Dropping the Defences

Karate Kick

“A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.”
― Percy Bysshe Shelley

It would be wonderful if we could drop our defences completely with one another. Be free to bare our souls, our cracks, our joys unhindered by fear or experiences of reproach. It takes a lot of mental energy to maintain those defences, valuable energy which wastes away in the process, forfeiting the opportunity to channel itself into something holy and beautiful.

Jesus had no defences; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter and breathed not one word of justification. Jesus knew what was in man, He had no need for anyone to remind Him of the fickleness of human nature, yet He lived His life boldly in the face of exposure to mockery, jealous backlashes and the attention of hungry crowds.

Maybe we could let down our defences and let ourselves be seen as God sees us. When we live before Him we live transparently regardless of our attempts to be otherwise. God sees past our defences and loves us deeper still.

Why do we need to justify our stories? Every person’s encounter with Christ looks different. Every person’s experience of God is different. Every person’s understanding of how He moves in our lives is different.

Yes, there are always fundamental principles and truths… but no set of fingerprints are the same, no snowflake that falls replicates another.

If we laid down our defences I am convinced others would more clearly see Christ formed in us. If we uncovered the treasure within these earthen vessels and admitted once and for all that it’s Christ in us who is our hope of glory.

How liberatingly beautiful it would be to join Paul, to be unafraid and unashamed to say:

‘My experience of the law is that when I want to do good, only evil is within my reach. For I am in hearty agreement with God’s law so far as my inner self is concerned. But then I find another law in my bodily members, which is in continual conflict with the law which my mind approves, and makes me a prisoner to the law of sin which is inherent in my mortal body. For left to myself, I serve the law of God with my mind, but in my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin. It is an agonising situation, and who can set me free from the prison of this mortal body? I thank God there is a way out through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 7 v 21-25

Maybe it is no coincidence that Paul was one of the most influential men in the early church. He was aware of himself, but better still- he was acutely aware of God.

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Just As We Are

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“Sometimes people are beautiful.
Not in looks.
Not in what they say.
Just in what they are.”
― Markus Zusak

When we came to faith in Christ, we arrived warts and all. It was the only way to enter in to the kingdom of God. The only way was to dump our heavy load of sin, brokenness and shame at the foot of the cross and throw ourselves on the mercy and forgiveness of God.

We came just as we were, and God met us there.

The only criterion for salvation is being prepared to participate in a great exchange. Exchanging our mess for His wholeness, our filthy rags for His righteousness and our despair for His joy.

At our core, I believe we all need to feel and experience real and genuine acceptance. To come as we are, to be seen, known and then accepted wholeheartedly. This is what God does for us. He is big and beautiful enough to accept us as we are. Acceptance is not agreement or endorsement, it is the acknowledgement and understanding of who we are and a willingness to take us on. To adopts us, to make us a part of the family.

‘ As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest we were deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions- it is by grace you have been saved.’– Ephesians 2 v 1-5

God accepted us when we were dead in transgression and sins… so what makes us behave as though He doesn’t do it for everyone else in our communities who are in the same state?

Jesus made a way. God accepts people as they are; any clean up job that is required is down to Him and Him only. Our responsibility is to share the good news- that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.

So many people are desperate to hear this. If they really felt they would be accepted by God as they are, in whatever sorry state that is, they would run to Him.

I think as believers we can obstruct the process, albeit unconsciously. By behaving in ways that imply;

‘Yes, you can come to Jesus as you are but….’

‘Yes, of course God loves you but…’

‘Salvation is freely given if you believe but…’

We need to get our big buts out of the way. We need to stop obstructing the light from others and allow God to be God.

Acceptance does not negate change- it precedes it.

I thank God with all my heart that He accepted me just as I was, and continues to do so.

 

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

 

 

 

 

Pay It Forward

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“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

To pay it forward is a beautiful, powerful concept. If we lived with this kind of mentality the world would be a much healthier and kinder place. Imagine a world where every person noticed the small gifts of goodness they receive each day, then out of an overflow of awareness and gratitude, sought to share it with others.

Like Louis Armstrong, we’d all be thinking to ourselves ‘What a wonderful world’…

The thing is, it starts with us. We can choose to pay it forward, to sow seeds into the kind of future we envision in our heart of hearts. Most of the stinking attitudes and actions I have are easily disrupted when I think about these simple verses from one of my favourite books in the bible;

‘Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow. Those who sow to please their sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.’- Galatians 6 v 7-8

SELAH (let’s pause and think about this for a while…).

These verses needn’t be threatening or intimidating in any way. God is on our side, He wants us to walk His paths, and He wants to guide us in the right way. He will help us to do this step by step and day by day. This is not so much a reprimand, but an opportunity to be seized with both ‘spiritual’ hands.

I love these verses, because I know that if I live according to these few words my life will be drastically different. I know that my relationship with God would flourish and my witness for Him improve significantly. I realise that this is in fact the best way to live. Sowing to the Spirit. Paying the goodness, mercy and forgiveness of God forward into the lives of those around me.

