Wednesday, 28 April 2010

God loves us.. right?

Two weeks ago one of my girls from university gave me a homemade bookmark with Ephesians 3:18 on it.

After writing my previous post on sovereignty, I realised very quickly that I only had half of the story. In fact, I’ll be honest and say I fell into the deepest spiritual depression I’ve ever known. The obvious conclusion to my post is that God is a selfish and demanding God, asking everything of us and not giving enough in return, and requiring our suffering for His glory.

I was sitting in a teaching session Mike (our interim team leader) was giving on Genesis 3 – the fall – and both the friend I was sitting with and I were completely bowled over by how pointless the whole thing is. Why did God allow us to fall in the first place? He gave us a test, and humans failed hugely, but it was completely unnecessary. If it was all planned to come around in one big, intricate circle and return to the second Adam, Jesus, who died for our sins and brought us back into communion with God, why even bother letting us leave it in the first place?

Half of the answer is contained in my post below – that it is for God’s glory, and the cross was the only way to display God’s glory fully in His defeat of sin and the Devil and our rescue. The whole thing was for His glorification – that’s even what Jesus refers to when He’s talking about the cross in John’s gospel.

But again, that brings us to the conclusion that everything is brought about for the glory of His Name. And when that truth hit me, it felt like a tonne of bricks. What is the point of serving this God, who cares ultimately only for His own glory? If a human acted like that, we would see them as entirely selfish and even evil, so why is it different with God?

The difference, which I quickly realised, is love. But realising this didn’t change anything for me. I had seen nothing (I conveniently forgot anything but bad events in my recent past) that evidenced that He must love me, and even if he does, so what? He’s still only living for Himself, so what does it matter if He cares for me if He still allows me to go through the kind of things he puts me, or anyone else, through?

I began to cry out to Him harder than I ever have in my life. Because if He does not love us, then the above conclusion is true – He is a selfish God who uses us in his games and schemes to glorify himself, and that’s all I could see! I couldn’t get past this brick wall that the lesson of His sovereignty had built up in my mind. I couldn’t feel His love, and all of His talk of it in the Bible was just words, not substance. However, knowing that His word is true drove me to strive to pray earnestly that I could know His love in the same way I know His sovereignty, i.e. hit me round the head with it so I can’t deny it in any way, shape or form.

I continued to pray, though, not even sure that it was a Biblical prayer: Praying that He would love me? That I would really know it, even though it’s laid out plainly for me throughout the Bible? It felt like asking for something He’s already given, so it could never be answered. I was losing all hope.

Thankfully, our God is bigger, more complicated and more powerful than my thought processes!

While we were looking at Genesis 3, and grieving how pointless it all seemed, my eye fell onto the bookmark that I had tucked into the back of my Bible. It reads, “My you be able to comprehend how deep, how wide, how long and how high God’s love for us is”. My prayer was allowed! Paul prayed it 2000 years ago, knowing that people would struggle to understand what it means that God loves them.

Here’s the full passage:
“This then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every fatherhood, in heaven or on earth, takes its name. In the abundance of his glory may he, through his Spirit, enable you to grow firm in power with regard to your inner self, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, with all God’s holy people you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; so that, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God.
Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine, ; glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.”

So it goes like this:

1)   God enables us to grow firm in power through the abundance of His glory..
2)   This allows Christ to live in our hearts..
3)   Which plants us in love and builds us up in love..
4)   Giving us the strength to understand love..
5)   Which results in us being filled with the utter fullness of God.

So, wrapped up in God’s glory is the idea that He loves us. And I realised that its not just the idea – God’s glory intrinsically loves. He cannot be glorious if He doesn’t love us, because then He would not be the pure and perfect being He claims to be. His glory allows us to actually comprehend his love.

So we can match the size of His love to the size of His glory. And if we’re matching the size of His love to the size of His glory (stay with me!) then it’s huge. I mean massive – the universe is the biggest thing we know, in fact we can’t even comprehend its size, and that doesn’t even contain His glory, it’s merely a display of it. Therefore..

