Beauty for Ashes

The most amazing thing has happened to me in the last month that truly shows how God makes beauty out of ashes!! A series of events took me down a path I never saw coming…

A short background for those of you I haven’t met yet in our PCF family. My sister was killed in Feb 2017. The heart wrenching part is that it was at the hands of her son, my nephew Nathan. He and his brother were taken by their father at the age of 10 and 11. They lived on the streets and in drug houses as their father was Bi-polar and on drugs. He became a drug lord and was on America’s Most Wanted FBI List. It wasn’t until he was finally caught that the boys were returned to Debra. She would drive the streets at all hours of the night and down the darkest allies, through the worst neighborhoods and spoke to some scary looking gangs. By the time they were returned they were 15 and 17 year old strong men. Nathan had been in and out of trouble and jail for violent things but Debra was always there to plead his case. She was highly intelligent in financial matters and basically bought him out of trouble. She was mourning the little boys she lost and over compensated Nathan because she felt so much guilt for not finding them. He was diagnosed with different mental illnesses as well. He lived with her and she did everything for him. She loved him with a love I didn’t understand at all. He was mean and controlling and down right scary at times. He was this 36 year old man who ended the life of the only one that would ever have his back without question!
That series of events starts here…
I got an email from the Arizona Prison Rehabilitation Center .. that simply said Nathan had requested contact and to call or email his Prison Caseworker. I was shocked.
I immediately spoke to my husband Keith as I felt panic rush through me and he has always been able to bring me down from the clouds and calm me. He basically said either call or email and take the mystery out of it. So I called but was only able to speak to a general information desk. The man on the phone did say that a request for contact was for many reasons but the main two was the family of the prisoner can be interviewed as part of an appeals process or the prisoner wants closure i.e. forgiveness. Either way I had to email the caseworker to get answers.
By this time I just wanted to ignore it all together, however God had a different plan.
Day by day I would fight the urge to even think about it and day by day God made it harder and harder. I once again told Keith I didn’t want to forgive or help in any appeals so I don’t know why I should respond. We decided I needed my pastors council so I emailed Vijay to set up our video chat.
This is where it gets good ….
The video chat was my morning and Vijay’s afternoon. After we had the chit chat of catching up I began explaining the details of the most recent events as we have spoken before about this tragedy. He told me the most profound thing .. he said, Susan you need to forgive him – not to condone his behavior but to let God have the opportunity to heal you AND him through you!! He said I need to give up the need to punish him and when I do God can use that door of opportunity to shower him with grace and mercy!
Wow .. I just went from I can’t, won’t, never will, forgive him or help him to forgiveness and witnessing!
That night I stayed on my knees quite a while. I told God I heard His message and I know it is truth but I still had that part of me that was protesting and feeling like I somehow was betraying my family! I prayed for understanding. I prayed for strength. The next day I sent out an email but all I could say was … Why?
I sat most of that day feeling emotionally drained. My mind played over each scenario and was baffled as to why me.. why now?
Then it hit me ….
That love I mentioned earlier that I didn’t understand .. it was about to become understandable.
I realized if she was sitting next to me she would be pleading with me to forgive him. What kind of crazy was that? Why would she love someone who blamed her for every evil he had done and then killed her in such a violent and heartless way?
As clear as day I heard in my spirit … The same way I love you while you killed me!!
I just sat there in shock!
What I didn’t mention earlier was I asked God to send me a sheep fleece ..
“.. look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.”
Judges 6:37
My sister did what was done for her. She loved the purest unconditional love she could humanly give!
Her life mattered. I suddenly began to recall the times I would rock Nathan to sleep and his silly grin when he would cheat at Go Fish. God allowed me to see him as He does … one of His lost children. God also helped me remember the innocence that was lost and the dysfunction of his youth. I started seeing him as my troubled nephew not a cold killer.
The next day I received a reply to my email. I opened it and it explained that he just wanted contact for closure. I did reply stating that I would be willing to communicate via written letters or emails with him but let the record show I believe he is exactly where he needs to be and I would never advocate for his release. If he would still like to communicate after that understanding is conveyed then so be it. As of today I haven’t heard back but I feel certain that I will.
God took a heart wrenching tragedy and provided an avenue for healing. He spoke through Vijay to my broken heart and allowed me to come to terms with my sisters death.
He moistened my wool fleece…

