Delight!

How do I worship God when I’m cooking the tea?

Hey lovely people. This week my husband and I make an appearance with the wonderful Adam Curtis and Leah Sax on their fantastic Delight Podcast and you can now listen to it either through their website, on Spotify or via your podcast app. It’s Episode 12. Please do listen! You’ll get to hear how we sound! More importantly(!) I trust it will be an encouragement. Well done Leah for her amazing editing skills!

We chatted about how we came to know Jesus, what it means to worship God every day of the week – and what to do when we don’t feel like worshipping him.

I also wrote a blog post to accompany our episode and it can be found on the Delight Podcast Blog. I hope this, too, encourages you to delight in the Lord above all else, in all of life. Amen!

***

P.S. If my previous blog post about Mrs Beaver got you thinking, the Delight podcast did a brilliant episode on hospitality recently too. It’s Episode 10.

Mrs Beaver, Mrs Weasley & Mrs H.

her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds. 1 Timothy 5:10

“Be warned, they’ve changed it a bit.” That’s what a friend said to me before I took my family to see the National Theatre’s production of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe in the West End back in August. This made me a little nervous. Had they removed Aslan? Did he not bother dying for Edmund? Would The White Witch Jadis turn out to be just misunderstood?

I was pleasantly surprised. It was really good! There was a strange line at the end about Lucy which muddied the otherwise-quite-clear message, but that’s not what I’m here to write to you about today. True to form, I’ve got thoughts about Mrs Beaver.

To me, there are very few more cosy and festive things to do than to read aloud together The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. And one of my favourite parts is when the children, cold, tired, hungry and afraid, arrive at the Beavers’ dam. (I love beavers anyway, they’re amazing! But that’s not the point.) They’re so welcoming and hospitable, feeding them a good hot meal, serving them tea and telling them about Aslan. It’s warming in all the ways.

Just as the frying pan was nicely hissing Peter and Mr. Beaver came in with the fish which Mr. Beaver had already opened with his knife and cleaned out in the open air. You can think how good the new-caught fish smelled while they were frying and how the hungry children longed for them to be done and how very much hungrier still they had become before Mrs. Beaver said, “Now we’re nearly ready.”

CS Lewis, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Chapter VII, A Day with the Beavers

This simple, satisfying meal offered by disciples of Aslan is the antithesis of the Witch’s Turkish Delight which left Edmund feeling sick and wanting more. The meal with the Beavers is a picture of living in the Kingdom of God. It’s not nothing! (Even Spark Notes agrees with me, if you think I’ve gone mad.)

In the book, Mr Beaver and Peter go out and hunt the fish while Mrs Beaver and the girls prepare the meal and lay the table. In the National Theatre production, Mrs Beaver is out in the woods as a secret agent, utterly capable, while Mr Beaver is back in the dam, cooking the meal: a vegan hotpot. He’s also repeatedly foolish and incompetent and the butt of several jokes.

Why do this? Is it just a joke? I feel like the vegan hotpot touch probably is. But is our culture now afraid of presenting a female character as hospitable? Is it an insult to women to have them ‘just’ cooking a meal and ‘relegated’ to the role of hospitality? And what does it say about men? The strong, brave Mr Beaver was emasculated. These things seem subtle, harmless and even amusing. But they’re a rejection of what God has made. Husbands are usually physically stronger and thus able to go out and provide for their family. Wives are usually able to be mothers: to nurture, to make a house a home and to provide a safe place for weary wanderers. A culture which rejects God rejects this. CS Lewis did not, and neither should we.

Of course, women can work outside of the home and men can cook. Plus, being a vegan is not wrong! But in a culture that’s deconstructed both femininity and masculinity and doesn’t know how to rebuild them, I think we really need to embrace what God has said about the roles of men and women and not to be ashamed.

These were surprisingly easy to make!

We all want to be welcomed into the dam. We all love it when Harry Potter gets to stay with the Weasleys, with Mrs Weasley laying out their clean robes on their beds and whizzing up lashings of mashed potato for dinner. So I ask you, do any of us want to be the Mrs Weasleys of the world?

