Joy is a Gift

When all my prideful, rebellious ways are smashed to smithereens and my soul is slumped on the floor with no where left to go is when God steps in. It’s as if those are the moments that I allow God complete authority to do his work in me and through me. Our flesh tries and tries but it never gets us very far. We can exhaust ourselves reading all the books and downloading all the apps about how to train ourselves to be better. To militarise our lives so we can have some sort of control over parts of our character that we are not pleased with, but it’s long, exhausting, all consuming and never leaves much room for anyone else.

Last week while I was rushing around the house, okay, storming around the house picking stuff up and collecting empty toilets rolls. My husband decided that this was the perfect time to give me some constructive criticism. “You’ve been really grumpy and you’ve been telling them off a lot”. Are you kidding me? I’m clearly at my limit here, apparently the designated family empty toilet roll collector, I’m overwhelmed, I’ve missed two of my zoom classes, I make my bed every morning only to return after breakfast to find it turned over and my duvet thrown out of the window into the garden (okay its never like that but it always feels like it). I had spent a good hour spot cleaning blue paint, everywhere I went there was blue paint on the carpet, no whistling while I worked here but instead, while frantically scrubbing, a muttering and shouting “why!” “How!?” “Common guys you know not to bring paint up here!”

While making dinner, the baby shrieked and before I’d even turned around I assumed his toy had been taken and told my daughter off. In fact she had been trying to help him. I apologised.

I lay in bed that night, having found a splodge of dry blue paint on the sole of my slipper, and with my translation of the words of the earlier constructive criticism playing over in my head “you are rubbish, you are doing a rubbish job” Then all the memories of all the times I’ve been an awful person to be around flooded into my head. “What’s going on, Lord?! Help me” I prayed.

At breakfast the next morning as my porridge was getting stuck at the lump in my throat, I burst into tears and apologised to everyone in my family for shouting a lot and all the times I’d not been fair. Everyone immediately protested, gathered round me, called me the “best Mummy in the world” and began to list all the reason why. This was so sweet but still didn’t fix the problem. How was this going to be fixed? Then I thought about joy, I thought about when Jesus fills your heart with joy it breaks through all situations. Even on grey days everything sparkles as if in the sun. Have you noticed when you’re down you can’t even appreciate beautiful views or birds in the trees? Everything sort of becomes colourless.

Now, miraculously, I lost the thirst for alcohol a long time ago so couldn’t even soothe myself with a bottle or even take anything else that could dull my mind, so I prayed, I left it all to Jesus, I took all my faults and burdens to the cross and trusted God with his plan for my life. Trusted that he could fill me with joy. I remembered the powerful, inexpressible joy of Lord even in the darkness of grief and also how I used to “Pray and Play through the Day” when the children were smaller.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,”

Ephesians 5:18

I told my husband that I’m powerless to permanently change myself, to not be a “grumps” as he calls me. I just can’t do it. I explained that life was like walking through the desert and I keep having to be refreshed by the one who freely gives the water of life (Rev 21:6) If I don’t get this real drink then my spirit lays parched and my flesh reigns with all its deceit.

“For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.”

Romans 7:19

So I boldly approached the throne of grace and God met me and refreshed me with love. You see, sin makes us want to hide and try to fix things ourselves. I’m especially good at blaming others or pretending to myself that it’s really not that bad. But prompted by the Holy Spirit’s loving conviction, I decided I wasn’t going to give myself a break on this, I wasn’t going to be kind to myself, I wasn’t going to make excuses but I was going to depend on the only One who can forgive and change my heart and desires.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:8-9

Sin weighs us down and separates us, not only from others but from God. Sin is actually death’s sting. It chokes us with guilt and smothers us with shame. In a life saved it grieves the Holy Spirit. From the moment we turn our backs on sin and turn toward God, He gives us new heart, He puts Godly desires within us and we start to lose the taste for former things of the world, it is a supernatural heart change. He does the work and He does it so gently and lovingly, not condemning us but filling us with the things that truly fulfil; He works on the deep things of our heart; our desires, addictions, adulterous affairs, illegal activities, our lying tongues, our vindictive ways. He fills us in the spirit so we no longer thirst after these things in the natural. He’s continuously transforming us to be like Jesus, even while we sleep! It’s pressing and painful at times, but each trial big or small we come through singing His praises and marvelling at His great love.

