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Saturday, 31 December 2016

I Make All Things New



2017 is fast approaching, and I'm afraid. 

I think what scares me most about the New Year is this: what if nothing is new? 

This year has not been easy. I've felt grateful for unrelenting friendships, community brunches, tropical parties, the Scottish countryside, the richness of India, countless beautiful sunsets and undeserved opportunities to talk about Jesus. 

But it's also been a year where sadness has often been too heavy to bear. My health, my work, my character has buckled beneath its burden. 

And with each year that passes, familiar loads seem heavier; it matters more that I'm getting older, that I'm overweight, that I'm single, that I'm childless, that I'm so intense, that I'm XYZ when I'd hoped to be ABC. Each year ends and it feels worse; I look to the New Year and I'm afraid: what if nothing changes? What if, though the year is new, nothing else is?

But in to my fear, Jesus speaks and says: I make all things new

He says“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3-5)

The first man was asked to keep the Earth and cultivate it, to dig and farm and tend it in to something fruitful and productive and rich. But he failed. Adam's legacy and pattern is not one of restoration or revival or life. His world is in tatters. This planet is orbiting its way to disintegration and oblivion, and all its inhabitants feel the choke of the thorns and the frequent triumph of the weeds and the arid, heartless, unrelenting sting of death. We look to the future and the only certainty we know is death. 

And that's why when we sing these words, our hearts leap and are filled with longing: 

"No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found."

I love these words. How far do his blessings reach? As far as the curse does, at least. 

Jesus, the new Adam, the ultimate Gardener, is making everything new. He is at work in the garden; he comes to restore. 

And the Biblical pattern for restoration is generous and glorious (scroll to the bottom of the post for a few examples): You will be restored double, you will be brought up from the depths of the earth, your greatness will increase, you will have everlasting joy!" 

The promise that runs through Scripture is that there will be restoration. All of the sadnesses and inevitabilities of life in Adam's death-ridden garden will be redeemed, revived, rejuvinated. Where death has reigned, life will! The years the swarming locusts have eaten will be restored to us; our shame will be taken away, our suffering will be replaced by glory...! 

But how do we know? What reason is there to dare to hope that any of these promises might be true? 

I struggle with this immensely when I look back at some of the disappointments I've felt and the recurrence of sin and despair... I cannot for the life of me fathom where redemption could possibly be happening! 

I think, as ever, my reason for confidence is Jesus. Not only is He the Gardener of the new creation, He's the firstfruits of it too. 

Paul writes: "In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died... For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:20,22, 23)

Jesus is alive. He's the firstborn of creation; he's the guarantee that the broken world is being bound up and put right; He's the evidence that all things are being made new. 

When Mary was weeping in the garden, and thought she was talking to the gardener: she was! Jesus, the new and better Adam, the God Man who comes to make a world that's vibrant and fruitful and bountiful. But she was also seeing, in the flesh, a concrete, physical reason to hope that all things were being made new- the first fruits of those who have died. 

I find it hard to look forward to the New Year in very many ways. It can feel utterly discouraging because I feel like I'm still just a daughter of Adam, living in Adam's garden: I feel like I'm cursed, the ground is hard, work feels futile, and death seems inevitable. I'm absolutely convinced that I bear the image of the man of dust. 

But the Risen Jesus makes secure this promise: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, so shall we bear the image of the man of heaven." (1 Corinthians 15:49)

In the same way that I've in every way shared in the dustiness of Adam, I will share in the heavenliness of Jesus! 

I am comforted by the Risen Jesus, who gives me reason to hope that there will be new things in the new year. 

In the new year, the kingdom of heaven will grow quietly. There will be new mercies for new mornings. Brokenness will be restored in the Messiah's healing. And day by day by day, we get closer to a new heavens and a new earth, and a beaming Gardener, whose hands are messy from his toil but whose heart is full for the joy he's accomplished, welcoming us to a world where everything is restored, and all things are made new. 



***

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again. 
Psalm 71:20

Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
Zechariah 9:12 

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 
1 Peter 5:10

Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.
Isaiah 61:7

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. 
Joel 2:25



Tuesday, 27 December 2016

We Live By The Spirit


Many mornings I wake up and think about all I have to do
in planning,
in marking,
in teaching,
in life-min,
in all the complexities of relationships and life
and then I think about all you call me to be
in love
and patience
and joy
ans self sacrifice,
and I bury my head under the covers
and say, "I can't do this."

On these mornings I lie in bed at the foot of a mountain,
mustering the strength to put on climbing boots,
and You hear the conviction with which I say,
"I can't do this."

And I expect you to say; "But you must!"

But you don't.

Instead,
you say,
"I know."

I'say, "I cannot do this."

And you say, with patience and warmth: "I know."

You say, in fact: "Cursed is the one who depends on flesh for strength,"and in my weariness I feel the weight of that truth.

You say, "cursed is the one whose help is man, who turns away from the Lord."

You say, "you can't do this."

And I say, "I know."

But then you say: "Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him..."

You say: "They will be like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes, its leaves are always green."

You say, "I will be your strength."

You say, "keep in step with the Spirit."

You never intend for me to get out of bed in my own strength; you never call me to seek out a hero within. You never ask  me to get up and give you something from my own tired, tainted flesh. You delight in those whose hope is in Your unfailing love.

Each morning your promises and mercies are new, each morning you call me to get up and receive from you, each morning you've offered strength for the day, grace for the hurdles, a Hero in the heavens; You have given  me Your Spirit.

And so I get out of bed, trusting that as promised, You will fill empty hands, You will strengthen weak knees, and You will, by Your Spirit, bring life to my dry bones.

Give me grace for the mornings when I feel like I cannot get up without You, and grace for the mornings I think that I can.

Based on Jeremiah 17, Galatians 5, Ezekiel 37 and the Psalms. 

