Friday, 6 April 2018

I believe, help thou my unbelief

As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. (Psalm 71:14)

It is Autumn. A mellowness settles over the land as Summer slowly fades. The Maples have amber crowns, flurries of leaves drift from the Silver Birches. The last bounty of wild mushrooms filled our home with their delicious earthy scent. The Loeries visit often. We hear their raucous calls before the telltale burst of red passes overhead. A pair of sun-birds dart in and out of the pineapple sage outside my kitchen window. I watch them hovering over the crimson flowers from the corner of my eye, while preparing our food or doing the dishes. Our boys report the sighting of two rabbits in the forest, shy but inquisitive. We linger outside, relishing the soft golden days, interspersed with grumbling storms and torrents of silver rain. I become aware of a nostalgic kind of longing, most likely brought on by the shift of seasons. Like bitter-sweet memories of a seaside holiday, on a cold, mist-shrouded morning.

Life in the mountains continues to be both a blessing and a challenge. Little foxes keep nudging at the gate. Causing doubts that distort into knots of fear in the dead of night. But when the first light of a new day seeps through the curtains, a deep breath of hope loosens the cords.

Reading through the "Easter story" with the boys recently, there were a few things that glowed with new and deeper meaning. It is not always easy to put the beauty of a spiritual truth into words that will convey its depth aptly, but I will try.

Jesus sang! On the first night of Passover, after Jesus had shared His last supper with His friends, they did one last thing together before they headed out into the night. "When they had sung the hymn," it reads, "they went out to the Mount of Olives" (Matt. 26:30, Mark 14:26). My Lord worshipped. Knowing full well what lay ahead for Him, He joined His voice with those of His friends, in a song. A song of praise, a Psalm, the music that rings through the ages in the hearts of all believers. God inhabits the praise of those who love and serve Him. Praising God with singing; even in the darkest moments, means to draw really close. Living out the hope that we have as His redeemed.

"We have this hope that burns within our hearts,

Hope in the coming of the Lord.
We have this faith that Christ alone imparts,
Faith in the promise of His Word.
We believe the time is here,
When nations far and near.
Shall awake, and shout and sing:
Hallelujah, Christ is King!"

Jesus understands our fears and doubts. Although Christianity is sometimes portrayed as an unthinking, monotonous, and even unrealistic faith, the Bible has quite a lot to say about doubt. Christianity clearly has faith at its core, yet doubt gets very good coverage in the Scriptures. The New Testament’s most prominent doubters are Jesus’ own disciples. That they doubted, does not surprise me, don't we all? It is Jesus' reaction to their unbelief, that takes my breath away.

On a dusty road, two of His disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking about all that had happened. Jesus himself came up and walked with them, joining in their conversation. Emmaus was a little more than 11 kilometers outside Jerusalem. Yet Jesus did not rush them. They were downcast, blinded by their own disappointments, and He simply walked with them, listening, hearing their confusion, their doubts. Then, He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27).

"Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself..." That must have taken a looong time. He did not dismiss them for their foolishness, for being slow to believe. He simply kept walking, alongside two doubting men, giving of himself, explaining all that was written about himself. He wanted them to understand as well as to believe. He still does. Then, after a long, hot day on foot, they urge the compelling stranger to stay with them for the night. There was something about him... Jesus goes with them to their home, has a meal. At the table, after He gave thanks, He breaks the bread and gives it to them. Only then were their eyes opened. Doubt fled as the light of truth flooded the room. They hurry back to Jerusalem, (another 11+km), their hearts burning with what had been revealed to them. 

There, they found the Eleven and those with them, gathered together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told them what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. But even when presented with eye witness accounts, there was still doubt. Then, a hush fell over the room. Right there, seemingly from out of nowhere, Jesus stood among them and said: "Peace be with you.". And they... thought He was a ghost! It seems ludicrous, but I wonder if I would I have reacted any different...

