Women Who Toe the Line Rarely Tear Down Strongholds

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What if Mary hadn’t sat at the feet of Jesus, but had decided to toe the line instead? How about Rosa Parks, what if she had decided that the struggle was just too hard, and she could leave it to others to fight for civil rights? Or the women who became known as The Suffragettes had shuddered at the thought of all the disorder they might cause if they protested, and left the voting to the ones who knew what they were doing?

Where would we be if these people hadn’t seen there was more, not just for their own small lives–which may have seemed insignificant to them–but for those around them? What if they had felt the weight of ‘should’ and ‘should not’, so much so that they decided they would toe the line and go no further.

Was this a rebellion, a behaviour coming out of a rebellious spirit? Or was it behaviour that caused them to inwardly tremble too, as they did what they would not have chosen to, in their pursuit of the truly greater thing?

We have often perceived Mary sat at the feet of Jesus as a beautiful and tender act of devotion, and I’m not decrying a heart of devotion to Jesus, he is the Beautiful One, what I am saying is that we have mistaken Mary’s action as the simple act of a devoted woman who so loved her Lord that she was willing to risk misunderstanding and to forgo helping Martha prepare a meal for the other disciples. This isn’t the case. Mary was in an area of the house which was set apart for males only, for those who were there to learn from the Rabbi, to learn so as to teach others at the appropriate time. Much as Paul sat and studied at the feet of Gamaliel, this is what Mary was doing, and Mary was welcomed by Jesus, he said in her defence: “She has chosen the greater thing.”She was learning from Jesus, not solely to nourish her own heart and mind, but in order that she might pass on all that she had been taught. Much as Jesus later instructed all of his disciples to do: “Go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to do all I have commanded you.”

What looks like rebellion, can, in truth, be a holy act, a set apart for God and others act. Do I desire rebellion? Good grief, no, but sometimes there needs to be a civil–holy–disobedience as the system confines its inhabitants to a too small world.

This world is big and glorious, but broken, and needs men and women both.

It needs them to pursue the hurt, the wandering, and the wondering; to chase after a better way of accomplishing tasks so as to lessen the damage done. To see the better way for wherever their heart’s dreams and hopes lie, to make the difference they yearn to make, that they are created to make.

Can I ask you to be brave and to do that thing you dream of as you sit with God? Please don’t confine your question to “What will they think if I do this?” but also ask yourself: “What will not happen if I don’t do this? What will be missing?”

You may be the one who makes a world of difference to one, and therefore  a real and tangible difference to the world as a whole.

Know you are an image-bearer. Know your Creator thought of you, imagining all you would be capable of. He saw your trembling heart and hands, but also your delight at seeing his plans come to fruition. Dear one, please don’t toe a line unless it’s a line drawn by the one who made you to impact the world.

 

We are made for transcendence and endless horizons but our small ego usually gets in the way until we become aware of its petty preoccupations and eventually seek a deeper truth. We must dig deep and yet seem reluctant, even afraid to do so.”

Richard Rohr: Immortal Diamond

Come with us and we will do you good…

Come with us and we will do you good. This is such affectionate truth. Spoken from the heart of one who wants just that, to do people good. To do this we need to know who our God is, and who we are because of that. If we have this understanding, and I don’t simply mean information gathering, but gut level grasp of this knowledge, then we can genuinely say ‘Come with us and we will do you good’ and it be true. If we don’t know who our God is, and what he is like, then we may well lead you down a rabbit hole of legalistic rules and regulations.

If we don’t know who we are we may manipulate and control from a lack of understanding of our own belovedness and firm security in God.

When we are aware of who we are, we become free to let you be who you are in all your magnificence, because we know we, that is me and you, are precious and deeply loved. What freedom there is in this. Freedom to notice the gold, the greatness, the gifts, the skills, the character and the family-likeness in one another, freedom to make sure equipping happens, and that you are released to serve in the way that suits you best and which makes the most of who God has made you to be.

I say this: let’s discover who God is and who we are and then together let’s go on the adventure he’s called us to share in with him.

Our identity is vital to know. Self-knowledge isn’t for us to be absorbed in ourselves, but free from ourselves in many ways, free to be present for others in ways we find tough when we are battling self-doubts and insecurities.

