Saturday, 31 December 2016

I Make All Things New

2017 is fast approaching, and I'm afraid. 

I think what scares me most about the New Year is this: what if nothing is new? 

This year has not been easy. I've felt grateful for unrelenting friendships, community brunches, tropical parties, the Scottish countryside, the richness of India, countless beautiful sunsets and undeserved opportunities to talk about Jesus. 

But it's also been a year where sadness has often been too heavy to bear. My health, my work, my character has buckled beneath its burden. 

And with each year that passes, familiar loads seem heavier; it matters more that I'm getting older, that I'm overweight, that I'm single, that I'm childless, that I'm so intense, that I'm XYZ when I'd hoped to be ABC. Each year ends and it feels worse; I look to the New Year and I'm afraid: what if nothing changes? What if, though the year is new, nothing else is?

But in to my fear, Jesus speaks and says: I make all things new

He says“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3-5)

The first man was asked to keep the Earth and cultivate it, to dig and farm and tend it in to something fruitful and productive and rich. But he failed. Adam's legacy and pattern is not one of restoration or revival or life. His world is in tatters. This planet is orbiting its way to disintegration and oblivion, and all its inhabitants feel the choke of the thorns and the frequent triumph of the weeds and the arid, heartless, unrelenting sting of death. We look to the future and the only certainty we know is death. 

And that's why when we sing these words, our hearts leap and are filled with longing: 

"No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found."

I love these words. How far do his blessings reach? As far as the curse does, at least. 

Jesus, the new Adam, the ultimate Gardener, is making everything new. He is at work in the garden; he comes to restore. 

And the Biblical pattern for restoration is generous and glorious (scroll to the bottom of the post for a few examples): You will be restored double, you will be brought up from the depths of the earth, your greatness will increase, you will have everlasting joy!" 

The promise that runs through Scripture is that there will be restoration. All of the sadnesses and inevitabilities of life in Adam's death-ridden garden will be redeemed, revived, rejuvinated. Where death has reigned, life will! The years the swarming locusts have eaten will be restored to us; our shame will be taken away, our suffering will be replaced by glory...! 

But how do we know? What reason is there to dare to hope that any of these promises might be true? 

I struggle with this immensely when I look back at some of the disappointments I've felt and the recurrence of sin and despair... I cannot for the life of me fathom where redemption could possibly be happening! 

I think, as ever, my reason for confidence is Jesus. Not only is He the Gardener of the new creation, He's the firstfruits of it too. 

Paul writes: "In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died... For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:20,22, 23)

Jesus is alive. He's the firstborn of creation; he's the guarantee that the broken world is being bound up and put right; He's the evidence that all things are being made new. 

When Mary was weeping in the garden, and thought she was talking to the gardener: she was! Jesus, the new and better Adam, the God Man who comes to make a world that's vibrant and fruitful and bountiful. But she was also seeing, in the flesh, a concrete, physical reason to hope that all things were being made new- the first fruits of those who have died. 

I find it hard to look forward to the New Year in very many ways. It can feel utterly discouraging because I feel like I'm still just a daughter of Adam, living in Adam's garden: I feel like I'm cursed, the ground is hard, work feels futile, and death seems inevitable. I'm absolutely convinced that I bear the image of the man of dust. 

But the Risen Jesus makes secure this promise: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, so shall we bear the image of the man of heaven." (1 Corinthians 15:49)

In the same way that I've in every way shared in the dustiness of Adam, I will share in the heavenliness of Jesus! 

I am comforted by the Risen Jesus, who gives me reason to hope that there will be new things in the new year. 

In the new year, the kingdom of heaven will grow quietly. There will be new mercies for new mornings. Brokenness will be restored in the Messiah's healing. And day by day by day, we get closer to a new heavens and a new earth, and a beaming Gardener, whose hands are messy from his toil but whose heart is full for the joy he's accomplished, welcoming us to a world where everything is restored, and all things are made new. 


You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again. 
Psalm 71:20

Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
Zechariah 9:12 

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 
1 Peter 5:10

Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.
Isaiah 61:7

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. 
Joel 2:25

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

We Live By The Spirit

Many mornings I wake up and think about all I have to do
in planning,
in marking,
in teaching,
in life-min,
in all the complexities of relationships and life
and then I think about all you call me to be
in love
and patience
and joy
ans self sacrifice,
and I bury my head under the covers
and say, "I can't do this."

On these mornings I lie in bed at the foot of a mountain,
mustering the strength to put on climbing boots,
and You hear the conviction with which I say,
"I can't do this."

And I expect you to say; "But you must!"

But you don't.

you say,
"I know."

I'say, "I cannot do this."

