Even There – Part 2

David. Now there was a man who knew the mountain top (“I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory…your unfailing love is better to me than life itself…you satisfy me more than the richest of foods…I think how much you have helped me…your strong right hand holds me securely.” Psalm 63). God called him a man after his own heart. Can you just imagine the intimacy he shared with God?

 

But when I’m in the psalms, drinking in the emotion, the heartache, the accusations of abandonment by God, I jump back to the start of the one that has touched a nerve and my heart tightens a little with excitement, with relief at four little words: A psalm of David. Because David, he knew the valley.

 

I find myself imagining a date with David. David would have been my friend; raw, emotional, real. We sit and I tell him of my valley experiences, and he nods and rolls his eyes or squeezes my arm to comfort me at just the right moments – because he gets the valley.

 

“That thing where you feel God has forgotten about you? That!”

 

“That thing where you feel he doesn’t see, doesn’t hear what you’re going through? That!”

 

“That thing where he feels so far from you but so close to everyone around you? That!”

 

“That thing where you just don’t know what you did wrong? Why he left? That!”

 

And, on our imaginary date, David takes hold of my bible, picks up a highlighter pen – it’s green, fluorescent – and turns to the psalms in which he poured out his heart to our father: on his knees, in the cave, in the cold, blinded by his tears. He scrawls fast, urgent lines through his agonised, confused and hurt words.

“How long, O Lord, until you restore me?…I am worn out from sobbing, every night tears drench my bed.” Psalm 6

“O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?” Psalm 13

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant? Why do you ignore my cries for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer…do not stay so far from me.” Psalm 22

“Please help me; don’t refuse to answer me, for if you are silent, I might as well give up and die.” Psalm 28

“When can I come and stand before him? Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, ‘Where is this God of yours?’…Why am I so discouraged? Why so sad…O God my rock, I cry, ‘Why have you forsaken me? Why must I wander in darkness?’”

Psalm 42

“O God…don’t be silent and aloof.” Psalm 109

 

 

I was driving the day after my imaginary date with David, up the long, steep hill of Stockingstone Road and the sun, bright and blinding and welcome on that cold November afternoon, burst into my car as I veered to the left. It was hard to see, I was squinting and fiddling with the shade above my head: pulling it down, back up a little, down again, up an inch. Still the sun pierced through my window, through and around the hand I held in front of my eyes, at the side of my face, against the glass; there was no escape. No matter how I tried to block it out, the light came in.

 

And I found myself imagining a second date with David, only this time he holds a red highlighter pen, sits beside me and flips open my bible to Psalm 139, his, and in thick, determined strokes shows me what he, the man after God’s own heart, had learned from his times in the valley.

 

“I can never escape from your spirit!

I can never get away from your presence!

If I go up to heaven you are there;

If I go down to the place of the dead, you are there.

If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, EVEN THERE your hand will guide me and your strength will support me.

I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night, but even in the darkness I cannot hide from you.

To you the night shines as bright as day.

Darkness and light are both alike to you.”

 

He takes my hand, extends my index finger, jabs it at two words, over and over, smiling: EVEN THERE.

 

In the valley: EVEN THERE

In the darkness: EVEN THERE

In the despair: EVEN THERE

In the loneliness: EVEN THERE

In the depression: EVEN THERE

In the fear you’ll never get up to the mountain top again (you will): EVEN THERE

 

Written by Karen, a member of Hope Church Luton

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Even There – Part 1

Ahhh, the mountain top…isn’t it just great up there? Feel the wind in your hair, breathe the pure air deep into your lungs, look out on the panoramic view stretching before you; everything is clear up there, you see for miles.

You’re feeling strong, so close to God you can almost reach out and touch him and bask in the warmth of his intimacy, play party to his thoughts and purposes.

Everything is hunky dory on the mountain top: your faith as sharp as the peaks that surround you; you’re a prayer warrior; his word is on the tip of your tongue and your hands in the air in wonder at the glory of it all; you’re invincible!

 

And then you fall.

 

Slowly and imperceptibly, or fast and furiously. It doesn’t matter how.

 

You fall.

