Saturday, 30 July 2016

God Chose What Is Weak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Christ Is Interceding For Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 23 July 2016

It Is God Who Justifies

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

It is God who justifies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I cannot earn my justification.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 22 July 2016

Neither Do I Condemn You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 21 July 2016

He Ran And Embraced Him

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 3 July 2016

He Took Up Our Pain

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

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

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

But, Christ...!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Joseph Scrivens so concisely expressed it:

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

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

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