I’m a failure at blogging…

(Less than 1900 words – excluding Bible Verses)

I am a failure at this blogging thing. When I bought the domain, attempted to design the website, and started writing my first post I had every intention of blogging once a week. What a spectacular fail! I am a year in and this is my twelfth blog. But, you know what? I’m ok with that. It’s been a terrible twelve months for everyone and I believe we should allow ourselves some grace. If we didn’t, despondency and regret may be long lasting symptoms of the virus.

To combat my own regret and embarrassment, I’m deciding to view my failure and unreached goals as the starting point for the next season. I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do but I absolutely learned from the attempts I made.

The original aim for this blog is to research and consider what Christ has done for those people who choose to believe in a spiritual sense and what he has done for the greater world in an historical sense. Some of my posts have touched upon this but mostly, I’ve written about what I was studying in the Bible.

As clunky or too-lengthy as my posts may be, they were richly rewarding to study and compile. Every word I wrote served to build upon my foundation of faith. Every thought I had urged me on to another and every post I wrote helped me to clarify my understanding and belief in the Word of God. I may be time-poor and have incorrectly prioritized my daily activities but I have given as much as I could to each post.

To say that I want to post more in my second year is obvious. If I do succeed in that wish or not, that is yet to be written. I’m not the first person to fail at something and, I’m sure you will agree, I won’t be the last. Life is a series of failures and achievements and, as my daughter often reminds me, we are able to learn from our mistakes. Thankfully Christ, who experienced human emotion, grief, pain, and temptation in fullness, is able to make use of all of our failures if we choose to let him. He is after all, our redeemer

“He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down…” Isaiah 53:3-4a

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines redeemer as a person who ‘redeems’.
The word redeem means: to buy back, to get or win back, to free from what distresses or harms such as: to free from captivity by payment of ransom, to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental, to release from blame or debt. It is also to change for the better, repair, restore and to free from a lien (financial charge) by payment. Redeem also means to atone for.

If you are familiar with the character and witness of Christ, you won’t be surprised to know that Merriam-Webster specifically uses Jesus as the example for Redeemer.

“Then they remembered that God was thier rock, that God most high was their redeemer” Psalm 78:35

Easter is upon us. It is a time when the Christian church recognizes and celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is significant because the world would not have Christianity if the world did not have the resurrection. If there was no resurrection there would be no hope in life eternal life – that God would redeem us to himself. Christians believe by intellect and experience that Christ’s redeeming powers have transformed their lives, thus the reason they believe.

Put like that the Christian theology seems simple, yet convolute at the same time: so many questions! Even the statement that ‘God would redeem us to himself’ sparks off many questions such as: why do we need redeeming, and does God even care?

I don’t plan on addressing such questions in this post, instead I’d like to draw your attention to one recorded encounter a woman had with Jesus in the New Testament for here we see Christ’s ability to love beyond human expectation, prejudice, fear and worry as he transforms a person from ‘failure’ to life.

In this, the longest recorded conversation Christ has with a person, Jesus turns personal failures into fuel for joy. It is a wonderful example of the personal change and experience that Christ offers to those who choose to believe. It is the story of the Samaritan woman at the water well. John 4:1-42

The basic story is this: Jesus happens upon a woman drawing water at a famous well and asks her to provide him with a drink. She wonders why he would ask her and Jesus’ response “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water”, sparks off a conversation that moves from practicality through to theology, confession, faith and eternal life. During the conversation Jesus tells the woman ‘everything she ever did’. When confronted by her own failure, Jesus’ offer of ‘living water and hope’ is the reverse to the condemnation and judgement she was living under. So moved by his love and respect towards her and by his own admission of his status of messiah she rushes back to the village overflowing with joy to rouse her neighbors to come and meet him. When the villagers see her, they agree to go with her to meet Jesus. Upon meeting him they too are convinced and choose to receive Jesus’ offer of the ‘gift of living water’.

It’s a remarkable story where many people’s lives are changed but none so much as the woman.

Up until this point this woman’s life had been marked by failure. In a time when it was important to be married and monogamous she was living with her fifth and unmarried partner. Such lifestyle choices would have negatively affected her social life and status in the village. I’m sure she was the source of much town gossip and rumor; could this be the reason she was alone at the well when Jesus met her? Respectable women would have gone in a group and at a cooler time of day to draw water. Outcasts and victims of gossip, often prefer to avoid and work by themselves. (The story makes no mention of other people at the well, rather it reads like a private conversation between she and Jesus, which is why the assumption can be made that she was alone.)