Thursday, 22 December 2016

He Himself Is Our Peace



The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; 
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shined... 
They rejoice before you... 
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given... and his name shall be called Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9 


2016 is notorious, and it's not even finished yet.

Of course, there's more going on than the media 'anti-2016' whitewash would have us believe.

But even so, confronted by stories of child abuse, unprecedented terror, the devastation of Aleppo and more- is there any heart that has not longed for a day when every garment rolled in blood might be burned as fuel for fire, when the rod of the oppressor might be broken, when there might be equity for the meek of the earth? For many, heavy, dark clouds have rolled in and hung low and threatening and it's been hard to hold on to any kind of hope that isn't tinged by stoicism or cynicism.

I imagine there have been all kinds of personal struggles this year too.

In the past few months I suffered the worst bout of depression I've had in years; I've wept, I've raged, I've felt as though all of my past, my relationships and my hopes have been tainted by the shadows of an irrational yet deeply profound sadness. I've cried out to God, utterly mystified that he'd have things this way. I've held on to shards of hope in weary hands and pleaded for another way.

The world, and individual hearts within it, is weighed down with darkness. There is so much- personal and political- that is so hard to understand; how we've got here and how we'll ever escape seems beyond our fathoming. Suffering is cumbersome and complex, inscrutable and isolating: it's hard to hope when we can't imagine what a solution to it might look like.

At the beginning of December, as I read these words, my heart brimmed with bittersweet joy:

And ye beneath life's crushing load, 
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way, 

With painful steps and slow.
Look now for glad and golden hours 

Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing! 


I recognise the weariness of the year in those words, the struggle to persevere, the gruelling nature of the journey.

But when I think about the angels' song, I feel my heart coming alive.

The angels sang, "peace on earth!"

But hallelujah,  they weren't proclaiming the arrival of a philosophy, or a manifesto, or even a state of soul; hallelujah they weren't bringing simplistic solution, a further puzzle for us to work out how to apply... but they were proclaiming a person.

Our rest from the weary road, our release from the burden is not within our own minds or our own hearts or our own spirits.

No, the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger: He himself is our peace.

Persons are complex. And Jesus, the Lion and the Lamb, who is in the words of Jonathan Edwards, "an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies" is complex enough, rich enough, both powerful and tender enough to be a match for the darkness, in all its devastating convolutions.

As he lay in that manger, Jesus began to plumb the depths of our darkness and our suffering, and as he grew, he began to redeem. Jesus is a person: a historical, glorious, redeeming, complex person. He can meet the complexity of the darkness. He can fathom the nuances of a thousand shadows. And He will not be overcome. He was born in obscurity and poverty, yet in the dark street shineth the Everlasting Light: the hopes and fears of all the years!

I don't know what everyone who reads this will be suffering this Christmas. And if I did, I'd have no neat answers to wrap up the pain, to unpick the confusion, or to chase away the dark.

But I take comfort in Isaiah's promise to those walking in darkness.

To them Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and our Peace, has been given.

The solution to our sadness, sin, darkness and suffering is not simple, because these things are not simple. But this does not mean he is not adequate for them. To the contrary, it means he is able to deal with these things more comprehensively, more rigorously, and more gloriously then we ever could imagine. He is not just a person, but the ultimate person. He is not just a bringer of peace, He is our Peace. And He has been given to those walking in darkness.

He is ours this Christmas.

I pray that Jesus, God with us, brings deep hope, joy and Light to all of us who walk in the darkness.

Happy Christmas! 

Sunday, 2 October 2016

What Is Unseen Is Eternal


When I've felt really low, I find it hard to imagine that I will ever feel any different.

Even now, when I've suffered bouts of depression for years, and have experienced a lifting of the burden time and again, when the next bout comes along, the sadness feels heavier and more real than anything I've ever experienced and I can't imagine that the darkness will ever lift. Even though I know that depression skews my perspective, when I'm in it, I feel like I'm seeing things more clearly than I ever have.

I remember once having a conversation about this after attending a seminar on depression. A few of us were talking about how the experience can make you feel utterly hopeless about the future. But I felt more than that- it completely shut out the future; I found it hard to imagine any scenarios beyond the next few minutes. There wasn't sufficient hope for that.

Depression can be a bit like being set in concrete- in mind and body; it's very difficult for your mind to find the energy to stagger beyond the very short cycle of misery you're in right now to contemplate anything in the future at all. Depression tightly wraps up hope in a shroud, and then leaves it to rest somewhere behind an unrelenting wall of stone.

So this is why these five words encourage me.

"For this light and momentary afflictions are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all... for the things that are seen are temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
2 Corinthians 4:17-18

However it may feel, however weighty the suffering is (be it depression or something else!), however convinced I may be that my bleak outlook on the future is the most clearly I've ever seen, however inescapable it may seem: what is unseen is eternal. 

This too will pass. The suffering will end. Joy will come in the morning.

The pattern of history, established by Jesus with such authority,  such reality,  such historicity, such unfailing light and love,  is that when Hope is wrapped in a shroud and put in a tomb it does not stay there forever.

Hope was put in a tomb. But three days later, Hope was out in the sunshine, eating brunch* on the beach.

Despair is wrong. And I don't mean this so much as a moral statement as a fact. Despair is just not right about the future. Despair says: "death and sadness and sorrow forever." But depression is temporary. Suffering will end. Death in body and spirit will be defeated; eternity is heavier, more real, more vivid than anything we're experiencing now. It is what is unseen that is eternal.

Paul deliberately makes the comparison: yes, afflictions seem enormous and unrelenting and heavy and destructive... but they're not even worth comparing to what's eternal. Yes, they feel eternal- but how far removed they are from what is actually eternal is "beyond all comparison."

