Accidentally Cult Street

One of my less-glamorous true stories is that I came to the Christian faith through a street evangelist who was a member of a Christian cult. I refuse to be embarrassed about this. As a genuine seeker – walking towards the Hari Krishna band – I was intercepted by a woman in her mid-20’s who invited me to her church and sat with me in a cafe to read the bible. When I was confronted by the gospel, though sheepishly looking around to see who might see us with a BIBLE open in PUBLIC, I was convicted by the truth of who Jesus was and what He did for us, and immediately turned my life toward knowing God and being known and loved by Him.

In the month that followed, I was welcomed with generous hospitality into the homes of fellow church members and felt a sense of being part of God’s family. I hungrily read my bible at home, though soon enough alarm bells sounded for me when I heard those fateful words from her ‘we are the only church to be saved.’ The countdown was on, it was only a few weeks later I cut myself off from that lovely, though misguided community and found myself receiving the generous hospitality and biblical teaching of a Baptist Church in Sydney’s West. Praise God. The whole inter-denominational community opened up to me at the Katoomba convention and I’ve never looked back, always relishing the taste of the Kingdom on earth wherever I worship.

I would like to say that all of that is behind me, however, it took many years of listening and learning to ‘weed out’ (pertinent expression!) the false doctrine that I was taught in those first few weeks as a baby believer. The spiritual milk was a bit off, and I needed a lot of extra nourishment to grow strong and mature in my faith. Even now, as I wander the earth through the different stages of my life, I come across the same idea in otherwise doctrinally sound church communities. The red flag is hoisted when I hear ‘we are the only healthy church around here,’ or a red-faced teacher adamantly insisting that his point of view on a matter of faith is to be obeyed (or else!).

This my-way-or-the-highway view of ecclesiastical issues has many faithful and dedicated souls hitch-hiking their way from crumbling sandstone building to urban chrysalis hoping to find a healthy kind of ecumenicalism. Those, like me, who do not wish to be judged for the denominations of their past. For me, my spiritual home is wherever I lay my coat and pick up a name tag – although I’ve been known to use the Royal ‘We’ when referring to the Anglican Church, it is, in fact, our Kingdom royalty that expresses the words We Believe. I am traveling toward a place where We stand on common ground and can have arm wrestles over doctrinal implications. A place where We allow grace and truth to season us as we mature, forgiving and giving one another the opportunity to be transformed in our mind and hearts, and loving one-another as Christ intended for his bride, the church.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. John 14:27

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, Ephesians 1:18

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Photo Credit: Brett Boardman

eveangelical.

ζωηγγελιος – ζωη – ‘life’ from Septuagint and ‘ἐυαγγελιον’ – good news, gospel messenger.

A woman of God who proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ, obeying Christ’s commission to make disciples of all nations by sharing God’s word with all people. As Eve and Adam were given authority by God to rule and subdue creation together, the eveangelical woman is redeemed in Christ to work alongside men and other women as a creative counterpart. They do not seek power or glory or authority for themselves but give glory to God in all things, men and women in mutual submission to their Creator, both made in His image.

The eveangelical woman gives respect to God–ordained authority and institutions – humbly accepting that we are all marred by sin – relying on God’s power at work in His people. Relying on God’s strength and wisdom she will use God’s gifts, as given to all His people, to build up and encourage the body of Christ. She will pray for God to increase her faith, to give her greater gifts, not to boast, but to serve God in any context to which she is called.

The eveangelical woman is made in God’s image and is purposed since the creation of mankind to give life to others, through physical birth, spiritual guidance, exhortation and encouragement, humble service of others in prayer and hospitality. She is not saved by these actions, but the gifts of God are for the people of God, given to women and men to serve one another. But the greatest calling is to proclaim new life in Christ so that all will turn to Him in faith.

She is humble in her speech but courageous in her actions, she is assured of her salvation through faith in Christ, and devotes herself to the study of God’s word and prayer. She relies on God’s strength made perfect in her weakness and is patient in suffering, dealing graciously with the weak and vulnerable to reflect the love of God to others. She is teachable yet discerning and grows in spiritual maturity by lifting others. Her life, created and redeemed by God, is life-giving and her reliance on God’s word as a source of comfort and strength becomes her witness and testimony to all who know her. She acknowledges God’s order in creation and seeks to emulate this by redeeming the day with her time and energy, as God is sanctifying the work of her hands. She will not want to place any person in the position that Christ holds as her personal Saviour.

