Sunday, 23 October 2011

Made More Faithful in the Wait

I read a comment left on someone's blog earlier:

"Time to get back to the basics, coffee with cream and sugar; Church with the Word and less fufu." 
And it made me smile because as I slog through this lesson on where church goes wrong, and seek Him to restore my faith in what's right about it, that's pretty much the Church I find He's set me in with Brunnen church plant. We are being Church with the Word and less fufu. We have no building walls. Just homes, and cafes, and a disadvantaged part of the city we want to be a Christ's presence in. We have down-to-earth teaching from the bible, in Swedish and English, which feel more like conversations because we can look into one another's eyes gathered around someone's living room. And we have accountability with one another for living out our struggles and our joy throughout the week too. Nothing fancy, just real and down-to-earth. Tangibly His hands and feet to one another. And He couldn't have drawn it all together at a better time.

This week my DNA (accountability/prayer group) friend and I are reading the book of John. We've both done substantial biblical study in our degrees and liked the idea of just focusing in on Jesus in the gospels, like being reacquainted with the story of His life which we've heard all of our lives. It is heartening to look again and again and again at this God as man, to let the familiar stories of what His disciples witnessed with their own eyes just play before my imagination.

John 6:35 stood out to me today. Mostly because it is Jesus Himself saying in no uncertain terms that anyone who trusts in Him will never be spiritually hungry or thirsty again, and I tell you what, I feel so deeply dissatisfied right now that I can't think of much else beyond how hungry and thirsty I am. Instantly, my disillusioned side starts going, "Huh. Well... You're saying this one thing, and I'm feeling entirely another. That's rather disappointing, God." He told me to look it up in more depth later... So, here I am, 29 minutes past midnight, looking up John 6:35 in the original Greek and seeking God to encourage me with it.

In English, the verse says, "Jesus replied, 'I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry again. Those who believe in me will never thirst'."

The original Greek for hunger and thirst are peinasē and dipsēsei respectively, and they both conjure up similar translations; 'to have hunger, to have thirst, to have need, to desire earnestly'. The Greek transliteration for 'Never' is ou. There are many translations for this, but my favourite was more of an explanation. Strong's said ou means basically, "ruling it out as fact." All pretty straightforward to what I read in my NLT bible without going in deeper.

But then the Greek for "who comes to me" and "believe in me"...

The phrase 'who come' is transliterated erchomenos, and can also be translated as 'brought to,' or 'accompany'. I like the idea of being brought to Jesus. Like the little children he welcomed when the disciples wanted to turn them away. Because the kingdom belongs to such as these (Matt 19:14). But the richest discovery for me was 'accompany'. I love the image of "accompanying" Jesus. Isn't that what walking with Him is? "No one who accompanies me will ever be hungry again." And isn't it in that daily interaction with Him, that daily keeping company with Him, that we are refreshed for the journey? If there is one word to describe the overriding feeling around this time in life for me right now it is: dissatisfied. I have such earnest and frustrated desires I can barely breathe with them. But must just keep waiting and see the season through... Sometimes so deeply dissatisfied and seemingly disappointed that I don't recognize the sun when it pokes through the clouds as Swedish winter descends. How is that 'never hungering or thirsting,' Lord?

But then the final word I looked up. 'Believe' in 'Those who believe in me....' The Greek transliteration is pisteuōn: 'To believe, have faith in, trust -- to entrust, especially one's spiritual well-being to Christ'. This is not earth-shattering but for the moment, for MY moment, it's kinda huge.

Working through a book about Spiritual Abuse as I walk this journey of Him restoring my soul, the chapter which has most stood out to me has been a rather simple re-teaching on the foundations of my salvation in Christ. On how Grace works. It's only in admitting our brokenness, our neediness, our sheer not-enoughness, truly realizing that we NEED His grace, that we can then realize truly what He means when He says He has done it. If we believe, pisteuōn, to have faith in, TRUST, "especially one's spiritual well-being to Christ", it is DONE. His grace has done it all. And if we believe Him, we can rest and know His love, and be anxious for nothing, strive for nothing, have no lingering fear of not being good enough, or fear that the grace will run out, a bit used up for every sinful act or attitude. He knew every single one before He paid the price for them. He knew how messy this life would get, and how discouragement would sometimes knock us right to the floor. He knew how even His church would be deceived and tainted-- made of humans after all-- and how it would hurt and deceive ones of His. But He still did all of the work of redemption that day on the Cross.

I am recognizing again how truly poor in spirit I am, and so how the Kingdom of Heaven has been unlocked for me (Matthew 5:3). And accompanying Jesus, I must keep TRUSTING Him with my poorness and my neediness, my aching dissatisfaction and unmet desires, and laying it out before Him as I accompany Him every day, every hour... And somehow, it's in being hungry and it's in being thirsty, that I am filled with His grace. With purpose. With hope. It's in being empty, that I am full. It's in being full of emptiness, that Grace works.

And I cannot express how thankful I am for the richness of this grace...

"When I can't feel You, I have learned to reach out just the same
When I can't hear You, I know you still hear every word I pray
And I want You more than I wanna live another day
And as I wait for You, maybe I'm made more faithful..."