Transforming Grace

Sitting at my desk doing my studies, I have a wonderful view out of my window. From there I can see over the farmers fields where the crops are growing to some of the foothills of the Cairngorms and in particular the north face of Morven, an 872 meters tall hill.
It is now June and there are still a few small spots of snow clinging to this particular hill. Watching the process of the snow melting off these slopes over the past few months has got me to thinking about our lives before Jesus, our lives in Jesus and how they are transformed by Jesus.
In deep winter everything up here is covered in snow, much like our old lives covered in sin; everything under the snow is lifeless, in seed or root form with the potential for abundant life but lacking in something, also like our lives before we met Jesus; yet once we come to know Jesus and accept His gift into our hearts, Jesus begins to work on our sins and help us bring them into the light and put them away.
This is very similar to the way the seasons work – winter moving into spring, the sun melting away the snow a piece at a time, the seeds and roots beginning to bloom into life where the snow has melted away, exposing them to the light. Sometimes this is a rapid process and sometimes it is slower but increasingly it does happen; in the same way, for the true believer this process happens to you too, the light of Jesus exposing your sins and melting them away, freeing you and growing you into something beautiful. Like the snow on Morven in spring, clinging on until the summer sun finally melts it all away; Sin also clings on in our lives until we finally meet with Jesus face to face and enter into our eternal summer.
1 John 1:6, 8-10 says:
“If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. ” (v6)
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. ” (v8-10)
This was written by John to believers. Yes, you are still a sinner, I am still a sinner, we are all still sinners.
This is really important because it defines how we think about ourselves. If we begin to think we have no sin, or we can sin no more we will begin to think we are better than the rest of humanity, we will begin to see nothing wrong with telling lies, cheating, stealing or worse.
We will continue to sin.
We are still sinners BUT Jesus works in us to change us, melting away our sins one by one to transform us and change us. We continue to have the capacity to sin and we do still sin, but this shouldn’t make us want to give up and continue sinning, rather it should make us desire to be less sinful. Jesus died on the cross for your sins, past, present and future; Jesus rose again to put those sins to death and gave us hope; hope of eternal life, a life free from sin.  This is not a life we have yet reached; we are in the spring.
As the sun melts away the snow on Morven a little at a time, so too are we also being transformed.  Bit by bit sin is being replaced, in the place where sin was we see new and beautiful desires grow and bloom from those seeds and roots which were once buried by sin.  We increasingly become more like Jesus!
Galatians 5:13, 16-17, 22-25 says:
“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. ” (V13)
Serve!
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.  For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” (v16-17)
In the Spirit!
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.  And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (v22-25)
And see the Fruits!
As we see the sins in our lives decrease, we should also see the fruits in our lives increase.  The fact you are alive and reading this is a testimony to Gods grace and mercy.  He has still got work for you to do, work he has designed specifically for you.  Therefore we should all be striving towards the goal of perfection, knowing that only through Jesus will we ever attain it.
This process can be compared to the work done in spring by the farmers; it is hard work, ploughing the fields, sowing the seeds, tending the crops and patiently waiting whilst the crops grow.  It takes time, a lot of effort and discipline, but the growth itself doesn’t come from the farmers efforts.

Like the farmers we need to plough and prepare our hearts, weed out sin and tend the seeds of the fruits of the spirit. But it is God alone who provides the growth.  We need to put in time, effort, and be disciplined as we work to pursue Gods heart.  We need to be continually removing existing sin from our lives, striving every day to be a little more like Jesus, not to sit back, complacent, believing we have done enough or have now arrived.  Our hearts desire should be to be like Him, exhibiting Him increasingly in our daily lives.

1 John 3:2 says:
“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
This refers to our transformation; when Jesus returns or we go home to be with Him, it is then that we will move from the spring of our walk (where we work, strive and during which we increasingly become more like Jesus) into the summer. That is when we become as He is, sinless for eternity, not because we have worked for it but because He gifts it to us.  That is when we will hear the words that should be the greatest desire of all our hearts. “Well done good and faithful servant”
So as the snow melts and disappears from Morven and as life grows and blossoms leading into the summer what I see is a mirror; a reflection of the hope that we have in Jesus, an image of how our lives transition over time from the cold winter of sin, to the warm spring of new hope and life, eventually to the promise of an unstained, fully bloomed and beautiful summer of eternal and sinless perfection.

