Resist!

We haven’t seen anything like this for a very long time – first brexit, now Trump

It is utterly beyond me how anyone can claim to follow Jesus Christ and vote in a spirit of hatred, rage and spite – either for brexit or Trump. And let’s be honest – the same spirit is behind them both.

Jesus Christ rejected no one – in fact he sought out the lowest of the low at the time, he spent time with the criminals, the dodgy characters, the hated Samaritans, the people with leprosy, the women who were considered mere possessions by their husbands…

I’ve seen tweets saying ‘don’t judge’ and ‘more grace’ as Trump wreaks havoc in week one. But there is a time to turn over the tables in the temple and to say – no shout – a great big ‘No!’

  • NO – to ‘UK first’, ‘America first’ or ‘England first’
  • NO – to turning backs on brothers and sisters, daughters and sons – members of humanity – in dire need, fleeing terror and persecution
  • NO – to making rules that only apply to people of a certain religion – we saw Hitler do exactly this to the Jews as evil flourished in Germany
  • NO – to ‘charity starts at home’ and an inward-looking focus at the detriment of the rest of the world
  • NO – to torture and abuse – full stop

All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing – I paraphrase Edmund Burke.

Personally, I know I must speak out, and I must do whatever I can – even if it seems very small – to resist brexit and Trump, and the spirit behind them.

One thing I can do is the most powerful thing I could possibly do, and that is to pray.

As Christians we should be joining together in prayer to wear the spiritual armour we are equipped with and go into battle.

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (The Bible, Ephesians 6)

Now, today, January/February 2017 is why God has given us armour and shown us the truth of this battle. We don’t fight Trump, Farage, or May – we fight the evil that is lurking behind the scenes. We show it up for what it is and we come against it in prayer.

If you wish to join me…

Father God

Deliver us from evil

We, your people, humbly come before you to seek your forgiveness for any part we have played in these recent world events. We are deeply sorry.

Lord, you are greater and stronger, more powerful and glorious than any force or person that ever has been or ever will be.

We recognise that the victory has already been won by Jesus Christ when he died, rose again and death was defeated.

Lord we come to you as your children, to ask for the defeat of this evil that seeks to sow hatred and division in the world.

If we are called to act or speak please equip us Lord and give us the courage.

In the precious and powerful name of Jesus our Lord

Amen.

 

 

 

 

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Genealogy gems

this-is-the-genealogy-of-jesus-the-messiah-1

My heart sank.

I had signed up to The New Testament in One Year via an app (note – the Bible in One Year was too much for this lightweight!) and what was I faced with? Matthew 1:1-17. Groan.

How could there be anything for God to say to me (or to you) in a list of names?

1st of January 2017 – long list of names I can’t pronounce – great! (muttered sarcastically to myself).

But a thought entered my head – all those generations ago the birth of Jesus was being planned. 42 generations ago in fact. I scanned down the list – some of the names I recognised and some I didn’t. Some of those people weren’t whiter than white – that much I do know. Abraham and Sarah weren’t supposed to have any children they were so old, yet this long road to the Saviour starts with them.

Our God doesn’t obey the rules that we tether our lives to – such as ‘very elderly people can’t bear children’. He is higher than the rules, more powerful than them.

Something else occurred to me. If God was planning the birth of Jesus for many generations, could he plan the birth and life of other people a long way in advance?

Ephesians 2:10 says:

10 It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others.

(Living Bible Translation), or:

10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

(New Living Translation)

Psalm 139 says:

My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

So it sounds like a ‘yes’. We were known before we were born. Before we existed, God had plans for us. Any barriers in the way of you and I coming to be, were overcome by the God who had ordained (officially ordered) that we should exist.

That, my friends, is mind-blowing. Before you were born God was thinking of you, planning your days and your calling in life.

So, I take it back. The groan, the temptation to skip over the long list of complicated, tongue-bending names. Even in this, there is the voice of God whispering to us His song of love, His cherishing of us, His attention, His care, His love lavished on us.

Thank you Lord for the hidden gems in this genealogy.

Introducing Despair-disease

Imagine a disease that attacks happiness. It creeps in and quietly steals all joy from you. It infects enjoyment, excitement, anticipation, contentment and gradually eats away at it, destroying what was once there.

It’s like something out of a terrifying fairy-story. But actually it’s real and it’s called Depression.

I wonder if we changed the name to something like ‘Despair-disease’ we would be able to better grasp the meaning of this illness. The problem is we use the word ‘depressed’ all the time – “I’m depressed about my job”, “my flat is depressing”, and so on. But we don’t mean that a sadness and weight so heavy it crushes me, comes upon me. We don’t mean there is no hope, no way out, no light at the end of the tunnel. We don’t mean I can’t survive this devastating hopelessness and utter despair.