The eveanglical woman values community and fosters genuine relationships with neighbours, family, friends and church community.  She depends on God who knows and loves her first, and delights in praises of God, not seeking undue praise for herself or honouring others above God. She is aware of her limits and readily makes sacrifices in her daily life, as she is led by reflective prayer, in the Spirit and the Word. She discerns God’s will for her life and disciples and influences those within her sphere, desiring to enlarge God’s Kingdom, through gentleness and love, not coercion or force. She continually gives thanks for the fruit of the Spirit working in the life of every believer, and the Spirit’s work in those to whom God is revealing Himself.

The Spirit of God has made me,

    and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. – Job 33.4

The Hands of a Surgeon

We put our lives in people’s hands every day. Pilots, train drivers, medical staff, even those who prepare our food at restaurants, these are just some of those skilled workers who are entrusted with the lives of others. We often do not think about this trust we place in people who are complete strangers to us. We would never think to check or questions the qualifications or experience of the airline pilot or aircraft maintenance schedule before checking in our baggage at the airport.

When things do go wrong, we must also trust the integrity of those investigating the problem, that the problem will be identified and corrected.  The potential problem and the identified disaster are all invisible to our eyes, yet we feel the consequences deeply – either personally or on the news or social media. These hidden problems and their impact affect us all.

What about our own hidden problems, are they so easy to hide and deny also? To whom are these defects evident, whose responsibility is to fault-find and rectify problems? Who ‘mops up’ the consequences when our faults in the framework of our character rise up and cause collateral damage in our lives? Who can be held accountable for these things, is it that loud person standing at the complaints department who is to blame for the disruption to the peace?

It is a painful process to look within and decide that there needs to be an adjustment in our behaviour, attitudes and beliefs. It is common practice at this time of New Year to do a systems check on ourselves and our relationships from the previous year and decide upon inner-change in some form or another. Most often it is the physical aspect which is decided to be unhealthy, with resolutions to stop smoking and drinking and start exercising as the perceived way to be a better person in the year ahead. This might make us look and feel better about ourselves, it might even make others look upon us with admiration or even envy for a trim physique.

What if our true need is much deeper and the symptoms harder to identify in us? Have we been putting off the comprehensive health check that involves our temperament and behaviour towards others on a daily basis, at home, work, school, in our neighbourhood? There is a heart to this problem – the will is at work and is not easily identified as it is also our will that glosses over it. There is only one person who can see within us and search our hearts and minds and wills to determine what problem exists and rectify it.

It is the Maker who is also the Judge of our condition. God is a skilled Surgeon and can excise a wound or cancer in our character and repair and heal the damage. Sometimes what is required is a full heart transplant in order to restore us back to full health. Putting ourselves into His care and attention will require full trust in His diagnosis. We must bring ourselves to Him, remain in His presence, be still and trust in His knowledge and wisdom. To put ourselves on the operating table we need to be at rest and peace, rejoicing in the outcome of the restored body, tending the wounds from the excision with care and patience.

It is God’s purpose as the Creator of everything to ensure its good and right order, to restore us and change us to become more like His Son, Jesus – who is for us the perfect model, a blueprint for humanity, He made a way for us to be redeemed and made new, to become more and more into the likeness of Christ.

‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.’ Titus 2:11-14

Lord, search us, cleanse us and change us by the work of your hands that made us, shape us into the likeness of your Son, Jesus Christ. Give us clean hands and pure hearts to live with honesty, humility and gentleness in community with one another. (Psalm 24:4)

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Heart Hands image source

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Focus on Ephesians 5

Ephesians 5:21-33

Many years ago my husband and I studied Permaculture, a system of gardening for food production which can be used for self sufficient farming. The belief is that in nature all things are good and have a purpose. This often led us to wonder what was the purpose of the snail or cockroach, the poisonous or prickly plant in the garden? What’s the purpose of the plague of annoying birds in the yard and all of those weeds?! Well, weeds are actually edible, prevent erosion of soil and you can ferment them in water for liquid fertiliser!

Nothing in nature is bad in Permaculture as long as it’s used for its purpose. Sounds like a perfect garden, right? It sounds a bit like the motto of Mona museum ‘There is no sin’.

My permaculture teacher was a passionate lady, a nature lover one day she complained to our class about an angry and unreasonable man in her apartment block who was desperately trying to cut down some banana trees in the yard because they were messy and attracted noisy possums near his bedroom window. She was very distressed because “He thinks the banana trees are weeds and that the native animals are pests!”

The following week I went to work and asked my boss how he was going, to hear all about a “crazy hippy” who lives in his apartment block who is ruining his life over a few rubbish banana trees and if he had the mind he would go out there at night with a chainsaw and hack them down along with the noisy possums that lived in it – so he could get some peace. These two friends of mine saw this situation so differently and it was making their lives miserable.