I don’t know if you’ve seen the latest adaptation of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. (For non UK readers, these are semi-autobiographical stories of life as a rural vet in Yorkshire.) The house they all live in is off-the-charts beautiful. There’s always a hot meal, a newly mopped floor and a warming fire. Who doesn’t love it when Mrs Hall, the housekeeper, provides yet another warming fry-up for the vets after a long night out on the hills? We all want the good roast dinner, the nice cup of tea and the clean clothes, neatly folded. Don’t we see the value of it?

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

But are we willing to be the Mrs Beaver, the Molly, the Mrs H? I hope so. Don’t despise it. There’s such power in it. The world calls it needless drudgery, good for nothing. But it’s a lie. Hospitality is mighty, and Satan knows it. Why else would he attack it? So I say to you, Go Forth and Welcome. Who knows how God will use it for his glory?

And when they had finished the fish Mrs. Beaver brought unexpectedly out of the oven a great and gloriously sticky marmalade roll, steaming hot, and at the same time moved the kettle on to the fire, so that when they had finished the marmalade roll the tea was made and ready to be poured out. And when each person had got his (or her) cup of tea, each person shoved back his (or her) stool so as to be able to lean against the wall and gave a long sigh of contentment.

ibid.

7 Things I love about John

“I am the good shepherd” – Chapter 10

I love John’s gospel. I’m not sure we’re allowed favourites but if we are, then this is mine. Here are 7 reasons why:

1. The beginning. I mean. Is there any point in even writing about it? Just read it!

2. The ending. This little book is simply a masterpiece from start to finish. What other gospel ends so beautifully? After blowing your mind with Christ’s power and love and mission and grace, he tells you that he’s only just scratched the surface. 

3. The 7 signs. I love the fact that each of the seven miracles points to something really important about Jesus’ identity and why He came to earth. My favourite is probably the “one o’clock miracle” in Chapter 4 because of this book. It chokes me up every time! The father who travelled so far just to find Jesus and ask for his help, and the Saviour who can heal in a moment, simply by speaking. Although what am I talking about? Surely my actual favourite is Lazarus. Which brings me onto…

4. The 7 “I ams”. My favourite “I am” is the resurrection and the life, which I’ve written about here

5. The irony. The way John writes is often full of irony. Call me an English graduate, but I just love it. The soldiers falling to the ground when trying to arrest Jesus; Caiphas (the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people); Pilate’s sign (King of the Jews). Also, is it just me? Or is the Jews objection to Pilate, “We have no right to execute anyone” ironic, too? (Chapter 18v31) Jolly well right, you bunch of murderous phylactery-flaunters. And all the while they were avoiding ceremonial uncleanness so they could enjoy the Passover! The PASSOVER! They really do take the biscuit. (Although who am I to judge? I’m a Gentile.)

6. The Life. The word ‘life’ appears 41 times in John’s gospel. I think I’m right in saying that nearly every time John uses the Greek word ‘Zoe’ that means ‘eternal life with God.’ This is the life I want!
“In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (1v4)
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (10v10) Hallelujah!

7. The asides. I’ve left my favourite one till the end. Throughout his book, John gives us little narrative comments to help us to understand what’s happening. It’s so helpful! For example, in chapter 7 when Jesus promises living water, John writes, “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” John can’t seem to help but turn to the reader and check that they get it, like when Jesus declares that he will raise the temple in three days: “But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” Even the way he ends the book is kind of an aside. And in Chapter 20 he tells us why he wrote the book! John does not want us to miss it.

So thank you and bravo, John. But as this is the inspired Word of God, really I mean, Praise God!

What’s that, you ask? My favourite verse from John? Well, that’s tricky. Chapter 1 is world-changing. Chapter 11 gives us hope in the face of death. But for now at least, it’s probably John 16:33. 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Footnote: While I was writing this, I realised that some of the things I thought I loved about John are actually in other Gospels! Which is such a reminder of how slow I am to learn, and how all of God’s Word is precious treasure.

