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Posts Tagged ‘the body of Christ’

pexels-photo-461252There we were on Christmas day, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. I had put some cherries out for us to enjoy and offered one to our three-year-old granddaughter.

‘These are lovely, Maxine. Would you like one?’ I said.

She gazed at them for a moment, then came out with this profound statement.

‘I don’t like cherries because I’ve never had them before!’

Now that obviously made complete sense to her. After all, surely if her parents hadn’t given them to her before this, then those funny red things with stems must be yucky! I remembered too the response of one of our own children, when faced with eating something they hadn’t tasted previously. ‘I won’t like it!’ they would say, obviously fearful of what lay ahead.

Sadly, I suspect I can be like Maxine at times, or that child of ours.  Often I can be very picky—but more so with books than food.  I may find myself turned off by a cover I dislike or the quality of the paper or the size of the print. I don’t mind small print, but I do object when a large font is used and those lines are spread so far apart and the margins are so wide, making that book too insubstantial for me and not worth the money I paid for it! Yet some smaller books I own have turned out to be absolute gems, such as Henri Nouwen’s Out of Solitude or Eugene Petersen’s The Wisdom of Each Other.

Much sadder than pre-judging books, however, are the times I have pre-judged people because of their appearance or something different about them. The biggest lesson I learnt in this regard occurred around twenty-five years ago when I met a young woman at a prayer training course. At first, after discovering she was blind, I avoided her. I felt I would not know how to relate to someone who could not see. And, to my shame, I was reluctant to put myself out to help her. Yet God drew us together—and that young woman taught me so much about myself, about courage, about perseverance, about relating to those who suffer from any degree of vision impairment.

A few years later, I found myself at another course where most participants were from a different part of the Body of Christ. ‘They won’t be able to teach me anything much,’ I decided in complete arrogance. Yet their kind acceptance, attentiveness and intelligent conversation turned out to be a wonderful, healing gift from God for me.

Now I’m hoping there aren’t too many others of you out there like me who are practised pre-judgers.  I hope you taste those cherries or look carefully at those smaller books before making up your mind. I hope you listen to and accept others, however different they are. And I hope I do too more and more. But above all, if Jesus Christ is someone unfamiliar to you, I hope and pray that, in the coming year, you may not pre-judge or write him off too quickly but instead take time to get to know him, to experience his amazing love and to taste his absolute goodness for yourself.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8

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It’s amazing to me how one image or event can burn a particular truth into our hearts and minds all over again in a new and fresh way. When a truth is played out before our eyes in a way we can’t ignore, something clicks into place inside and that truth becomes so much more firmly embedded in us.

One recent Saturday morning, I arrived at our church just before nine to open up our Art Installation for anyone wanting to spend time reflecting there with God. I thought no one else would be around, but as I drove into the car park, I could see activity everywhere.

I had forgotten about the working bee. I looked around and saw men busily cleaning up in different corners of the property. Someone was mowing the grass. Someone was blowing leaves away in another area. Another was sawing away, fixing up a wooden structure elsewhere. Another was blasting the concrete with a pressure cleaner. And still another—one of our senior pastors, in fact—was removing a drain cover to clean out mud and muck that had piled up there.

But in a room in another corner of the property, a different activity was taking place. There, prayer was happening. There, people had been invited to come and receive God’s healing, as others listened to them and prayed on their behalf. A quiet ministry—but oh, so important.

IMG_20171005_201041693_HDRI headed for the Art Installation, then walked around, turning on some soft music and also the special fairy lights that highlighted some of the displays. As I did, I marvelled again at the variety of works people had contributed for this event.  Paintings—some better executed than others, yet all expressing something of God from the depths of the artists’ hearts. There were drawings too and sculpture and other intricate works of art. Various forms of writing were on display as well—poetry, prose, song lyrics. There was even a beautifully iced cake, made to depict the different gifts those in the Body of Christ have, through the Spirit’s enabling.

Three hours later, I closed the door on this lovely, creative space and went to leave. And as I did, a van pulled up outside the main door and men began hauling tables out. Then some women arrived, carrying trays of food and all sorts of boxes. Everyone was intent on the job at hand and everyone seemed to know what to do, like bees in a hive. Their task was to get things ready to enable well over a hundred women to pack two thousand birthing kits that afternoon and evening that World Vision staff will use to help women in rural Uganda. Even prior to this, others had prepared parts of these kits to enable this packing to run smoothly.

So that Saturday, I witnessed afresh the great strength the Body of Christ has when every part functions as it is made and gifted to do.

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. Romans 12:4-5 New Living Translation

We all belong to each other. What a wonderful thing—and how important to remember!

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Around three years ago, I wrote a blog about a blueberry ash tree I had planted as a tiny seedling on the creek bank behind our house. By that stage, it had managed to survive several years of being attacked by our lawnmower and a total lack of care from me. Then a flood came—and my little tree, then about a metre and half in height, disappeared beneath the murky brown water. Yet, miracle of miracles, after those waters receded, it popped up again, good as new!

In the ensuing years, that blueberry ash has grown to around three metres, producing beautiful, miniature clusters of pale pink flowers and interesting little blue berries, as per its name. But during the heavy rains here in Sydney a few weeks ago, it experienced another adventure. Again, I watched from the safety of our kitchen as it disappeared one afternoon beneath a torrent of fast-flowing, brown water.

Now the deluge was not as high this time, yet somehow, my tree still ended up completely submerged. When I later went to investigate, it was lying almost horizontal and covered in all sorts of debris. For it to be in that position, I was sure its roots must have popped through the surface of the ground—but no. Instead, that tree, with its slender, pliable trunk, had managed to bend almost at right angles, without disturbing the soil around its base. Those roots held firm, somewhere way down deep in that soggy creek bank.

