Saturday, 29 January 2011

Out of the mouth of babes

St Mary's Church, Eversley

I have recently started reading “For the Children’s Sake” by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay upon a friend’s recommendation. This is a book about "what education can be--for your child, in your home, and in your school. It is based first on a Christian understanding of what it means to be human and on the Christian meaning of life." In the early pages I came across a quote which made me exclaim “Yes!” and beam with delight at this book in my hand. "Get to know [your] child...Get a few really good books, and read them together aloud...If you have the courage to be honest, that youngster's comments and questions are really going to make you think, think hard. You can throw away all the manuals. That child has an awful lot to teach you. Your mind is probably in a worse state than his."

This spoke to my heart. For I am learning a lot from my 5 year old. My mind is definitely in a worse state than his!

I was feeling sad one day as I wrestled with an issue where I needed to admit I had been in error. Harry noticed this, and asked why I was sad. I decided to be honest, and levelled with him. “Because I’m feeling burdened by my sin, Harry” I replied. He looked at me, and quick as a flash responded “Then why don’t you go to the cross?”.

I sat there, stunned. Not only did he have the exact solution to my problem, the childlike way in which he expressed it completely floored me. Here was someone who had grasped the truth behind this verse: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10). There was I, struggling with worldly sorrow, feeling miserable that I had drifted away from the Narrow Path. There was Harry, encouraging me to transform my worldly sorrow into Godly sorrow! The innocence of a 5 year old's mind, as yet uncorrupted by the need to maintain a fierce pride in self.

Cross in churchyard at St Mary's, Eversley
We went for a walk that weekend past a local church, St Mary's in Eversley. Harry spotted a big wooden cross in the churchyard and exclaimed excitedly “Look, Mummy! There’s a cross! You can get rid of your burden now!” I smiled. I had already dealt with the issue in prayer before God, but I thought it might help Harry, and me, to have the visual reminder. I walked up to the cross and said a silent prayer. My burden was indeed lifted. Harry jumped around in delight.

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
(Matthew 19:14)

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Facebook and Fellowship

I confess to being baffled. I don’t understand quite what is happening when I feel a sense of loss because a “friend” whom I have never met, but only exchanged written words with, leaves Facebook. I am even more perplexed when I consider how I would feel if I didn’t have access to Facebook at all. I suddenly realise I have become dependent on Facebook and blogging for a great part of my Christian fellowship.

Facebook for me started out as a way to get in touch with old school friends. It developed into something completely different when I “friended” someone I heard interviewed on a Christian radio show. I’d never done that before, for it’s very un-British to barge in on someone without waiting to be introduced! And then suddenly I was exposed to a whole new circle of friends, who were open about sharing their love for Jesus with others. Some of those friends also had blogs which I started reading. And now, almost a year later, I realise that these “friends” have become a big part of my life, I love them dearly, I am edified and encouraged by them so much in my walk with Christ Jesus, and the thought of not having this fellowship is very unsettling.

Is on-line communication “real”? Well, that’s an interesting one. I wonder if it’s the kindest form of communication – you get to see my heart, without the irritations of how my heart works things out in practice. You get to see the good intentions, but not the failures as I struggle to daily work out loving God and loving neighbour as myself. Do you have an accurate picture of who I really am? I don't know - I think so, for I pour out my heart and soul into what I write. But if we were to meet in person - well, one friendship with an online blogging friend has transcended from virtual reality to real life and we remain good friends, so that gives me hope that you are not getting a completely unrealistic view of me!

Is it possible to "love one another" through the written word? Well, let me just testify to you how I have been "loved" through the written word.

I am loved when I am encouraged and exhorted to remember Christ and who He is, what He has done, what He will yet do. Reading blogs and comments on Facebook, I have been challenged as to whether I am living each day in the sacred, abiding constantly in Him; whether I am living each moment ready for the return of Jesus; reading beautiful words from Octavius Winslow has fed my love for Christ; I have read a testimony from the heart of a Christian, full of grace and truth, which has challenged me not to water down the truth for the sake of misguided sympathy; I have been challenged in my mothering of my own son as I read of how a friend nurtures her boys in the giftings and talents their Heavenly Father has bestowed upon them; I have been encouraged in my praying for the church through a beautiful prayer which a fellow sister has shared, and exhorted in my praying for the persecuted church. And all that is just this last week!!