--Brooke Fraser, 'Faithful'

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Life-sustaining Water

My God is faithful. Frustratingly beyond working out, yes, but faithful. And I am so thankful.

I am forever blessed by the church plant He has me involved in here in Göteborg for this season in life. Missional, authentic, genuine. We've called it 'Brunnen' which in Swedish means, "The Well". The well in Bible days was the meeting place in a community, a place of fellowship. A well is also where one can find life-sustaining water. I think that as the body of Christ, doing church together should feel like life-sustaining water...

We meet bi-weekly for a church service which helps refresh the faith in me-- and I think this is what meeting together as the Church was always meant to do. And we also break into little accountability groups-- prayer groups, really-- once a week. We call this DNA-- Discipling, Nurturing, and Accountability. DNA with my girls (there are 3 of us) brings the broken bits in me back together. I find this kind of authentic sharing of lives and hearts is to me the tangible touch of God in this aching world.

And I am so thankful.

Sometimes His beauty catches me unaware. Tonight after sharing lives, hearts, a meal, and prayer with my awesome friend and one of the leaders of our precious church plant, I took a walk with God across the Göta Alv under the stars. The city line on the shore of the river coming in from the North Sea was glowing against the inky black sky. And as the bitingly cold wind rushed over me, I found rest there in His presence on the bridge-- cars, trams, and buses bustling by.

Tonight after I'd poured out my heart to my dear DNA friend, we prayed, and as we prayed the song playing was saying, "It's only temporary, it's only temporary." I keep calling this time of processing my grief over church gone wrong and the way I feel so damaged by it sometimes "a season." Only a season. It won't always feel this open and raw and ambiguous and heavy. It was as if God was just laying a hand on my shoulder and reassuring me in common words, "It's only temporary, love. Keep working at this. You'll see. You'll come out the other side."

And one simple evening, over one simple meal, with down-to-earth, "this is really what's inside my head" conversation, He graces me with renewed strength for the journey. It is Who He is. This gracious, this strong, this faithful.

And I stand on the bridge overlooking the murky waters to the shining shore in awe.
So thankful to belong to this faithful God.

I'm not only wishing you strength for your journey, friend; I'm telling you where to find it.
As the deer pants for streams of water,
   so my soul pants for you, my God.
 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
   When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
   day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
   “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
   as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
   under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
   among the festive throng.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
   Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
   for I will yet praise him,
   my Savior and my God.
Psalm 42:1-5

Sunday, 16 October 2011

With His Love...

[A new song discovery to read by:]

You know, I used to be really really into this blog world. Not this one here at blogspot, but at xanga, where I kept a blog all throughout highschool and basically grew into myself through writing out my thoughts of all kinds.... I made friends with other bloggers in the community and we grew up together. I have to admit, I kinda miss it. But once in a while, I still read blogs, and when I stumble upon a blog of someone who writes from a genuine and honest and searching place, a "hey, we don't have it all together, but together we might be able to deal with it" kinda place, I am touched and humbled and inspired to share a little deeper, to make this place a space for other people to think genuinely, share honestly, and search deeply too. We don't have to agree on everything, we just have to be honest with ourselves and honest before God, who loves us whether we've got it all figured out or not. (And honestly, we're talking about God here. If you think you have ANYTHING all figured out in light of Him, honey, you have got some re-evaluating to do.)

I like this randomly stumbled upon blogpost today:

In the end, she asks what our favourite bible passage is that let's us know that we are loved. I instantly think of Zephaniah 3:17 which has held me through the years: "For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty saviour. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs."

Maybe this post resonates with me so much because the season Jesus is currently walking with me through involves dealing with some deep places of hurt incurred in working in ministry, and with and for The Church. Early this month I took a deep breath and a hard gulp and decided to start having some counseling for issues of spiritual abuse. Yikes-- those are intimidating words. I kinda don't even want to write them. It feels like admitting some kind of defeat to it. That yes, it hurts this much, perplexes me this much, and presses down on me this much. Still. But maybe that desire to not let it show how disillusioned I feel is exactly why I need to be speaking up in this season. Not sure where one would find a Christian counselor in Sweden even if one could speak Swedish properly, I looked up a Christian counselor in London so I can set up sessions whenever I'm over visiting Charles. Initially I thought, "Ah, I just need closure on this. One session to just help me sort it all out in my head." But that was rather naive of me, I think :) And having never done counseling outside of meetings with campus counselors in University, I guess the whole thing is rather an adventure. And maybe it's best that way. I'm in way over my head anyway, and that usually means God's got to be all in all to me.

Seeing the body of Christ used to wound and kill one's spirit has been a bit too much for me. And I begin to see it everywhere, like my eyes have been opened to what they hardly saw before. And it's like heaviness upon heaviness upon heaviness in my little heart which just wants to have faith like a child. And it makes me furious. Furious at an enemy who slinks into whatever form he can take to deceive The Bride. The best deceptions are the ones which look so very close to the truth that the error is almost imperceptible...