If she was indeed an outcast, the woman’s return to the village with the intention of bringing people back to meet Jesus shows a remarkable inner change: she was overflowing with love and forgiveness desiring nothing more than to share the joy and hope that she herself had received. She did this in faith and without fear, embarrassment, shame or rebuke from the villagers. Jesus had redeemed her failures and she no longer had to hide in the shadows. The woman believed she was valued, respected, and honored by God. Her failures no longer ‘held her back’ and she could enter into a new identity and calling, which is why she felt confident to share her experience with the villagers. For them to listen to her and respond in such a way, the change within her must have been obviously apparent…and desirable. To them, she appeared a new and different person and they had to see the person who could do such a thing for themselves.

But this seems like such a big change in a person, can such change come simply from a conversation?

Any faith-filled person would say that yes it can however on closer observation it becomes evident that it wasn’t just what Jesus said to her, it was also what he did. In speaking to her, Jesus broke two unwritten, yet serious, social customs and law.

Firstly, he spoke to a woman. Social custom was that men did not speak to a woman they did not know. To do so was an act considered dishonorable and inappropriate. This explains why when Jesus’ disciples return from buying food in the village “they were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, ‘what do you want with her?’”

Secondly, he spoke to a Samaritan. Common Jewish thought and law was that the Samaritans were a people to be avoided and any encounter with one would make the Jewish person ‘unclean’.

The Jews and Samaritans had a very long and complicated history between them. They were very distantly related: the Samaritans were descended from the northern tribes of Israel and Judah remained as the southern tribes. However, over centuries the Samaritans had become their own nation and warred with the descendants of the southern tribes of Israel. They had also intermarried and assimilated with foreign nations and foreign idols. As a result, those Samaritans that clung to their Hebrew faith and long history had different customs, traditions and views about the scriptures than their ‘southern’ neighbors. Such differences, and the history between them, created feelings of prejudice and contempt, thus why the Jews treated the Samaritans as ‘unclean’. (Unclean in the Biblical sense meaning dirty, evil, and causing impurity which required ceremonial cleansing at the the temple.)

Understanding this, can you imagine the surprise the Samaritan woman at the well would have felt when Jesus spoke to her?

How much more surprised would she have been when this stranger spoke to her in such a respectful and intelligent manner? They even discussed theology at the highest degree and it profoundly affected her.

A major difference between the shared faith of the Jews and Samaritans is their understanding as to where the Lord’s Temple should be. The Jews believed God chose the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Samaritans believed it to be Mount Gerizem in Samaria.

The woman questions Jesus, desiring to know which belief is correct. His answer is clear and it changes her perceptions of the two belief systems. It also reveals to her God’s ultimate plan for equality and acceptance for all peoples. It is a startling revelation to her, filled with promise and hope. For within it, the woman recognizes Jesus’ call for her to walk free from her failings and come to God as she is, for her future and the future of those around her can belong to God.

Jesus said, “Believe me dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem…But the time is coming – indeed it is here now – when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship that way.”

Notice how Jesus doesn’t say that the Father is looking for those with perfect lives to worship him? Instead, Jesus found a person so affected by failure, he asked if that person would like to receive the gift of life that would allow that person to worship God in humility and fullness. That gift is the gift of grace.

In grace, God can redeem all our failures and mold us into the person he created us to be…if we let him.

Onwards, to new beginnings.

Thank you for reading.
May you have a happy and restoring Easter.

I could never have imagined I would do something so silly in front of my new (non-believing) friends…

In February 2019 my family and I moved to the Illawarra region in NSW, Australia. It was meant to be a very temporary stay as we prepared to move where my husband’s work was to take him next.  However, due to the virus, we are still here. I could never have imagined I would live here for so long! I suppose, around the world as we navigate this Coronavirus, millions of people are experiencing similar sentiment: “I could never have imagined…!” 

I must confess: I did not like this town before living here.  As a child I spent many Sundays here visiting my grandparents in their small apartment across the road from the beach. The weather was always a bother. It was either awfully windy, the kind of wind that causes the sand to ‘bite’ your legs, or it was pouring with rain. In summer the tidal surf, made worse by the wind, was  dangerous, so swimming even on a very hot day was unpleasant. I did not romanticize the area at all so the idea of staying here long-term didn’t excite me. But, as it turns out, God knew better. I can see that God brought us here with intention and purpose and it has been one of the most rewarding (and confronting) times of my life. It’s the friendliest town I’ve ever lived in and as a result I’ve made more new friends than I ever thought possible. And once I came to accept the wind as it’s own character, I have come to see the certain charm and true beauty to the place. 