No Excuses

I saw Adele once. I was sitting in a little secret garden near my flat, with two toddlers, and she and her friends were right next to us – the only other party in the place. What a day! That’s Chelsea for you.

I really like Adele’s new single, Easy On Me. And never mind me, it’s already broken several streaming records and promises to be a big hit. She’s done it again. The tune; that voice. She’s amazing.

I’ve been thinking (as I do) about the lyrics: ‘Go Easy on Me, I was just a child, didn’t get the chance…’ She’s asking for understanding, for a bit of slack. ‘Bear with me.’

I suppose what she could ask instead is, ‘Forgive me.’ As my husband said, that would be a shorter song. No excuses, just a simple request.

As I see the things that trend on social media, especially for tired mums, and hear what is preached to our children in school and on TV, I notice a lot of ‘Go easy on me’ and very little, if any, actual forgiveness. I’m sure I’m not the only

It can seem harsh to say, ‘You’re wrong and you need to say sorry.’ But is ‘Go easy on yourself’ or ‘Don’t feel bad, you’re tired/young/trying your best’ actually kind?

If all I’ve got is excuses, I will spend my life trying to convince myself (never mind others) that I’m a good enough person. ‘Yes, that was a mistake but I didn’t know any better’ or ‘I did what I thought was right’ or ‘I was overwhelmed.’ This isn’t liberating. It’s a burden to carry with me for the rest of my life.

And it’s not the gospel.

Instead, if I look back at my ‘mistakes’ and regrets and say:
‘I was wrong, I’m so sorry.’
‘I was selfish, please forgive me.’
‘That wasn’t loving, I apologise.’
Then, the floodgates of God’s mercy open, and his grace washes over me, and I am clean.

When I make excuses for my children, I think I’m being kind but I’m not teaching them grace. Instead, I can teach them to own up to their sin, to confess it, and to receive forgiveness.

“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.

I hope Adele can find true forgiveness. And I hope we can teach our children what freedom there is in holding our hands up and saying, ‘Fair cop. My bad. I’m wrong. Please forgive me.’

Can You Dig It?

Spoiler alert! This post contains many spoilers about the film, The Dig.

I read the book, The Dig, several years ago when my husband’s librarian-aunt lent it to me. She said it was a ‘gentle’ story and I remember thinking, ‘you’re not kidding’ as I found it, well, quite dull. I say this as a woman who loves a book where nothing happens. If you lend me a book you think I’ll like, you should probably make sure that not a lot happens.

So as we sat down to watch the new Netflix film, The Dig, I was intrigued as to why it’s been so popular. A fantastic cast, yes, but I distinctly remember the lack of things happening. Unless of course you count the astonishing and groundbreaking archaeological discovery. But does your average Netflix viewer really care about that? I wondered. 

I warned my husband that nothing really happens other than them discovering a big ancient ship under the ground. He said I’d ruined it for him. I said that in the first line they’d already mentioned ‘Sutton Hoo’ and that this was a famous archaeological site. He said I only knew that because I’d read the book and could I name any other famous archaeological sites? He’d got me there.

This is a story about a gentle woman, Edith Pretty, and a (mostly) gentle team of excavators and archaeologists who discover Anglo Saxon treasure. This treasure could have made the owner of the site, Mrs Pretty, very rich. But she gave the treasure, as a gift, to the British Museum, so that people from all over Britain, and the world, could see it. She gave her treasure for the common good. (She was offered a CBE for this by Winston Churchill but declined.)

And this is all set in 1939, when people are getting ready to give their lives for the common good. Men are volunteering to fight for King and Country. This was an era in which people did their duty, and they saw the beauty in that. The wives were waving their husbands off and would in the coming years do their duty for their country in many ways. Some would leave the dutiful work in their homes to go into the fields and work the land so that the nation wouldn’t starve. For some this involved catching rats. I don’t know about you but I’d rather be at home, cleaning and listening to the wireless. But they did it for the common good. (Some of the women would also go to France and blow up bridges but I don’t think we’re supposed to talk about that, really.)

