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.


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! 

Sunday, 5 June 2016

His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

I think I may have gotten too familiar with this verse.

It wasn't until I read this verse last night in the context of 1 Chronicles 16, that I realised what a declaration of joy it is! David is utterly delighted. Praise the Lord! He is faithful! He has acted on our behalf! On OUR behalf!? His love is steadfast!

And yes, His love is steadfast, sure, unchanging- but it is also surprising! I am not owed this love. Not even close. It is baffling and humbling and glorious and powerful and it endures. For like, EVER! And for me!

No one wants to be that guy who overuses the exclamation mark. But if his steadfast love enduring forever doesn't merit its use, what does?!

The LORD Almighty loves us. Us!

His love is stronger than death and many waters will not quench it.
His love will outlast the mountains; it reaches higher than the heavens are above the earth!
His steadfast love has been LAVISHED on us in Christ!
His love was ours even when we were his enemies! His love makes us more than conquerors!
His a love is as vast as the ocean; it is pure, unmeasured, boundless, free! His love is deep, deep as the deepest sea and it's mine though I'm unworthy!
His steadfast love bends down and cleans the feet of faithless friends, his love cries out for forgiveness of enemies, his love humbles itself to death- even death on a cross!
Amazing love indeed! A love where the God of heaven dies for me!
His love endures even though we sin; his love forgives anyone who confesses.
His steadfast love endures forever: neither life nor death nor angels not demons not depression nor heartbreak nor war nor persecution nor anything else on all creation can separate us from it!
His love will not let us go! And it will work for our good in all things!
It is a love that excels all other loves- and this is the love that endures forever!

Oh for a heart that overflows in wonder at His love! That has power, with all the saints to grasp its height and breadth and depth and that so praises the LORD, and a for a heart that reads the statement with an exclamation mark.

P.S. Yes, a lot of the above words have been borrowed from other writers (Samuel Trevor Francis, Charles Wesley, C. Austin Miles, George Matheson, William Rees and it could easily have been so many more!). But what glory that each of them wrote, across the centuries, having experienced the same, steadfast love of the LORD. It really does endure forever. 


Saturday, 4 June 2016

Underneath Are The Everlasting Arms

When I was 17, I went parasailing.

Parasailing is one of those activities that makes me love humanity a little bit more. Someone one day had the thought- wouldn't it be cool to attach a parachute to a motor boat and drive the motorboat so fast that the parachute is filled with air and the sky is filled with a happy thrill seeker!? And then they did it.

Now, at the time I was suffering from a) depression and b) being a teenager. I was not enjoying the holiday. I was deeply anxious about my sin, wrestling with guilt, frustrated with God about myself and my inadequacies and my life.

But I went paragliding anyway.

I was hooked up to a harness and propped on the end of the boat. As the speed increased the parachute billowed and I was lifted up in to the glorious blue sky. Soon the boat was a little dot beneath me.

Initially I felt a bit anxious.  I could hear the harness creaking and I briefly wondered what might happen if I plummeted in to the sea, or if I became unattached to the boat and ended up being transported miles through the air, crashing into the middle of some quiet little Greek village on the other side of the island! What an undignified way to die! (And because I was suffering from being a teenager an undignified death was a far more terrible thought that a painful one!)

Not many minutes in though- I was struck: my worrying would make zero difference to whether I remained airborne.

It was the harness, the parachute and the tethering on the boat that made the difference. If I trusted the equipment, I'd enjoy the time more. But my anxieties did not affect the reliability of it!

Far above the Mediterranean, my heart was filled with peace. Not just about the paragliding, but about the nature of my Father. I realised, my anxieties and guilt did not have any effect on the trustworthiness of God! My feelings could not undo his nature and his promise! 

Underneath are the everlasting arms.

His certain, eternal, rock-solid, unfaltering, caring arms were my security.

Underneath all of my anxieties and guilt and doubts and angst were the everlasting arms; his faithfulness rather than my faith guaranteed it.

His commitment to me is based on a covenant made with Jesus; all its demands are fulfilled. It is Christ, not my faith who is my refuge! He is the one who guarantees forgiveness and justification and a future hope, not me or my faith!

It was not my trust in the parachute that got me in the air... Although trusting in its promise not to liberate itself from the boat and deliver me into the presence of unsuspecting villagers did make a difference to my enjoyment!

And trusting in Jesus does make a difference to my joy!

But even when we are bruised and every attempt to trust feels like a struggle for air, his utterly faithful commitment to my eternal security does not change: underneath are the everlasting arms. 

Friday, 3 June 2016

I Have Seen Your Tears

There is a lot of weeping in the Bible.

So much so, that when I was compiling five word Bible bits I got myself in to a bit of a muddle over when exactly God saw who crying! So yesterday, as I reflected, I looked up some Bible crying stories.

Hannah cries because she is barren; she desperately wants children. (1 Samuel 1:10)
Naomi and her daughters in law cry as they look at an uncertain, empty future. (Ruth 1:9)
Hagar cries because she is treated with jealousy and spite. (Genesis 21:16)
Israel cry out to God because they are suffering cruelty and injustice in a foreign land. (Exodus 3:7)
David weeps because he realises the weightiness of his sin. (2 Samuel 12:23)
Hezekiah weeps as he faces up to the reality of his own death. (2 Kings 20:5)
Peter weeps bitterly because he understands Jesus was right: he has denied his LORD. (Luke 22:62)
Mary weeps at the tomb, because her LORD has died, and she doesn't know where they have put him. (John 19:11)

Crying happens in the Bible. The phrase most often used seems to be, "wept bitterly". I know I've been there! That soul racking, utterly desperate, verge of despair weeping that consumes and exhausts? It happens in the Bible.

