Mud pies in the slum: My story

When I was younger and kind of “finding myself” in terms of relationships and career, my biggest idol was peer acceptance.

I thought that if I ticked all the right boxes in terms of saying all the ‘right’ things, making people laugh, and generally being seen as clever and successful, I would receive the acceptance I craved.

I would never have considered myself “dead in my sin” but I think part of me was dead to the “colour” and life-giving power that could be found in a deep and rich and engaging relationship with God…

I like the CS Lewis quote from his book the Weight of Glory:

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

I was too easily pleased. On some level I enjoyed my mud pies in the slum. Because I hadn’t yet experienced the love and acceptance of God in all its fullness. I hadn’t yet come to life in the spiritual sense.

>mudpies072008

I was dead but I didn’t know it. I hadn’t yet taken up God’s offer of the “holiday at the sea”.

And the people I looked for approval from mis-led me in many ways. I guess I allowed them to. I was so needy and vulnerable to the influences of others.

But soon enough, “easily pleased” became broken and confused. I realised, eventually, that my idols didn’t satisfy. I was looking for something I could only find in God.

And I needed to repent.

I put my expectations for unconditional love onto people who could never fulfil that demand. I put ordinary people on a pedestal, when Jesus should have been the one I worshiped.

And when all my idols came crashing down, I was deeply sorry and asked for God’s forgiveness.

I realized that all along, I was looking for the love and acceptance of Christ in these people. I had sought their approval instead of the approval Christ so readily offered me.

I didn’t yet conceive of the fact that my Father God delighted in me, deeply, no matter what I did or didn’t do.

So what does it mean to me to be alive in Christ and dead to sin?

For me it means to realise that the life and love Jesus offers is far, far superior to the life found with anyone or anything else. No matter how good our earthly relationships or experiences are, our relationship with God can be so much better. But he doesn’t take all our experiences away. He redefines them.

Some talks I heard by John Piper a few years ago taught me that when we view our everyday experiences through the lens of God’s greatness and glory, they are transformed.

When we view a sunset, we can glorify the God who created it. When we bite into something delicious or enjoy an enriching conversation or experience with a friend, we can then praise and give honour and glory to the one who gave us these gifts. We invite him into everything, acknowledging he is the great gift-giver.

We are alive to God’s greatness, glory and love in creation and everyday experiences – even in the really hard days.

I used to suffer from depression when I was younger – and though I still feel down from time to time it’s nowhere near as hard as it used to be, praise God. I truly believe God has healed me. And I think realising the depths of God’s love and acceptance of me went a long way to reducing the unrelenting despair I used to feel at times.

I realized true life came from a close union with Jesus. He redeems the past and shapes a new future for us. He’s the source of life and true joy – not just the superficial happy kind.

In my conversion I was raised up with Christ just as he rose from the dead. I rose with him to a hope-filled new life.

He did what I couldn’t do for myself, but as a Christian I have the privilege of becoming living, breathing evidence of his saving grace. My life can only be about reflecting his glory now that I truly know how glorious he is. That’s my purpose.

And he’s created me to be fruitful with my life. My life is not my own. It was bought at a price and redeemed from the darkness. I was saved to shine his light in the daily places I inhabit.

Sin imprisoned me but God’s grace and love unlocked me.

That doesn’t mean I don’t struggle sometimes with my tendency to worry about what other people think, or my desire for acceptance from sources other than God. I’m only human after all. But because I am alive in Christ and actively aware of his unconditional love and grace, I can live a joyful, fulfilling life which celebrates and honours my God above all other things. He is the great author and perfecter of my faith. My faith is not of myself, but a precious, life-giving gift – freely given by the Father who loves me.

Once upon a time I was making mud pies in a slum – and I thought that was freedom.

But since then, I’ve discovered what God’s holiday at the sea is like. And I’m never going back…

[Today’s blog is the script of a talk I gave at my church recently.]

Search me, know me, test me

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http://bible.com/111/psa.139.23-24.NIV

Sin is a dirty word

What does the word ‘sin’ mean to you?