This film, with its fabulous cast and eerily stunning landscapes, was not made in the 1930s. Or 1940s. It was made in this era, and as such it reflects the values that our 21st Century society holds dear. It crowbars them in. It spoon-feeds the viewer that truly, what we should all be doing, is following our hearts. Forget duty, forget marriage vows, forget the common good. You only live once.

Carey Mulligan is fabulous. I saw her in a soft play once (boy, was that an exciting day) and she seemed like a really lovely person. (I don’t mean a play that was ‘soft’ but rather a soft play area, for children.) Her character, the one who gave her priceless treasure away, is the one who utters the line to Peggy Piggott: ‘Life is very fleeting. It has moments you should seize.” I suppose this seems innocuous, but in the context it isn’t. 

Lily James is very talented. I loved her in ‘Their Darkest Hour.’ In the book, her character, Peggy Piggott, and her husband Stuart join the dig and Peggy is the first to discover gold in the ship. In real life, the couple divorced in 1956. In the film, presumably to spice things up for the modern audience, Stuart is clearly very attracted to a male member of the team and Peggy fancies a handsome RAF pilot. When she confronts her husband about his homosexuality, she refers to it as ‘beautiful.’ Even today, I’m not sure that a woman who finds her husband committing adultery would consider this beautiful. I’m no historian but I’m almost certain that she wouldn’t have said this in the 1930s.

In the 1930s, most people didn’t tell each other to be true to themselves and to follow their hearts. They made sacrifices, they kept calm and carried on and they did their duty. They gave away their treasure for the common good. Perhaps the makers of the film thought that we just wouldn’t get that. Maybe they thought we wouldn’t cope with all of that self-sacrifice. Or perhaps they thought we’d just find it a bit boring.

So why should I care about all this? Does it matter that they ruined a perfectly good, albeit gentle, historical novel? At least we got to see Ralph Fiennes and Ken Stott on our screens again.

In some ways it’s not something to get upset about. But it was a reminder to me that stories are powerful. Through stories, we’re taught what to think, feel and believe. And in the same way, our children are indoctrinated. So we need to be aware of this. 

The Lord says, ‘value others above yourselves.’ (Philippians 2) We live to bless and serve others. Jesus calls us to lay down our lives (Mark 8) and in doing so we receive life. And he definitely, absolutely wants us keep our marriage vows (Mark 10). We know from God’s word that the heart is deceitful above all things. Following our hearts is a road to destruction. 

And another thing. The world’s doctrine is inconsistent. (I know, I’m really on a rant now. I probably won’t even publish this post.) This culture which has told us to listen to our hearts and be true to ourselves has, for the past year, told us to sacrifice our own desires for the common good. We’ve been told to delay gratification and to set aside our own pleasure for the sake of others – especially for the sake of the vulnerable. “Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives.”  At the very least, the world is confused.

Every time I hear a song on the radio that reminds me of my family, I want to go and see them. It could be ‘Can you dig it?’ by The Mock Turtles. Yesterday it was Peter Gabriel, ‘Sledgehammer.’ But I don’t. Not just because I would probably be fined, but because I’m doing my duty. Duty is scorned by our culture, but perhaps in the past year some people, by God’s grace, have seen the beauty of it.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12.1-2

One Line a Day

I don’t know about you, but this year (during lockdown and then amid all the other bitty restrictions) I’ve found the lack of structure one of the hardest things to cope with. It’s like I’ve got nothing to peg anything onto. I look back over a month and have no idea what I’ve done or how long it’s been since I… anything.

In December the magazines, newspapers and bloggers will be looking back over 2020 and, well, there’ll be quite a lot to say. And in some ways, not much at all. Everything was cancelled but, then again, Historical Things took place. No Events and yet extremely eventful. It’s been a year of emptiness and a year of chaos.

So how can I reflect on all of this and try to process it?

July last year I was recovering from an operation – hence sleeping through church!