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Hebrews 12:11

So I sit here and write this recovering from a pulled hamstring and sprained ankle from running, egg and spoon and three legged races with my family, and remind myself I’m running the big race –

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Hebrews 12:1-2

The Human Heart

God is for you. God isn’t against you. He grieves the things that have hurt us, the people who did despicable things to us. He fights for us so to breathe truth into our lives where others may have spoken evil things over us. There is so much suffering in this world and man in his finite mind thinks if he were God he or she could fix the world in an instant. Heal all those sick children, strike down those who murdered. Man? What would you do? Would you be as just to your relatives as you would be to a stranger who committed the same crime? If it were all in your hands, would your world be fair? Would you heal the sick child of someone who had taken the life of yours? And how would you deal with your own wickedness? Every thought you had to steal or a flash of wanting someone else’s home, possessions, spouse? Every time you’d lied or used someone’s else’s body for selfish pleasure and discarded them like rubbish or your relentless thoughts of revenge. The times you tossed a coin in a cup but didn’t bother to even look at the person holding it or like me even crossed the road to avoid them. All the times you did the very opposite of lift up and encourage friends, colleagues, strangers or loved ones. Our disputes with neighbours, keying someone’s car, wishing someone dead. So are the depths of evil in our hearts and we haven’t even got to the crimes that break earthly laws.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23

You talk of how God, in all his power would make it a perfect world. We, mankind, are so far gone, in every way. Our hearts are evil beyond repair. Even the very ‘best’ (aka sinning in ways that don’t seem as bad or obvious as others’ sin) of us fall short of a Holy standard.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Jeremiah 17:9

So God looks at the world he made and the people in it, he sees the sin and darkness in our hearts and He comes, the Word made flesh. The only one, perfectly sinless, who could take the sins of the world. And this he does in his death at the cross; stripped, beaten and bloodied by men and it didn’t stop there, worse still, the unthinkable, God’s wrath against our sin violently came down on Him. Jesus is plunged into darkness, God’s love taken away from him, absolute spiritual torture and agony and all so that through him he makes the only way for us to be right with God. He lovingly gives us a choice to accept salvation, the free gift of life in him so we never have to remain in eternal darkness with God’s face turned against us. All the sins of all people, everything we ever did, thought and said and will do, think and say, all our deserved punishment came down on Jesus. Because God is a god of justice, sin is dealt with, it’s not ignored or covered up.

“But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” Acts 2:24

And God raises him because death has no power over him and only in him and through him we walk freely and free into new life with him, where our sins have been exposed by his light, the light of the world. No longer slaves to sin, no longer ruled by guilt, shackled by shame, harassed by anxious thoughts and all the ways sin permeates and wreaks havoc in our bodies, minds and spirits – ultimately ending in eternal death, both physical and spiritual, an eternity in the absence of God’s love, holiness, gentleness, truth, justice, peace, life, light, mercy, grace, hope, healing, comfort, kindness, joy.

“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 3:20-21

When God’s holy, wondrous light blazed over me, it was the first time I saw myself as I am. Not the good or kind person that I thought I was but his light exposed the very depths of my nature and in an instant I saw that I was the worst of the worst. I understood I was wicked to the core but also God’s perfect love was pouring over me, his amazing grace poured over a wretch like me! Sinner that I am I was loved and because of the cross nothing can ever stand in the way of his love for me. “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” Psalm 103:12 and he has made me new “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

We no longer scurry about in the darkness, oppressed and in bondage by sin but are born again. We are given new hearts, hearts that are able and desire to do the will of God, hearts that have tasted and are filled with the goodness of God and so grow day by day repulsed by doing, thinking, saying anything not of God. Jesus went through the hardest unimaginable journey so we could easily come home to him. This is the love of God, this is how much he loves every single person on this planet. This is love.

“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 4:10

The Church

Who knows that terrible boredom in a church service? The type of boredom that makes you want to peel your skin off and the dread that rises as you realise that the sermon may actually never come to an end.

We walked into an old church a few months ago and the children had such fun playing in the pews, singing round the alter and reading from the pulpit. It was a lovely sight as only a few days previously I had been praying that I wanted my children to always feel at home in any church they entered. I was brought up very familiar with church environments and my children are not as we don’t go very often. This long season of my life has really taught me to keep my eyes on Jesus. Not to rely on tradition, religion, nostalgia; the smell of old hymn books, the creek of oak pews, soft light through the stained glass. All lovely and good but the church is not made from mortar and stone, it is made of people (1 Peter 2:5) Church is not an activity to be done each week but it is who we are. My place in this season is not within the physical walls but outside of those walls ready with the Good News. Good news which everyone is invited to receive, those inside nightclub walls, sat beside supermarket walls, hanging around sitting on walls, surrounded by marble walls, trapped behind prison walls, confined to religious walls, those who have built their own walls and everyone who is yet to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psalm 34.8) because through Jesus, God has smashed down the wall that kept us from him, the wall that blocked our hearing, took away our sight and darkened our hearts to Him. Once we receive His gift of salvation we are given a new heart, a new spirit, (Ezekiel 36:26) our hearing and sight is restored and His word is then welcomed balm for a softened heart and not painfully boring arrows rebounding off a hardened heart.

