Monday, 30 November 2015

So Long November

Advent prepares us for the coming of Christ. And do you know what prepares us for advent? 


November, a pretty impressive metaphor for, "darkness and the shadow of death." 

November, which features: the end of significant amounts of daylight, new depths of cold, named gales, wind that sets off car alarms, wind that makes every journey by foot twice as wiggly and thus twice as long, wind so intense it breaks your car door and ends up trapping you in your own car, forcing you to clamber over the gear stick in an uber-undignified manner (#truestory), the end of upright bins, the fine rain that soaks you through, the catsanddogs rain that only arrives when you're on a bike, hail, the interminable search for gloves, frozen fingers, frozen windscreens,  lateness induced by frozen windscreens, blindness caused by unnecessary use of fog lights, blindness caused by fogged up glasses, Black Friday, Black Friday Week, premature playings of that Slade song, Adele's song wherever there are sound waves and wherever there aren't premature playings of that Slade song, coughing, sneezing, other people coughing and sneezing near you or on you, X Factor, X Factor Xtra, Xtra XFacta Xtream, chapped noses, chapped lips, numb toes, embarrassingly straggly facial hair and inside out umbrellas. 

Yep- November's over. It's spelt out the allegory loud and clear, and it's made us ready.

We're ready for the Light shining in the darkness; we're ready for the Sunrise from on high.

Advent (noun): The arrival of a notable thing, or person. 

O come, thou Daybreak, come and cheer,  
Our spirits by thine advent here;  
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,  
And death's dark shadows put to flight.  

Rejoice, rejoice! Immanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. 

(Here is a more serious treatment of the same subject...)  

Sunday, 22 November 2015

A Birthday Letter

To 29 Year Old Philippa on the eve of your 30th birthday,

You are about to turn 30.

I know. You are utterly miserable about it. But that's why I, Philippa of the present, Philippa of almost one full year in the future, Philippa who braved 30, thought I should write.

You are caught between abject misery and hyperventilating panic. You thought that 29 would go on forever and ever, but here you are on the 30th of November, and- I hate to break it to you as I know it's sort of your only hope right now, but Jesus isn't coming back before tomorrow morning. December the 1st 2014 does arrive. You reach the big 3-0.

Please find the enclosed tissues.

Somehow you convinced yourself that you would have achieved a lot more by this stage in your life. You thought you'd be married by now, and a mum, and a nation-changer, just the right balance of Jennifer Lawrence, Charles Spurgeon and Becky Manley Pippert, and basically a whole load less messy. Or at least you thought you'd have mastered the hair.

Even now, aged 29 and 99.9% , you're wondering whether there really is zero possibility of your either a) changing the world or b) finding a husband and marrying him before tomorrow morning. I hate to break it to you- but there isn't. You do neither of these things pre-31 either, but we'll get 32 year old Philippa to counsel you through that one.

Right now, you're mourning; you feel like your life is over; you feel like you've failed at ever being enough.

So I thought, with my having been 30 for almost a year now, I could write to you to reassure you that it's really not all that bad. Here are some words of hopefully comfort and advice.

Firstly, I just want to say that I do understand the crushing weight of disappointment you're feeling right now. I know that you've been hearing a lot from 16 year old Philippa who keeps saying, "I TOLD YOU SO, I TOLD YOU SO." Yes, 16 year old Philippa did worry that you might reach 17, 18, 19, 27... 30 boyfriendless and husbandless and mediocre. She was always harping on about the worst case scenarios, and carried on this rampage of doom for years and years and years.

But you need to take it from your wiser, older self: you are not single, or insignificant because 16 year old Philippa was right about everything. Bear in mind, for example,  that she is the one that told you wearing white nylon trousers was acceptable. On this, and many other points, she was wrong. Very wrong.

Remember that just like her, even almost 30 year old you is not right about everything. Your negativity may influence the future, but it isn't running the show. Jesus is running the show; Jesus commands your destiny. As the years go by, as they are in the habit of doing,  don't forget this. All sorts of people will offer you explanations for your successes (or lack of) and singleness- but the big one is that God is Sovereign. And in His sovereignty, He loves you.

Secondly, chill out about needing to be AMAZING.