Many have blamed Christians – justifiably – for using the word to judge and condemn and accuse others over the centuries. I hate hearing about the harshness and volatility of so many within the faith I follow.

I think the problem many people have with Christianity itself is the hypocrisy of its followers. Those that judge others the strongest are in many cases the ones harbouring the darkest secrets.

It’s not right.

We all sin, in thought and deed. And I think, deep down, most of us know this. None of us is exempt from the tendency to make mistakes.

We are mostly aware of our brokenness, our shame, our guilt. No one is perfect – not even close. We wound the ones closest to us. We lash out at people who don’t deserve it. We avoid our responsibilities. We dodge our taxes. We fail to give to the poor while we indulge ourselves ‘because we deserve it’.

But this is nothing new. We know this, right? And conviction continues to come and go, like the weather…

I think the problem many of us find is that there are so many different levels of wrong. How is the murderer just the same as the liar? Yes it’s all sin, but the consequences of our actions and omissions vary greatly. It’s all too hard to quantify, so we end up slamming the worst of sinners and justifying the least.

So what’s the solution? Do we beat ourselves up over every little thing we do wrong?

social-media-sins

And how do we ever move past the immense grievances others have committed against us?

It’s hard.

The problem, I find, is not necessarily in my ability to reflect on my brokenness and sin, or even to assess what needs to change – although that’s important. I know when I’ve done wrong, usually. The problem is when I let my sin stop me from drawing close to the one who can help fix the problem. The one who can offer forgiveness, insight and healing.

And when I come face to face with my Lord and God, he often shows me what my brokenness has led to.

But we can’t stay in sorrow forever – though it might well take years to heal some of the deeper hurts and regrets.

I know I’m slowly changing and growing as his love does its work on me. His love is refining me and his light shines through the cracks of my sin and shame. His forgiveness is more than enough for all that I’ve done and said, even though the guilt will often tell me otherwise.

I have to remember the power of grace. Pure, unmerited, given by Jesus Christ – the one whose blood, shed on the cross, covers all my sin…

The God-man who rose again to offer new life. Not incessant guilt and shame.

And the hardest thing to accept is that this grace is free to all who would ask for it.

I follow a belief system which acknowledges that we are all flawed and broken in some way but there is hope for healing, cleansing, and redemption.

Jesus has the awesome ability to set us free from our shackles.

He can redeem that which has been taken. He can make things right again.

The consequences of others’ sin can last a lifetime. It is evidenced by tears and grief and trauma.

But we have one greater than sin. One who conquered sin by his death and resurrection. Who walks beside us on the crooked pathways and will one day bring us home.

Sin will continue this side of heaven.

But the other side is a different story.

“Energize the limp hands,
strengthen the rubbery knees.
Tell fearful souls,
“Courage! Take heart!
God is here, right here,
on his way to put things right
And redress all wrongs.
He’s on his way! He’ll save you!”

(Isaiah 35:3-4 MSG paraphrase)

Find your strength in God. He is with you where you are.

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http://bible.com/116/jos.1.9.NLT

Choose joy. Keep praying. Choose thankfulness.

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http://bible.com/116/1th.5.16-18.NLT

Love them, pray for them

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http://bible.com/116/mat.5.44.NLT

Stop. Rest. Be still.

I recently wound up a busy six months of cramming in as many new experiences and work commitments as possible.

I think in a way I was living on adrenaline, trying to do it all. I’m not very good at sitting still.

I don’t think many of us are.

There’s a certain vulnerability in resting with the reality of ourselves; our lives; our purposes and goals.

But always running is costly.

When I slowed down my run, I realised I was exhausted from the emotional and physical effort of trying to do more than I was actually able. And I kind of crashed.

I’m now starting to rediscover a fresh stance of rest. A form of reflection that was lost during the first half of the year. I’m talking to God about how I’m feeling, what’s weighing me down, and why I felt the need to attempt so much.

I don’t want to strive endlessly, but instead just sit in his presence for a bit, and listen to him.

Sometimes sitting with ourselves and God is scary, but being still often bears more fruit than trying to run a marathon…

still

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