This is my diary. Each day I write a few lines about what’s happened that day. The following year I do the same again, which means I can easily see what we were doing this time last year. These diaries are not expensive, but worth their weight in gold.

Here are 3 things I’ve learnt from keeping this diary this year.

  1. The mundane, done for God, is glorious. God’s word is full of people living mundane lives. Shepherds, farmers, builders, mothers. Sometimes something exciting happened to them, but most of the time they were doing ordinary things. I’m prone to forget that God doesn’t need me to do exciting or even interesting things. He wants me to be faithful to him. Writing this diary helps me to process the day and go to sleep. However, much of the time I feel like I have nothing to write. I feel I haven’t really done anything. However, when months later I look back on these days, even I can see that I have been doing stuff! And while not exciting, this stuff is important for keeping certain people alive. I shall try to illustrate:
    April 26, 2019: Popped to Catherine’s with travel cot. Bible study on Luke 1. Lunch. Cleaning. Beth and William for tea. Nice to chat to their mum. Deutschland ’86 in the evening.
    At the time I probably felt like all I’d done was shoddy housework (which is important!) and crowd control. But looking back I see that I’d helped a friend, been encouraged by my sisters at church, shown hospitality and spent time with my husband. Objectively I know that these things are pleasing to God, when done with a cheerful heart. And anyway, why am I so proud that I think my life should be action-packed? So if it feels like you haven’t really made any progress with anything this year, try not to be discouraged. If you’re serving him, repenting of your sin and still trusting Him this year, that is glorious. In fact, it’s quite miraculous!
  2. For everything there is a season. Once you’re in the second year of writing this, you can look back to what you were doing this time last year. What I often find is that there’s a connection between last year and this year. There’s something reassuring about this! It reminds me that life has a rhythm, which is the way God created this world to function. It also shows me that I shouldn’t be surprised by things as much as I am. I recently felt very run-down and unwell during my half-term break and wondered what on earth was wrong with me. Then I read last year’s half-term entry and, sure enough, I had written ‘felt ill, bed at 7pm.’ So maybe next October I’ll prepare myself by not making any plans and by (less likely) trying to get more rest beforehand! This all reminds me that I’m a human being, dependent on God, and not a machine or a Kryptonian.
  3. God is sovereign. As I look at the lines I’ve written in and the blank sections below, I’m reminded that to God this book is already filled in. He’s completed it. He knows what will happen on every single day of my life and he knows what I will write down about these days. My future may feel uncertain and unclear to me but it is secure in him. He not only knows it but has planned it all for my ultimate good.
    All the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
    Psalm 139:16
    So as 2020 has not been the year we expected and we don’t know what Christmas will look like, I’m encouraged when I consider that God knew all of this would happen and he can work it all for the good of those who love him.
  4. Yep, I said three but as I was writing this I realised I’d missed perhaps the most important one. There is so much to thank God for. I’m likely to forget all of the wonderful ways the Lord has provided for me and blessed me in abundance. But when I read over this diary I’m reminded to give him thanks, for sustaining me through difficult times and blessing me in a myriad of ways which I really, really don’t deserve.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

I’ll be posting some Christmas present ideas next week – watch this space!

Psst! If you like my blog (which I know at least some of you do), please could you let just one friend know about it today? That way more people can be encouraged, as I don’t advertise this blog in any other way. Thank you so much!

Book Review – Deeper Still

I’m reading an excellent book and I think you should read it, too. I haven’t finished it yet (which I agree is a bit strange) but the author, Linda Allcock, asked me really politely in the introduction not to skim it, so I won’t. Rather than waiting until I’ve finished, I decided to recommend it to you now.

We hear so much these days about mindfulness and (new age) meditation – my children’s school classes have regular ‘brain breaks’ throughout the day. But how often do we practise biblical meditation? And do we even know the difference?*

Linda Allcock has a thorough understanding of secular meditation, which she succinctly and clearly explains to the reader in Section 1 of this book. She then brilliantly shows us how biblical meditation differs and how valuable it is to the Christian soul. This got me really excited about learning to practise Christian mediation.

