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

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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. 

Annoying Christians

I’ve been around countless Christians my whole life, when I was younger there were a few that I found a little annoying. Funnily it wasn’t the ones who pointed out my faults, it wasn’t the ones who shoved the bible in my face, I could handle those people by laughing or walking off. No, the ones that really annoyed me were the impossibly calm and kind ones. They glided around as if everything was perfect in their lives. They were always smiling, kindness and peace endlessly shone out of them.

I remember sniggering at how boring it must be to make so much effort to be good all the time. They were nice, too nice, but I didn’t want to be around them, I lived my life at the other extreme of their lifestyle.

In my early teens I chose to stop going to church which I found either boring or cringey. I spent the next decade living to fill my life with everything I could. Hangover after hangover, comedown after comedown. I lived for me. I needed constant refuelling, more nights out, more holidays, more stuff, more experiences. Then one Christmas I found myself alone, my mum was out the country and unexpectedly feeling lonely I opened a bible (yep that’s how lonely I was!) and this verse jumped out at me –

“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” Isaiah 66:13.

Those words shot through my soul like a lightening strike. Freaked out I slammed that bible shut and didn’t go near another one for over two years!

Because of my upbringing and because I believed in God I always labelled my self as a Christian. What I now know is I was a big hypocrite; I knew of Jesus but I didn’t know Jesus and had no desire to know him. I had long outgrown the sweet childhood stories I heard about him.

In my twenties I was at a point in my life where I hadn’t made any plans. As I had time to reflect I felt really tired, not physically but internally. There was a strange empty longing in my heart. I didn’t understand it because there was no obvious reason. I turned to the self help section at a book shop but was overwhelmed by the titles and every book became relevant as I’d experienced a lot of hurt in my life, but this emptiness was more than that, I went home empty handed.

Soon after that, I was alone in my bedroom and all the feelings imploded, I was done, broken I fell to my knees and I made a pretty scary decision, I cried out to God “I am ready for you to take the lead in my life”. I was a mess and I felt so sorry. Instantly I felt an enormous burden release from my body. A huge weight that I wasn’t even aware that I was carrying lifted off me! Then love came flooding into my heart. Beautiful, powerful, pure love. Wow. The ache in my heart disappeared. It has never come back.

At the time I didn’t realise the small changes that started taking place but looking back now I see my faith started to grow, I also started losing the thirsts for once strong and embedded desires – things that I’d depended on for happiness no longer had a hold on me. I even had the urge to read the “dusty old boring impossible to read” bible, it suddenly felt comforting to me. I didn’t understand most of it but I found hope in Jeremiah 29.11 and although I didn’t know the deeper meaning at the time, I trusted the promise of it.

Soon there came a major turn around in my life and within a year I became a mother and a wife. I thought I was in the home straight of life;- settled, sober and best of all I was secure in the knowledge God loved me. I was content. A few years later life turned bad, really bad. I started praying again, desperately. My faith was tested, I was broken and in a very dark place, I had nothing left in me but to trust God and wait. He showed up in the most mighty, incredible, no words could ever fully describe way! (However helpless a situation feels, God ALWAYS turns it around for good, at his perfect timing). I came out of the most difficult time of my life in absolute awe of how wonderful our Lord is, stunned at the incredible turnaround of my situation, completely forgetting the pain and trouble. His love, his power, his beyond perfect explanations, his wonderfulness overpowered the darkness. He breathed truth into me that exposed every single lie. He showed me an incredible love and attention to detail in my life in ways I couldn’t possibly begin to describe, a love that I definitely did not deserve.

The presence of his perfectness instantly exposed the depth of my imperfectness, the destructiveness of my vast sin and, most humbling, was the fact I used to categorise sin but it became perfectly clear that God does not categorise sin the way we do, it’s one category! I am utterly imperfect but incomprehensibly loved.

I begged to be wrapped up in this incredible love forever, powerful as thunder and so extremely gentle. I begged God to just take me with him, words that I never thought possible to come from me, a woman with a husband and children who I love so strongly. So I asked “if I can’t come with you now how do I stay close to you?” And suddenly my heart flooded – “JESUS” – and as if someone flicked a switch – I was able to see Jesus. As if an invisible screen had been lifted, I saw where he had been all my life, how he had always been there waiting for me, even through the times I had rejected him and laughed at him, it became crystal clear what he had done for me and I fell head over heels in love with him. What joy!

I now understand what peace that surpasses all understanding means and the joy in all circumstances. He really is the light of the world. Jesus never just said “hey I know the way, psst I know the truth, life is over there… ” he said “I AM the way, the truth and the life”. “I AM” !

Something strange also happened – I started to read the bible again but this time I understood it’s meaning. The book that was old and dusty and not easy to understand suddenly became alive and read like the most beautiful love letter. I had been given sharp fresh new ears to hear and eyes to see what God was saying. I finally understood what the guy who wrote “Amazing Grace” was talking about – “I was blind but now I see”! Life became so bright, I never even realised I was in darkness before light came in. I started to see strangers the way God sees them, totally precious and loved beyond measure. My heart became calm, totally content with an abundance of joy, continually being drenched in a constant love that has me singing and dancing and wanting to shout about Jesus from every roof top. He’s Alive!!! He loves you!!!! So much!

Now I see that God’s love is not to do with our efforts in being “good”, or practicing religious duties or trying to change ourselves. It is not by our efforts at all. There is absolutely nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less. No matter how far we run, he is patiently waiting for us to turn back to him. He loves us and has made a way for us in Jesus. We need do nothing else, absolutely nothing else, but trust in him. 

“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.”

John 3:16