Category Archives: Theology

Present Tense Testimony

I’ve been sharing my testimony since I was thirteen and I first stood in a church pulpit. On that blisteringly hot day in July 2003, I spoke about the God I serve and the calling I felt. Since then, I’ve been sharing my story in blog posts, seminars, sermons and talks. It’s something I feel relatively confident in doing, I am well rehearsed in what I feel comfortable sharing and making sure that I can point away from myself to the God of my story in the course of sharing.

But as I was reading Stephanie Tait’s “The View From Rock Bottom”, one phrase leapt from the page.

“present tense testimony”

More often than not, the testimonies we share are in the past tense. They speak of things overcome, of the miraculous and the way live has changed for the better.

I can speak of a significant recovery, that I live a life I love, that I have not harmed myself in over a decade.

But that would not tell the whole story.

My present tense testimony is more complicated, more unfinished and less tidy.

My present tense testimony demonstrates no less of the glory of God and His grace.

My present tense testimony is that I still struggle; that I live with mental illness but that through grace, community and rest I live a life I love.

Patrick Regan brilliantly describes it as “healing in the slow lane” in his book, Honesty Over Silence.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we all bear our pain for the world to see every day, we don’t need to bear our open wounds – but we need to be honest that we are wounded.

It doesn’t look as shiny, but it is miraculous nonetheless, because there were days when I couldn’t lift my eyes to even consider a future and now I am living each day. Stumbling, yes; with help, most definitely – but more importantly with the knowledge of grace and God’s care in the day-to-day boring stuff.

It is, I think, the difference that the late Rachel Held Evans and my friend Tanya Marlow speak of so eloquently. Rachel wrote:

“But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.”

This is what a present tense testimony offers; that even when the pains of life persist so do we and so, more beautifully, does God.

God’s work is both the lighting flash and the slow burning flame.

What glory in the mundane might our present tense testimonies reveal?

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Kindness, Actually.

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Jennifer Dukes Lee

When I was pregnant with my son, I prayed many things over him – but one thing came to mind every time.

Kindness.

In a world where we are pushed to be more, do more, see more; my prayer was and continues to be that he will be kind.

We can’t all be academics, sporty, good looking or accomplished; but we all have an opportunity to be kind.

It is the moments of kindness which stick most clearly in my memory; I don’t necessarily remember presents I’ve been bought (though I do love a present!) but I remember people’s kindnesses towards me.

I remember the man who helped me get the buggy down the stairs the first time I got the tube with the baby.

I remember the friend who dropped everything to come over and lighten my load when I was struggling.

I remember the coffee my husband brings me in the morning.

And the kindnesses we share are but a reflection of the King of kindness.

God’s kindness, His hesed (literally translated as lovingkindness) is at the heart of who He is and everything He does.

Our hope is anchored in God’s loving kindness towards us, even in the darkest of times.

In the many psalms and passages of lament in the Bible; when people are crying out their most desperate petitions of pain to God, it is God’s kindness which marks the turning point to praise – because it’s what the promises of God rest upon and the praises to God rise from.

It’s the tenderness of Jesus as He wept, the care of the Father as He provided for the Israelites in exile and the presence of the Holy Spirit who translates our groans into prayers.

The most famous verse in the book of Lamentations 3.22 is the one which speaks of God’s kindness in the midst of prayers of agony.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;therefore I will wait for him.”

Our laments rely on the kindness of God – and they are not disappointed.

Michael Card writes in his book “Inexpressible” which studies the word hesed through the Bible:

“He demonstrates his incomparable strength by means of his infinite kindness.”

God’s infinite kindness isn’t separate from his power and might – it’s the vehicle of it.

And it’s our role to be His vehicles of hesed on earth.

To show loving kindness to our families, our friends, our neighbours and our strangers.

Tracing the Tears – Resurrection #OurHolyWeek

This Holy Week, I’m going to be blogging each day, tracing the tears Jesus shed for Jerusalem to the tear filled eyes who first saw the Risen Christ. Throughout I’ll be following prompts from #OurHolyWeek


“Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying.”

John’s account of Jesus’ resurrection begins with tears.

The tears of Good Friday and Holy Saturday were still wet on the faces of Jesus’ friends when He returned to them.

And it was through the tears of Mary Magdalene that He chose to appear – that tells me a lot about the Jesus I follow.

It tells me that this suffering servant is acquainted with the deepest grief, but it also tells me that Jesus forever reigns over the agony, that death and agony are beaten.