In Section 2, which I’m currently reading, Linda teaches us how to come to God’s Word with the intention of searching for treasure and storing it up for when we need it most. She uses helpful illustrations and practical advice which make it all seem very clear and simple to achieve.

The best seminar I ever went to on a Christian conference/festival/ weekend away was one about memorising Scripture. I arrived at the seminar (sleep-deprived and flustered) knowing little-to-nothing about Psalm 16, and left after an hour having memorised the whole thing. This psalm, a month later, was to get me through sleepless nights as I meditated on it and prayed through it for my brother who had a brain tumour and his infant daughter who had respiratory problems. Eight years on, that psalm still helps me when I don’t know what to pray.

This book makes me think of that seminar for two reasons:

  • It’s practical. This is a book that I can instantly put into practice because Linda is not just giving me theory, but is showing me how to ‘do’ meditation.
  • Biblical mediation will help me to survive as a Christian. If Psalm 16 can get me through the hardest year of our lives, how much more fruitful would it be if I meditated on the whole counsel of God?

As someone who’s been reading the Bible for years, I’m finding this book really helpful. In the chapter I’ve just finished reading, Linda condensed into a few pages an entire book I once read on ‘how to get the most out of reading the Bible.’ She doesn’t mess about, which is great because when you’re busy it’s best not to spend hours and hours reading a book when you could be meditating on Scripture.

I do think this book is really accessible and not at all intimidating, so I’d also recommend it to younger Christians, even if they’ve never read the Bible on their own. In a way it would be perfect for them because it would start them off reading the Bible in a healthy way, rather than just thinking of it as a chore or something to tick off a list.

My pastor says that the thing that makes the biggest difference to the value of a sermon is the heart attitude of the listener. If you come to church expectant and determined to get precious truth out of the sermon, asking God and trusting him to feed you, then he will. But if you’re distracted and rushed or bored and ungrateful, you likely won’t get much out of it. Surely Bible reading is the same? I found these words from Linda very convicting:

As we open God’s word, do we believe there is treasure there? If we did, we might treat our Bible times differently. We would look forward to reading the Bible with anticipation and excitement. We would, as Proverbs 2 v 4 says, “Look for insight and understanding as for sliver and search for it as for hidden treasure”. We would dig into the passage with commitment and perseverance. And when we found the promised treasure, we would respond in joyful prayer and thankfulness.

This book helps us to come to the Word with expectant hearts, knowing there is treasure to be found. It really would be a wonderful gift to give to a friend. You can buy it here.

Psst! If you like my blog (which I know at least some of you do), please could you let just one friend know about it today? That way more people can be encouraged, as I don’t advertise this blog in any other way. Thank you so much!

*In case you choose to go against my express wishes and you don’t read this book, secular or new age meditation is emptying your mind – eek, dangerous! – whereas biblical meditation is filling your mind with scripture and therefore the Lord Jesus.

Weak as I am

IMG_8869
Accidental photo on a train. Covid essentials!

 

How’s it going?

Some of us are starting to think, “What just happened?” (i.e. where did the last 6 months go and why didn’t I learn any new languages? And incidentally why have I suddenly gone grey?)

Some of us are thinking that the worst is yet to come.

Some of us are still wondering how to cope with Today.

I’m sure there’s a whole mix of feelings about “the current situation” even amongst the readers of this here blog.

If we’re thinking of it as a marathon, I think I set off a bit too fast. Not exactly sprinting (I did have (suspected) Covid-19, after all) but also at a pace I couldn’t sustain. Then, at about Mile 20 I was informed that the marathon wouldn’t stop at Mile 26. I still don’t know where the Finish line is. I’m walking now, by the way, and gradually getting my breath back.

I don’t know if you’re feeling disappointed in the way you’ve handled certain things. Or maybe even disappointed in how things are in your country or the world over. I think most of us are feeling pretty weak now.

The other day I was listening to my pastor talk about the fact that humans are weak. They’re made from the dust:

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.

Is God surprised at how badly I handled such-and-such a situation?
Nope. He knows I am dust.

