Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Constraint and English comedy troupes

I think it was the episode of Black Adder where his fanatical Puritanical Christian aunt and uncle come to visit Edmund on the very night he is hosting a drinking contest, interrupting a night of great debauchery. Or was it a scene in Monty Python's movie The Life of Brian? Anyhow, I remember a comedic scene from some show or movie where the phrase: "The love of Christ constrains us" (2 Corinthians 5:14) was being repeated over and over again by fanatical Christians. I also remember laughing in agreement at how stupid they seemed. But now that I actually know the love of Christ, I think I could probably repeat that phrase over and over myself with conviction and not find it humorous - except for the memory of the silliness I witnessed on television.

It is knowing Christ's love that has brought about an amazing transformation in me that only my family and my former church family in Duncan BC have truly witnessed. And since I came to know Christ's love 8 years and one month ago, I can say in all honesty, that His love constrains (controls) me. In a previous post I spoke about God's love and how I would do anything for Him because He loves me. So I suppose this post is a little redundant because being constrained by Christ's love means that in almost everything I do and in every decision I make, I consider how my actions will affect my relationship with Jesus Christ and God, my Father. And I consider how they will affect others as well, but mainly because I know that God cares deeply about how I treat other people who are beloved by Him.

I remember a conversation with a friend in recovery who had discovered the power and the reason Jesus spoke of the first and greatest commandment "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." What my friend discovered was that when he obeyed this commandment to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, he was able to stay clean and sober without any effort at all. God did for him what he could not do for himself. And, when he loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, he found that it was much easier for him to love his neighbour as he loved himself - which is the second greatest commandment which sums up all the other commandments God has given us. This is what it means to be constrained by Christ's love.

1 John 4:19 says, "We love because He first loved us," and this is the truth. I could not love Jesus until I came to know His love for me. But now that I know His love for me and how extravagant and unconditional it is, I love Him with all my heart. I don't need to earn His love, and in fact there's nothing I could do to earn it. I just need to receive it. And when I say that His love constrains me, it's not because of guilt or a desire to earn brownie points with God so I can make it into heaven, it's because it is my heart's desire to please Him and to bless Him and to serve Him. When someone accepts and loves you just as you are, you want to please that person, not because you need to earn their love, but because you want to bless them in some way because of how they've blessed you. And you want to be like them, too. Their love blesses you so much that you want to be able to love like they do. That's what it's like knowing Jesus, and being constrained by His love. He does not try to control us, but His love for us enables us to control ourselves. What a magnificent God I serve!

And one of the scribes...asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Mark 12:28-31

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Jail time

Since January 2007 I have been the Chaplain’s Assistant at the Fraser Valley Institution (FVI) for women in Abbotsford. Each Sunday afternoon I drive to Abbotsford to assist the chaplain, Rev. Wendy Murchy, with the prison’s chapel services. The main service is held in the sanctuary at 2 o’clock for the women in the medium and minimum security areas of the prison. There is a service in the maximum security unit each Sunday as well - sometimes we have to hold several if the women who choose to attend are not allowed to fraternize. Attendance varies each week but we see between 5 and 15 women in the main service and 1 to 4 in the services in the maximum security unit. When Wendy is away on holiday or out of town on business, I lead the services in her stead.

In January 2008 Wendy requested that I take over the Monday afternoon Bible Study she was doing with some prisoners in the maximum security unit. Leading this study has been a great blessing to me the two women who regularly attend this meeting are very hungry for God. Their participation in our study is “all in” and God has used our discussion and prayer times to demonstrate his love and his care, and to bring healing and strength when it is needed. I have been privileged to hear the stories of these women and to see the hand of God – and His love – in their lives. It humbles and inspires me to hear about the miraculous ways that He’s moved in answer to our prayers, even moving on the hearts of the “powers that be” within the prison sometimes to grant privileges that would have been impossible without Him. An example is that the women have been allowed to meet together each evening to pray and study the Bible together, even though they are on separate “ranges” which normally are not allowed to mix.

During our prayer times together, Wendy and I, and the women in my Bible Study, have been sensing that God wants to move in power inside the prison. In response, Wendy has formed a Chaplaincy Committee which meets on a bi-weekly basis. The committee includes Wendy, myself, as a representative of the community outside the prison, and a number of inmates who have demonstrated leadership qualities and a commitment to living the “new life” even outside of the chapel – which is challenging because of peer pressure. The mission of the committee is “to identify, address and support the spiritual needs of the women at FVI”.

