It may surprise you to know that I spent many months, when I was younger, gardening. I know, I’m not exactly what you’d consider when you think of someone doing manual work. I’d like to paint an image of a tanned and muscular self toiling under the midday sun but to be honest I looked pretty much the same, it rained a lot and I sneezed even more. Anyway, one thing you learn very quickly when you’re doing any gardening is that the more impressive the plant, the harder it is to dig out. This is because growth is bi-directional. While the part that we all see flourishes towards the light, the roots are becoming more and more planted.
"The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him."
- Psalm 92:12-15 (ESV)
If we want our lives to flourish and to grow towards Jesus then we need to be firmly rooted. Look at the parable of the sower: the depth of your root has a big effect on how your faith grows. I like to look at it like this: all of the good things that grow in your life as you grow in Jesus are the result of the everyday things you’re doing to root your life in the kingdom. The amazing fruits that people should see in our lives are the results of a lifestyle rooted firmly in His house.
We can’t expect to flourish in our lives if we don’t plant ourselves. There is a difference between attending the house of God and being planted within it. It’s possible to spend years in a church and yet not be planted within it; God doesn’t call us to a life of passive Christianity, He calls us to a proactive walk with Him. Sure we can go to church, sit around for a while, clap at the right moments, then go home. Lather, rinse, repeat. We can do that and yet if we don’t take steps to plant ourselves in the House of God then we won’t flourish in the Christian life.
So how do we get planted in the House of God? We get involved. We bring God and His church into our everyday so that He is part of everything we do. We plant ourselves in the house of God by becoming an active part in the life of our churches. Most churches today have small group meetings, and they’re a great way of getting planted. You can’t be part of the crowd when there are only a few of you, when there are a few of you everyone is active and everyone is a part of what happens. Everyone gets opportunity to encourage and everyone gets to be encouraged. You’re part of the community. As you attend a small group regularly you find that church community comes to mean more than just people you nod at on a Sunday and relationships are built.
We become planted when we serve. There is little that speaks more of being planted in a place than the desire to serve there. Your church should have ways that you can serve because in doing so it gives you the opportunity to work for kingdom purpose at whatever level you can meet. I love seeing the way this outworks in the church I attend, there is something particularly special about seeing big groups of people gather to volunteer their time and talents for a common purpose and the potential that is unlocked when they do so is huge. Serving in church is a natural extension of a heart that values the house of God, we are willing to put in effort for things that we value.
The sign of a well planted life is that it’s hard to uproot. I’m not a believer in the theory that life will always be easy, I think that’s unrealistic and flaky. Sometimes life actually sucks. But you know what? If you’re planted in the house of God then if life brings you to your knees, you’ll find that the people in the house are there picking you up again, and you will find that when you turn round in what you feel is your worst moment, Jesus is there with you in the form of His servants.
The promise of that verse in Psalms is that those who are planted will flourish and will bear fruit even when they’re old. Being planted isn’t just about the short term, it’s about our whole lives. God plans for us a life that bears fruit and flourishes and a key to receiving that promise is to be deep rooted in His house.
(Part one of this series: Grow towards the glow: The Phototrophic Life)
I don’t really remember a lot of my biology study at school. If my biologist friends could look away now then I’ll admit, I found it really boring. There are seven characteristics of life and to a teenage boy only one is of any interest; to a Christian teenage boy? That was off limits too. Biology felt like it was just a way to give us a science lesson where we couldn’t burn down the science labs. I somehow passed science, however, and one of the things that I do remember is phototropism.
Phototropism is directional growth in which the direction of growth is determined by the direction of the light source.
Or, more simply, it’s the reason so many plants grow towards the sunlight. One of the most amazing things about God is how He permeated all He created with so much purpose. If a plant is full of purpose then how much more us? And if you don’t think a plant is full of purpose, then why would things exist that were both beautiful and are providers of the very oxygen we need to live? Just as we learn about Caravaggio by analysing his brushstrokes, we can learn things about God by looking at His work. We can look at these comparitively simple organisms and learn about the way to grow.
Naturally, of course, any thing we look at in order to learn more can’t come from head knowledge from school or college or wherever. As my Pastor, Jon Cook, spoke about at church a few weeks ago, everything must be calibrated to the word of God. Truth is not relative, it’s absolute and it’s measured by the word. Nature might bare witness to God’s creation but it’s the creator not the created that brings truth. Over the next few blog posts I want to write about growth and health, both personal and as churches, as a response to light.
The importance of light runs right through the bible. If we go right back to the very beginning we see that the first thing God did was command light into being. He did not start His work of creation until He had brought forth light and, after He did so, He saw that it was good.
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness."