Twice in the stories of Jesus’ resurrection He is obscured to the people He appears to; first here when Mary believes that someone has taken the body of Jesus she does not realise to whom she speaks until He speaks her name.

Jesus makes the first move, every time, and waits patiently for us to respond. He leaves the ninety-nine to go after the lost sheep and waits for us to invite Him in when we are found.

And secondly, in Luke we read that Jesus is not recognised until He breaks bread with the hopeless travellers on the way to Emmaus.

The Risen Jesus does things as unexpectedly in life as in resurrection (as if resurrection were not unexpected enough!)

He reveals His power over the grave through signs that others may call weak; Mary’s tears, Cleopas’ hopelessness, His own scars which prove who He is to Thomas.

Our first signs of life are our cries of a baby; and here we see that it is through tears that the risen Lord first appeared. Our tears signal the beginning of everything new; the new life Jesus offers, the new hope He embodies.

As the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, we are reminded that His mercies and our hope are new every morning.

Our hope is in the Christ who died for us, who suffered in His mercy.

Our hope is in the Christ who rose from the grave who has beaten death and evil, in His mercy still bearing the scars of crucifixion.

Our hope is in the Christ who will come again in glory and who in His mercy allows the dawn to rise slowly so that our eyes may become accustomed to the blistering light and life of who He is.

“We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” Pope John Paul II

 

Tracing the Tears – Holy Saturday #OurHolyWeek

This Holy Week, I’m going to be blogging each day, tracing the tears Jesus shed for Jerusalem to the tear filled eyes who first saw the Risen Christ. Throughout I’ll be following prompts from #OurHolyWeek


No one likes to talk about days like today.

There is no drama, no battle, no victory.

The grave is full and the grief is raw.

It feels like death has won.

Below is a reflection on Holy Saturday adapted from my book “Learning to Breathe“.


Holy Saturday is a day to lament.

Holy Saturday is the valley of grief and uncertainty, for us and for Jesus’ disciples.’

It’s the place where we spiritually live so often, when the worst has happened and we don’t know if or how we can go on – yet in the midst of darkness we trust that dawn will break. It’s often like this in the rest of life, I think. We often remember the most dramatic days, the happiest, but how often do we remember the days of silence, when everything is wrong but nothing can be done? I don’t know if it’s a good thing that we forget days like these in our own lives, but I think it would be good if we spent a little more time remembering Holy Saturday.

It goes beyond the agony of the cross, even. The day when it was finished – when Jesus was dead – because of our sins. It is a day of silence, it seems.

God doesn’t always speak. Sometimes the silence of God says it all. As I write, I’m reminded of Job. Job who lost everything and everyone who mattered to him. Job whose friends were worse than useless. Job to whom God remained silent, waiting to speak. It strikes me that the silence of God is more often than not followed by a presence of God that is so awesome, so mighty, that we can do nothing but bow in praise and awe.

A season like this Holy Saturday can seem endless. It’s the state in which we sometimes live our lives. It’s an open wound. Shelly Rambo writes:

‘The reality is that death has not ended; instead it persists. The experience of survival is one in which life, as it once was, cannot be retrieved. However the promise of life ahead cannot be envisioned.’

There is no happy ending on Holy Saturday. Jesus is in the grave and the shadows of His death keep this day dark without a hope for the resurrection dawn. It’s a mistake to rush beyond today, because it is reflected so often in life.

Holy Saturday continues the tradition of lament set out in the Old Testament, throughout the Psalms and, of course, Lamentations. It tells us that even when God is silent, he is still to be trusted.

It’s important not to rush past the silent days of lament.

We have to be able to deal with the times when God does seem to be on mute, to be absent.

Silence does not mean that God does not exist; scripture shows us that God’s work of life begins in the dark silence and reminds us that even on these; there is hope because Jesus has been in the dark of the tomb and it was the beginning of our greatest hope.

He blesses every love that weeps and grieves

And makes our grief the pangs of a new birth.

The love that’s poured in silence at old graves

Renewing flowers, tending the bare earth,

Is never lost. In him all love is found

And sown with him, a seed in the rich ground.

Malcolm Guite

Tracing the Tears – Sacrifice #OurHolyWeek

This Holy Week, I’m going to be blogging each day, tracing the tears Jesus shed for Jerusalem to the tear filled eyes who first saw the Risen Christ. Throughout I’ll be following prompts from #OurHolyWeek


He gave up His spirit.

