So, last week I attended the last in the three Relay Conferences of the year. I’m not sure how to write all that I learnt, experienced and delighted in over the last week without sounding like a cheesy advert. Ah well. Here are just some of the highlights.
Watching 50 or so people stand up and for three minutes each pour out their hearts about the year they have just had, tell stories of how much they’ve understood their sin, their helplessness and God’s abundant grace and love is very very good for the soul. At times it felt a bit like an AA meeting with so much honesty and awareness of a God who works despite our rebellion, wrong attitudes and motives. I think more of our church life needs to be like this. Admittance that we get it wrong, live in a mess and don’t love as we should. And admittance that none of that is a barrier to the love, grace and work of God in us and through us.
I’m not one for blogging long bits of talks etc but Mo’s talks on 1 Corinthians 12-14 definitely deserve a mention. I learnt and was reminded that we are all equal parts of this body of Christ. That I have no room for feeling inferior or superior to those around me (pits of thought I fall into with alarming regularity). I was hit over the head by the truth that this life isn’t all about me getting to use my gifts and talents but about reaching out in love to those around me. I realised again how ridiculously self centered I am. I realised again how messed up my motives are and how far short I am from real Christian maturity and spirituality. From the stuff that considers others better than myself and truly loves and desires the best for those around me.
Laughing so hard my stomach cried out in pain. Sitting around a bonfire on the last night singing cheesy old pop songs. Singing Amazing Grace with tears in my eyes at the knowledge that grace has brought us safe this far, and grace will indeed bring us home. Deep chats with friends who know God and help me know God. Talking through the amazing love God has for us and believing it all. Playing ‘would you rather’. Playing the bongos and loving the rhythm of God. Paula Love’s interpretive dance presentation. Praying with my fellowship group in the sunshine listening to bird song. Living and working in community for a week, seeing the body of Christ in action.
The moments of realisation.
I think the best moment of realisation came when talking to a friend after some of the presentations. I was thinking about the future, thinking about the next two years of work and not really wanting to do it, not wanting to carry on or not having the energy to. As I was talking through that, I had this image of God with a big stick, rather crossly telling me to just get on with it. If God is like that I really don’t want to get on with life.
Then it occurred to me that God is a God who just doesn’t work like that. He is a God who is going to give us everything we need to get on with living for him in this life, for persevering. He doesn’t expect us to conjure up loads of energy from no-where. He is a God who equips us, who is at work, who is loving, kind and oh so patient. He is the one who lovingly comes to us and enables us to keep on walking in the hard times, who lets us rest in the safety of His arms.
When I forget the reality of the character of God I lose the plot completely. But He is a Good God. A God who never lets us go, a God who finishes the work he starts, a God who expects and anticipates our failure more than we do, but a God who has endless oceans of grace for us. When I forget that it’s not surprising I want to give up. But remembering the real nature of our amazing God enables me to keep walking. Because He is with me and will not let go.
I’ve seen Relay handed from Nigel Pollock, to Andy Shudall, to Maurice McCracken and through those times it’s refreshing to see Relay workers come to the end of the year saying the same things, that they’ve realized that it’s not about what they do, but about God’s grace in their lives. That they’ve understood so much more of their sin but so much more of God’s total unconditional love. I love Relay because I love the God who gets to show us how incredible he is through weak, stupid, sinful rebellious creatures like us. I love that He gets the glory, that we get to receive more and more of his grace as we get to the depths of our dark vile hearts. I love that each year God does that in some more people. Advert over.