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Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Joy Challenge: Easter Sunday 20th March 2014

Thank you for journeying with me on this relentless pursuit of joy. Today is the last day of the Lenten Joy Challenge though really it is but another daily opportunity to continue pursuing, to keep telling ourselves where our hope is. I am struggling with being ill. The world, in love and concern but without definite hope, says keep your chin up. That is not good enough. I do not keep my chin up in my own strength. I do not by myself raise my head, induce positive thinking and plod on. I hope in god. I tell my soul to do it. Psalm 42. This is what today is all about. The reminder that hope is real, tangible, eternally promised. He is risen indeed. Hallelujah. He is risen and so will we be. We have resurrection hope that shatters through the world's night, through the darkness of yesterday - the dead day, the dark day, the day where Jesus is still in the tomb - and into the glorious light of Easter morn. 
The slam poet, Mary Kate Makkai says, "You remind me to get up and get on with it, you remind me that flowers can bloom through stone, remind me that Jesus Christ promised heaven to a dying thief, remind me that it has to get darker before you can see the stars.' Yesterday it was oh so dark: friends fled, disciples grieving, Satan victorious, the demons shouting with jubilant joy. But death was the foundation for God's greatest victory; the moment of God's seeming absence from his son on the cross is oh so beautifully re-understood in the light of that same abandoned son sitting at his right hand in glory. He is risen indeed. Thus, on this day of days we cry, Oh death - oh sickness, oh suffering, oh pain, oh plodding on, oh failure, oh repeatedly sinning in the same way - where is your sting? Where is your victory? He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. Come on soul, REJOICE

Pavement white flowers wallpaper

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Joy Challenge: Good Friday 18th April 2014

Last night, Hamish and I went to see Noah at the cinema and I came away feeling really angry and confused. Forced to confront the judgement of a God who cannot bear what we do to each other and to this world, I came home sad and fearful and thinking about Hell. I slept very little, mulling over the film, frustrated by a distortion of God muddled with moments of truth, and yet as I ran this morning all I could think about was Jesus. Not Aronofsky's capricious, merciless deity, but the one who stands as a lamb that has been slain (Revelation 5:6). In the film, God is silent. Unspeaking. Unmoved by his broken creatures. The Guardian Review puts it this: "There is no literal God here, just haunted actual character would have risked absurdity. But leaving him out, or transforming him into some pantheistically correct concept, is to flinch from the strange, stark mystery of the story itself; a story in which God speaks to humans on what is almost a level playing field. Here, Noah must absorb and ventriloquise God's word: Crowe is effectively playing both Noah and God as a frowning alpha-patriarch hybrid." And yet today - more than most days - we remember that God speaks definitively through his crucified Son. (Hebrew 1:2) Love's definition (1 John 4:10) hanging on a tree thinking of us as He dies, becoming the sin that is entirely contradictory to his nature so that we might be set free from the sin that is a part of ours, becoming a curse for us that we might be liberated from the curse that shackles us. "What does love look like, is the question I've been pondering" - sings Misty Edwards - "but then I saw him there hanging on a tree, looking at me, he was looking at me, looking at Him, staring through me, and I could not escape those beautiful eyes, and I began to weep and weep...He had arms wide open, a heart exposed; arms wide open; He was bleeding, bleeding. Love's definition, love's definition was looking at me, looking at Him, hanging on a tree.This is how I know what love is." Oh, rejoice today, on this good-est of Fridays, that we do not worship a silent God, an unconcerned God, a distant God, but the God who went beyond any length we can imagine to get us back.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Joy Challenge: Wednesday 16th March 2014

Praise god for refinement. "Endure trials for the sake of discipline.God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? Discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12.7,11. Ouch. Seriously. Ouch. And yet, God is oh so jealous for our holiness, so desirous for us to be like his son that he will stop at nothing to refine us. Through illness, through difficult relationships, through revealing the depths of our own depravity in our irritations with others, through iron sharpening iron as we are grated against each other. Proverbs 27:17. This refining is a painful business. And yet oh how we long for its fruit. How we ache to be holy and clean and pure, washed and rinsed and mangled to perfection. He disciplines for our good that we may share in his holiness. Hebrews 12:10. Hallelujah.