Then the darkness. The torn temple curtain.

The world changed forever in a moment.

For us.

“Look at him facing the darkness for you. That’ll enable you to face any darkness yourself.” Timothy Keller

It’s a stunning truth which gives me great courage, because the darkness Jesus faced on the cross as He died cannot be imagined nor underestimated.

It was a darkness which swallowed the midday sun; but it was a liberation which tore the temple curtain in two allowing entry to holiest of holies.

Whenever we feel as if no-one understands our agony, we can remember the cross.

Whenever we feel alone, our cries are joined with Jesus’ as he echoed the Psalmist: “My God, My God, why have your forsaken me?”

The cross is the beginning and end of our laments; the beginning because it ushers us into a new understanding of how far Jesus goes for us and the end because death’s sting is extinguished.

Hope was not just born on Easter morning for me; but as Jesus commits His spirit into God’s hands because it was then that He reached out to death so that we may live, then that He tasted hell so that we may taste heaven.

It’s why we call the worst day in history ‘good’. It’s the reason for our hope.

Tracing the Tears – Service #OurHolyWeek

This Holy Week, I’m going to be blogging each day, tracing the tears Jesus shed for Jerusalem to the tear filled eyes who first saw the Risen Christ. Throughout I’ll be following prompts from #OurHolyWeek


It was the greatest act of service.

Taking the cup of suffering so that our suffering may be redeemed, that one day we will see an end to our suffering.

The picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is one which never fails to bring a lump to my throat. It is the greatest agony ever experienced; and yet He did not run or swerve the job ahead of Him.

Service demands sacrifice; whether the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus offered, or the million mundane acts of service which sacrifice our time or enjoyment.

Love involves a multitude of acts of service; from having a house full of lycra (my sacrifice), having a house full of rose gold accessories (my husband’s sacrifice) or the nappies that need to be changed (a joint sacrifice for our son!)

And the humbling act of service Jesus performed as He washed his disciples feet was just a foretaste to what was to come.

The blood tinged sweat which adorned his brow as He prayed:

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup(E) be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Jesus’ death was the pinnacle of His service. But He had already endured thirty-three years of a messy human life from the moment he was born and laid in a manger. He relinquished His place in heaven so that we may have a chance to have ours.

“God entered time and became a man, he who was boundless became bound. Imprisoned in flesh. Restricted by weary-prone muscles and eyelids. For more than three decades, his once limitless reach would be limited to the stretch of an arm, his speed checked to the pace of human feet.”

Max Lucado

The next time I moan about the small acts of service life demands; I want to remember the sacrificial service that Jesus did for our sake, not only in His death, but in His life.

 

Tracing the Tears – Betrayal #OurHolyWeek

This Holy Week, I’m going to be blogging each day, tracing the tears Jesus shed for Jerusalem to the tear filled eyes who first saw the Risen Christ. Throughout I’ll be following prompts from #OurHolyWeek


Betrayal elicits a particular type of pain; it’s as bitter as the love shared was once shared.

His kiss; meant to be a sign of love signed Jesus’ death warrant.

Betrayal is deeper and more ugly that mere dislike because it disguises itself in a love that once was.

Judas perhaps never truly knew the love of Jesus; but if he had once loved Jesus it was eclipsed by his other loves; money and power.

It was Judas, remember, who scoffed at the money wasted on Jesus’ anointing at Bethany and Judas who took thirty silver coins in exchange for Jesus’ life.

Perhaps Judas wanted a warrior King instead of a servant King who wept and he was willing to betray Jesus to force his hand. Whatever the truth, the cost of his betrayal was too high and he took his own life.

The experience of betrayal not only destroys relationships – but trust that new relationships may be faithful.

It is a tragic end to the story; not just because his life ended in suicide, but because he never really understood the gentleness and grace with which Jesus attracted people.

Betrayal can beat people down, erode their confidence, faith and their view of God.

But I hope that as we look again at the journey of Holy Week, we will see that Jesus does not betray His people; He is faithful.

Judas’ betrayal points us to Jesus’ own faithfulness to the Father, and to us.

He walked through Holy Week knowing what was coming;  yet obeying His Father, loving His people faithfully to the cross and beyond.

“Jesus was victorious not because he never flinched, talked back, or questioned, but having flinched, talked back, and questioned, he remained faithful.”

Brennan Manning