Brought Low

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In the parable of the prodigal son, the black sheep of the family, having squandered every last penny and lived the reckless high life (crime? exploitation? addiction?) until he had nothing left and no roof over his head, comes home to his father to say sorry and beg for forgiveness. He thinks maybe he can do some kind of low-status, menial labour for his father. Besides, he has nowhere else to go.

Brennan Manning, in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, writes: ‘The emphasis of Christ’s story is not on the sinfulness of the son but on the generosity of the father. We ought to re-read this parable periodically if only to catch the delicate nuance of the first meeting between the two. The son had his speech carefully rehearsed… but the old man didn’t let him finish… [the son] doesn’t even have a chance to say to his father “I’m sorry”.

How  many times have we judged those, both inside and outside the Church, as ‘less-than’ or not worthy enough? How many times have we ourselves been brought to the place where we recognise that we are utterly broken, sinful beyond repair? Because it’s only when you’re in the broken state, fully aware of your lowliness, that you can begin to appreciate how great is the love of God. He can’t begin to occupy your soul unless you give it up to Him. It’s not something we can achieve on our own. This I learned at Celebrate Recovery and in some ways I think I will always be learning this truth, but that’s ok.

I like to think of it as a vase, oh so very pretty on the outside – a rare and delicate Ming vase, say, but inside dark and empty. One day the vase is smashed to smithereens*. The Maker carefully glues it back together, paying little attention to the outward appearance, and then sets a lamp inside. Suddenly the jumbled-up pieces and the cracks reveal the bright, glorious light of the Creator. This is grace.

 

*It is of no consequence whether we are brought low because of our own sin and destructive nature, or from the sin and destructive nature of others (for example with abuse), or even from illness. God redeems all and treats all the same – and who are we to say that it should be done differently? As soon as I think I know better, I make myself equal to God. And that’s just daft. No, instead we rejoice because we were lost and now we are found.

Without Ceasing

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It’s a cliché to want world peace, is it not? It’s the kind of thing you say if you are ever asked what you would wish for if you had three wishes, like in the fairy tales. But on learning of yet another terrorist attack, this time in Turkey, one has to wonder if there will ever be a time when people stop killing one another and spreading the anti-gospel of fear and hatred.

In my comfortable existence here in the UK, I know how far I am from being able to do anything. Our family are taking part in a sponsored 24 hours without power to raise money for ShelterBox, which supplies refugees with emergency shelter, cooking equipment, etc. It’s not much but it’s something. You can read more here: Off the Grid 

Meantime, let’s pray without ceasing, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians. Let’s give thanks for what is being done to help refugees. Let’s pray for the aid workers and the families who have been forced to flee their homes. Let’s pray for those who are caught up in the twisted rhetoric of the Islamic State, that they will come to desire a different way to be, that they will recognise that what they do – the way they kill and steal and destroy, ruling by fear and fear alone – is a terminal spiral into more violence, more death, more evil.

Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. How many times have you done that? We often forget. I forget. I have prayed for the people who abused me, but it’s not easy! It makes me very uncomfortable. I have to ask God to help me to do it. But it’s part of what makes me different than if I had no faith. It’s part of living in and as His image. It’s a reflection of His perfect grace, however imperfectly reflected!

So today, as well as praying for the victims and their families, let’s pray that the hearts and minds of the terrorist groups will be opened, and that they will come to know the love and peace that passes all understanding. Sometimes prayer and love are the only weapons we have. But they’re also the best.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…”

 Matthew 5:43-45 (NRSVA)

Reason

“…Of us God demands that we apply our reason to many obscure things about which Scripture has left us free to decide, and when someone suggests you believe in a proposition, you must first examine it to see whether it is acceptable, because our reason was created by God, and whatever pleases our reason can but please divine reason, of which, for that matter, we know only what we infer from the processes of our own reason by analogy and often by negation…”

from The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Interesting to find so much of relevance to 21st century Christianity written in a novel first published nearly 40 years ago and set in Medieval France.

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

 

Saying Goodbye to Joy

When he had finished speaking, [Jesus] said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 

Luke 5:4-6 (NRSVA)

There are two lessons here. The first is that the abundance of God happens unexpectedly. The second is that doing what God desires sometimes seems to make no sense, but after the act of trust, i.e. doing what we think God wants us to do, we will see what the reason was. I suspect that some acts of obedience are only fully understood once we’re with God.