Regrettably, If I had known that I was to be here for over a year, maybe even two, I would have put more effort into making friends during those first weeks and months but then I don’t really think it would have mattered: people here are so nice!  Also, with the town being a little over one hour train ride from Sydney, there’s a steady flow of new families into the area eager to make new friends. I now have a local circle of friends and acquaintances far greater than I ever could have imagined. It’s going to make it tough to leave!  Eighteen months ago I did not realize that God would reveal his promise in Romans 8:28 to me so succinctly:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” 

The more I read the Bible the more I learn that God is all-caring and loving. He knows what we need (even when we don’t) and he plans how to meet that need.  (Some examples of God doing this can be found in the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, David, Esther, Mary, Peter and Paul.) Before moving here I was not aware that I lacked connection with people and that I needed to make new friends and work on my social skills. I had forgotten that I used to be more of a people person (Having four children close together in a foreign country (USA) can be isolating). But God knew! Psalm 138:8 says: ‘The Lord will work out his plans for my life’. As God makes his plan work out in our lives, He often reveals ideas, beliefs, pain, fear, or worry that may be hindering our character from becoming more Christ-like. For me, God has cleverly used my new friendships to reveal the fear and discomfort I have about revealing and discussing my faith in the most embarrassing way. 

“That’s my son. His name is Isaiah. But we’re not religious at all. In fact we’re atheists”, is what Isaiah’s father said to me when our children happened to play together at the beach. His atheist beliefs didn’t surprise or shock me but the manner in which he made his statement did. It was said in such a matter-of-fact way I wasn’t sure what my reaction should be. Mostly, there’s either a hesitance or confrontational sound in people’s voices when they mention religion but Isaiah’s Dad said it in the exact same way he discusses the weather (and I know this, for my family has now spent much time with his).  I was taken aback because he had no emotional connection to what he said. I however, felt so thrown about his unexpected admission, I was rendered silent. I said not a word.

Recently, I have come to think what a strange statement it was to make for unless a person knows there is an Isaiah in the Bible, the name wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. Either this man had some association with Christianity in his earlier life or he has met with braver christians than I whom have questioned his faith connection when they hear his child’s name? I’m going to guess it is the latter. I’m also going to guess that Isaiah’s Dad does not want to be associated with religion and that he has made this simple matter-of-fact statement many times before because he has not yet come across a Christian who questions him on it. He is trusting, and assuming, that most people around his age are faithless. 

Isaiah’s Dad is not the only person in this town to have woven into generalized, and unrelated, playground chit-chat their atheist and agnostic beliefs. Every time it is brought up, I note my reaction: their confession makes me nervous! I find myself nodding along, smiling politely, and doing everything I can to disarm myself from any potential conflict and conversation. I don’t want them to talk about their lack of faith because I don’t want to talk about my growing faith! I feel myself become anxious because I am very aware that I don’t want to say or do anything that might offend them. Yet, here they are, brazen in their speech with the assumption that I must agree with them, because in their mind there’s no way that I could be one of those ‘silly brainwashed people’ who could believe in such a thing as God, particularly the Christian God.  In such circumstances, I do the one thing I want to do: I change the subject. 

Would it surprise you to know that these ready-to-confess atheists and agnostics make up the majority of my new friends? If this is a trend or just the way the western world is going, I’m not sure. However, Jesus does wonder if he will find the faith at all on earth when he returns (Luke 18:8).  

Are you familiar with the verse in Mark 8:38 that says:  “If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man (Jesus) will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels”? I am. I’ve known the verse for quite some time and still, I hide my faith. 

You might be very kind and wish to come to my defense in thinking that changing the subject is not a shameful act! Surely, you might say, isn’t it better and wiser NOT to challenge the atheist beliefs of those people we spend occasional time with THAN appear like a bully Bible basher -someone who forces the beliefs of the Bible on someone else?  Don’t Bible bashers only confirm the suspicions and prejudices non-believers have about us, thereby making the salvation of the unbeliever more difficult? Isn’t it better to show our faith by the way we live than what we say? Jesus did say that ‘it is by their fruits that you shall know them” (Matt 7:20) and if that’s true, why not stay silent when someone brings up the subject of faith, particularly when my the answer might make me look bad…or dare I say it, dumb?

It is absolutely true that we should act out our faith and that our lives should reflect the very character of Jesus so that we can be a blessing to our brothers and sisters in Christ and serve as example to our non-believing neighbour. God created us to be set apart from the world (LEV 20:24) so that we live as witnesses to God’s truth and goodness.  But what about those times it feels inconvenient or embarrassing to live set apart What about when it’s just easier and less controversial to just go with the crowd? What if keeping silent, or ‘hiding our light’ (Luke 11:33) means that people will like me more, that I will fit in? Surely that’s ok? God doesn’t want me to be lonely, right? What if I just fit in now and then pray about it later? It’s too hard, too awkward, too embarrassing to talk about God in front of my friends! None of them agree with me anyway, and what if they don’t like me as a Christian? 

