Friday, 19 September 2014

Joy - The Serious Business of Heaven

"Do not mourn or grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."(Nehemiah 8:10)

Back home. Driving up the mountain pass, rolling down windows and letting the cool mountain breezes blow over us, always offers a gentle welcome. Breath slows, deepens... and then the dappled shade of an oh so familiar windy road leads us up and up. Past proud Arum lilies and new growth cascading down the rock face, like the bridal bouquet from my grandmother's wedding picture. In just a few days, new blooms seemed to have appeared everywhere, the first shoots of Spring now have substance, shape. A few days of sand, beach and salty water washed over us like liquid sunshine, leaving us glowing and rested. I am learning to experience moments like gifts, receiving each one just for what it is. Small crabs that crawl with tingling haste over your toes, the incredible lightness of a beach-ball, the never-ending song of the ocean. Learning to play, to let go the uncertainty of tomorrow.

After a day of cleaning and busyness, the slow rhythm and feel of the mountain once again settled in. The sweetness of that carefree time suddenly seemed so far, and without warning a heaviness settled on my shoulders. The "glow" just ebbed away and in its place was a flotsam of tangled emotions and lethargy. I fell into the trap of trying to analyse it, and that just resulted in me feeling ungrateful and lazy.

Apart from being unable to see beyond my own feelings of inadequacy, I became "disabled" by being too focused on how I "feel". I knew it was time to write a blog message, but felt no inspiration at all. Then finally, as I turned to Jesus, told Satan to get behind me, and was able to look beyond myself, one small word came into my mind: "joy". (In my case the lack of it...). Circumstances, places, experiences and "things" bring happiness. Jesus alone brings JOY.

This joy can be felt in the face of financial insecurity, in a hospital bed, times of betrayal, in the humdrum of every day living, being, or often just surviving. It is a joy that whispers of hope, sings of love and shouts of courage in the face of difficulties. It is the tiny bubble that escapes from a heart weighed down with sadness (perceived or true). Then as the fresh spring of Jesus love washes over that heavy heart, it overflows and a song escapes, tears of joy and release can flow and a time of refreshing in the Spirit can follow. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit - that is why it is a special gift that we are given when we truly believe and trust.

A gift - free, undeserved, unconditional, uncircumstancial, unlimited. 

We sing a song with the boys that says: "The joy of the Lord is my strength". And they "pretend" show their muscles and clap and dance like only children can. Then I found that these were actually the the words of Nehemiah to the people of Israel, returned from captivity in Babylon, when the book of Law was being read out to them. They wept and fell to the ground as they realised that they had not kept these laws. Then Nehemiah looks out over them and says: "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength". Strength in Joy is offered to them. Not happy days released from exile into the "free and easy". But comforted with the knowledge that to repent of what lay behind, surrender and follow the One and only Lord their God, would bring JOY. The joy of knowing that they serve Him and are held in His covenant, His care. This joy would give them the strength to obey the same words of the law which were causing them so much sorrow at the time.

The joy of Christ and the joy of the world cannot "consist" together. That may sound like a catch, but it is just the truth. They are as incompatible as oil and water. When the world says "you deserve to have what makes you happy" the Word says: "Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you.(1 John 2:15). The joy of Christ, will give us strength to resist what the world holds out as reward for allegiance to it (and the prince of darkness who rules it.) And as the longing for what is of the earth starts fading, JOY in serving Jesus starts growing. (I seem to require regular pruning to keep this growth alive, not so pleasant, but very necessary).

The Father alone knows what you need, what truly brings you joy - Jesus. He loves to see you smile. With your face turned up. His gift(s) are never the wrong colour, size, model or flavour. They are custom made for the one who stirs His heart - you.

Romans 12:12: Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,

Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

John 16:24: Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be complete.

1 Peter 1:8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,

Romans 14:17: For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

John 16:22: So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you!

Friday, 5 September 2014


"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool." (Isaiah 1:18) KJV

Snowy winter wonderland to balmy Spring in three days. Only in Hogsback... With the sun on our backs, dressed in light summer clothes, the musty smell of a warmed forest floor in the air, and the juice of sweet oranges dripping down our chins, I marvelled at the thought that only four days ago, the boys were building a snowman on almost the same spot... My deepest memory of the recent snow, is the absolute purity of it, the way it transforms a landscape, makes it seem vast, pristine and uncharted. Being the first one to step into deep fresh snow quickens your senses, makes you feel giddy and free. (Until the cold gets through to your bones...). It silences, falling with a stealth and softness that has never failed to take my breath away. This is one gift our Creator has given us on this wild and wonderful peace of land, that trumps all the spectacular sunsets, the brilliant night-skies, the mystery of swirling mists and abundance of butterflies and blossoms in Spring. The song goes: "Oh love of God, how rich and pure, how measureless and strong! How often is purity likened to snow, in phrases of poetry or song, yet nothing is purer, more vast and unfathomable than God's love.