The Joy Challenge: Tuesday 15th April 2014

Good old Mary Mary. Sitting in costa feeling a little down in the dumps and the 90s remix on the radio blasts out..."Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance. I'll praise you through my circumstance." So again I say, come on, soul! Yesterday I had a really frustrating hospital appointment. No one's quite sure what's wrong with me but my body still insists that I'm not very well and I'm finding it difficult to not fall into self-pity. But but but. God is sovereign. He actually is. That is amazing. He's perfectly in control of all things and He works them for our good. Somehow. 2 corinthians 12.9-10. If we want to know his power then we need to accept, and even DELIGHT (!) in being weak. So, here's to delighting. Let us delight in our broken humanity, our inability, our groaning bodies that long to be clothed with heaven so that we know his power today.

The Joy Challenge: Monday 14th April 2014

Flagging this morning... Come on, soul! Rejoice. Pray. Be thankful. In ALL circumstances. Grumpy monday mornings are not the exception to the rule. Do not just rejoice in yesterday's goodness, in scrabbling together a list of thankfulness from the past - although that isn't a bad idea - but wake up to the reality of today. His mercies are new right now. His plan is unfolding as I text. He is pouring out his goodness and love over a broken and hurting world with each character that I type. He is setting his love minute by minute upon us. Oh, come on, soul! Quit your grumbling, your whining, your can't-really-be-bothered-ness. Breathe in deep, look up into the blue sky, smell the freshly dug soil and be GLAD.

The Joy Challenge: Saturday 12th April 2014

May I never lose the wonder, the wonder of the cross. May I see it for the first time, standing as a sinner lost. Undone by mercy and left speechless, watching wide eyed at the cost. May I never lose the wonder, the wonder of the cross. Today's joy is deep and wide and high and long. Fathomless and bottomless, eternally mysterious. Justification, propitiation, sanctification. Scapegoat, exchange, debt paid, bridge made. An inexhaustible array of metaphors at our disposal to try and make sense of the unsensemakeable, the unbelievable, the unthinkable. The shamefilled folly of it: love saturated lunacy on full display as we watch the beautifully perfect God Man dying in our place, becoming estranged to remove our estrangement, being forsaken by the father to take away our forsakenness, willingly becoming lost that we could be found. Oh, this is deep magic indeed.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Joy Challenge: Friday 11th April 2014

There are some words in the English language that are reserved for special purposes: "gurgling" of streams and babies. That irresistibly contagious sound that bubbles out of a baby when they're laughing, forcing everyone in the room to coo and giggle along. As our godson Dennis did this evening: the whole room captivated by his tiny, irresistibly joyful face. "Gambolling" - a word I have only ever heard in relation to lambs, that jumping, skipping, playing, leaping, prancing, frolicking, young legs splayed thing that lambs do because they don't quite know how to move any other way. Just as babies do the gurgle thing because its their peculiar expression of happiness, of being alive, so lambs do the gambolling. Us humans - especially us adult humans - are missing a trick; we're forgotten how we're supposed to play. Lambs and babies are a pretty good reminder that playing is important, that God is the good Dad and we are his little children. And so, today, be playful. Do something outrageously silly just for the sake of it. Find a peculiar expression of happiness and practice it with all your might. 2 Samuel 6:14.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Joy Challenge: Thursday 10th April 2014

What is so good about the good news? A question asked today during training with a local church encouraging people to share Jesus in their local community. For if people don't understand what's good about our good news then it's no news which is bad news! And so, some goodness in the good news from the lovely people we met today...

That God loves us. Utterly.
That we are not alone. 
That he is our refuge, our help, and our protection.
That he is the good Father and we are his children.
That we have hope for this life and the next..
That we are not a mistake but people intricately designed and made by a loving Creator.
That we have been invited into an adventure, a calling, a purpose, a point, a mission.
That we belong and are accepted.
That, through Jesus, we have a relationship with the King, the Lord Almighty.
That, because of his great love, we are not consumed.
We are no longer simply known by God but can know Him.

This is good news indeed.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Joy Challenge: Wednesday 9th April 2014

Today we had the privilege of spending time with Chris Duffet, and his friend Edward, from The Light Project. Each email he sends is a reminder to 'Be the Light,' to be those we were called to be, and to call others to share in the light that we have been given. There is something marvellously, joyfully subversive about being children of the light, of the day (1 Thessalonians 5:5) in a dark world, a confused and hurting generation (Philippians 2:15). We are those who, through Jesus, now know the one who lives in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16) and have ourselves become bearers of that same light. We are lights on the hills of our cities, much needed beacons of Christ deliberately placed in our communities. The same power that raised Christ Jesus the grave - yes, that same resurrection, death conquering power - lives in us. (Ephesians 1:19-20)

This is utterly bonkers.

