Tuesday, 31 May 2011

God of Hope

I wrote these song lyrics back in February when I felt so close to God I could almost touch Him. Feelings change but “your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). I pray these truths about the God of Hope may bless you – and this is my prayer for you, and for me:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, 
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Romans 15:13).


We know that our Redeemer lives,
Our hearts yearn within us,
We long to see Him face to face!
We hope in His unfailing love,
We’re trusting in His holy Name,
Our souls find rest in Him alone.

We used to be without hope,
But now His blood has saved us!

So let us fix our eyes on Jesus,
the Author, Perfecter of our faith,
exalted in the heavens!
Not growing weary,
we’re running towards Him,
the goal of our faith –
the God of Hope!

We died with Christ, we’ll live with Him,
We have been set free from sin,
Our consciences have been cleansed;
So let’s forget what is behind
And strain towards what is ahead,
We press towards our heavenly goal.

Endurance inspired by hope –
The hope of the glory of God!


We’re waiting for our blessed hope,
For Jesus Christ to come again,
To bring salvation to His bride;
The trumpets will resound and then
We’ll finally see Him face to face,
Falling down upon our knees

Singing before the King,
Worshipping before the Lamb!


Scripture references:
Job 19:25-27; Psalm 33:18-21; Psalm 62:5; Eph 2:12-13; Heb 12:1-3; Phi 3:12-14; Rom 15:13; Rom 6:7-8; Heb 10:22-23; 1 Th 1:3; Rom 5:2; Titus 2:13; Heb 9:28; 1 Thess 4:16-18; Rev 5:13-14

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Is Your God Big Enough?


I remember as a 3 year old idolising my big sister, following her around everywhere she went, copying her every movement, to the extent that she managed to trick me into swallowing a button and then laughed in that way that only big sisters can when they know they’ve caught you hook, line and sinker! Today I look at her and my heart breaks – the little girl I looked up to, who danced so gracefully like a ballerina, now caught up in a world of obsessive movements which makes her heart pound with anxiety and the sweat form on her brow even as she attempts to pick up a jug to drink out of it. For she suffers with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, her coping mechanism for her Asperger’s Syndrome. Bullied at school for being “different”, she withdrew into a life of rituals and obsessions to give her a sense of identity. I remember when she was 9 how she started coming home from school and checking every single thing in her bedroom was in its rightful place – it wasn’t long before she started sleeping in my bedroom to protect hers from getting messed up. Not long after that no-one was allowed in her bedroom at all. Today it remains a shrine, filled with untouched beautiful toys and unhugged dolls from that long-gone childhood.

As we both grew older, my ability to connect with Helen diminished. Looking at life wearing the self-centred glasses of a teenager, I resented the fact that I had to start using a duster to turn light switches on and off, that I had to line up the cutlery in the drawer in a perfect line, and above all that I was unable to bring friends back home in case the house got messed up. As Helen found life increasingly more difficult and became more and more house-bound, her frustrations that we simply didn’t understand her spilled over into physical violence, and I’ll never forget my mum and I sleeping in the car one night in the local supermarket car park, too afraid to return home. I was relieved to leave home and go off to university.

But God then intervened. He opened my mum’s eyes to the gospel message, and soon after mine too. And I was amazed at how my attitude to my sister completely changed – how my hardened heart towards her was softened and I felt deep compassion for her. And it was clear to both my mum and me that God was going to heal Helen and be glorified by doing so.

