Jesus: "I have made You known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."

- John 17:26

Friday, 10 November 2017

The Story of Our Lives

Everyone loves a story.

In my Creative Writing course I am taking this year, we have been taught that it is a character’s desire that makes a good story. Not a random sequence of thrilling action-packed events, but a character and their desire. The more it was explained, the more it made sense:

-       The Shawshank Redemption - Andy’s desire to escape unjust imprisonment.
-       The Lord of The Rings - Everyone’s desire to destroy the ring.
-       Finding Nemo - Nemo’s desire to find his dad.

Desire first, and everything follows. If you look closely at each film or novel you enjoy, you will see a desire that drives the whole story. And when the desire is met or not, the story ends.

I realised recently, that our lives are stories.

A week or so ago, faith had begun to feel like an uphill battle:

-       It had become easier to not read my bible in the busy mornings (and when I did it felt flat and unhelpful)
-       I wasn’t praying very much
-       I couldn’t see the fruit of the Spirit in my life
-       I was frustrated with my own too-evident sin
-       I was becoming more irritated with others and excusing myself
-       Fulfilling my own comforts and little wishes had become very important to me
-       Even the good things in life had started to feel less good
-       Worries came to me more frequently and deeply
-       And when there was an odd silence in life I felt very unsettled…

And, all the while, I never admitted to myself that faith had become a difficulty to me.

All that was happening underneath a life that looked fine: Going to seminars, doing work each day, meeting up with friends, going to Church, having fun with my husband and family... Those activities just kept ticking by, and the weeks had gone on, whilst my heart was still struggling with all of the above. 

And all the while, that little voice that was telling me to pray, read my bible, was getting quieter.

And then it suddenly got stronger. 

Thank God for his convicting Spirit. I knew I was discontent and that the answer lay in reading my bible and praying and living well for God. So I tried. I tried really hard to bring myself back into alignment with what I knew God wanted. And I kept getting frustrated. Until eventually, I fell back and all the zeal had gone out and I just ‘gave up’.

What was going on? Why did it feel so hard? God is good and faith is right - I know that for sure. So something must be wrong with me, and my perspective on it all.

In God’s grace, he gave me the time and space to really dive into all this.

Through praying everything honestly through one day, God showed me what my slightly misplaced perspective was:

I had forgotten that most obvious truth, the most central thing. That faith was just a relationship with God.

Even though I knew it logically, I’d forgotten what it really was and what it really meant to my life.

Instead, I’d made faith all about me. I’d turned it into a way of living that would improve the way my life was, that meant I’d be living well and pleasing God. I’d wanted myself to be doing well in God’s eyes and especially in the eyes of other people. Me.

God revealed to me in prayer that all my desires were inward; I was self-oriented, self-ambitious. Even the good-sounding ‘faith’ desires were about me. The glass shattered. It made me sick to suddenly see how I was living. I was ignoring the gift Jesus had given me at so much cost! Just reconciliation with him (2 Cor 5:11-21). I was ignoring God for a life where I looked good. I was putting myself over Him.

(No wonder reading my bible was hard. I just wanted to get, get, get from it. I was abusing its intended purpose: a way of knowing Him.)

God-like outwardness is the key. Just forgetting about how we’re doing, and wanting to know God. Immersing ourselves in Him - not half heartedly, but fully.

If our lives are one big story, He is the desire that should drive it. In the same way that desire propels a protagonist forward into the ups and downs of a story, so too should our desire to know God propel us into the story of our lives.

So, if your life were a story, what would its title be? The Pursuit of God, or The Pursuit of Me?

When you read through the story of your life at the end, or when God does, what would it read like? Would it be the exciting tale of a life dedicated to pursing Him whatever the cost? Or would it be the easily distracted, drifting life of an apathetic more concerned with themselves?

