What is Truth?

The noonday devil of the Christian life is the temptation to lose the inner self while preserving the shell of edifying behaviour. Suddenly I discover that I am ministering to AIDs victims to enhance my resumé. I find I renounced ice cream for Lent to lose five excess pounds. I drop hints about the absolute priority of meditation and contemplation to create the impression that I am a man of prayer. At some unremembered moment I have lost the connection between internal purity of heart and external works of piety. 

~ from The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

Ouch. Yes, I have to constantly be on my guard against the deceit of pride and/or shame. In truth, I lose my temper – though thankfully not as frequently nowadays, I think bad thoughts, I say things I shouldn’t say, I do things or don’t do things that I know I should or shouldn’t do. I am very, very flawed. I am not going to list all my sins here for public consumption. They are all, I hope, acknowledged and brought before Jesus. Forgiveness is the most wonderful gift. It means we can start every day as fresh as a new born and for that I am eternally, wholly and completely thankful.

 

Come with Nothing

 

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Come to the table. Come, sit at His feet.

Come if you’re able, come if you’re meek.

Come if you’re broken, come if you’re lost.

Come, come touch the heavenly cloth

Of His robe,

And feel Him breathe into your soul –

All your discarded shards

Made whole.

 

It’s not glue that binds shards together,

It’s grace;

Grace for the humble,

Grace for the race

You thought you had lost,

Grace for the weary and scrap-heap tossed.

 

His yoke is easy and His burden is light,

His words are joy and His love a delight,

You won’t find Him in comfort

Or in success,

You’ll find Him when you’re sure you’re the last to be blessed.

 

He was there in your past, He’s here in the mess,

Come join the raggedy-taggledy fest!

Come to the table. Come, sit at His feet,

And learn from the Master the Way of the Least.

~ Sandyfaithking, 2016

 

I think it’s a bit too close to doggerel for my liking, but sometimes you have to write and be done with it, I reckon. This poem was inspired by these words from Laura Martin’s book ‘Positively Powerless’:

Isaiah 57:15 states:

For this is what the high and exalted one says – He who lives forever, whose name is holy, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

It almost seems a contradiction: God dwells in a high and holy place, but He also dwells with the contrite and lowly. It is a startling contrast: we get close to God by realising how far we are from Him… Jesus taught similar principles… The ‘blessed’ are those who are poor in spirit, mournful and meek – those  who realise they come to the spiritual table with nothing to offer.

Highlighting is my own, not Laura’s. You can read more intelligent, interesting insights over at Laura’s blog: lightenough.WordPress.com

 

Reblog: Twitter sheds light on non-physical forms of abuse

Abuse has many faces. For many years I stayed with the highly abusive man who was my first husband because of teachings like this (see video below). My children learned that it was ok to be nasty to mummy. They were being brought up in a miserable, soul-destroying home. It is not the abuse towards me that breaks my heart to recall, it is the fact that they were there too. I have no words to describe the abject horror of the seemingly innocuous words from John Piper on this issue. This teaching is not just wrong, it is wicked.

The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors

The Twitter handle #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou, started by the BBC, has given victims of emotional, spiritual, financial and other forms of abuse a platform to share a glimpse into their experiences.

Often, the pain and trauma of non-physical abuse is dismissed or ignored.  Because the bruising to a victim’s psyche and soul are not visible, they do not receive the help and healing needed or the support to leave.  Slowly, they are beaten down to a place of low self-esteem and self-doubt and they begin to believe the lies of their abuser.  They experience symptoms of PTSD or anxiety or other conditions from their distress and this gives their abuser the added ammunition to claim they are the crazy one, they are the cause of the abuse.

Sadly, these types of abuse are very common in…

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No Better

From the Shaun Groves album Third World Symphony

I sometimes wonder how I can call myself a follower of Christ when I still sin. But God, in His inexplicable majesty, instead of condemning me on my confession, seems to chuckle and say, “You’re not the only one. Just know that your sin, and your confession, keep you humble, and that’s the best place to be. It’s not the best way to do it, but – I love you. You’re forgiven. Seventy times seven and all that…”

I keep quiet, knowing that I probably used up my 490 quite some time ago.

