Friday, 14 April 2017

He Is Faithful and Just

"But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive us." 
1 John 1

This is a really personal piece of writing (which is quite something, coming from me!). I don't really want to say it's a poem, but it's not really prose either and I'm not really sure it's very good... BUT, what I can say is that the Jesus it attempts to testify to is so good, and so faithful, and has wrought for us forgiveness of sins! Hallelujah!

I am beginning to understand why Wesley wanted ten thousand tongues; one heart, one mind, and one lap-top is not enough to come close to expressing our great Redeemer's praise!

But with the heart and mind I have, here's this, inspired by the glory of Good Friday. Because of the cross, our guarantee of forgiveness is no longer mercy- but justice. Because God was faithful, God will be just- and forgive us our sins.

Good Friday? Definitely.

He is Faithful and Just. 

Anguished moments in a moonlit garden, 
Droplets of blood fall heavy, 
Each its own plea for another way. 
But because You are faithful, you take the cup: 
It storms with Heaven's fury. 
But You take it, and start to sip; you will stagger beneath its wine. 
Because You are faithful; you leave the Garden, for Golgotha. 
You alone deserve to stay in the Garden; 
You alone have lived with the love that makes You welcome there. 
But because You are faithful, to me, You take the road to exile, to execution.
You take that road so I can walk by another Way.

As you wipe your tears and see the torches approach, 
You strain for a joy set before: the joy of mercy?- More. 
The joy of justice. 

Because You are just, 
my darkest nights are free from the shadow cast by that cup. 
There may be anguished moments, 
but there is no wrath left for me to drink;
its dregs have been consumed, because You were faithful. 

Condemned before you take the stand, 
Accusing eyes and palpable hatred surround You 
and the wisdom of the ages is on the tip of your tongue. 
Echoes from eternity could fiercely consume each and every ugly lie 
that gathers, rages against you. 
Every false witness condemns you as deserving of death. 
But because You are faithful, to me,  you remain silent before your shearers. 
Your Word spoke exploding volcanoes and thundering waterfalls in to being, 
and yet, here, when You could defend yourself, you stay silent. 

Because You are just, 
on that stand I do not hear the verdict I deserve. 
I am defenceless;
I cannot stay my judgement.  

I deserve to be condemned, 
but You were silent, You were faithful.
The Innocent heard "guilty", so that I might hear "RIGHTEOUS!".
You paid every last debt I had.
And now, because You are just,

I am free. 
Above my debts it is written in blood that speaks a better word: 
It is finished: 
Paid in full.

A splintered cross on a red-raw back, 
Cruel shouts. 
Cruel nails. 
You are lifted high, in shame, and the chorus of Your agony is laughter.
Coarse peals that delight at the sight of a dying King. 
"Let God deliver Him!" 
But because You are faithful, you do not. 
Your faithfulness lets God deliver me, instead. 
The heavens slam shut.
You are faithful. 

Darkness descends.
You are faithful. 

A criminal is promised heaven.
The Innocent is abandoned to hell. 

Heaven turns its back.
You are faithful. 

You are forsaken, but you are faithful. .

Blessed Jesus, King of Heaven. 

You have been faithful to me. 
You drank a cup of mighty judgement and poured out a cup of mightier grace.
Thank you, my Saviour! 

You are faithful, and did not turn away from judgement.
You are just, I will never be turned away from mercy.
You are faithful, and you were forsaken. 

You are just, and I am welcomed home.

"God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,through the shedding of his blood... he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." Romans 3:25-26 

"Through your tears, comes our joy
From your death our life shall spring,
By Your resurrection power, we shall rise..."
Graham Kendrick, Come and See 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

An Unshakeable Kingdom

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion." Psalm 137: 1

As I mentioned in my last post, I grew up in Africa. 

Here's a photo of my childhood home in Rwanda. 

It's the kind of photo that swells my heart with nostalgia; I remember lining up for birthday party photos on the steps, racing around the garden with slopping buckets mid-water fight, scouring the bottom of the veranda's dressing up box for just the perfect wig. I remember clambering over the hot corrugated roof, scaling the heights of fragrant frangipani trees, setting off on my bike down red-mud roads. My memories of Rwanda are packed with tea parties in the bushes, hide and seek in the wilds of the mango tree patch, splashing around in the lake at the bottom of the hill until the sun sunk low in the sky. 

But when I was nine, Rwanda was plunged, very suddenly, in to civil war. Within a week of it beginning, my family were forced to leave. I've written more extensively about that experience elsewhere, but recently, as I've been writing about belonging, I've been struck by the strangeness of losing a childhood home in this way. 

We returned to this house after the war was over. We weren't allowed to go in to it, but in the end we persuaded the man in charge to let us walk around it. Other people were living in it now: anything we'd left behind in the rush had been sold or stolen, our tree house had been burned for firewood, the garden was overgrown, and although there were some traces of our once having lived there (some silhouette portraits on the veranda wall), it was clear that our childhood home no longer existed. 

Of course, this is a lite version of what many inhabitants of war torn countries have to experience. 

Rwandans who had been our neighbours came back to the village, about three years after they had fled and they were forced to leave the refugee camps. They carried what remained of their possessions with them, and headed back to the neighbourhoods they had grown up in, neighbourhoods marred by vivid memories of a brutal genocide. They returned with fewer family members than they'd left with, they returned to places where flashbacks of violence and betrayal stained their recollections of life before the war, they returned with scars of suffering that I honestly cannot begin to imagine. 

I've thought often about this particular trauma of war. It's surfaced again as news from Syria has hung in the headlines. 

