Good Friday

Today we celebrated Good Friday at church. This is one of the reflections I wrote for that service. The painting was done by a team of beautiful and clever people I get to journey with.

Thinking of you today – may you find life and hope in grief and despair.

easter crosses

While the drama of the crucifixion plays out in an intensely physical and earthly place we must lift our gaze to contemplate the great spiritual drama in play.

The lashings, jeerings and mocking are the least of what Jesus is enduring. At this time sin, sickness, defeat, despair, depression, oppression and brokenness is being transferred to Jesus, the final atoning sacrifice.

In the Old Testament we see sin atoned for by the priest laying his hands on the person and the animal brought for sacrifice – the sin passes from the sinner to the animal, often a lamb. On the cross we see Jesus, our great high priest, the mediator of a new covenant, take up all sin.

What once had to be done again and again to make atonement for sin is achieved once for all, on a wooden cross on a hill shaped like a skull.

None of the bystanders could begin to perceive the exchange at this moment – the chief priests as they justified their win, the disciples as they feared and agonised, the women as they openly grieved the one they loved.

How often do we walk past the cross without stopping to meditate on the truly cosmic moment when the Trinity was torn in two, where the final victory was achieved, where the words ‘It is Finished’ truly meant it is finished.

And then the curtain tore.

A huge and heavy embroidered curtain, reported to be up to 4 inches thick was torn from top to bottom – from God to man – the supreme gift, a way into the holy of holies.

What was once a dividing place between the holy and the unholy instantly accessible to all.

God’s holy presence no less holy, no less awe-some, no less powerful but because of Jesus we are now made holy and worthy to enter.

His blood the sacrifice we could not make. His broken body taking away our brokenness, our shame exchange for his garment of righteousness.

Jesus has defeated death itself – not for his disciples, not for Jews, not for good men but for all – for strangers, for the lost, for the sick, for gentiles and women, for children and for all of creation – right out to the edges of the cosmos.

This act of Jesus, conceived by God as the ultimate rescue mission, initiated in heaven, is for all of the created order.

In this divine exchange the whole of creation’s brokenness is taken up into Jesus and finds in him the answer and the cure.

May you know the Presence of God today and may your heart leap at the welcome into the Holy place.


Rewarding Courage with Kindness

I think perhaps it’s lucky for Thomas, the disciple, that he didn’t live in the era of social media. Imagine if he as a “top Christian man/leader/inner circle bloke” had admitted today that he really struggled to believe in the  resurrection without evidence….

can you imagine the backlash?

the calls for his resignation?

the fury unleashed on him by Christians?

(who must have never struggled with any doubt, or felt conflicted about some interpretation of scripture…)

Do you hear what I am saying?

It’s not that I want leaders who deny the fundamental tenants of my faith but I cringe and mourn being part of a larger movement, or at least a vocal group of that movement, that seems to crucify anyone who has courage enough to admit that they struggle or disagree on some small or large point.

and if I’m really honest it makes me angry… it makes me cry hot tears… like I feel all that judgement and hurtfulness personally…

Is it our preferred way of dealing with a ‘family member’ who differs in approach to call them names and publicly try to shame and discredit them?

Is that what we are?

Is it arrogance? Is it fear? Is it good intentions perhaps without humility?

Wasn’t Christ already crucified for us? Do we need to crucify each other socially/emotionally/relationally?

Didn’t Jesus say ‘This is how the world will know you are my disciples – by your love for one another‘?

Doesn’t the Bible challenge us to be ‘Quick to listen, Slow to speak and Slow to become angry‘?

I just can’t remember a place in God’s word where we are called to attack one another in public forums…..

Doesn’t it take courage to admit with a tremor in your voice that you are afloat on an issue?

Shouldn’t courage be received with kindness?

Remember those Christians who stood in the face of a tide of opposition and said slavery was not of God? Remember them? They didn’t get popular support on the social media of the day.

Remember that bit where God says he looks at the heart and not the outward appearance? Remember those times when you have vehemently supported something or expressed an opinion only later to realise you were wrong?

Hear me, I’m not saying we embrace an ‘any way to God‘ kind of approach. I’m not saying we deny the very things that must be held at the centre of Christian belief.

…. but I am thinking that maybe when someone has the courage to admit they struggle

…. when someone thoughtfully studies God’s word and comes up with a different interpretation than us (just as Peter and Paul did when they argued about the behaviours required of the Gentiles)

maybe we could be quick to listen

maybe we could take time to understand

and maybe we could love people in our ‘family’ with whom we don’t see eye to eye.