But it is also the truth.

More wise words from Newbiggin: "The only hermeneutic of the gospel is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it."

And so, arise and SHINE (Isaiah 60:1). Put on the armour that God himself dons (Isaiah 59). Be clothed with love and faith as a breastplate, and place the hope of salvation firmly upon your head as a helmet. (1 Thessalonians 5:8) Live a life today that provokes questions. Why such hope, such love, such joy, such irresistible shiny-ness? For the only way to answer (1 Peter 3:15), the only explanation for our inexplicable light, must be to point back to the Lamb of God, the Light of the World, the one in whose light we have believed. Let us put our trust in His light today, so that we become children of Light. (John 12:36)

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Joy Challenge: Tuesday 8th April 2014

The sun is a glorious part of creation. This morning I felt the warmth of its waking rays on my back as I ran down the river. As I turned a corner, I was confronted by its full blazing splendour, face upturned, eyes closed, running with joyful abandon. The world is a beautiful place when the sun shines: each leaf gleams its iridescent green, each paperly blossom petal distinct, edges set ablaze. And now at sundown, the sun's waning light is different but no less beautiful: a rich, golden butter coating the clouds. With the rising and the setting of the sun, with each dawn and each dusk, let us press on to acknowledge Him.
Hosea 6:3
Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Joy Challenge: Monday 7th April 2014

"The gospel offers an understanding of the human situation which makes it possible to be filled with a hope which is both eager and patient even in the most hopeless situations." (Newbiggin) Hallelujah. Thank you, Lord, for joyful hope (Romans 12:12), for eternal optimism, for the absurdity of believing that a crucified man is the one who has authority over all (Colossians 2:15), for knowing that as it is, as it was, is not as it always will be, for trusting in the God of the impossible, the unthinkable, the un-askable, the not even dream-able. (Ephesians 3:20) Oh God, so fill us up with hope today that we overflow with it (Romans 15:13), that it escapes from us and is lavished upon those lives that cannot see how things can be any different. We are those who hope relentlessly, foolishly, laughably, persisting in the face of all things to the contrary. We are those who know that Good Friday is not the end but wait, with confidence, for sunrise on Easter morning. Hope will not disappoint us. (Romans 5:5)

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Joy Challenge: Sunday 6th April 2014.

This morning our friend Lewis stood up in church and gave testimony. That is a very hard thing to do. It is also a very beautiful thing to do, and a very powerful one. It is always a beautifully powerful thing to see how God is moving in the lives of his people, to hear snippets of our stories as they overlap and interweave into the one great story of which we are all a part. In Revelation it says that God's people will overcome not simply by the blood of the lamb, but by the word of their testimony. (12:11) This is mind-blowing. When we stand before the throne of God, he will want to hear our story. Our story, unique, fumbling, complicated, full of accidental diversions, is part of our victory. It is part of the way in which God has chosen to transform the world and bring in the new earth. We are the children of glory dragging heaven downwards as we live out a story that no one else but us can live. Our lives are extremely important. No one else can do them as God wants them to be done. Just us. And, in that moment, when our story seems to be at an end, and we are standing before Him, we will realise that all our stories lead us to the beginning of the world's greatest tale: it is what The Last Battle calls, "Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before." Amen to that Mr C.S.Lewis. Amen to that.

The Joy Challenge: Saturday 5th April 2014

Praise the Lord for walking. I have been having an essay flop day again and have just started wandering around Barnwell asking for God to restore my vision. I should do this more often: music surging through my ipod, the smell of keen spring bbqs, long evenings of light skies and breezy mildness, blossom flurrying through the air like pink snow, a text from a missed friend, watching lives happen as people cycle, play, cook, natter, laugh, argue, moped. It is good that this is the place that God has called me to be; these are the people to whom I have been sent. And that God is here in the midst of it all. In my waking walking essaying texting breathing living. God is here. Happy Saturday. 