What grief you must feel as you experience the harshness of life as a refugee, longing for a home that no longer exists. What loss you must feel, even if you are fortunate enough to have found security elsewhere, as you see television footage of a place that was once intimately familiar to you, precious to you, reduced to nothing but rubble. For so many, war has ravaged those places that were once brimming with childhood memories of friendly streets and cherished quarters; the ache for citizenship and belonging must be deeply intensified; where do you find identity, comfort, security if the place you belong doesn't exist any more? 

This world is a world of war. Violent, indiscriminate, brutal, inescapable war. And if I am to believe this gospel is indeed a gospel, I must believe it is good news to those who suffer the world's worst. I am so grateful, that as I turn to His Word, that I don't find luke-warm promises that are only sufficient to cheer those who live in comfortable, affluent security. Instead, the realistic, raw words of Scripture shine brighter in the shadows thrown by the ugly violence of war. 

I don't really have any neat tie up for this post. But I did want to write, given my last post on citizenship, something, to recognise the infinite worth of the Bible's promises to those who have had their identity and their homes obliterated by violence beyond their control. 

To them, God speaks. And he who holds out the promise of a better citizenship and a righteous King: 

Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth, Say to the daughter of Zion, "Lo, your salvation comes; Behold His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him." And they will call them, "The holy people, The redeemed of the LORD"; And you will be called, "Sought out, a city not forsaken." Isaiah 62

"These people died in faith, not having received the things promised... they acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on earth... As it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city." Hebrews 11

"You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem... therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer acceptable worship to God, with reverence and awe..." Hebrews 12

"For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come."
Hebrews 13

"He showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel... by its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory in to it. The Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever."
Revelation 21-22 

"Our citizenship is in heaven."
Philippians 3 

Monday, 10 April 2017

Our Citizenship Is In Heaven

I grew up in Africa.

We returned to the UK when I was 12, and having arrived in July, I started at a local comprehensive school in September. It was unusual for people to start in Year 8 (high school begins in Year 7), but as a transfer from Kenya, I was especially strange. During my first two years of school, I felt very different. In case I might forget I was different, I had plenty of fellow pupils eager to remind me, on a regular basis, of where I was from: "oh you're the girl from Sweden!"; "you're from Canada"; or my all time favourite, "you're from Saudi Africa!" Long before Mean Girls was a twinkle in Lindsay Lohan's eye (was she even born in '97? I don't dare look it up!)  I was informed that I could not have grown up in Africa because I wasn't black.

This laid the foundation for me feeling like an outsider.

I haven't managed to shake the feeling, but I've come to realise that very few people can: deep down there seems to be this indefatigable angst within us that we're excluded, that we don't fit, that we are on the outside. We may put this down to upbringing, our strange accent, our education, our appearance, our relationship status, our problems; I know that I attribute my feelings of being a stranger to all and known by none to these factors and more.

Recently I've been struck by how deep my desire to belong is; it's an ache that seems to go back to the beginning of time. The longings of my heart testify: where the foundations of humanity were laid there could have been security and identity and citizenship, but instead there was an exile and an exclusion.

My deep feelings of isolation, no doubt exacerbated by having grown up abroad, come from something far more fundamental: by nature, I deserve to be an outsider. Yes, I long for security and peace, I long for companionship, for leadership that I can trust, for deep relationships of hope and trust, for a place to call home.

But by nature, I'm an outsider. By nature, I'm excluded from the one place I was created to belong.

And I'm rightfully excluded: I know what it is to turn my back on Love, to destroy the good gifts in my life, to be blind and arrogant in the pursuit of pleasure and independence. I know what it is to have the sweet taste of greedily consumed fruit turn bitter in my mouth, what it is to feel the deep sting of shame, to have to hide from the pure glare of truth, of justice. There is a barrier between me and belonging that I cannot overcome: I've been given the perverted ruler I asked for (myself) and the way back to a better kingdom is shut: the flaming sword of justice in the hands of the cherubim guard the way.

And yet, somehow, my citizenship is in heaven.

By nature I am an outsider, by Christ I am included.

Hallelujah, that though the way for me was shut, heaven did not remain closed!
Hallelujah, that it opened for the ultimate citizen of heaven, for Heaven's Beloved!
Hallelujah that He gave up the glory, comfort and security that was His, that he laid it all down, that he came to me, on the outside.
Hallelujah! He brings sinners home! He makes the exiled citizens!
Hallelujah! By nature I am an outsider, by Christ I am included.

Our citizenship is in heaven because Heaven's Beloved was born, lived and died an outsider.

He was rejected by those who he created, he was misunderstood by his family, he was betrayed by his friends,  he was mocked by the leaders of the faith he was the cornerstone of, he was unjustly punished by a government he had ultimate power over, he suffered in complete isolation and died the most shameful death imaginable: on a cross, outside of the city. He was cut off from companionship, from welcome, from life; he died with every possible door shut in his face.

Jesus, who had embraced the warm love of heaven that I spurned, was excluded from the presence of God so that I might be welcomed in. In my place, the Beloved marched up to the flaming sword of justice that guarded the way to my ever being allowed true citizenship with the Father; it fell on him so that it would not fall on me.

Our citizenship is in heavevn because when he died, the curtain in the temple, ornately decorated with Eden's cherubim, was torn open, from top to bottom: the Father, through Jesus, threw down a welcome mat, ran to meet me, and welcomed me home.

"Our citizenship is in heaven, and we await a Saviour from there."

This Saviour is Heaven's beloved: he brought me to his banqueting table, and his banner over me is love.

The Beloved of Heaven has made me beloved in Him. Whatever pangs of isolation and exclusion I may feel now, however fragile and elusive citizenship may seem, there is deep joy and hope in knowing that from the ultimate city, the city that is to come, the city that cannot be shaken I will never be excluded.

Heaven's Beloved bore my isolation and exile, He has made a way for me, He is preparing a place for me, and He will welcome me home. 
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