One of the most challenging places to be someone who lives with Depression, is within the church. Misconceptions, judgements, and misunderstandings are everywhere. This is odd, because the ministry of Jesus was and is focused on the poor in spirit and those who mourn (Matthew 5:3-4). It is hard to think of a better description of a person suffering under the weight of Depression, than someone who is poor in spirit.

I know a bit about Depression. I’ve lived with it for almost 30 years. Too often I’ve been blamed for having it.

I do see some parallels with the ways people affected by leprosy have been, and still are treated today. They are told their disease is a curse (from God, for past sins, karma) – it is their fault. They are cast out of homes, communities, jobs, relationships… Many people with mental health problems also find their jobs, relationships, and friendships under threat when they ‘come out’. Stigma and discrimination affect people with many different diseases – still today in 2016 (almost 17!).

It was Jesus Christ who touched the person with leprosy, it was he who sat with ‘that’ woman at the well, it was he who would not condemn the woman the crowd wanted to stone. Jesus accepted all people – no matter what their condition.

This Christmas-time there will be tens of thousands of people in our churches travelling the lonely road of living with mental health problems. They know it is safer to keep their struggles private, they know they have to reduce the risks of unhelpful comments, and they know there are many who would regard them as spiritually deficient, and not unwell.

I have been so encouraged today to read Hannah Cooper’s article about her Depression as a Christian. But the image isn’t so good – the thing is, we don’t necessarily look glum and unsmiling. Behind many cheery faces is an immense struggle to carry on. Only, sometimes we can disguise it very well.

If I’ve described you in this piece, turn back to the stable this Christmas. Not the sugar-coated stable on the Christmas cards, but the real one – dirty, smelly and cold. It’s in the dirtiest, nastiest, darkest places that we find Immanuel – God with us.

The sugar-coated stable

We have sugar-coated the stable.

This Christmas I have received cards showing the Christmas scene. A tidy stable filled with yellow straw. Cows, chickens and donkeys arranged neatly around the manger. Mary and Joseph serene and calm, glowing with pride at their special baby boy.

But I wonder what it was really like.

Let’s call it a ‘shack’ or an ‘outhouse’ instead of a stable. Now have a think about any farm you have ever visited inhabited by cows, sheep, goats or even donkeys. Smelly? Most certainly. Droppings and cow-pats? Yes – lots of poo everywhere you step. Flies? Yes again. We know there was a manger so we know the place was used by animals, but we don’t actually know they were there at the time – we’ve added that bit in! What condition would this animal shelter have been in?

When I was pregnant with my children the readiness to give birth was an anxious time, although I knew I’d be looked after by an expert with a clean and secure place to give birth. Imagine the distress of making the best of filthy straw and dirt, perhaps the threat of an unpredictable animal coming too close, the flies, the insanitary conditions…

Imagine the darkness, the fear, the sheer alone-ness of being in a strange place in the agony of labour.

nativity

Did Mary start to doubt? The angel had said that:

 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:32-33)

Was this the type of birth a King would have? How can he be ‘great’ with this kind of start in life?

Remember that Mary and Joseph would have endured all sorts of slander, judgement and mockery. She would have been labelled a slut – let’s not avoid the language because it offends us, it would have offended Mary too. Her baby boy would have been called a bastard – perhaps to her face, perhaps in whispers accompanied by sneers and laughter. What did they call Joseph? A weak, pathetic, stupid man for believing a tall-story spun by his lying fiancee. A story that was completely ridiculous.

And after all of that they find themselves in the filth of an outhouse having this baby.

The miracle of Christmas is that the King of Kings left his throne in heaven and was reduced to this squalid birth as a fragile infant.

John 1:9 says:

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.

But not with wealth, or glory, or palaces.

This is the love of the Father – that he would show us even in the dirty and insanitary birth of Jesus – that there is no-one too low, too poor, or wearing too many labels – for His perfect gift of love. Jesus came to live with us, to be Immanuel – God WITH us. That means all of us. Not just the rich, those born with a silver spoon in their mouths, or even just the comfortable.

What would today’s stable be? A drug-den? An abused women’s shelter? A cockroach infested, damp flat?

Perhaps this filthy place is within us, instead of a place we are in? The squalor may be shame, emotional wounds, self-hatred, haunting memories. Don’t worry. This is a place where the Son of God is right at home.

This is where the glory of Jesus Christ may still today be born in our lives. And this is where we can still find Immanuel – God with us.

 

“I’m a bit OCD…”

It’s one of those things we say on Facebook, Twitter, to friends…

We smile to ourselves and laugh at the pernickety-ness of friends. We share a funny post inviting us to complete an ‘OCD quiz’.

