Sunday, 27 March 2016

An Incomplete List of Reasons To Celebrate Easter

Firstly, by celebrating Easter, I mean, celebrating the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth's physical resurrection. Celebrating this is of course only really a worthwhile thing to do if it's true. And that question is covered very well here.

But if it is true, then here are some other reasons for joy:

1) There is hope.

Sometimes terrible things happen. Really dreadful, devastating and irreversible things. When Jesus died it was a really dreadful, really devastating and really irreversible thing. It was the worst, the most terrible thing that could have happened, in many, many ways. And yet, Jesus rose again. It wasn't the end of the story; it wasn't the end of hope. In fact, in the worst act of human history, God was crafting the most beautiful redemption. The resurrection of Jesus reminds me that whatever terrible things are happening- in health, in relationships, in politics, in nations, in silence- the terrible things are not the end of the story. In all these things, there is hope, there is hope, there is hope. There is a Redeemer who lives; there is hope.

2) Forgiveness is available.

Five words to blow the mind? Christ died for our sins. God's anointed King paid the debt of death I owed, and he paid it in in full. Jesus suffered wrath so I wouldn't have to. He bore my sin and its condemnation; he drank the cup filled with my punishment and my shame down to its dregs- until there was not one drop left for me to drink. I'm forgiven, because he was forsaken. And because He is alive I know firstly, that it's finished- God has said "ENOUGH!" and agreed that the price is paid, and secondly, that our perfect, spotless righteousness is Risen, and always lives to testify to our forgiveness.

3) New life is possible.

Sin is so ugly. It chokes so many relationships, stains so many joys- it has cursed God and exalted self; it is a brutal, miserable master. Yet as Jesus stands in victory, sin's curse has lost its grip. Romans 6:18 says, "You have been set free from sin." This means that I am free from the reign of a harsh and horrid slave driver. His new life becomes my new life, and I can follow a better King! But it also means I am free from the sting of the sins of others: I can forgive! Because Jesus has paid my debt in full, I can cut lose the burdens of others that hold me down too. I don't need to be mastered by my own sin, my own selfishness or the sin and selfishness of others- but the living Jesus can be my source of strength for forgiving, for freedom, and like I said, a way better King than I am!

4) Easter eggs and all that jazz...

Chocolate and roast lamb and family time and walks in the sunshine and daffodils and every other good thing I experience comes to me as a blessing through the cross. No longer do these things stand against me as further evidence that I have loved the gifts and rejected the Giver; they remind me of the depth and warmth and generosity of the Lord who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for me!

5) Jesus

Because He is alive, we can know him. The One who forgave his killers with his dying breath, who made practical provisions for the vulnerable as he gasped desperately for air, who loved His Father and his people's joy more than his own life, who extended comfort to a murderous criminal while the scorn and insults of those around him rang in his ears, who was silent when his razor sharp wisdom could have justified him so that  his blood might cry out for our justification when we had no words of defence, who having defeated death greeted the friends who had abandoned him with "peace be with you" and who made them breakfast on the beach. This man! This person! We can know him. And all the blogs in the world could not contain all the reasons why that is something to celebrate.

(Props to all the hymn writers I ended up quoting in this...) 

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Dear Depression

Dear Depression,

I can really only write you this letter because you're not currently around. When you are, it's very difficult to see you. It's very hard to see anything other than a blank of darkness, and you don't seem to be anything very separate from me. But while you're away, (feel free to stay away as long as possible), I thought I'd write.

So, dear depression.

I suppose in many ways "dear" seems utterly inappropriate. You have not been kind to me, and to many others I know of, know and dearly love.

It took me years to recognise you. When you came up in conversation, you were so very good at drawing my attention to my own past, my own failures, my own sin, as explanations for the sadness you convinced me I deserved. You had me believe a whole host of things instead of believing I was depressed: that I was just especially bad, especially condemned, especially worthless, especially socially malfuncitonal.

When I first sought treatment you told me I was treating sin with medicine. But after the pills got you to pipe down a bit, I finally began to know something about you.

You've sat on my chest on countless mornings; you've been condemnations' megaphone; you've been an ugly neon sign pointing me in the direction of self-destruction and self-harm. You've known my weakness and you've wielded it against me; you've sharpened its blade. You've loaded my heart with sadness and taken hope captive. You've turned up uninvited and made nothing appealing to me but sleep.

I wish I never had to see you again, I wish your influence and reach was gone, because life is dark enough without your contributions.

But, dear depression, there are some things I think you should know.

When I was a teenager, and you told me that I was the worst human there was, when my dreams and thoughts were heavy with destruction, and when my thoughts were dark and landed in my conscience with pangs of horror and shame, when hurting myself seemed like the only option left, you took away every way for me. Except for Jesus.