Don't forget too that you're currently sitting crying your eyes out in the middle of an incredibly prestigious university town. You are surrounded by people who are outstanding. They were the ones who didn't answer all their university interview questions with, "I don't know." They were the ones who saw the value in piano practice, rather than sitting down at the keyboard, playing the demo button a few times, and then going off to watch Neighbours. They were the ones who spent their study periods studying, rather than playing poker, Splidge and "Guess Whose Hand This Is?" with that smelly glove you found in the common room. At this point, you need to stop comparing yourselves to these people. Make that a 20s thing. In your thirties, get over "amazing."

The idea that you need to be amazing is a lie. The truth is, you need an amazing Saviour. More on this later.

For now, you need to remember: you're part of a culture where everyone expects that they will be talented and well paid and awesome. And part of the crushing weight you're feeling right now comes from that horrible Ideal Self that's lurked in your mind for years and condemns you for not being a supermodel missionary marathon running musical francoise genius. Ignore "Ideal Self". Firstly, if you met her, you'd definitely hate her. Secondly, she doesn't exist. Ideal Self is an illusion of a society that tells you to be yourself, and then beats you up for all you're not.

As much as possible, forget yourself. Think about other people, think about Jesus.

(And as a practical tip- thinking about other people is so much easier when you are with other people. So, if in doubt- hang out.)

(As a second practical tip for not thinking too much about yourself- don't write too many letters to yourself.)

Right now, you feel like there's no hope for your mediocrity. But, it won't be long until you get your head together and figure out a bit more about how to be okay with being okay.

Thirdly, you have a lot of fun in the coming year: you get in to exercise in a way that the Philippas of your twenties would balk at, you go to see Taylor Swift live in concert and get to go to a party dressed as her cat. The autumn of 2015 is staggeringly beautiful, and you'll find yourself clambering through hedgerows to get some kind of permanent snapshot of the beauty. You'll discover Mr Josh Garrels and hear music and lyrics that are the perfect mixture of realism and hope; they seep right in to your heart and soothe it, like the musical equivalent of sun beating warmth through frosted up windows. "Farther Along" and "Morning Light" get you out of bed on multiple occasions.

You're going to end up living in a normal house that so far exceeds your expectations, you won't believe it. Your friends are going to have a little baby and it'll become one of your favourite humans. You'll read, and love the process and the concept of it like never before. Whatever you read, there will be some sort of pleasure in it. The fact you encounter Stoner this year is reason alone to keep your head up; it helps you understand how beautiful unobserved, insignificant lives can be.You'll write regularly, and it's going to warm you up, energise you and help you love and understand the gospel more. I know you feel so disappointed with your years so far; I remember. But don't despair. As you write you'll begin to see so much of what God's spoken to you and wrought for you in the darkness. And you'll see Taylor Swift live in concert.

There are some parts of your 30th year that are really horrible.  There will be times of hardness and tangible, at times overwhelming sadness- friends and nations will suffer and stumble, evil will surge, heartbreak will devastate. But the gospel will often be a comfort. Even when it isn't- remember that trouble will only last a lifetime, and even when you can't believe it, He will do good anyway.

Suffering is part of life, and not part of being 30. Your 30th year is not the dead end you're anticipating right now.

The best bits will be the bits where you forget about the past, and forget about the future up until the defining event of your future- and remembering Jesus, just enjoy the good parts of now. There will be times when the now doesn't really seem to have good parts. But hang in there, because they will turn up eventually: often out of the blue, often far sooner than you're expecting and always because of God's kindness, rather than your merit. Let this be a further source of joy to you!

Remember Jesus. Rejoice. Remember Jesus. And when you've remembered him, rejoice again, and remember again.

He will be with you in the coming year, as he has been in years before. He will be your comfort, your refuge- and time and time again, He will be what you need; He is an amazing Saviour; He's your forgiveness; He will be your hope. In all things, all things- he has been, is, and will be working for your good.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
You have already come: 

His grace has brought you safe thus far,
His grace will lead you home. 

I promise you. 30 is okay. It's one more year with Jesus, and that's really something to look forward to.


Tuesday, 17 November 2015

To The Darkness

Recently I've been struggling to write.

There may be many reasons for this, but the main one, I think, is that at certain times, words can seem more trite than at others. In times of shocking, incalculable horror words of wisdom can feel completely repellent and inadequate for acknowledging the weight and devastation of our experiences.

Life in our world is too deep, and big, and complex; too horrendous and yet too thirsty for hope;  too nuanced, too human for triteness. So although these thoughts are hugely influenced by current events, I hope they don't sound too easy, or neat, or trite.

There is no such answer for our world.

Yet, there is a person.

Like every person- Jesus is not neat, or easy, or trite.