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Joy Challenge: Friday 4th April 2014

"For I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:11-13. Often, and especially today, these words seem so far beyond my reach. I am struggling with health and all I feel like doing is wallowing in a bath of self pity, ignoring everyone else, and justifying myself in being grumpy. None of that is ok. None of that is Godly. None of it is in light of all Jesus is and has done. But that is just words. Nice theory to try and convince myself out of the problem (and really only succeeding in making me feel bad), and although talking to your soul is sometimes the only solution - see Psalm 42 - how do you really learn to do what Paul did? How do you go from knowing that you should be content to knowing contentment itself? 

I am not there. But at least I know that. I know the goal although am clueless to the exact route. And yet, Paul does provide a clue: think beyond yourself, above yourself and your situation. Not quite the same as trying to tell yourself to snap out of it but actually transforming your thought pattern. Think of the truth of the gospel, the honour of being a servant and child of God, the justice that will come one day, the purity of our snow-white, blood-sprinkled selves, the loveliness of spring flowers and sunrise and birdsong, the spotlessly commendable character of Christ in all his humility and compassion, grace and truth, the excellence of fellowship, and the awesome praiseworthiness of the Lamb who was slain, stained forever that we might be clean. 

Think about such things, Nic. Stop thinking about yourself. And the God of peace will be with you. And do you know what? He is. A long blog post later has somehow been part of the journey, part of the secret. Thank you to those who read. To brothers and sisters struggling to be content above circumstance. I am glad to have others to practice this great secret with, for I cannot grasp it on my own. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Joy Challenge: Thursday 3rd April 2014

Give us this day our Daily Bread"And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house." (Mark 2:15) Rejoice in eating together as Jesus so clearly did. In sharing food and company, in sitting round a table, in laughter, in serving, in enjoying the fruit of communal labours. Slow down and appreciate the goodness of what's been given, savouring the dailyness of daily bread when many don't have anything daily. "They broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts." (Acts 2:46) I am not good at this. Eating is rarely an act gladly and generously received but merely an expected event, calorie counting or gluttony or somewhere between the two. I long for more gladness, more sincerity in eating, more delighting in the company of others. Today we ate with a big bunch of teenagers at Drop In and our table was full of joy, of silliness, of giggles between mouthfuls. More of this please, Jesus. And more recognition of its goodness. More thankfulness, not only for our food but for those we eat it with. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Joy Challenge: Wednesday 2nd April 2014

Gifts are a good thing to celebrate. The giver is a better one. For our deepest craving is not for something but someone. And so: rejoice in God. There is no greater satisfaction than can be found in Christ for he alone can fulfil our desires. All else is counted as worthless in comparison to his surpassing worth. Philippians 3:8. We relish the taste of fresh bread as an appetiser for his heavenly bread. John 6. All our desires are meant to point us to the one who can ultimately meet our longings because he alone is what the souls seeks and hungers for. Oh, that this were true for me. But I am too easily satisfied, contented - in C.S. Lewis' words - by mud pie making in the slum in ignorance of a holiday at the sea. Or, in David Platt's, settling for a processed hamburger when I could have a steak. My desire for Jesus is too weak. Today I pray for an increased hunger for him, a hunger that spurns all else and refuses to be satisfied by anything less. 

Isaiah 55:1-3
"Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live."

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Joy Challenge: Tuesday 1st April 2014

Still a slight struggle to be joyful today, but encouraged by the joy and persistence of my beautiful friend Flick, and by incredible spring weather. This morning I was reminded of my dependence on God. I woke up tired and grumpy and with a headache and proceeded to curl up in a ball in our prayer room for 20 minutes simply asking Him to make me feel able to do the day and not be in such a bad mood. Amazingly, though not surprisingly - and yet still I am surprised - my headache vanished and I was enabled to spend time resting in His presence. Why, oh why am I so slow to learn that old lesson of childlikeness? To learn that His longing is for us to simply be his kids and ask for help, to acknowledge our need of him, to recognise that every breath in and breath out is an act of mercy. Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:3. I don't know what this means. I know what it doesn't mean though. It doesn't mean sitting in a library getting frustrated instead of remembering that I'm trying to honour God in my work not achieve some other end. It doesn't mean getting stressed and worried and anxious and then praying as a last resort. It doesn't mean trying to do everything I've planned in a day rather than enjoying what God has given me to do. Oh to be more like a child! To yawn sleepily and crawl onto the lap of a loving Father instead of staying up late labouring. For unless Dad's helping us to build, what's the point anyway? Psalm 127:1-2.