Jesus became my way. You shut all the doors to freedom, but Jesus told me in the darkness: his blood was shed for mine. His blood was enough. Age 17, you made the cross even more beautiful to me- it was such a relief. You had me believing I was the worst of sinners, but Jesus said he came for the worst. You didn't bank on Jesus being sufficient for the worst of condemnations you brought- that even for the vilest, most self-absorbed, wretched girl, he might hold out forgiveness. But he did; Jesus became my way.

When I went to university, and you told me that I couldn't leave my room in halls without bringing shame on myself and the gospel, when it took me minutes and then hours to leave for a shower because I was so afraid of how I would mess up, when I believed you, and so gave up on freedom and parties and friendships and showers when I needed them, you took away every hope I had of justification. Except for Jesus.

Jesus was my justification. You blocked off my joy and life, but Jesus told me in the darkness: God is the One who justifies. He was my justification. Aged 20, you made the cross even more beautiful to me- I was acutely aware of everything I wasn't, and it made Jesus, standing in my place, my only hope.

When two years of ministry in France had left me feeling stripped of everything, and you told me that my hopes for ministry were ashes, that I was friendless and hopeless and fruitless, when my identity felt like rubble, and you told me I was inadequate, insufficient, stupid, and I believed I was spiritually barren, Jesus was my righteousness.

Time and time again you jumped on the band-wagon of my sin and my weakness and used it to say: no way forward. You are cursed. But Jesus told me in the darkness: I became a curse for you. He said, whatever else is happening, it cannot be a curse. His showed me his scarred hands in the darkness.

And because you'd had me so convinced that I had nothing but wretchedness, the hands held out to me were beautiful because they were my only hope. I had no other refuge.

Depression, I don't blame you for everything. Of course, my sin would have me say it's all your fault. And you would have be believe it's all sin's fault.

But the faithful grace of Jesus means that ultimately, it doesn't matter- because in my sin, and in you, my depression, he's been working, and he will be working, relentlessly for good. You have influenced my life greatly, but you're a speck compared to Jesus. And where you have changed my life, where I've felt most broken, most hopeless, you've sent me running to the arms of Jesus. You have made the gospel sweet to me. If I had never known you, but for not knowing you I would have known Jesus less, then I would choose to know you all over again.

So, dear depression.

I am grateful for the times you've been a friend to grace; you've chased me from the paths of ease, to storm the secret place.

That said, I won't miss you when you're gone.

And you will be, completely, one day soon.


I thank You for the bitter things
They’ve been a friend to grace,
They’ve driven me from the paths of ease
To storm the secret place.
--Florence White Willett

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Revelation 21: 4 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

6 Reasons I've Stayed in Teaching

All the examples cited are things I have personally had the joy of experiencing since I started in this job...

1) Knowing you're helping the next generation learn new things:
*whilst completing an assessment on a unit entitled "The Villain's of Shakespeare" that he has been studying all term*
Miss, who wrote Merchant of Venice?

Essay: JB Priestley explores several key themes in To Kill a Mockingbird. 

Contained in an assessment based on a term long unit on euthanasia:
How would you like it if you had euthanasia and weren't allowed to die?

Essay: This shows Macbeth is hallucinating about blood that is non-existent. This gives the audience the impression that he is on LSDs and this is something modern readers can relate to.

Task: Write a letter to an actor playing the character of Romeo.
Pupil: Dear Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Essay: Shylock has many evil features, for example, his beard.

2) Making a real impact:
Target: Be careful with your sentence structures.
Response: I will always sentence my structures accurately.

Target: Make sure you proof read your work.
Response: I will always proof read my work and proof read my work.

Target: What is one more way you could develop your analysis?
Response: i am a english god. (sic)

3) The logic of school children:
Year 11: Miss, you got me in trouble today.
Me: Oh, how's that?
Year 11: Well, I was hiding in the flower bed waiting to jump out at you and scare you, when Sir found me and hauled me out of there and told me off.

Year 8: Aw, miss! You're always picking on the naughty ones!

Me: Could you stop chewing on your ruler and making strange noises?
Year 10: I wasn't, I was being Scooby!

Year 7: Miss, I've one of lost my shoes.
*I look down at feet. Behold, both are clothed in shoes.*
Me: But you're wearing shoes.
Year 7: One of them isn't mine.
Me: Right. Whose is it?
Year 7: I don't know. It says Tom Brown in it.
Me: Okay, why are you wearing Tom Brown's shoe?
Year 7: I didn't realise it was his.
Me: *opens mouth to ask one of several questions* *closes mouth* *opens again* * closes again.* *Looking up Tom Brown on the system*
Me: Well, there are about 8 Tom Brown's on the system.
Year 7: Doesn't the system tell you what shoe size they have?
Me: *opens mouth**closes again.*

Another Year 7: Miss, I've lost my trousers.

