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I am preparing to go to seminary…

I am preparing mentally, physically, emotionally and well, of course, spiritually!

We know that moving is one of the most stressful things that a person can do. In my HR studies it was right up there with bereavement and divorce.

So I am preparing – or should I say, God is preparing me for a new season…

I am doing the physical throwing out (literally downsizing by the bucket load) and God is doing the spiritual and emotional throwing out, downsizing me by the bucket load.

We all know when we are carrying baggage that doesn’t serve us. I knew I had some extra bags and so I invited the Holy Spirit to work with me – I consented to this journey. God didn’t make me do this work, but I thought what a great time for a little spiritual spring cleaning, now at this time before I go and focus my life in fulltime service…

I am not embarrassed to admit (ok, well maybe I am a little) that this has been an immensely emotional time for me. I have felt sensitive and raw and vulnerable and well, just not myself, and I seem to spend quite a lot of my prayer time asking God for courage and comfort in equal measure.

And so, together God and I had a look at old wounds, old insecurities, niggling fears and doubts. God revealed some of my scar tissue, the stuff which is hindering my ability to be truly brave said – ‘I have a prize for you – it’s a stretch to get to it – but I have a prize – come with me and I’ll show you who you can truly be…’

In Philippians 2 1-13 we read Paul’s account of who he was versus who he is now:

‘I was once wretched’ he tells us, ‘I once persecuted Christ, was part of the sect who  crucified and vilified Jesus – I was the baddy, I was blind – but then Christ
showed me another, more excellent way’ – For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

‘I would rather die like Jesus on a cross, he says, than go back to the way I was living before I would rather suffer for him, than live without him’ … that is a powerful faith!

In Matt 21: 33-45 we read the parable of the tenants:

It reads like a Brothers Grimm tale. The Brothers Grim, the brothers who collected folklore stories of how dark and evil and twisted people can really be and recounted the stories to the delight of children and the horror of parents the world over…

It is interesting to note that those stories, which we have grown to love and cherish as fairy stories, in their original form, were far more gruesome than the versions we have today. They were originally cleaned up for the Christian brothers by the locals and  then even further cleaned up for modern day fairy-tales. The Disney stories we see now, are not nearly as dark as the originals – and why? Because we, we struggle to face our darkness, our awkward stuff, our sin, our shadows.  Disney cleaned up the stories not for the children, I’m guessing, but for the parents who couldn’t face the  reality of what was being reflected in those movies … humanity’s darkness.

So the story about the tenants in the vineyard, the baddies in black, murdering person after person, after person, killing the messengers, revelling in their ability to take that which wasn’t theirs, living with the misguided belief that they could just keep murdering the messengers and then eventually keep the vineyard for themselves – is the story of humanity.

The theological themes are obvious:

  1.  Gods provides
  2.  Man is ultimately free
  3.  In our freedom we owe God our fruit.

But the verse I found myself returning to was this one:

He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed’. 

In verse 42 we are told that that stone is the Capstone – the central stone – that stone is Jesus. So those who fall on Jesus will be broken and those on whom Jesus falls will be crushed – hectic!

If we read this passage in its historical context, with its historical interpretation, then we see that the vineyard is the world, the vineyard owner is God, the tenants are the religious leaders, the messengers the prophets, and the son is, of course, Jesus.

But in light of what I shared about my own journey I want to offer another interpretation.

What if we were the tenants, receiving messages from God about our own lives – about the sin, the darkness, the shame, the loneliness, the brokenness – the ‘stuff’ we really just don’t want to deal with and rather than give to God in honesty the fruit we have produced, be it good and healthy or small and puny, we just kill the messengers coming to collect and reject a truth which may be being hidden?

Rejecting the message which says – um – actually this is my intention for the land in which you habit, this is my intention for the life you are leading … and when we reject all the messages and signs, God sends the ultimate messenger – the Capstone – the Jesus. As people who are committed to God and to the Kingdom our lives belong to God, our fruit belongs to God. In the words of this parable, our responsibility is to give to God that which belongs to God, knowing that it may be hard and painful, but that living in denial may be even more painful. In order to live the abundant fruitful life that Jesus has for us – we have to show him our fruit – present to him our lives, give to him that which belongs to him… no matter how bad it looks to us. God owns all the fruit, not just the stuff ready for export! We need to be able to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead, for there is a prize. Notice we do not just hop towards the goal, we strain, we give it our all.

Ok, so how?

Awareness is the first step towards being who Christ asks us to be. Consciousness (alertness)  to our surroundings and openness to the people and circumstances of our lives reveal to us the truth of ourselves.

When you meet someone who makes you uncomfortable, who makes your skin feel tight, or who just annoys you, take a moment to ask what it is that makes you uncomfortable, there’s a message there. That person may remind you of a part of yourself you would best like to keep hidden. Whenever we feel a prick of conscience or an uncomfortable nudge, when we overreact to a situation – chances are our shadow stuff is rearing its head… and God could be letting us know that there’s an opportunity for healing and wholeness in bringing that thought to consciousness, in bringing our shadow self into the light.

Recognizing our shadows takes courage and so sometimes it’s easier to ignore them – it’s easier to kill the messengers – to hope that if we keep killing them – they will eventually leave us alone.

Consider these words by Jung:

‘In many cases in psychiatry, the patient who comes to us has a story that is not told, and which as a rule no one knows of. To my mind therapy only really begins after the investigation of that wholly personal story. It is the patient’s secret, the rock against which he is shattered. If I know his secret story, I have a key to the treatment. The doctor’s task is to find out how to gain that knowledge. In most cases exploration of the conscious material is insufficient. Sometimes an association test can open the way; so can the interpretation of dreams, or long and patient human contact with the
individual. In therapy the problem is always the whole person, never the symptom alone. We must ask questions which challenge the whole personality…’ Jung

There have been times over the past few months, when I have literally felt crushed – there are no other words for it. I have felt broken and wounded. But I have been broken ON the Capstone – in order that I might recognize my good fruit and my potential. Was it painful? Yes. Would I go back to how I was before? No. will it happen again – I hope so, because with each painful growth spurt, I become a little more whole… and I get that much closer to the prize of who Jesus knows I can be. 

We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us

It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone,

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give
people permission to do the same.

Wholeness in Christ – that is the prize!