Thursday, 21 February 2013

We had hoped....

Last week seemed to be clouded with disappointment...not mine, but other people's.  It is difficult to listen to a friend or family member's circumstance and not take on even a small element of the regret and sadness that they are experiencing.  We have all been in a situation where something we had hoped for with all our heart is snatched away in one phone call, a terse email or a letter landing on the doormat....I guess it's called 'empathy'.

It is at times like this when words of comfort seem empty and futile.  If you cannot change the outcome, what's the point?  I was pondering on this just last week, trying to conjure up the right words, when I was reminded of a little phrase: 
We had hoped.....then Jesus drew near.

In fact this short sentence was the theme for our wedding sermon, some 15 years ago.  A strangely depressing sermon title for a day that is supposed to be the happiest day of your life! But this sentence is one that we have revisited time and time again througout our married life, not because we are constantly disappointed in one another, but because this feeling is one that every human being will encounter on a regular basis: our seemingly "perfect" life partner might turn out not to be quite who he/she seemed, the longed for baby hasn't arrived when we had imagined, redundancy is forced upon us at a time when we need the money most or that fateful phone call with the news that our test results confirm cancer....

The reality is, disappointment is hard to avoid.

Luke 24 vs 13-35, tells the story of two of Jesus' followers, journeying back to Emmaus after witnessing the death of Jesus and His subsequent body disappearing.  They were downcast, perplexed by what had happened and ultimately, hugely disappointed.  They "had hoped" that Jesus was The One, the messiah, their rescue plan.  Interestingly, the person who they were explaining this story (and their feelings) to, turns out to be Jesus himself. After conversing with them throughout the 7 mile journey, He agrees to spend the rest of the evening together (they still have no idea who this man is!)  Later on that evening, He breaks bread and finally, they realise that He is Jesus....the person who has spent all day by their side, discussing scriptures with them, explaining all the events that have taken place in the last few days and how they were part of God's perfect plan.

And can we not look back on times of disappointment in our lives and say the same?  Is it not in these difficult times when we are downhearted, desperately struggling to understand why God would allow this to happen, that  He meets us right where we are, just like He met the people on the road to Emmaus? The truth is, He longs for us to tell Him our sadness, to lean on Him and pour out our disappointment.  And in turn He will draw near with scriptures and words of encouragement.  He will comfort us and be our constant - that's a promise!

And here it is, the inconspicuous picture given to us on our wedding day - a small but beautiful reminder that Jesus will always draw near, no matter what.

Monday, 11 February 2013

The gift of grace

If you read my previous post, you will know that I've been reading a book called 'Lineage of Grace'.  Apart from Mary, all of the women featured in this book were from Old Testament times. This book has sparked many questions in my mind, one of them being:  

Why do we no longer fear God like the people in the Old Testament?  

The people of Israel often made decisions and acted out of fear of the Almighty God, and rightly so!  Over the years, they bore witness to whole nations being wiped out as a result of sin.  God sent plagues to punish people for their wrong doing and  He even turned wives into pillars of salt (find the story in Genesis 18 and 19, it's a fascinating one!)  God never missed a sin.  Their actions always had catastrophic consequences.  If this was going on today, wouldn't you be fearful of Him?!  God tried everything, but this still wasn't enough.

And then along came grace.  Grace in the form of His son, Jesus Christ - God's new rescue plan.  Grace is a gift, an opportunity for us to experience forgiveness and acceptance.  Instead of receiving a punishment for our wrong doing, we find freedom - a gift lavished on us out of love.   As with most free gifts, we are bowled over by the offer and try to reject it at the start, it's just too much to accept. Eventually though, we take Him up on His gift and with a grateful heart, we bask in the freedom of forgiveness. 

Just like a spoilt child who is regularly showered with gifts, we can easily  become complacent to the generosity of God.  Over the days and years, grace slowly becomes something which we take for granted and if not careful, this can lead us into a situation where God's gift becomes a licence for us to do as we please.  We might not say it but deep down we know that God will forgive us no matter what we do: losing our temper, telling a white lie, judging others, adultery, deceit, fraud.  A quick prayer and God will forgive us - isn't that what the bible says?  The minute we lose site of grace, complacency creeps in, along with our old friend, pride. 'There but for the grace of God go I' - important words to remember.  And that's probably a topic for a separate blog post!

I have come to realise that actually a modern relationship with God shouldn't be born our of fear, like the people of Israel, or many other reglions today. It should be born out of thankfulness and a revelation of the grace that He has lavished on us by sending His son.

We should be thanking God daily for the freedom that we live in because of His gift of grace.  We should seek to fully understand the significance of the cross - that by sending His son to die, we no longer need to live under the crippling fear that gripped the Israelites.  Pretty amazing, isn't it?

This weekend I went to a women's breakfast at our church and we sang this song written by Hillsong.  Here are the words from the chorus, they really resonated with me:

And I find myself here on my knees again  
Caught up in grace like an avalanche 
Nothing compares to this love, love, love  
Burning in my heart