I have also been loved in other ways through the written word. When I meander around theologically as I try to grapple with the Truth, people who have never met me are so concerned about what I believe that they take the time to write to me, to guide me along the path to Truth, to pray for me! When I once shared personal information about a home situation, I was stunned by the loving response I received, and God alone knows the difference that has had on my prayers for this situation.

I hope I am also able to love others through the written word. I am becoming increasingly conscious that the temptation to jump into a discussion on some theological issue or other to share my views may not always be the wisest course of action, and that with the written word as well as with the spoken word there is "a time to be silent and a time to speak" (Ecc 3:7). It is my prayer that every comment I make through my keyboard may be "full of grace, seasoned with salt" (Col 4:6). I also realise that through Facebook I have been able to share my faith with my non-Christian friends in a way that would never have been possible before, surely the heart of love. Opportunities to speak of the Lord are few and far between in person, yet through this medium I find I am able to express my true heart before them.

There is, however, the ever-present issue of spending way too much time in front of the computer - it seems to take a lot longer now for me to complete my accountancy work than it used to, as I break off to read another reminder of God's goodness. However, on one of those breaks from my work last week, I read this article by Teresa, over at Music from Broken Chords, where she quotes a passage by Octavius Winslow on the lonely walk of the Christian. That touched some buttons. Then I was reminded by Elizabeth of Tozer’s “The Saint Must Walk Alone”. He says: “The pain of loneliness arises from the constitution of our nature. God made us for each other. The desire for human companionship is completely natural and right. The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world. His Godgiven instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorption in the love of Christ; and because within his circle of friends there are so few who share his inner experiences he is forced to walk alone... He finds few who care to talk about that which is the supreme object of his interest, so he is often silent and preoccupied in the midst of noisy religious shoptalk.”

And I now realise why it is that Facebook and blogging have become such an important part of my Christian walk of faith. This lonely pilgrim has suddenly found a group of likeminded believers whose hearts are utterly captivated by their Lord and Saviour, who are likewise eager to speak of Him and His beauty.

We may not be meeting in person, but I do believe that “virtual, on-line” meeting is accomplishing the exhortation in these following verses!

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Contemplating the Throne of God

The first thing that comes to my mind when I contemplate the Throne of God is Isaiah’s vision when he tells us “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Isa 6:1). What privilege to be given a vision of this nature, of the very Throne room of the Holy and Awesome God of Israel. It is no wonder that Isaiah cried out “Woe to me!...I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isa 6:5).

I also think of those great men of God - Daniel, Ezekiel, the apostle John - who were given similar visions, and I watch as they stumble around trying to express with mere human words what our language can never capture, for there are simply no words to describe the Otherness of their vision – the Heavenly Throne Room.

Who can dare to look in on this Throne Room? Who is worthy? How can we approach One who is Holy – no, more than that, who is Holy, Holy, Holy? How can these eyes of ours, belonging to bodies of sin as they do, dare to behold such Awesome Splendour and not be engulfed in fires of Holiness?

The answer – we can’t. We join Isaiah in crying out “Woe to me!”

Yet all is not lost. Because there is One who is Worthy, Jesus Christ the Beloved Son of the Father! Faith in Him and in His atoning death means - our sins are taken away, we are washed clean in His blood, and clothed in His Righteousness we can approach this Heavenly Throne. The glorious gospel message.

Yet the Bible teaches us there is even more to it than simply being able to approach this throne, which is news enough to leave someone on their knees in gratitude for life. For Hebrews rings out with this call of faith: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” (Heb 4:16). With confidence! I am reminded of Queen Esther who approached the throne of her husband and King with the thought “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). Her life depended on whether she won his favour, which would be shown if he were to extend the gold sceptre in his hand towards her. We have no such worries! We KNOW that we have won the favour of our King, that His gold sceptre is always pointed towards us – because we approach Him in the Name of His Beloved Son, who always has His favour.

