Mercy

Recently, as part of our church small group, we’ve been doing the Bible Course by the Bible Society which despite some questionable jokes has been a wonderful way to go back to basics, looking at the shape of the text as a whole and the glorious beauty of the story pointing to Jesus from the very beginning.

One of the weeks that struck me most was on Jonah – the reluctant prophet swallowed by a big fish – it’s  a story I can’t say I’ve studied much. It was a part of my Sunday school teaching, but as an adult, it’s not a book I can say I’ve read avidly.

In a wonderful alignment of timing, Tim Keller then released his own book on Jonah entitled “The Prodigal Prophet” and as I read it, and reflected again on the text I couldn’t help but be captivated by the mercy which sits right at the heart of Jonah’s story.

So much of my life (and probably yours) is focussed on justice; for the poor, the neglected, the wronged and yet I feel that in that pursuit I’ve forgotten mercy.

It’s so easy to be outraged – but so much more difficult to be merciful.

And yet we are here but for the glorious mercy of God. Jesus’ crucifixion was the greatest act of mercy there ever has been – because despite being deserving of God’s wrath – we received a pardon and Jesus himself took on our punishment.

Jonah is the antithesis of mercy, and, as Keller points out, very much like the older brother depicted in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

It’s a role I’ve found myself in, I’ve been a christian for well over twenty years and when bad things happen to good people, or good things happen to bad people I want to know why, I want to have a silent tantrum because it’s not fair!

But over the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded that mercy isn’t fair.

Jonah had a good point when he didn’t want to witness to the Ninevites – they’d shown themselves to be a despicable people – and his God-given mission was more than a little dangerous. Yet even when he eventually went to the Ninevah to give God’s message – he was outraged when the people believed God and were spared the promised disaster!

He rants to God and speaks of God’s mercy not as a blessing, but a curse.

“Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

And then the book ends, as the parable of the Prodigal Son does, with a cliffhanger, without conclusion and without mercy.

As Tim Keller writes:

“Jonah wants a God of his own making, a God who simply smites the bad people, for instance, the wicked Ninevites and blesses the good people, for instance, Jonah and his countrymen. When the real God—not Jonah’s counterfeit—keeps showing up, Jonah is thrown into fury or despair.”

It’s in the reading and re-reading of this book that I’ve caught a glimpse of the God I’ve made in my own image; one who, like some kind of superhero swoops in and catches the bad guy, who characterises us heroes or villains.

When in actual fact, in the eyes of God there are no heroes or villains, we are simply His children.

Justice has it’s rightful place in society and theology; don’t get me wrong, and I won’t stop fighting against injustice, but I will try to remember that God is one of mercy, that Jesus died for us when we were still sinners. As Romans 5:6-8 proclaims:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

That is mercy, and this is our God of mercy, that we might not forget the mercy shown to us.

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Replay and Regret? Responding to Shame #IThoughtThereWouldBeCake

When I first read Katharine’s book it was the chapter that had me crying “I do that too!!” So I wanted to explore a little deeper the idea of replaying conversations again and again, squirming with shame at what has been said.

Shame leaves us stuck in replaying and regretting what has gone before, preventing us from moving forward and dealing with what has passed.

Brene Brown writes that:

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”

I’d go a step further, because I believe that shame corrodes our belief that God can restore and redeem us.

Shame tells us that we are worthless and unredeemable; it can make us think that the very worst parts of ourselves overshadow anything good about us.

Shame fails to live up to the standards of the law – but the gospels show a new way of looking at ourselves and our sin.

It doesn’t minimise or deny our sin, but reminds us that despite our sin we are still worth dying for!

I can’t help but think of Simon Peter here; his denial of Jesus was shameful; but Jesus neither denies his sin nor shames his sin – he confronts it and forgives it.

In John 21:15 we read that Jesus refers to him as Simon; and yet when he was called from his life as a fisherman, he’d been given a new name. No longer Simon – he was Peter, the Rock. Surely Jesus was reminding him here that his faith hadn’t been so rock-like recently.

