Friday, March 21, 2014

CP 241 Can I tell you something?

CP 241 Can I tell you something?
Hello friends, another item this week on terribly destructive business of judging others. Last week’s blog on this subject generated a fair bit of feedback. And I’ve been doing a bit more thinking and remembering as well. I want to share just one more example of the deadly impact of shaming which might make many of us, me included, ashamed before the Lord.
Can I tell you something?
Here is the story. It’s about ten years ago. I’m having an unexpected conversation with a woman I barely know. ‘Can I tell you something I’ve never told another soul?’ ‘Sure,’ says Fred. She tells me. ‘That man over there is my husband. The two young people with him are our son and daughter. Before we were married I became pregnant to my husband. I’m so ashamed to tell you this, but we decided to abort the child. I knew it was wrong then. I know it even more deeply now. I’ve been coming here almost every Sunday for all those years, and I’ve confessed it every Sunday, but I’ve never been free of it. I hear the forgiveness but it is as though it doesn’t work for me.’
Yes, I was taken aback. When confessions come out of the blue like that there are always a few moments where you think, ‘Did I really hear that.’ To cut a long story short, we talked a bit, with me gently asking questions. We prayed, with me asking the Lord to set her free from the contract she had made with the ‘other side’. I spoke with my pastoral authority, in Jesus’ name, and also, in Jesus’ name, cut off the stronghold of shame within which she had lived for more than 20 years. She prayed to be filled with Christ’s Spirit. Joy can be amazing to see. Her freedom to know her freedom in Christ was instantaneous.
I immediately asked a question, and should have asked a second.
Here is the question I asked. ‘How come you gave yourself permission to have that abortion?’ Her answer astounded me then and it still does. “My Father is a prominent official in the church and I didn’t want to bring shame on him and mum.”
It stunned me then. It stuns me still. How is it that we have created such a fear of personal or communal shame that those who cause it are nudged to the truly shameful – to save the skin of the righteous? You and I both know this stuff happened. We have all been part of the ‘Cover up shame’ brigade. In this case, ‘Let’s have an abortion because that will save face for my parents.’ In one case I’m aware of one young woman stood on the edge of a high-rise trying to summon the courage to take that fateful step. In others, girls were utterly terrified of their parents. Others were cut-off from their families in (un)righteous indignation… ‘Never darken the doorstep again!’
I am grateful beyond words that my Lord Jesus the Messiah entered not only into my skin, but also my sin and shame. He bore the shame. He did not seek to avoid it. He did this for me, in my place What a great word is written in Hebrews:
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
I could easily be, or have been, part of that judgemental culture. How mortified would I be if my kids felt driven to do something shameful to save my skin. Kyrie eleison.
Oh yes, the question I should have asked? Where was your boyfriend / husband when that decision was being made?
There you are… once again got something out of my system.
Be blessed in the Messiah. Fred

Thursday, March 13, 2014

CP 240 Arrgghh... not like other men

CP 240 Arrgghh…not like other men
Try this for a modern version of the parable Jesus put together about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector.
“Two men went up to the church to pray, one a ‘practising Christian’ and the other a ‘church drop-out’. The practising Christian stood up and prayed about himself: ‘Father God, I thank you that I am not like other men – slackers, absentees, people who just don’t get their priorities right – or even like that ‘supposed Christian’ over there. I observe Lent properly, get to church each Sunday, read the Bible everyday, always take my place on the church rosters, and make sure my tithe money is on the plate each week. And I know my doctrine too.
But the drop-out stood at a distance from the church. He would not even look up to heaven. Father, I know I’m a loser. I haven’t been able to get my life together. The kids are a rabble, the missus and I often aren’t talking, and I can’t understand why there is so much pain in the world, let alone the pain in my heart. I have so many questions, and so many doubts and never found anybody I could talk to. I hardly know what I believe anymore. Whenever I’m anywhere near the church I feel judged and a failure. Whatever I do, I just can’t seem to measure up. I know I’m just not good enough. O God, please help me.
I tell you, said Jesus, this drop-out went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:14
Hey people, Jesus said, “Do not judge…” Just recently I seem to have run into plenty of folks, inside and outside the church who feel judged. Often it’s more than a condescending look. A little put down word is thrown in for good measure. I wonder if we ‘practising Christians’ have any idea of how others seem to perceive us.
The judgement thing turns up in other ways too. A couple of years ago I took the funeral of an old bloke whose daughter couldn’t tell me if he’d been, even once, to worship since the family came from Germany in the 60s. The family had split and dad got into the alcohol. In my heart I was saying, ‘Ah yes, the usual…’ But see, then she gave me his bible which he kept by his bedside. It was old, but so used, and written in, and underlined, that it was falling to pieces! I started reading… all those verses underlined and commented on. ‘For God so loved… I am the way… obey these words of mine… nothing can separate us…’ All my heart said was, ‘Father forgive.
A similar thing happened in my time at St Pauls. I was asked to take a funeral for an ‘American Lutheran’ by his daughter. Neither had been in a church over the 15 years since coming to Oz, yet they had read scripture and prayed together every day!
Recently I had cause to visit a couple with young kids. It was 7.30pm but they looked exhausted. Dad goes to work every morning at 5.00am. Mum gets up then, gets the kids (2 and 1) organised, drops them off at Daycare by 7.00am, before driving an hour half-way across Sydney to her teaching job. Daily toll of $15! Most days they manage to get home by 5.30pm. Both kids have recently been sick and hospitalised. Begin each weekend exhausted, but muscle up for cleaning, shopping and kid’s parties. You know, I didn’t talk much about baptism. I did ask them what they’d like the Lord to be doing… we talked about that and prayed. I don’t expect to see them worshipping regularly any time soon. I do expect I’ll keep in shepherd’s-touch.
Mum and dad with 3 kids who for one reason or another just can’t keep the kids settled or quiet. Can’t hear the sermon so no point going, especially when you start tired and irritable…
Pastors come and go. People stop worshipping and only a few notice… New Pastor comes and the dropouts fall right off the radar…
Lord Jesus, forgive my ‘superior sins’. Work in me that my heart beats as your heart, my compassion is your compassion, my understanding is as your understanding, and my words are your words. Have mercy on me Lord, a sinner.