Thinking about this man and woman, arguing over a fruit tree with an animal living in it – not much has changed since the Garden of Eden. We are all fallen to sin, our human frailty pits us against one another. In the Garden, in the book of Genesis, God casts Adam and Eve out of His presence because of sin.

The bible tells us that God is an awesome Creator God who is holy and perfect and therefore cannot be near us when we are fallen and broken.

Our view of ourselves and each other is tainted by our belief system and values our ‘World view’ is the tinted glasses through which we see everything and everyone around us. The way we view other people is determined by our values and beliefs, our skin colour, our gender, our age, even our occupation – the family and society that we were born into.
The way we view God’s created world has been tainted. The truth is that everyone is made in the image of God. Let’s take off our tainted glasses for a moment and see others around us as God’s good creation. Today’s reading lays the foundation on male and female relationships. This not only extends to marriage relationships, but to all men and women, to the church and our relationship to God.

It all started in Genesis chapter 1 v.27, it says ‘ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them ; male and female he created them. ’ this was the crowning glory of Creation, God then pronounced it all ‘GOOD’.

God chose to create woman to be suitable helper for the man, the hebrew word for helper implies ‘strength’ and does not suggest inferiority. Men and women were made by God for each other.

A man does not need to be married to experience this ‘goodness’. Adam’s problem was not singleness, but solitude, aloneness. (Claire Smith, God’s Good Design)

We relate together as men and women in many different relationships in the family, friendships, work, and social life.

Yet when we look around, we see men and women not getting along very well together, unable to see each other as God sees them, unable to help or support one another. What happened to this created ideal of our world that we all so long for.. where the weeds are delicious and useful and there is no sin? Well, let’s explore this with the help of today’s reading in Ephesians.

Ephesians is written to God’s people, not just people from one nation or culture, but a great colourful mix of people in a city of the Roman Empire called Ephesus. These people, although all completely different, have all turned to Jesus Christ as their Saviour and are called to strive to live together as God’s family. Paul tells them they are one body in Christ, they are born again into God’s family, they have Holy Spirit DNA that unites them as God’s family and helps them to live according to God’s family values. Ephesians is teaching us how to live as Christians in a world full of sin and temptation.

Ephesians 5 puts the microscope on our relationships with each other. We read it to learn what God desires of us. Earlier in this chapter Paul urges the Ephesians to Follow God’s example, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love… v 1. “For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.”

This is our challenge today. To shine a light on our relationship with God and others and find out what pleases the Lord.

Our reading begins: ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’

The sacrificial relationship between Christ and the Church is the theological foundation for all relationships. It gives us a new way of seeing people a new way of loving people as God sees them and loves them.

God created us and it was ‘good’, but because of our sins, we are broken, hurt, afraid, ashamed. How can this be redeemed?

Paul tells us in Chapter 5 how Christians should live as children of the light to walk in the way of love. Mutual submission, Christ-centred relationships; obedience to God; obedience of children to parents; obedience to those who have authority over us. This is not easy for anyone but if we look ahead to Chapter 6 we are told that to do this we must put on the full armour of God. Because our battle is not with each other, it is Satan who attacks God’s crowning glory of creation the union of man and woman.

Among our human relationships there is no greater union than the marriage of husband and wife. Satan also attacks the unity the body of Christ. Satan messes with marriage relationships and and relationships between members of Christ’s church, Christ’s bride. This is why Jesus gave up his life for us, to make broken people and broken relationships whole again .

Jesus loves us and cares for us because we are His body. It is only through Christ we are redeemed our relationships with God and one another can be redeemed. Paul directly relates the union of marriage to the union of Christ to the church. The wife submits to and respects the husband, just as the church submits to Christ. Woman was made for the glory of man, so for a woman to try to rule or dominate her husband would be to mess with God’s created order. But wait, there’s more.. The husband is to love the wife sacrificially as if she were his own body, just as Christ gave up his life for his bride, the church. Jesus loves us sacrificially by taking his own life to repay our sin debt.

In Ezekiel 16 there is shocking imagery of God’s people who have abandoned their one true God for idols. They are depraved, living their own way, naked, shameful, dirty like a homeless woman on the street. It’s a very graphic portrayal of the end result of sin and separation from God. Christ takes this woman, representing God’s people and cleanses her, makes her spotless and white like a bride in a wedding gown. This is what Jesus does for all of us, and it is this kind of selfless love that He desires from us and to give to one another.

Our quarrel with each other is a spiritual battle that Christ has already won. But still there are so many heated issues that divide men and women, even among the faithful. This demonstrates to us that we are sinners who are saved by the grace of God alone. It is only by putting on the full armour of God and putting Christ first, can we enjoy a redeemed relationship with our Creator God. Loving one another selflessly can feel like such a huge sacrifice, well it is –  it is a living sacrifice to God.

