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Friday, 12 October 2018

Joy Story



Today I am giving my testimony at youth group, and decided to write it down to get it in my head. I also decided to share it with you all, because it's probably about time.

Q: What does your life look like when you're not helping out here on a Friday?
When I'm not at here, I am mainly doing a Masters in Creative Writing. This means I spend a lot of time staring out of windows hoping for inspiration, or travelling across town to find new places with different windows I can stare out of, and hope for inspiration.

Q: What was life like for you growing up?
I guess I had a bit of an unusual life growing up in that I lived in Africa until I was 12. My parents were medical missionaries working in Rwanda, and then Tanzania and Uganda, and then I was away at school in Kenya from the ages of 5-12. We moved back to the UK when I was in Y8, where I went to a local Cardiff comp.

Q: If someone asked you back then who Jesus was, what would you have said?
I might have said, "the Son of God", but the honest answer from my life probably would have been "irrelevant." Of course I never would have said that... but I did spend a lot of time thinking about big questions about God, and even wanting to live in a way that pleased him. But I never thought much about Jesus. I spent a lot of time feeling frustrated by how distant God felt, how hard loving him seemed and how some Christians seemed to be really joyful. I kind of scorned them for that joy because I thought they were unrealistic about the real world... but of course deep down I wanted that joy too. But I didn't get what Jesus had to do with it.

Q: So what changed for you, and when?
The big change came for me when I was 15. I went to a big Christian festival and there were a few things that happened that week that completely changed how I thought about Jesus, and therefore, everything. Firstly, I heard a talk where a guy was saying "there's a difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus"...and I realised that I easily fit the first category, being an MK and all, but that I definitely did not know him. Secondly, for the first time in my life someone explained the cross to me and I understood it and saw how wrong I'd got God. I understood that at the cross all of my sin was dealt with, but also my shame. God wasn't stingy and grumpy, waiting for me to jump high enough. He was generous,  and kind. In Jesus, he had dealt with the whole burden of sin and shame. Seeing this made me realise how beautiful Jesus was to know.  And then I guess the third thing is what really blew my mind. I remember sitting in my tent crying, with this really strong image in my mind of Jesus standing in front of me, holding out his hand and saying, "Philippa- follow me." I was overwhelmed that Jesus would want anything to do with me, that he'd know my name, speak it- and want me with him! A year or so later I came across this bit in Luke 5, right after Peter meets Jesus. He sees something of who Jesus is and says to him, "get away from me, I'm a sinful man." The wonder of that passage is that Jesus knows he's a sinful man- but he calls him anyway, and uses him to build his kingdom. When I read that it took me back to how I'd felt in the tent- totally humbled and utterly joyful to be called, seeing the kindness of Jesus and thinking: why would you want anything to do with me!?  As I've been remembering all this I've just been struck again by the incredible privilege and grace of the call... I don't deserve to have Jesus know my name, let alone to have him call me to follow him! But He does. And that's what's so unrelentingly wonderful about him. One thing, anyway!

Q:What difference has knowing Jesus made in your life?
I guess the most immediate change was that I felt joy- sometimes bubbling over, sometimes still and steadfast- but I distinctly remember rejoicing in a physics lesson as I remembered- the way to God is opened up, my sin is dealt with, I'm loved! A physics lesson.  And I still feel it now- it's not always a rush of exhilarating emotion- but it is this unshakeable and glorious conviction that my biggest problem- my big old stinky pile of selfishness and sin has been dealt with, forever, by my Saviour who loves me. Before I'd seen Jesus I felt like God didn't want anything to do with me, but I could think why not. Once I'd seen Jesus I knew God did want everything to do with me, but I could not understand why. I saw him and saw my own unworthiness. But seeing his love for me inspite of that brought me great, unshakeable joy! Now I've had depression for most of my adult life, so I wouldn't exactly say the years since I was 15 have been sunshine, rainbows and lollipops, far from it (I mean I grew up in Wales so sunshine was always unlikely...) - but knowing Jesus has brought me joy. Whatever else is going on, I've been forgiven- completely forgiven and called by someone who loves me. Jesus.

Q: Who would you say Jesus is now?
Whatever the opposite of irrelevant is! It is baffling to me that I missed it (though I guess that is what blindness is!). He is the definition of relevance- the central character in the story of the world, the King of glory, Lord, Saviour, God. I mean, I cannot articulate his importance but thankfully he did himself. He said, "I am the way, the truth and the life." - and so much more. Read John's gospel to be staggered by Him! And the wonder of all this is that though He is reigning, though all reality is all about Him, though all of life finds its ultimate meaning in Him, He's also my friend.

"I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I might gain him..." Philippians 3:8 

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