About a week ago I took my husband to visit the church buildings that I spent the most time in as a child and teenager. It used to be called “Canley Heights Church of God.” My grandfather was the Pastor there before I was born, until I was 14 years old. My mum and dad were married in the main building and I was baptised by my grandfather there. I spent many Sunday afternoons, weekends and school holidays in the parsonage with my grandparents.
The Pastor of the church that owns it now, showed JD and I around and I was stunned by how different it looked internally. Most of the walls had been knocked down so that the auditorium extended into what used to be office buildings, kitchen and Sunday school rooms. The main double doors we used to use are now hidden behind the stage, and where we once had our stage is now considered a side wall. The cross is still there (on their side wall) and the baptismal that was under our stage is now underneath chairs. The main entry to the church is a doorway that has been added at the back of the church where there used to be a large eating space in front of the kitchen. This is all part of the seating area now. What was once our external “recreation room” has been renovated into their kitchen. The “dormitory” is now the parsonage and the parsonage that my grandparents lived in still looks essentially the same inside but is used as Sunday school rooms. My grandparents’ vegetable garden, trees and fence have been replaced by a campfire and grassy field. The church’s external “video room” is now used as a granny flat for youth to sleep over in bunk beds. The carpark looks the same but felt smaller and what was once a carport where we parked our minibus has been extended for outside events.
It was so nostalgic to be there and to show JD around. It’s been about 15 years since I last saw the place. I felt an overwhelming gratitude for the people I have interacted with over the years because of that church and the many “family camps” I attended with the denomination of the Church of God in Australia.
I learned some of the best hymns in the Church of God: “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” “I Surrender All,” “What a Friend we have in Jesus,” and my favourite, “It is well with my Soul.” I was challenged to think outside the box by one Pastor who suspected that the story of Jonah is/was mythological. I took part in the sacrament of feet washing, and just last year, my husband and I washed each other’s feet on our wedding night. I partook of communion and baptism in that church. I was taught that God is my father and that he loves me by teachers of that denomination.
But what really stands out to me right now is how much things change with time. As Christians we often talk about how God never changes. But I have been reading textbooks this semester on the doctrine of God and the Trinity, and whether or not he changes, the views of theologians change every day. God is much greater and harder to describe than we would like to think he is. There is so much debate around the attributes of God. Is he immortal and invisible or should we consider him mortal and visible because of Jesus? Is he transcendent (God above all) and/or immanent (God within all) and does this lead to conclusions of pantheism (God is all and all is God) or panentheism (all is within God, but God is greater than all). Calvinists and Open Theists argue about whether God is sovereign and in control of every little detail of our lives or whether human beings have some amount of free will. Is God omniscient (all-knowing) or is he “open” to all possible futures and does he watch history play out in real time? Will God save the entire world (universalism)? Do all religions lead to the same God (pluralism)? Is God monotheistic (one God), triune (three in one), polytheistic (many gods) or communal (multiple gods/modes-of-being in one godhead)?
The more I learn about God, the less I know. I am filled with awe and wonder at the diversity of ideas. Personally, I choose to believe that Jesus is God and that God is triune. But I choose this because my foundational belief is that GOD IS LOVE. So it makes sense to me that for God to be love he must be a community: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And if God really is love (as the Bible claims and I believe), then I can rest assured that he will always love me no matter what I believe about him and how much he remains a mystery to me. The point is not that I know God, but that God knows me. I am not afraid of what I do not know, because the God of love has me. As Jesus said: “I am in my father and you are in me and I am in you,” John 14:20.
Church buildings change. Church denominations change. Theologies change. People change. But I believe that the essence of God – GOD’S LOVE – stays the same.
It is Father’s Day in Australia and I want to wish my Heavenly Father a happy Father’s Day.
“Thank you that you love every single one of us.
May we bask in your love today.”
This year I have been thinking a lot about the concept of following my heart.
When I was younger I thought that the advice, “follow your heart,” was ridiculous! As far as I was concerned my head and my heart were equally dominant and although they fought, they generally worked together and I essentially followed whatever conclusion they came to.
I was using the word “head” to refer to my thoughts or rationale; and the word “heart” to refer to my feelings or emotions. I basically thought we should try to balance our “heads” and “hearts,” not follow one or the other.