It’s a bit like when we say “yes, I’m a bit of a perfectionist…”

We vaguely know there is something unhealthy there, but nevertheless we make light of it.

My own encounter with OCD was short (thank God) and dreadfully, agonisingly painful.

I was at secondary school. I don’t know how it crept in but under cover of darkness, it did. The darkness was my own deep unhappiness. I really only remember it from the point that I knew it controlled me. In a pottery lesson the urge to count to the right number was stronger than listening to the teacher, doing my work, talking to a friend or anything else. I knew – not thought – knew – that if I didn’t count, something dreadful would happen. It had control of my mind, my lips, my attention, my blood pressure, my breathing… It owned me.

I didn’t know the name of this thing that had me, but I knew it was a thing. I’d heard about it somewhere and somehow. The shame of having this thing controlling me was immense and dreadful. I had to stop it before someone found out.

I can remember a science lesson – counting accompanied by tapping – to the right number. And it had to be a secret. No one could see. To not complete the count was hell. I don’t mean just uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing but cripplingly painful to the point of utter panic, I was screaming voicelessly inside.

This is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – OCD. At least, this was mine. Like a deep well of burning hot tar it seeks to suck you down into its depths, burning and scalding you in the process til there is no more you.

If OCD is a tree, the soil that it is rooted in is utter terror. It lives and breathes through fear.

I made a decision to break it and it was a lonely journey. I think I was at the early stages so it was possible. The shame kept it my secret and meant I had to travel alone. I started cutting it back – tentative attempts to not complete the count and the tapping. Over time the grip it had on me loosened and I began to feel relieved that no one would ever know.

That was maybe 30 years ago.

Now I know that OCD wasn’t and isn’t a failure of mine, a weakness, a strangeness. It’s a very real mental health problem.

When someone says “I’m a bit OCD” though, it still smarts. I know the darkness that it really is.

Oh, and by the way, I also know it isn’t a life sentence.

 

 

 

 

Where is your shameless audacity?

because-of-your-shameless-audacity

Asking is a wholly spiritual concept. Jesus himself told us to ask, seek and knock.

For charity people:

Asking is active – not expecting the other person to somehow know the need, not waiting for God to speak to them in some vague spiritual way when he has given us mouths to speak  and words to express need, not feeling fearful of expressing what we need from another.

Seeking is searching – looking under, behind, above and below. Using our brains to think about where best to seek or who to seek, exploring, pursuing, investigating…

Not passively waiting for the donor to be brought to us, not prayer without action, not wasting expertise, experience and ability.

Knocking is finding a barrier and instead of turning away, seeking a way through. It is persistence, devotion, not giving up, banging on closed doors, being noisy, even being a nuisance.

Too often I see Christian charities NOT asking, seeking, knocking. Ironically it is often the non-faith based charities that are best at this stuff!

Now, I know Luke 11 and Matthew 7 are about asking God for what we need. But Jesus draws a parallel, saying that the neighbour who is ‘shamelessly audacious’ gets what he or she needs. In these verses I see a challenge to our timid mindset and low asks. If it is God who supplies the needs of his people, through other people (donors, the church) and through charities and missions, then should we also not be shamelessly audacious in our asks?

My pastor tells a story of a church he visited in Africa. The collection was taken up amidst much music, dancing and joy and the collection plate was eventually returned to the minister. He took a look and said “not enough” and sent the plate round again!

Are we willing to send the plate round again – not for ourselves, not for our organisations, but for the people God has called us to serve.

Are you, am I, ready to ask boldly – without fear? Can we seek out, pursue, find what we need? Will we knock down barriers – the ‘it might not work’, ‘what if I upset…’, ‘we’ve never done this before’?

Where is your shameless audacity?

The Journey is the Destination

australian-1

The death of a friend has left me reeling.

When a loved one dies we are stopped in our tracks and suddenly all we thought we knew, we realise we do not.

What is my life here on earth for? I know eternity comes after, but what about now? What am I supposed to do with this time?

On Sunday an answer came. It stands against all ambition, desire to achieve, wanting to be successful – all the messages we are bombarded with in school, as a young person, starting out in life, and even today as a relative grown up.

It is mind-bendingly simple.

  1. Start with Jesus
  2. Stay with Jesus
  3. End with Jesus

That’s it.

The journey, and the person we journey with, is important.

Where the journey takes us to? Not so much.

The journey is where we are going.

That I do it with Jesus – that, my friends, is the crucial part. That is what will make my journey meaningful and joyous and lovely.

In my grief I thank God that my friend ended with Jesus.