Many of us here may be willing to submit to a loving, all-powerful God.

Many of us have no trouble in submitting to a Saviour who loves you so much that he gave up his life for us.

Looking at Paul’s reference to marriage, many wives would find themselves willing to submit to a loving Spouse who would make their life a living sacrifice to them. Breakfast in bed every day, help around the house, flowers and chocolates? Paul makes it sound so easy! It is not easy.

The meaning of the word ‘Submission’ in the bible is not the image of a man wrestling a woman to the ground until she can stand it no longer and taps out ‘I submit!’ No, in the bible, submission is willing , we have free choice , it is done wholeheartedly and joyfully.

The church is not made to submit. We Christians choose to submit to Christ in everything! Just as a Christian woman in loving humility, trusting in God, submits herself to her own husband.

The husband is to love her, to feed and care for his wife as his own body. Because they are one flesh in the unity of marriage. The husband is to be like Christ! So real is the unity of husband and wife that loving her is loving himself (v 28). Her good is his good, he cannot separate his interests from hers.

Three times in this passage Paul says men are not to rule women, but to love them. Men and women together are called to rule and subdue all creation together, using their gifts for the good of each other. (Gen 1:28)

‘Men and women are equally made in God’s image with dignity, purpose, moral choice and responsibility, and all of us are individually accountable for our conduct.’ (Claire Smith, God’s Good design)

So, in marriage, how do we love someone who rejects us or mistreats us?

How do we love or submit to a sinner?

How did Christ love those who rejected and tortured him to the point of death on a cross? It was in God’s strength alone.

In the fallen world, in our distorted image of the garden, there are poisonous plants and dangerous animals? Things that will harm us. This passage in no way suggests that toxic,harmful relationships should be endured to the point of death. God desires to protect us, and preserve life.

Joyful submission and sacrificial love – this is the shining light of a redeemed Christ-centred marriage, yet it is meant to speak directly to all of us as faithful believers, The Church, in our relationship with Jesus.

Paul is using the marriage illustration to teach us about our union with Christ. The ‘goodness’ and ‘helpfulness’ of man and woman in all their Created splendour was not limited to Adam and Eve or to marriage. Men and women were made for a purpose, to serve and complement one another with their God given uniqueness to love God and love one another as members of Christ’s body. We rely on one another, we cannot live or function fully without the other members of the body being healthy.

There are so many issues in the world that arouse anger and division and cripple the body of Christ. However, just like the pesky animal in the tree Satan has been cut down. Let’s do as Paul suggests and take off our old self, take off our tainted glasses, and be made new in the attitude of our minds and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. God’s forgiveness is a free gift that is given for eternity to receive it, we are called to submit to God and one another, in the name of Christ.

Dear Lord,
Thank you for redeeming us from our fallen, sinful nature by sending your Son to conquer sin and death, so that we can enjoy an everlasting relationship with you, our Creator. We ask for your strength and the power of the Spirit to enable us to love and serve one another in all our relationships, so that Christ may be glorified. In Jesus name, Amen.

Sermon transcript, (C) Lisa Haynes, St Luke’s Anglican Church, Richmond. 10th July 2016.

Claire Smith, God’s Good Design, Matthias Media:Sydney, 2012.

The Great Adventure – a True Story.

Not long after I became full grown, I was invited to go on a great adventure to a wonderful place where my name was written in the guest book. I left my home and family and travelled all around the world on land and sea – searching for signs as to where this adventure would be and wondered what would be in it for me. I moved house many times, across states, straits, territories and mountain ranges; along with my husband who also searched for this adventure. I raised children to take with us, as we moved to a large island where my husband grew up as a child. We wondered if there might be a wonderful adventure for us all there.

Soon after moving to the island in the south I received a calling card addressed to me which told me what I should do to follow the adventure to the wonderful place. I kept it to myself and treasured it; I showed it to a Guide in secret. He gave me clues as to what I should do and encouraged me to continue. As the years passed, the days became so dark I barely knew which way was forward or back. I could tell that it was not safe to share my card with some; others told me what I lacked.

But again we moved from place to place, unafraid and searching for the time when the adventure would begin. I kept this calling card close to my chest, wondering what it meant. Some people could see the adventure we longed for and joined us in the quest. I didn’t have many answers but we travelled along at our best. Some dear friends also left their home to follow their directions on their cards. Uncertainty grew as to the validity of mine; people warned of an expiry date.