The first thing God did, before He created life, was to create light. Before He created living things He put into place the environment in which they would prosper. He called forth light and then life, likewise His work in our lives begins not with us but as a response to His light. As the apostle Peter says so eloquently he has called out of darkness into his marvellous light.
"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."
- 1 Peter 2:9
We’re called into marvellous light. Our whole lives are called forth to grow into the light. A quick glance into the book of John shows us, if there was any doubt, exactly what the light is.
"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’"
For me this scripture is at the centre of the way we do life. If we’re called forth into light then the light source becomes of the greatest importance and here we are again with Jesus in the centre. Growing towards the glow is growing closer to Jesus; like the plant that points itself to get maximum exposure to sunlight we need to angle ourselves towards Jesus. Just as everything about the plant comes from its position in relationship to the sun, everything about us should come from our position in relationship to the son.
Just as at creation God created the environment for life to thrive by setting that light in place, so through Jesus we come into an environment where we can thrive, where growth is a natural effect of His presence and where multiplication, generosity, and life in abundance grow as parts of our very being. The essential and key ingredient to our growth is how we are positioned in relation to Jesus; this effects not only how we ourselves develop but should also effect our relationship to church and to others.
In the next few blog posts I hope to look in a little more depth at how living life in this way positions us for growth not just as an individual but as part of the body of Christ.
A number of days ago my younger sister, Elisabeth Jobes, was taken to hospital unconscious and unable to breathe. For 18 hours the medics did their utmost, some refusing to go home at the end of their shifts, opting instead to stay and help - even a whole department refused to close for the night. For an equal amount of time an ever increasing number of friends turned the waiting room and hospital corridors into a prayer centre. We took communion in the intensive care waiting room, united not by our membership of any church - four different churches were represented - but of the body of Christ. Across the world people prayed together and sent messages of support via social networks and our pastors who were there with us. Lizzie lost her earthly fight but won her heavenly race and her impact on people’s lives has been phenomenal. Already we have seen some of her friends make decisions to follow Christ, people returning to God, and a huge sum raised to help the fight against Human Trafficking. (In lieu of flowers donations were given, and can be given, to the A21 Campaign.) Before normal service resumes on this blog, I decided it would be fitting to post the text of the tribute I gave at her funeral. (A newspaper report and tribute, written by Lindsay Bruce, can be viewed here.)
Some people have two personas. You’ve no doubt heard of Jekyll and Hyde but I’m going to talk about someone who had two personalities - not good and bad but good and better. I’m going to tell you about my sister and the saint. In recent days I’ve came to see quite how much these two personas were actually one and the same.
My sister, or Betty to me, was born on the 18th September 1990. I met her birth with tears, in embarrassingly large quantities. Don’t be mistaken - these weren’t tears of joy, I just really wanted a brother. She sadly died two weeks ago and I met her death with many more tears because for the twenty one years of her life, I loved my baby sister.
She was the one who didn’t bother with crawling, she skipped straight to the walking stage. We were blessed in that she decided not only to walk on her feet but also to walk in God. And so she grew up - and she really did grow. I have many fond memories of the simple things we did, like practicing street hockey in the back lane and letting her win to make her day fun. - At least that’s the official line, no one ever wants to credit a seven year old girl with the ability to smack a hockey puck past them.
The thing with Betty was she always saw the best in everything. She determinedly looked at the positives and was always smiling, even when the rest of us were thinking something wasn’t much fun she could manage to see a good side. I remember her comic little phrase when she was a tween, ‘salalu-salaway’. I don’t to this day know why, it was just her quirky thing she invented to say she was happy with something. I have many happy memories of her from day trips and holidays and many more from day to day life.
I could talk about Betty and our memories for hours but many of you here knew Lizzie J. Lizzie, it would turn out was a saint. Intelligent, creative, beautiful. She was always the kind of girl who would strive to make sure her life was a good one, she would ask advice and was never one to shy from the tough choices if something was for the best. She wasn’t just good in the sense that she tried to follow the rules; ticking boxes didn’t matter to her, impacting lives did. She shared the gospel with zeal and a passion not just for the house of God but for God himself. My recurring memory of her is from a few weeks back at church. She wasn’t ‘serving’ on team that day, but she was serving anyway. Bounding around the foyer in the centre for life, smiling and bubbling with people. She didn’t serve because of any obligation, her service was the overflow of a heart that bubbled with irrepressible joy. - I know this because my many efforts to find what substance she was taking so I could be that happy too were always in vain, it was natural joy.
The main lessons that I’ve been taught by this amazing woman of God are love. She hit it right on that, while I wondered how best to share my faith she was using her love and compassion to help bring the lost home. She just loved people, even in the most adverse circumstances she found the best in people and the reason to love them. In hard times when it would have been so easy to be sullen and moody she instead loved life, loved God and loved people. I’ve never met someone who gave out as much love and who asked so little in return.
