Tag Archives: hope

It is well with my soul… reasons to love Good Friday

It’s the time of year when our thoughts are drawn to the cross, to the pain endured there, to the freedom achieved there.  But, if I’m completely honest, Good Friday hasn’t always felt like good news…

I first decided to follow Jesus when I was fifteen, and somehow in those early years I picked up the idea that Good Friday was all about feeling bad and guilty.  This was a special day in the church calendar when we all took a good long time to think about how awful we were, about how much our beautiful saviour went through for us, and about how responsible we were for that terrible pain and suffering.

I don’t remember anyone teaching me that this was ‘Guilt Friday’, but that’s what I learned. This was the day to look at the cross really hard, and then to feel really, really bad.

and I did.

But a beautiful revolution happened about 15 years later…

Late one lent evening, as I sat in a prayer-space looking at a wooden cross draped with red silk,  I had one of those moments where something you’ve known in your head for a long time finally makes it into your heart. God showed me the cross as if it were an enormous power shower towering above me. I suddenly realised that as I knelt beneath the flow of Jesus blood, as it poured out over my hands, my head, my heart, it didn’t stain me with responsibility, it didn’t make me guilty – it made me clean.

So I realised that on Good Friday I couldn’t come to the cross and feel bad about myself, or about how much Jesus suffered for me. Not because I’m not a sinner, or that Jesus didn’t suffer, but because some much bigger, more glorious things were filling up my head and heart so much that there wasn’t room for anything else.

As I said to a friend at the time:

“I know I should be feeling bad, but I just can’t help myself, when I look at the cross, all I can feel is clean

Awesomely, gloriously clean.

And when I remember what Jesus was prepared to go through in order to heal my relationship to the Father, what he chose to endure so that you and I could be made clean and whole and entirely free from guilt and shame, I don’t feel bad (all that clean-ness gets in the way), but I do feel very, very grateful, and very LOVED.

Really really loved.

The words of this hymn, It is well with my soul by H. G. Spafford, explains the feeling that wells up inside me better than I can:

My sin – oh the bliss of this glorious thought! –

My sin, not in part, but the whole,

is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

With that in your head it just won’t be possible to look at the cross and feel bad.

So this Easter, as you’re celebrating the extraordinary victory of the cross and resurrection, take another look at the cross and see if you can see this power shower.  If you feel even the smallest part dirty, or guilty, or unworthy or ashamed – step in.  The cross can wash you clean.

.power shower

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On faith, hope and being sure

Are you sure?

On the one hand there are some things that I am, absolutely, sure about… I’m absolutely sure that I belong to God and that I can call him ‘Abba’.  I’m sure that he is bigger, more powerful, more beautiful, more just, more gracious and more loving than I or anyone else can imagine.  I’m sure that I although I am one of the millions that he loves fiercely, that his love is in no way diluted, and that I am precious to him.  I’m so sure of his forgiveness and grace that I know I can lean back into them and believe that I am accepted in spite of my past, present and future mess-ups.

I’m sure.

And yet.

It doesn’t take much to leave me feeling like this daisy, adrift on the ocean.  A few mistakes, someone angry, a stinking cold, a friend leaving the country.  All that ‘sure-ness’ can melt into weariness, shaken-up-ness and not-sure-I-can -hear-God-ness in a matter of days.

So when I came to God on tuesday morning to ask him for a picture to put in a postcard for today, all I could see was this daisy, floating on the ocean.

Two things are true about it:

One- the daisy is tossed about, but not sinking.  It’s not sinking because its petals are wide open, and its petals are open because it’s facing into the light and the warmth of the sun.

Two – even though it’s affected, pulled up and down and this way and that by the movement around it, this tiny daisy is anchored, deep, deep down below the waves, into something solid.  The rope that ties it is slack so that there is length to cope with the rise and fall of the waves and tides, but it’s strong.

It was only after I’d painted this anchored daisy that I read the verse from Hebrews:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure, It enters the inner sanctuary, behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus has entered on our behalf.

Hebrews 6:19-20

It’s not the only place I’ve heard about hope recently.  On yesterday’s news the newly-elected prime minster of Greece claimed that this week’s election outcome was a ‘victory for hope’.  Many, many people there are hoping for an easier future.  
Hope is extraordinarily powerful thing, and when that hope is shown to be false it can be utterly crushing.  Unfortunately, when you’re being tossed about by the waves having your hope-rope anchored to anything that is in this world is just like being anchored to another set of waves, there’s no guarantee of stability coming.