On September 14th the Chaplaincy Committee held its first one day retreat on the prison grounds using the house where inmates’ family visits take place. The retreat was a time of team building, of spiritual strengthening, and of brainstorming ways that we can bless and impact the lives of the women confined to the institution – and the staff as well. The inmates came up with some wonderful ideas for events we can hold and ways that we can reach out to the other women in the institution, and some of these will be instituted within the next month. We certainly gained spiritual strength and unity through our time together as the Holy Spirit came down as we worshipped together before departing. One of the women exclaimed, “I feel the Holy Spirit!” and we could see it all over her as she was pink and rosy and shiny all over! Thank You, Lord, for manifesting the sense of Your Presence among us and for affirming us in our work among the inmates and staff of FVI. I would be very grateful for your prayers for our committee. We believe that God has a plan to draw inmates as well as the staff of the prison into relationship with Him and we want to hear from Him.

The song the women who attend chapel love to sing most is "Freedom", is based on 2 Corinthians 3:17: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. They know the true freedom that is available to them through faith in Jesus Christ. We hope to help others who are incarcerated to experience it too.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Reflections on God's love

I remember the day it dawned on me, about 6 months into my recovery journey, that "no thing" was more important in life than the relationships I have with my family and with God. That revelation brought about a grieving process - with loud sobbing and blubberng - that lasted the entire day as I realized how over and over again throughout the years I had deliberately turned away from the people who love me - and from God's love. I was terrified of intimacy because I believed the lie that I was not trustworthy or responsible. God showed me how empty and sterile my life had been, and how often I'd hurt the people who loved me - especially my kids - because of my selfishness and my fears. It was devastating to realize this but it had a huge impact on me that changed me forever. I still have to work hard at being comfortable with intimacy and closeness, but it's too important for me not to try.

What brought me to that point in my life was that I had had a personal revelation of God's love for me just a few weeks before on the day I gave my life to Jesus. God poured His love into me and Jesus' presence with me was so real that I exclaimed to myself in surprise, "Jesus is alive!" The fact that Jesus stayed with me for three days after that, giving me courage to share my Step One history with my recovery group (which was like a confession of all the shameful things I had ever done in my addiction) and forgiving me, and showing me the world as He sees it, including all the turmoil and woundedness in people, gave me unmistakable evidence that I was treasured, loved and chosen by the God who had created the universe.

Knowing that God loves me this way is what motivates me to do good and to try to be a good person. I'm not trying to earn my way into heaven with good deeds. I just want to please my Poppa who loves me, and when I do things that defile myself or hurt others my heart grieves because I know that there is nothing that is hidden from Him. I would do anything for Him and go anywhere He sends me because I love Him so much and am so grateful for His love for me. I want everyone who is hurting and feeling rejected to know His love too and that is why I do what I do. If, somehow, I can introduce them to Jesus then they too can know how precious they are to their Father in Heaven and be transformed by His love. This is the mission that I have been given as a beloved child of God.

Jesus tried to teach the religious leaders of his day, that God cares more about what's inside of us, in our hearts, than about what we do or how we look on the outside. There are many people who practice piety; they go around like "white washed sepulchres" trying to look good and to do good, but you can sense that inside they're really rotten and hateful. Jesus instructed jpeople like this, the Pharisees, to go and learn the meaning of "'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice." He cared more about how they responded to the poor and the downtrodden than about their empty offerings and religious practices. He also told them that he didn't come to call the righteous, but sinners. What a great God! He didn't send the Messiah to save those who make a show of being holy and righteous! He sent His One and Only Son to call sinners - the embarrasments, the ignored, the outcasts, the unsaintly - into an intimate relationship with Him! What an amazing God! What extravagant love and incredible mercy!

That is why I am so in love with Him: Jesus came to me when I was feeling dirty and ashamed, and believed I was unworthy of love - especially God's. I had defiled myself and rebelled against God almost all of my life, and yet He came and poured his love into me and chose to stand beside me to strengthen me and protect me and love me. I lay down my life for this kind of love; there is nothing that could ever compare to knowing the tender loving care and mercy of God. And I throw myself on the Cross because I know that I am a wretched sinner redeemed by grace, by the love and the sacrifice of Jesus who laid down His life for us. Thank You Lord that you died for me.

Then turning toward the woman (Jesus) said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little."
Luke 7:44-47