Category Archives: Joy

I believe…

The heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones. For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him…Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.

(Ps 89.5-7&14&15)

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no-one deceives you…when you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines..

(Mark 13. 5,7&8)

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them…Furthermore, since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practise them.

(Rom 1.18,19&28-32)

I believe in the wickedness and depravity of the human heart….in greed, selfishness, malice, violence, pride, callousness and hatred.

I believe in the brokenness of the physical world..the cruelty of nature, the destructive powers of fire, wind, earth and water.

I believe in the powers of evil, ranked in implacable opposition to Almighty God, willing to use and abuse every beautiful part of his creation against him in order to thwart his purposes.

I find it easy to believe in these things, because I live with human beings – and more pertinently, I am human. I find within myself the seeds of all those appalling fruits which Paul lists in his letter to the Romans. The human heart is fatally flawed, and it makes no sense to me to advocate education, meditation, mediation or any other kind of self-help as a means of dealing with that flaw. Our brokenness goes so deep that we cannot make ourselves whole again.

I live in a physical world which demonstrates great cruelty, where disease, and death, neglect and violence rule. Not all the troubles that we see are the result of human exploitation and abuse of God’s good gifts, but rather come from within creation itself. This wonderful world, this incredible universe and the galaxies beyond, all somehow warped and stained and not what they could and should be.

And so I believe in the evil with which our race chose to align itself when we rebelled against God as King and Lord, and deluded ourselves into thinking that we knew better, that we couldn’t trust our Creator to be good. We fell straight into slavery to that darkness, within our hearts and in the world around us, powerless now to break free, and often blind to the reality of our chains.

We live today under judgement – our plight is the result of our own choices down the generations – and still we refuse to recognise the truth about ourselves, about our slavery to sin, and the reality of our desperate need for God’s salvation.

When I consider the cross, the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, I believe in the reality of God’s love and of his plan to save us and make all things new. If any other way had been possible, then the Son of God would not have died. But he did, and in the mystery of mercy and justice meeting at the cross, he achieved our complete rescue from evil, and offered freedom to the slaves.

I believe in the hand of God to gather all things together in his perfect time, to keep his  people through turmoil of every kind as the end draws near, and to deliver us into the new creation when Christ returns in glory and every knee – willing or reluctant – bows before him as Lord.

I do not understand why so much agony must be endured as we await his coming; why famine, war, abuse and neglect, slavery and exploitation, genocide and terror continue to afflict so many. But I believe in a God who is great and good beyond my puny comprehension, and with his help, I will trust and persevere.

I accept with humble joy his daily gifts of love and beauty, I worship him in his power and majesty, and I pray for his will to be done and his kingdom come.

 

 

Advertisements

Gifts overflowing…

You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving towards all he has made. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfils the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.

(Ps 145.16-19)

Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights above. Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts. Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills…

(Ps 148.1-9)

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life..Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?…But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matt 5.25,26&27,33&34)

I have been challenged recently about my ability to take each day and use it well, not borrowing tomorrow’s troubles and also not neglecting today’s opportunities. There are so many small and mundane things that go to make up my daily life, it is all too easy to see them as a drudge, instead of the service to which I am called by my Lord at this time and in this place. I want to choose contentment in each day’s allotted tasks, fulfilling my duties with a cheerful spirit, and trusting that God sees and is glorified in these small things.

But as well as daily duties, there is also the promise of daily provision for my needs – the physical needs for shelter and food; the emotional needs of connection and satisfying activity; the spiritual needs of communion with my Lord and the reviving power of time spent in praising and thanking him, and appreciating all the good things I have received. Because Jesus has died for me, I am a beloved child of the Almighty, assured of his care for every part of my life and his promise that I matter to him.

And sometimes, I seem to receive a bumper parcel of good things, so that the whole day becomes a celebration, a private rejoicing between me and my Father who has sent so much for me to enjoy; calling me to focus on his goodness and abandon myself to thankfulness and delight in what he gives.

Today is one of those days…there are few and small duties, no household tasks that require urgent attention, and in the brilliance of the sunshine over the snow-clad hills, the calm burnished surface of the water, the voices of the birds in the thickets and the warmth of the sun on my skin I receive a bounty of good things. So I shall make today a holiday – a holy day, set apart for special times with my Father, my heart full of thankfulness for the senses, health, security and freedom which allow me to absorb so much beauty.