With that simple revelation: that I just needed to know God like I’d know anyone, I was suddenly free. Honestly, it was like a weight had been lifted. Cliché, but true. There was no pressure, no constant feeling of failure and guilt, no anxiety about how I was doing. Just Spirit-filled peace. I wanted to get to know my Father. And he would always provide the forgiveness, grace, and strength for me to do so.

And Bible reading has become fun again! Yay.

It’s strange though, because we are supposed to be aware of how we are doing, how we are living. (Eph 4:22-24). But what is crucial is how much we care about that. Are we putting that desire to live well above our desire to just know Him?

The same way a character vigorously pursues their goal in a story: sacrificing things of value in order to obtain it, should be the same way we pursue God. We should put Frodo, Andy, and Nemo to shame with how much we strive to get to know God. 

I suspect that this is a regular occurrence for most Christians - this forgetting to seek God himself, and this up and down pattern of faith and living. I also suspect that I will keep doing this for a long time.

We will keep losing perspective, and drift with our sin. But I know that God will always pull us back again (John 15). I’m starting to realise that we have to accept this pattern of repentance and entering into faith again. It’s the reality of a sinful Christian.

But hopefully, with God’s sanctifying hand with us, the period of being lost and confused will get smaller, and we will learn to go to God a little bit quicker each time.

Hopefully our desire will increase with each chapter that closes, until one day the story ends, we close the book, and we reach our goal. God himself.


Fin.

Friday, 27 January 2017

God wants our hearts

What is the point in life? What am I supposed to do? What does God want me to do? 

As I consider my future and have lots of big decisions to make, these are the questions that file relentlessly around my head.

And so God showed me this:

God’s overarching purpose for humanity is to have our hearts genuinely, authentically, loving him. And everything else: our words, our actions, to reflect and come out of this wholehearted love. That is all God wants for and from us.

So often we think that God is concerned with what we’re going to be doing in life - God wants me to be a church leader, God wants me to go to Africa, God wants me to be single…and maybe he does want those things for you, but only so much as they incline your heart a little more towards him.

He will work through you and your actions to bring other people’s hearts close to him, but he will also use your life situation (marriage, job, location, friends etc) to bring your heart closer to him.

Because everything is for that end.

I realised this as I was considering my future and I want answers. But I have no drive to any particular area, no sign from God…And then God showed me freedom. Freedom in knowing that whatever I do, wherever I go, whomever I’m with, He will be working out his purpose in me: to make my heart more his.

It’s indescribably freeing.

There’s no pressure because the purpose and meaning of my life doesn’t depend on my actions. I can partner with God with this work in me anywhere I go and in anything I do.

How do I know all this? It’s the cry of the Bible: the cry of Old Testament history, the cry of Jesus throughout the gospels, Paul in the letters...Everyone seems to get it‘The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7).

Why was God, Yahweh, frustrated with the Israelites? Because they kept not living up to his command that they: Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’ (Deuteronomy 6:5).

God wants our insides. Even the most pleasing Old Testament sacrifices involved giving God the kidneys of the animals (Leviticus 3:4) - which, due to their hidden position in the body made them a symbol for the most secret and intimate part of man e.g. the heart.

Some people in Jesus’ time were clearly struggling with the same questions I was: what am I supposed to be doing? And Jesus says to them: ‘Do not work for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you’ (John 6:25).

But these people didn’t like this intangible guidance about what God wants (much like the way we graduates would quite like a direct word from God about where and what to do) and so asked: ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ (28).

So Jesus said: ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ (29)

It’s an internal work because God wants internal things: a work of the heart, not the work of our hands. God doesn’t want offerings of community service, charity, or even reading the bible with a friend… He first and foremost wants the work of belief (which can, and should, manifest as those things).

(And so how do we do this work of belief? ‘…which the Son of man will give you.’ (25) We give our hearts to Jesus, who will give eternity to us. The work of belief is seeking Jesus and receiving his gift: God himself (John 17:3). It is not trying to earn it for ourselves by keeping our hearts and giving God some token ‘good works’.)