4) The creativity of excuses
My dog stood on my iPad.

My exercise books got trapped under the floorboards when my dad was installing a chandelier.

I got carried away watching homeless people playing piano on the streets.

On the day Germany won the World Cup:

Apologies in advance,Due to the great events which transpired today and the celebrations which are about to happen, I may become extremely patriotic overnight and in school tomorrow, resulting in the rest of my coursework being written in German.Regards.

5) The apologies
On a trip to Germany, I was showing off my one piece of vocabulary: Schildkröte (tortoise) throughout the trip. Anyway, at one point I overheard a pupil I teach say in discussion, "English isn't really one of those subjects in which you learn anything." I must have looked suitably appalled, because about twenty minutes later he appeared with a tortoise key ring he had bought for me. His friend asked why he'd bought it, and he replied, "because I questioned Miss's life choices."

This, incidentally, was the same trip in which a boy "accidentally" packed a screwdriver in his hand luggage. A screwdriver! 

6) The bits that stick
Miss, I remember you saying that the best stories are sad, but have redemption in them. If they're too bleak, they're not realistic. Because you said in life there's hope. Real life is genuinely sad, but there is genuine redemption. I remember that and think about it when reading.

Ultimately, I think teaching, too, is a reflection of the big gospel narrative of life: there's a lot of difficult, confusing, and sometimes painful things. But there's hope, and plenty of redemption. Much of which comes from its utter hilarity.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The Inner Pharisees

The Pharisees grumbled to the disciples of Jesus, "Why does he eat with sinners?" 
And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, "It is not the well who have need of  a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Mark 2)

And in doing so, Jesus declared with decisive and irrevocable glory: I am the friend of sinners. 

Every time I remember this I am relieved.  If Jesus is a friend of sinners, then I qualify. Hallelujah! Hallelujah- he didn't come to call good people, but sinners! What 'qualifies' me for him is my need for him. And wow, do I need him?!

There are thousands of ways in which my "inner pharisee" would tell me that I'm not worthy of Jesus; that Jesus wants happy, free, confident, fearless, fully sanctified followers. 

So as I approach Jesus, I know, the grumbling will start. 

The inner pharisees will say, "Why would Jesus eat with those who are sad? Who've got themselves in ridiculous traps? Who wander off like sheep? Why would Jesus want anything to do with someone with so empty a future? Whose life is enriched in darkness and despair? Why would Jesus have anything to do with you- you're insecure, you're foolish, and you don't even know how to pray! You don't know what you're doing, where you're going, and your life so far is a little bit of a mess. And now you're also really stressed. Really, you still think Jesus wants anything to do with you?" 

But the truth is: 

It is not the carefree that need a Comforter, but the mourning.
It is not the free that need a Liberator, but the enslaved.
It is not roaring lions that need a Shepherd, but bleating sheep. 
It is not the sun-soaked that need a Light to shine, but those who dwell in a land of deep darkness. 
It is not those whose futures are all mapped out who need a Hope, but the despairing. 
It is not the confident who need a Refuge, but the insecure.
It is not the intelligent that need the Wisdom of God, but the foolish. 
It is not the perfect prayer warriors that need an Intercessor, but those who struggle to cry, "Abba, Father."
It is not those who ace all their relationships that need a Counselor, but the broken hearted.
It is not the competent that need a Guide, but the confused. 
It is not the calm that need the Prince of Peace, but those who are stressed. 
It is not the righteous that need the Crucified Christ, but sinners. 

I'm so encouraged that Jesus comes to be good news to the worst of situations. He comes to make the saddest hearts to sing, to set free those who are in the worst of captivity and oppression, to bring sight to the blindest eyes to bring hope to those situations that really do seem the most inescapably and brutally and eternally hopeless- the worst of those- , and to shine a light on those who dwell in the most suffocating and impenetrable of darknesses. 

This is why the angels could announce that his birth was "of great joy for all the people": because there is no one so poor, so weak, so sinful, so oppressed, so beyond hope- that they do not qualify for Him. His kindness, his grace, his freedom and his redemption. 

Jesus, friend of sinners. Friend of mine! 

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
Matthew 5: 4

"On those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shined."
Isaiah 9:4 

"This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance; Christ Jesus came in to the world to save sinners..."
1 Timothy 1:15 

"Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ might rest on me."
2 Corinthians 12:9 

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock, If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." 
Revelation 3: 21
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