I love my cell group. We are all very different but it works. Our strengths compliment one another and we challenge each other with our own opinions and thoughts. It makes life colourful and interesting. This has never been as true as it was this week! We are wrestling our way through Paul's letter to the Romans and this week we were challenged/frustrated/confused with chapter 7.
I am still digesting and learning, but basically Paul talks about sin and the law and how the law is just and holy and without it we wouldn't know what sin is. But despite knowing the law, sin gets in the way because we are human and we end up doing the very things we don't want to do.
He puts it like this;
"The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do." (NIV)
I was relieved when I read this. It wasn't just me that struggles with those moments of horror when you say or do something that you instantly regret. The times when you try so hard and want to do something else, yet end up doing something completely different. I don't mean that as an excuse, I just mean I am glad I am not alone in this. As we reflected on our own thoughts about Romans 7, I was reminded of a quote;
"We are extremely vulnerable and easily victimised by the beautiful lie. It looks like freedom, it turns out to be bondage. It looks like cool, it turns out to be foolish. It looks like love, it turns out to be lust. It looks like life, it turns out to be death." Duffy Robbins
My fears and insecurities often get in the way of me being loving and kind to people. I am often fooled by the 'beautiful lie.' I really value attributes such as kindness, being inclusive, depth, honesty, faithfulness and integrity but often they get lost because of my sinful nature. I try to live out these values and often end up, if I am lucky, a messier version of the ideal or more often than not, the complete opposite. I want to be inclusive, yet often what I end up seeking is to be included and that sometimes looks like gossip causing exclusivity. I want to be kind but I am often judgemental and therefore can be unkind. I want to be faithful in my relationship with God, but often that looks like a rigid timetable so I lose the very thing I seek.
I don't have the answers to this conundrum. I guess being reminded that sin is at work in my life, helps remind me to seek forgiveness. To seek Jesus. And in the battle against the 'beautiful lies' we can often be fooled into believing, I want to seek TRUTH.
Last weekend I spent the weekend in the beautiful Solace tent at Bestival on the Isle of Wight. I was there with one purpose, to serve free tea and home-made cake to the masses alongside some amazing people from the various Churches on the "island". It was a fantastic weekend and even though I came away tired, I was also refreshed...Solace truly was refreshment for the soul. After reminiscing about the whole experience, I really felt God was talking to me about two different things...
Firstly, about the rhythm of life and how we miss out on 'solace' when our lives become crowded and busy. During the weekend we were rotered on to different areas of the whole Solace operation; hosting, serving, praying and resting. We were giving but also receiving. How many of our lives have that balance? Where we serve and host and then retreat to spend time in prayer and rest with the Father? We know this is a good model because Jesus did it! My life tends to get out of kilter, life is mainly BUSY. Don't get me wrong, life is fun in the business. I love my job and I love getting involved at church. I work best when I am busy and have a purpose. But I wonder how my busy life overshadows my quiet times, those important times to recharge, to spend time with God. If I am honest there is more hosting and serving and then collapsing out of exhaustion rather than praying. It made me realise how important it is to retreat. I have been challenged recently to re evaluate my rhythm of life, scheduling in a bit of solitude and prayer time with God and those people who breathe life into me.
The second thing that I felt God was chatting to me about was how we receive things. Our friendly faces and free refreshments were received with mixed responses. Some where unnerved, some were thankful, some were expectant and some tried to pay. I couldn't count the amount of times I heard, "...but nothing is free in this world!" and it made me think about how we receive the free gift of grace! My husband, Will, said to one girl who kept wanting to pay, "Don't you think you're worth a cup of tea?" I know I fall in to the camp that would prefer to earn a gift rather than receive it freely. I rarely feel worthy of such a treat. And it is true, nothing is free in this world. Grace and love costs. It cost Jesus his life. But he paid the price so we don't have to. Yet, even though I know that, I will happily try to earn it, I will work hard and try and do good things so I can be deserving!