I confessed at the beginning of this blog that I didn’t like the town I was to live in, so let me confess something really embarrassing now: I cringe at the thought of my new friends seeing evidence of my faith. It’s one thing to say I’m a christian, it’s another thing to have evidence of how seriously I take my belief. The simple acts I’ve done speak deeply about who I am:  I’ve hidden my Bible and other books about Christianity when non-believers have come to the house, I’m always embarrassed by the cross hanging on the wall that is visible from the front door, and I’ve shut the door so that anyone passing by the house won’t hear the Hillsong worship songs I’m playing.  It’s a real effort I have made to hide evidence from my new non-reliving friends? Is this an act that ultimately shows I am ashamed of Christ? Yes. Absolutely. He knows my heart. He knows exactly what it is. The reality is, and what God has shown me, is that I’ve been keeping my faith secret my entire adult life.  Thankfully Mark 8:38 serves as a warning to me. 

There is irony here too, it’s not all bad and embarrassing. Though I make effort to hide the little light I have and cower at the prospect of entering into a faith discussion with my friends, this has also been a time of such growth of faith and knowledge. I could never have imagined that I would read and love God’s word so voraciously. I could never have imagined that the scriptures would begin to make so much sense.  I could never have imagined that with my Christian friends I now speak about God, His Holy Spirit and His Son so openly with passion and conviction. I could never have imagined the swelling of my spirit within. And, I could never have imagined that I would dare to blog about any of this before either! So, what’s up? How can someone be such a contradiction? 

This week I read John chapter 7 and  God in his eternal wisdom, opened my eyes to verses 12-13:  “There was a lot of grumbling about him (Jesus) among the crowds. Some argued, “He’s a good man,” but others said, “He’s nothing but a fraud who deceives the people.” But no one had the courage to speak favorably about him in public, for they were afraid of getting in trouble…

There’s nothing new about the controversy of faith! Jesus is as controversial now as he was then! There’s always been people who openly dis-believe and there’s always been people who hide their belief in fear! Jesus said himself that he did not come to bring peace, he came to cause division, to ‘render judgement – to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.’ (John 9:36) Must admit, it is a relief to know that I am not the only one but it is also terrifying to think of how many people stay silent when they know the truth. 

Another example of being to afraid to show faith is in John 9. Verses 20 -24 describe the actions of parents who are brought into the synagogue to confirm that their son whom Jesus had miraculously given sight to, was actually born blind.  They are able to confirm this but when asked how his eyesight was suddenly made possible, they defer the answer to their son because they are too afraid to say what they know and believe. “Ask him” they say “He is old enough to answer to speak for himself.” The Bible is very clear in the explanation as to why they do this in verse 22: “His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue” 

It’s apparent then, that since the beginning of Christ’s ministry on earth right up to now people have been afraid to speak their faith…for fear of consequences. 

This I now know to be very true of myself. Though I am delighting myself in the scriptures, relishing reading His Word, and honored to feel His presence in my life, I am deeply afraid of being ‘the christian’ to my new friends. What Christian means to my friends is another discussion but for the purposes of today’s blog, let’s just take it as it is; a person who believes in Christ.

To clarify my fear a little more: I’m not ashamed of my faith and I’m certainly not ashamed of Jesus, his message, miracles, life and resurrection, I’m embarrassed to be known as Christian first because I am in fact, afraid of the questions my new friends may have. I’m afraid of how I am going to act, what I am going to say. I’m afraid of the conversation because deep down, I am afraid of what God is going to say through me. I don’t mean that I will get all preachy or rain down fire on them, not at all;  God always wants us to responds to people in love.  But I think that in his strength and light and, as my weaknesses and failings are made known to me, I am more aware of the importance and relevance of his message.

There’s another thing I think I might be afraid of: to speak is to become the person God wants me to be and I’m not sure I’m ready yet! There’s so much I don’t know. Surely, it’s better for me to be well prepared and equipped with knowledge and experience before I tackle the topic of God and faith with anyone, right? Wrong! Absolutely wrong. 

I am ready now. You are ready now. For the Word of God in Luke 21:15 says not to worry: “I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you!” 