Prior to the sudden snow, it had been so bone dry, layers of dust collecting on plants until even the mountains seemed dulled and sad. Then, overnight all was transformed, clean. At the beginning of the week a song by the Gaither Vocal band kept on going through my mind. The words of the first verse are:

I stepped into the river

Sank up to my knees in the mud
The preacher man took me under
Beneath that cleansing flood
There was something in the water
There was power in the blood
For the first time in my life I felt clean....

Clean. We understand the concept of being "washed" of our sins, but how does the "cleansing" truly come about? How do we stand before the throne of our Almighty loving and just God - pure as snow and clean as the morning dew?

That made me wonder about the water and blood that flowed from Jesus' side when He was pierced by the Roman soldier to confirm His death. There are physiological explanations that are given for this. One is that the intense flogging and beating with instruments of torture, resulted in a condition called pleural effusion, the build-up of an abnormal amount of fluid around the lung area. But I knew that like with everything else in the bible, nothing happens without a it having a deeper significance. I had to find out what it meant. I'd like to share with you, from the abundance of information, some of what I found and hope to be both a balanced summary and confirmation of Christ's absolute redemption.

In 1 John 5:6 it says: This is the one who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. The water and blood are two separate witnesses - one of his baptism the other his death. Water and blood could also refer to His human birth (and death). The water as symbol of the Spirit is His baptism - to fulfil all righteousness. The blood is the covenant by his death; pointing to the beginning and end of his ministry. 

The custom at the time of Jesus being crucified, was for the bones of the crucified person to be broken, so that they could no longer hold themselves up, and die an accelerated death by suffocation. But when they came to Jesus he had already committed His spirit into the Father's hands - willingly. This happened so that another scripture could be fulfilled (Psalm 34:20 ... he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.) So what happened then was - "Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water" (John 19:36).

(Note: When Moses struck the rock in the desert, there was a flow of water to quench the thirst of  the people and cattle in the desert. This was a meaningful miracle. In striking the rock, Moses acted out a drama that he perhaps didn't understand. In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul wrote of Israel in the Exodus: they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. When Jesus was struck, living water flowed out for all to receive. Isn't it amazing how it all points to Christ, "stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted". (Isaiah 53:4; 1 Corinthians 10:4)).

A trial was made whether Jesus was dead. He died in less time than people crucified usually did. It showed that he had laid down his life of himself. The spear broke up the very fountains of life; no human body could survive such a wound. But there was something peculiar in it. The blood and water that flowed out, signified the two amazing gifts which all believers receive through Christ: justification and sanctification, blood for atonement, water for purification.

An online dictionary defines justified as: to prove or show (something) to be just, right, or reasonable. Through the blood that flowed we were made just, the absolute price was paid to make us right(eous) before our Father. I don't know about you, but I had quite a time really believing that I can be considered righteous. That "word" I always reserved for biblical figures like Abraham or Moses. Little by little the truth of my own righteousness through Jesus is sinking in - and it is a wonderful realisation.

But we are not only justified, but also sanctified (to make something holy), purified (to free from sin, guilt or other defilement, or to become clean). We clean our bodies with such care, present to the world a fresh, presentable, pleasant to behold package, but the accumulated dirt on the inside cannot be scrubbed away by our own means or masked with a pleasant scent. To be purified, means to be renewed from the heart, working through mind, body and soul. It means to be set apart for holy purposes, even in the most mundane or trying environment or situation. It is not a persona we step in or out of, it is who we become once we truly accept the blood and water that flowed from the man and God, Jesus at the cross. In the heart of one purified there is no place for pride, guilt, self-condemnation, insecurity, doubt, fear, feelings of failure and rejection, anger or self-pity. Make the truth of who you are in Christ your own, a new creation, a priceless masterpiece in the making.

Water and blood both flow from the pierced side of our Redeemer. It silences our fears and restores hope and trust. We may always look to Him, whom we have so ignorantly pierced by our sins, as the One who continues to cleanse us each day. Your name was in His heart then as it is now. Each day He chooses you again and again. "...the One who formed you says, "Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; YOU ARE MINE" (Isaiah 43:1).