God loves us as much as He Is.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Funny little things that are really true..

I've just had a wedding invitation to my friend's son's wedding. Well, actually, sr (sister, I think) Rou has had an invitation to his weeding celebration.

The guy I'm working with at the moment (in the TB lab - so interesting!) is called Adolf. Yes, really. And he's a born-again, loves God with all his heart Christian.
I heard an exchange that almost made me giggle while holding possibly-infected-with-TB-sputum -

"Hey Caesar, how are you?"
"Fine, Adolf, how are you?"

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Some difficult thoughts

Ephesians 1:11-13: In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory"

I've been reading a book recently called 'Spectacular Sins' By John Piper. And I have to say it's one of the hardest books I've ever read. It's not wordy or complicated theology, just an un-blinkered look at how God allows and uses sin and suffering in the Bible. But I've really struggled with it because it threatens my worldview that says that God can't help sin because He allows us free will, but uses it anyway. The fact is, in the Bible God sets up the circumstances for people to sin and suffer, allows them to, and uses it all for good and for His glory. The stories of Joseph and even Jesus (back when the Israelites first demanded a human king over God) began with sin, and can we really say that God saw people sin and went 'Ooh, look, an opportunity to give myself glory!'. No, he manipulated the situations, knowing that people would sin as a result, and then brought about good as a result.

- I can't really explain it very well, and recommend you get hold of a copy of the book!

It strikes me right at the heart, at my fluffy view of God who goes, 'Oh no, people are sinning, I'm going to have to fix that now!' and logically must not have the control that the Bible says He does. Glorifying His own name is what God lives for (rightly, as the most perfectly glorious being), and if sin must be used (not condoned) then He does. 

It's the same as when I used to refuse to believe in original sin. I didn't like the idea that even if someone somewhere somehow managed not to sin for their whole life, they wouldn't be saved unless they claimed the blood of Jesus. 

Both of these unbiblical convictions boil down to 'But a loving and just God wouldn't.... (Fill in blank)'. It makes me mad when people say 'But a loving and just God wouldn't allow some people to go to Hell and others go to Heaven', but my thinking is equally unbiblical. The fact is, that is exactly what a loving and just God would do, because the God of the Bible is fully loving and fully just and fully good, and He does. We don't get to say what God does and doesn't do according to what we would like, because that amounts to picking and choosing from His Word what we will and won't believe. 

And realising all this actually gives me comfort. God didn't go 'Oops' when those people broke into our house. He was fully in control of every second, even when they were evilly sinning against us.  He wasn't just watching, or with us, or allowing it to happen, He was In Control. And knowing that, alongside my knowledge of God's love and perfect goodness, whether or not it makes me uncomfortable, increases my confidence and peace in God.

Ephesians 1:11-13: In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory"
The other day we had a lady coming in saying she'd been cured of HIV and would like a DNA test. Wow! it started a whole ream of debates and arguments within the staff (especially as at first we all thought she'd already had one test and been negative, which wasn't true). There were three camps:

- Those who were sure she must have been a false positive in the beginning and had never had HIV, because HIV can NEVER be cured

- Those who riled against her pastor for telling her she was cured, and got mad at her for being so foolish, because HIV can ALMOST NEVER be cured by God

- Those who were saddened by a pastor who would tell someone they were cured and be paid (!) to pray for someone's healing, but reminded everyone that it was actually possible she was cured as God can do all things

I was in the last group with two other people. We haven't actually had an answer yet, though we did a rapid test (with a 98% accuracy) which was positive. The DNA test is so expensive that she had to go away and find the money, and we haven't seen her again yet. Theoretically, she could be cured and still be positive on the rapid test, as that only tests for antibodies which would (I guess?) remain if she'd been cured. So she could have been. And she's not a fool, as she's still taking her drugs while she waits for the other test.