My friend, Joy, lived around 200 miles away with her husband, Caleb. About 18 months ago I sensed a strong ‘God prompt’ to call her. I was tired. I didn’t want to do it. Also, I really don’t like phone calls very much, unless it’s close family. I prefer to talk face to face. But the God prompt was strong. I knew I couldn’t not do it. So I called.

Joy and Caleb were in the middle of watching telly and it was apparent that I was interrupting (not that they said anything other than that it was nice to hear from me). I  think I told them that God had prompted me to phone. They, being believers themselves, were happy enough with this, although they couldn’t figure out why, either, and so after a few minutes of chit-chat we hung up. During the call, Joy mentioned some abnormalities in her latest blood test. She had undergone a kidney transplant several months before. She said the doctors wondered if they needed to adjust her medications.

A couple of weeks later Joy was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive form of cancer. Caleb was distraught as the days and weeks ticked by and Joy did not respond to any treatment. Two months after the phone call Caleb texted me with the news of Joy’s death.

A week later I travelled the 200 miles to the funeral and was so glad I did. It was clear that Joy had touched the lives of so many people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to canonise her. She had her faults, same as everyone. But as my husband and I often agreed, Caleb and Joy were two of the loveliest people we’d ever known. Their quiet humility was the loudest shout for the presence of Christ. Joy didn’t suddenly become a saint because she wasn’t there any more. She was already genuinely lovely. It was a heart-wrenching joy to be at her funeral, because she had been the same lovely person to every single person she ever met.

I don’t know why God took her so early. I don’t know why dear Caleb had to say goodbye so soon. I can understand why God would want to keep her and I know Joy is truly home. That brings such comfort. I also know now that God graciously allowed me to say goodbye to my friend, even though, at the time of the phone call, it made no sense.

Unashamed: Christine Caine

Shame… prompts us to toss away the good gifts we are given…

Hiding my feelings had already become a way of life for me [as a child]. Shame does that. It teaches us to hide ourselves… Shame… pushes you down and prevents you from becoming all you could be…

When you are abused, at first you are ashamed of what is happening to you. Over time, though, you begin to think it is because of you that it is happening…

…I thought, there must be something very wrong with me. I must be at fault. I must be a bad person. I am not worth protecting. God must not love me. I guess I’m not worth His attention. Shame does that: it whispers lies to your soul…

I had no concept of the difference between the shame of what was being done to me and the shame of my own actions… I worked hard to be sure that all those frightening feelings were locked away and invisible… 

I was a child damaged by shame, shackled to it, and I dragged it with me from childhood into adolescence and then into adulthood. Most likely, you have done the same…

~ from Unashamed by Christine Caine

This is a rather large set of quotes to put in a single blog post, but I do hope Christine Caine will forgive me(!). I bought this audiobook last week. I sensed that I needed to read it. In just one chapter I have recognised so much of the broken parts of myself that I am in awe. Christine does not share the exact same past as me. Our stories are different, yet everything that I’ve quoted above was so descriptive of my situation that I felt I could have written it. Much of it consists of things I never knew how to put into words. Even now, with all the hard work I’ve done as part of my recovery, I also realise that some of these things – well, I thought it was just me who thought like that. Shame does that: makes you think you’re the only one because you’re somehow responsible, even when you know that, logically, you’re not. Which shows I still have a way to go, because I thought I had changed these negative beliefs.

This is what I think God is trying to tell me (and who knows – maybe He’s needing you to know it, too): humility is good. Humility looks like Jesus. Humility is not the same as feeling worthless or useless. That’s not humility; that’s shame. Shame has no place on the shoulders of one who belongs to the King of Kings.

God be praised for His perfect timing.  I can’t wait to hear more!

Limiting Beliefs

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Self-preservation is an understandable human instinct. My sister once jumped out of an aeroplane. I don’t think she will ever repeat the experience, but it gave her something far longer lasting.

Sometimes I test your faith, daughter, because it develops perseverance in you, which you need to be mature and complete, not lacking in anything… I know how much you hurt for these children. I hurt for them more. In the world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world… 

~ from  Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

It takes courage to trust God with everything. It’s so simple, yet so unbelievably difficult. But take heart: God is good, and God never changes.