But the conversation doesn’t end with Peter stripped of his new identity; Jesus redeems each of Peter’s denials by repeatedly asking, “Simon, Son of John, do you love me.”

Jesus restores Peter’s denials, and through that He’s showing Peter that he is forgiven.

Shame keeps us stuck in our sin – forgiveness and redemption move us on – and they moved Peter on.

The latter part of Jesus’s conversation with Peter is a re-commissioning. Jesus gives him a new role as a Pastor, the imagery shifting from fisherman to shepherd, giving a fairly succinct job description!

Feed my lambs.
Take care of my sheep.
Feed my sheep.

This is the calling for Peter’s next stage of ministry – to take up the role of a shepherd, a pastor – in spite and perhaps in part because of all he had done. I personally don’t know if I would have trusted the “top job” to someone who failed me so badly.

It’s a beautiful reminder that where shame sees only sin – Jesus sees through our sin straight to our identity as sons and daughters of God – redeemed and restored by Him.

Replay and Regret is a thing of the past because in Jesus we find our Redemption.

After Awareness

There are, it seems, awareness days for everything under the sun in 2018. A quick google revealed that this month alone there is a World Sepsis Day, a Pension Awareness Day, International Talk Like a Pirate Day and a National Doodle Day.

Everything has it’s day; and don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful that lesser known or stigmatised conditions are being recognised (although I’m not particularly sure that doodling really needs awareness!).

Indeed, we make an effort at ThinkTwice to get involved with days like World Suicide Prevention Day and Mental Health Awareness Week, but we also talk about suicide and mental health the rest of the year too!

And that’s the challenge; do awareness days and weeks actually raise awareness and build understanding? Because they only really work if the awareness leads to understanding.

I think in Britain most of us are now aware that mental health conditions exist and that they’re common. But I wonder if our understanding of mental health condition, of the way they tear through lives and the damage they leave in their wake is really understood.

Mental illnesses are often chronic, and their effects are felt not only by the one with the diagnosis; but by family, friends and colleagues. Our understanding of mental illness has to include understanding how far reaching their impact.

So this year, instead of marking every awareness day in the calendar (although, if you do manage that you probably deserve some kind of reward!) but pick one or two and commit to developing your understanding now you’ve got some awareness.

 

Finding Our Story. Guest Post by Andy Frost

I’m delighted to be hosting Andy Frost this week as part of his book blog tour! Andy  is the director of Share Jesus International. He loves helping people explore the Christian faith and has recently launched his new book Long Story Short and an adventure video series: YouTube.com/gvbbadventures

Finding Our Story

It’s an incredible library of books. It’s not just information or rules or philosophical ideas. The Bible tells the spectacular story that frames human history. As the story evolves, we glimpse the character of a just and loving God, who desperately wants to be in relationship with his creation.

Each of our lives tells a story. And it’s this big story that we find in the Bible that helps us frame our lives, helping us make sense of our time here on earth.

The challenge is to work out how our own personal story fits into the larger God story. Here are five thoughts that help me live the best kind of a story, wrapped up in God’s great narrative.

 

  1. The story has already begun.

Choosing to live in God’s story isn’t just a decision we make once, but it’s a daily decision to find out how we can be involved in seeing God’s will being done here on earth. With God as the central character, we are invited to partner with him in restoring all things.

He wants spiritual renewal and invites us to help others discover who he is and what it means to live in relationship with him. He wants social renewal and invites us to transform structures and institutions so that people are empowered to live well, free from the strongholds of poverty. And he wants cultural renewal and invites us to create better ways of being in our different spheres of influence.

Our life stories are about joining in with what God has been doing for generations and begin with a recognition that God is central and that he is already eat work.

 

  1. There will probably be no burning bush.

Many of us like very specific instructions. We would quite like God to make every step of our lives very clear but that is not the way that God works. We are called to work by faith.

The scary thing is that many of us are waiting for a burning bush experience to kick start our story but we can end up spending our lives waiting for some dramatic revelation. The truth is, God rarely speaks in such dramatic ways. He often speaks through convictions, through nudges.

