Hymn of the “week” – I will sing

This “week” the hymn of the week is our closing one from Sunday morning’s service. I love it for the combination of wonder at what Christ has done, realism of the struggle now and hope of what is to come. It’s so good that I want it to be the closing hymn for my funeral…

I like the line in this version in the last verse: “saved by grace, for glory meet.” Here “meet” means something like “suitable” – the idea is that the grace which saves us makes us people who will be at home in glory.

God’s grace not only lifts us up from a hopeless position, it also keeps on transforming us through all the darkest of dark valleys we may go through to make us into people who will one day be at home with God, when he comes to make his home with his people.  It reminds us that whatever circumstances we may walk through it is worth persevering to the end, and that, if such perseverance seems impossible, we have a God whose presence enables us to walk that road.  His hand will hold us even if darkness means we do not perceive it.

 1. I will sing the wondrous story
Of the Christ who died for me.
How He left His home in glory
For the cross of Calvary.
Yes I’ll sing the wondrous story
Of the Christ who died for me
Sing it with the saints in glory
Gathered by the crystal sea.

2. I was lost, but Jesus found me,
Found the sheep that went astray,
Threw His loving arms around me,
Drew me back into His way.
Days of darkness still come o’er me,
Sorrow’s path I oft may tread,
But His presence still is with me;
By His hand I’m safely led.

3. He will keep me till the river
Rolls its waters at my feet;
Then He’ll bear me safely over,
Saved by grace, for glory meet.
Yes, I’ll sing the wondrous story
Of the Christ who died for me,
Sing it with the saints in glory,
Gathered by the crystal sea. (FH Rowley)

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Refreshing Reads

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The oasis of refreshment in the midst of nights of broken sleep recently has been reading the two books pictured.  Reading Eugene Peterson’s carefully crafted book on “Growing Up in Christ” seems a good thing right now. Maybe I’ll review it at some point. I want to write more on this topic. I have so much in my head in an as yet unformed way on the whole idea of growing up in our faith without moving on or away from the things we ought always to hold on to.

For the meantime I will soak up Peterson’s wisdom from Ephesians.  I love the way he writes and makes me think from a new perspective. Just the way his first chapter on the text of the letter begins at the central hinge point of chapter 4, rather than at the very start gives a refreshing new perspective. To whet your appetite I thought I’d share a quote from early on in the book. I’ve only just started but I think the book will be very good.

‘The resurrection of Jesus establishes the conditions in which we live and mature in the Christian life and carry on this conversation: Jesus alive and present. A lively sense of Jesus’ resurrection which took place without any help or comment from us, keeps us from attempting to take charge of our own development and growth. Frequent meditation on Jesus’ resurrection – the huge mystery of it, the unprecedented energies flowing from it – prevents us from reducing the language of our conversation to what we can define or control. ‘Practise resurrection’, a phrase I got from Wendell Berry, strikes just the right note. We live our lives in the practice of what we do not originate and cannot anticipate. When we practise resurrection we continuously enter into what is more than we are. When we practise resurrection we keep company with Jesus, alive and present, who knows where we are going better than we do, which is always “from glory unto glory”.’

In his conversation around chapter he talks about the whole idea of gifts which resonated with the short story from “That Distant Land” by Wendell Berry which I had read the night before.  If you have not yet read any of Wendell Berry’s short stories around the fictional town of Port William you should. They are beautifully written, evocative work which transports you to communities rooted in place.  Valuing what really matters they are quiet protests against our globalised world where markets rule everything.

The story in question is titled “It wasn’t me”.  I cannot capture it in one quote, but something in this story resonated deeply in ways I haven’t fully figured out. It seems to me that this quote captures the heart of the matter that Eugene Peterson discusses around the idea of gifts. If you don’t get it, then go and read the story and you might just see it too…

Elton, a tenant farmer, now owns the land he farms due to the intervention of another who is now explaining his actions:

‘ “…But when you quit living in the price and start living in the place, you’re in a different line of succession.”

Elton laughs. “The line of succession I’m in says you’ve got to make it on your own. I’m in the line of succession of root, hog, or die.”

“That may have been the line of succession you were in, but it’s not the one you’re in now. The one you’re in now is different.”

“Well, how did I get in?” Elton says almost in a sigh, as if longing to be out of it.

“The way you got in it, I guess, was by being chosen. The way you stay in is by choice.”’

The conversation goes on, emphasising the ideas of gift and receiving. Of life governed neither by choice nor by passive acceptance, but by gift and active receiving.  An activity that has nothing to do with earning, but everything to do with giving and receiving.

The whole concept connected nicely to Eugene Peterson’s conversation in his book. He discusses how God accepts the gifts we bring to him, but also how Jesus is the one who gives gifts to his people. He writes: “We have been given much. Now we begin exercising gifts in community. We gradually learn to live what we have been given wisely and well. We grow up.”

