it

Standard

chainThis morning I was desperate to run away. I wanted to be in a place with no responsibilities and no-one making demands on me. I wanted to take myself away from the world run and ‘just’ rest.

But deep down I knew that a bit of space was not the answer.  I was too agitated to rest. I was worried and felt overwhelmed by silly little things.  Things that wouldn’t bother most people.  But I am not most people.  I worry about many things, mostly to do with change and my ability (or rather inability) to cope with situations.

Life has taught me that I am not a resilient person.  I want to run away because in my mind it is not ok to say that I can’t cope.  I have to be strong and be seen to be strong.  It is not ok to say I am tired or weak. 

Most of my fears in life are related in some way to the fear of not being able to cope.  And today was no exception. 

Being an anxious person has crippled me as a Christian for many years.  How many times have I heard that the phrase ‘Do Not Fear’ is the most repeated instruction in the Bible? 365 times – one for each day of the year.  Yet what is the thing I struggle with the most?  Fear.

For me to admit fear is to have a deep sense of shame because I am failing at one of God’s key commands.  I have tried to ‘Feel the Fear and do it anyway’ and CBT type mind mantras but neither seemed to work.  The gnawing ache inside didn’t shift one bit.  Instead it adds the sense of shame for not being strong enough to overcome my worries.

As I bumbled around the house, phaffing about in an attempt to ignore the feelings God gradually brought to mind the lessons He has been teaching me.

The only thing that works for me is to acknowledge both the fear and the shame.  Be open and honest about it all both with myself and with God.  When Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1

NIV) he wasn’t telling me off for being fearful.  The title of chapter 14 is ‘Jesus Comforts His Disciples’. Instead he is gently comforting and reminding me that I do not need to fear because he is at hand.  I am not alone in this.

Never will I leave you;
      never  will I forsake you.”

~ Hebrews 13:5 NIV

I do not need to fear: Jesus is near.

Also, I have come to realise that the toughest part is facing my fears.  Once I have acknowledged them they no longer seem so daunting.  It is like being a child and imagining monsters under my bed at night.  When someone turns on the light they are seen for what they are: figments of my imagination.  Not that all my fears are illusions.  Many of them are genuine, but kept hidden away in the dark recesses of my soul they multiply and seem insurmountable.

1 John 1:9 tells us to confess our sins, yet it is not only our sins that we need to admit to God.  He desires that we share with Him our needs and our longings and our fears too.  We are to bring it all out into God’s light because 

“God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.”

~ 1 John 1:5 NIV

It is ok to be honest with God – He knows it all anyway.  With Him we can learn to expose and deal with the darkness within.  Keeping it hidden away and festering in the dark is one of Satan’s best tricks.  He tells us that it is too dark, too terrible to share with God but that is a lie. Nothing is too awful to share.

For years when I apologised to God I would hang around with head bowed low waiting for a word of rebuke and chastisement.  Yet instead of words there was nothing but silence, total and utter silence.  At first I thought that this too was God’s way of showing me he was still angry – the silent treatment.  But slowly, ever so slowly, I realised the truth.  The silence was good; it was God’s way of saying it was gone, forgiven and forgotten.

He ‘remembers your sins no more.’ 

~ Isaiah 43:25 NIV

I will never be a resilient person who just breezes through life and bounces back but then God never created me to be self-sufficient.  His often repeated instruction to me is:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  

~  2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV

My inability to stand on my own two feet is a good thing because it makes me so dependant on Him.  When I am weak then I am strong.

 

Is resilience something that you struggle with?  What helps you to deal with your weaknesses?  Let me know.

Jo x

strength

changed by the chisel

Standard

The other day many thoughts were running through my head (as ever) and somewhere in the background Ephesians 2:10 kept cropping up:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Often I struggle to believe that I am God’s ‘masterpiece’.  What are the good works I have been created to do?  And more to the point when do I ever get to be ready to do them, rather than keep tripping up along the way? 

One moment I am going along and life is fine and I think that I am doing fine.  Then out of the blue, whoops, I blow it somehow and rushing up to the fore come all my bad points. So, then I start feeling ashamed for ever having contemplated that I could ever do doing ok.  Mixed up in all that is the gnawing wish that God would just leave me alone and stop shaping and moulding me – can’t I just stay as I am for a little while.  It would be nice to spend more time in a comfort zone than out of it.  Yes, I can see the benefits of all this moulding in hindsight but a rest along the way to admire the view would be nice.