How I would love to have been in that room when Jesus said (knowing their thoughts): "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is myself! Touch me and see, a ghost does not have flesh and blood as I have." There He was, real, tangible, the cruel scars on the skin of his hands and feet, yet fully God. The Conqueror of death. Defeating natural laws. Bewildering those hindered by these same laws. (Our oldest son loved this part. Whenever he is told that something is so, his first request is to see it. Then presented with the evidence, wherever possible, it has to be touched and handled before he is satisfied.) When Jesus saw that they were finding it all too good to be true, He asked them for a bite to eat. I can just see them scuttling to their feet, someone offering a piece of broiled fish with shaking hands. And watching Him take and eat it, their own mouths agape. What a joyful moment it must have been when their minds were finally quickened to accept what was right before them all the time.

This is the Jesus I am coming to know, bit by beautiful bit. Patient, kind, gentle, understanding. Forgiving, caring and just. Always drawing our eyes back to His Word. Now, even more than then, there is so much in the world that would contradict our faith if we let it. Doubt is the unsettling "thing"  that happens to us all when we experience "things" that don’t fit with what we understand of God and/or his creation. Jesus, as a perfect Spirit-filled, sinless human being, also experienced contradiction. Christians can expect contradiction to be a real, and difficult experience - one which might well lead to doubt. We only see things "blurrily" now, and we only see in part. But it will surely not be like this forever - the day will come when we will know fully. But while we are waiting, Jesus knows and understands us already. He was the one who started the relationship, not me. It helps me to remember that God knows me intimately, even if I don't always feel I know or understand Him. While we doubt, it is as if our eyes become subtly closed. It will seem dark. But the love of God in Jesus still continues to shine all around you.

There is a poem written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "Who am I". These words sum it up in a simple and beautiful way. He wrote this poem in a Nazi prison, not long before he was killed. He was reflecting on the difference between the impression he gave that he had it all together, and the reality that he was eaten up with questions and doubt. But he finished the poem with words that were both a prayer and praise:

Who am I? 
They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, 
Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

The following are the words of a song by Bill and Gloria Gaither, which tells us that even the greatest ambassadors for God's Kingdom, struggle with doubt.

I believe help thou my unbelief
I'd take the finite risk of trusting like a child
I believe help thou my unbelief
I walk into the unknown trusting all the while

I long so much to feel the warmth that others seem to know
but should I never feel a thing I claim Him even so

I believe help thou my unbelief
I walk into the unknown trusting all the while...

Jesus is neither diminished nor changed by our doubts. He remains the same from everlasting to everlasting. It is in our daily praise and prayer that we continue to proclaim our belief, despite waves of contradiction all around us. Let Him put a new song in your heart, trust, walk into the unknown. For the unknown is known to God. We are known by God and loved; nonetheless!

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Broken for a purpose

A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out. (Isaiah 42:3)

The following is a post I wrote a few years ago. It was to serve as the final page of a blog book I originally printed as Christmas presents to friends and family. I kept it saved as a draft, and when I rediscovered it this morning, I decided to publish it. I hope it will edify someone, somewhere, who is hurting, or just needs to be reminded of his or her worth.

        The smell of cut grass. When a piece of mountain wilderness is being tamed, it is more than just a hint on a breeze. It swirls around us for hours, lending a fresh sweetness to the day. Summer seems to tantalise us for a few days a week and then the temperature plunges again. Just to remind us that we live "above the tree line" - the highlands. In an Alpine climate. But for now, the day is sweet with fragrance and promise. I read somewhere that it is trauma that causes the grass to release this delicious scent. It is the smell of chemical defences and first aid. The lawn trying to save itself from injury... I prefer to think that it is yet another one of those intricate and beautiful details of nature that the Creator spoke into existence. To form part of the most spectacular symphony composed, the greatest work of art conceived. Created through Him, by Him and for Him.

When I sat down earlier to write the last page of this "book", I felt a sense of trepidation. Just like a photograph can never quite capture a moment, words can never convey what you truly feel in your heart. There is always a filter. Something that lets through what sounds right and pleasing, but holds back what may give the wrong impression.

At the start of this blog journey, it felt so honourable, something that could fit in with my role of mountain Mama and housewife. It was an opportunity to witness, truthfully and with an open honest heart. But somewhere along the way, I realised that I had lost sight of that. I had become rather pleased with what I had achieved. But at other times I felt so uncertain about the validity of my efforts. Quite often, I was totally devoid of inspiration or real enthusiasm for what I wrote.

