John 3:16

I first heard the good news watching Jesus of Nazareth on an old VHS tape that a family friend had left at our home. I was 4 or 5 years old and at the crucifixion tears began rolling down my cheeks. Deeper than the horror of the scene, there was something about what this mysterious man did that moved me deep in my soul. It wasn’t until my mid twenties I crashed to my knees alone in my bedroom, the without-reason-hollowness in my soul so suffocating that all I had left was to cry out to the Lord. He came for me. I’ve heard the good news written on an advertising lorry parked on the side of a motorway, I’ve heard it on toilet cubicle door graffiti, on a comedians audio cd, on the underside of Forever 21’s bags and during times when people make fun of the cross. I sit and watch in quiet amazement how my children eagerly request “the one where Jesus dies” in the storybook bible. I watched how a son delighted in sharing the good news at his dad’s funeral. As a bishop spoke at the royal wedding at the weekend, millions of people heard the good news.

GOD LOVES YOU. The source of love, love himself. Loves YOU. Love so big that no earthly words could ever describe. He is the one you are searching for. He is the missing piece. The refreshing breath. And the best surprise of all is that all along we think we’ve been the ones searching but all along it’s been God pursuing us with powerful galaxy shattering relentless furiosity.

Whether you hear the good news and shuffle uncomfortably in your seats, laugh at the absurdness, roll your eyes, raise your eyebrows, whether you are religious or not religious, on a spiritual journey, whether you have mocked or mock Jesus, whether you are a good upstanding member of society, whether you’ve never done a single thing right in your life. Whether you mumble through the Lord’s prayer on autopilot or have never heard of it. Whether you’ve never set foot in a church or when you do you just want to bash your head against the pew in front because. this. endless. droning. from. the. vicar. is. really. never. going. to. end. Whether you’ve been forced into a religion, escaped one or weren’t brought up in one. Whether you’ve been jaded by oppressive religious authorities or told God doesn’t love you because [insert any number of reasons a human can hatefully control another human]. If God has not measured up to your expectations, if he’s never answered you or you want nothing to do with him. If you’ve openly or secretly hated all the god bothering and bible bashing nonsense you come across. If you don’t know the commandments or if you’ve done or not done some or all of them. If you don’t understand how God let those people get away with the things they did to you or someone else. If you are angry, hurt or strong. The homeless, the hungry, the accomplished, the terminally ill. If you just feel nothing. If you feel it’s too late. If you are filled with lead-heavy guilt and shame. If you are entangled in a web of deceit right now. Whether you are caught up in the occult or dabbled with the demonic. If you are harassed and held hostage by fear, if you can’t find the way out. If you are just plain tired. The adulterers, the losers, the Mr and Ms perfects, the rich, the lost, the lonely, the religious scholars, the confused, the broken, the charitable, the imprisoned, the good souls, the addicted, the famous, the forgotten and ignored. Who ever you are, where ever you are, what ever you are doing right now, whatever you have done or not done YOU ARE LOVED and this is for you, his love can not be earned but it is a free gift to receive.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16-17

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The Greatest Gift

It’s a year since we found out our baby died early on in pregnancy. The grief has been searing, relentless and so crushing that at times my legs have felt like they may collapse beneath me. Over these months I’ve had so many conversations with people –

I’ve been told that I had a lot going on at the time and I was doing too much and not resting. And that maybe it just wasn’t the right time for this baby. And the suggestion that it may have been a good thing as I wouldn’t have been able to do some of the things I’d done since. There have been lots of taking deep breathes along side well meaning words. Truth is how ever much we desperately try to scramble for the right thing to say, there are no positives to death. Whatever age or time.

Going out with my daughters always seems to bring up two conversation starters;

“They all yours? Are you going to have any more?”

“All girls! Are you going to try for a boy?”

A lady on the bus had come up with the first opener and I told her about our baby, she asked when in the pregnancy and showed her relief when I said it was early on.

The lady doing my hair came up with the second opener. I told her about our baby. “Still, not as bad as my sister” she said and told me that she had three babies die late in pregnancy.

A sweet family friend in her eighties who was so distraught after her little one died she could never bring herself to go through being pregnant again.

“Any more?” one of the home ed mums asked me and this led on to the loveliest conversation as we both shared our experiences of our babies that didn’t make it.

The first time I saw death up close was through a window from the car where I’d been told to stay as it had been decided I was too young to go to a funeral. I watched as the miniature white and brass coffin was carried past.

So many more experiences and conversations that are not for me to share.

So many babies.