David, the psalmist and King, got it too: ‘You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring I; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart’ (Psalm 51:16-17).

And God doesn’t just want any heart. He wants a true, dedicated, wholehearted heart:

I was at a Pentecostal Church last Sunday - a very different experience to my home church: the worship was enthusiastic and long, there were words and prophecies etc… - and it made me think: does God want this kind of worship more than an Anglican sort? Have these guys got it right and other styles haven’t?

But then I quickly came to the conclusion that the only thing that would make me uncomfortable about this style of worship was if it wasn’t genuine. 

If people were putting their hands in the air and speaking words falsely, if their heart wasn’t in it and they were just pretending because that’s what you do in Church, that’s what other people would like to see… It would be uncomfortable because then it would all be a show. But, if it was genuine, then it would be a wonderful display of worship - Because our God deserves passion like this! He deserves joyful, loud, enthusiastic worshippers!

(And sadly, even if it wasn’t genuine, we see the same hypocrisy in every style of Church - even in Anglican, Baptist, Catholic churches etc, people can sing the words robotically and not engage with the God we are singing about. Hypocrisy.)

And I realised that I, as a human being created in God’s image, felt that way about inauthentic worship because God feels that way: ‘Away with the noise of your songs!’ (Amos 5:23). This showed me that, before any kind of act of worship, God wants our hearts. And he wants true hearts: hearts of integrity - whose actions will match up with their claims.

God wants our hearts. He wants our hearts truly loving him.

And a heart that truly loves God will result in actions that show it. Jesus said: ‘If you love me, you will obey my commands’ (John 14:15). Obedience to God’s word reveals a true love for God. And Jesus himself was the perfect example of a heart that truly, unconditionally loved God, as he obeyed him even to lowering himself into our sin-ridden, deathly world and into death itself: (Matthew 26:39). All because he loved and wanted to obey God.

So, life is God having our hearts, not what we do. It is relinquishing our deathly desire to save and keep ourselves by ‘doing’ externally, and instead ‘doing’ internally with God by going to Jesus.

God wants our whole hearts. And so the main question is: where is yours?

Is it seeking him? Is it at Jesus’ feet, ready to receive?

If it is not safely turned towards the heavenly Father with open palms, then lean on his generous grace and mercy, and, as the repeated refrain on almost every page of scripture says: ‘Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness and relenting of evil’ (Joel 2:13).

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Evangelism

How should we spread the gospel?

It all depends on what you mean by ‘the gospel’.

And a way of answering that would be to ask the question: why did God come in human form and rescue us from our sins? Why did Jesus shed his blood on the cross? What was the end goal? It was for us to be reconciled to Him. Relationship with him. That is our good news!

The message we are trying to spread is the message of reconciliation with God.

However, if your ‘gospel’ is just saving people from hell (a place of discomfort) and getting people to heaven (a place of comfort) then your evangelism will be driven by self-preservation, fear and avoidance. You will feel (maybe subconsciously) that it is a ‘work’ you feel you must do to feel as if you are doing ‘well’ at being a Christian. It won’t be a pleasant experience; it will be hard and difficult, like a heavy rock that you have to push up a hill.

However, if your ‘gospel’ is enjoying a relationship with God as a dearly loved child, then your evangelism will simply be making God, your Father, known to others so they to can know and be known by Him too! And it will be driven by joy and overflowing love. It will feel unstoppable, like overflowing and bubbling champagne after the cork has been popped out.

If you had a great relationship with a friend and wanted others to know that friend what would you do? You would tell them about the awesome character of your friend so that they become interested and can seek them out too. It’s logical.

So the question arises: how do we show people our wonderful God? The answer is the same as the answer to every Sunday-school question ever: Jesus. He is God-incarnate, the God-man, ‘the radiance of Gods glory, the exact representation of his being’ (Hebrews 1:2). He himself said to his disciples, ‘If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do known him and have seen him.’ (John 14:7). In Jesus we see the essence of God – his abundant grace and love, his perfection. Show people Jesus and you show people God the Father; you evangelize.