With both these things, God is showing me that He would rather have me sit at His feet rather than run around like a headless chicken. In this season, He wants me to be a Mary as well as a Martha (Luke 10 v38 - 42) and find a little solace for the soul amidst a busy life.
So, Will and I recently celebrated our first wedding anniversary in July, and it is in my character to analyse how the last year has gone and make a list of things we could do better..very romantic, I know! I suggested that we could do this over our anniversary weekend whilst we escaped to beautiful Wales. Will does NOT work like this and made it very clear that this would not be a fun way to celebrate! I would have happily sat down and scheduled in prayer times, quiet times together, work out how we would make sure we were putting God at the centre and create a list to measure ourselves against. I find it hard to know how I am doing in terms of my faith unless it is measured legalistically, but what I am realising is that this way of doing life does not allow freedom and that was not what God had in mind for us! My relationship with Jesus cannot be based on a set of criteria that I either pass or fail. It cannot be a radical "revolution" I choose at the beginning of a new season to be better and do better. It HAS to come from being in love with my creator. For me, this is not the easier option, but I recognise it is a better way.
St Francis of Assisi once said;
"True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice."
These words made me look back and see ] where God has taken me in this last season. It has been far. It has been surprising. And it has been totally unexpected. God didn't work through my wish list of how I wanted to grow; more joyful, more holy, more disciplined, more forgiving, less selfish and generally a better person. Don't get me wrong, I don't think these are bad things to strive for, but I think I was waiting for a revolution. An overnight transformation. Something easy to see and cross off my to do list so I could move onto the next item on my agenda. Instead it has been much more subtle. It has been more about "evolution'. It has been on Gods terms rather than mine. At times it has been painful and in others I have barely noticed it happening. God is definitely transforming me, day by day. In the past year I have seen healing, growth and miracles that I never would have even dared to hope for. There have been times I have been challenged and times I have felt reassured. I have felt near to Him and very very far. I have doubted and I haven't "tried" very hard. Yet there has been tangible change.
I am still very much a work in progress but thats ok. And I am sure there will be much more evolving in the years to come, but for now the only thing on my wish list for the start of this new term is to breathe God in, and let Him lead me to where He wants me to be. Running, with endurance, the race God has set before me. (Hebrews 12v1)
I have an instant physical reaction to beautiful songs, its hard to explain but it is overwhelming. It is sometimes the depth of the music, the gentleness of a voice but mostly it is due to a lyric that grabs my heart. If I have ever talked "music" with you, it is more than likely I will have raved on about an amazing New Zealand artist called Brooke Fraser. I LOVE her :) She instantly became a favourite when I heard her first song, "Arithmetic" at University. I recently saw her play live in Birmingham and I was drawn to one particular song called, "The C.S Lewis song." It talks about how we can sometimes feel unsatisfied by what the world offers and the only conclusion is we were made for somewhere else...HEAVEN. Through the summer I have kept coming back to this song, gleaning a little more of what it might mean and how that real knowledge of having a heavenly home might impact life! I have come to the conclusion that I want to stop seeking to be satisfied with what this life has to offer, I dont want to fit in. I want to be different; salt and light. I want a reminder that I am not yet who I am born to become and that feeling of being dissatisfied and wanting more is just a product of still being on the journey home.
"If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy,
I can only conclude that I was not made for here
If the flesh that I fight is at best only light and momentary,
then of course I'll feel nude when to where I'm destined I'm compared
Speak to me in the light of the dawn
Mercy comes with the morning
I will sigh and with all creation groan as I wait for hope to come for me
Am I lost or just less found? On the straight or on the roundabout of the wrong way?
is this a soul that stirs in me, is it breaking free, wanting to come alive?
Cos my comfort would prefer for me to be numb
And avoid the impending birth of who I was born to become
For we, we are not long here
Our time is but a breath, so we better breathe it
And I, I was made to live, I was made to love, I was made to know you
Hope is coming for me
Hope, He's coming "