The hope that the Bible holds out to us is in a different league altogether. As Hebrews tells us, it is anchored not in this world, but on the other side of the curtain, in the place where Jesus has gone ahead of us, in the presence of God.

It’s a mystery, but it’s a bit like my anchored daisy.  Deep, deep, down and beyond it is fixed irrevocably to something other than the ocean. Something solid and unmoveable, something which contains the ocean itself.

Here and there, in places, a gift of faith solidifies that hope into sureness.  And as I’ve painted and pondered  I’ve realised that this shaken-ness, the tiredness from the wind and the waves doesn’t make me ‘not sure’.  It just reminds me that sure-ness is not a surface feeling. It goes much, much deeper than that: Sure-ness is hope soaked in faith, over and over until that hope has become somehow more real than the ‘reality’ of the waves, and is anchoring my heart way beyond this particular storm, and into God himself.

However you are currently being shaken, whatever storm you are living through, or watching people close to you live through, try keep your face turned towards Jesus. Then your petals will stay warm and open and you you will be able to rest on the surface of the waves. Remind yourself often of the hope that you have as a child of God, and then ask him for the gift of faith, so that your hope become strong and solid, and then whatever happens, you will still be able to say, ‘I am sure’.

A Christmas Card from Postcards from Heaven

I’ve been in conversation with God for some time now about what picture should appear on the front of your Christmas postcard… A scene of Bethlehem? Something tinselly? But no, this odd little bauble-bottle is what keeps coming into my head and there’s no getting away from it…

it doesn’t have a name, as far as I know it doesn’t even exist and I can’t imagine it would be useful, but Jesus often doesn’t follow my rules and I always eventually realise it is easier just to go with what I think he’s showing me! So this is it: A two-chamber bauble-bottle that holds more one type of liquid.

Christmas is just like this.. Christmas is a container that holds more than one thing..

I really love it.  I love the kids’ excitement, the preparations, the sense of specialness, the time with friends, the family traditions, the special food, the random animals in nativity plays and even the theologically-challenged carols.  I just love it.

and yet…

Yesterday was my Dad’s birthday, and this will be our sixth Christmas without him. And at this time of year, I miss him more than ever. I can’t enjoy our traditional family singsong without missing the sound of his voice, I can’t watch my kids in a recital without thinking how proud he would have been of them, and I just can’t do Christmas day without missing his energy and sense of fun.

And I’m guessing for many, if not most of you it’s the same. Along with the joy comes an acute awareness of what has been lost.

Christmas is a container that holds both joy and sadness, and somehow they can only be poured out together.

For me, it’s not possible to experience the joy without also walking through the sadness.  To not allow one of them to be released from the bottle would be to stifle the other as well.  And I really want the joy…

It seems to me, at this time of year, that the world is conspiring to show me a perfect Christmas.  One with perfect, complete families where no-one gets sick, or forgets anything, or worries about money or falls out over the rules of a board game.  Where teenagers leap with joy at the idea of a game of charades, the roast dinner is all warm at the same time, the whole family gather around the piano to sing carols (in four-part harmony) and above all, no-one feels sad, not even for a moment.

It’s not true of course, there is no ‘perfect’ Christmas.  It’s just another impossible standard for me to fail to reach. Not everything has to be perfect anyway, and I suspect that the fact that the joy always comes mixed in with sadness just makes me normal.

For those of you who are similarly normal: Know that God understands.  He understands great joy and deep sadness.  And he reaches out to carry you through both.

So on this festive postcard I will wish you a Happy Christmas, but because that on its own doesn’t seem quite real enough:

This Christmas

May you have enough joy to soften your sadness

Enough peace to calm your storms

and enough hope to look up into the eyes of the Saviour of the World and to find yourself covered by his love.

Bigger on the inside.

If you’re reading this in the UK you probably don’t need me to tell you what this is, or why I associate it with Christmas… but for those of you that aren’t:

This is the TARDIS. It’s from the long running UK TV show Dr Who and it’s a time-travelling spaceship. It’s become something of an iconic image and because of the unmissably excellent Christmas Day special episodes, it doesn’t seem entirely out of place in the jumble of jolly santas, cherubic angels and sprigs of holly.

Apart from that, all you need to know is this: It’s bigger on the inside.

On the outside it’s the size and shape of a 1960’s British Police telephone box (a regular sight on UK streets when this series started, ten years before I was born!), but on the inside it is apparently vast (there are even rumours of a swimming pool.)  Ask any Dr Who fan to describe the TARDIS and that’s what they’ll tell you – ‘it’s bigger on the inside’.