That belief took a knock when Helen was sectioned  (involuntarily committed) to a psychiatric hospital the next year, as she had become confined to living in an armchair in the lounge. And in the 19 years since then she has been passed from care home to care home, in increasingly desperate attempts to find a place for her to live where she might receive some help. Her problems have been compounded by lack of understanding in many of these places, and also sexual abuse from those “caring” for her. Today we are preparing a bungalow for her to move to in a few weeks time, in the hope that this time things might improve. Meanwhile, I go to visit her and watch as she stands eating her one daily meal out of a bowl with her fingers, unable to eat more often as this would add too many rituals, unable to use a knife and fork, unable to sit down otherwise she would get “stuck”; try to calm and reassure her as she performs her rituals of movement (which encompass every single movement she makes with her body) under intense anxiety; witness her despair at feeling like a “caged animal”, unable to have any kind of a normal life and feeling utterly worthless;  and have to forego any normal sisterly conversation as I have to teach her from a book whilst I visit so that the rituals Helen has “given up” by spending time with me are “repaid” by her learning and feeling better about herself that way. Yet there are moments when the tender heart that God has formed in Helen through her suffering shines out brilliantly – when a member of staff suffered a panic attack, Helen was able to reassure him and calm him down, and he was so touched by this he sent her a bouquet of flowers the next day to thank her.

Reading Chapter 4 in Michael Horton’s A Place for Weakness – Is Your God Big Enough – has been a personal challenge to me. For God has started to break down some emotional barriers that I had put up with Helen’s situation, and I am finding the questions are starting to come. In particular I look at the centurion who approached Jesus on behalf of his paralysed servant in terrible suffering who simply asks Jesus to “just say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Mt 8:8). And I KNOW that all it would take is a word from My Lord and Saviour, and my sister would be released from her bondage, for the nature of God has not changed, He continues to heal today. Yet He stays silent.

Dealing with long-term suffering has led me through many different seasons of prayer for Helen and to be honest, I have fluctuated from one extreme to another without ever finding that satisfactory rest in Christ – either believing that God exists for us (p.65) and not being able to understand why He doesn’t heal Helen, or letting experience be my guide (p.54) and believing nothing is going to change for Helen and that we all need to just stoically persevere. Yet as Horton points out so well in this chapter, neither of these approaches does justice to the God we worship and who has revealed Himself through the Scriptures.

I KNOW that “God has a larger plan and design” for the suffering we may have to witness our loved ones go through, otherwise, as Horton says, “a random accident, the car accident that took the life of one’s daughter, for example, is literally meaningless.” (p.64). My mum and I were both left cold by the words of an Anglican vicar who told us after the death of my father in this exact circumstance when Helen was 16 that “God sometimes gets it wrong”. Even as non-Christians we knew this couldn’t be true. I agree with every fibre of my being when Horton declares triumphantly “Our Father is strong to save. This means that he both can and will set everything right and wipe every tear from our eyes.” (p.67). I just don’t know when. Elizabeth, the wonderful host of this stimulating book discussion, said the other day “We like to say it's a high calling, but dignify the trial by praying and persevering to the end of it. See what God brings about in His own time, in His own way, for His own glory.” And whilst I agree wholeheartedly, may God have mercy on me but I cannot deny that part of me is crying out that He should act in this case sooner rather than later.

And reflecting on that last sentence I wrote, I can now see how it is steeped in a theology of glory - for as Horton points out, "This is the key point of the theology of the cross: God is most present precisely when He seems most absent" (p.56). Which just proves the point of Horton's book really - that in the crucible of testing we are likely to revert to the natural theology of man, the theology of glory, unless we learn from God's Word how to meet the trials. So I will continue to wrestle.

Helen wrote this poem about 15 years ago. I haven’t read it for many years, and reading it today the words hit me hard. May God have mercy on her and free her from her prison and release her from the dungeon in which she is held in darkness (Isa 42:7).


Helen was my beautiful bridesmaid in 1994
Trapped in the depths of a world where I came to mysteriously exist
I have a desperate urge to get out – be free – to escape –
Begging, my soul screaming, I need comfort
Please come and give it to me, please, I beg you
Protect me from the demonic structure of this world.
Relieve me from the dark, painful tightness of my existence.
How can I be free? There is nowhere, nobody for me.
Too many other particles and matter in this universe.
Why should I be more important than them?
I am nothing – for nothing.
I am a bird that cannot sing
I am a petal on a flower which is unseen
I just cannot compete.
Why cannot I just be myself in this time?
Cannot human beings accept me as I am?
Why do I have to conform to every little detail?
Please let me be, please love me.
All I need is one good soul to hear my song.
To see me amongst the petals on a flower.
Without this special love I am surely doomed for ever.
-          Helen Reynolds.

