Saturday, 30 September 2017
I’m pretty sure we all share a common experience and feeling at some point in our lives and that’s rejection. And it sucks. It feels horrible. No one wants to be rejected, on the outside, dismissed as inadequate or unacceptable. And it starts really early on - the child in the playground with no one to play with, the last person to be picked for the sports team.
I can remember, aged 11, being marched out of my school classroom by a group of girls who needed to ‘address’ my uniform. Jumper lifted, skirt rolled up about 10 times and then I was in. Now that my image had been altered, I was deemed acceptable. I was now allowed to sit with them at lunch. I was suddenly invited to parties and included… and all because my skirt needed to be shorter. Maybe it’s not a childhood experience of rejection. Maybe it’s more along the lines of:
- turned down time after time for job interviews
- being on the receiving end of a relationship break up
- not speaking the local language
- being the only guy in the room that doesn’t like sport
- being the single parent
- offering to serve and being ‘politely’ turned down
- being the unmarried one
- not having enough money to enter the social circle
- being the divorcee…
Whatever it is, at some time in our lives, we experience rejection.
The lies of rejection are many. Rejection tells us that we are unlovable, unwanted, unacceptable. Rejection speaks of being despised, abandoned and forgotten. It says you are denied, inadequate and kept out. Rejection says you are forsaken.
Unfortunately, the church is not immune from rejection. Because it’s made up of people. People who are broken and hurt, and hurt people hurt people, whether intentionally and not. But what do we do when we experience rejection in church?
The Bible has many examples of people who were rejected. To name a few - Moses was initially rejected by the Israelites, Jephthah was rejected for being the son of a prostitute, Noah was mocked by the whole world, Stephen was rejected for speaking truth, Job’s wife spurned and left him in his darkest hour of need. And then there’s Leah.
Leah was rejected and deemed ‘lesser’ than her sister because she had “soft” eyes! (Genesis 29:17) The only way her father believed she would be married was to trick someone into sleeping with her. Once married, her husband didn’t want her, he loved her sister “much more than Leah”. Leah was someone who understood what it felt like to be rejected, unwanted, despised. She had to live in that place of rejection day in and day out. She strove for affection and acceptance from her spouse but was constantly kept at a distance. And born out of all the rejection and pain was then generational rejection in Joseph’s rejection by his brothers (a whole other story)!
Rejection happens to everyone. Everyone experiences rejection in some way, some form, at some point in their lives.
Even Jesus compassionately empathises. In Him, we have a friend who understands because “he faced all of the same testings we do” (Hebrews 4:15). “He was despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53:3), “He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognise him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.” (John 1:10-11). He faced the ultimate rejection on the cross, crying out to God, “why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46) Jesus understands the pain of rejection. He knows the sting of betrayal. He felt the wounds of discord.
Because he endured it. He endured it so that the lies of rejection could be dealt with once and for all.
Because actually, God is all about acceptance. He is all about welcome. When the world says you are unlovable, God says you are “his own special treasure” (Deuteronomy 7:6) and that he will love “you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). When rejection says you are unwanted, God says you are “set apart” (Deuteronomy 14:2) and “are a chosen people” (1 Peter 2:9). God does not show favouritism (Romans 2:11) with some ‘rating’ as better than others. “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
Reject the lies of rejection and instead know that you are totally loved (Romans 8:38-39), that God is for you (Romans 8:31), that you are included in his family, chosen and appointed (John 15:16). You are not forsaken (Psalm 94:14), not forgotten (Isaiah 49:15), a member - included - of God’s house (Ephesians 2:19-22). You are beautiful (Psalm 139:4), delighted in and rejoiced over (Zephaniah 3:17). Know too that you are cared for (1 Peter 5:7) and that God hears you: “The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalm 34:17-18)
Don’t listen to the lies of rejection. Whether they are labels others have given you or ones you have claimed for yourself. Don’t dwell in that place. Choose instead to peel them off and listen to the truth of the Father. Choose instead to rise up and serve elsewhere, choose instead to keep applying for those jobs, choose to bestow your friendship on those who need it… In your feeling of rejection and hurt, choose to reach out and accept and include others.
We may well have been rejected by others. But we are never rejected by God. Choose His way.
