Sunday, 23 February 2014

Loved and Accepted.

My blog posts tend to be about thoughts I've had or things I've done, but this one is going in a slightly different direction because I'm going to write about stuff going on in my heart, not just in my head. Feeling a bit nervous about this as I don't really have any idea who reads this blog (if anyone) and it's not like me to be that 'out there' with my inner workings. But here goes...

I've started attending a Discipleship Explored course at my church, in which we're going through the book of Philippians. This is a letter written by a missionary called Paul, who traveled around Europe sharing the message of Jesus with communities, to a church in Philippi, whilst he is in prison in Rome (essentially on death row) for his work in the name of Jesus. In the passage we looked at this week, Paul talks about the many things going against him at the time, and yet how he can be glad and full of joy because these things are working together to spread the Good News of Jesus. This all builds up to a well known and frequently quoted verse,
"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Philippians chapter 1 verse 21.
For starters, I find this verse quite difficult to get my head around in literary terms, it's incredibly concise and I would even describe it as poetic. Seeing as I wouldn't consider myself a very wordy person - I fall over my sentences and either struggle to get to the point or am extremely blunt - my usual response to this verse is something like, 'Quick, move on, too difficult.' However, moving on wasn't really an option at Discipleship Explored, we were encouraged to think together through what this meant for Paul and what it may or may not mean to us.

I think (although I am no theologian so please do not consider this definitive), that Paul had experienced such love, grace, transformation, power, mercy, joy and much more, from and through Jesus, that he was filled with love for him and gained a single-mindedness of devotion to Christ as a response. To Paul, life and Christ were synonymous. Life was all from Jesus and for Jesus, the one and only thing that he absolutely could not live without. Yet, he was also 100% assured that when he would eventually face death, that would bring him nearer to Christ for eternity and so dying was not a fear but a gain.

Pretty challenging stuff.

Then we were encouraged to think through, honestly, how we thought our friends and family would fill in the blank about us, "For to me, to live is ...". After that, we thought about how we would personally finish off the sentence.And this is where I have to begin exposing my heart, the many answers I had to this question were pretty shallow and all led to the same conclusion. Every time I tried to finish that sentence, it went something like, 'For to me, to live is - to have people around me, for them to think I'm funny/attractive/kind/hard-working/clever/have good taste/talented, to be busy, to look nice and have a nice looking house'. The bottom line of all of these things, I desire to be loved, and accepted.

That doesn't sound so bad, right? Actually, I think maybe it does, and here's why. In purely human terms, I know that I do already have many people who genuinely love and accept me, so why do I still crave it? The fact that this desire manifests itself so often shows that I am not satisfied even when it is fulfilled. Such an insatiable need as love and acceptance can never be fully met if I look for in other people, as we are all broken, weak and finite. Furthermore, it is futile for me to put so much energy into achieving the love and acceptance of anyone but God Himself, when He who is perfect, and completely capable of satisfying my thirst, has already done everything necessary to show me that He loves and accepts me exactly as I am. Jesus Christ who is fully God, became fully human and lived a life of extreme love, graciousness and sacrifice, which should have meant He was worthy of total adoration and glory, yet instead He made Himself nothing and took the death of a common criminal, the death I deserve for my rebellion against God. In doing so, simply by trusting in Him I do not experience the separation from God I deserve. Instead, when He rose on the third day it showed the metaphorical cheque was cleared, and His payment earned me the total love and acceptance from the Father which belonged to Jesus. 

So I feel challenged in all my many moments of weakness, to look in the right direction to remember I could not be more loved and accepted, and to stop investing so much energy in those things which will never quench my thirst. I fully recognise that this is not an easy task, but maybe as I slowly grasp it, I will be able to echo Paul's sentiments:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Going solo.

Hello little blogosphere, once again I begin a post with apologies for it being aaaaages since I last wrote. I've had lots of thoughts for potential posts in the meantime, just haven't got round to nailing them down into words. However, I was very inspired last week so I really wanted to write about it.

For my birthday, my parents bought me tickets to go and see an orchestral concert at St David's Hall in Cardiff and I am so grateful as it was mind-blowingly amazing! There were three very different pieces, each beautiful in its own way but the one which totally bowled me over was Rachmaninoff,  Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

I'm a big believer that God doesn't only reveal Himself in 'spiritual things' but rather He is the fountain of all good things, and so when we enjoy good things, we can meet Him in new ways and see His truth revealed. But I'm no theologian, so if you want more detail, check out this fantastic series of talks by the amazing Mike Reeves.

I suppose I might get to the point now! The Rachmaninoff piece is for orchestra with a piano soloist, and the guy who played last week was incredible. His fingers seemed to fly over the keys and the piano came alive with joy, excitement, tenderness, franticness and just about every emotion imaginable. I'm sure the orchestra was fantastic, but I was totally fixated on the piano and the guy playing it and any beautiful sound they made just seemed to make his solo all the more stunning. And that is what really hit me, right between the eyes, it struck a chord deep down in my soul. That is what my life is designed to be like.

Are you scratching your head? I'll unpick my thoughts a little bit! So often, I live my life like I'm the soloist, I take centre stage, I want all eyes on me and think what is most important for me, is most important full stop. But actually, being a Christian, means that God has given me the honour of being part of His backing group. He is the virtuoso, He makes the music resound, His melody is the one the world needs to hear. If some member of the orchestra decided to stand up and have their own moment to shine, it would have sounded ridiculous and they knew it! Their joy, is to be a member of the body, the orchestra, creating harmonies and counterpoint that make people sit up and pay attention to the pianist. So it is with my life, I am blessed to be a part of the worldwide church, and together, we have the opportunity to point people to the true soloist that is Christ Jesus, playing his music of love for the lost, sins forgiven and freedom to live life to the full.

Want to join the orchestra with me?

P.S: If you have a spare 25 minutes, check out a recording of the piece, such as this one. Or better still, if you have a spare evening go along to a concert with a soloist, totally worth it!