And still there is more! For not only do we have access to the Throne of God, which we can approach in confidence – we have a High Priest there who empathizes with us, with our weaknesses. Our Mediator, Jesus Christ, who has enabled us to approach the Heavenly Throne, is fully Divine, fully man, and He understands us. Our Mediator is full of compassion as He intercedes for us. His Father, our Father, has no less compassion – for He knows how we are formed, He knows we are as dust, and as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. We have a hope of receiving mercy and finding grace to help us in our time of need at this Throne. Oh the depth of the riches of the grace of God!

I don’t know about you, but this knowing “in part” provides such joy and delight in this heart of mine – I can’t begin to fathom what it will be like when we shall see face to face and know fully, even as we are fully known now. For as if all this were not good news enough, we still have this promise to look forward to:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away... The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. " (Revelation 21:1-4; Rev 22:3-5).

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

I wrote the tune and lyrics for this hymn a year or so ago as I contemplated the throne of God. Unable to sing well or write the music down I didn’t quite know how to take it forward. Then during the summer a good friend of mine, Ken Johnstone, transcribed the music for me. And recently I discovered that the talented writer and fellow pilgrim Petra Hefner of Penned Pebbles has a talented musical husband Rick who agreed to arrange and perform my hymn. I am absolutely delighted with what he has done with it, and I hope it blesses you!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The King's Table

I will always refer to John Bunyan as “Dear Mr Bunyan”. Pilgrim’s Progress is one of my all-time favourite books. Reading it to my 5 year old last year I couldn’t hold back the tears as I described to him how Christian arrives safely at the Celestial City and the King commands the gate to be opened to let him in. It was when I read “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners” during the summer however that he became “Dear” to me. Reading of his struggles with his faith – and oh! how he wrestled to understand what grace meant! – it was almost like reading my own spiritual autobiography. There were points at which I wished I could have taken him by the shoulders, looked him in the eyes and said “It’s alright, Mr Bunyan, God loves you, you are His, you believe, you have faith, you trust, you are in Christ, you are safe”. It is hard to explain the impact it has on you when you realise that someone who lived and breathed over 400 years ago has walked the same path as you are walking, with a common faith, a common struggle, a common hope, a common assurance of victory!

In the Old Testament, there is one character especially who will always be “Dear” to me. Mephibosheth.

“David asked, ‘Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’... Ziba answered the king, ‘There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.’.. So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel. When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honour.

David said, “Mephibosheth!”

“Your servant,” he replied.

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” (2 Sam 9:1, 3, 5-8).

The whole gospel is surely contained within these few sentences. And how I see myself in Mephibosheth! I see God the Father asking to whom he can show kindness for the sake of His Beloved Son Whom He loves. I see myself, fearing for my life before this Holy God, as I have been His enemy all my life. I see myself, crippled in my soul from my sin, helpless, unable to do anything about my situation. I see God the Father having me brought in to see Him – not simply sending a request - but because I am so crippled, having me brought in as I am unable even to do this without assistance. I see my Heavenly Father address me personally, by my own name. I see Him gently reassuring me not to be afraid, showing me kindness for the sake of His Son, forgiving my sin. And then, wonder of wonders, I hear Him telling me – me, the dead dog that I am – that I will always eat at His table!

“So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.” (2 Sam 9:11).
Not in the same room at a table tucked away in the corner, hoping no-one sees you there – at the table of the King, like one of the King’s sons! Not skulking in the shadows, happy simply to be allowed to be in the same room as the King – at the table of the King, like one of the King’s sons! Not hiding away behind your wretchedness, wondering whether you are fit just to be a servant in the King’s household – at the table of the King, like one of the King’s sons!
Can this be true? Oh yes, it is true - for God’s Word says so! It can only be true because of Jesus Christ and His perfect life, His obedience to His Father even to death, His resurrection and ascension. And as dear Mephibosheth bowed down in awe and wonder at this grace, surely so do we!

“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love
(Song of Solomon 2:4)