God created us with desires that can not be fulfilled exclusively in him and finding our story is about working out the godly passions that God has put inside of us. The passions that go beyond us and serve God’s kingdom priorities.

Some helpful questions may be: What makes you come alive? What keeps you up at night? What has God been teaching you through your life experiences so far? What pain in the world do you notice that you just have to do something about?

It’s as you tease through some of these big themes, that you can then begin to think about what they look like in the here and now. You don’t need to be CEO of a large corporation or a respected MP. You begin now, in the roles and the responsibilities that God has already given you.

 

  1. Good stories cost.

The comfortable life is very attractive but the secret to any good story is that there needs to be some kind of conflict or challenge. It’s not that we go looking for conflict but that the vision or the passion we carry, will require it.

Some of the best biographical stories from history are about leaders who’s vision cost dearly – think Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Theresa. Ultimately, the God story reveals the cost that God was willing to pay as Jesus went to the cross.

Finding your story in God’s is about be willing to pay a price. It might mean risking failure as you step into something new; or turning down lucrative career moves to follow God’s prompting; or being willing to be hurt by those that you want to help.

What are you willing to surrender to God to live the best kind of story?

 

  1. Who the character becomes is more important than what the character achieves.

I’m the kind of guy that makes lists and loves to tick things off. I have to ‘achieve’ things every day and when it comes to life, I often set myself targets. But an interesting thought is not working through what I want to do but who I want to become.

One day as people sit around ay my wake, do I want to be remembered for what I achieved or for how I treated other people?

Each of outlives will be littered with both good times and difficult times. Wrapping ourselves in the God story is about punctuating our lives with moments that help us frame our lives. It’s so easy to become bitter and cynical and its imperative that we are people of love.

An important question to think through is, what rhythms of prayer and Bible reading will help me centre myself on Jesus, no matter what life throws at me?

 

  1. We know how the story ends…

The last book in the Bible, Revelation, paints this incredible picture of a new heaven and a new earth. Tears are wiped away. Things are as they should be.

Reminding ourselves of how the story ends is vital because there is always hope. We live in a dark world and its easy to become disillusioned when there is so much pain and suffering. Finding our story in God’s story is ultimately about remembering that God is sovereign, that we never need to despair and that we know how the story ends.

Head to Amazon to get your copy (if you use this link I get a small commission).

‘Twas the Day Before Publication

And all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…

Well, the first part of that is true, but in reality I’m definitely stirring part in panic and part in excitement.

Learning to Breathe has been an idea, a hope, a dream of mine for a decade, and tomorrow it becomes reality as anyone, anywhere, can choose to buy it, borrow it and read it.

There is something particularly terrifying, because people are not just reading my words, they are reading the story of the worst days of my life.

But as I sit here, with a pile of books, that I wrote and that others have turned into this beautiful looking book; I can see that the promise of restoration and redemption on which I pinned my recovery for all those years, finds some fulfilment in the book that I began to write when I was at my darkest.

I began to write because I wanted to make sense of what I’d been living through; but I finished writing and started editing,  preparing it for publication because I believe that whilst the church has come a long way in terms of mental health awareness, we still have a long way to go in terms of understanding.

We may know that 1 in 4 have a mental health problem each year – but do we understand the effect it has on them, their families and their work?

We may know that suicide is the leading cause of death for young people – but do we understand why- and, more importantly – how to hold out hope?

I have only written my story, my perspective, but it is my hope and my prayer that it will lead you on to listen to the stories of those in your midst who are struggling, to equip yourselves with understanding so that you can begin to know how to help.

And whenever the terror of the reality that my story is there for anyone to consume – that’s what I remind myself of – that ‘Learning to Breathe’ was not written merely for my own catharsis – but so that others may glimpse something of God’s compassion and kindness for those whose minds are lost in their own darknesses.

Because, as Psalm 107 proclaims: “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.”

I’ve told mine, not because my story is anything but ordinary, but because the God of our stories is beyond extraordinary.