There is one conversation that had a huge impact on me. I was sat on the sofa sharing tea and biscuits and letting somebody know about our baby. I was talking about how hard the grief had been for both me and my husband and she met me at this point because she understood, it had been the same for her and her husband. I looked down and my heart sank and I started to feel little bubbles of anger growing bigger from the pit of my stomach and I just wanted to scream “but this isn’t the same, this wasn’t MY choice!”

I started to panic because I couldn’t pop these rising bubbles. I didn’t want to upset her but I didn’t know if I could hold my back my emotions. Then just like that my Prince of Peace rescued me, peace swept over me and draped a warm blanket of stillness around me. I looked up at her and I saw brighter than day how Jesus sees her. Loved. Treasured. Died for. So desperately longed for.

Truth scattered the lies like cockroaches in torch light as I was reminded we are all in this mess together; broken people living in a broken world. I hadn’t made the same choices as her but I was so so so far from perfect in how I’d lived my life.

I saw we were both dealing with the heavy consequences of death and I listened as she opened up about the grief she was going through. We had the same pain, our babies have left huge holes in our families.

So many babies.

I birthed my tiniest baby on Christmas Day, two days after I was told there was no heartbeat. The dark valleys of grief and the trauma of the physical process have not left me and neither has the incredible hope, peace, comfort, joy and love that was poured out to me and that is all because of one little baby given to us all.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6

The greatest everlasting conversation we will ever have is the one God has with us. It has never been a question of “Is God speaking?” but rather “Are we listening?”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

John 3:16-17

A love like no other that at our most destitute facing the punishment of death we rightly deserve, one we can never escape or work to pay ourselves. He took our place and paid the price on the cross. He took our sin, dealt with death by rising again to give us the free gift of eternal life.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

1 John 4:9-10

The greatest gift we could ever receive from a Father who never gives up on us no matter how far we run and how long we hide. He made the way, the ONLY way that we can return to Him.

We have only two choices when it comes to being presented with gifts; reject or receive.

Empty

As we were leaving my youngest’s class I heard a lot of commotion coming from the other side of the road. I was careful to put her in her car seat quickly from the road side as the argument was between a driver and traffic warden. Sure enough the angry driver sped past right behind me leaving the warden open mouthed on the pavement. I looked around and people were walking up and down the street as if nothing had happened. I looked back at the man and he still looked shocked so I asked him if he was okay. He crossed the road and we chatted about what happened.

He was a community officer and had issued the lady a parking ticket. She had tried to persuade him to cancel it but when he refused, she got really angry, told him she was a Christian and that God was going to punish him and he was going to hell. He began to laugh and said,

“Not very Christianly of her and anyway I don’t believe there’s a hell so I can’t go there”.

I asked him why he didn’t believe there was hell and he told me it was because the God he believed in who was all loving and righteous wouldn’t send anyone to hell. I replied that it IS because God is loving and righteous that there is hell. Take, for example, somebody murders your child and you are in court and the judge says ‘I’m not sending anyone to jail’. You expect a court judge to draw the line between right and wrong but the God of the whole universe, who is loving, righteous and holy you expect not to draw a line between good and evil?”

We both turned as a small white car came past us, the window was down and the driver shouted obscenities in our direction, making it clear his dislike of traffic wardens.

He turned back to me and continued, “Good people wouldn’t go to hell though”

“Are you a good person?” I asked

He quickly and confidently replied, “Yes I see myself as a good person”

“By whose standards? Because I used to measure my goodness by human standards. I looked at terrible things others had done and judged myself “good” because I hadn’t been as bad. But when you see yourself measured against the absolute holiness of God then every single one of us falls short of that perfection”

The same white car drove around again, more shouting from the window.

He told me he was raised in church and the things he’d seen that had made him question religion and I said that you can go to church from day one and attend every single Sunday of your life and be as religious as you like but it makes absolutely no difference.

Then the conversation turned deeper and the smile dropped from his face as he told me he’d been searching for so long. Then one of the most heartbreaking things anyone has ever said to me came out of his mouth

“My cup is empty”

Empty?! I normally hear people say their cup is half full or half empty but never empty.

“You were raised in church, I’m sure you’ve heard Psalm 23 countless times? Your cup should overflow!…You know, Jesus didn’t just say ‘I know the way, I know the truth, I know where life is’ he said “I am the way, the truth and the life”….the one you are looking for is Jesus.

We were interrupted by a bleeping sound and he began typing into his machine and said he had to go but if he wasn’t in uniform and had more time he could talk to me all day and that I’d really made him smile, I noticed he was beaming by this point. Of course I knew it wasn’t me making him smile but his heart was filling and softening with what he had just heard.