Show them in Word – point them to the Jesus in the Bible, but also in deed. We must live as Jesus lived to show people God as he did. Because of his wondrous sacrifice we have been covered with his perfection and made children of God, as he is, and are living in the world, as he did. We have been made ‘co-heirs’ with Christ! This means that we should “be imitators of Christ therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2), in order that God may be made known to people and he can be glorified. Praying for sanctification is therefore also a prayer for evangelism.

Our mission then, is to do as Jesus did – to reflect the nature of the Father in our words and deed so that the Father can be glorified and others can be brought into a life-giving, all-satisfying relationship with Him. And if we know Him, we will bear fruit: ‘Remain in me and I will remain in you’ (John 15). We all know that we start to adopt the attributes and mannerisms of the people we are closest to and other people start to notice…how much more so will that be of God?

Think about it this way, if we are not reflecting Gods character then who are we reflecting? There is nothing good apart from God. There is also no neutral ground. We are always reflecting something, so let it be God and not the enemy.

Therefore, one definition of evangelism is: partaking of our salvation (a freely given relationship with him) and immersing ourselves in his love. It is not a work. If it starts to feel like a ‘work’ something is wrong in your motivation. It is a joy; merely enjoying the relationship we have been called into! And our desire to put ourselves in potentially scary or awkward situations for Him will be greater because our relationship with God will be more important than our relationship with man.

Also, if it is a ‘work’ then we will not be evangelising effectively. We will be giving them a false gospel - not showing them that God is loving and so worthy of such joyful work, but instead showing that he demands duty and robotic slavishness.

So, in terms of active evangelism, what does this mean?

Well, take ‘first-contact evangelism’ e.g talking to a stranger about Christ – as the early apostles did, as Paul did to the crowds in Acts 17, to ‘all who happened to be there’ (v 17). This won’t be that often for most of us but people, strangers, those around you all need to hear about Jesus in order to believe in Him. They need to see Jesus, to be introduced, in order to know God.

Just as it says says in Romans 10:14:
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet who bring good news!’ (Isaiah 52:7)’

Knowing that our gospel is a relationship changes everything, but especially how we approach this active evangelism – telling people about this good news.  If our ‘good news’ is just us being saved from hell, then we’ll be telling people all about how they can do this – repentance and trust. (As if repentance and trust are the works by which we can achieve ‘it’ - comfort - for ourselves) It will be an evangelism driven by self-preservation and avoidance rather than joy and pleasure. And although it has all the right words and sounds about right, it is far from the truth.

But, if our ‘good news’ is knowing God, then our evangelism is making him known: introducing people to the character of God so they can know Him too. This is definitely not trying to shove a formula down their throat: repent + believe = heaven, but rather a persuasive, explanative proclamation: ‘we have good news of great joy – today a saviour has been born!’ (Luke). It means, engaging with the person individually, as Jesus does with us - listening to them. Figuring out their obstacles to the gospel, their barriers to God and showing them, in the most gentle, loving and God-like way possible that Jesus is 'the way, truth and the life' (John 14:6). It means, lovingly making them aware of their inability to come to God, their sin in rejecting Him as King over their hearts, and revealing that a relationship with him is the most important, wonderful and all-satisfying thing. Unveiling Jesus as the way in to this perfect relationship, showing Gods grace and wonderful self-sacrificial love. It means emulating Christ, showing God as God! What an honour.

So, we have been called and given the privilege, as his children, to initiate an introduction. God himself will do the rest. We are humanities’ God-appointed match-makers - setting up the lost with the One who finds, the blind with the One who gives sight, bringing together the wanderer and the welcomer, the sinner and the sinless.