(Please join the book discussion here).

Friday, 13 May 2011

Proclamation from the mountain

I’ve been reading Habbakuk this week. I’ve been particularly struck by the fact that after this prophet wrestled with God, questioned Him, received a personal response from Him, and struggled under the vision of impending judgment and suffering to come which left him with pounding heart and trembling legs, he was able to make such a strong declaration of faith in His God that no matter the circumstances, he would trust Him and rejoice in Him. He then concludes by saying:

The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. – Hab 3:19

It struck me that Habbakuk’s walking on the heights in the face of crop failure, famine and the persecution to come from Babylon sums up exactly the contrast between the theology of glory (man ascending self-confidently to God) and the theology of the cross (God reveals Himself to man, particularly in the weakness and mercy of the suffering - as outlined by Michael Horton in his book A Place for Weakness). For the world would look at the circumstances facing Habbakuk and conclude that all was lost – whereas it was precisely at this moment that God was at work, bringing His purposes to fulfilment through judgement upon the nations of the earth.

I’ve been reflecting on a post I made earlier in the year, “Revelation from the peaks”, where I concluded that much of my experience of God has taken place on the mountains. Yet when I look back on those experiences of God – being broken by His Holiness, being undone by His Law, being laid low by His Glory – it certainly seemed at the time that these were in fact times in which I was in a dark valley, enduring great inward struggles and pain. It is only now, in hindsight, that I can look back and see that paradoxically these were mountain-top experiences.

And this verse has particularly been impressed upon me today:

You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, Here is your God! – Isa 40:9

It seems to me that there is a call here to the people of God who have come to know their God through the mountain-top experiences of suffering and struggle, who are starting to see Him more clearly from this perspective, to make a bold, fearless proclamation to the people of God as to Who this God is. This proclamation of His Sovereignty, His Holiness, His Majesty, His Justice, yet also of His Compassion, Lovingkindess and Mercy to the Redeemed in Christ, will surely help to “strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” (Isa 35:3-4). May God grant us the grace to be bold in our proclamation!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

On being blessed by 1 Thess 5:11 friends

"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing" - 1 Thessalonians 5:11

I thought it was about time I posted something to share how much I have been encouraged, exhorted, and inspired in my faith by my blogging friends and their articles. This group of online friends has been a Godsend to me, I have been blessed beyond measure through them and their faith, and the way they have pointed me to Him! I’ve had great fun going back through the archives of my favourite blogs, to pull out those articles which have really made an impact on me and my walk with God in this last year.

Where to start? Well, for me, it started just over a year ago when I heard the sweet southern accent of Christine Blackerby Pack as she was interviewed on a radio show about her involvement in the New Age and mysticism, and how God saved her out of that. Greatly encouraged by the testimony of this lovely “rascally Yank” as she calls herself, I sent her a friend request on Facebook – and what a blessing her friendship has been to me, for the loving care she has shown in so many ways. My life has been influenced by Christine in so many ways - from the music I listen to, to the books that Harry reads, to my understanding of positional and progressive sanctification (I get it now!!). I've also been following her blog, Sola Sisters. This is a great site for articles on all the errors of teaching which are creeping into the church. I learn so much from reading these articles. Christine writes with great clarity, and also posts devotional articles. This one in particular made a big impact on me, for its sheer honesty and heartfelt cry of love for God.