All of this makes me wonder if much of our language that we tend to use as Christians to describe out relationship to God can be too transactional. Too much about price and not enough about gift, and receiving and giving. Right now that’s all part of my ponderings. Perhaps these ideas will take more shape and produce some more posts…

22nd Sept 2007

ImageThis weekend Mark and I celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary. Once upon a time I had dreams that we would be able to get away for the weekend but reality means we will be praying hard that the boys settle down for sleep without hassle and we can enjoy a dessert night in.

At one point this week I found myself in a sea of emotion and confusion standing looking at our wedding photo wondering where have all the hopes and ideals we had on that day gone. Life right now in the nitty gritty reality of transition and two small boys seems a long way from those days of high ideals. But I am thankful for those ideals because they give me reason to push through the mess and the hard times and not settle for the mundane.

A prayer I have been using for the boys and their relationship with each other has become more and more significant for us as a family, that in all humbleness and gentleness and patience we bear with one another in love in order to keep the bond of peace. Humbleness, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, in love, bond of peace. There are days when these are characteristics so foreign and far stretched it seems pointless but the conviction this prayer brings in my life day by day keeps me grounded in this gift of marriage and family that God has gifted to me. These words keep me from building a wall around myself when I have had enough, when I want to slam the door and retreat, when I want to throw the towel in.

5 years ago we celebrated with friends and family and declared in front of them that we were entering into a covenant with one another and acknowledging that we needed God’s grace and strength to keep going. We have had many moments of great joys and mountain top moments but there have been many deep valleys and dark days too. We have celebrated and delighted in the blessing of our boys, Matthew and Jonathan and grieved the loss of Noah and Elisabeth. We have lived in Vancouver and tasted to goodness of life on the West Coast and it still feels like that is home in many ways. Now we are thankful for the time to be closer to family and enjoying discovering the countryside around us and reconnecting with friends.

Through it all I have been humbled and privileged to share this journey with Mark, to be his wife, to walk with and alongside him, knowing that we are living this journey together. On paper he may be the student and I the stay at home parent but he spurs me on daily to engage my mind, to study and he has changed more nappies than I have and given up as much if not more sleep than I have at nights with the boys.

I love God and His word more now than I did 5 years ago because of Mark.

I trust Mark because he loves me as Christ loves the church. The boys and I come before his studies, before himself.

Listening to him playing with the boys makes me smile and stop in my tracks, and I know others who have said the same. He is one amazing Dad.

Mark speaks truth to me even when I deny it or cannot believe it.

Mark’s calmness keeps this home and family moving forward even when the other 3 are all on the kitchen floor in varying states of tears and tiredness.

Mark makes the best roast dinners and picnic breads.

We still have lots to learn, we do not know the road God has set before us, but I do know that if we both hold firm to the One who keeps us then through the darkest of days and the brightest of days we will be very blessed in deed and in some small way I pray that our marriage will be testimony to the wonderful mystery of Christ and the church. Thank you Mark for these first 5 years of marriage and here’s to many more. I love you. RozImage

Missing what matters?

This blog post occurred to me while cycling back home today, as for some reason I got thinking about Genesis 1:

I think quite often we miss the point of Genesis 1 and starting asking all sorts of questions like:

Why was the earth formless and void?
How can there be light before sun?
Does “day” mean 24 hours?
Does “let us make man” imply a Trinue God (and did the author of Genesis 1 know this)?
Did this really all just take one week of 7 24 hour days?

These questions have varying degrees of legitimacy but none of them are the focus of the passage. Sit down and read Genesis 1 and pay attention to the repetitions.  Notice how each day God makes something it is declared to be good.  6 times the phrase “and it was good” comes, with a 7th “and it was very good” as the final time.

Whatever else Genesis 1 tells us, it tells us this:

God’s creation is good and so –
because, throughout the Bible we come to know God by his words and actions
– we know that God is good.

Genesis 1 celebrates the reality that this world is good, that God is good, and that we as his creatures are good. God is a good God. His creation is good.

Despite the reality that we are sinners and that creation is groaning, the first word of the Bible is not condemnation, but affirmation.

We are created good, and we live in a good world.

If we weren’t sure about that we just need to turn to John’s “in the beginning”, where we learn that the Word of God, the means of God creating all this good world became one of us and made his dwelling among us.

God is so committed to this world that he chooses to live in this world as one of us.
This world is good.
God is good.
We are good.
We still have value.

Because of his goodness God is committed to fixing the broken world, and us who share that brokenness, who cause that brokenness.  He is committed to fixing us.

This is demonstrated supremely when we go with John to the empty tomb on the 1st day of the week, the first day of the new creation when Jesus burst open the tomb, and walked in the garden.  He is seen by Mary, “who, thinking he was the gardener…”  thought better than she realised. Jesus is the second Adam, placed in charge of creation, and he lives out all that humanity should be and do – so he begins the restoration of all things.