Often, no one mentions the joy that comes from evangelising. Evangelising is only an indulgence into the relationship we have with God. It is submerging yourself in it in order to offer it out to others. As such, there is incredible fulfilment and JOY to be had in doing it! You are relying on God with your whole being, living as you’re meant to live! 


Praise the Lord that he has chosen to use us in this process!

Friday, 26 September 2014

God always with us


God is the creator of all things seen and unseen, known and unknown. He is the most holy and perfect, being the one with no beginning or ending.

And this perfect God wants something He has gone to great pains to make known to us…He wants to be with us. He wants to be with us.

Us? We are the bad and broken ones, the ones who have quite horrifically mucked everything up. The sin ridden ones, repulsive to God. We rejected God; we chose the warped path of doing things our own way. We have become crooked, nauseating beings. We are so self-orientated that everything has to be sacrificed for our own needs. Hence: war, rape, slavery, corruption, poverty, oppression, hunger, and abuse… Even our smallest, briefest inclination revolves around how we can satisfy ourselves more. It doesn’t take a genius to see that something is very badly wrong with the world and with us.

But the fact still remains: God wants to be with us.

Think about it a bit more: this ridiculously perfect and fulfilled being, utter goodness actually desires to have a relationship with us! Now that’s crazy in itself, but what’s even crazier is the steps that He took to bring this about and reconcile us to Himself.

He could so easily have looked at us, at the mess we made and said: “Forget it. I give up on them; they’ve gone too far. I’ll just get rid of them and start again with a new creation. Easy.”

We could have been obliterated in the snap of a cosmic finger. But that would contradict Gods loving and compassionate and forgiving nature. He never intended to screw us up and start again.

Because of our sin we are objects of Gods wrath (Ephesians 2:3). His holy, blazing anger is turned on us, and rightly so. We deserve to be forgotten by God because we forgot Him. We deserve to squeal in front of the fullness of his Holy flame.



However, here is the crux of my message: He banished us from his presence, but never abandoned us completely. The God of the bible is portrayed as a God desperate for closeness with His people. We were under Gods wrath but He also looked upon us with compassion and the tenderness of a Father.

It’s right there in Genesis, as Adam and Eve were being cursed, being struck from Gods heavenly garden. Even as God was hurling them from His presence, He was simultaneously blessing them:

“And I will put enmity

 between you and the woman,

 and between your seed and hers;

he will crush your head,

 and you will strike his heel.”

(Genesis 3:15)

Who is this ‘seed’ that God speaks of? Will he really ‘crush’ the head of the devil? Adam and Eve leave the garden in pain and turmoil, but they have one thing, a gift from God to cling to and treasure: the hope of a promised seed, someone who will defeat their sin.

And God goes further, in verse 21 He demonstrates to them the depth of his love for them, a taste of the salvation to come:

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”

God sacrificed an animal in order to clothe them and cover their nakedness, their shame. This is incredibly poignant. There had not been a single death up until this moment. So why did he kill the animal? To care for and to clothe the people who rejected Him. Gods love is not limited by the mutual affection of the chosen object. He is showing that regardless of the direction of their love, He is willing to sacrifice for them, to love them even though it is costly.

This is clearly a foretaste of how his Son, the seed, Jesus, will spill His blood in order to dress us in His righteousness and cover our shame so that we can be with Him.

Gods desire to be with his people radiates from every page of the Old Testament. Even when Israel, His chosen nation, disobeyed and turned from Him, He never abandoned them and constantly promised them his presence: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 Despite their idol worship, He positioned himself among them – his holy dwelling place the Tabernacle was located in the middle of their camp. He gave them the sacrificial system so they could be right before him, He guided them through the desert in a pillar of smoke, He helped them win battles, He gave them laws to help them be righteous, He chose leaders to guide them and protect them, He punished their sin justly, and He forgave them again and again and again…This God never abandoned His people.

And then what happened?

Jesus, Emmanuel, ‘God with us’ happened.