If we are really brave we could even remember we have sometimes been wrong in our understanding and remind ourselves that maybe, even now, we don’t have the full picture and 100% perfect understanding.

This statement stands out for me as a way I would like to approach not just my faith but all of my life

In essentials unity
In non-essentials liberty
In all things charity

And beautiful, wonderful, faithful Jesus, slow to anger and rich in love…. he doesn’t issue a public statement side lining Thomas and denouncing him. Jesus invites the trembling Thomas over and says come and get all the evidence you need. 

Oh that I would receive such grace in my struggles and fears. 
Oh that I would have the humility and wisdom to lavish kindness and listening to those with whom I do not see eye to eye.

I have much to learn and I am doing my best to follow after Jesus who called up the judgemental and lavished grace on the strugglers.

May I be, in all things, like Him.

My Favourite Disciple

I love that the bunch of people Jesus chose to train as his elite witness-making squad was a bunch of rag tag, unexpecteds.

A bunch of people who would never have willingly hung out together and who had some seriously divergent points of view on many things – including their religion.

And right in the centre of the action is Peter.

I love Peter – I love that he adored Jesus and he expressed it in all kinds of unfit ways.

He tried to convince him not to go to the cross, not to choose the hard.

He gave way to anger and chopped off a soldiers ear when they came to pick up Jesus. Which Jesus healed.

Then when Jesus is in the centre of being tried and mocked his own need for self preservation and his fear meant he denied even knowing Jesus at all.

He leapt out of the boat in the storm, eyes on Jesus then got overcome and stopped looking at Jesus and freaked out.

In a holy and sacred moment Peter pitches in and suggests building shelters for Jesus, Elijah and Moses like some wonderful pilgrimage/tourist destination.

When Jesus called to them from the shore and he realised it was him he leapt into the water fully clothed (I assume) and swam in.

Peter is all enthusiasm, and lack of impulse control, he adores Jesus but he wants to save his own skin… later he becomes a key leader in the early church and a fearless evangelist but that doesn’t stop him having fights and disagreements with Paul – essentially he is the same Peter given more responsibility and understanding. He is still Peter but more transformed.

I can relate to Peter – I am over enthusiastic, I look for the easy way out, I shut down or flare up when I am confronted, I can offend without thinking, I want to set Jesus somewhere and know I can meet him there – like I can hold him one place,

I leap into the waves and then realise I am drowning because I started to focus on the experience and not the one who is with me in the experience.

But…. Jesus chose Peter

Jesus loved Peter

Jesus chose to build his church on a rock called Peter

Jesus reprimanded Peter, on many occasions, but he still kept him right in the centre.

If there is room for Peter to be a powerful one who advances the kingdom then there is still room for someone who talks too much, does the wrong thing, misinterprets, acts impulsively…. but adores Jesus with all his/her heart.

Adoring God doesn’t mean I am right or that I will get it right but I think it is the pre-requisite for being part of the action. Adoring God doesn’t mean he won’t correct me and build humbleness and wisdom into me in ways I’d rather avoid.

And as I continue to gaze to him I may find that I am transformed to be more like him and more like me too. I may begin to realise that all my weaknesses and impulses can still be made good.

May we stop looking at the things we have done or not done, the words we have said or not said, the things that should disqualify us and be reminded that somewhere in that bunch of 12 and the other special ones (who included ladies) there is someone we can relate to – someone that Jesus used to change the world with a tsunami of power and love.

And when we are reminded of that may we stop self-excusing and get on with the job of getting it done.

doubters, brawlers, outcasts, tax-collectors, warriors, fishermen, introverts and extroverts, from noble lineage and from no-body lineage, older siblings, younger siblings… the whole gamut all in Jesus special group

may our focus move from ourself and our circumstances to the One who is holding his hand out to us across the waves and calling come.

may we focus on the One who calls us by name, who woos us, who can make nation changers from people who feel like their foot is permanently in their own mouth.

may we focus not on our own experience but on the one who is with us and can enable us in every experience

and as we know Him may we begin to make him known and to be transformed into all He is calling us to be

Miriam x

A Kingdom for Losers

It can be confusing being a Christian – there are those bits of the Bible that don’t make sense

the bloodshed

the tales of destruction

there are the calls to holiness, to a standard so far beyond our own

the verses about angels and head coverings…

and then over all of that and woven through it all there is this incredible, un-understandable, weird, radical, grace and freedom.