 

It’s frightening, it’s cold, you can’t see through the darkness cast by the mountain you’ve just been on the summit of. You can only hear dense, frustrating silence from God, and the shouts of joy from those still up above, and feel your tender bruises begin to yellow.

 

You ask, “What is going on? Where am I? Where has he gone?”

 

You’re in the valley.

 

Ahhh, the valley…isn’t it just awful down there?

 

We love the mountain top. We hate the valley.

 

We hate the valley because every fibre of our being tells us that we’re there without him, that he’s unceremoniously dumped us there, like a heavenly naughty step, only we don’t know what our crime is, all we can do is hope he will come back for us when he’s ready, when he’s finished talking and hanging with our brothers and sisters still on the mountain top. Or worse, that he’s forgotten about us, mightn’t even be back at all.

 

It’s hard in the valley, and it hurts in the valley.

 

When we’re in the valley, we can’t imagine ever having the strength again to clamber out. We feel we should pray, praise, pretend our way out, put our spiritual backpack onto our shoulders, push a thumb down hard on the button: beam me up, Scottie. Direction: mountain top.

 

Because that’s where he is, right?

 

Actually, wrong.

 

Last time I was in the valley, I couldn’t find my backpack. Truth be told, even if I had found it, I wouldn’t have been able to put it on: I just didn’t have the strength. Prayer was muttered in the hope that the story of the widow’s mite didn’t just apply to money. Praise was rare and forced, subdued, mostly silent. Faith? Let’s not go there.

 

And then he spoke to me. Right there, on the cold, dark floor of the valley.

He spoke! In the valley! He was there! Who knew?

 

Right into my ear, the one that wasn’t pressed to the ground as I huddled to keep warm at the base of the mountain, he whispered with warm breath and his lips brushed against my cheek. “Ephesians 3:18.”

 

That was it, just, “Ephesians 3:18”.

 

Now, early in my walk with God, I was a woman who prided herself on knowing her scriptures; I’d ping Jeremiah 29:11, or John 3:16, or Romans 8:28 around like balls in a squash court. Think Dot Cotton, without the rollers but with the sherry (for medicinal purposes). But that was way back in the days when life with God was one long sojourn on the mountain top. By now, it had been a while…a long while.

 

I fished out my bible. I fished it out, because when I’m in the valley, trying to maintain a daily reading discipline is hard – day after day of staring at words that once had meaning and nourished you but now just remind you of how far God feels – and it had become buried beneath novels and the Kindle and dog training manuals.

 

And there it was, Ephesians 3:18. “..how wide and how long, and how deep is the love of Christ.”

 

He was there, in the valley.

He spoke, in the valley.

He loved me, in the valley.

 

by Karen Roy, continued next week…

 

Karen is a member of Hope Church Luton

 

Star Material

Over the next few weeks the winners of multiple reality TV shows will be announced. Lord Sugar will get his new apprentice, the X Factor winner crowned and  celebrity dancer chosen. They all have what it takes, that ‘star quality’ even if it might still need a little polish!   Millions of people will be glued to television screens dreaming of fame, fortune and opportunity, wishing they could be a star.

 

Contrast the dreams of Broadway with the greatest story ever told and the most famous family on earth. Mary, Joseph and Jesus. A smelly stable, straw mattresses and lack of facilities!   Yet Jesus is the most famous star to have lived!

 

Today Christians berate the loss of the true meaning of Christmas. In many schools children no longer act out the Christmas story and the art of carol singing is slowly being forgotten in secular society.  But we can all be guilty of missing the many wonders of the Christmas story today.   Take for instance the way the wise, learned men find Jesus. They followed a star. They knew the star was a sign that would lead them to a new King. They had been watching, they saw something different, took a chance and it led them to Jesus.

 

This action happens again and again over the world today. Christians reflect the glory of God, they sparkle and glitter Gods love and hope in today’s society, the work place and the home. Friends, family and strangers look and wonder at Gods work in their lives and they too take that chance and, like the wise men, journey to Jesus.    The TV stars created this Christmas will be replaced by others in the coming year but the glittering Hope in Jesus never fades. Gospel winners are not dependant on man made voter support but the free gift of love and forgiveness given by God in Jesus Christ.