P1040093I hastily cleaned up my tree and propped it up, tying it to our fence for a while, in case of any further flood. It seemed to recover well, but recently, we noticed it was growing at something of an angle. We decided it needed some help to stand up straight again and tied it firmly to a long stake. And it was at that point I realised what a powerful image of our lives this tree conveyed.

In Psalm 1:3, we read how those who delight in the law of the Lord are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. In order for us to stand firm, it’s important to ensure our roots go down deep into God as we constantly drink from the living water God provides. Yet life can still become a struggle at times and even the best of us may end up like my poor tree, needing help to weather the storms. How good it is when we are able to call on others who will support us during those times, just like that stake, and provide a shoulder to lean on until we become strong and resilient again! Surely this is one of the functions of the Body of Christ—to lift up our brothers and sisters and to bear one another’s burdens until that resilience wins through again.

Have you been feeling a little like my blueberry ash of late, overwhelmed and bent at right angles? I pray God will soon strengthen you and that others will be there to support you until you can stand up straight and tall once again. May your roots go down deep into God and may you in turn be able to strengthen and encourage many others.

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As a young child, I loved it when relatives came to visit or when we visited them. These people belonged to us and we belonged to them. We didn’t choose one another—that was decided for us. And yes, as I grew up, I did discover that some relatives were perhaps less enjoyable to be with than others! Come to think of it, they probably thought much the same about me!

I was (and am) fortunate enough to have a great older sister, yet it felt good to have that extended family out there as well. I remember one cousin in particular who was happy to play with my sister and me whenever we visited their family or they us. Together, we would have wonderful, imaginative adventures and plan out special concerts which our longsuffering parents had to endure as we shared our talents with them!

But I am so thankful I belong to another special, extremely extended family. Recently, I took a friend with me to a group some distance from Sydney where I was to speak. This group was from a different church denomination and my friend knew none of the women there. Yet as we drove home, she commented:

‘It’s amazing, isn’t it, how even though I hadn’t met any of these women before, there was an instant connection. It makes a real difference when we are all part of God’s family.’

Since then, I have had cause to think about her statement further as I have spoken at several other venues, inside and outside our own denomination, as well as at one interdenominational group. At the meeting with this latter group, people came to chat to me who remembered me from past connections or who knew one of our children or some mutual friend. One lady, on reading my latest book Soul Friend, had discovered it was about my relationship with my spiritual mentor Joy, whom she had known many, many years ago in another Christian context. She was so delighted to meet me as a result. In this instance in particular, but also in the other connections made that day, I realised again how blessed I am to belong to the huge, multi-faceted family of God. We might have our different ways of worshipping or meeting together. We might even sadly disagree about various issues at times within our own local church family. Yet despite that, something very deep and lasting binds us together in a unique way. And that something—or rather Someone—is the very Spirit of God who lives in each one of us through our faith in Jesus Christ. We are brothers and sisters. We are family.

I love Paul’s heart for this family of God and for the passionate way he challenges us to care for one another and stay united. In Ephesians 4:3-6, we read:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

It is a precious thing to belong to God’s family. May we never take this lightly but do all we can to continue loving, caring for and building one another up as we are able and as God has gifted us to do.

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We live in a designated flood zone. Now we knew that before we bought our home twenty-seven years ago but quickly decided that was fine, since we couldn’t afford anything else near where we needed to be. Besides, the water from the creek over our back fence would never reach the house itself—we could see that.

Well, in all those years, it hasn’t. But it sure is exciting stuff to stand at our kitchen windows after a massive storm like the one we experienced last week and watch our puny, little creek become a raging torrent about four metres deep in the space of about half an hour. It’s even more exciting to watch this same torrent swirl round the high bank between us and our ‘upside’ neighbour’s home into the ‘bay’ provided by our terraced backyard! But when the waters subside, the real fun begins! Then, with no rear or side vehicle access to our backyard, we have to figure out how to get rid of the mass of debris left behind—big logs, bits of wood, sticks of all sizes, masses of dead grass, tennis balls, syringes, plastic drink bottles, an exercise ball, a car battery, a toilet seat lid and many other interesting odds and ends.

The day after this latest inundation, the doorbell rang. Who should be standing there but our son, complete with shovel, fork and rake, with our two granddaughters for moral support! Not long after, our youth minister arrived, along with three young henchmen from the church youth group—also complete with shovels, a rake, a wheelbarrow and other paraphernalia. All afternoon they toiled hard, wheeling barrows filled with debris up our steep backyard, round the house and onto our footpath. I felt so embarrassed at all the effort they were putting in on our behalf and hurried to get a decent afternoon tea together for them.

And then the cavalry arrived! I heard voices outside and opened our front door to find around fifteen more young people streaming into our yard. They were from a training program run by Churches of Christ in NSW and had been enjoying a quiet, retreat afternoon together—until their leader suggested it might be good to come and help us out. Imagine my even greater embarrassment then, as I watched these guys and girls, many with good clothes on, hauling wheelbarrows, carrying muddy sticks, picking up rubbish and getting very messy—all the while smiling and joking together!

Yet along with this embarrassment came great relief and also the realisation of how privileged we are to belong to the body of Christ and have these young people serve us in this way. To me, they epitomised some words from Scripture I had spoken on only recently:

Each one should use whatever gift he [she] has received, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. … If anyone serves, he [she] should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised, through Jesus Christ. 1 Pet 4:10–11.

Just as each one of us is called to receive God’s saving grace in our lives with humility, so I knew I needed to receive this beautiful gift of grace from these young people. And as an added bonus, how wonderful it was to be able to explain to our neighbours where these young people came from and to hear their comments that this was true community in action! As Peter wrote, may God be praised in all things!

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