If she does somehow find the money (£50, roughly a month's wages for a low office worker or something like that, and I don't think she makes that much) then I'll update you on how the test went. Yes, it will probably be positive, but we do have a God who defies odds and heals. There's quite a lot of us praying for her healing, and it would be such a testimony to those cynics in the lab who wouldn't entertain the notion that she could have been cured.

Next part of this story may follow..

Thursday, 1 April 2010

April's prayer letter - sneak preview

Dear Friends,
I apologise for how long it’s taken to write this newsletter. I kept putting it off, as there is a lot of information to try and put into few words. I realise that my February newsletter now has to be my April one..
Since I last wrote, we have had a very hard time here in Mbarara; Lindsey and I went home, and only I returned.
Near the end of February two men broke into our house, stole everything of monetary value and attacked Lindsey, my flatmate. She left for home the same day and I followed her in leaving Mbarara two weeks later. I had thought I would be able to keep going without needing a break, but I was wrong and it became apparent that returning home to see family and friends and rest in ‘normality’ was necessary for me.
I came home to Bristol for a month, and in that time visited Glasgow and did a few days of work at my old school. It was a great time of rest, rejuvenation and seeking God’s face in the midst of pain. I had so many questions – Why her, not me? Where can God’s perfect will be seen in this? But even though sometimes answers can’t be found, God CAN be found, and His guiding and comforting hand was evident from the beginning. I struggled a lot to reconcile what has happened with His sovereignty, but in the end I have really learned that we can never, ever understand God, but He DOES have a perfect plan, and He IS in control, and ‘in everything God works for the good of those who love the Lord’. I’m not saying I understand everything, but I do know that our God loves Lindsey and I and is walking with us every day, sometimes even carrying us.
There have been many miracles seen, some big and some small. I was sent a package of photos from a friend, and these arrived two weeks after being sent (packages usually take at least a month, and my advent calendar hasn’t arrived yet..). As I lost all of my pictures on my computer when it was taken, this was a great comfort! I also consider a miracle the amount of people who stepped up to pray for me and help me get home. I owe infinite thanks to members of St Silas’ and St Alban’s Churches and the Diocese of Bristol for getting me home and supporting me while there.

Now I’m back here and life is beginning again for me in Mbarara, and it looks very different to before. I am now living with a couple called Mike and Susan Boyett, and I’m so thankful to them for opening up their home to me. It’s also very strange not having Lindsey here all the time! We worked together and lived together and (even though we drove each other up the wall sometimes) got pretty close in the 4 months we had together. So not having her here is the biggest adjustment I’m going to have to make, but thankfully there are some great people here still.
Thanks to God’s amazing timing, there was a safari organised for short-termers to Murchison Falls National Park the weekend I arrived back to Kampala. This was possibly the best thing I could possibly have to return to, and I got to know a few of the other short-termers a lot better, as well as a couple of elephants.
I will probably start work next week, and it’s going to be fairly mental as I will have three months’ worth of lab techniques to learn in two. I will also see the university girls again soon, and try and catch up from a month without seeing them, and I’m very excited as next Saturday we’re having a baking party for my return!

Here are a few things to praise God for:

-   That both Lindsey and I are alive and well and God has been faithful and kept our souls from harm
-   That our God is sovereign above all and is constantly guiding, watching over and loving us
-   My churches and the Diocese of Bristol, for getting me home and supporting me while there

Here are a few things to pray for:

-   That I will settle in to my new life in Mbarara quickly, be able to enjoy the time I have left here and be fruitful for God
-   For Lindsey’s healing and that she will settle into life at home and be mentally and spiritually prepared to start medical school in August
-   For my and Lindsey’s families, as they also struggle with what has happened. For Lindsey’s as they support her at home and for mine as they release me to come back to where this happened
-   That my work at the lab and with the students will be productive and not suffer from my having been away
-   For the AIM team here, that these painful events will bring us closer together and seek God’s face through our collective struggles
-   For security for all of God’s people working to share His Gospel in dangerous places, especially those of us in Mbarara.