Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Citizen of the Kingdom

So the below is the transcript (although it wasn't delivered word for word) of the talk I prepared for the St George's Young Adult & Student Weekend Away, November 2012. 

Session 2 – Citizen of the Kingdom (girls)

So, I hope you’re enjoying the weekend so far.  Last night we looked at the King of the Kingdom, this morning’s session is all about being a ‘citizen of the Kingdom’.  Bascially, it’s about what does it mean to live as a Christian, what is life actually like, how do we do it – and more importantly, how do we do it as girls?  I’m aware that this is first thing in the morning and it might feel a bit full on going straight into God’s word, but it’s just us girls, grab a lolly, open up your bible at the Colossians passage for the weekend and settle in.  My hope and prayer is that we can be really honest, we can trust each other, and in the process encounter God in an amazing way. 

Ok, so when praying about this time we’d have together there was one thing that really stuck out and that is simply that God is saying “Come Close”.  So if there’s one thing I want us to all remember, it’s that all God wants is us.  He wants us to ‘come close’.  The way we’re going to do this this morning is in three sections.  First, we’re going to look at what God wants – He wants us to come close.  Second, we’ll look at the fact that actually, we can’t come close or we find it hard to come close (because of our sin).  And finally, we’ll think about the solution – how then, do we actually come close?

Recently, both Ethan and Micah have been quite snotty.  Nice.  Anyway, if they’re tired or not feeling 100% they tend to just fall asleep on you.  Now, sometimes Ethan is aware that he is snotty.  He might ask for a tissue, he might pick his nose and then say ‘eww, bogey mummy, you have it’… there have been several times recently when he’s announced ‘Mummy, my bogey has gone’ – which indicates that he’s wiped it, flicked it or snotted it out somewhere, only to be left for us to find later.  He has even been known to simply come and wipe his nose on my trousers.  Be warned.  However, there are other times when he doesn’t know just how snotty he is – this is certainly the case with Micah – he knows that he doesn’t feel great, he powers across the floor as best as he can, gets to my feet and waits for me to pick him up.  And as he snuggles in for a cuddle, wiping his head back and forth, snot is rubbed into my clothes.  Lovely.  Do you know what,  as gross as it is, I don’t really mind.  I just love it when they’re close by – especially if they’re not 100% well as I know that by being near me they feel safe and they feel a bit better.  Because although they’re snotty, I also know that I have the ability to wipe their snot away.  Sometimes, I wipe it straight away, gone.  Other times, I know that it’ll be too painful for them (you know the chaffing kind of tissue wipe?!) and so I’ll wipe it later.

It was this image that God brought to mind for us.  He simply wants us to come close.  It doesn’t matter if we’re snotty, he just wants us as we are to come to him. 

Unfortunately, I think we too often forget that we can be snotty before God.  The passage for the weekend talks about us being ‘alienated’ and ‘enemies in our minds’ because of our ‘evil behaviour’.  Elsewhere, Isaiah (59:12) goes as far to say:
“For our offences are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us.  Our offences are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities.”

As Christians, it’s all too easy to rate sin and as long as we’re not committing murder think that we’re doing ‘ok’.  However, Galatians 5:19-21 tells us that,

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like…”

Maybe even still, we can look at a list like that and think, hey, I’m not doing too bad.  But what about the way we use twitter or facebook – do we ever post a status deliberately to illicit a particular response from another person?  That’s manipulation.  I know that sometimes I have to think really carefully about what I post.  For one, am I in a bad mood / feeling low / just wanting someone to engage with me?  And second, is it fair – i.e. does it imply something bad about Dan, or my children, or friends?!  Or, what about gossip, what about basing your worth on whether you get a first at the end of your degree, what about basing your self-esteem on whether guys flirt with you, what about having to be the ‘perfect’ Christian with everyone else respecting you and telling you you’re so amazing…?  All these things are sinful.  They’re all snotty.  And as women, we’re all susceptible to wanting out self-worth, significance and self-esteem to stem from somewhere other than God.

For me, the big issue I keep on having to learn is about judgement.  I wish I could learn this lesson from God and then be done with it.  But in reality, I have to keep on repenting, keep on learning, and keep on submitting to God that I judge, when it’s not my place to at all.  On any level.

1 John 1:8-9 says,

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

I think all too often I can bundle along in my walk with God, bundle along in life and think that everything is just peachy.  But, I need a reality check.  Anything we use to gain our security, significance or self-worth that isn’t Jesus… is sin.  Anytime we think that we know best and ignore God… is sin.  It’s a big fat pile of sticky, gooey, gunky snot.  Pretty grim.