At times of great grief the question that comes to mind is why. Why? That question is not one that we will ever fully know, but in Lizzie’s death I don’t question the existence of God, rather God has shown himself in many ways. I don’t know why it was my Sister’s time but every time I pray to him about why Lizzie could possibly go I get one verse. Philippians 1:6 tells us that…
'The God who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.'
It is the day of Christ Jesus for Lizzie now. Which means that we can be confident that the God who begun a good work in Lizzie perfected it. Typical Lizzie, she reached it before us all. This does not take away the pain but it is a fact, and I report it as such in the knowledge that when the pain fades that fact will remain.
At 3:20 on Thursday morning Elisabeth Ruth Jobes arrived in heaven surrounded by the prayers of the global church. Matthew 25:34-40 says…
"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’"
…Lizzie was dedicated to doing everything for the least of these. When so many people surrounded her with prayers it bore witness to God that her life had done just that and we get to live in the security that Jesus said ‘come into my kingdom’.
As prayers and support have flooded in we have realised the strength, depth and love of the church community. I will always be grateful to the church for praying and supporting both as we were in hospital and in the aftermath, it means an awful lot to us the love that has been shown, it’s an honour to be part of a community that does that.
It turned out that the sister and the saint were the same person. The impact my little sister’s life has had will live on alongside the memories she left us. I will honour the saint and cherish the sister. No amount of goodness that flows from events will make the pain worthwhile but it will stand us in eternal memory of her life and what she did. Thank you for coming to honour my sister and for the impact so many of you had on her life. We love you, Elisabeth, and we will see you soon and spend eternity united with our king.
"For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago."
- Ephesians 2:10, NLT
If there is one strand running through all of the great artists it is the pursuit of perfection. They desire to produce the finest piece of work they can, their masterpiece, their magnum opus, the pièce de résistance. Michelangelo took four years to paint the Sistine chapel and then, much later in life, after Rome was sacked, he returned and spent six further years adding a whole wall to the already impressive ceiling. Hemingway sent off the manuscript for A Farewell to Arms in January 1929 and yet spent the next five months writing and rewriting the final short paragraph. It’s this attention to detail that makes great artists great - they work and they work and they do not finish until they’re satisfied their work is the best it can be.
The bible tells us that God is like this with us. Human artists can’t create perfection, they can only do their best, but God knows perfection for each of us and He will not stop until He’s achieved it.
"And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you."
- Philippians 1:6 (AMP)
The moment we were saved God started a work in us; salvation wasn’t the crowning moment of our journey, it was the start. It was God saving us, for the rest of our lives on this earth He wants to work to bring us to perfect completion. He knows the best that we can be. He knows everything about us - our strengths and our weaknesses, our good points and our bad points - but more than this He knows what is possible! He knows what he can make us into, what we can end up as.
The bible talks, several times, of us being clay in the Potter’s hand. (Isaiah 64:8) God is the artist. He is the ultimate artist. Look at creation; after thousands of years of humans messing it up, earth is still more awesome than anything man made. He is the one who knows what we will be at the end, He has the vision.
Neither the plaster nor the paint knew what Michelangelo was doing, the chapel is so large (12,000 square feet) that you can’t take in the whole painting at once, only the artist knew what it was going to be like; only in his mind did it exist until he finished and approached the pope and said 'ta-da!' - or whatever artists say after completing a masterpiece. We’re the same, we don’t know all of what God wants us to be when His work is done; we don’t know the wonders he can achieve so our only option is to let Him work them.
So if the artist fashions the art, the potter moulds the clay, what is our part in all of this? Be good clay.
In Jeremiah 18:3-4 the potter discards the marred clay and makes a new vessel. God could find other people to make into His masterpieces; if He can make even the rocks praise Him then he could find other clay, but the point is that He has chosen you. God begun work in each of us because He saw what it could be when it was finished. Being a God of faith He looked at what was and saw what could be and called it into being.
We need to submit ourselves to Him. He has the vision and the purpose for our lives and He has the tools and the abilities to make it work. Our part is to submit, to be good clay, to make of our lives something he can work with and use. We do this by listening to the word and applying it to our life, we do this by praying for His guidance and for Him to be in control, by accepting that God knows what is best. We need to be humble enough to know that God who shaped mountains, who crafted the flowers and the animals, God who looked at an earth without form and void and saw that it could be beautiful, God who made the most beautiful things in existence, that same God has looked at each of us and seen what He can make us.
Don’t resist the will of God or the hand of God, He knows what is best even when we can’t comprehend it and sit baffled thinking how can this be getting me anywhere? God knows. He is in control and He knows what you’re going to be when He reaches that perfect completion.
When God makes something He does it right. God makes masterpieces and He wants you to be one of them.