Putting in the work to understand yourself is good work, work which will indirectly benefit all those around you. Family, friends, colleagues, and so on, all will enjoy the you who is freer from the character flaws inherent in us all. Each of us is gifted and flawed in our own unique manner, but when we understand how that is, and how we can attend to these characteristics so as to grow the good and starve the bad then we will be becoming all God has dreamt of for us. We are on our way back to Eden in a way, back to how he planned for his creative masterpiece to function…only better, because now we appreciate the privilege of the relationship. I want us all to experience as much of heaven on earth as it is legal for us to know. To become as much like Jesus as it is possible to be in this place. I know it is possible to be triumphalistic, I don’t want to drift into that, but I don’t think we are in too much danger of that, more the opposite tendency, to accept our flaws as our lot, believing we can’t change in any meaningful measure.
It seems obvious to me, but leadership needs to be perceptive, equipping, and releasing. It CAN only be that if it is secure within itself, its own identity and relationships, with God and with its community. I daresay it’s possible if the community isn’t in place as yet, but it will be richer and more generous for the experience if it IS there.

Tools to assist with self-understanding are many and varied. Personality typing eg Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, discovering your spiritual gifts and motivations, etc., all help no end. Discovering this information helps you to understand who you are and some of the ‘why’ you may have had about your self and your life, you may even have eureka moments as you explore, “Ah…that’s why I do so and so!”

Some may exhibit a slightly sniffy attitude to this sort of study, as if it is too self absorbed for words, I guess it can be if that’s where it finishes, but my intention is to build understanding so as to facilitate freedom to love others more fully. This is as far from being self absorbed as East is from West. Building health into oneself with the purpose of being free from self consciousness is a generosity of spirit, certainly not the meanness of heart that can remain in us before we are set free by the healing of the Spirit through knowing the truth of how we are loved and how we are made with all of our gifts, personality traits, etc. Father God has dreamed a dream of you, why not invest time and energy in discovering all that he might have intended for you?

Worship…Do We Need To Develop Stamina?

imageI remember hearing a prophet say we should develop stamina for spending extended time in worship, to learn to be willing and able to engage at length in the presence of God. The challenge he brought was fitting then, and remains so now.

What if a shift in awareness comes as God makes his presence felt, but the time is getting late?

What might he do in our worship if we didn’t rush away?

Do we have the stamina to remain in Father’s presence if he moves in an unusual way, or even if he doesn’t, but we just long to pour out more of an offering than usual?

Do we even want the necessary strength, or would we prefer to be in bed at our usual time?

We cry out for his presence but are we willing to stay with him, or do we think, ‘Our usual finishing time will do…thank you very much.’? 

I hope not. I would love for the church…and that includes me…to be hungry enough to keep asking for the more, and to have the strength of heart to stay the course when the ‘more’ is happening. We may have work in the morning, or the sure knowledge of a baby waking us later, but if we have met with God won’t we relish what we have experienced rather than resenting the tiredness?

As I imagine these opportunities to linger, I’m not thinking of nightly meetings as has often been the custom during revivals, I’m thinking more of a deliberate decision to explore the wide open space of worship, enjoying the presence of Father God, after all this is where we are invited to dwell and to rest.

Then perhaps there will be those times when something special is happening, right here, right now, and someone needs to make a decision, well, we all do. Will we call a halt, bring on the speaker, draw the meeting to a close,  sidle off in hopes we go home unnoticed, or will we risk it and stay? Imagine Moses, when he saw something odd going on in a bush, was he tempted to think he would just press on with whatever he was doing there and then? Thankfully, he decided he would stay to see what was happening. He had to make a choice. So do we.

Are we keen for him to be free to do whatever he wants? Are we brave enough to stay when he makes his presence felt? What might happen to us, in us, through us, if we stay? Might we be history makers?

Who could you encourage?

I once asked a wise man what vision he had for the church he leads, he said he didn’t have a set vision, but wanted everyone to function freely and well in the gifts that God had given them, because then the church would be what it was intended to be.
It seems to me he has something precious there, a heart to see people released, trusting them and helping them to receive equipping to be all God has made them to be.
Funnily enough, that man and his encouragement have been a great part of the equipping and releasing of what we do now.

Who might you encourage by sharing your heart with them?
Who needs you to notice some ability in them, to draw it out and give them a push in the right direction?
Will you be brave and do it?

What if you had an opportunity to share your thoughts?

If you had an invitation to say what is going on in you at the moment, what God is doing, or saying, that sort of thing, what do you think you’d say? This isn’t always an easy one to answer is it? Unless it’s just me who struggles to articulate it of course, but I don’t think that’s the case.

I would love to get together with some people who wanted to open up that treasure house for a rummage around.

Wouldn’t you?

Why not take some time to think about this, you never know when you’ll get an opportunity to tell what is brewing in you. It might be sooner than you think.

Praying The Psalms

The Psalms are great for helping us pray, especially when we feel lost for words. We can whisper them to our Father and find our stumbling words becoming steadier as we continue.