We are known and loved intimately by our creator. He knows how to speak his love into each heart, knows exactly what will tell us most profoundly of his delight in us and his acceptance of us. No two people will react in the exactly the same way to what I can see around me today – such is the infinite variety of our God in his creative power! But in each and every one of us, there is the potential to respond in loving and joyful adoration, exuberantly or silently, but always giving him the glory.

Let me celebrate with my Father today, as simply and profoundly as a child who lives every moment as it comes, extracting all the joy from each experience and not worrying about tomorrow. Let his love and overflowing goodness towards me fill and strengthen me; his beauty in creation show me the beauty which is his nature; and let his peace rule in my heart so that I let all my tomorrows remain safely held in his hands.

Infinite beauty

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice!

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

(Philippians 4.6&8)

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

(Isaiah 53.5 & 61.1-3)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…From the fulness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

(John 1.14-18)

There is a common misconception about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in this messy and troubled world, where life can be unbelievably hard and painful for so many people. It arises from this verse in Philippians, when Paul exhorts his readers to ‘rejoice’ always in the Lord. It is not only false, but also deeply unhelpful, to argue that this means that we are all meant to triumph continually over every adversity, to smile perpetually in the face of pain or tragedy, and to face injustice and oppression as though they were nothing.

Look carefully at what Paul says – we are to rejoice in the Lord, not in our circumstances, nor in some pretended victory over those circumstances. It is only right that as mortal beings, created in God’s image, we should grieve over death and destruction, should be provoked by injustice and deceit. As followers of Jesus – who wept over Lazarus, and delighted to heal those who suffered in their bodies – we should feel the pain of this broken world, not pretend it doesn’t exist for those who profess faith.

So what does Paul say? That our primary source of gladness, of joy and the strength which comes with it, is to be Jesus Christ, our Lord. It is as we contemplate this man, this God-made-flesh, that we are refreshed in our spirits,  growing in faith and trust, and thus able to continue to witness to God’s goodness and saving power. This source of joy can never fail us, never dry up or become contaminated. We can never reach the end of his loveliness. This Jesus combines in himself all the wonderful attributes of God, and a perfect humanity, and therefore ticks all the boxes of things Paul is exhorting his readers to think about!

Every good quality that we celebrate in one another, is seen to perfection in Christ.

Every need that we find in ourselves, and most desperately the need for forgiveness, restoration to fellowship with God, and freedom from sin; is given abundantly in Christ.

Am I weary? He is patient and strong.

Am I grieving? He is my tender comforter, and ever-present companion.

Is the devil stirring up dead ashes of guilt about old sin? He is my all-conquering captain, victorious over that enemy and blowing the ashes away with the strong breath of his forgiving and cleansing love.

Am I toiling with private griefs and seemingly endless trials? He is faithful in bearing the burden as I repeatedly lay it upon him; and as I contemplate his death for me on the cross, I am comforted that even through my troubles, he can work all things together for good.

My beautiful Lord..faithfulness made visible, love made flesh and blood, holiness completely allied to mercy..

Praise God, praise with great praise, for the joy which we receive as we gaze upon the infinite beauty of Christ.

My heart is full of thankfulness..

Then I realised that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labour under the sun during the few days of life God has given him – for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart..

(Ecc 5.18-20)

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

(1Tim 4.5&5)

As someone who lives in a relatively very rich country (in world terms), and who has not been required to find paid employment in order to keep a roof over her head and food on her table, I am well aware that I occupy a very privileged position – and as a follower of Jesus, it is not a very comfortable position! What am I to do with all I have? What is it for? I can’t send away everything I possess, it is not solely mine to give, and much of my riches consist of things which cannot be physically shared – good health, loving friends, the beauty of the natural world, the gift of music, and above all my salvation and heritage as a child of God.

For this reason, I was delighted in the course of a recent time of preparation for a bible study, to come across this passage in Ecclesiastes, a challenging but ruthlessly truthful portrayal of the futility of human existence apart from God. It seems to sit very comfortably alongside Paul’s advice to Timothy, the young pastor, exhorting him to accept and enjoy God’s  generous provision – and to teach his congregation also to do so.