We are good at making up our own gods, gods who turn a blind eye to our wrongdoings, gods who we use to get our own way, gods to frighten people, gods to control people, gods who will punish the way we would, gods who need us to do religious duties, gods who satisfy our fleshly desires, gods we make with our hands, gods who others have made with their hands, gods who don’t speak, gods we can interpret the way we want to, gods who adhere to our own plans, gods of traditions and the root of sin in when we are our own god.

But the living God far exceeds all we could ever possibly dream of. Wanting absolutely nothing from us and pursuing us with such ferocious love. God who loves us so much that when we fully deserved the biggest parking ticket that was way too great for us to ever pay on our own, he stood in our place and paid it on the cross and defeated death so we can have eternal life. Covering us with his righteousness so we have full access to his presence, now and for eternity. There is no greater love!

Thirst. Horrendous in the natural and utterly crushing in the spiritual. Attempting to quench our spiritual thirst with anything other than the free gift of living water will leave us empty. Nothing or no one can satisfy that deep thirst; our relationships can’t, our achievements can’t, our possessions can’t, our addictions can’t, our good deeds can’t, our religion can’t – like downing a fizzy drink they all ultimately leave us still thirsty.

We are ALL given the invitation to drink and the certainty to never ever ever to thirst again. To live with our cup overflowing.

“Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:37-38

“Come to me”

Not come to religion, not come to the man made, not come to tradition, not come striving to do good deeds, not come covering up, not come to a special building or place, but to come to the one who when we ask we will receive. The living God loves you, his heart breaking until you are home, always searching the horizon for when you will turn back, seeking to find us ready to say ‘yes’ where ever we are; in our rooms, in our cars, in churches, on the bus, on our way to work, in nightclubs, in the park and on a regular afternoon as we go about our job issuing parking tickets.

“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

Light in the Darkness

My daughter needed a Halloween themed costume for her ballet class, she described what I should make and said she wanted it to be really, really scary. Her costume was at an early stage where it could have gone two ways – light or darkness. She was adamant on darkness as it was more scary.

“You know….” I said “you know what is more terrifying than anything?”

“What?”

“Light shining in the darkness”

“Why?”

“Because when light shines in the darkness it exposes EVERYTHING and THAT is terrifying”

This simple conversation made it hit home to me the power and freedom we have been given in Christ; the incredible gift we have received that saves us from stumbling around in the bondage of utter darkness to walk free and fearless in everlasting light.

We are all born separated from God; spiritually dead. We live in total darkness, deafness and blindness. We go from having an inkling that something isn’t right within us to total brokenness and questioning about who we are. We wrestle with confusion, fear, guilt, shame. No coincidence that all these feelings are rooted in and only produced by lies. I’ve heard people talk of living with some or all of these crushing burdens and in some cases don’t even know why.

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” John 3:19-21

It’s no good measuring ourselves against people who have done worse in our eyes and concluding “well I’m a good person” because when we truly see ourselves in the full light of perfection Himself, God who is pure holiness, we ALL fall short. (Romans 3:23)

“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5

I spent a lot of my teenage years and twenties out clubbing. We’d spend ages listening to music and getting ready and drinking, making sure we didn’t cross that fine line that would result in a bouncer not allowing us in. Once inside, thumping deafening music would leave ears ringing for days and the only communication possible would be a signal to your friends that you were going to the bar. More drinks led to more loss in vision but then from across the room you see him. ‘Wow’ you think ‘who is this guy and why didn’t I notice him before!’

You stumble through the dry ice and blackness and shout into each others ears. Quickly breaking the pact you made with your friends, only an hour before about sticking with the girls, you spend the rest of the night dancing as if you and this man have suddenly been superglued together. Then the dj announces the last song of the night and as you admire the hottest human being you’ve ever seen standing in front of you, the lights come on. Now you see the truth and so does he!

Jesus didn’t come to condemn us but to free us, to rescue us from everlasting darkness and take us into everlasting light, bringing us from death to life. To free us from the bondage and punishment under the power of sin to having freedom and power over sin.

When we come to light himself, all our deeds are exposed, we see clearly who we are, who we have been, where we have been, who we were made for and where we are going. The truth shines so bright that all the lies are exposed. And because of what Jesus did for every single one of us at the cross we are not left terrified but met with loving open arms filled with grace. Amazing grace! And through the resurrection we are given new life, born again, not of flesh but of spirit. When we choose to receive this gift we are instantly sealed with the Holy Spirit, we have God Himself dwelling in us.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of Godchildren born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” John 1: 9-13

God always gives us the freedom to choose, love always does and God is love. We can go on in futile attempts to cover our sin ourselves, working to be a good person or we can receive God’s incredible gift to us and rest in full confidence, covered permanently by Jesus taking it all for us at the cross. Do we go on in darkness or do we turn to him?

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12