So this is the end of the first part of our session and we’re going to take 5 minutes now to have a bit of a reality check.  We can’t see ourselves as we truly are without the help of the Holy Spirit so we’re going to ask God to reveal to us the things we need to see in our own lives.  We’re going to do this in silence – which might feel awkward and it might feel difficult, but I really feel to be able to come close, to engage with what God wants to say to us, we need to give him some space to speak first.

5 minutes silence

Ok, so, if we’re all snotty.  Which we are, really snotty, they how is it we can actually come close to God?

Back to our passage of the weekend, verse 22 (Colossians 1) says,

“But now he has reconciled you…”

Anyone know what that actually means?  I’m a big lover of dictionaries – cool, I know.  To the point that for my 18th I asked for a whopping Oxford English Dictionary and Thesaurus.  Yes.  Anyway, that dictionary came in handy when I looked up the word ‘reconcile’.  It told me this:

1)      to re-establish a close relationship
2)      to settle or resolve (a quarrel or difference)
3)      to bring (oneself) to accept
4)      to make compatible or consistent (two things that are apparently conflicting)

Don’t you find that interesting?  We have been ‘reconciled by Christ’s physical body through death’.  This is the ultimate of God coming close.  He’s come to us.  Jesus came close… so that we can come close.

Is it something we’ve done?  No.
Is it something we can earn?  No.
Is it something we deserve?  No.

God decided to re-establish a close relationship with us through Jesus’ death.  In the story of the snot – that is God totally wiping our noses for us.  I don’t say to Ethan and Micah, “whoa, hang on a minute, you can only come for a cuddle once you’ve wiped your nose, washed your face and cleaned yourself up….”  No, the first thing I do – especially when they’re feeling ill – is to scoop them up and cuddle them.  I’ll deal with the snot later, I don’t expect them to be fully grown adults and deal with their snot issues themselves.  All I want, ALL I want, is for them to come close, snuggle down, and rest – secure in the knowledge that they are loved, they are safe, and they are with me.

My degree at university was effectively a sign language degree.  That’s not what it was called, but every time I say ‘Deaf Studies’ people look at me if I studied death for 3 years – which lets face it would be a touch on the morbid side.  So, sign language – all lectures in sign language, all work submitted in sign language, only allowed to converse in sign language when in the department.  All this led me to pick up the odd sign.

Anyway, the British Sign Language sign for ‘reconcile’ is this: RECONILE (like chain)

It’s the idea that, again, a relationship is being established.  Where the chain was broken, it is coming together.  And it is linked, secure, solid. 

I don’t know if we’ve got any climbers here?  I’m not a climber, I’d like to think I could be, but in reality I’m far too lazy.  However, I have some (limited) understanding of climbing including the use of carabiners.

Again, the dictionary definition of a carabiner is a “coupling link with a safety closure”.  They are used in climbing in ‘safety critical systems’.  I.e.  they are really important if you want to stay safe.  I’m going to make a bold theological statement now, stay with me: 

Jesus is our carabiner.

Jesus is the one who links us to God.  He’s the one who makes the reconciliation possible.  He’s the one who allows us to come close.  He’s the one who presents us as holy in God’s sight,

“without blemish and free from accusation”.

We cannot climb safely without a carabiner.  We cannot come close to God without Jesus.

So what stops us?  If coming close to God is as simple as saying Jesus is our carabiner, what do we need to do to come close too?

First of all, we need to make sure we’ve confessed the snot – both the snot the Holy Spirit has made us aware of, and the snot we’re unaware of.  As I mentioned earlier, my big snot struggle is being judgemental.  At New Wine this year, I had a moment with God where he showed me how he views my judgement of others.  And it’s horrible.

I had been judging someone – someone I didn’t even really know – for about a year, based on things other people had said, based on my own insecurities, based on nothing really other than the thought that I was better than this other person.  Who on earth do I think I am?  God showed me how he viewed this person and I was instantly, on the spot, middle of a worship session, convicted.  I confessed my snot (sin) to God, my heart was filled with love for this person, and I felt like I had truly repented of the judgement.

However, I knew that it wasn’t finished there.  Being judgemental is often a very private sin.  Most people would have been totally unaware of the fact I’d been judging this person – and if I wanted to keep my super holy image in tact, then that’s the way I would’ve kept it.  But I know, that in James 5:16 it says,

“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

In that moment I had a choice, I could ignore that prompting of the Holy Spirit, I could confess to Dan (easy, he’s my husband, he has to love me and think I’m great), OR, I could be brave, and confess to someone else.  I knew, that until I confessed my judgement to someone else, I wasn’t going to have complete freedom and I wasn’t going to be able to come close to God without it getting in the way.