Now, I have come to realise that following our hearts has nothing to do with the war between our thoughts and our feelings, or choosing to follow our emotions over our rationale. Our true hearts are much deeper than our most conscious thoughts, feelings and perceptions.
Our true hearts are peaceful. They are not persuaded by thoughts of how to behave in socially acceptable ways so as to gain others’ love and support. Nor are they motivated by our feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, guilt or even self-righteousness. They follow the path of love and peace.
While the heart acknowledges our thoughts, feelings and perceptions and allows them space to exist, they are quieted by this very acknowledgement. The heart fully accepts that I might feel afraid, and says, “It’s okay to be afraid.” The heart hears the question, “What if I’m doing the wrong thing?” and responds, “You are, always have been and always will be loved.”
That love–the love coming from your true heart or inner self–is actually the love of God for you. In fact I believe that the voice of the heart is the spirit of God within you.
Another thing I have been discovering is that following your heart means being/becoming yourself. It means doing the things that feel healthiest for you. It means being much more honest and therefore breaking down our own facades.
I had a revelation recently that when God revealed himself to Moses from the burning bush and Moses asked him who he was, God said “I AM who I AM.” He didn’t give Moses a name, because if he had, Moses’ perception of God would be limited by whatever name he gave. God essentially said to Moses:
I AM ME.
God is not limited to Moses’ perception of him. And no matter how much BS we project onto God, God will always be HIMSELF. God is the truest being. He is always true to himself. He always follows his heart.
He is the heart.
On Wednesday morning JD and I boarded a ferry to the Great Barrier Reef pontoon. The pontoon is a three storey building way out at sea with lots of outdoor areas, an underwater viewing area (an aquarium of windows looking out into the ocean that can fit about 30 visitors and has constant schools of fish swimming around it), and some indoor quarters for staff including change rooms for visitors. The pontoon is basically tied to the ocean floor by heavy weights and cables and is floating above sea level.
When we arrived we visited the aquarium and then took a small semi-submersible boat called the Sea Urchin out to view the reef from underwater windows.
We then waited until the crowd of 300 people had done their snorkelling and taken the ferry back to the mainland. There were only 5 of us staying the night plus half a dozen or more staff. We jumped into the ocean to do our snorkelling at 3:30pm and had the reef to ourselves. We got to see beautifully coloured clams, coral and fish and, guess what, we even found Nemo’s cousin, a brown and white striped clownfish amongst them. The water wasn’t as warm as I had expected and even though I was wearing a wetsuit, my teeth were chattering within half an hour so I got out soon after that while JD kept snorkelling.
We watched the sunset and heard & saw large trevally fish snapping up their dinner through a large viewing hole on the pontoon.
We ate delicious seafood chowder, fish, steak, chicken kebabs and vegetables for dinner and got to know the three people staying on the reef with us. Ten year old Jack was a walking, talking animal encyclopaedia who grew up on the farm out in “whoop whoop” NSW with his parents Phil and Jodie. We had some interesting discussions about farm life, work life, books, Aussie & American politics, and religion / God etc. Our main host on the reef, Jennifer from Belgium, was lovely as well. She set up a swag for JD and I underneath the pontoon decking, while the other three visitors opted to stay in indoor quarters.
We had been planning to sleep on the second level of the pontoon, under the stars in the swag (a small tent the size of a double bed with a thin double mattress and sleeping-bag inside), but unfortunately we booked a night that was forecasted to rain and had to put the swag under shelter.
Sleeping on the pontoon, we awoke to loud noises at least half a dozen times. The wind was howling, waves crashing, seabirds chirping half the night (they land on the pontoon, regurgitate fish and crap on deck once the sun has set–this is sometimes a big problem, though fortunately during our stay I think the wind kept them somewhat at bay), not to mention the deck chairs upstairs were rattling around and moored boats banged against the side of the pontoon. But the waves that caused the pontoon to sway were actually quite soothing and reminded us of being rocked to sleep! It rained in the night and I kept wondering if we were going to get washed away, but we stayed dry and warm enough in the swag.