Suffering and sadness are weighty and bitter and often feel more real than anything else I've experienced; but they are passing away, they are transient: suffering is to glory what dust on the wind is to a radiant city built of gold on twelve sets of foundations. (Revelation 21)

There are times in the future when my depression will feel bigger and more permanent than anything else, and I will have to cling to the truth: suffering is not the eternal thing here.

What is unseen is eternal, so we do not lose heart.

*I am just going to assume it was brunch, because there is no more joyful meal

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Christ Died For Our Sins



Hello! It's been a while since I blogged; I've been away in India and then away in the chaos that is term starting. But before I went off, I'd been working my way through these Bible Bits for Bruised Believers.  They're basically five word nuggets of scriptural deliciousness to lift our hearts to Jesus when any engagement with truth feels exhausting or overwhelming.

This bite-sized Bible chunk is special to me because a) have you read it!? #wow #hashtagwowisaridiculousunderstatement and b) it was the first five-word truth that got me looking for others. Back when I was a student, I heard someone say, "Christ died for our sins- here are five words to blow your mind." It was in a wider exposition of 1 Corinthians 15, I think, so they didn't dwell on it. But their observation struck me. Often, since then, when I've felt low, discouraged, stressed out and overwhelmed or so wearied perseverance seems impossible, my mind has been drawn back to them. Time and time again they have come as a comfort or a challenge, a relief or a rebuke.

They come as part of Paul's "of first importance" truths, and they've often sent the less important things I've been dwelling on to the back of the line.

Christ died for our sins is a truth that cuts through every misconception I have of God as being far off or uncaring; it's the love of God articulated in one earth shattering, historical fact. When I am tempted to feel abandoned by God, it's a five word reminded that Jesus was abandoned by him so that I never would be. It's a reminder that I was loved when I was utterly unlovable, by no less than Christ, God's King, God's Beloved.

Christ died for our sins reminds me that God is not a tyrant; he is not cold, he is not aloof, he is not unmoved by a suffering world. Christ died; God's anointed king willingly laid down his life, for my sake. It reminds me that the way the world wields power is not the way God does. It points to the King of the Jews, who was crowned with thorns and exalted on a Roman cross. It's a revolutionary statement that turns the whole world on its head, and shakes my misconceptions about God, and about what is truly valuable.

Christ died for our sins is not something I can believe while simultaneously believing that God is holding something back from me. It calls me back to believe in his abundant generosity; Christ died. God did not withhold his Son, and his Son did not withhold his life; Father and Son willingly gave all they had for my sake. Whatever else is going on in my disappointment, wherever else I may feel empty, it cannot be that God is stingy; he's already given me Jesus. (Romans 8:32- I feel like this verse makes it in to nearly all my blogs!)

Christ died for our sins cuts through the burden of guilt that so often entangles my heart. The thorns and thistles of shame are sliced to pieces by this remarkable gospel: the price has been paid. The blood of the Prince of Glory has been poured out, and my sins have been dealt with.

Christ died for our sins is crushing of Satan's head; the bite of the heel predicted in Genesis 3 is the beginning of the curse reversed; it starts with my liberation from the mastery of sin- it ends with the redemption of all of creation.

Christ died for our sins is a beautiful anthem for the unity of the church; we were all weak, we were all worthless, we were all wandering. But our Good Shepherd went and found each of us, and he laid down his life. Our Messiah King died for our sins and where we were once utterly isolated, we've been brought near- we're in it together, we've been made one.

Christ. died. for. our. sins.

Five words that utterly blow our minds and rise like the dawn, over our cold, tired hearts*. There is of course an immeasurable amount more that could be said about them. But even for a start, they are words that break chains and give sight, they are more precious than rubbies and sweeter than honey, they're a fire in the coldest of hearts. They are just five words, but within them are treasure beyond fathoming! They are five words that cause the saddest heart to sing, that cause the proudest heart to bow low, they are five words to keep bruised believers wondering, and worshiping- even in the storms.

*pinched from Bethany Dillon, Stop and Listen. 

Saturday, 30 July 2016

God Chose What Is Weak



Later this evening I'm flying off to India for a month!

I'll be working with a team of 20 other teachers, delivering training and mentoring to Indian teachers working in under resourced areas. It'll be like a month of CPD... *gulp*.

Obviously it's just a month- others have gone further, in harder situations and for longer, but as I've been getting ready to go I've had these famous words in my head:

We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day thy grace to know,
Yet from our hearts, a song of triumph pealing:
"We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go!"


And "God chose what is weak" is the next five word Bible boost on my list, and it's great news for me.

Firstly, I'm weak. I'm exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally after a long term and 6 weeks of weddings or hen-dos for dearly loved friends on weekends; I'm on meds for depression, iron deficiency, hay fever, and all manner of other drugs; and most weakly of all-  I'm a sinner, prone to cowardice, pride, selfishness, bitterness, lovelessness, fearfulness... 

So it's a great comfort to me, that God chose what is weak. Boy do I qualify!

But secondly, God chose what is weak. This is a deep, deep comfort. In spite of my weakness as a human, as a sinner, in spite of my tendency to be fearful, intensely emotional, unrelentingly tired, God chose me. In the same way that God chose the foolishness of a cross to put to shame the wisdom of the wise, He chooses weak, cracked jars of clay and stashes his treasure in there!

It is such a humbling and challenging thing to believe that God chose me to do good in the world: through education, through relationships, through, I pray, witness to Christ. He chose genuinely weak people to achieve his purpose so that no one may boast before Him, so that all the glory might go to Him. I'm really praying that God will be at work in and through me during this month, to make Him known, both in what I do and in what I say.

In many ways, going to India is just an extended version of going to school each day. I've lost count of the mornings this year where the mountain of tasks ahead has seemed utterly insurmountable, and I've had to bow down and say to Jesus: I go in your name, and in your strength, and I need your skills, cos I've got nothing. So in many ways, it's just another month of the same!