The material stuff of this world still matters. It is still good.

By the resurrection of Jesus we see the goodness of God reaffirmed. The original goodness of creation is to be restored, and in it we see the goodness of a God whose design is always blessing.

This means so much more than can be said now, but surely one of the most important things we know from this is that we never need to worry if there is a hidden “dark side” of God. There is not. God is always good. We may not always perceive that goodness in any given circumstance, but that goodness is still a reality, and the doubt that God is good is still the lie of the serpent. We can measure what our feelings or circumstances or teaching we may hear tells us about God against this yardstick of God’s goodness as made known in Scripture.

How good is the God we adore,
Our faithful unchangeable Friend!
His love is as great as His power,
And knows neither measure nor end!

’Tis Jesus the First and the Last,
Whose Spirit shall Guide us safe home,
We’ll praise Him for all that is past,
And trust Him for all that’s to come. (Joseph Hart)

 

thought for the day

Numbers 13 and the report back to Moses and Aaron of the land ahead of them. The men spread a bad report through the people about the land for they are afraid and do not want to go up and take the land.

This has challenged me in a variety of ways. Firstly how I must check both the words I speak and the words I use on FB and email. How easy it is to spread words that pull down, discourage and take peoples eyes off God.

It also challenges me about my faith in God and confidence of what He is doing in my life and what He has called us too. Eyes off Him can make the next 3 years seem impossible but through Him and His ways which are not my ways He will bring us and lead us in ways that are good for us.

So I need to check that I am looking at the map of the countryside ahead of us with the One who has called us here and to ensure that each day He is the One leading us and step out in confidence of His calling on the days when the mist and cloud cover has rolled in as well as on the clear sunny days.

Perspective…

Isaiah 40:25-31

“To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?

He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

These words are like rocks in my life. Time and again I come back to sections from Isaiah, and these are perhaps among the most famous.  One of the songs on the songsheet of tonight’s prayer meeting (Everlasting God) was based on these words.

I remember these words often being quoted in prayer meetings on Summer Camp. By halfway through week 2 many of us leading were feeling utterly shattered and these words gave great encouragement. They were, however, also read in full knowledge that we would soon be sleeping in dry, warm and clean beds, rather than damp and smelly mats under windswept canvas.

Today they have a different resonance. Extreme tiredness exists with the knowledge that things are not likely to change any time very soon. Teething will continue (only 18 more to go…), there will be illness, change, stresses and all will be accompanied by a lack of sleep.  There is no “going home” from parenthood.

In that context what does not becoming weary mean? For if truth be told I am utterly weary. There are moments where I feel totally faint. This is where a step back is vital.

I am not the first person these words have been spoken to.

The people these words seem to have been first intended to help are the Judean exiles in Babylon.

A few sleepless nights due to a teething child hardly rated on their horizon of problems.  They had grown up on stories of how Yahweh, centuries before, had rescued their fathers out of Egypt “with a mighty hand, and an outstretched arm”. They had heard of mighty deeds by great prophets. But they had seen nothing.  Rival prophets had claimed to have heard from God, some prophesying national salvation, others only gloom and despair with future restoration in the distant future.

The prophets of doom seemed to be right, so what hope for these exiles, a small group in the vast Babylonian Empire. The words of Isaiah 40 ring out.  “Comfort, comfort, my people – speak to the heart of Jerusalem…”. The words say that Yahweh is going to act again. To bring about a return from exile on a parallel with the rescue from Egypt – a New Exodus.

And yet those who did go back wept at the state of the temple. The return from exile failed to be a full return. 600 years further on a voice in the wilderness was heard once more proclaiming comfort, as the Saviour of the world stepped into human history to be all that Israel had failed to be, that the nations might indeed be blessed through Abraham’s seed, that God’s New Exodus might be carried out.

These words of Isaiah 40 apply to Israel, then to the One who fulfilled Israel’s mission, and then to us, who are called to be partners in that mission. They are not firstly words about my physical state of being or mind. Rather they are words that say that this immense God of the Exodus is giving his people all we need to be partners in that mission.

That is a word of encouragement for all I do – because every area of my life needs to be done as part of this mission. There is massive significance right now in the impact our lives as parents have on the two small children in our care. That parenthood is mission, and should be done in the context of God’s mission.  My getting up in the morning, making breakfast, changing nappies, reading bible stories, going to the park – all of that is part of this mission – and it is all enabled by God. Whether I feel “weary” in the midst of that is irrelevant.

What matters is that God gives the strength to do what he wants me to do as part of his mission. Some days that does not look like much. Some days it looks tiny and small and like God may have made some kind of mistake. But he doesn’t. So we keep putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that God carries us on eagles wings, as a father carries his child.  And on that note it is time to sleep…