We ventured even further south into the country where many card-carrying people met together. I spent a few years waiting and asking others what they thought I should do. I dared to show a few of them my card, a Guide and my husband. They shook their heads. One said he did not agree, and the other asked ‘Why?’ I didn’t have the answer so I hid it for a long while. I said lots of words and tried to tell others, they didn’t understand what they heard.

We suddenly met new people searching like us, launching life boats in new waters, searching for more people to join the adventure to the wonderful place. It was hard work launching boats, many people jumped in, others jumped out – at times it was rocky but still I wondered where were we floating and what must I do? I was doing so much, paddling hard around the bay and up the stream. I was unsure whether to say anything.

Around that time my strength was taken away, I could barely walk or move. I tried to keep doing and fell down flat. So I meditated on my card night and day and asked God what to be. I asked for the answer to ‘Why?’ and it came to me in so many words. Not just the answer to this but to all the other questions I had asked of others, questions they asked of me. We moved our family once again, fed up with the waste of tramping my family around all over the place. The losses were stacked against us, this time we were asking for a win. We wanted to be in a place where people would come in.

We found somewhere to live where I am able to walk and meditate on those words and answers; now I can share this with others. During the time when my strength was all gone, I found out that the whole time I was already on the great adventure and the wonderful place was right where I was, wherever God was with us.  I am still following directions on that calling card, not knowing what comes next. But I do know that wherever I go, it only happens when God says.

The Hurt is Real, Hope Heals

* Trigger warning * Call Lifeline 13 11 14 or 1800 RESPECT immediately if you need help.

Recently there has been a lot of publicity about domestic violence statistics to raise public awareness – whether or not we have been affected by it, or known someone who has – this is shocking to many of us. The pain of domestic violence is carried for decades, by victims and their family members, who suffer feelings of social isolation and worthlessness that linger for the rest of their lives.

What can be done to help those who have an immediate need for safety in their own homes? What can be done for those whose memories regurgitate their past trauma and inflict emotional and physical grief and pain that seems to control their lives and wellbeing?

The many forms of violence and abuse:

  • Silent treatment
  • Public Shaming
  • Gossip and slander
  • Defamation
  • Physical violence (to the body or destruction of property)
  • Passive aggressive behaviour
  • Sexual abuse or any unwanted intimacy
  • Manipulating friends or family members to ‘take sides’ in arguments causing further social isolation
  • Controlling behaviour – finances, social life, domestic duties.
  • Interrogation and verbal harassment

Friends, neighbours, family members and care providers have an important role to play. It is important to work together to prevent further hurt, self-blame and shame that victims may suffer for the rest of their lives, the path to healing includes genuine friendship and care. Sometimes this care also requires tough love if the victim is unable to take those first few steps toward seeking professional help.

If a friend is considering taking their life because of domestic violence or abuse, intervening on their behalf may require being physically present with them during difficult times if and when possible and then making arrangements for them to talk to a helpline or counselling professional. This kind of intervention is the realm of the friend or family member who is keenly aware of the circumstances – ignoring the signs or ‘passing the buck’ is the worst thing anyone can do.

Doing nothing is not an option.

The most important message to convey to a victim of abuse or domestic violence is that their story matters and their life has a purpose. They should never be made to feel excluded any more than they already are. They should be encouraged to participate in life to the full, to seek the help they need to be safe – once they do so they can begin to take small steps towards fulfilling their life goals. Focusing on the future helps motivate them to develop a positive self-image and builds resilience.  Achieving life goals or being able to help others is the antidote for feelings of helplessness and low self-worth that are caused by abuse. If they are made to feel like their ‘damage’ will hinder them for the rest of their lives, their depression and anxiety may spiral and they will forever fall victim to the consequences of their abuse.

Hope is the most wonderful gift any friend or family member can give. Whether it is small mercies or blessings, or major plans and achievements – there is a road to recovery that is best travelled one small step at a time alongside trusted friends.

Stand up

Speak out

White Ribbon website

When all is said and done..

“When all is said and done, everything that God offers us is wrapped up in Himself – His real living presence. His resources are not available apart from Himself.

Keeping close company with Jesus – that is what makes all the difference.

The love of God brings inner security and a sense of value.

His grace brings acceptance, forgiveness and release from guilt.

The wisdom of His word and the authenticity of his being set us free from the traps of falsehood.

His power gives us the capacity to do right and the confidence to attempt it.

His peace calms our anxieties and develops patience.

Hope in His purposes gives us the heart to persevere, and

His joy is our greatest pleasure.

Jesus really is actually alive – not just in some unreal other-worldly way that is unconnected with daily reality, but really, truly present and available.”

  • Rick Lewis in “Mentoring Matters”