I have been listening to a self-hypnosis mp3 aimed at discovering and overcoming self-limiting beliefs. A self-limiting belief is one where you, consciously or unconsciously, tell yourself you cannot do something that you can, in fact, do. The narrator puts it like this: it is truthful to say ‘I can’t speak Japanese’, but if I say I can’t learn Japanese, that would be a self-limiting belief.

“I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you may face persecution, but take courage; I have conquered the world!”

John 16:33 (NRSVA)

As I wrote last week, I use hypnosis as a tool, and I use it prayerfully. One thing that has struck me after listening to yesterday’s session, and after hearing Katie’s words above, is that often I have what could be called God-limiting beliefs. My faith, and my opinion of myself, is such that I can accept – or perhaps gloss over – self-limiting beliefs, but God-limiting beliefs? That’s not good.

What self-limiting or God-limiting beliefs have you had?

 

A Spacious Place

 

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I’m only a half hour or so into the audiobook of Things Hidden and already it is challenging me exactly where I need it.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.

~ Psalm 40:1-2 (NRSVA)

The following quote is one of many, addressing various issues, that have leapt out at me (in fact it’s one of the less impressive, there are others that are better still, but I thought my readers might appreciate this one as it appeals to a broad spectrum):

Conservatives, in my experience, are those who over-rely upon outer authority, while liberals tend to over-rely upon their own inner authority. Maturity, as always, is that ‘third something’ in between, a spacious place that is offered by God and grace, leaving neither of us totally comfortable.

~ from Things Hidden by Richard Rohr

I have the Kindle version of this book on my wishlist (it helps to be able to read and listen). Already I can say I highly recommend ‘Things Hidden’. Here is an author at once sharp and compassionate, with a deep, grace-infused wisdom.

He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me.

~ Psalm 18:19 (NIVUK)

 

‘All We Had’

‘She was only thirty-two, but the weight of a hundred hard lifetimes was etched across her face. Last winter’s cough had never fully gone away. The rattle in her lungs had worsened. And no amount of makeup could cover the heavy darkness that had settled beneath her eyes.

My mother began to weep. She dropped her head and her shoulders shook. I could see the winged bones of her back beneath the thin fabric of her dress. A length of hem hung below her knees, weighted down by the safety pin that had held it up for days.

“Don’t cry,” I said. When my mother cried, nothing else existed but her sadness, and her sadness ran so deep that if I didn’t stop it, it would drown us both.’

from All We Had by Annie Weatherwax

I have just finished reading this novel. It was so well written that I read it in two days. Usually I listen to audiobooks because reading is tiring, but this was worth it (it also isn’t available, as yet, on Audible). The excerpt above struck me as both one of the most beautiful passages that I have ever read, and also as heart-strikingly true. That final sentence is something I think many children can relate to, and many adults as they look back to childhood, particularly if they grew up in a dysfunctional home. I wonder if my own children ever felt that way, when I was going through those dark, dark days? I tried so hard to keep going, for their sake, but I was profoundly broken. I hope they didn’t, but at least I can thank God that those days are long gone.

What I loved about this novel was the simple, yet painstaking, portrayal of flawed, broken people and the ways in which we can overcome, at least in part, the brokenness. I loved that it was never sentimental, yet the author always tackled pain, grief, love, despair with a direct, honest and humorous approach. I loved the fact that, despite the darkness within the novel, ultimately it proved to hold a message of hope and a quiet, unspoken focus on the idea that in the end,  the only thing that matters is love one another. I guess, really, I was reminded of myself and my own life, and all that I have overcome, by grace.

On the final page the main character writes:

‘The meek shall inherit the earth, the Bible says, but how many have to suffer first? Where I come from, children are wrenched away from homes. Men are disposable, boys are lost, women are beaten or killed. Little girls are left quaking at the sight of so much blood. And we blame them when they become less than perfect mothers. The meek shall inherit the earth, but why can’t we just share it?’ 

A pertinent question, I think, for all who profess to follow Jesus.

The Miracle Giver

“…wise folk never reject the possibility of miracles… [but] it’s less important to seek after miracles than it is to hunger after the miracle giver… Many folk wear out the path to a miracle or something they believe is of God, but they don’t bother to seek the Lord and Saviour.”

~ spoken by ‘Mammi’ in ‘The Love Letters’ by Beverly Lewis