 

We are all star material. The question is do you recognise it? Are you a wise man who has followed a star? Are you on your journey, or have you yet to set out? Is your desire to be transient star of Broadway or a permanent star of the stable? Are you twinkling bright or do you feel in need of a polish?  Perhaps its time to look again at the Christmas story and see if there is something you have been missing.

 

Jane is a member of Hope Church Luton and leader of the Welcome Team - you will meet them on the door when you first arrive at Hope Church
Jane is a member of Hope Church Luton and leader of the Welcome Team – you will meet them on the door when you first arrive at Hope Church

 

 

Money Money Money

“Money is neutral……its made of paper or coins.  However…..whilst
money is neutral, it does take on the character of the one who
posseses it. God does not mind us having money. He does mind money
having us. British christians, from my experience, are some of the
most embarrassed about what God really says on this subject.

I felt God speaking to me about this recently using the illustration of money
being like rain falling from heaven on two kinds of hearts.

Pond heart
The rain falls on the pond and it collects and builds. The water is good to
drink from for a couple of days but after 3 months it is already
poisonous. This represents the prosperity gospel at its worst. The
problem being there is no outward flow of the blessing to others. Its
all for me !

River heart
The rain falls on to a river. Always drinkable, always flowing to where
the Spirit leads it to go.   This person recognises he is a steward of
what God owns.. Indeed I saw the volume of rain falling and increasing
as this christian could be trusted to handle wealth.

So the question is “do we give to get” – that’s a good question ! My
own experience over 25 years as a christian has been practically true
as follows:-

When I give generously to the Lord in any Christ inspired way, he
always, always allows me to completely forget the giving over the
following months even years  so that, for my sake,  I know I cannot
manipulate God into blessing me. He does this as he loves me and wants
me to grow in faith and he also knows I am too weak to not be excited
about what he might do !

I have always found over the years that God does reward me financially
when I am expecting it least. God always seems to make sure that it is
a complete surprise to me – a sudden blessing. Jesus said it would come
“pressed down shaken together and running over” and the book of
Malachi even teases us to test God in financial giving.

The other key blessing is that you get Gods attention when he is
looking to trust someone with a task for the kingdom.

I spoke about this when I was recently invited to preach to a
multi-cultural church in Malta on Acts 10 when God specifically
highlights the generous financial giving to the poor  of Cornelius as
qualifying him to be God’s catalyst to reach Peter and subsequently
the gentile world.

So when you give financially you launch a kingdom world far beyond
what you can imagine. You get Gods attention and attract his favour.

Enjoy your joyful giving !

Jon Gledhill

Jon is a member of Hope Church Luton

More Reflections On The Role Of Family Within The Kingdom Of God: Part 5

In previous blogs I’ve reflected on various different elements of church being family. In this blog I look at where it all started, Jesus starts the process Matthew 12

46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

V50 Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.

I find that astounding, shocking. Jesus commends his disciples over his Mother and brothers etc. Culturally that is shocking but it is even shocking to me. It feels as if he got it wrong. Mary in particular shows herself far more reliable than the disciples. At the cross the disciples all flee, Peter who was the closest even denies knowing Jesus, whilst Mother stays true. Yet Jesus says in the new world family is redefined, those who do God’s will are family.

Even though they let him down, Jesus still says they are his brother, sister and mother. It can’t be about performance, or what is deserved. Jesus calls us his family.

Paul and others then refer to people as brothers. Doesn’t mean we call each other brother and sister – I don’t call my brother Gary, Brother Gary. I don’t need to – we are family, with all that entails.

Crucial today as nuclear families breakdown and Friends seeking to recreate family shows its own limitations. We have to accept that Jesus calls us all to be part of his big family.

This has massive and helpful implications.

Family on mission is how we stop thinking of discipleship as a task that we do and start living out discipleship as a way that we are. Family on mission is how we stop doing discipleship as a class.

However the family needs a mission, a purpose.

People are longing to be part of a mission that’s worth living and dying for, and out of that mission they become part of a family that’s worth fighting for. Mission is the integrating principle that binds the family together and makes everything else work.

The church as family is a dangerous concept, but I have concluded I am willing to take the risk of using the image. The benefits outweigh those risks.

 

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.