Think of how you would gasp in awe and wonder if you were to walk through that little blue door and discover that it is so much more than it appears to be.  Think of how you would run outside again to check and double check what you were seeing.  Think of how much your mind would be expanded!

Wow!

Awesome!

That really would be amazing.  To see something that so defied my understanding of how things are, how they work, of what is possible.  I’m pretty sure that I would be bursting to tell people about it but might also struggle to find the right words to describe how that discovery makes me feel…

All this reminds me of another image I associate with Christmas day:

A new-born baby.  Small, soft-skinned and helpless. Wrapped in a cloth and lying in a straw-filled manger.

And when I look, I hear God whisper,

“Can you see it?… Can you see what the shepherds saw, what the wise men travelled to see?”

“He’s bigger on the inside”

This is the extraordinary miracle of Christmas for me, perhaps even more amazing than the Easter-miracle of the resurrection:

Our God who spoke the universe into the existence and holds every part of it together; our God who said “let there be light” and who is the light;  our God who is infinitely powerful, infinitely wise, infinitely creative, infinitely loving, infinitely big; everything that he is is somehow contained inside that tiny cloth-wrapped package in the manger… Astounding.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him

Colossians 1:19

Take a moment today to let that sink in again.

Take some time to be awestruck,

to marvel.

and don’t be fooled by the tiny, helpless, sweet-smelling, soft-skinned baby in the manger…

He’s so much more than he appears to be.

Seriously bigger on the inside.

tardisfeat

Frogger

Ever feel stuck?  Like there’s no way forwards?  Like you’re living in the consequence of decisions made a long time ago, and that the dead end you’re now in is inescapable?  You need to think about Frogger.

Frogger was a game I got mildly addicted to a long time ago when my teenagers were still toddling.   It mostly involved hopping a little frog around on lily pads and getting it to the other side of a road or a river.

The picture I had today was of a frog who had hopped out along a particular line of lily pads, and then got to the end of the line.  He looked across and saw other frogs hopping along another line of lily pads and thought ‘oh well, that’s it then, I went the wrong way, I blew it’.

It’s easy to feel that one choice you made or that was made for you has messed everything up… that you’ve gone off on a diversion from the main route and can never go back.  Like somehow you will never be able to live fully in the goodness of what God intended for you because of one foolish/stupid/scared choice you made and there is no way to get back onto the right track again.

Of course we do often have to live with the consequences of our choices… but the truth about frogger is that there’s always an alternative route… even if it looks like there isn’t.  Any moment now a new lily pad will pop up, or even better, a floating log will come along to hop on to and take us somewhere completely new!

When we get to one of these ‘dead-end’ places, we have another choice: We can sit on our lily pad feeling sorry for ourselves, wondering if God has forgotten us, berating ourselves for the decision we made that has got us into this place, putting all our faith in our stuckness or we can call out to God and trust that he is able to do something about it.

And of course- he can.   There’s never only one route across the river, and as I was thinking about last week when I wrote this, our God is a the master of reversing impossible situations.  He isn’t just creative -he is Creativity.  Finding new ways to get you to where he wants you to be is as natural to him as breathing is to you.

‘You are stuck, it’s hopeless, there’s no way out’ is one of the regular often-used lies of the enemy.  It’s designed to paralyse you, to stop you from realising that there never was one perfect, easy route across the river; that everyone either makes stupid choices, or encounters obstacles and that our creative father constantly builds new routes for us.

If you’re feeling stuck today, like you hopped off the main path and onto an inescapable road to nowhere, take a real step and ask God to help you let go of that lie.  Reach out and catch a hold of the truth that he has never for one moment forgotten you, and ask him to help you grasp the truth that your life is a constantly growing ‘new creation’ and that he has more enough power to build you a new route across the river and into the places he has called you to be.

My problem is often that I want to see the path marked out in front of me.  I want to be able to think, “oh I’ll hop there, and then there, and then there and that will take me to where I want to be”.  My life just isn’t like that.  I often cannot even imagine how God is going to take me into the things he’s spoken to me about, let alone plan the route!

So my struggle is to choose to trust in the God of floating logs and suddenly growing lily pads instead of trying to plot my own course all the time… frogfeat

Whatever your struggle is, I pray that God would speak to you today and that he would open your eyes to trust in his extraordinary creativity and love for you.  It will be worth it.

 

Everything changes

But now…

Do you know, I think those might be two of my favourite words in the Bible.  For me, those two words capture something wonderful, beautiful and essential about the Gospel that it’s easy to lose sight of the wonder of..