For a long time I thought Church was about weddings, funerals, Sundays, Christmas and Easter. But Church is every day, every second of the day; hallelujahs in the car, blessings in the street, forgiveness all round, lavishing love on enemies. Bringing healing to the hurting, grieving with those who grieve, worship in hospitals, singing praise in crematoriums. The church is one family that spans across continents and denominations, breathing in scriptures, speaking His word, living life spirit led and fully free, walking in power over all darkness. Hearts blazing in inextinguishable light. Our brokenness exposed. Shedding our old nature and walking in the new. Having everything in common with someone we just met because we have the same Heavenly Father. Praying for each other. Pouring out gifts that have been poured into and over us. Overflowing with immeasurable joy through all circumstances and always ready to give an account of the hope we have to anyone who asks. (1 Peter 3:15) Church is new mercies every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), coming boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) , thankfulness for every blink and breath and fully resting in and reflecting His glory.

“ But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:16-18

Light Party 

It was such a treat to spend time just me and my eldest on Halloween night; to take her out for dinner, watch the sunset and then go to a light party with music, games and glow sticks. During the evening pumpkins were given out to prep and while we scooped out all the seeds and placed a light inside, a lady spoke of this being like what God wants to do with our hearts; take out all the sadness and mess and fill it with light, joy and peace. I thought it was a really lovely simple way to interpret the verse “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 

If you are someone who is yet to encounter the magnitude of God’s love, it doesn’t matter how old or young you are he is ready to drench you in it the moment you ask. Do you have to earn it? Definitely not. Do you have to try and be good or do good things? Not a chance! Do you have to try and change yourself? Not one bit. Do you have to hide all the bad stuff? Absolutely not. You have a Father who has dealt with the darkness and is ready to ignite the heart that asks a with the light that can never ever be extinguished.

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13 

I was Blind but now I See

  

Luke 24:13
Jesus walks along with two followers returning from Jerusalem but they are kept from recognising him. I love that he asks them what’s wrong because God’s humour really shines through here, it reminds me of the playful excitement of a parent when they’ve got you your dream gift but haven’t told you yet. The two friends are so sad, they can’t understand what has happened to the one who was to save them. They had heard the news “Jesus has risen” but it seemed like nonsense to them. I love the way Jesus pulls out their feelings by asking them questions. 

We have a loving father who doesn’t give up on us even when we have given up, who walks with us even when we are unaware that he does, who is here to listen and take our worries and problems and breathe on us the truth that overcomes the lies.

Jesus explains everything to them. When they arrive at their destination, Jesus goes to continue on. It’s only after they urge him to stay with them, inviting him in and Jesus breaks bread and gives it to them that “their eyes were opened and they recognised him and he disappeared from their sight”. Then it hits home that it had been Jesus all along -“Were not our hearts burning within us as he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us”. And even though it was late and they had wanted to get back home they couldn’t hold in their excitement and joy and immediately return to Jerusalem to share the good news with the others.

When you urge Jesus to stay with you, accepting Him as your Lord and Saviour, he comes to live in you. Your ears and eyes are opened to him, he gives you the wisdom to understand his word and a new heart capable of doing his will.

In 2 Corinthians 3:16 we read
“But whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed”. Just one encounter with the risen Christ will change your life for eternity. There are no special words, no special place to be, no special praying position, just a heart that says “yes” to receive God’s greatest gift. Jesus is walking right along side you now, waiting for you to invite him in, longing with such joy to give you eyes that see, to enjoy the beauty of his presence now and for ever. 

How did you wake up this morning? 

How did you wake up this morning? With sunshine streaming through the windows? Anxiety filled? With shouts of “Mummy!”/ Heavy with grief/ Excited for the day ahead/ On a pillow still wet with tears/ refreshed/ exhausted/ Having everything you ever dreamed of/ frustrated /angry at the world/ in a tender and loving embrace/ Still drunk from last night/ discovering an unidentifiable human snoozing next to you/ the happiest you’ve ever been/ shaking in the grip of addiction/ hurt/ isolated/ afraid/ lonely/ with wonderful plans for the day/ drowning in struggles / wanting to sleep and never wake up/ not knowing how to get out of bed let alone make it through the day or with everything just perfect?

However you woke up this morning know that Jesus will meet you exactly where you are. You don’t need to move a muscle, all you need to do is ask.

Unfortunately some religious institutions, our conscience or when we put our faith in the opinions of men or human traditions it makes us feel we have to dress up in our “Sunday best”, try to be a “good” human, bury our mess and struggles. It convinces us to use our every effort to change our behaviour, it can crush us with strict impossible demands, it can confuse, divide, anger or isolate.

Putting faith in religion can be so overbearing or leave us feeling total desolation in the absurdity of rituals.

The good news is you don’t have to make any effort at all. So however you woke up this morning, if you want to know Jesus, just simply ask him. You don’t need to try to change yourself or hide or disguise because we have a God who doesn’t mind meeting us in the mess, he is ready to heal, ready to turn our lives around, his love for you is bigger than any problem, shame or pain. He has dealt with it all once and for all at the cross. He will meet you wherever you are right now and wake you up in a way you’ve never been woken up before. 

“This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Ephesians 5:4