The Work of Lent

Lent has started, and in all my usual style I have missed its entry and filled its first days with busy and loud. I love the concept of Lent – a time for reflection, a journey to the cross, a pared back, quieter faith that demands facing silence and finding God without noise and crowds and hype.

… still, I live my life at top volume, revelling in the crowd and energised by busy.

Lent doesn’t come naturally to me, just as the scorn of the cross was not something Jesus desired. The process unenjoyable, tough, solo, demanding – but – for the joy set before him…

Sometimes the process of getting to the big celebration feels nothing at all like preparing for something wonderful and exciting. It just feels hard.

Maybe Lent is an invitation to prepare so that when the cross arrives to us we are ready – stronger, more faithful, more equipped to pass through the waters into the storm. Lent becomes the hours spent in training in order to endure and overcome in the arena, for the joy of the podium.

Having lived in an area where bushfires were a seasonal expectation I have learnt that from the burnt-out lifeless carcass of aftermath springs new life, and it springs rapidly because ashes are the perfect breeding ground for new life.

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Ash Wednesday has just slipped by and I am reminded of the times in the Bible when ashes represented grief, sorrow, despair and remorse; when sitting in sackcloth and ashes was visual representation of inner turmoil and grief.

Ash Wednesday reminds us we are dust, it paints our brokenness starkly on our foreheads, we find ourselves sinful, empty, lost. But, we remember as N.T Wright so elegantly put it we know that God can make extraordinary things from dust. (paraphrased)

I am reminded as I start this Lenten journey that ashes are not the end of the story, maybe the devastation looms large in your life, possibly it’s easy to see the blackened trees and smoking debris and much harder to hold onto the promise of new life coming. But it will come.

We remember the promise of difficulties (hooray, it’s hard to get excited about that right?)

and we hold onto the greater promise of the crown of life for the one that endures.

Lent invites us, invites me, to start breaking up the hard ground, strengthening the root system, being strategic. Lent is a time of preparation for the unknown difficult, for the arena, for the joy of the ‘good job, well done.’

Beauty comes from ashes, not immediately, but it comes, and there will be a time when all that people who visit an area previously destroyed will notice is the beauty. The ashes will have done their work and only the expert and the highly observant will see the signs of what once was ravaged and wrecked.

The final destination is fruitfulness, the final promise Shalom, the final outcome joy.

Wherever you see ashes in your own life today may you be filled with all the hope and strength of knowing underneath those ashes, even now, new life is  forming.

He is, and we are, anointed to:

bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendour.

Isaiah 6

This year I want to invest in Lent – to be about preparing my heart, doing the work, paring back, leaning in, trusting.

 

the gift of the creative

This morning I have played your songs loud

songs written from your heart to The One

a gift of your talents

your song, not for me, has made a way, for me….

you have opened up the way and I am reminded of the words that say

the gift opens the way for the giver and ushers her into the presence of the great

but your gift also makes a way for me

your act of worship becomes a gift to me and I get a new encounter, I get fresh wings for my feet

your song gives me a gift to give of my own, and I dance for The One

and this is the great and wonderful blessing of the creative in action – your art, your story, your song, your dance….

your giving back makes a way for others to come in, to experience Presence, to experience Truth, to See the nail scarred hands

what is your gift?

don’t be stingy with your talents – holding back isn’t humility it’s pride or self-preservation or listening to a voice that seeks to get you to hide your light – whatever it is, it isn’t generosity or abundant living or freedom

David was a musician but he didn’t let that stop him dancing – oh no, he danced for his true King, with all of his might

and maybe there might be a battle that needs to be waged on your behalf and the gift of the creatives in worship might just win the battle for you

maybe your creative act of worship is winning a battle for someone who needs it today

don’t despise the smallest of gifts of the creative

maybe you are making a way for another as you go ahead

tell your story, paint your painting, sing your song, dance your dance

I need your help to go to a new place today

I need new eyes to see God

I need a new rhythm to dance to

I need new words to give back when my own falter

and isn’t Easter a picture of a gift given with total selfless abundance and aren’t we invited into this kind of generosity too?