Is God frowning down at me in the way a personal trainer or an army General would if I tried to do 10 push-ups?
No, he has compassion on me.

Let’s remember that God is sovereign and he is in control even now. And he’s good.

But why would he bring us to a place of such weakness?

In Scripture we see time and again the Lord bringing people to a place of weakness and dependency on him.

Take Babel, for example. There we see humanity trying to be strong; trying to be independent. What does the sovereign Lord do? He confuses their language so that they’ll fail.

In the desert, when the people of Israel are hungry, does God give them the tools to make their own food and be independent? No, he gives them daily manna so they’ll have to keep trusting him.

When Jonah thinks he can run away from God and be his own man, what does God do? He sends a storm to bring him, eventually, to repentance and dependence: “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord.” (He was a bit slow, wasn’t he?)

Jesus’ disciples were accomplished sailors and fishermen. But what did Jesus do? He sent them into storms so that they would need to cry out to him for help (See Matthew 8 and Matthew 14.) Peter was pretty confident in himself, but Jesus taught him to have confidence in Jesus instead:
But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

The Lord allowed a woman to suffer bleeding for 12 years so that she would reach out to Jesus for healing, cleansing and reconciliation.

The Lord brings his people time and again to places of weakness in order to teach us to depend on Him. This is his kindness to us.

And yet so often, when I’m feeling weak, I feel that the Lord is far from me. I feel he disapproves. ‘He’s as disappointed in me as I am.’ But that’s a lie. Unlike me, He knows I’m weak. Not only that, but Christ sympathises with me:

‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who is every respect has been tempted as we are – yet was without sin.’ Hebrews 4:15

Dane Ortlund puts it this way:

‘Our tendency is to feel intuitively that the more difficult life gets, the more alone we are. As we sink further into pain, we sink further into felt isolation. The Bible corrects us. Our pain never outstrips what [Christ] himself shares in. We are never alone. That sorrow that feels so isolating, so unique, was endured by him in the past and is now shouldered by him in the present.’ (Gentle & Lowly, p.48)

So what should we do? Hebrews 4:16 answers that for us. Jesus is moving towards you even as you’re having to distance yourself from others. You can approach him confidently and know that he’ll help you:

‘Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ 

Sing!

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Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;

    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skilfully, and shout for joy.

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love. Psalm 33:1-5

When did you last belt out a song to the Lord?

In God’s word the people of God are commanded over and over again to sing praises to our God.  Why? Does he need it? Of course not. We need it.

But since your church stopped gathering, have you still been singing?

It’s easy for me to say. I grew up with a Dad who was forever singing. Singing was just the usual background noise. I only really realised this when I got to university and met Andy, who was to become a brother to me in those years. Someone said to me once, “Have you noticed that Andy’s always singing?” I said, “No, like when?” She said, “Well he’s singing right now.” No, I hadn’t noticed, because I was used to it.

Then I married Mike, who comes from a household of singers (i.e. people who sing) and who was to become a worship leader. So we are a family who will put on worship music and sing along any day of the week. On a Sunday morning in Lockdown we will stand in our living room together and sing our hearts out. The Oompa Loompas who live next door watch us through the window as though we’re mad.

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
    extol him who rides on the clouds[b];
    rejoice before him – his name is the Lord. Psalm 68:4

But even with all this habitual singing, I’ve also been commanding myself to sing.  Because even though we’ll sing for no good reason, actually as Christians we always have good reasons to sing. Every day we have a God who is worthy of praise. Every day our hearts are tempted to grow cold to this God. Every day the world, the flesh and Satan are trying to get us to worship something else.

So when you’re fed up, I mean really fed up of the same parks, the same bike rides, the same four walls, the same arguments about school work and the same uncertainty about when you will ever see your relatives again, sing. I will say it again, sing!

Sing the gospel. Sing of your God. Sing of all his mighty works. Sing of all he’s done for you. Sing to yourself. Sing to your children. Sing to your God. Sing with the angels in heaven. If Paul and Silas could sing in prison, then I can sing in Lockdown.