Psalm 86

How precious are you Lord, that you give me the inner life to be able to read such a thing as a Psalm and know it as my own?

1 Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
You answer me, how thankful I am that you are a communicating God.

2 Preserve my life, for I am godly;
Because you’re kind and you have chosen and changed me.

Save your servant, who trusts in you-you are my God.
You have never let me down, nor will you.

3 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day.
You listen to me, I don’t need to be afraid of you being disinterested. You care for me.

4 Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
Lord, as I lift my heart to you in thanks for simple things, you make me remember joy and gladness.

5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
You are faithful in all your ways, by your self-revelation you cause me to love you. 

6 Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace.
7 In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.
Where else can I go but to you, no one else can change my heart or my situation.

8 There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.
Nothing and no one like you…and you have chosen to let me know you!

9 All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.
I long for that day!

10 For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.
How many lives have I seen you change- how many times have I seen you heal bodies?

11 Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.
Give me an undivided heart. 

12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.
This is amazing…I am able to glorify your name!

13 For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
To know I am loved by you is an immense privilege. To be able to live free of fear is a delight, help me live in the good of this truth more consistently.

14 O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life, and they do not set you before them.

Thank you for protecting me from the enemy.

15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
In all my inadequacies and failings you still love me!

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your maidservant.
Thank you for not ignoring me, but hearing me, for responding to my need for your strength.

17 Show me a sign of your favour, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.
Your constant love shows me I have your favour, day in day out.

Desiring God…Why?

 

The desire for more of God can be overwhelming at times.

Why does this yearning stir us to search for him?

Why do our hearts lurch, and cry “YES!” at the phrase ‘Deep calls to deep“?

Why is there any desire for more of him?

Because he has made us and we are his.

He has planted that deep hunger in our hearts in the first place, so how can he resist it when it starts to provoke us to go after him? Why would he want to?

We can long for the Lord so much so that we know what it is for everything in us to cry out, “Let me see you or I’ll die!”

Yet, for now we don’t see him, not how we’d like to, but he does promise us this,
Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”  “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
John 14:21, 23.

Intimacy with our Papa God is a precious reality,  we can know and experience it whether we are worn down by life or experiencing the giddy heights.

Loving him, worshipping him with all we are, seeking his face, longing to know his heart for others, we will come to a deeper experience of knowing him, here and now.

His response to our longing for more of him is often to send someone, perhaps a preacher, a poet, or a prophet, to bring a message in such a way as speaks kindly and personally, and reveals more of his Father heart.
At such a time it is only possible to accept that he heard our cry and responded.

I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.
Proverbs 8:17

Not Rushing Away

On the first Easter Sunday, Mary, while it is still dark, and after a sleepless night, is up and out of the house to visit the tomb.

As she arrives she finds the stone moved away. Appalled, and certain the body of Jesus has been taken, she runs to get Peter and John and they all return in great haste to the tomb. The men look in, see the spice-laden grave cloth crumpled at one end of the slab where his body had been laid, and the cloth which should have been covering the face of Jesus, folded neatly and left at the other end.

Startled by the sight, but more than that, by what it reveals, Peter and John stumble out of the tomb—and believing, go home.

Mary, distraught at the now double loss of her Lord and friend, hesitates, standing away from the tomb, expecting nothing but emptiness and more grief.

As she approaches and bends down to look into the dark cave, she sees two angels, it dawns on her they are speaking, asking her a question, a ridiculous, senseless, question, “Woman, why are you crying?

This was nothing like she had been expecting.

Through her tears she sees another figure off to one side, she takes him for the gardener. He asks her the very same question, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’

Almost choking on her words, she asked where he’d put the body of Jesus. The blurred figure called her by name, ‘Mary!’, Mary realises this is her Jesus, and overwhelmed by emotion, she reaches out to gather him close.

Jesus drew back even as he spoke to her. He hadn’t yet ascended to his Father, so she can’t be allowed to cling to him—he told her to go and find his brothers to tell them he is— ‘Ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’

You can read more of this account in The Gospel of John, Chapter 20, Verses 1-18.

 

As I read through this story one aspect stood out to me more than it ever had before. It was this.

Mary didn’t rush away, but lingered, and because of this she had a significantly different experience.

Mary saw and spoke with angels. She met the newly risen Jesus. She made eye-contact with him in the very same instant she realised who it was she was even setting eyes upon!

She had a conversation with him, and was given an unrepeatable assignment—Jesus told Mary to go and tell the other disciples what had happened, and to pass on his message.

This is no small matter.

Why did Jesus choose to meet Mary, and not Peter and John? These men had always been two of the three he had picked to spend extra time with, yet this time he chooses Mary.

