Live

…God [loves] us in spite of ourselves in the very places where we cannot or will not or dare not love ourselves.

God does not love us if we change, God loves us so that we can change.

~ from Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps by Richard Rohr

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from idpinthat.com

“Tell them that as surely as I, the Sovereign LORD, am the living God, I do not enjoy seeing sinners die. I would rather see them stop sinning and live.”

Ezekiel 33:11 (GNT)

“I came [so] that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10 (NRSVA)

Trust

 

Trust clings to the belief that whatever happens in our lives is designed to teach us holiness. The love of Christ inspires trust to thank God for the nagging headache, the arthritis that is so painful, the spiritual darkness that envelops us, to say with Job ‘if we take happiness from God’s hands, must we not take sorrow too?’ 

 ~ from The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

Being Mummy

My kids still all call me ‘mummy’. The girls will also call me the slightly more grown-up ‘mum’, but for Prince, with his need for things to stay the same, it’s ‘mummy’ even at 16. I love being ‘mummy’ although there have been a few times when I have muttered something along the lines of ‘I’m going to change my name’, especially when there are several voices clamouring all at once. This is even more apparent when we have Grandma with us, too, because with her dementia comes a lessened awareness of those around her (at least, I think that’s what it is). I might have children asking me for help, or advice, or permission, and Grandma happily chimes in with her own observations or question, with seemingly no idea that the kids are bombarding me too! Still, I have to say, I have one of the nicest mother-in-laws on the planet. And three lovely, lively children. We’re far from the perfect family but, by grace, we’re ok. There’s a lot of love in our higgledy-piggledy house. More than enough, because our God is a God of abundance.

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from idpinthat.com

I made peace with feeling inadequate because the truth is I was. I still am; we all are… Look at Mary, the mother of Christ… [she was very young] when she became a mother. I’m sure she was no more ready than I was to answer a high-pitched voice when asked all sorts of questions to which she didn’t know the answers. But God had called her to parent, and so she did. 

When I thought about Mary, I decided not to strive to be a perfect mother, but to simply endeavour to be like she was: completely unprepared, but ready to take the child God handed to her…

Mary was a mother. I am a mother…

God has a way of using inadequate people… We simply trust Him, and then we have everything we need to do the ‘more’ that He has asked of us.

~ from Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20,21 (NRSVA)

Grace Now, Consequences Now

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2 (NRSVA)

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…our decisions do have consequences and meaning in eternity…

Threat and fear is not transformation. [Christianity has become] a soul-saving society for the next world instead of a healing of body, soul and society now and, therefore, forever.

 

All of Jesus’ healings, touchings and salvations… were clearly about now. He never once said, “Be good now and I will give you a reward later.” [There is not] one prerequisite that Jesus ever has for a single one of His healings. The healing… [is] an end in itself and has nothing to do with earning it. For Jesus, all rewards are inherent to the action itself and all punishments are inherent to the action itself, but we largely pushed off all rewards and punishments into the future. I sometimes wonder if we clergy and preachers do not have an unconscious but a vested interest in keeping people co-dependent on us by holding [the] carrot [of heaven] always out in front of them. It is clearly ‘now and forever’ talk in Jesus, but we’ve made it into ‘not now, but perhaps forever if you play the game right’.

~ from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality by Richard Rohr

 

I can’t decide whether it’s stupid, wicked or just plain sad that for so many (especially we evangelicals) Christianity is about life after death instead of Life now. If Faith was just about ‘salvation’ (i.e. what happens after we die) then Jesus would not have spent several years preaching and teaching and healing and revealing the very nature of God.

I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture [i.e. NOW, not just after death] I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

 from John 10:9,10

 

Also, for some this Life is misinterpreted as legalism, e.g. if I follow the list of rules I’m ok. This is understandable, especially when we’re young or have a new faith. We all think if we can be told what to do, we’ll be different. Sorted.

But grace isn’t about rules. First, there isn’t a list long enough that it could hold all of the ‘rules’ if they existed. Second, you haven’t got a hope of following all the rules if they were all written down (did a single person manage to keep the Laws of the Old Testament?). Third, Jesus made it simple. He broke it down:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34,35

 

Legalism is a replacement for grace and one that, I sense, makes God sad, because we can never live up to it. It becomes all about what’s on the outside rather than changing what’s on the inside. Legalism results in shame and guilt, or a wrongful sense of pride (see Matthew 23:27-28).

Fourth, rules allow us to feel in control. It is scary to give everything over to God and to trust Him with every aspect of our lives! But we must relinquish our desire for control (whether of ourselves or others) when we follow Jesus, because grace is free.

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Trusting God is a bit like jumping out of an aeroplane wearing a parachute. Only you haven’t seen the parachute – you’ve just been told it’s there. It is scary! But the views are astounding. And you’ll never be the same again. (image from idpinthat.com)

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.