I also remembered this morning how weak I was when I went to live in France to work as part of a mission team for two years. My time there was the hardest period of my life so far- I couldn't speak French well, I had few meaningful relationships, my battle with failure and disappointment seemed unrelenting and unsuccessful, and my depression got pretty bad. But at the end of that time, a girl who I had met with to read the Bible sent me a letter that included these words:

"When I think about how much you struggled here, it convinces me so much more of your message. No one would do what you did just for fun... Thank you for your two years in Nice. Thank you for letting me be a witness to your battle and for being so human about your struggle. Your honesty has led me to this place of hope..."

It showed me that when God says he chose what is weak, his view of weakness is more thorough and profound than what I'd ever imagined, but it also showed me his indescribable grace in choosing me, in utter weakness, to do good. My friend had seen that I was weak: foolish in the world's eyes, foolish in my lack of French, prone to struggle, prone to sinfulness, battling with pain- and yet in it she'd seen Jesus. I left France with nothing to boast in of myself, but a stronger knowledge of Christ the Redeemer, and every reason to boast in Him.

Of course I am weak. But miraculously, in a manner that categorically excludes all boasting, God chose what is weak, and perfects His strength in it.

***

I won't be blogging this month but you can keep up with me via Instagram if you'd like (@prdubz). And if you'd like to pray, please do:

        ⁃       That I would be bold in love and as an extension of that, in witness
        ⁃       For a self forgetfulness an a service of the team and the teachers I mentor
        ⁃       For lasting good for the teachers we teach and their children
        ⁃       For teaching skill from the Greatest Teacher and teaching strength from the Almighty
        ⁃       For good times in His Word and His keeping me His, especially as I won't be able to go to church while I'm there

We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go!
Yes in Thy Name, O Captain of salvation,
In Thy dear name, all other names above:
Jesus our righteousness, our sure foundation,
Our Prince of glory, and our King of love!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Christ Is Interceding For Us


When I put together this list of five word Bible bits, I was thinking particularly of bruised believers who are grasping for shards of light in the night. And I really hope and pray that these words in particular will be of comfort to those great distress.

When I think about how I've felt in my times of deepest depression, the question at the bottom of all my anxieties and sadness and angst and longing and darkness is: God, do you really love me? How could you, given all this? Or, Father, are you really on my side?

Times of darkness- whether they come from external affliction or internal distress, often make me wrestle with a truth that is often taken for granted. God loves me. But how could he!? When life feels like a series of unrelenting tribulations, or personal, unjust persecutions, or one deep distress or futile frustration after another, how can I possibly believe that God is for me? If God is Sovereign over all these desolate, shameful circumstances, how can I possibly trust that he is on my side?

It's amazing that Paul, in Romans 8 lists all these things as factors that might make us believe that we are separated from the love of God. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" (verse 35) He acknowledges the devastating circumstances the Christians he is writing to are facing:"for your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." Life is lived in the shadow of death, they endure public shame, they are considered worthless, pitiful- as sheep to be slaughtered. But Paul calls out all of these circumstances to make it explicitly clear to the believer: even in this, you are not separated from Christ's love.

And today's five words make it so clear that the love of God is not this abstract concept that floats around in space. No! It is personal. It is a love that belongs to Jesus, and is actively at work. And in Romans 8:34, Paul offers the believer three reasons for confidence that even in suffering, Jesus is on their side. "Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died- more than that- who is at the right hand of God, who is interceding for us"

Firstly, Christ Jesus died. He suffered so that our suffering wouldn't be ultimate.
Secondly, Christ was raised. The Father said- yes! This Sacrifice is enough. The Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world.
Thirdly, Christ Jesus is interceding for us.

This means that right now, in the seat of highest authority in the entire universe, Jesus is on our side. Right now he is actively at work in love, actively at work on our behalf. His love for us is not something expressed in the past- it's something he is currently in the process of expressing through intercession.

This intercession of Jesus, this personal commitment to us-  is the foundation on which Paul builds his big argument about how in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. The One with the authority to condemn, is the one who intercedes in love. The One who could cry out for our condemnation speaks out in love for us, prays for us, instead.

Whatever else is going on in our lives, right now- Christ is at God's right hand, praying for us, loving us. As he has loved us, at the cross- he is still loving us, still intimately attentive to our needs, still standing with us and speaking words of love for us, and working for our good in all things.

My heartfelt prayer is that any suffering believer, whatever their circumstances, might know some comfort from the glorious mystery of the active, current, unquenchable love of Christ. Sin cannot separate us from it ("Neither do I condemn you."), our lack of righteousness cannot separate us from it ("It is God who justifies.) Indeed, nothing can separate us from it.

Neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor rulers,
nor thing present, nor things to come, 

nor powers, 
neither height, nor depth, 
nor anything else in all creation (feel free to insert whatever most causes you to doubt here!) 
will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
Romans 8:37-39


Saturday, 23 July 2016

It Is God Who Justifies


"I cannot escape the exceeding wonder, that not only does God look upon a guilty person in the courtroom and forgive him and say, "you're guilty, I forgive you, go and sin no more," but he also, beyond all imagination, looks upon this guilty sinner and says, "you're not guilty."
John Piper

It is God who justifies.

This is Paul's five word answer to the question, "who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?"

The answer is not a promise that no one will bring any charges. Across the world countless believers face actual court cases where they stand accused of blasphemy, apostasy, of betraying their national identify, their communities, their families. Daily believers face all kinds of accusations- of arrogance, of intolerance, of selfishness, many of which are right.  Facing charges and condemnation was part and parcel of life for the Christians Paul was writing to. That's why he asks the question!

And the key to the answer is the emphasis: GOD is the one who justifies.