That’s the NLT translation. Here it is in other interpretations just so there is no misunderstanding:  The NIV: “for I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict”.  Now the ESV: “for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my confession, embarrassing as it is. I know that what I have to do is simple: stop hiding!  Leave my Bible out to be seen,  keep the doors open when I play Hillsong Worship and then pray without ceasing when, if ever, one of my new friends asks me about what I’m reading (currently Knowing God by J.I Packer). For most certainly, God will answer their questions through me, without fear and with much love.  Jesus did say in Matt 9:37 that “the harvest is great but the workers are few.”

My prayer for you, for me, is that when the time comes, we are counted among the workers.  

If you have something similar to share, please do so at the bottom of this page in the comments section. Thank you!

Coronavirus inspired me to read The Bible (and to make this blog).

In March 2020 the novel virus, Coronavirus Sers Covid-19, changed the world. Countries around the world closed their borders, stopped working, and sent their people into isolation to deter the spread of the potentially deadly virus. As the virus took hold, thousands of people lost their lives and hundreds and thousands more were sick. Economies were at a standstill. 

On March 16 my husband, John, returned to Australia from a five day trip to Los Angeles.  That day, any arriving passenger from overseas was ordered to remain at home in quarantine for two weeks. Arriving home, John coughed a little and felt rundown. Four days later I had a headache. John was declared Covid-19 positive on the 23rd of March. My results came back positive on the 28th. Rough days. 

I began writing this blog, my Counter Covid-19 attempt to Be the Light to a worried and isolated at the beginning of March when the news of virus was spreading faster than the virus itself (at least in Australia). I managed to write four posts before I no longer felt well enough to read or write.  It was a long sickness and it has been a long recovery process. I had a slight cough that I could not shake. Finally on the 4th April both the Public Health department and NSW Health declared me officially recovered. I’m a Covid survivor. I had no previous illness or concerns and this virus knocked me flat. It was the sickest I have ever been in my life. I did not go to hospital. I suppose I am one of the lucky ones. John was sick too but in some ways I was worse. Now however, I seem to be more recovered than he, meaning I can run a little without having to catch my breath. He will need to work up to this. 

No doubt, these are extraordinary days. We are all living through an unprecedented moment in modern history. Our daily lives are greatly affected as we all wait in isolation distanced from our family and friends. ‘Social distancing’, effective from spreading the virus, does seed suspicion of every person encountered in a grocery store or on the footpath. This suspicion, ‘Does that person have the virus’ , breeds mistrust in our families, friendship and communities yet as a population we are being asked to place unquestioned faith and trust in our leaders, police and governments.  Freely and readily freedoms were given up as people stopped working and going about their daily lives in the hope that someone one day will come up with a vaccine so that life can ‘go back to normal’. As a people we trust that those freedoms will be returned to us. All around the world people wait for a better tomorrow.

Believing in God’s word, God’s story, as the beginning and end of everything, I wonder what is He wanting us to learn at this time? What lessons, what grace, what blessing, what change, what warning is there for us in this moment? What, if we wanted to listen, would he be whispering to us in this new found quietness we find ourselves in? For surely, in between our zoom sessions and Netflix binges, it is quiet. ‘Be still’, He once said. ‘Be still and know that I am God’. (Psalm 46:10)

So that’s what I am going to attempt to do. I am going to read my Bible and see that if, in these times, God does speak to me (and you) through it. I confess, I’ve read a lot of the Bible already and most of it hasn’t made much sense or given impetus for further thought but that was then, this is now. I am much more interested. Things change. Life obviously changes. But what I am pretty sure doesn’t change is the Bible, or the character of God. He remains the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow and He promises that while the ‘earth remains there will be planting and harvest, cold and night, summer and winter, day and night’. (Genesis 8:22)

This time will end. There will be an end to our isolation. There will be a day to get back to work. This coronavirus disaster will one day be a time to remember. What then, will you remember it for? There are opportunities here for this to be a time of generosity, love, compassion and learning. There are opportunities here to sow seeds that produce marvelous fruits of the spirit. There are opportunities here to look for God and for Him to be found by you. There are opportunities here for you to trust and grow in faith. God promises good things to those who love and follow him. There are opportunities here to change your life and the lives of those you love for the better. What will you do? Who will you become? Will this be a time of growth or a time of lament. The choice is yours. As always, the choice is yours. As for me and my family, we choose to serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

Please know that I am not a theologian, rather just someone thinking through the Bible and please afford some grace to my writing. I confess I struggle to share my thoughts in writing, I err and um and ah over every written word. I have very little confidence in my ability to clearly express myself however, as these are extraordinary times, I will attempt to explain my Bible studies in the hope that someone, just one person even, will be encouraged by it.