Sowing to the Spirit is not about living as a hermit in the mountains; fasting all day every day and reading nothing but the scriptures for food. It is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. It is doing what is right in God’s eyes more often than not, being a peace maker and spreading His joy wherever we go.

Paying it forward brings wisdom into our relationships. Rather than responding to hurt and misunderstanding with self-righteous anger and self–pity, we could ask ourselves how we would want to be treated if we had been the one to hurt or misunderstand another.

The same goes for evangelism, how would we want to be approached with the Gospel message?

And friendships, what kind of friend would we want in our lives? It’s amazing how we can change our words, our attitudes and our self-destructive patterns of behaviour when we realise we are paying it forward into our own future.

‘Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’– Luke 6 v 38

We Are Being Followed

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‘Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life…’- Psalm 23 v 6

I am making a conscious effort to declare the whole of Psalm 23 over my life on a regular basis in this season. By declare I mean to read it, read it out loud and then declare it vocally into the spiritual atmosphere with faith and certainty. Declaring Gods word feels wonderful, as if my spirit is somehow being fed something wholesome and good. Speaking His word out loud also helps to override those negative and distracting thoughts which are contrary to Him.

Words can change atmospheres. Words can shape lives.

I have been astonished at the amount of ‘life ground’ Psalm 23 covers. It speaks about lacking nothing, about replenishing our souls, about the leadership and guidance of our heavenly Father, about how to respond to the darkness and confidence in God’s intentions towards us. So much goodness wrapped into one familiar Psalm.

One particular day this portion of the Psalm seemed to jump out at me;

‘Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life…’

Other bible translations may say ‘Surely or only goodness, mercy and unfailing love shall follow me all the days of my life…’

Or ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…’

What struck me the most was the word follow. The understanding hit me that I was leading the way for goodness and love, I was being followed. Where I go they go, were I stay they stay. I have never really taken the time to reflect on this fully. This was amazing truth; this was revolutionary thinking about the course of my life.

Instead of the proverbial black cloud following me, I had written proof that two silver lined clouds were following me wherever I went- Goodness and Mercy!

All. The. Days. Of. Our Lives.  This is something to celebrate, to appreciate, to meditate on. May we not miss this gem of truth in such a familiar passage of scripture. May we grasp hold of this and run with it- literally run with it into dark places, trusting the word of God that as we run into dark places- goodness, love and mercy are not far behind.

The Psalmist wrote ‘Surely’… surely our God will do this, and surely as we have come to know Him we are expecting this kind of faithfulness to follow us?

Images of the pied piper are running through my mind right now as I type. I see believers from all walks of life skipping along into dark places, praising God as He has anointed our head with oil and our cup overflows, oblivious to any danger as He is with us and His rod and staff are comforting us. Goodness and love are following behind, leaving a trail of light and destruction of darkness in their wake. The angels are rejoicing and the great cloud of witnesses are cheering us on.

I can see it… can you? 

Practising Compassion

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“..for there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”
― Milan Kundera

Practising the presence of God is a necessity, a vital component of feeling connected to Him and the essence of real relationship. To be aware that He is present in and through all things is to be comforted- mindful of His beautiful ways, His pure thoughts and His good will for our lives.

‘For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things …’- Romans 11 v 36

So, to practise His presence is a kind of first step, a foundation to a secure walk with Him. But, to practise His compassion is another realm entirely. Practising the presence of God meets our basic inner need for connection, whereas practising compassion meets God’s need of us- our hands, feet and voice going out to and reaching others. Of course, God has no needs in one sense, but in the other sense He has chosen to use us as His vessels of compassion on the earth.

I heard a preacher share about a moment he had in a café, he described the pain he saw etched all over the face of the waitress serving him. His companions at the table appeared not to notice and bantered with the waitress politely while settling the bill, but the preacher couldn’t escape the look of pain on the girls face. He said he felt compelled to do something, he was moved with compassion and had to acknowledge the pain he saw. He did not know what to say or how to say it, so he simply stated to the lady what he saw then asked her if she would like any prayer about anything.

The waitress broke down in tears. She shared her pain, the preacher and his companions stopped first to listen and then to pray.

Compassion had made a way for God to break through and touch someone’s life.

I love that, I really love that. I believe God loves it too. The moral of the story is that we must respond to the unspoken pain we see in the faces of those we come across from day to day- on the  bus, in the supermarket, in the queue at the post office. Opportunities to practise compassion are all around us. God shows us these things for a reason; discernment is the friend of compassion. We may be the only person that notices the sadness or pain behind the weak smile or glazed eyes of a person. We may have to step out of our comfort zone, not knowing what to say or how to say it. But like the compassionate preacher, we can acknowledge the pain we see in another and offer to pray, or offer a free coffee and a listening ear.

‘When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ – Matthew 9 v 36

What did Jesus see when He looked at the crowds? What was written on their faces? Whatever it was, Jesus was moved with compassion. He saw they were harassed and helpless and He did something about it. He was ultimately moved to commit the greatest act of love the world has ever seen.