God has indeed made and given us lavishly of good things, how ungracious and foolish it would be if we were to reject them! Imagine presenting someone with a carefully chosen gift, reflecting your love for and relationship with them, only to see them shrink from accepting it, because they had already received a gift from someone else, or because they felt they did not deserve it..

None of what we have is earned, or deserved. All is a gift from our good and gracious God, given that we might enjoy it, and return thanks to him as the source, all the while recognising that our ultimate satisfaction is in the Giver, not the Gift. When I am receiving God’s gifts with a thankful heart, using them to return glory to him and to bless others in any way which I can find, then I find I can accept and be content with the life God has called me to. A disposition of thankfulness is a great aid to a cheerful and contented heart, and in keeping a godly perspective on life and “stuff”! Perhaps that is what is referred to at the end of the quote from Ecclesiastes, where the gladness of a man’s heart in what God is giving him now, enables him to live very much in the present, not dwelling regretfully on the past, or anxiously on the future.

The faithfulness of God in providing good things for us to receive thankfully, and enjoy generously, gives us confidence that at every stage of life, we can trust his care. He is our Father, who loves and knows how to give us good things – even though we may not at the time see in what way they are good for us!

Such contentment is indeed a gift from God, and one which we might usefully seek, by learning to rejoice in what we have and receive daily, so that there is a deep wellspring of joy – of delight in the God who gives so lovingly and personally to each of his children. When to this daily provision we add the unspeakably precious gift of forgiveness, redemption and hope which we receive through Jesus Christ, we have a continually refreshing source of thanksgiving. Let us say with the Psalmist:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures for ever.

Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures for ever.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures for ever….

to the One who remembered us in our low estate, His love endures for ever;

and freed us from our enemies, His love endures for ever,

and who gives food to every creature. His love endures for ever..

(Psalm 136. 1-3,24-26)

Blinded..

I thought I had no tears left, that the worst pain had already come upon me on Friday when I held Mary as she watched her son’s blood trickle from his side and the breath leave his body.

We had cried ourselves blind, eyes swollen with grief and hearts wrenched apart.

The man who had delivered me from the blind darkness into freedom, who had loved me and welcomed my company, who had allowed me to love and serve him with all  my heart… this dearest of all, dead.

We watched as Joseph and Nicodemus took his bruised and battered body, anointing and wrapping it for burial in haste so that he might be committed to the tomb in decency before the Sabbath put an end to all labour. It all felt so unreal, as if we were in a nightmare and knew that if we could only wake up it would end.

But the dawn of Saturday brought no waking, even as the night had brought little sleep, only a deep ache and restlessness…

He is dead, he is gone, what shall become of us now?

He gave our lives purpose and direction; his voice calmed our fears, opened our understanding and gave us glimpses of a glory we barely comprehended. What is there to live for now?

I could make no decisions yet, but I could still be close to him, show my love in the only way that remained open to me. What did I care for the guard at the tomb? The soldiers didn’t take a woman seriously as a threat, I am nothing to them, less than nothing, and their scorn is meaningless.

So when the weight of Saturday night shifted into Sunday morning, and I could not bear to pretend to sleep anymore, I went to the garden, to watch for the dawn at his side, just to be there.

I found my way well enough through the dark city, but when I reached the garden I thought my eyes had played tricks with me. There was no guard, and there was no stone across the tomb…

Sick to my very heart, limbs heavy as lead, and weeping again with a bitterness which I had not known before, I fetched Peter and John, I needed someone else to tell me that I was not going mad in my grief, someone to make sense of what I saw.

They came, but could make no more of it than I did, although John was quiet and lost in thought, as if he were searching his memory for words from Jesus which might speak into  this deep mystery. He left for home with a strange light on his face, but no comfort for me.

Tears were my only relief, in utter bewilderment, like a lost and abandoned child pressed in by fears and paralysed by grief, I could do nothing else. Somehow, Jesus was even more lost to me than before, not even a body over which I could lament. Oh my beloved, where have they taken you, why have you gone so far from us?

Finally I too look into the tomb, expecting deepest shadow, and emptiness, final confirmation of my hopelessness. And it is light, glowing bright, my eyes are dazzled through their tears, but two figures sit there, where the body ought to be. Am I dreaming? Is this what grief can do to people? One of the figures asks why I cry, and without thinking just how strange this all is, I tell them that my Lord has been stolen away, lost to me.