The One who not only forgives us, but who also declares us righteous cannot be trumped. There is no higher authority. In the courtroom that matters, as Keller would phrase it, the declaration for sinners trusting Christ is not only, "not guilty"- but more than that : righteous.

And so the challenge of yesterday's list goes both ways. Yes, none of those items can condemn me if Jesus says the debt is paid. But on the other hand, none of those items can justify me in the only courtroom that matters.

So if I am striving for any of those things, thinking that maybe by having them, or not having them,  my worth might be vindicated, I am wasting my effort, trying to get a declaration in a courtroom whose authority is void, and belittling God's righteous requirements.

I cannot earn my justification.

It is a free gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ. GOD is the one who justifies.

If I am striving for acceptance, or for freedom from condemnation by sorting out my appearance, losing weight, pursuing the perfect exercise and diet scheme- the efforts will be futile. Those things can bring me health, perhaps or praise from an authority-less earthly judge- but God is the one who justifies.

I may seek justification in being organised, emotionally stable, or measured and wise, but they cannot justify me. God is the one who justifies.

If I am anticipating vindication on my wedding day, as the moment when a declaration about my worth and beauty is finally made, it is futile- it's just an earthly courtroom: God is the one who justifies.

I cannot be made right with God by my quiet time record, my evangelism record, my courage, my French speaking ability or my incredible parallel parking skills. My degree, my CV, my religious devotion- in fact, nothing that is mine can obtain for me the righteous declaration I desperately need from the highest authority in the universe.

And so, in all my dieting, in all my pursuits of good character and God-honouring discipline, I need to remember; none of those things can secure me the verdict I need. It is God who justifies.

This post is rich with John Piper because when I was in my first year of university I listened to his sermon "It is God Who Justifies". It had a profound impact and I still remember a lot of it all these years later! Have a listen.  But anyway, it seems fitting to me to start and end with some words from him....

"Faith looks away from itself to the grace and strength and worth and ability of another."

Friday, 22 July 2016

Neither Do I Condemn You


Here are some things that I have felt condemned by in the past. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but I've tried to make it honest:

- appearance
- weight
- singleness
- lack of talent- musical, sporting, otherwise
- battered car
- foolish decisions
- disorganisation
- losing things
- voice
- passion
- emotional intensity
- openness
- academic results
- failures in evangelism
- fearfulness
- inability to speak French
- behaviour management in classes
- results of classes
- attempts at cooking
- inability to run fast
- diet
- laziness
- moodiness
- meanness
- impurity
-selfishness
-the darkest places I have gone for refuge instead of to Jesus
- whole host of other habits and sin that are unworthy of even a mention

I mean, there are more- and if you know me you may well be thinking, "what you should REALLY be ashamed of is Habit X or Heart Output Y"; our blind spots are where the biggest problems lie! But these are all things that I have genuinely, over the years, felt condemned by.

And as each of these items have brought their condemnations, Jesus has spoken.

I've given the full list, because some of them are not categorical sins worthy of condemnation, some of them were huge burdens for me that Jesus has begun to lift, some of them are a mixture of sinfulness and something else (for example something like weight is more complex- greed and turning to food instead of Jesus for comfort is sinfulness, yes, but feeling condemned by a healthy weight because society says you need a thigh gap is something else; the behaviour of my pupils may be because of my laziness or foolishness, but there's a chance that their own sinful natures also contribute to the occasional chaotic lesson!)... but some of them are out and out sins: they make me worthy of condemnation.

And this is the position of the woman in John 8. She is brought to Jesus having been caught committing adultery. She has been found in sin. The teachers of the law bring her to Jesus knowing she is worthy of death, absolutely confident of their verdict.

And yet Jesus says, "he who is without sin, cast the first stone."

And when everyone walks away, he says, "neither do I condemn you."

They all walk away, because they know their own guilt. Gradually, one by one, they know they do not have the authority to condemn- and the only one who is left, the only one with the authority to "cast the first stone" according to his own declaration, because of his total integrity and spotless sinlessness,  is Jesus himself.

In the courtroom of Jesus, the one with the highest authority to condemn, the woman is declared not guilty.

In his book "The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness", Tim Keller writes about the fact that the gospel gives us a declaration of "not guilty" in the only courtroom that matters. Because Jesus is declared guilty in total innocence, those worthy of complete condemnation are set free.

Struggling with depression and self-esteem all life long has meant that I've wasted (often an inordinate amount of) time trying to figure out which things I feel condemned by are things I am guilty of, and which are just my personality, or an illness, or society...

This is why I find John 8 great news. Because there can be no doubt here. This woman is guilty. And yet, Jesus sets her free. Maybe every accusation brought against me is spot on and accurate, but the power of the cross, and the authority of the Name above all Names overrides.  Jesus is condemned in my place, and from his position of highest authority in the whole universe declares: neither do I condemn you!

Thursday, 21 July 2016

He Ran And Embraced Him


What I love about these five words is the complete blow they are to my own default, faulty, and in reality godless, theology. 

The image Jesus paints in this description of the Father in Luke 15 is one of an active, abundantly generous, enthusiastic, welcoming, gracious and kind God. As Jesus tells the story of the Rejected One running to embrace and kick-start a party for the Rejector, the god I have believed in- who is passive and stingy and still far off, must be banished. Jesus knows the Father like no one knows the Father, and he says of Him; "He ran and embraced him." Distant? Passive? Aloof?

By no means! The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is running towards us, himself bridging the distance between us, himself inviting us to celebrate with him our  homecoming and the glory of his generosity. 

All three of the Luke 15 "lost and found" narratives end with a party. There is GREAT REJOICING in heaven when a sinner repents. In the same way that the father in the parable sets off to greet the disgraced son with warmth and joy, with robe and ring in hand, even while the wretched rebel is still far off- there is great rejoicing in heaven when even one sinner repents. 