You can pre-order it from SPCKAslan, Amazon, and Eden

The Girl De-Construction Project

Recently I was honoured that my friend Rachel Gardner chose to include an excerpt of my writing in her new book “The Girl Deconstruction Project“. Here it is in full.


Recalling Your Tears

Recalling your tears; there is not condemnation, but compassion. 

The one whose feet were washed in perfume and tears, wept his own tears;

for His friend, His city, for what was to come. 

 Tears are a language beyond words and in our fallen world, they are a language of love.

They are not be be dismissed as a weakness or an irrelevance – because you are not weak or irrelevant. 

There is not a single tear that falls down your face or in your mind that goes unnoticed. 

Tears that flow from anxious minds, aching minds, exhausted minds. 

Tears aren’t to be dismissed as a weakness or an irrelevance. 

The Psalmist speaks of our tears recorded, not forgotten. 

And yet they are not the end. 

When one day every tear is wiped away and the sorrow and the pain are a distant memory on heavens shores, you will be remembered. 

Whether your tears flow in the quiet moments of pause, the ache of unfulfilled perfection or the fear of tomorrow, they do not go unnoticed. 

And in the tears of Jesus Christ, we see the promise of something new. 

Tears are not the end of the story, because through Mary Magdalene’s tears, the risen Jesus was first glimpsed. 

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 

God gave us tears to grieve in this fallen world; but He offers not just comfort, but hope for a better tomorrow in this world and the next. 

Joy comes in the morning and signals His presence, not pains absence. 

His grace took His Son to the cross, and it promises to lead us home. 

The journey home is paved with the promise that God doesn’t abandon us to fear, powerlessness and fractured minds. 

Through the wisdom of God we are not left alone to face our fears, but armed with His word to test every thought that passes through our minds. 

Through the power of God we are not left weak – because His power is made perfect in our weakness as it reveals more of Him. 

Through the love of God we are strengthened, for whatever anguish we suffer we are assured that through Jesus our depths are never further than His love for us. 

Through the healing of God our wounds are given balm; through the touch of the physicians’ hand or medications flow we can know that our minds are not abandoned to the darkness. 

When the answers to our prayers feel lost in the mystery of God. 

When we are desperate for answers and all we can hear is silence –  we are not abandoned to the darkness. 

We cannot abandon those in the darkness. 

We recall the tears from the darkness and point to what we hope in. 

That the God for whom stars were an afterthought will lead us home and our questions will be answered at the sight of his glorious grace. 

Pregnancy After Loss

It’s taken me a long time to write this; I found out I was pregnant back in March and I’ve wanted to write about it ever since we announced that we were having a baby.

So what’s stopped me?

Pregnancy after loss is an incredibly complicated time; for me, it can be described primarily as a loss of innocence.

The first time, the idea of anything going wrong was something vague, something that happened to other people.

This time, miscarriage has been at the forefront of my mind most days, particularly before the first scan.

The fear has been omnipresent.

And yet, so has faith.

Fear and faith have sat side by side, in an uncomfortable alliance.

They have not negated one another, as I might have expected, but I’ve lived in between the tension of the two.

I have had faith that God does and will work, that He is love, that He is trustworthy.

And I have feared the loss that I’d only just begun to get my head and heart around when I fell pregnant again.

I have written very little; in part, I think that’s because so far, pregnancy has been good to me. I’ve felt almost guilty that I’ve (so far) escaped the worst and in part because I’ve not wanted to sound like I’m boasting in any way.

I also haven’t written because losing our baby in December changed the whole way I relate to God, it pulled away my certainties. Shortly afterwards, I lost my voice after a virus and all of a sudden I couldn’t use my voice to sing and lament, I found myself silenced in worship.

And in my silence, I began to listen. Sometimes there has been comfortable silence, but at other times I was able to reflect on scripture in ways I have never done before.

As I wrote in my last blog, I felt the call of the those truths which drew me to faith in the first place.

Now, as I enter the second half of pregnancy the hope and the fear are growing still – but what is growing more than I’d imagined is my faith – whatever happens going forward, I’m trusting that God is moving and God is present in the darkness, but also in the light.