We live in a desperately sad, desperately broken world. Even Jesus weeps in the face of the brutal reality of death. I find it a great comfort to know that others have wept before me.

But the glorious truth of Scripture is that weeping is not the end of the story.

I have seen your tears.

The LORD of the universe sees our tears, and he cares enough to tell us! Yes, the one who made all those zillions of stars and those obscure fish that live so far in the depths of the sea no one can see them without one of those special UV cameras (#sciencewithphilippa)- He sees our tears. He cares about our crying!

And his seeing is not passive. How do we know? Because He tells his people: I have seen your tears. It's significant that He sees. He tells us he sees because he cares. It's reason for us to hope. But it also is evidence that He is going to act.

As these individuals weep bitterly, it feels like the end of the story. They weep so bitterly because it feels so desperate; it seems so impossible that there could be anything else beyond the misery of their current trauma.

It seemed like the end of the story, but the LORD...

... remembered Hannah and in due time she conceived a child.
... did not leave Naomi or Ruth without a Redeemer or a future, but provided Boaz.
... heard the voice of Ishmael crying and promised to make him a great nation.
... sent Moses to bring his people out of Egypt.
... forgave David and gave him Solomon.
... comforted Hezekiah and gave him 15 more years.
... restored Peter and made him the rock on which the church was built. He equipped him with such courage to proclaim him that he faced prisons, beatings and ultimately death for the glory of the Lord he'd once denied.
... raised Jesus from the dead. Mary, who was weeping soon becomes the first witness to the greatest redemptive miracle of history!

Of course, God saying, "I have seen your tears", does not necessarily mean that there will be immediate relief. But the pattern of Scripture that culminates in the resurrection of the Christ, reminds us that he knows, he cares, and that whatever we are going through, however bitter our tears are, if we are his- then our tears are not the end of the story.

"Weeping may last for a night, but joy will come in the morning."
Psalm 30:5

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

God Meant It For Good

It is remarkable that these words come at the conclusion of Genesis.

Humanity has completely messed up and chosen rebellion and self-rule over the kind provision of a loving Creator over and over and over again ever since Chapter Three.

In Chapter 50 we find Joseph, who has suffered for years because of his own sin and the sins of others-  under burdens of his own pride, his brother's jealousy, his father's foolishness, an adulteress's lust, a boss's fury; he's endured pits and prisons, heartache and homelessness, he's been betrayed and forgotten- and yet, at the end of all this, he is able to look back and say: God meant it for good.

Sometimes I think that God "does good" in the same way that Roger Federer does tennis. As in, he's really, really talented at it, and does it quite a lot, but it's essentially a kind of hobby or habit.

This is not how God does good.

God is good. And in all things, he intends good.

In sickness, in betrayals, in our sins and our sorrows, in our heartbreaks and our imprisonments- God's intention is for good. Whatever evil the world, the flesh or the devil intends, God intends good. And he does all he pleases; even when the former three get their way- even then, God still intends good. God still will triumph.

Over and over again, throughout Joseph's story, we see the LORD has been at work to rescue, to redeem and to bring about wider scale blessing than anyone could have believed to be anything more than a pride-fuelled dream at the beginning of the story.

But it was as Joseph was rejected by his brothers, as he was forced to resist intense temptation, as he was falsely accused, imprisoned, despised, rejected- the LORD was bringing about good. Through these circumstances the LORD worked so that not only Joseph blessed, but his family, Israel, Egypt and the nations all found food and provision and hope in him. Read Genesis chapters's remarkable!

And of course this sounds familiar to us! The LORD bringing about good through the most horrendous anguish? The suffering of one man bringing about blessing and hope for all the nations!? A life poured out and then given a place with the strong, dividing his victory spoils with the many!?

Jesus! Yes!

And the grace of Joseph in blessing and forgiving his brothers with the assurance of these five words is a faint foreshadowing of the loving-kindness of Jesus when he meets his friends again, after he's risen from the dead.

Jesus, even more so than Joseph has all the power in the relationship as he meets the disciples again. He has endured their false promises, their rejection, their denials, he has suffered mightily because of their sin and here he is before them, having defeated death, Risen, Conquering Son. All the power is his! And yet...

Joseph says to his brothers, "do not fear, you meant this for evil, but God meant it for good."

And Jesus says to his brothers, "peace be with you." He becomes, in Himself the guarantee that in all things God is working for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to his purpose.

* * * 

Just as a sort of postscript, I think it's worth saying that "God meant it for good" is a weighty statement to apply to our own lives.

Even Joseph as he said it probably felt the weight of the bruises of countless years of loneliness, of cycles of hope and disappointment, of perplexity, if not always despair. There are a number of seasons in my past and events in my life that I find hard to understand. I can't always conceive of how God could have meant them for good- they feel like ugly, unnecessary scars that have slowed me down (or are still doing so!)- and I can't see how they could possibly be a gateway to any kind of blessing. Sometimes I can see how, but sometimes the scars still weigh heavy.

It gives me great hope to remember Jesus, who still bears the scars of his suffering, and who sits enthroned in the centre of reality as an everlasting testament to redemption. If the One who sustains the universe could suffer such great evil that brought about such great good, surely there is hope for me, if I am in Him. And he sits enthroned looking like a Lamb that has been slain.

Those public, permanent scars on his hands? Well, the world, the flesh, the devil: they meant it for harm: for rebellion, for humiliation, for selfishness, for violence, for hatred, for the utter destruction of God himself.

But God?

God meant it for eternal, glorious, warm, nation-changing, hope-bringing everlasting good.

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