Humility

Why are our churches so full of pride? Why do we find so many people within the body of Christ whose goal is to be ‘right’ or ‘the best’ or in power? Why are there so many who would exclude and look down on others for certain things, but they neither offer a hand in love nor cease their own wrongdoings? Why is pride so often overlooked? Why do we let this incredibly destructive sin course through the very veins of the Church? Why is this so rarely preached about? I can recall a single sermon on humility. That’s it. In decades.

Reading the following scripture this morning made me think of our church’s new pastor. One of his foremost qualities that I really appreciate is his humility. He’s ready and willing to be a ‘true disciple’. How very sad that this is so rare.

[Jesus said,] ‘The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers… I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Luke 18:9-14, NRSVA

Humility is not optional in the Kingdom.

 

An Intimately Personal Struggle

Now the definition of sin that many of us were given was a thought, word or deed contrary to the Law of God. The requirements for sin were three:

  1. You had to have full knowledge.
  2. It had to be a grievous matter.
  3.  You had to give it full consent.

It all sounds reasonable at first glance, but actually it’s not a definition of biblical sin at all. It’s a juridical definition of law. We lost touch with the biblical tradition and the intimately personal struggle meant by the word ‘sin’. We made the whole thing juridical, where we could easily identify it, shame it and enforce it. Thus our concerns came with external behaviour that could be pointed to, measured, defined and controlled, or brought into ‘court’ as it were. You cannot do that with mercy, justice and good faith… which Jesus calls the ‘weightier’ matters of the Law.

~ Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality by Richard Rohr

…Jesus addressed the crowds and his disciples. “The scribes and the Pharisees speak with the authority of Moses,” he told them, “so you must do what they tell you and follow their instructions. But you must not imitate their lives! For they preach but do not practise. They pile up back-breaking burdens and lay them on other men’s shoulders—yet they themselves will not raise a finger to move them. Their whole lives are planned with an eye to effect. They… love seats of honour at dinner parties… They love to be greeted with respect in public places… The only ‘superior’ among you is the one who serves the others. For every man who promotes himself will be humbled, and every man who learns to be humble will find promotion.

extract from Matthew 23:1-12 (JB Phillips)

It’s as if Jesus is waving and shouting, “You’re looking in the wrong place!” but we’re all so busy doing ‘religion’ that we either can’t see Him or we ignore Him. We’re preoccupied with either ourselves and our egos or with the opposite – with worry about doing the ‘right thing’.

Reblog: Never Sent Away

I wish I had recalled this truth before I snapped at two of my children this morning. I did recognise that it was a sign that I needed to actively focus on Him, because I know that when I do focus just on Him I have plenty of patience. I said sorry to my children and they both responded very sweetly, showing that God is and has been working for good in all things because my children have learned how to be gracious! I am not thankful for my own wilfulness but I was so glad to see God in Prince and Chip. He is generous beyond measure!

Contemplative in the Mud

If you become accustomed to having Him at your side and if He sees that you love to have Him there and are always trying to please Him, you will never be able to, so to speak, send Him away.
Saint Teresa of Jesus

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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

Cathy, Come Home

One of my favourite scenes of any novel that I have ever read comes from Wuthering Heights, that dark, brooding tale of obsession and death (why anyone would think it’s romantic is beyond me but that’s not the focus of this post). It is one of very few novels where the main characters, Heathcliff and Cathy, are utterly unlikeable yet remain genuinely compelling. Emily Brontë was a genius. This is the scene of which I speak:

This time, I remembered I was lying in the oak closet, and I heard distinctly the gusty wind, and the driving of the snow; I heard, also, the fir bough repeat its teasing sound, and ascribed it to the right cause: but it annoyed me so much, that I resolved to silence it, if possible; and, I thought, I rose and endeavoured to unhasp the casement. The hook was soldered into the staple: a circumstance observed by me when awake, but forgotten. ‘I must stop it, nevertheless!’ I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand! The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, ‘Let me in—let me in!’ ‘Who are you?’ I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself. ‘Catherine Linton,’ it replied, shiveringly (why did I think of Linton? I had read Earnshaw twenty times for Linton) ‘I’m come home: I’d lost my way on the moor!’ As it spoke, I discerned, obscurely, a child’s face looking through the window. Terror made me cruel; and, finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bedclothes: still it wailed, ‘Let me in!’ and maintained its tenacious gripe, almost maddening me with fear. ‘How can I!’ I said at length. ‘Let me go, if you want me to let you in!’ The fingers relaxed, I snatched mine through the hole, hurriedly piled the books up in a pyramid against it, and stopped my ears to exclude the lamentable prayer. I seemed to keep them closed above a quarter of an hour; yet, the instant I listened again, there was the doleful cry moaning on! ‘Begone!’ I shouted. ‘I’ll never let you in, not if you beg for twenty years.’ ‘It is twenty years,’ mourned the voice: ‘twenty years. I’ve been a waif for twenty years!’ 