John 10:27,28

 

The Giver of Good Things

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[At] Easter… Wilberforce was writing to his sister… on a beautiful day, ‘The day has been delightful. I was out before six. I think my own devotions become more fervent when offered in this way amidst the general chorus with which all nature seems to be swelling the song of praise and thanksgiving… and neither in the sanctuary nor at a table, I trust, had I a heart unwarmed with gratitude to the giver of good things.’

~ William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner

by William Hague

Sam, the Recipient of Crumbs

I sat there in the office all morning and only a few Negroes came in, although the teenagers on the streets with ballot boxes were having better luck… The longer I sat there, the madder I got… If Negroes truly wanted to vote, they would have come in the office and done so. “They know it’s just a freedom vote,” I thought. “They also know Aaron Henry is a Negro. After three weeks of walking and talking until we were collapsing in the streets, these are the results we get… Until we can come up with some good sound plans to help the Negroes solve their immediate problems – that is, a way to get a little food into their bellies, a roof over their heads, and a few coins in their pockets – we will be talking forever. They will never stop being scared of Mr. Charlie until we are able to replace the crumbs that Mr. Charlie is giving them. Until we can say, ‘Here is a job, Sam. Work hard and stand up and be a man.’ Not until we can do that or find some way for Sam to do that, will Sam stand up. If we don’t, Sam will forever be a boy, an uncle or just plain Sam, the recipient of crumbs.”

~ *’Coming of Age in Mississippi’ by Anne Moody

Good intentions, the best of intentions = not worth much when people are hungry, or homeless. A person’s dignity cannot be realised when they’re unable to provide for themselves and their family. I am reminded of Thérèse of Lisieux – I can’t remember the exact quote and I can’t recall which book it’s from(!) but she wrote that, although every one of us is sinful and broken, we have a God-breathed dignity that means that we can stand before Him (and before the world), small as we are, without shame. We should treat one another in the same way, especially those who are suffering. God gives some of us more than enough so that we can share – and I don’t just mean handouts, I mean treating one another with the respect that a God-imbued dignity deserves.

*’Coming of Age in Mississippi’ is an incredible book. It is the autobiographical account of a young woman’s life in rural Mississippi as a black, abused child, and how she grew up into a strong, determined woman who decided to take a stand against injustice. I’ve been the victim of abuse (though not racism) so can relate to an extent, but the fact that Anne Moody chose to put herself in harm’s way to advocate for the rights of black people in Mississippi and elsewhere is nothing short of amazing. She is no saint – and paints no one else as saints either, just as the complex beings that we all are, even when we have the best of intentions. That makes this book all the better! It is an honest, detailed account of one person’s experiences in the mid-20th century and imho should be required reading for anyone who thinks they understand what constitutes racism and/or misogyny (especially if they have, by default, experienced neither). 

Courage isn’t courage unless you’re afraid

Courage is not courage unless you’re afraid. Courage is being afraid, but trying anyway. Have you ever been afraid? I have. A lot. It left me scarred.

Ann Voskamp has a post today entitled ‘When loving your enemies, the stranger & your neighbor feels way too risky‘ (it is an excellent post; please click to read it). What could be riskier, when you’ve been betrayed in the worst possible ways by those you loved? Never mind loving your enemies, what could be riskier than loving your friends? Especially when it was those who were supposed to love you, to protect you, who hurt you most. They took advantage of your vulnerability so that in every small thing your loss was their gain. If you can call it gain. In the end it’s torture for them, too. That I can see, now. Healing brings clarity. It doesn’t make it any better, though, and it doesn’t stop the past from jumping up and shouting ‘”BOO!” even though, praise God, EMDR lessens the intensity.

And yet, by grace, five years ago, pre-EMDR, I stood at the front of the church and said “I do” to this other man – this man who would be my rescuer, my lover, my surest friend. Friendships are risky, whatever form they take, especially if you’ve been hurt too often to count.

Count. I like counting. That’s why I love maths – because it has no emotions. It’s a relief. We played Countdown last night. I bought the DVD version from the charity shop and four of us, Frank, Fluff, Chip and I, we sat and we made words from letters and sums from numbers. It was good. We made sense out of nonsense, a workable whole from the fractured parts. Isn’t that what following Christ is all about?

 

‘Everything we do in life either brings us closer to God or takes us further away; there are no neutral activities.’

Longing for God, Richard Foster & Gayle Beebe

 

Relationships, friendships: what I most desire… in some ways. And what scares me, in many ways. How do you let someone in without letting too much of yourself out? How do you love without hurting?

I don’t suppose you do – seeing as they’re human. Seeing as I’m human. By grace, we do it anyway.

*’As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.’