And then the day after I received this clip.  It is awesome.

If like me, you struggle with struggling, then watch this and be inspired to keep going.

holding on to his hem

Standard

woman_Jesus_hemorrhage150There are times when we come to the end of ourselves, ground down, utterly weary and beaten.  Life has sapped our strength, as disappointments have overtaken hopes. We have tried everything and still not been able to mend whatever it is that has been broken. It gnaws away at our very souls.

 It was the same for the woman who had been bleeding for twelve long years.  During that time, she had spent all her resources on doctors seeking out a cure.  Now she was penniless and almost out of hope.  

And a woman was there [in the crowd pressed around Jesus] who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.

 What happens in moments such as these?  As we come to the end of all we have and are, where do we go now?  What do we do?

When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Mark 5:24-34 (Today’s New International Version)

 The woman chose to reach out to Jesus knowing that he alone could save her.

Nothing else would work. 

No one else would do.

 

Jesus senses that touch and looks back, ignoring the disciples whittling on about the crowds.  He won’t move on until he has spoken to the person reaching out to him.

 Twice she has to go to him.  The first time she barely touches the tassels on the corner of his cloak.  This time she speaks directly with Jesus himself.  Both times it took courage.  Both times he responds to her. Touching his cloak she is healed physically.  After speaking face to face with Jesus she receives something even more precious.

 In Hebrew “Go in peace” is ‘Shalom’ which means wholeness.  Jesus not only heals her body but speaks words of life into her very soul as well.

 

 That word is not only for a woman 2,000 years ago.  It is for all of us.  Jesus came that we all might have life and have it to the full (John 10:10).

 But, like the woman, in order to receive it we have to reach out.  Jesus is waiting and willing but we need to ask first.

 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:16 (New International Version)

Reach out and grab the hem of his garment.  Jesus is never too busy with the rest of the crowd.  He will stop and look back for you.  He will listen as you tell him your story.  He will speak healing into your life.

 “Take heart, your faith has healed you.

Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

 

 

If this has spoken to you in any way or you too know what it is like to wait for healing then write and let me know.  Hope often comes from knowing that you are not the only one like this and others have gone this way and found what they were seeking.

The unforced rhythms of grace

Standard

monetStop striving.  Relax and receive. 

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

God spoke these words into my life about two months ago.  They sound wonderful don’t they?  Chill out.  Stop trying so hard.  Learn to rest.

So why am I finding it so difficult to live like this?  Everything in me should welcome this opportunity to slow down and live life at a slower, gentler pace but instead everything fights against it because it doesn’t make sense or match up with my experience of life, including the 20 odd (and at times very odd) years of being a Christian.  I always thought it was all about striving to be a better person; going out of your way for others at your own expense; laying down and let them walk all over you.  That is certainly how I read the Bible and interpreted the countless sermons I have heard.

Yet God seems to saying something different.  He is telling me to spend more time reclining against him as Mary did at Jesus’ feet in Luke 10.  But I am still being very Martha-like fussing about all the stuff that needs doing.  It all seems so illogical.

I write this because it may be that God is trying to say the same thing to you.  If so, join me on the journey and hopefully we can learn from one another.

15 This is what the Sovereign Lord,
      the Holy One of Israel, says:
   “Only in returning to me
      and resting in me will you be saved.
   In quietness and confidence is your strength.
      But you would have none of it.
 16 You said, ‘No, we will get our help from Egypt.
      They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.’
   But the only swiftness you are going to see
      is the swiftness of your enemies chasing you!
 17 One of them will chase a thousand of you.
      Five of them will make all of you flee.
   You will be left like a lonely flagpole on a hill
      or a tattered banner on a distant mountaintop.”

Blessings for the Lord’s People

18 So the Lord must wait for you to come to him
      so he can show you his love and compassion.
   For the Lord is a faithful God.
      Blessed are those who wait for his help.

Isaiah 30:15-18 (New Living Translation)

 

Is this something that you struggle with?  How does God help you to rest and avoid the franticness of life?  Let me know your thoughts.

Jo x