Tuesday, 19 September 2017
I am constantly on the lookout for the promises of God in the Bible and I have a Bible solely for that purpose so I can mark them out. Each promise then gets turned into an instagram picture for @promiseseeker. I truly believe that if we get to grips with God’s promises our lives will look hugely different - we will be free, confident in His ability rather than our own. Currently, I’m working through Matthew. This morning I came across, “the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)
As a family we started talking about what it means to stand firm. What it means to be unshakable, immovable when things are trying to topple you over. When the stuff of life comes at you with force leaving you feeling wobbly or uncertain. We talked about how do we stand firm? How do we make ourselves solid? What happens in a rugby game when someone comes to tackle you? How do you stand firm? We even made up actions to help us think about and remember this verse.
And then later today, I come across these two verses:
But the LORD stands beside me like a great warrior.
In his unfailing love, my God will stand with me.
How great is that?! When we are feeling weak, when we’re not feeling strong enough to have a firm stance, the idea of standing firm feels a little bit out of reach. A little bit too difficult. A little bit beyond our capabilities. We’re told in Ephesians that to stand firm we need to put on the armour of God. Again, our responsibility, our duty. But what if even that feels too tricky? What if standing itself feels too much?
It reminds me of the passage in Exodus where the Israelites are under attack from the Amalekite army. All the while that Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but when he lowered his hands, the Amalekites would start to win. The Good News Translation says that, “When Moses’ arms grew tired, Aaron and Hur brought a stone for him to sit on, while they stood beside him and held up his arm, holding them steady until the sun went down.” (Exodus 17:12 GNT, my emphasis).
Sometimes we need people to stand alongside us in order for us to win the battle we’re facing. Sometimes we need someone to stand with us in order to remain firm in our stance. But what if today you look around and aren’t sure who those people could be? Then take heart. Because, “in his unfailing love, my God will stand” with you, just as he stands with me. He stands beside us “like a great warrior”.
So to be saved, we don’t have to stand firm alone. We were never meant to. Sometimes God sends people like Aaron and Hur to stand beside us as God with skin. But always, God stands with us. Stephen’s vision ahead of his death saw Jesus “standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Whenever the Bible talks about Jesus in heaven he is either ‘at’ God’s side or sitting at His side. I like to think that in Stephen’s greatest moment of need, Jesus stood up. He stood alongside him, stood up to be seen and to support Stephen. Jesus stood up to welcome him home.
And I think Jesus wants to do that for you too. The cross was all about standing for you. All about standing beside you as a result of his unfailing love. All about standing like a great warrior so you didn’t have to. Often we think of the cross as the place where Jesus lay down his life. I think we can also consider it as the place He stood up. Stood up to death. Stood up to all the devil’s plans to divide, destroy and kill. Stood up to the things that are contrary to the Kingdom of God.
So the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. Jesus, in his death, stood up for you. He stands for you. You don’t need to be firm in your own strength, alone and isolated. You can stand firm with the cross as your foundation. Stand firm relying on the stand that Jesus took. He is afterall the one who does the saving so we may as well rely on his standing too. I’m so grateful that in his unfailing love he stands beside us. No matter what you’re facing. No matter what is shaking your foundations. No matter what terrifies you. No matter what. He stands.
Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Opening Night Talk for the LCACU Art Exhibition 2017
Welcome to the Leeds College of Art Christian Union exhibition Lost and Found. My name is Emily, I am the founding artist of fiftyfive11art (you can ask me about why it’s named that another time!) and I sell at exhibitions, online in a few different places but mostly through commissions. I am also a Christian and come to church here at St George’s and I’ve been asked to just talk for just a couple of minutes about the theme of lost and found and the story behind my painting, Jars of Clay.
I wonder if any of this sounds familiar - Deadlines. Work. Colleagues. Tutors. Lecturers. Parents. Children. Friends. Projects. Taxes. Bills. School. Spouse. Commission. Your boss. Life. Life is busy. Life is happening all the time. We barely stop to take a breath, and yet on. it. goes. Some of it great, some of it hard. But constant. Life is constant. From the alarm on Monday morning through to the last minute preparations for the week ahead on Sunday night, constant demands, constant pressure, constant thoughts.
I don’t know about you, but I can get lost in the midst of life. I can get lost in the middle of all the ‘stuff’ that needs to happen. Do you ever feel like that? Like who even are you? Are you just surviving from one moment to the next? Are you serving and providing and fixing and working…?
I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest that we’re all lost to a greater or lesser degree. Lost in life. Lost in the midst of the demands and busyness of the ‘stuff’ we have to do. Perhaps even lost in your own head, drowning in thoughts and questions that pester you day in day out but you don’t really have the time to give them the attention they deserve in order to find the answers you’re looking for.
Are you trying to find yourself?
Are you waiting to be found?