He didn’t make a mistake, he didn’t miss them, and therefore, just ‘make do’ with her. He only ever acts with purpose.

Just an aside, since the 3rd century Mary has been called, ‘The Apostle to The Apostles’. At least in part because she waited and didn’t rush away.

Peter and John missed the angels, the conversation with them, the meeting with Jesus, a conversation with him, maybe even an assignment for them too.

All of this leads me to ask— How much do we miss by not waiting around?

The most fruitful times I have are those times when I linger in worship, or prayer, or bible-reading; soaking in his presence. Staying there is precious, and life-changing.

What might we hear, feel, or see, if we stay for longer?

What might we miss if we choose brevity, and rush to get on with the busyness of the day?

There must be time for long, slow, presence-loving worship, prayer, reading, and thinking.

Also, what might we miss if we rush away after spending time with others? Don’t you find some of the most significant times with people can be when others have left, and conversation changes gear, becoming more open and vulnerable?

 

As I prepared this post and listened to worship music, there was one particular track which seemed to fit with Mary’s story. I’d love it if you’d spend a little while listening to it, but don’t listen as ‘you’, listen to it from the viewpoint of Mary when she has had this experience of meeting the risen Jesus. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Praying with Friends

There was a time many years ago when four of us used to meet regularly to pray, we called it our prayer triplet, who knows why, other than we thought it funny. We’d meet fortnightly or monthly, I can’t quite remember how often, but it continued for quite a long while. We so enjoyed our times together, they were rich. We knew we were only small fry, but we also knew God would be with us, and sometimes make his presence especially tangible through what he said or did.

I guess I’m reminded of this because I saw someone tweeting today about prayer ‘threes’, and straight away I was whisked back to the room where we worshipped, prayed, and prophesied, such good times.

That particular group is long gone, yet it is still one of the memories I retrieve and turn this way and that to see its different aspects. Yep, still beautiful.

The discovery of praying with others rather than alone was huge, I hadn’t realised it could be so joy-filled, honest, or exciting. It remains one of my favourite things. Whether it’s just me and a friend, or a room full of hungry people who are longing for more, it doesn’t matter to me, both are a privilege to be part of.
It’s hard to beat meeting with friends to meet with God, it’s one of the most precious activities we can be involved in. I think it’s the authenticity that grabs me every time. To be with people who love God and are willing to make themselves vulnerable, to pour out their hearts, whatever it might sound like, is just so GOOD.

Some of the seeds planted way back then are growing strong now, becoming what could only be thought of as unrealistic dreams at the time. I’m sure those times have made much more difference than we ever imagined they could.

Over the years I’ve been part of a various groups who have met to pray and encourage one another, they appear simple and often rather more small fry than big fish, but they can be powerful and often bear great fruit.

Thankfully God loves to bless the small and seemingly insignificant, his is an upside-down kingdom.

Flawed…Yet Fruitful in the Hands of God

We are all flawed, if we were a water jar we would leak…

But…God has planted seeds alongside the path of your life…if you look to see from His perspective you will see flowers alongside the path where you walk with your cracked and flawed ‘water jar’ of a life (Ask Him to reveal this beauty to you..please listen to his response.)

This growth has only been possible because you have been there, just as you are, loved and treasured by your Father God, in the day to day, ordinary moments of life.
Our vulnerabilities are often what makes others feel safe around us, we don’t need to pretend to be something we aren’t.

Know for sure that you are loved as you are, not as you should be,

No one is just as they should be, God isn’t waiting for that, He loves you just as you are…right now.

Cracked Pots

‘A water bearer in India had two large pots. Each hung on opposite ends of a pole that he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other pot was perfect. The latter always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house. But the cracked pot arrived only half full. Every day for two years, the water-bearer delivered only one and a half pots of water.
The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, because it fulfilled magnificently the purpose for which it had been made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfection, miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.
After the second year of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, the unhappy pot spoke to the water-bearer one day by the stream
“I’m ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you” said the pot.  
“Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”
“I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all this work and don’t get full value from your efforts”, the pot said.
The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot and in his compassion, he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” Indeed, as they went up the hill, the cracked pot took notice of the beautiful wildflowers on the side of the path, bright in the sun’s glow and the sight cheered him up a bit, but at the end of the trail, it still felt bad that it had leaked out half its load, and so it again apologised to the bearer for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, not on the other pot’s side? That is because I have always known about your flaw, and I have taken advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and ever day, as we walked back from the stream, you have watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have had this beauty grace his household.”’

Brennan Manning Ruthless Trust