Whilst having a discussion on Facebook with my new friend, Christine, a lady called Elizabeth chimed in, we got chatting, and I found she too had a blog, finding the motherlode. Elizabeth has simply become one of my dearest friends. Spending time with someone who is able to see God's redemptive purposes in situations which initially look pretty bleak to me, is a sheer joy. She has pointed me upwards and onwards and inspired me so much in my walk of faith. Reading her articles, which like the best meals take their time in the cooking, is like partaking of the chef’s special at your favourite restaurant - you know you can trust the chef to serve up something which will always delight your taste buds. I absolutely adore this post. Ever since reading it, I’ve just been longing to sit in Elizabeth’s home and watch as she teaches her sons. And via Facebook my hunger between meals is abated as this lady posts some of the most profound short statements on a daily basis.

Petra Hefner blogs over at Penned Pebbles, and we met via Elizabeth. A writer and poet whose work is soaked in scripture, married to Rick, a talented musician. Artists both, using their gifts for His Glory. Petra’s talents seem to know no bounds – she recently completed an A-Z daily devotional series which included the letters X and Z ;) and also wrote a poem in a minute and a half! One of Petra’s poems really inspired me. I remember reading this and thinking I have never even considered the possibility that a dewdrop might quiver in praise of God. I was challenged to review how I looked at nature – and I am so thankful that now when I walk in the woods I can see the trees standing in reverent praise to their God, and I hear the birds singing their praises to Him, and lakes dance to the glory of God – all thanks to the challenge from dear Petra :)

Petra invited me to a tea-party hosted by Diane Bucknell, over at Theology for Girls. Diane has proven to be a good friend in many ways to me, not least in her passion for the Truth of the Word, which shines out from her blog. This lady certainly knows her theology, and she regularly dispenses wise counsel. I have been particularly blessed by her Sunday Hymnology series, and have been introduced to many new hymns by her. This hymn, which I didn’t know until Diane introduced it to me, has become a favourite of mine. These words in particular express a significant breakthrough in my spiritual walk last year:

And then I cried, "Dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit,"
And somehow Jesus came and bro't
To me the victory.

Via this tea party, I met 2 other delightful ladies. The beautiful Christina Langella, who blogs over at Heavenly Springs, charmed me with her first comment on my blog: “So, I had to visit your blog because I have seen your name on other blogs and ALWAYS say to myself, "I LOVE her name!" I think Diana Lovegrove is one of the most beautiful names I have ever heard!” For some reason, this endeared her to me straight away :) Christina longs and aches for the return of our Lord, and this post sums her up. Christina is a great encouragement to me, her comments always make me smile, and she posts such great devotional articles on her website which never fail to point me to Him. And her writing skills were used to their best advantage recently when she wrote one of the best summaries of the doctrines of grace that I've read, in the recent Doctrines in the Kitchen series.

And via Diane, I also met dear, sweet Teresa from Music from Broken Chords. The name of her blog utterly captivated me. And this post  is one of the most moving pieces I’ve ever read, and just fills my heart with hope and encouragement. We may have only known each other a few months, but Teresa has been such a blessing to me both through her blog and on Facebook, and I cherish her friendship immensely. There have been a number of occasions when she has spoken a word of encouragement to me to help to steady my soul. This lady speaks from the heart, I adore her honesty, and the way she leans upon Christ is an inspiration to me.

Elizabeth introduced me to another blogger too – the vivacious Becky Pliego from Mexico – Hola! Again, I have known Becky only a few short, precious months, but she and her blog, Daily On My Way to Heaven, have rapidly become an important part of my life, especially over the last month with her truly inspired Doctrines in the Kitchen series. When I am around Becky, my heart is filled with delight! The post that Elizabeth directed me to has a special place in my heart. This review by Becky of chapter 2 in Sproul’s Holiness book is absolute gold-dust. And really, this sums up my spiritual journey over the last year – being absolutely undone by the Holiness of God, but still longing to see Him face to face.

“One day, if He has called us into His family we will SEE HIM!
What a promise!
What a joy! Not only His back, but His face!
Not to find a judge but a Father.”

And this is Who I found in my spiritual walk over the last year – my Heavenly Father.

My heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you. I love you all. Amazing how much blessing and edification can spring from one simple Facebook friend request! And for any reading this who don’t know these blogs, I urge you to check them out, I know you will be blessed as I have been.