And instead of Jesus seeking out the elite, he finds the ones society is most judgemental of. He hangs out with the party animals, the prostitutes, the law breakers and the ones who can’t ever quite manage to control their tongues and their impulses (I’m looking at you Peter).

The guy who writes most of the new testament has a background of Christian genocide (that’s a message of hope we need right now, isn’t it?).

It’s like the kingdom of the only one found worthy is a bunch of losers, ragamuffins and people who are a little off the edge.

Elijah comes down off Mount Carmel having defeated hundreds of the prophets of Baal in a whose-going-to-turn-up-with-power competition. Next minute he’s sitting under a tree crying and wishing he was dead.

Thomas is mouthing off how he can’t believe Jesus is actually a living being until he’s touched the scars.

Saul/Paul is flying the flag to eradicate Christians

and all of them are met by God. To each the encounter is a place of encouragement, of loving transformation, of giving them what they need to get back on the right track.

With all of us we are welcomed just as we are but we are not left where we are. We are called to engage our heads, our hearts, our strength, our creativity – all of ourselves to grow into our potential. We engage, God makes it happen – it’s a partnership of entirely unequal proportions.

At the same time we get into muddles, we misunderstand, we offend, we doubt, we weep when we should rejoice, we rejoice when others are weeping….. we get it wrong. I get it wrong.

and I look from my place under the tree crying and I find the arms of grace that say, ‘I’m not looking for winners I will plant a seed of victory in the shell of a loser. A seed as tiny as a mustard seed that will grow like wild weeds. Because I am the Master of transformation.’

There is a seed that can take a don’t wannabe warrior hiding in a wheat barn and turn him into a victorious leader. The Bible has a long history of losers whose lives and mistakes have been turned into a tune of grace that the loudest of shouters cannot drown out.

Question is are you too busy trying to prove you are a winner or are you ready for God to meet you where you are most convinced all your chances of proving yourself worthy are lost?

We are all of us diamonds in the rough – but there is a Master Miner who can find, cut and polish that rough into something worthy of a Kingdom of the Highest Calling.

You are invited to be part of a Kingdom of the Victorious – put together out of a bunch of ragamuffins and losers.

Miriam x

The Centre of the Herd

We went biking this week – as we often do our little family.

Dad at the front 2 littles in the middle, Mama at the rear.

It feels safe that way – one to check for danger at the front, one watching over the ‘littles’ from the back.

It’s made me think about elephants and herds – the way they travel from place to place ‘littles’ in the middle to protect them from attack, to protect them from wandering off and becoming lost or distressed or getting into trouble.

I thought about our church communities – do we do that with our vulnerable ones? Do we place them right in the centre where we can love on them, where we can keep an eye out for them, where we can point the way and carry them along with momentum when they become exhausted?

Or do we leave the vulnerable on the fringes – kind of embarrassed by their mess and noise. Do we neglect the ones that are hard to include and push the ‘littles’ away to other rooms where they won’t make a scene?

A herd of elephants is not made from the elephants picking the ones they’d like to hang out with – the cool, fast, elite, stable ones…. a herd is built around a family extending outwards for support and protection.

A family is not built around the best of the best – sometimes there are unexpected arrivals, and not what I would have picked in-laws, there are longed for babies that don’t arrive, less than perfect relationships, the annoying uncle and grandparent with bad breath.

So it is in church… a church is not a building for beautiful people to meet and celebrate their elite spot in society – it is a journey together towards a final destination. This journey includes falling outs, disappointments, people that don’t quite fit, needy people, loud people, shy people, people who always say the right thing and people who never say the right thing.

Wouldn’t it be beautiful if we could travel like that elephant herd – towards a destination of water and safe pasture with the littles, the vulnerable, the needy in the centre – surrounded by the stronger ones who choose, because it is a choice, to journey at the pace of the weakest because even the weakest matters.

Just like our little bike adventure we keep the ‘littles’ in the middle because we want to protect them, we want them to learn and grow in safety, because it is our life’s work to do all we can to support those littles until they are big enough and strong enough to take the front and back and protect the ‘littles’ that come into their lives.

Shouldn’t church be beautiful because it is a slowly-forward moving journey where no one is left behind and we place the hardest to love and the easiest to neglect right in the centre where we can never forget them?

I want to be that herd, I want to care about the ‘littles’, I want to see the world moved by a picture of love that makes no sense, in action towards the source of all life. I want to grow into that kind of person.

* when I say littles I mean all sorts of people – anyone who for now, or for always needs a little help along the journey. I’ve been a little and I’ve been a big and sometimes I have changed those roles from week to week.

1 Corinthians 12 v22-26
22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.