They also remind me of this card. It’s from one of the games that we used to love to play endlessly and noisily with the youth group we led in our twenties, back when our idea of a great way to spend a Wednesday evening was to fill our living room with teenagers and talk to them about Jesus.  (Actually that still sounds like a pretty great way to spend an evening to me, but that’s another story)

The card means change direction.  If anyone plays it, play stops and then goes back the other way, instantly and without question. It turns things around, reverses them – changes everything.  And I love the picture because in it I see what Jesus came to the world (and to me) for: to turn things around, to reverse them and to change everything. You can just imagine what the ‘cardboard testimonies’ of people who met Jesus in the gospels would have been like:

“I was sick for years and years, but now I’m healed”

“My brother was dead, but now he’s alive”

“I was an outcast, but now I’m a treasured friend”

“I thought I knew everything, but now…”

So, back to my favourite words, so that you too can whisper them to yourself and feel their power pulsing in your veins.

But now…

They actually come from the first chapter of Colossians, and they tell you exactly what happened the moment that God looked at you and me, and through Jesus decided to play the ultimate change direction card onto our lives:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.

Colossians 1: 21-23

You were alienated, cut off, at a distance, separated, but now –  you are brought near.

You were an enemy, but now –  you are a friend of God.

You were a foreigner and an alien, but now –  you are family.

You were stained, dirty, marked, grubby, but now –  you are washed absolutely clean, without blemish, but more than that, you are Holy.

You were guilty, but now – you cannot be accused.

It’s an extraordinary card that God has played in your life.  The ‘but now’.  Costly, powerful and irrevocable… and yours to accept.

LIke many of you, I’ve known this is true for ages and ages and ages… But somehow I still struggle to confidently live in the reality of it.  I still fall into thinking about myself as grubby and stained and failing, as I was before Jesus rescued me from the dominion of darkness, brought me into the light, hosed me down, gave me a new place to stand and new song to sing.

So, if you’re like me, and you need reminding – take five minutes now to remember it again… breathe it in…  feel the glory and the power in those two little words:

But now

When climbing a mountain…

Intrigued?  Well, I’m not surprised.  I didn’t know what one of these was called either (had to google it 🙂 ).  It’s a piton.  Mountain climbers hammer them tightly into crevices in the rock face so that they can attach their safety ropes through the hole.  A vital piece of rock-climbing kit.

When God showed me this picture, I imagined what it would be like if, exhausted from a difficult climb, beaten back by the weather, you were to come across one of these, already firmly in the rock face and ready to clip your harness on to.  What a relief I would feel if it were me, and how grateful to the climber that scaled this wall before me and left me something to take a hold of.

So today’s postcard is an encouragement to start nailing in some of these beauties, both for those who scale the walls you’re climbing after you, and for your own benefit (just in case like me, you have a tendency to revisit the same challenges).

The first time I really noticed how this could work was when I was in a tiny church choir.  One day the choir leader played us a piece he planned for us to sing. It was extraordinarily complex and difficult with solos and harmonies and even a rap(!), so we reacted in some disbelief!  But he believed we could do it, and as a group we somehow just chose to take his faith and believe it.  It was as if we reached out with our Karabiner clips in our hands and clipped our harnesses onto the faith he was holding out.

Our faith in God is like that, we have the ability to hold it out to others and say “here-  hold on to mine, I’ve scaled this wall before you”.

I can’t tell you exactly what the pitons you put in will look like, they might be a word,  an action, scripture glued to a mirror, a testimony, a song, a journal entry, a book, a blog post, a status update, a tweet. But I do know that when we start to hold out the faith we’ve gathered to others it will multiply.  Whatever they say about problems, faith shared is faith (at least) doubled!

While a piton has to be strong, the real strength is in the rock.  The job of the piton is simply to enable someone to anchor their heart to the Rock of Ages, into the ultimate strength and safety of the Living God himself.

piton feat

If you’re climbing in a storm,  look out for what others have left for you.  When you see it – choose to reach out for it and clip yourself on!

If you’ve taken on a difficult face and made it to the top.  Look for the faith that you grew on the journey and then choose to find a way to hold it out for others.

And please, please comment below about the ways God is speaking to you that you could hold out the faith you’ve collected to to others and then comment again about the ways you’ve done it and seen faith multiplied in other people.  In the words of the Lego Movie – that would be awesome!

If you’re interested in more of what I think faith is and isn’t you could read this:  Faith and the Flying Fox or this: Ready to Walk on Water