And you say, with patience and warmth: "I know."

You say, in fact: "Cursed is the one who depends on flesh for strength,"and in my weariness I feel the weight of that truth.

You say, "cursed is the one whose help is man, who turns away from the Lord."

You say, "you can't do this."

And I say, "I know."

But then you say: "Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him..."

You say: "They will be like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes, its leaves are always green."

You say, "I will be your strength."

You say, "keep in step with the Spirit."

You never intend for me to get out of bed in my own strength; you never call me to seek out a hero within. You never ask  me to get up and give you something from my own tired, tainted flesh. You delight in those whose hope is in Your unfailing love.

Each morning your promises and mercies are new, each morning you call me to get up and receive from you, each morning you've offered strength for the day, grace for the hurdles, a Hero in the heavens; You have given  me Your Spirit.

And so I get out of bed, trusting that as promised, You will fill empty hands, You will strengthen weak knees, and You will, by Your Spirit, bring life to my dry bones.

Give me grace for the mornings when I feel like I cannot get up without You, and grace for the mornings I think that I can.

Based on Jeremiah 17, Galatians 5, Ezekiel 37 and the Psalms. 

Thursday, 22 December 2016

He Himself Is Our Peace

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; 
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shined... 
They rejoice before you... 
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given... and his name shall be called Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9 

2016 is notorious, and it's not even finished yet.

Of course, there's more going on than the media 'anti-2016' whitewash would have us believe.

But even so, confronted by stories of child abuse, unprecedented terror, the devastation of Aleppo and more- is there any heart that has not longed for a day when every garment rolled in blood might be burned as fuel for fire, when the rod of the oppressor might be broken, when there might be equity for the meek of the earth? For many, heavy, dark clouds have rolled in and hung low and threatening and it's been hard to hold on to any kind of hope that isn't tinged by stoicism or cynicism.

I imagine there have been all kinds of personal struggles this year too.

In the past few months I suffered the worst bout of depression I've had in years; I've wept, I've raged, I've felt as though all of my past, my relationships and my hopes have been tainted by the shadows of an irrational yet deeply profound sadness. I've cried out to God, utterly mystified that he'd have things this way. I've held on to shards of hope in weary hands and pleaded for another way.

The world, and individual hearts within it, is weighed down with darkness. There is so much- personal and political- that is so hard to understand; how we've got here and how we'll ever escape seems beyond our fathoming. Suffering is cumbersome and complex, inscrutable and isolating: it's hard to hope when we can't imagine what a solution to it might look like.

At the beginning of December, as I read these words, my heart brimmed with bittersweet joy:

And ye beneath life's crushing load, 
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way, 

With painful steps and slow.
Look now for glad and golden hours 

Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing! 

I recognise the weariness of the year in those words, the struggle to persevere, the gruelling nature of the journey.

But when I think about the angels' song, I feel my heart coming alive.

The angels sang, "peace on earth!"

But hallelujah,  they weren't proclaiming the arrival of a philosophy, or a manifesto, or even a state of soul; hallelujah they weren't bringing simplistic solution, a further puzzle for us to work out how to apply... but they were proclaiming a person.

Our rest from the weary road, our release from the burden is not within our own minds or our own hearts or our own spirits.

No, the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger: He himself is our peace.

Persons are complex. And Jesus, the Lion and the Lamb, who is in the words of Jonathan Edwards, "an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies" is complex enough, rich enough, both powerful and tender enough to be a match for the darkness, in all its devastating convolutions.

As he lay in that manger, Jesus began to plumb the depths of our darkness and our suffering, and as he grew, he began to redeem. Jesus is a person: a historical, glorious, redeeming, complex person. He can meet the complexity of the darkness. He can fathom the nuances of a thousand shadows. And He will not be overcome. He was born in obscurity and poverty, yet in the dark street shineth the Everlasting Light: the hopes and fears of all the years!

I don't know what everyone who reads this will be suffering this Christmas. And if I did, I'd have no neat answers to wrap up the pain, to unpick the confusion, or to chase away the dark.

But I take comfort in Isaiah's promise to those walking in darkness.

To them Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and our Peace, has been given.

The solution to our sadness, sin, darkness and suffering is not simple, because these things are not simple. But this does not mean he is not adequate for them. To the contrary, it means he is able to deal with these things more comprehensively, more rigorously, and more gloriously then we ever could imagine. He is not just a person, but the ultimate person. He is not just a bringer of peace, He is our Peace. And He has been given to those walking in darkness.

He is ours this Christmas.

I pray that Jesus, God with us, brings deep hope, joy and Light to all of us who walk in the darkness.

Happy Christmas! 
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