I wasn’t confessing to this other person because I wanted their forgiveness (God had already forgiven me), I didn’t want them to pity me, or to comfort me.  I just wanted them to walk with me in that moment and to acknowledge that I am snotty… even when I think I’m not.  I wanted to pray with them, to declare out loud that I was judgemental, to share with that person that I was sorry I had been judging someone, and to, together, thank God for his graciousness and the hope that I can be changed and transformed by His Spirit.  Afterwards, I felt like I’d really left the judgement of that person behind.  I truly don’t see them the way that I used to and have even been able to start reaching out to befriend that person.

So to allow you guys that same opportunity, as hardcore as it is, we’re going to have a time of confession.  Using the sheets from earlier, in groups of 2 or 3, we’re going to confess our sins and pray for one another so that we may be healed, so that we can move forwards and so that we can come closer to God.  Practically, this is not a time of judgement (!) so remember we’re all snotty.  To make it feel a little less public, we’ll have some worship music playing.  When you’re praying for each other, you don’t need to take on the place of God.  Let the person confessing, speak out whatever it is they want to turn away from and then together, simply thank God that he forgives us and that he loves us regardless of how sinful we are.  I’ll let everyone know when we’re going to come back together for the last part of the session.

Confession time with worship music.

To recap then: 

-          We are all snotty.  God says, ‘come close’. 
-          We don’t know how to come close.  Jesus has already done the work of reconciling us.  He’s our carabiner.

But, practically, in our day to day, stuff happens all the time lives, how do we come close? 

Zechariah 1:3 says,

            “…’Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you’…”

God is not going to smother us.  If I see one of my boys tired, unwell, snotty on the floor, I’m not going to run at them and smother them.  I’m going to allow them to come to me if they want to.  When Micah is feeling hungry, tired, generally vulnerable, if he sees me, or even hears my voice, he will crawl to me until he gets to my feet and then he’ll wait, knowing that I’ll stoop down and do the work of picking him up and wiping his nose.  He moves.  He has ‘come close’.

The way that we crawl to God is surrender.  It’s finally acknowledging that we can’t do life in our own strength.  That we are not all powerful, all knowing, all seeing.  We don’t have all the answers, we don’t get it right all the time.  We are not super holy.  We surrender, we renew our minds – we say, ‘not my will, but yours.’

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

We align our thoughts to God’s thoughts, we align our perspective to His perspective.  We

“put off our old selves, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of our minds…” (Ephesians 4:22-23)

We choose to live a life that doesn’t grieve the Holy Spirit.  In each decision of the day, we choose to surrender.  Not my will, but yours.  And each time we do that, we come a little bit closer.

We choose to say to God that we will find our security, significance and self-worth in him and not in:
-          having a boyfriend
-          getting good results
-          being popular
-          looking good
-          earning lots of money
-          having the latest gadgets
-          having control
-          having the most followers on twitter
-          being funny

And each time we’re tempted to start to rely on something other than God, we choose to surrender.  When we have a bad haircut we remind ourselves that it’s not the end of the world.  My self-worth is not in what I look like.  I am a daughter of the King, I am beautifully, wonderfully and fearfully made… and my hair will grow!  We choose to realign ourselves with His word.  We choose to say, ‘not my will, but yours’, and in doing that, we come close.

I’m a bit of an admin queen.  I love a good structure, a plan, a ‘to-do’ list and a ‘how-to’ guide.  However, the danger of coming close is making it about what we do.  Yes, we need to surrender our lifestyles, our thought life, our private life, our public life, our spiritual life, our sexual lives… yes, we surrender all of ourselves, but we also remember that God isn’t expecting us to be snot-free.

He’s not expecting us to deal with it all before we start crawling towards him.  He’s ok with us struggling with issues.  He’s ok with us acknowledging we find things hard.  Flip, He’s even ok with us being angry with Him!  God the Father just wants us to remember that because of Jesus, the work of reconciling is already done.  Because of Jesus, we CAN come close, we can be real.  Because of Jesus, we can come to God, with our snot, and let him deal with it –

As long as we do our bit – we draw close to him, we surrender our lives: body, heart, soul and mind – then we let God do the rest.  We let him pick us up, we let God wipe our snot away, we let him use the Holy Spirit to help reveal and deal with the snot when we’re mature enough, in His timing…

So what does it mean to be a citizen of the Kingdom?  I think God wants us to know that being a citizen of his Kingdom gives us the freedom to simply come close to the King.

We’re going to spend some time practicing that now.  We will have some worship, pens (journal), people available to pray…

Spend time in worship, prayer ministry, stillness…