May we practise His compassion, and do likewise.

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (Like Revival)

Urban Renewal II

Revival; ‘An improvement in condition, strength or popularity’

-Oxford English Dictionary

I wonder what revival (in a ‘kingdom coming’ sort of way) would look like in the everyday minutiae of life? What changes would it bring? What impact would be felt? And how would we know it was happening?

We think we know how it starts within the church community, but how does it continue? I believe the answers to these questions will help us to not only ignite revival in ourselves, but to sustain it in the wider community.

When I hear the word ‘revival’ it does not move me. I have heard the word so many times during the course of my Christian journey that it simply reverberates in my mind for the briefest of moments, before being side-lined due to familiarity. I don’t feel it would be going too far to suggest the word has lost some of its core meaning for most. This is a shame, as revival is a concept containing the promises and purposes of God for our generation and for generations to come. Revival is our portion, a vital part of our inheritance.

Revival is not of the past, it is present and it is future.

But revival can seem so distant and disaffecting. It can serve as a spiritual carrot on a string, luring us along the path of salvation, leading us to hope while at the same time daring not to hope that we will ever see it manifest fully in our lifetimes.

Maybe the word revival is misleading; maybe it doesn’t do justice to the greater picture God is finely painting.

Could words like ‘reawakening’, ‘rebirth’, ‘recovery’, ‘renewal’, ‘renaissance’, ‘restoration’ and ‘resurgence’ more accurately portray the concept of what revival is all about?

Revival is more than a series of meetings where the manifest presence of God is evident. It is more than healings, salvations and angelic visitations. More than prophetic revelation, deliverance and divine commissioning.

Revival is all those things and more.

It is healings and miracles breaking out in hospitals, the discovery of creative cures for illnesses and infectious diseases, deliverance and freedom for patients in psychiatric units, prisons bathed in the presence of almighty God, prisoners repenting on their knees. It is corporate corruption ceasing, the United Nations actually uniting nations, politicians convicted to deal honestly, justly and righteously in their positions. It is racism, sexism and ageism fading into oblivion, workers striving for excellence, worship and prayer meetings in parliament and business, marriages restored, children raised in the will of God, bullying and terrorism overcome by reconciliation and love, suicide and homicide rapidly declining, understanding across cultures and the name of Jesus lifted high in schools.

In short; revival is the knowledge of the glory of the Lord covering the earth, as the waters cover the sea.

This moves me. This is something I can run towards and give my life for.

Reawakening, Rebirth, Recovery, Renewal, Renaissance, Restoration, Resurgence…Revival.

 

Black and White

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“What is truth?”- Pilate

‘Speak your truth’ is a popular invitation in this day and age, and most people are happy to oblige. However, I wonder if this secular trend is creeping into the Christian worldview, blurring how we receive and process the teachings and work of Jesus Christ.

I always appreciate the people in my life who call a spade a spade. I know where I stand with them, and if they are for me, I have no need to fear how they deliver their observation of the spade. Truth, when spoken out of a relationship in love is refreshing and life giving.

The trouble with speaking our truth is it leaves out an important factor- God. It is our ‘truth’, our opinion and our perception, all tainted by our prioritising of what is important to us and our immediate world. Of course, speaking our truth needn’t be something negative, but we are susceptible to the world’s way of thinking when we make it the ultimate truth in our lives.

I’ve lived long enough to know that truth is not just black and white. It is not always obvious to the human logic and sensibilities. Sometimes truth is a vibrant shade of yellow that alarms and challenges us, it stands out so we cannot ignore it.

As followers of the Christ desiring to bring light and life into every place we tread, it is imperative that we recognise our position as truth bearers.

We are carriers of truth.

I have witnessed believers engaging zealously in philosophical and intellectual religious debates with other believers. And I have also witnessed the fallout which occurs after these debates; confusion, anger, hurt, self-righteousness, justification, pride and slander.

Love is nowhere to be seen. It is a clanging symbol and sounding brass in the ears of the Almighty.

These things ought not to be.

We’ve missed it. While these debates within the church are raging, those without the knowledge of salvation and saving grace continue on oblivious of their eternal destiny.

What is truth?

‘Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’- John 14 v 6

The boundary lines of truth in society are becoming unrecognisable. One of the biggest impacts we can have as a body of believers is to recognise and cling to truth.

Truth is not a thing, a state of mind or a concept… it’s a person; Jesus Christ. Let us cling to Jesus as our very lives do depend on it.

There is a battle for truth in every sphere of influence today, and a hunger for truth like never before in history.

5 year olds need to know truth, 15 year olds need to know truth, 50 year olds need to know truth and 95 year olds need to know truth.

Let the debates rage, let the philosophers philosophise, let ‘Christians’ attack each other if they choose to. We decide for ourselves which truth we will pursue and hold fast to. I know who I’m choosing….

‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’– John 8 v 31-32