John 15:9 (NRSVA)

*The above verse is also, incidentally, my baptismal verse. I get goosebumps thinking about it. There is not one other verse in the whole of God’s wonderful Word that is more ‘for me’ and my life. I remember looking at the pastor as he gave it to me. He seemed surprised. I wasn’t. It seemed perfectly right. The whole moment seemed ‘right’, as if we were fulfilling a beautiful, divinely conceived idea. Providence indeed. Thank you, Lord.

Smudges on the Mirror

I was feeling low. Feeling useless (lies from the past still creep up on me post-EMDR, even if not as much as they used to). This led to me succumbing to temptation. I sinned. Then I beat myself up over it. I felt like what on earth -or under heaven – is the point in being a Christian if I just carry on sinning? I couldn’t, at that point, see the work God has done in me, by grace, all I could see was this great big useless blobby blot of sin. My prayers, such as they were, were a tangled mess along the lines of ‘I don’t know why you bother with me, God, I’m useless. You might as well not have bothered with the crucifixion and everything because I just go and throw it back in Your face and sin.’ I trudged upstairs.

The mirror in the bathroom was really nasty. Smeared with toothpaste and goodness knows what. I fetched the bottle of white vinegar and squirted it onto the mirror. I wiped a few times. It was still smudgy. Luckily, I already knew that the trick to cleaning with vinegar is to keep wiping and wiping, turning the cloth over so that you’re always wiping with a dry spot. After a minute or two – hey, presto! – it gleams.

All of a sudden I could see myself clearly. It was as if God said, “Hey! You! Yes, you are useless on your own. But that’s ok. So’s everyone else. Bunch of numpties, the lot of ’em. But I love you, so as long as you keep seeking the truth, keep aiming for shiny, all you have to do is show up; let me do the rest. If you try to go it alone you just end up with smudges. You can try wiping them, but you’ll just get more smudges. With me, I make it all new and shiny, and you can see clearly again.”

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“Mirror” by Cgs – English Wikipedia

Oh, yeah…

‘Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”’

Revelation 21:5 (NKJV)

 

Lessons from housework. Who knew? I am reminded of God’s beautiful blessing for the Israelites:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
 The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
 The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”’

Numbers 6:24-26

Prayer

‘Prayer is the deliberate and steadfast action of the soul’ wrote Julian of Norwich. At its most basic level, prayer is simply talking to God, but the nature of prayer – what it is, how it works, how it benefits us and others – has much greater implications.

Prayer tip #1: God is not a slot machine

There are some common misconceptions about prayer that are rarely spoken of within the Church, which is a huge shame. These misconceptions can lead to a sense of distance between oneself and God, diminished relationships with God and with fellow believers, a sense that God isn’t really listening or, worse, an idea that God is like some kind of heavenly slot machine who will give me what I want if only I can pray the right words, or have enough ‘faith’ (this is not faith – this is superstition, hence the inverted commas), or do the right things (this is living by rules instead of grace – also false). But God has never been a heavenly slot machine!

Right through the bible, from the very beginning, God communicates with His people on His terms – and these terms are always those of love, of relationship, not seaside superstition.

But now thus says the Lord,
    he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1 (NRSVA)

Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe write about Thomas Aquinas’ ideas on prayer in their book ‘Longing for God’. They write that he identified several problems or ‘mistakes’ about the nature and function of prayer:

  1. The world operates independently of God – in which case it would appear that God is utterly disinterested.
  2. Everything is fixed – if it is all already fixed, why bother praying?
  3. God changes His mind. ‘This belief arises out of our temptation to interpret certain passages inadequately, or our egocentric hope that God will soften the consequences we bring into our life by our own actions.’ 

Further, they say:

‘Prayer is not telling God what we think, or simply thanking Him for His provision of food and drink. Rather, it is our active, intentional effort to understand what God is doing and how we can join Him. Thus through prayer we become co-participants with God. God’s will sets everything in motion. Our will, directed by devotion and prayer, allows us to participate in His purposes.’ 

Longing for God, Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe

Prayer is a gift, a wonderful gift.

Humility is Strength, not Weakness

Humility… is a result of seeing ourselves properly. It involves recognising that our gifts and abilities need to be developed further. It understands that others have gifts and abilities as well. Humility allows us to see our role in the greater purposes of God’s design without feeling threatened by the achievements of others.

Foster & Beebe, Longing for God

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Happy are those who are humble; 

they will receive what God has promised!

Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; 

God will satisfy them fully!

Matthew 5:5,6 (GNT)

I think humility is always a good place to begin. This is a kind of motto for me, if ever I am confused or befuddled (which happens to us all more readily than we care to admit). In our me-obsessed world, humility is often confused with weakness or lack of confidence. It is neither. On the contrary, humility is not self-degradation at all but a recognition of the true value of myself and others as children of the Most High God. We are one in Him, so there is no requirement for pride. If I belong to God, I don’t have to be ‘better’, and I can never be ‘worse’. Comparison and all its ugly trappings are gone. Humility is freedom to truly be who God made me to be.