I was struck as I reflected on this the other day by two things: firstly, the challenge to be like the Father; generous, cost-absorbing, warm, welcoming. 

But secondly, I was struck by the joy there must have been in heaven at the ultimate homecoming; the coming home of the Son. I thought of Jesus, post-death, post-resurrection, ascending to the right hand of the Father. I thought about how the angels must have whooped and sung and bowed down and wondered, how they must have tried and failed to sound the depths of love divine. How the heavens must have rung! The Son has conquered! The price is paid! And he leads captives in his train (Psalm 68:18)! This means that we share in His ascension; his homecoming is ours. 

Hebrews 12 talks about how Jesus endured the sufferings of the cross for "the joy set before him"; it brought him joy to redeem us; it brought him joy that the Father was glorified in his radical, heartfelt generosity to sinners. 

John Stott once wrote, "God does not love us because Christ died for us; Christ died for us because God loved us." This truth makes sense of heaven's party. Jesus has not wrestled His Father in to loving sinners. He has not convinced a stubborn, hard-hearted tyrant to let sinners in. On the contrary- Jesus is the Father's joy because he's completed the Father's will. The Father wanted to crush his beloved Son, and cause him to suffer (Isaiah 53:10), so that He might bring sinners home; so that God might be just and the one who justifies the ungodly; so that despite of our wretched sin and rebellion, we might be set at his banqueting table. 

It fills my heart with such joy to think of Jesus, the ultimate First Fruit entering the Most Holy Place on our behalf- Heaven's Champion causing the heavens to erupt in joyful celebration,  his victory over sin and death and selfishness and evil and rebellion and godlessness an infinite fountain of joy amongst all the angels of heaven, forever. 

But the glory of his homecoming that is so far beyond our imagining is that He does not come alone. By the infinite grace of the Father, those who are His share His welcome, share His robe, share His ring; the delight of the Father in this Son's homecoming is the delight of the Father that we too, though we were by nature objects of wrath, are not lost, but found, made sons, made heirs- and destined to be raised up by Christ, and in Christ, at the last day. (John 6:39)

"With his own blood he entered the Most Holy Place, once and for all time, and secured our redemption forever." 
Hebrews 9:12

Sunday, 3 July 2016

He Took Up Our Pain



On days of sadness and affliction, it's often a great comfort to me to remember Romans 4:6:

" And David speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 
'Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered; blessed is the man whose sins the LORD will never count against him.'" 

My greatest ever burden is my sin. It's my heaviest load, my greatest cause for despair, a weight around my neck that would pull me straight to the bottom of the ocean (and beyond).

But, Christ...!

Christ carried my burden to Calvary. He made my sin his business, and his burden. He took up my sin- and bore the full weight of its penalty in my place: once and for all, He took up my pain.

This is great reason for comfort; whatever else is happening, whatever darknessess the past or the present or the future may hold, I've still got at least one Rock- solid reason for joy: my sins are forgiven.

When I first became a Christian, aged 15, I remember feeling flooded with delight in a physics lesson. Not because I was learning physics (au contraire!), because I remembered that everything that meant God should be my enemy had been dealt with; that my sins were forgiven; that the way to Him as my Father had been opened, that He was on my side. And I remember thinking: knowing Jesus really makes a difference: deep joy, even in period 5 physics!

But the comfort has applied in all sorts of hardships since. Though there are many trials we may have to face today, we do not have to face them carrying the burden of our sin. He took up our pain; he bore our sorrows-  and so the burden of our sin is as far as the east is from the west-  and that's not even hyperbole, because they're further away than that! On days of pain- my sins are no longer mine to carry! They are dealt with! Gone! Forgiven! Blessed, much!?

The second deep comfort this gives me is the reminder that Jesus knows how to take up pain. 1 Peter 5 says, "Cast all your cares upon Him, for he cares for you." Knowing that Jesus has taken up my greatest burden, and experienced my greatest pain in my place, is a delightful reminder that He cares- and he will bear our other burdens too. In His strength and grace and kindness and service, Jesus took up our pain, our sins, our griefs: and He carried them to the cross; of course he can also carry the lesser burdens we face today.

He took up our pain, and he takes it up still.

In uncertainty and filled with fearfulness, when our burdens seem too large, we can cast them unto Jesus and trust that He will take them up. He has made our burdens his business; he has thrown our greatest one in to the depths of the sea with his almighty arm he has hurled our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19); he has made carrying our burdens his joy. Precious Saviour!

As Joseph Scrivens so concisely expressed it:

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit;
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!


Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble any where?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer.


Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
In his arms he’ll take and shield you;
You will find a solace there.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

I Will Be With You



What I absolutely love about these five words, is that the promise is made to people who are passing through waters and fires to the extent that being drowned or consumed seem a very real possibility. This is a promise for turbulent times. 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
Isaiah 43:2 

And when God says, "I will be with you", it's not him just saying, "FYI, I'm omnipresent". Not even in The Message version. 

Of course, it is always true that God is with us, but it seems to me God speaks the promise for when his people might be most tempted to believe it's not true. 

It's not (just) a theological statement; it's a personal assurance. 

I will be with you.
I will be near you.
I will be available to you. 
I will be your ally.
I will be your friend. 
I will be your help, your refuge, your shelter.
I will be for you.
I will be on your side. 

I am humbled by the power of this promise especially when I think about what it means to Christian brothers and sisters across the globe. 

Across the globe, as I write this, there are believers who are awaiting trials for crimes they have not committed, there are families who, having turned to Christ have been rejected by their neighbours and have stones thrown at them as they walk home from work; there are believers whose familiar hometowns and churches have been taken over and are now occupied by ISIS, who witness executions weekly, (all examples taken from the Open Doors website), there are believers who are refugees, without earthly belongings, without security, without a clear future. 