I must be dreaming. The lack of sleep, the exhaustion of so much emotion in the last few days and weeks is finally taking its toll and I have fallen into a waking dream, in which bizarre things happen and I take them as perfectly ordinary. What else can this be, but an illusion?

I turn away from the tomb, suddenly aware of the utter weariness which is weighing me down, and another figure looms up through my tears, not bright with light this time. It speaks, asking who I seek, and why I cry.

Perhaps now I am awake again. Perhaps this is the man who looks after this garden and he might know! I ask eagerly if he knows where my Lord has been taken, that I might go and care for his body. In my weakness I barely raise my head to look at him, but my voice is urgent and he hears me.

Then it happens…

He speaks again, one word, my name.

‘Mary’

And I am blinded by light, deafened by the triumph of love in his voice!

He is not dead, He is risen! Oh my beloved, Oh my dearest dear, how shall I bear the brightness!

I do not understand, but I know. I am alive and awake, and the whole world is made new in my eyes. I shall never walk in the dark again, because I know that He is with me for ever, and by the light of his love, I see…

The joy of the Lord

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, O my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. 

(Psalm 146. 1&2)

Do you ever lose sight of glory? Of just how much you are loved by an eternal, almighty, joyous and wonderful God? Of how amazing it is that we should be noticed, let alone delighted in by the Creator of universe upon universe? I do.. and I know it has happened when I begin to take myself terribly seriously, to feel each and every slight like a major offence, and every failure to love like a death wound. I get distracted from the eternal realities, and instead see only the little things that make up daily life – irritations, the failings of others and my own, the bad weather, poor health, the messiness of living in a fallen world. All these are real too, and some are very serious issues which we rightly struggle to live with.

Nonetheless, when I read the following words earlier this week, they rang in my head like a clarion call, a defiant statement of a crucial truth:

Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.” (GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy)

When I can bring my forgetful soul back from wandering among small troubles, and into the presence of my dear Lord, then I know the deepest satisfaction – in spite of what ails me, what irritates and gives me cause for grief. If I could only carry this awareness with me all the time, keeping this true perspective on life at all times, then perhaps I would be a more faithful, joyful and effective witness to Jesus in his love and saving power!

At this time of year I have snowdrops and hellebores in my garden, producing exquisite blooms which hang their heads down, as if hiding their glory from casual gaze. When I bring them into the house, and can get up close, I am astonished by the detail and beauty they reveal. An unobtrusive rendering of glory to their Creator, not held up for all to see but shyly suspended, a private delight. Like the rest of the natural world, their glorifying of the maker is not a willed thing, it is part of how they grow and flourish. Perhaps, if I could cultivate the attitude of continual praise – of being conscious that I am always in my Lord’s presence, adoring him and being loved – then my life too would become a thing of natural beauty, because at the heart would be this steady pulse of joy.

When I take myself too seriously, I miss the joy of knowing that I am forgiven, that every minute of every day of my life is a gift, and that there is a continual outpouring of goodness and grace into my life from God. When I take myself too seriously, I begin to act and feel as though I have to be perfect in order to be loved and accepted. This is a wicked and dangerous lie, it creeps up on me so subtly, and I long to become more alert to it. It robs me of joy in receiving each new day; in each person whom God has brought into my life; in the outrageous beauty all around me; and above all in the transforming truth of forgiveness in Christ, union with him, and the promise of eternal life.

Here for a little while, we walk in shadows, our ears deaf to the great hymn of joy and mirth which rolls continually through creation, as God rejoices in his making, and pours love out upon us. Just occasionally, we seem to catch glimpses of glory, hear snatches of the eternal ‘Alleluias!’, and we catch our breath, caught up into wonder and awe. When I deliberately cultivate a spirit of praise, counting every grace gift as I find it, then these moments come more often, and my life is more joyful, my strength renewed, as I lose myself in the Lord. When I am more caught up with him than myself, I can laugh at myself, accept my failures with the compassion God shows me, and live in the freedom which is my birthright as the daughter of the King.

May God help us in the coming days to remember that we are but dust, that He requires of us praise, not perfection, and in that joyful awareness to grow strong.