I have felt like that voice in the desperate darkness. Sometimes I have felt like I’ve been wandering, desolate and lost on the moors for so many years that I’ve forgotten what home is like. That cry of “twenty years!” strikes at my soul.

Twenty years ago my friends all went off to university. I didn’t. I was ill. Three years later I went away to college with a view to moving onto university after a year. Two weeks after that I had the utter misfortune to meet my first boyfriend, 12 years my senior. 18 months after we met he had coerced me not only out of my long-held dreams of studying but into a controlling marriage and even motherhood. I found myself mother to an autistic child (not that I knew that then, of course, but there were signs), living in a council flat with a jobless, manipulative psycho. What the **** happened? I spent so many years feeling like… like a cockroach. Waiting to be squashed. Disgusting and despised.

Nowadays… I sometimes just wish – I wish I could feel like I had achieved something. I wish I didn’t feel so different to everyone else. Last week I received a certificate of participation for a course I studied via Future Learn. For me, this was a big deal. Straight away I wanted to go out and get a frame so I could put it on the wall. I don’t have any certificates other than my rather pathetic 6 GCSEs. It doesn’t matter that I taught myself in order to pass them (I was too poorly to go to school most of the time). I didn’t do A-levels. I didn’t get the degree. I didn’t have a career. I didn’t do all the other stuff my contemporaries did. I never ‘fulfilled my potential’. So for me, this certificate from Future Learn meant – well, quite a lot, actually. But even my own husband made a joke about it. He didn’t mean to cause upset and I wouldn’t take to the blogwaves to complain about my spouse, that’s really not my point. It’s just that, well, sometimes I’m fed up of being different. I’m fed up of people who have led really good lives and they don’t even know it, who live like kings and don’t see it.

Don’t worry. This is not going to be a great long wallow in self-pity. There’s just one thing that I would like to say to the blogosphere in general: if you had the chance at education, at making choices, at being a ‘normal’ Western teenager, a ‘normal’ young adult – just recognise how lucky you were. Please. And if in your life you have been granted more than enough, whether it be materially or spiritually, in friendship or in love – please take it as your God-imbued duty to be thankful, to be accountable for what you do with what you have been given, and to share.

Actually, make that two things. There are two things I’d like to say. The second is to please try your very best to make the disaffected welcome. Especially in churches. Churches aren’t supposed to be full of well-fed, content middle-class people. More often than not they are. They’re supposed to be home to the movers and the shakers and the sinners and the broken – one big messy family, made holy in Christ. Last week I was brave enough to share with someone at church that I’d been receiving treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She just frowned at me.

Churches must wake up to the broken within their walls, as well as the broken without. It’s not ok to exclude people because you don’t understand them or because they scare you. It’s not ok to not make an effort to include someone, however unappealing they may be. Ask yourself: who is my neighbour? What does that really mean?

Jesus never excluded anyone. In fact, He always did the opposite… and that knowledge always cheers me up no end. I know that if Jesus were to sit here with me, He’d say that I have been given gifts beyond measure. He’d point out that I’m just about to begin my next module with the Open University. He’d point out all the wonderful things I’ve been able to do with my family. He’d even remind me that, no matter how tough EMDR was, I’ve reaped the benefits in the past few months. Jesus would show me again my wonderful husband, and my super children. He’d say that I’ve found the most important thing in my love for Him. With Jesus there is no lost wandering on the moor. There is no desolation or despair. Jesus says, “Cathy, come home.”

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This post was prompted in part by a post over at Sacred Wrightings, which is a very good blog if you ever have the chance to take a look. The author, Terry, is much more learned than I and I have learned a lot from reading what he has to say. He’s also quite funny.

All These Things

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“All these things I have observed from my youth. What do I still lack?”

Matthew 19:20 (WEB)

Perhaps the world would be a better place if we, as Christians, instead of presenting a list of all the things we do do – tick, tick, tick the boxes – asked our Lord what we still need to do. If we did this continually, maybe we would remain in a state of humility, which is where we’re supposed to begin.