And to these believers, in these fires, these waters, the LORD says, "I will be with you." 

Not just "in theory", but by His Spirit. 

For believers who are surrounded by enemies who say, "you are alone, you are forsaken, you are forgotten, you are wretched"- in that moment, when circumstances seem to corroborate these accusations horribly- then, the LORD says, "fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine; I will be with you." 

There may be many waters. There may be fiery trials. But no breakers can wash away his steadfast love; no furnace can consume it. 

One day, this Love Unquenchable will bring us safe through Death, the most overwhelming of waters, and then, like before, but also like never before: "I will be with you." 

"What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?" 
Romans 8:31 

Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Lord is My Portion



Today's earth-shattering words are the crowning evidence of God's love to us in the gospel. They are a five-word reminder that the gospel is not about God getting us in to heaven, but about God giving himself to us for our everlasting satisfaction and joy (these are an amalgamation of words John Piper has said before me.)

I really need the Spirit to help me grasp the depths of this one. It will probably take an eternity!

But in the gospel, the LORD has given us himself! Himself! His universe creating, depth-plumbing, mercy-showering, eternally-loving self!

Not only does God say, "you belong to me," but in his staggering generosity he says, "and I belong to you."

So whatever else our life-portion may be- be it depression, or other health problems, or singleness, or unemployment, or poverty, or war, or death- wherever the boundary lines fall for us, God has also said- I am your portion, I am your lot, I am your destiny; I have not withheld myself, I am your God, I am your refuge, I can be known by you: I am your everlasting joy.

I am my Beloved's and He is mine: His banner over me is love. 
Song of Solomon 6:3 


Friday, 10 June 2016

The Lord Sets Prisoners Free


I have Psalm 146 written out in full and stuck on my bedroom wall at my parents' home.

This is for two reasons.

Firstly, I have it there because verse three has been my cling-to verse through years of singleness; do not put your hope in princes, in mortal men, in whom there is no salvation.

I absolutely love it, because it draws this incredible contrast between men, who I am so prone to setting my hopes in (one at a time!)- who cannot save, who die, who do not last, whose plans ultimately come to nothing, and the LORD- who made and sustains literally everything, who remains faithful forever, who upholds the cause of the oppressed, who feeds the hungry, who sets prisoners free and gives sight to the blind, who lifts up those who are bowed down, who loves and watches and sustains and whose plans triumph- even over the way of the wicked. Blessed is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God! Indeed!

I have it back at my family home because it's often when I go back that my single status hits hardest. It's been a joyful reminder to me as I've gone home over the years needing to calm a hopeful heart, or comfort a disappointed heart, or bind up a broken heart, that it is the LORD, rather than any man, that is my help and hope. If one day I end up getting married, this will be no less true!

Secondly, I have it there to remind me about the bigger picture.

Take a step back, and my life narrative is not ultimately about my love life. The narrative of my story is that I was once enslaved- to sin, to fear, to death, and the LORD set me free. I was on death-row, but the King of Heaven suffered and died in my place and I was acquitted, liberated,, justified and welcomed warmly as his child! Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be til I die! And ever since, the LORD continues to set me free, from sin, from fear, from death. Ever since, God's Spirit has testified to my heart: you are no longer a slave, in Christ, you are a son, an heir: you are free indeed.

Take a further step back, and the narrative of the world is not about me! It is about the LORD of heaven! It is about a God who sets captives free! So, blessed are the widows, the oppressed, the refugees, the slaves in the most horrific circumstances, the prisoners of war, the addicts, blessed is every fast-bound spirit whose dungeon heart is yet to be flamed with the light of the gospel- blessed are any of these whose hope is in the LORD. For He is infinitely powerful, always at work, and he sets prisoners free.


Thursday, 9 June 2016

He Remembers We Are Dust


For he knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust.

Often, I do not remember that I am dust. I don't remember that when I was formed, it was the LORD who made me a living, functioning being by his very breath; without him I could not live.

I tend to think that I am steel, or diamond- something hard and strong and self sufficient. When I then come to a point when I realise that I am utterly dependent on God- for strength, for survival, for life, I think that something has gone very wrong. I assume that I should normally be strong, I should be able to sustain myself; I shouldn't be so exhausted, or so emotionally shattered, or so wobbly because I am hungry...

But needing to depend on God is not a result of the fall.

God's plan was always for me to be completely dependent on Him. I'm not meant to get through my days mainly fine on my own, and then every now and then turn to the Lord to supplement my strength where it is lacking.

No.

Cursed is the one who makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. (Jeremiah 17)

The Father does not resent our dependence on Him! He made us for it!

Jesus relied on the Sovereign Lord from birth. He got tired, overwhelmed, emotional, hungry, burdened- but he did not sin. In all this his heart turned to God, relied on him completely, honoured him in its total dependence. Sin turns away from dependence on God, but I often act like my vulnerability without Him as my refuge is something to be embarrassed by.

But the fact I cannot survive without God is not something to be ashamed of. I was made for a relationship of dependence, where my Father's compassion sustains me as my own strength cannot.

It's okay to be weak, emotional and tired. It's okay to cry out, "I cannot do today without you!"

God never intended us to get through our days without him. The LORD delights in those who trust in his unfailing love! He loves us steadfastly and with great tenderness and compassion, and as he remembers we are dust, he eagerly expects us to rely on Him, and when we do, he loves it. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Joy Comes in The Morning



"Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning."

When I'm suffering a bout of Low, I do not think joy will come in the morning.

Instead, I postpone going to bed in a vain attempt to avoid the morning... Because what comes in the morning is more life, more sadness, more expectations, more disappointment...

That's why I really like the song Morning Light by Josh Garrells (lyrics below). He's singing that joy will come, but within the big narrative of the Redemption of the world, that begins in Eden and ends in the new Jerusalem.