But looking back I realised, that in spite of me, Christ shines through it all. He is the fragrance that was emitted while I was thrashing out my own issues, my own brokenness and need for recognition. He alone knows the way my heart fits together. And yours. When the words were mine and when they were His.

Walking alongside a few precious woman in another journey of healing, I have become deeply aware of just how amazingly unique we were made. And how intimate and personal our walk with Jesus can be if we become vulnerable. When we yield rather than shield.

Often, much of what I wrote was inspired by what our small group have been working through this year. Woman that share the same love for Jesus, but honour this love, each in a totally different way. At our last meeting, as we also reflected on the path behind us, I was struck by how, even though we worked on the same content, the outworking of grace has been so personal in each one of these beautiful women's lives.

So, yes - this has mostly been underwritten by my own experiences and perceptions. The heartaches, joy, challenges and at times, just the everyday humdrum of life. But the banner over it all remains Jesus.

At night, when my family are safely tucked in, and their deep breathing slows the rhythm of our home, He is the One that smooths my hair away from my face to get a last look before the light is dimmed. He comforts me when anxious thoughts keep rest away. His name drives out fear and keeps pain at bay when the moon is dark and lies creep into unguarded places. With Him I have overcome and will continue to overcome. We are seated with Him in heavenly places. Now is the time to live it out as a present reality, rather than a future promise.

Each day, He gently puts a few more fragments of my once broken heart together. Shaping a breathtaking mosaic of grace. Mending it for a higher purpose.

When Jesus entered our world through the womb of a young girl, He deemed her worthy, even if she did not. When a tainted woman dried His perfumed feet with her hair, he reminded her of her worth, although she had lost sight of it. When a woman without hope, went alone to the well to draw water, he looked into her eyes, talked to her, offered her living water - made her feel worthy. When a condemned woman crouched on the hot sand, waiting for the first stone to hit her, He made the accusers drop their stones. In Him, she had found her worth.

When in the garden of Gethsemane, praying to the Father for the cup of suffering to pass Him by, God turned His eyes away from His Son. For in His plan, there has always been, and will always be: You. Each man, woman and child, created in His image, made worthy by this amazing love.

Then, on that dreadful cross, with the weight of all sin on His shoulders, your and my true worth was declared. Remember: You were worth dying for.

A bruised reed He does not break, a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish (Isaiah 42:3). Picture a slender bulrush, growing by the margin of some tarn or pond; its sides crushed and dented in by some outward power, a gust of wind, a sudden blow, the foot of a passing animal. The head is hanging by a thread, but it is not yet snapped or broken off from the stem. Christ deals tenderly with our hurts, our shortcomings and weaknesses. Where the flame of devotion burns at all, however feebly and dimly, the Messiah will take care not to quench it. Rather he will tend it, and trim it, and give it fresh oil, and cause it to burn more brightly. Our scars can be beautiful relics of a healing grace. We do not need to hide them with shame. When a broken heart allows the light and life of Christ to shine through it, how beautiful it becomes!

And then, one day, when we breathe our last breath in this marvellously messy, broken world of living as His redeemed, - we shall see Him as He sees us, face to face, the Lover and the loved. The apple of His eye, so precious in His sight. Regardless.

I thank each of you for sharing and enriching this journey so far. Thank you to my beautiful husband, who has been such a support and a source of insight. Thank you sweet children of mine, for letting me be, all the times when Mamma's eyes have been focused on a computer screen rather than on your precious faces. The way Christ is reflected in the eyes of these three people, is the greatest gift a woman can ask for.

Your journey is not mine. God has your exclusive race marked out for you, and no one else can claim to know how you should run it. What I do know, is that Jesus has won it for you. You only need to follow Him over the boulders or highways that He wishes to lead you on. There will be fields of green, quiet waters. But there will also be valleys and shadows. He is with you. His perfect love has driven out fear. We can risk returning this love, in the greatest Romance ever imagined.

May you rest in the Shadow of His Wings. Today, tomorrow and into Eternity.

With much love and hope