Sunday, 25 August 2013

Feeling alone in church

Within the body of Christ there are very many different personalities – after all, our Creator made us each individuals, each with our unique gifts and characteristics. Many humans bear similarities, but no two are completely alike.
We, as Christians, are in a sense “called out” of this world and set apart for a life of service to God and others. God tells us in His word, the Bible, that we are to serve Him not only individually, but as a community of believers, His church – the body of Christ. There is only one body, but many different communities. There is only one body, but many different elements and functions within that body.
Church congregations are very interesting in the amount of personal authenticity that they allow. This is a cultural aspect which sometimes, I believe, follows the prompting of the Holy Spirit rather than being orchestrated by leaders. What I mean by personal authenticity is the ability of an individual to be real about their past, their struggles, their state of mind and their walk with God.
Too many people are into the mindset of putting on their best clothes and happiest mask for church on Sunday. Naturally, to do otherwise is to be vulnerable, to risk offence and hurt and to perhaps end up feeling even more isolated. But on the other hand there may be genuine listeners and pray-ers out there who will come alongside and encourage.
God calls us out of the world, and in my thirty-something years in a few different church congregations, I’ve become aware of some, who, for one reason or another, seem to be called out of the church. Let me elaborate- I do not mean that God calls anyone to leave and cease attending churches. On the contrary the writer of Hebrews warns “ Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25. No, the people I am talking about are those who, even in a church congregation, are almost set apart from others by their differences.
These differences may be easily observed, such as a physical or mental disability. A person may be of a different race or ethnic background. Or the differences may be more internalised. A person may have spent their entire life feeling guarded and marginalised because of family circumstances, addictions and secrets.
I believe that this is part of the message in the phrase “Many are called but few are chosen” in Matthew 22. The wedding feast is shared with the outcasts. God in His wisdom does not see people in quite the same way as the world. He loves the broken. He uses the marginalised. He takes those who feel dirty and shameful on the inside and says to them “You’re transformed. You’re washed clean. You’re my bride.” Throughout the gospels we see Jesus being approached by those who were regarded as the dross of society. They never left without being changed, healed, and used by Him to spread the good news.
It’s no small thing to feel set apart in a church. A friend of mine spent many years praying that her son would find one good friend within a church congregation. Despite their prayers and his efforts, he found it very difficult to socialise and did not have a genuine friend. Yet I believe that through this experience that young man will clearly know Jesus as a steadfast friend and will be a mentor to young men further down the track.
Another lady I know was abandoned by her husband and has struggled to raise her children in difficult circumstances, including church hurt which has made her wary of trusting others. Yet she continually testifies to the provision and presence of Jesus in her life, is faithfully attending church services and has a strong evangelical heart for the unsaved.
I know a number of disabled young people who, even in churches, feel isolated. Yet God gives them a sense of His presence and often this is accompanied by a deep sense of their own worth. They need it.
Blessed are those church congregations that strive to be inclusive, that have folk who look out for the ones who don’t fit easily. We all like to feel we belong and have friends.
And very blessed indeed are those who have come to the realisation that they can hold their head high, walk into a crowded auditorium, sit anywhere and chat to whoever and not care particularly much whether they are accepted or rejected by the crowd – because the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is their Saviour, friend, Counsellor and guide. Their worth is found in Him.

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

Saturday, 17 August 2013

A debt of gratitude

Aussies love our sport, and here in Adelaide we were interested to see the redevelopment of the Adelaide Oval. "The Don" had to be photographed from afar, as his statue is currently surrounded by construction fencing.

Across the road from this new development is a park with a statue of another Australian hero. Daily thousands of commuters pass by the figure of John Simpson Kirkpatrick and his donkey. Jack Simpson, as he is commonly known, was a young field ambulance stretcher bearer who carried wounded soldiers to safety on his donkey during the Gallipoli campaign. His cheerful demeanour. courage under fire and devotion to duty was exemplary. He was killed at Gallipoli, aged just 22.

Jack Simpson has come to epitomise the men and women who gave their lives that we might enjoy the freedom and all the good things in life that we have today- including cricket. They follow the example of our Lord Jesus, who said:

"..the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:27

"Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Recharging the batteries

Wang Wang....definite awwww factor

Have just returned from Adelaide, South Australia, where I spent an interesting week with my family enjoying the sights. The creatures in the zoo, including the only two pandas in the Southern hemisphere, reminded us of how amazingly beautiful and intricate God made His creation. We visited many historic spots and buildings. As an art lover, I revelled in the opportunity to view the originals of some of Hans Heysen’s works, as well as visit the locations where he painted, including the Bluff at Victor Harbour. We visited the Barossa Valley and sampled some of the local wines.

Adelaide is known as the city of churches and proudly displays many picturesque church buildings which are interesting to view. But the church is far more than buildings. It’s the people of God everywhere, being the church, built on the cornerstone, Jesus, demonstrating His love, power, kindness and grace. While I was away I read the book “Heavenly Man” by Brother Yun with Paul Hathaway (Monarch Books, 2002), the story of Brother Yun’s life in China, the persecution faced by Christians for their faith and the growth of the church through house churches there. It was a powerful reminder of the privilege we possess in freedom of worship in the west, a challenge to materialism and a reminder of our dependency upon relationship with Christ.

One of the reasons for our visit to Adelaide was for my son Tom to attend the Asia Pacific Autism Conference held at the Adelaide Convention Centre. Along with twenty plus young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Tom was invited to participate as part of a group of “Future Leaders”- young adults who have demonstrated their ability to not only live with the syndrome but to be advocates for those others with a disability. Tom demonstrates that it is possible to live with a severe disability and still achieve an education, work and aspire to personal goals. His faith is a major component of his life. The theme of the conference was “True Colours” and it was absolute joy to see the young people connecting with other young people and just enjoying life as all young people should, as well as us parents to briefly enjoy the camaraderie that comes with mixing with others who understand.

Both my husband and myself have an interest in advocacy for autism and connecting with parents in a role of mutual support, and if you have any further interest I invite connection through my email address on this page.

I am so proud of both my sons. Rob, my younger son, is a modest and quiet young man, a deep thinker, one of the smartest young people I know, and a deeply insightful writer. He is engaged to be married next year to a lovely Christian young lady, Elissa. Parents naturally have so many dreams and desires for their children, but what I wish for mine is that they will always stay firm and grow in their Christian faith, and that faith will give them a sure foundation for their own knowledge, wisdom and self-confidence throughout their lives.  

A few snapshots from the week that was:
Tom and I
Rob at the Coorong, where the Murray River, in background, meets the sea.
Tom, Wayne and Rob
Family portrait, Flinders Street mall
Taken from the Bluff at Victor Harbour. Encounter Bay, where Matthew Flinders encountered the French navigator Nicholas Baudin.  Hans Heysen painted his landscape "Petrel Cove" near this spot.
Eucalypts, Barossa Valley