God took one more gigantic step to being close to us. He came down to actually, physically be with us on this earth! He left heaven and became God incarnate – fully God and fully man. Why would he do that!? So He could have intimacy with us and to create a way for us to be with Him, without the barrier of our sin. So He could justly deal with the punishment our sin deserves without obliterating us completely.

Now here’s one more thing that makes this even more mind-blowing: what does God value? Clearly, it is intimacy and closeness of relationship - hence why He’s going to such lengths to keep us close to Him. Well, He had that perfectly with Jesus. They existed in mutual delight before the world began. What he wants with us, he already had with Jesus. Yet what did he do? He gave up that closeness with Jesus for the sake of us!

When Jesus took all our sins upon himself on the cross and split his blood for us, the Father turned his face away from his Son. He forsook Jesus to look at us. "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" The curtain was torn in two, God and mankind were able to be together at the cost of His only Son.

And then He rose again!  Once our sin had been dealt with and the devil toppled he rose from death! And his beloved Father, God seated him on the highest throne (Philippians 2).

So there’s two parts to this: Part one: Jesus averted Gods holy wrath from us. We are forgiven, made clean! Part two: He made it possible for God to be intimate with us. Now that’s a whole new something else! God hasn’t just made us holy and then left us on the outside. No, he’s made us holy in order to bring us in! In to a relationship with Him! There’s a purpose for our holiness.

And the depth of this relationship is astounding: it is Gods nature to give. He gives outwards, constantly, always overflowing. And so, naturally, being close to a God like that can only mean a total outpouring of blessings (Malachi 3:10): being co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8/4:13), being grafted onto Him (John 15), and therefore receiving the honour that He gets (Isaiah 53:12), being made Gods child (1 John 3:1) and receiving the inheritance that children receive (Romans 8), being treasured by God, considered valuable and worthy (Zephaniah 3:19/Matthew 10:29), being seated with Jesus on the throne (Revelation 3:21), being given new and glorious bodies (Philippians 3/Matthew 13:34), being able to judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). And most importantly, God gives us the gift of being able to give like He does; the gift of being able to love God properly. He shows us how to love. And one day we will be truly able to love the Father back as he wants to be loved – with an undivided heart and perfect obedience. That day will mean glory for Him and joy for us.

However, the story continues. True to form, God hasn’t abandoned us until that day. That would contradict his very nature, as we’ve seen. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, this intimacy with God can start now, on this earth! He gave us Jesus, but when Jesus rose up to heaven, He also gave us the Holy Spirit to keep us company (John 14), to dwell within us and intercede for us. There wasn't a moment when He wasn't with us in some form. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes each morning to the grace bestowed upon us by Jesus’ atoning blood. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we humans are able to shelter under His blood and truly live.

Our Father longs for closeness. This could not be more obvious. Knowing this, what then should we do? Should we not seek to come before Him every day on our knees and hand over to Him our heart, mind and soul in humble gratitude?

Our prayer should be: “Take me! Keep me close to you, Father. Take my life as an offering of thanks!”

He went to the greatest possible lengths to be with us. The greatest possible lengths. How can we do anything other than run to Him covered in the blood of the One who gave us the ability to run!? How can we not fall before the Father with a soul full of joy and praise? How can we not promise him a life of obedience? How can our hearts not sing with love?

The cross happened so that we can know God and be known by God, it happened for the sake of our intimacy with our Father. And HE IS WITH US. There is no need to fear. His wrath has been averted. We can laugh at the days to come (Proverbs 31).

What should our attitude be? Shame and guilt at our sins, humility, wonder and gratitude at the cross, and then unadulterated joy at the life we have been given! The cross is central, without Jesus’ atoning blood we would be stuck on the outside and faced with the full wrath of God! But He has intervened. 

We have nothing to fear, only promises to look forward to in eager anticipation, a life to live in wholehearted sacrifice and an unconditional relationship to enjoy. This is what it means to be a believer.