And it’s never been easier to get hold of worship music to sing along to. Remember when we had to buy CD’s? We can thank God for providing Youtube, Spotify and all those other ones young people use.

If you’re lacking strength for today, sing. If you’re lacking hope for tomorrow, sing. It’s so good for you. Even the world is now realising how good it is to sing. Schools who no longer sing hymns are having singing assemblies where they sing rousing secular hymns from Hollywood blockbusters. (I mentioned this here, too.) But praise the Lord! He’s put a better song in our mouths.

Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
    praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favour lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning. Psalm 30:3-5

 

I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff

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Last term my son learnt the following story in RE at school, and had to perform it in an assembly:

24 “So then, everyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like a wise man. He builds his house on the rock. 25 The rain comes down. The water rises. The winds blow and beat against that house. But it does not fall. It is built on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man. He builds his house on sand. 27 The rain comes down. The water rises. The winds blow and beat against that house. And it falls with a loud crash.”

My son’s line was something like, “So everyone who makes wise choices and does the right thing is a wise builder.” I love my children’s school – I almost couldn’t love it more. But do you see what they did there? They took Jesus’ very clear statement, “everyone who hears my words and puts them into practice” and changed it to the ambiguous and vague, “everyone who makes wise choices and does the right thing.” This is less offensive to a mixed audience.

When a storm comes – or a virus that empties the streets and fills up all the hospitals – we find out if we’ve been a wise of a foolish builder. I’m a bit like one of the three little pigs, and the wolf is here – but which pig am I? Did I use straw, sticks or bricks? Will my house fall down?

Going back to Jesus’ parable, I wonder if you feel that your foundations have been shaken. What are you building your life upon? Whose words are you putting into practice? Where does your security lie?

There all kinds of things we can put out trust in. Things we think will keep us safe and secure and happy:

I can trust in the security and freedom that money can offer.

I can trust in my relationships with family or friends to keep me safe and happy.

I can trust in my children’s education to give them everything they could hope for.

I can trust in scientific advances and modern medicine to give me a long and happy life.

I can trust in my good planning – my next holiday, my next house-move, my new kitchen, to give me hope and a future. These things can give me satisfaction as I daydream about them and count down the days.

But every once in a while, a storm comes. This might be the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job. It might be a rejection letter or an ash cloud or an image, a growing blemish on a scan. And these things can make us wonder whether we’ve been building our house on sand. When the unexpected storm comes, does my house come crashing down?

These storms, though terrifying, can be an incredible mercy from God if they show us that all this time we’ve been building on sand. Because there’s still time to rebuild.

We’re living in the kind of storm that comes along less than once in a generation. It’s affecting everyone. The rain is coming down and the water is rising. The wind is blowing and beating against our houses.

Our investments have crashed and we might lose our jobs or take pay cuts. I can’t see my friends and family in ‘real life’ for weeks, probably months. The schools have closed and the exams are cancelled. And even the best medicine can’t save everyone from this virus. These things we were depending upon have turned out to be not so certain after all.

I don’t know if you believe in God, and if so whether you feel angry with him about all of this. But while I know this is devastating for many of us, can I suggest to you that God might be trying to show you something? Perhaps it’s time to build your house on something – or someone – that can withstand any storm.

Jesus can take us through the worst storm imaginable, because he went through worse for you and for me, and came out safely on the other side. He can take us through death and bring us out of it with a new body, in paradise.

When we all come out of hiding, will we be changed? This Easter is surely a good time to hear Jesus out. Let’s find out what his words are and see if we think it’s time to put them into practice.

If you don’t have a church or your church isn’t streaming services, can I recommend my brother’s Easter Sunday service to you? He knows this is hard, he’s been through storms himself, and he’d love to tell you about the hope that Jesus offers this Easter. You can find it here at 11am on Sunday, or catch up afterwards if you’ve got plans then(!) If you click on the link now there’s a friendly little message from him waiting for you.

The rain is coming down and the water is rising. The wind is blowing and beating against our houses. But there is hope this Easter.