JD and I spent a few spare hours here and there reading a great book called “Passionate Marriage,” (I’d highly recommend it to anyone in a committed relationship). In the morning we read upstairs on the decking in the 20-24mph strong winds. We also visited the aquarium quite a lot while the rest of the tourists weren’t around. Breakfast of hash browns, bacon and eggs were ready at 7:30. It was high tide and the sea looked too rough for snorkelling so we waited until another crowd of 300 people arrived at 11am and planned to pay an instructor to take us scuba diving for half an hour. Unfortunately, due to my honesty on the medical forms, I was not permitted to scuba dive because I once had an asthma attack as an adult and they required medical clearance for me to dive. I had been really nervous about scuba diving but also super keen to conquer my fears and do what I’d dreamed about as a child: scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef. So I was terribly disappointed when they said I couldn’t dive, and spent the next few minutes crying in the bathroom. I encouraged JD to go without me and spent slightly more on a helicopter ride to view the famous Heart Reef. It’s a crazy expensive, 10 minute helicopter ride ($145 AUD), but the view of the reef from above was truly amazing: aqua waters, swirly corals near the surface and dark blue channels where the water is apparently 50-60 meters deep. The heart shaped reef was beautiful and something you can only see from the air. I had been debating whether or not to take that helicopter ride for months while planning our trip. I think it was a good substitute in light of the diving debacle.
JD scuba dived and then snorkelled for close to 3 hours (he was wearing 3 wetsuits to keep warm in the 22C / 72F). I decided I couldn’t hack the wind and cold water temps again, knowing that we still have one more snorkelling day coming up.
Both days we had a buffet lunch on the ferry while it was docked by the pontoon and we boarded to return to the mainland home at 3pm after our 28hour stay on the pontoon. The waves were incredibly choppy for the 3 hour ride back and most passengers took sea sickness tablets before leaving, including JD and myself. It hadn’t rained during the day at the pontoon but started again on the ride home and is pouring down now. Glad we’re not doing the reef sleep tonight, although Tuesday night would have been better conditions than Wednesday, but then, we wouldn’t have had the same adventure!
It is silly when we think things like:
God doesn’t love the rapist during the act of rape, as though God’s anger and justice and judgement could ever outweigh his love.
God identifies with the rapist as surely as he identifies with the rape-victim.
He understands the thoughts and feelings of the rapist, the circumstances and rational that lead the rapist to committing the act.
And God justifies him!
Just as surely as he justifies you or me.
God justifies sinners in the midst of sin.
He identifies with every lie we tell ourselves.
He understands the hurt that causes us to respond the way we respond.
He knows the reasons as though they were his own reasons –
And he forgives the reasons.
He allows them.
He loves the rapist during the act of rape.
This is not to say he doesn’t love the victim.
He feels every ounce of the victim’s pain and suffering.
He experiences his/her anger and trauma to the nth degree – perhaps even more than the victim him/herself does!
He intimately knows exactly what we go through whenever we are abused.
And he justifies every response, every feeling, every thought:
God is within them both: the rapist and the victim.
He loves them to their core and his core entirely.
Does this mean there won’t be a reckoning?
There is always a reckoning – whether in this life or the next.
But the reckoning is not between humanity and God.
God is at peace with the perpetrator and the victim.
There is no separation.
The reckoning is between the offender and the offended.
Both must fully identify with each other, just as God has fully identified with them as individuals.
The victim must enter the mind, will and emotion of the abuser.
The perpetrator must enter the mind, will and emotion of the victim.
They must so entirely understand each other, that no forgiveness can be left unsaid or undone.
Just as surely as Hitler will experience the pain of each and every Jew who suffered in his war, the Jews will also experience the pain that motivated Hitler.
As surely as Ted Bundy will identify with the terror of his rape and murder victims, they will identify with the feelings that drove him to act as he did.
If we think that God doesn’t love Hitler and Bundy, and that he cannot forgive their mistakes, then God can not love you or me or forgive our mistakes.
Because if I lived Hitler’s life, if I were in his mind and reasoned the way he reasoned and experienced all he experienced, I would have done exactly what he did, simply because he did it.
What Bundy was capable of; I am capable of.
Because we are all human.
We all have the same capacity for darkness and light;
Love and hate.
For God to forgive even one offence means he must by nature forgive all offences.
For God to justify one sinner, means he has justified all sinners.
There is no special treatment because one person is more penitent than another, or one resisted the urge to become Hitler while another did not.
We all fail to be sorry and resist evil at some time or another.
This is what makes us equal.
If God truly is love, then everyone is equally loved by God in the midst of any and all evil.
This is the offence of the gospel!
This is the severity of God’s love!
This is hell and heaven and everything in between.
That we would all be as completely unified with one another,
As he is with us!
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3