Friday, June 22, 2007

Led From Behind

I will seek you in the morning
And I will learn to walk in your ways
Step by step you lead me
And I will follow you all of my days

Rich Mullins

Have you ever noticed that God often works in paradoxes? As Christians, we desire to walk in his steps, looking for his footprints, following in his ways. We struggle because God’s leading is not always clear to us. We often scan ahead, looking for him to show us exactly which way to step – where to place our foot. Perhaps we misunderstand the way God leads. Have you ever considered the idea that God may lead us from behind?

Is 30:21 says, “You will hear a voice BEHIND you saying … this is the way, walk in it …”

Psalm 23 tells us that God is our shepherd and he leads us … In verse 6, David states, “Surely Goodness and Love will follow me …”. Goodness and Love? That’s God personified … following …

Being led from behind is hard. It’s uncomfortable. It requires faith steps. We would rather God led us from the front … “step this way … turn left … take three steps … that’s it … a little closer. …” I have seen people paralysed in life, waiting for God to tell them what to do. They won’t make any decisions because they are waiting. We are to look to God for his direction but he did not make us robots! He gave us a brain, he gave us choices and he delights in us using both. God delights in our faith. If he is to lead us from the front, telling us every step and every move, where is the faith? We are called to walk by faith. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God.

Is it possible that we have been walking our faith journey with a tightrope mentality? That we see God’s guidance as a tightrope upon which we must walk, maintaining balance for fear that we will fall off? Thinking … if we fall off, we have missed it!? We have missed God? What a constricted way to live life. Perhaps we should think of God’s guidance being like a playground. He is stretching his hand out gesturing at all the fun things, telling us to go and enjoy. Perhaps he is saying, “go and play on whatever you want but DO NOT step outside the fence! Run free … and enjoy!” This is more in tune with the God I know … Job 36:16 tells me that he is bringing me into a spacious place free from restriction.

If God is leading from behind, has he left us to fumble our way? Nope! He is ever with us, guiding, encouraging, supporting, LEADING! Here is another analogy. Think of a child learning to ride a bike. They have their wee training wheels. Their parent runs along behind them with a hand on the back of the seat – every now and then helping with the steering. The parent’s goal is not that the child would remain dependent. Their goal is that the child experiences the freedom and joy of riding solo … independence! It is a proud moment when they let go of the bike and their child continues to fly along! This new found independence does not mean we are completely on our own. We still have the father calling, guiding, encouraging and supporting us. His eye is on us 24/7. As Psalm 139 says, where can we flee from his presence? Nowhere. He hems us in behind and before. But he wants us to grow up, spread our wings and fly! (Or, sticking to my analogy, ditch the training wheels and ride baby, ride!)

So what is it that hinders us in our faith journey? Fear is a big one … we don’t like to make mistakes. We don’t want to fall over … I see this same tendency with the children I teach. They don’t want to take risks … they look to me to provide them with all the answers. I would be a poor teacher if I obliged them. They would always be dependent on me and would never grow. Often in the process of learning, they are very uncomfortable when I do not provide immediate answers. One of my often repeated comments with my students, is that failure is not failure … its an opportunity to learn. If they learn from their mistakes, they have grown. What is important is that they try. That they take a risk and think for themselves!

Think of when a baby starts to take it’s first steps. They take one, wobble … and another … wobble … each step bringing them that little bit closer to being free … being able to run! There are many times that they fall down in this process. A loving parent doesn’t turn their back and say “useless child! What’s wrong with you. That’s it! You will never walk. You are a failure!” A loving parent is thrilled with each step that baby takes. Indeed, in talking with many of my friends, those first steps are some of the most exciting milestones in their child’s development.

Sometimes we don’t want to take steps because we don’t know which way to step. My advice is just start stepping. What’s in your hand? What’s in your heart? Start to take steps – ANY steps. If they are the wrong steps, you will hear that voice behind you saying, “mind the way. A little to the left …” If we fall, we get up … find our balance and then we step again … and again. As Rich sings in Sometimes by Step,
I may falter in my steps
But never beyond your reach

I once had a picture of Peter stepping out onto the water. If the water had been hard when he stepped on it, there would have been no faith involved. The thing I came away from the picture with, was a strong sense that the water firms as you place your foot on it. We have someone whose hand is on us and who hems us in behind and before. He has made the way. He helps us stand … follows behind helping with balance … and takes joy in our steps. What else is there to say but ... Run baby run!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Get Real!

“You’re here to be light, bringing out the God colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. … If I make you light bearers, you don’t think I am going to hide you under a bucket do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I have put you there – on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine! … By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up to God …”. Matthew 5 - The Message

Jesus said that he is the light of the world. He is not a 40 watt light bulb. He is THE light. Brighter than the sun. Light that blazes like a signal fire on a hill. In John 1, The Message describes it as, "the life light that blazed out of the darkness …”. John also tells us that the darkness could not put it out. God has put this incredible light in us. “As you have the light, believe in the light. Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You’ll be children of light”. (Jn 12:35-36, The Message).

Houston, we have a problem. A BIG problem. Our problem is this. We cover up our light. When I took the above photo, I was trying to portray the idea that we have this beautiful light of God inside of us but we mask it. We hide it. Some people find this picture disturbing – they don’t like the glow through the eyes. At first I was concerned, as I was focused on the beauty of the light that comes out of the eyes. Upon reflection, I am comfortable that this picture makes people uncomfortable. We should be. It is disturbing that we keep our light hidden behind carefully crafted masks.

This problem is not new to Jesus. It was a concern to him several thousand years ago. Jesus tells Nicodemus of this in John 3. He says, “God light streamed into the world but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God.” He goes on to talk about people being addicted to denial and illusion. What a statement – addicted to denial and illusion. Think on it for a moment. That addiction … that’s the mask. It is a horrible, evil thing. How dare we take the light within us and mask it. We have been entrusted as bearers of light … and we hide it. How this must grieve God.

Why are we addicted to denial and illusion? How does it serve us? There is a key in this passage. It says, “ … addicted to denial and illusion, fearing a painful exposure”. That’s it. We don’t want to be exposed. I think we think if people saw us as we really are, they wouldn’t accept us. This strikes at one of the core needs we are wired with. The need for relationship - to be understood and valued. The need to be loved.

Perhaps, if we admit our struggles and failures, we would have to admit that the beautiful facades we have invested in, the beautiful facades so carefully crafted and built, are just that. Facades. Facades built on a lie. The lie that we are good enough. The lie that we can make it on our own. Outside of Christ, our righteousness is as filthy rags. We are not self-sufficient. We are not self-made. We are completely dependent on God, whether we like to admit it or not. He is the reason we breathe! In him, we live, move and have our being. Acknowledging this, brings us face to face with who we are, and who God is. It’s a scary thing to stand naked and exposed before him, covered in the mud and grime of our everyday endeavours. But it is only when we step into the exposure of his light, that he can begin to clean us up. It is a humbling thing to put yourself in the hand of another.

God calls us to walk in authenticity – to be real. Something so simple, that many of us find so difficult. It’s a powerful thing. At the end of John 3, The Message says, “anyone living and working in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God work it is”. As I have said before, we are God’s art-pieces. As such, we reflect our artist. Why would we want to hide that? I will close out this blog with a few words from the story, The Velveteen Rabbit” … it’s pretty self-explanatory.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

Jimmy Abegg says, “we are ragamuffins, much loved by God in the midst of our short comings and failures …”. It’s okay. We are loved. Drop the mask. Get real and let your light shine.