Do you even know where to look?
And what does that even mean?!
My painting here tonight is called Jars of Clay. It is a painting that gives us glimpses into the potential, the beauty, the complex and intricate mix of emotion, personality, character and soul within us all. You see I believe that in this room - whoever we are, we all have something in common - we are all creative and full of potential. Because we have all been created by a creative creator. God made us and knows each one of us. He knows what makes us tick. What excites us. What scares us. God knows the things we’d never tell, and the things we want everyone to see. The Bible calls us God’s workmanship, his work of art, his masterpiece.
On the outside of Jars of Clay, it’s just white. Cracked, a bit broken, like a damaged jar of clay. Much like our lives on the outside, cracked, battered, worn around the edges, under stress... But underneath. Oooh underneath, that’s where it’s all going on. And I’m the creator of the painting. So I know. And because I’m the artist I could tell you exactly what went into that painting, how long it took, the colours used, the way in which they were selected, blended and applied. I know the beauty, the complexity and the intricate mixture of colour that is going on underneath that white. I can see something when I look at that painting that no one else can see. I know the true value and the true worth. If you want to find out about the depth of this painting and the soul, then you can ask me, and I can tell you, and then what is hidden behind the white, what is lost would be found.
The Bible tells us that we all have a hope in Jesus that far outweighs the stress and the confusion of getting lost in the craziness of life. We have treasure within these broken jars of clay - we’re all a bit cracked and broken, but we all have God potential - we are all made in the image of the creator God with so much colour and beauty waiting to be unleashed - but we need to ask the artist, the creator to help us unlock that. Michaelangelo was once asked what he was doing chipping away at a shapeless, lifeless piece of rock. His answer, “I’m liberating an angel from this stone”. That’s what God wants to do with us. Jesus came to liberate us. We need to go to the artist to understand the masterpiece. Just like you can ask me about my painting, we can freely ask God about us.
And just like we can be lost and God can find us. God also wants us to find Him.
He is desperate to be found.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.”
God wants to be found.
In his desperation to be found, God didn’t remain distant, He didn’t remain far away, he came. He came close. He didn’t remain a white canvas with no indicator to who He is. He came to us, in Jesus, like us, to be with us, full of colour, to find us, to reveal himself… and to bring us home, so that we could be found. And finding God means finding ourselves and accessing perfect peace in the midst of the craziness of life.
I can get quite emotional about my jars of clay painting - and lots of people have asked to buy it many times over - but I won’t sell it. And here’s why. Every time I look at this painting, I am reminded that my Heavenly Father sees the real me. He knows my name. He knows all about the cracks and the damage in my life, the unworthiness, the flaws. But He also knows my potential and sees me as wonderful and worthy of being loved. And he knows you too.
I believe that everybody wants to be found. Everybody wants to be truly known and seen, to find belonging, purpose and value. In my life the times when I am most lost are the times when I forget that I am God’s masterpiece and in Him I am already found. So I don’t get lost in the worry of whether people like my work, or accept me. Because I know the one who gets the real me, sees me in all of my brokenness, all of my flaws, but also sees the potential and beauty within me - because He put it there.
I am completely free, because I have been fully found.
Wednesday, 25 January 2017
In my house this morning, looked out the window and saw one solitary bubble gently resting among the sharp and spiky plants in the front garden.
I was so struck by this. Where had the bubble come from? Why had it not popped? And what did God want to say through this obscure and bizarre moment?!
Sometimes the word bubble is "used to refer to a good or fortunate situation that is isolated from reality or unlikely to last" (Google definition).
I think this is what God wants to offer us. Except unlike normal bubbles, this opportunity isn't going to pop and disappear. God is offering peace in the chaos and confusion, strength to the weary and worn, joy to the downcast and sad, restoration to the broken and battered, beauty in the ashes, unexpected beauty in the midst of the spiky thorns. The reality of our situation may not incline itself towards peace, joy, hope from the world's point of view. But God is bigger than how things seem... and he offers us bubbles in the thorns.
Much like my random, unpopped bubble this morning we can access the 'living in the bubble' moment if we stop. If we choose to be still. If we start struggling that opportunity will pop and be gone. All the time the bubble rested it was supported, it was in the light and it was a beautiful thing.
Take some time to rest today. Rest in His word, rest in His love, rest in His offer of bubble living... Don't struggle, don't strain. Be still, rest. He is God. He knows what he's doing - even sending bubbles to random front gardens to get us to stop.
#nofilter #bubbles #godmoments #bestill #rest