He is unfathomable! He has a character, personal reactions, he has mystery, he has glory- and though he can be utterly perplexing, he is equally compelling.   He is not trite, for He has suffered violence, and death and humanity. When he returns, we will see Him looking slain. He is not easy because has said, "Surely, I am coming soon." Yet our hearts yearn with the cry of, "how long, O LORD?" We feel the struggle of the wait and it seems so clear that His return will be the only satisfying answer.  Yet Jesus- whose kindness is so abundant to have many more repent- will not be "neat."

And yet, because of this, because he's not an "answer" or a maxim, or a meme, because he is complex, in a deep, mysterious, hopeful way- He is sufficient for the depth of the darkness. Because He is rich and sometimes inscrutable in his wisdom, He is the light that overcomes.

So below is something I wrote a few nights back. It feels inadequate in many ways- but it is the Person of Jesus, rather than any words, who is the cause for real hope.

To the darkness;
To nights of bloodshed and of wailing,
To the shrill cries of victory from the mouths of merciless slaughterers;

He is coming soon.

To the murkiest of perversions that have long lurked in the shadow,
To presumptions that threats might hold the power to conceal,
To all that has soiled innocence, trampled life, extinguished hope;

He is coming soon. 

To brutality; 
To violence; 
To arrogant, aggressive minds;
To tyranny in cities, and in homes and minds and bedrooms; 

To meaningless religiousity and empty masks of morality,
To staggering pomposity that would patronise the truth;
To stubbornness and cynicism and damaging indifference;
To prejudice, to selfishness, to unashamed egotism;
To judgments laid heavy without meekness, without truth;
To devastating foolishness wrapped in words of empty wisdom;

To clanging gongs and echoes; to every kind of lovelessness;
To tombs; 
to graves; 
to every evil power;

He is coming for His victory, 
and He is coming soon. 

"Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all tribes on earth will mourn on account of Him."
Revelation 1: 7

"In your majesty ride out victoriously for the cause of truth, and meekness and righteousness..."
Psalm 45: 4

"Surely, I am coming soon."
Revelation 22:20

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Four Words to Blow the Mind

I say, 

I will give you all my praise.
On Sundays. At least, during the singing.
Definitely during the final verse of that absolute belter.
And during the good bits of the sermon. 

I will give you half an hour each morning, 
Apart from on busy weekends, 
Or days when the night before was full (of something that probably wasn't exactly giving you all my praise.) 
On days when I am tired, too: then it might be less.
But I will usually give you that full half hour-

apart from when stress 
and to do lists interrupt. 

I will give you my money 
I will consider it all yours 
until I see something that I am 
really sure I need. 

I will give you the last say, 
apart from when I give you no say at all. 

I will give you my future. 
For about two minutes. as long as it looks bright.
Then I will grumble about my present and I will give you bitterness.

I will give you doubt, 
and darkness. 
and despair, 
even in the face of remarkable reasons for hope, and gratitude.
I will give you complaints.
And sometimes I won't even give you that.

I will give you love
or at least, I will give you excuses for my lack of love.

I will give you
deceitful motives 
and selfishness 
destructive words 
and hurtful decision making
and self-pity
and despair. 

I will give you countless reasons to condemn me. 

And even when I will give you apologies, 
and everything I can to make up for my cold, hard heart, 
Even when I am handing over my purest sorrows, 
and my most sincere repentance, 
I know-  
I will give you filthy rags." 

Then You, 
looking right at me, in my shame, 
and shortcomings 
and grim and blatant nakedness, 

"I will give you

I will give you a clean slate.
I will give you great and precious promises.
I will give you my Son. 

And I will give you rest.

I will give you a righteousness that is not your own, but mine.
I will give you a new life,
a new heart, 

a new spirit,
a new future.
I will give you a Redeemer,
And I will give you rest. 

I will give you hope, 
and a refuge; 
a strong tower.
I will give you an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
I will give you power enough for perseverance.
And then I will give you a reward for having persevered.

I will give you the right to become my child. 
I will give you every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.
I will give you everything you need to approach my throne with boldness.
I will give you comfort,
and grace,
and peace, 

and joy-
I will give you Jesus-
And I will give you rest. " 

"Come unto me," he says, and I will give you." You say, "Lord, I cannot give you anything." He does not want anything. Come to Jesus, and he says, "I will give you." Not what you give to God, but what he gives to you, will be your salvation. "I will give you"- that is the gospel in four words. 

C.H. Spurgeon

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