The Study of Beauty

One of my favourite places growing up was the Manchester Art Gallery. In there you’ll find a quote plastered on the wall in large print by the man who started it, Thomas Horsfall, saying:

 

“If we have a strong love of beauty, the most beautiful things we see become a part of ourselves.”

 

The quote comes from a paper called The Study of Beauty, where Horsfall talks about his ideas on the moral and educational role of art in society. The essence of his argument was this; seeing, experiencing and valuing beautiful things on the outside can make us more beautiful on the inside.

 

We live in a world where the ugly is easy to find and sometimes hard to tear your eyes away from. Sometimes we may not even want to, such is the state of our hearts. Proverbs 12:27 says:

 

“Whoever seeks good finds favour,

But evil comes to one who searches for it.”

 

Once, when I was coming out of a valley in my life, I decided to make a list of things that might bring me some enjoyment, a list of things to do that might lift my countenance. I thought about the time I visited Fyvie Castle. We were in the big hall where there’s a grand piano in front of big majestic window and a stranger sat down and started to play. I have absolutely no idea what the song was called. But as he played the notes I stopped in my tracks and couldn’t move an inch whilst the music washed over me. For a moment, I was captivated by something for the purest reason: because it was beautiful, and I could not help but stop and absorb that beauty until the moment had passed.

 

God makes beautiful things, and because we are made in His likeness, we need beauty in our lives. It is a very part of us and without it our lives can become a canvas full of grey scenes; a lost sailor in a coracle drifting between islands, surrounded by lonely rocks who give nothing and receive nothing. God brings light and beauty to the landscapes of our lives and we should pursue and chase such things without ever giving up.

Where Our Hope Is

Several times a day I take time to think about our Lord and what He has done for me, I often get to thinking about the cross, about what it means.

The cross is the symbol of our faith, it’s often found at the altar or head of a church building, on walls in people’s homes or even around the necks of many believers; but what does this symbol mean?

Around Easter time we often hear the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, how he went to the cross of his own choice, willingly enduring the pain, humiliation, flogging and punishment of a criminal whilst being completely innocent, the only sinless man to have ever lived; and often we get so focused on this part of the story we can overlook the most important aspect of this!

It is not in the death of Jesus that our hope lies, it is in his resurrection.

It is not in His ministry before he went to the cross, it is in the LIFE of Jesus after the cross.

You see the cross is EMPTY.

Jesus is no longer there.

Let’s put aside for a moment all of Jesus ministry, put aside everything He did before the cross, put aside the teachings and theology.  Instead pause for a few moments to think about this simple aspect.

Jesus Died

But He is not DEAD

If Jesus had gone to the cross and paid the price for sin, if Jesus had taken all the punishment owed to us and then stayed dead where would our hope lie?

He would still be dead, and we would still die too.

No, He rose again.

He didn’t just take our punishment, He then went on to conquer death so that we too could rise and be with Him, to give us a sure hope in a future we never had, in an eternal life with Him; to show us He loves us and wants us to be with Him.

This should be our focus.

Lately we have been going through a series on the Parables and are often thinking about discipleship, how to be one and the cost of discipleship to us.  To fully appreciate the cost of being a disciple, to fully understand how to be a disciple, we need to be eternity focused and not earthly focused.

Our pastor Vijay recently spoke briefly about the rich young ruler, this man was earthly focused, and his love for the earthly treasures he possessed had clouded his sight. In the eternal scheme of things this life is but a brief moment, if your sight and heart are focused on eternity then earthly treasures should not compare.  This is the challenge we all face as disciples as the world continually works against us, tempting us to shift our focus from eternity to this life, to move our hearts away from Jesus and on to earthly treasures.

But Jesus didn’t just rise and go away, He didn’t leave us to flounder along alone or try and follow in our own strength, No, He rose and gave us the Holy Spirit, He rose and gave us promises, He rose and gave us help and strength, He rose and gave us each other.

Let’s be clear about this, despite all our weaknesses and sins and failures, Jesus WANTS us, Jesus LOVES us, and WE need Him; that’s why He has done such an incredible thing when we ourselves cannot.

That is why Jesus came.  That is why Jesus Died.  And that is why Jesus rose again.

Set your sight and focus in the right place.  Set them on the Risen Jesus.

Luke 24:5-6 “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

Jesus Rose!  The Cross is EMPTY!