He articulates the certainty of hope to come in the final sense of the whole of Creation made new, as well as in the sweetness of the glimpses of light we get in the meantime.

Of course the dawn that defines the certainty of redemption is Easter Sunday morning. Jesus is alive, and this is the cornerstone of hope in all our weeping nights. Joy will come. (Cf. I Have Seen Your Tears)

This song is now my alarm clock. I listen to it most days all the way through, thinking about God's  redemption and feeling grateful that whether or not there will be joy in this morning,  ultimately, because of Jesus, who weathered the darkest night and then triumphed over it with healing in his wings, joy will come.

Morning Light

There’s a place, a garden for the young
To laugh and dance in safety among
The shimmering light in the garden of peace

But steal a bite and paradise is lost
With darkened hearts we didn’t count the cost
Forgot all we left behind

Life picks up speed before you know
We’re holding on for dear life, Oh Lord
We’re too proud to turn back now

One day it all falls down
It breaks our heart and it breaks our crown
Brings us down where we see

It’s gonna be alright
Turn around and let back in the light
And joy will come
Like a bird in the morning sun
And all will be made well
Once again

There’s a place, a garden for the young
To laugh and dance in safety among
The shimmering light in the garden of peace

But steal a bite and paradise is lost
With darkened hearts we didn’t count the cost
Forgot all we left behind

Life picks up speed before you know
We’re holding on for dear life, Oh Lord
We’re too proud to turn back now

One day it all falls down
It breaks our heart and it breaks our crown
Brings us down where we see

It’s gonna be alright
Turn around and let back in the light
And joy will come
Like a bird in the morning sun
And all will be made well
Once again

There’s a way that seems right to a man
Until he’s in over head and he don’t understand
How the plans he made only led him astray

But every good gift comes down from above
From the Lord of light like a labor of love
Upon the child who waits for Him

Sometimes you’ll find what you’re waiting for
Was there all along just waiting for you
To turn around and reconcile

And it may be broken down
All the bridges burned like an old ghost town
But this my son can be made new

It’s gonna be alright
Shake it out and let back in the light
And joy will come
Like a bird in the morning
And all will be made well
Once again

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The Lord Is My Shepherd


The LORD is my Shepherd.

And I am a sheep. 


By this I mean that I am weak, vulnerable, foolish and helpless. 

But incredibly the LORD responds to my sheepishness, not with anger or with disappointment, but by being an incredible shepherd.


I am selfish, but he lays down his life for mine.
I am confused and foolish; I don't know where I am or who I am, but I am thoroughly known.
I am helpless and exposed, but he brings me in to his fold*.
I am fearful, but he speaks comfort to me.
I am wayward and get lost, but he comes after me and does not give up until he's brought me home.
I despair at my sin and wonder how I could ever return, but He rejoices to find me.
I can't make my own way back, but he does all that is needed- he carries me himself- so that I might be brought home! The thought of my being home gibes him joy on the journey.
I am weary and tired, but he gathers me in his arms.
I don't know where to go, but he leads me in paths of righteousness.
I am surrounded by enemies, but he makes me a feast in their presence, 
I have let him down, but he restores me.
I'm afraid, but he comforts me.
I feel alone, but he is with me.
I chose emptiness, but he fills me to overflowing.

In my weakness, he is strong; in my vulnerability he is tender.
In my foolishness he is wise; in my helplessness he is my refuge. 

The LORD is my shepherd, I have everything I need.


"Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD, forever." 
Psalm 23:6 


(Psalm 23, Psalm 100, Isaiah 40, Luke 15, John 10)
*Colossians 3:1

Monday, 6 June 2016

I Know My Redeemer Lives



I remember once, during a tough few months, reading Job and being struck by these verses...


"God gives me up to the ungodly and casts me in to the hands of the wicked. I was at ease and he broke me apart; he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces, he set me up as his target." (Chapter 16)


Weirdly these verses really comforted me because that's how I'd felt at times in the previous few years: as though God was opposing me, setting himself against me, destroying my plans and my peace and taking from me the things I loved and longed for. It was a comfort that someone had felt like this before me, and that it had been articulated so boldly! 

But as I thought about it more, it struck me that Job just thought God was against him. Actually, God was really delighted with him and so Satan wanted to attack. Job's feelings did not represent the full reality. So then I thought- just because it feels like God is opposing me, it doesn't mean God is opposing me. 

Nonetheless, I had my doubts. Job suffered in innocence, and I couldn't possibly make that claim for myself! Often the things I have suffered are a murky mess of circumstance and sinfulness, often I'm a villain at much, if not more than a victim.

But as I thought about it more, it struck me that hundreds of years later, Jesus must have felt exactly how Job felt. He must have felt like God opposed him, handed him over to evil men, broke him apart and dashed him to pieces. He must have felt like all of God's angry wrath was channeled against him. And for Jesus, unlike Job- it was. He felt this way, because it was this way. 

God did oppose him, God did break him apart, God did channel all this anger against Him. He gave Jesus up to the ungodly- breaking him and dashing him to pieces. Jesus was the target. God opposed him and rejected him and his wrath crushed him and caused him to suffer (Isaiah 53:11), though he was innocent, so that I, the guilty one, might go free. 

But then, after the price had been paid in full, God raised him from the dead! And this is why "I know my Redeemer lives" is such good news for those who suffer.

I know my Redeemer lives. He sits at God's right hand- an everlasting, enthroned, glorious reminder: redemption's price is paid, God's wrath is satisfied.

So it may feel like I am God's target, or that he is opposing me, but my Redeemer, alive in heaven by the will and power of his Father, is testament to the mind-blowing truth that whatever it may feel like, God is on my side.  He will never leave me, he will never forsake me. Whatever suffering I may face, I can say with even more confidence than Job: I know my Redeemer lives! 
 
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