I need your gift 
your gift for The One
blesses us all
x

when faith feels like oil in my hands

there are days when holding onto all I know to be truth feels like being given a litre of oil and only my hands to hold it with

the days when arguments storm around the internet with Christians pointing fingers at other Christians, and fingers racing across faith divides faster than lightning strikes, and enough rhetoric to make the whole world confused and turned off

the days I don’t feel anything

the days I look at the violence we commit against each other and the way we ravage the planet

and I start to doubt that I have built my house on a rock and I start to worry that I’m trying to build on quicksand

do you have those days?

this is why I need Lent

this is why I need a daily dose of reminding that running from pain is not the way of the cross

that pain and heartache are evidence of how we all need the cross

that pain, rejection, fear, misunderstanding…. these are not the end of the story

Jesus didn’t run from fear

he didn’t only say the words that people wanted to hear

he also didn’t seem to engage in endless debates about the side issues

he didn’t pretend there weren’t tears – he wept, remember?

he didn’t run away from pain – the lashes, the crown of thorns, the suffocating death, remember?

remember, remember, remember

so, when the world and all its words and images and arguments seek to land me with a faith that feels like oil, I need to run again, back to the cross and feel its splinters real in my hands – to face the pain without the fear

I sit and wait and breathe and hear again

peace I give you, my peace I leave with you – do not let your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid

and I drink it down like a parched plant

in this world there will be trouble but take heart, I have overcome the world

and when I have nothing left to hold onto but the splinters of the cross I wait to hear

surely, surely Miriam, little one I am with you right to the very end

and this is where I sit, and I stop trying to hold the oil and I let the oil pour down over my head and into my heart and I take courage in the fact that when I cannot hold onto my faith I can at least be held and I can know

that I have been given to Jesus by the Father and no-one can ever snatch me from his hands

and these words, this oil anointing, this will be enough for today

smuggled out

throughout history there have been people persecuted, hunted, haunted, mistreated

and there have been beautiful ones who have bravely thrown their own safe lives to the wind and smuggled, hidden, guided, served, met people and got them to safe pastures
things done in covert under the eyes of the oppressor
people whose lives make me realise the true high calling of loving another at the cost of all else.

And Jesus
Jesus who loved us while we were strangers in the mocking crowd
and he didn’t sneak into the enemies camp and smuggle us out
he marched right in and busted down the door with his perfect life that death could not contain
he turned the clock on death inside out
he broke the chains, turned on the lights, tore open the bars
and then he invited us all 
follow me
because when you follow him you find you have left the prison behind
the lock and key are broken, the victory is won, the only thing that remains is the response to the invitation
follow me

it doesn’t mean the journey will be easy or the going always clearly charted – there will be leaps of faith, and laying down and turning the other cheek, there will be mourning and tribulation – but all in freedom
the debt is paid
the chains are gone
the love is free
and I am chasing after this freedom fighter because my very life is held in his hands
and may we all know it loud in our hearts that we don’t need the key, we needn’t fashion our own way out because the locks, all our locks, are broken
the victory is already won and all the keys are held by The One

the scent of Jesus

I look across in church and see a man

his shirt and trousers suggest he’s not in regular contact with a washing machine

the bulging bag beside him may be filled with most of his worldly possessions

his beard is more bush-chic than hipster trendy

his skin is worn and coloured with a life lived outside of comfort

I think he maybe smells

and I see his love filled eyes

and I see his weathered arms raised up without a care in worship

I see the way he cradles his bible like it is the very source of his life


and I am reminded of Jesus 

Jesus, uninterested in possessions, or trends, or being in with the crowd, never preaching about making a good first impression, at home in the company of anybody

I look again at this man to my left –

clinging to the words of God like they are his daily bread
worshipping with all his heart unembarrassed by the judgement of others
nodding and agreeing loud with truth even if it doesn’t make him look cool

and I am blessed in church
not by the slick
not by the lights
not by the perfectly balanced sound
not by the witty statements

I am blessed by the man whose name I don’t yet know
the man who expresses so eloquently the kind of Christian I want to be – here,
right here with all his heart ready and longing to meet with Jesus,
not finding excuses to not get here,
not looking for things that need to be improved,
here hungry to meet, expecting to meet, once again with the God he loves.

And I want to look at my Bible the way that man looks at his, to cradle it with wonder, awe, expectation, delight. I want to hold it with the reverence I give to something that is the most precious and costly thing I own. I want to drink it all in like it holds the elixir to eternal life.

I want what he has and he blesses me.
I think he smells like Jesus.

on making pearls

sometimes when I am lost away in – I hesitate to use the word worship, because I think worship is so much more than a Sunday song session (much as I love those) – I feel like if it were only me and God how much I could do for him.