In my best moments, it makes me even MORE passionate about loving well and actively, to be a mirror which reflects His face. Because this aching world will see Him no other way. And we, you and I, individuals, are what make up The Church. But sometimes my best moments feel very distant. And it's more like slogging through than running a steady race.

I think this season is a time of grief in me. Over the damage the enemy has done in The Church, His Bride. And over the way that damage has entered my life and my experience of His Church, and broken whatever frail veil of innocent, childlike hope I had hanging in my heart. Sometimes the hurt colours over everything I thought I believed, and I am left gasping for air, wondering where one goes from here. Because where God was meant to be living among me, the Church, turned out unsafe, abusing its power, and I wonder if He was living there at all. And sometimes I can't see or feel His might, I can't see or feel Him saving me, or intervening in the suffering all around as our mighty saviour. But that's where His Love reassures. That's where His love wraps me up so tightly that the world stops spinning. It's His unfailing love that can be trusted when nothing else makes sense anymore. It all begins and ends there. With His love, He will calm all your fears...

"For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty saviour. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
-- Zeph. 3:17

Monday, 10 October 2011

And the Winner is...

So... the first giveaway at In The Hands of The Master Poet has been rather a disappointment...

Only 2 people left comments! And as I know both commenters and think they both should get the book "The Heart of the Story" by Randy Frazee, I couldn't choose one, could I? So I enlisted my handsome boyfriend to help me by giving him the comments to read anonymously and judge the most worthy winner...

Only, he couldn't choose one more worthy than the other!! So, we were back at square one. At least he's handsome :)

So, I've decided with only 2 commenters, you both should read the book! I think I will send my sister who commented the free copy. And I will lend my copy to my friend who commented! So, this way, everyone gets to read it :) Kind of all winners, then? :)

And just because he's adorable and did try to help me, you get a photo of my mighty fine man! Oh, what a lucky day all around :)

Thursday, 6 October 2011

In The Hands of the Master-Poet's First Ever Giveaway! -- Now Closed

The Heart of the Story: God's Masterful Design to Restore His People (Story, The)
The bigger picture has always captivated me.

The idea that God is on a rescue mission to restore the world He created and the people in it to relationship with Him-- and how everything in the story of our lives, and all the individual stories we're living, are all working together to that end, and how, in fact, we are invited to play a part in that rescue mission story... It puts things in perspective.

Randy Frazee calls this bigger picture the 'upper story' in his book The Heart of the Story: God's Masterful Design to Restore His People. He calls our circumstances as we see them through our human experiences the 'lower story'. What I loved about this book was the idea of taking the whole entire bible--the hundreds of memorable and not so memorable 'lower' stories of human experience -- and making a basic summary of it to repaint it in light of the upper story, the bigger picture. In these stories innumerable many of us have grown up hearing about, the characters were firmly entrenched in their own lower stories of human circumstance, just like you and I. And yet, when we stand back and look at the bigger picture the Word of God is showing, we can see the upper story significance of each individual character's lower story (Have I driven home enough the 'story' idea yet?). There is something so innately encouraging in that. I happen to be firmly entrenched in my own lower story, and need constant reminders of that upper story God's unfolding just beyond my human vision, closer than my circumstances tell...

I was excited when I was offered this book for review because I relished the idea of digesting the whole entire story of the Bible all in one big gulp. Frazee, a teaching pastor by vocation and the author of numerous previous books, didn't disappoint in his anecdotal summary. I often get tripped up in the minor prophets. I take them one by one as moving pieces of literature, but struggle to fit them into the chronological narrative of Israel's story. The Heart of the Story helpfully wove the myriad of true tales together in a way that I could cognitively see where they fit into the story in history. And Frazee did it while also lifting the reader's eyes up to the way it all fits into the bigger picture / upper story.

If I could make any criticisms about this book, they would be only from a point of view of my admittedly snobby literaturary tastes :) I sometimes found his writing style a bit juvenile, as if he was trying too hard to sound 'cool', but because I believe this was an effort to make God's Word approachable by anyone, I think we should let it slide ;) It was extremely readable and that can be hard to find when it comes to wrestling with Biblical literature and matters of Theology.

All that said, I think you should read this book! Who doesn't need some help to focus on the bigger picture when we are so caught up in our day to days? So... to aid you to that end, I'd like to offer In The Hands of the Master-Poet's first giveaway! I have an extra copy of Randy Frazee's The Heart of the Story: God's Masterful Design to Restore His People to give away to one lucky reader of this blog :) Ooh, exciting :) All you have to do to receive your free copy is leave me a comment explaining why you would like to read this book, and giving me some way to contact you so we can be in touch about where I should mail it if you win the giveaway.

So, comment, comment, comment! The contest will be open over the weekend and I'll contact the winner early next week. Let's seek out this God actively working to restore us to Himself, and let's equip ourselves to let the upper story, the bigger picture, the greater purpose influence the way we live our lower stories day to day. Let's be encouraged: "since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Heb. 12:1).
What a gift it is to live wrapped up in such purpose! And what a gift it is to have The Bible to be told of all the ones who lived out their stories for such a purpose before us. What did they do before they had those testimonies to look to and be encouraged by?

Yay for free giveaways of encouragement :)
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