If I had no responsibilities to others, no mothering, wife-ing, working, caring, daily tasks to do,

if I had no friendships to attend to

…all of that…

what a wonderful, influential, all out there person I could be

and I feel like I hear this,

Miriam, dear one, those people and responsibilities and conflicts and relationships – those are my gift to you to grow you into the woman I want you to be. To grow you into the woman you could be.

It’s back to that old chestnut of iron sharpening iron and even the most wonderful of husbands, wives, children, extended family, friends…. all of them will get under my skin some days, they will hold up a mirror and reflect back, they will point out I’ve made a mess.

Those people, the ones I like, love, long for, cling to… they bring out the worst in me sometimes. Sadly, they see the worst of me too. But they are a gift to me – a gift from God who is more interested in the development of my character than he is in exploiting my talents and abilities for his purposes.

It’s like God is opposite of an agent – it’s more important to him that my inner self is beautiful and well developed than I make him ‘money’ from my outer self. An agent doesn’t care about how well their client will cope with the spotlight, an agent wants to make them famous and rich. Truth be told if it were left to me I’d be looking for ways to be launched into the spotlight rather than ways to do the hidden work of character development.

I am reminded of the oyster – for an oyster to grow a pearl something has to get under its skin and irritate it. It is the irritant that produces the response in the oyster that grows the pearl. Left to myself I’d be a delicious oyster,

but, as I rub up alongside the irritation of others who don’t allow me to be the diva I naturally would become I might just, with a lot of irritating help, produce a pearl that lasts much longer than an entree on someone’s table.

Maybe the most irritating thing in your life right now is actually a gift from God…

does it hurt to read that?

Isn’t it so much easier to get rid of the people who irritate so I can get on with the job of being a big juicy oyster? Maybe I’m being invited to the road of making a pearl….

I think I’d quite like to be a pearl. 
I just kind of forget that when the irritation starts.
Maybe this Lenten journey is about embracing irritation for the gift that it might be.
xxx
* it’s not to say for a second I am not so, so grateful for the beautiful, generous, glory-reflecting, inspiring husband, children, family and friends I have. They are my joy and my delight and the very best of all God has blessed me with.

righteous anger

There is this bit in the bible where Jesus walks into the temple,

God’s scared space, and he loses it with the temple sellers.

He really goes for launch,

tables go flying,

there’s a whip,

I’m pretty sure the words he uses aren’t quiet and calm.

…. can you imagine the awkward pause afterwards?

The thing is these temple sellers were making big money from poor people. People had to have the right kind of sacrifice to bring – perfect – and unless you were in the business of doves or lambs you didn’t have the goods….

enter the entrepreneurs – we have the perfect dove right here and you can make the right sacrifices for the right money

All of a sudden coming to bring a sacrifice became an opportunity for some people to make money….

some people were being denied access because they didn’t have enough

suddenly there was a roadblock

…. and the cross stops it right in it’s tracks …

Matthew 27v50-51 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.

the enormous curtain torn from top to bottom,
suddenly entry to the temple isn’t just free,
entry to the holiest place where only the most purified can go,

that place

entry to that place – is open

the walls are broken down and the access is clear
there is no longer any criteria because no one could meet the criteria

in all of the universe only Jesus

and so we see how it breaks God’s heart, it causes Jesus to make a public spectacle, this thing of making it hard for people to get in.

All around the world we observe people who are denied – education, water, health care, rights, faith…. and we cannot say that doesn’t matter to God.

Jesus died to give us access, to invite us to boldly approach the Throne of Grace

What in my life makes it hard for people to find The Way?

Do I hold onto a faith that subtly agrees with buying/earning/working my way in to the Holy Place?

We are all justified because none of us can be self-justified – that is the cross. We cannot come in without the cross that says all were denied and now all are welcome.

In the journey to the cross I must shut my eyes and ears to the voices of the ones who try to sell me the way in and accept the rugged, blood stained, difficult walk to the foot of a messy cross that offers salvation that cannot be bought or sold. 

Too expensive for me to ever purchase, and yet free.

Limping on to Good Friday, one overwhelming step at a time.

Hebrews 4v16 So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help.

sometimes the old hymns say it best

were the whole realm of nature mine
that were an offering far too small
love so amazing, so divine
demands my soul, my life, my all


today I am looking to Lent as a chance to soak in the brilliance of the hugeness of the Love that sent Jesus up a hill, cross on his back, to claim victory for the whole realm of nature
and even if it were mine to give, the whole realm could never equal that love
love so amazing
love divine
freely given
that.much.love