Among Kings and Queens

by Emma Bicknell  (This blog originally appeared on Emma’s personal blog “Emma’s English Kitchen”)

There’s nothing like a three and a half hour traffic jam to dampen the mood on a road trip. To start with the four of us joked around and thanked the Lord that we had no kids with us.

Flying was an option, but the drive would save money. Our plan was to get to Washington DC a little early, sight see for the afternoon, evening and the next morning, before the start of the International Justice Mission Global Prayer Gathering we were attending later on the next day. Our friend Mark was flying. We tried hard not to be jealous.

After three hours of moving barely three miles we turned into those children, well, the two females among us did – me being one of them. Our journey started the day before at 2pm driving to New York until 2am, had a few hours sleep in a hotel, then up in the morning to carry on the journey. It was now nearly 4pm. There were still two more hours of driving ahead according to the GPS even if things started moving. The day was beautiful. Blue sky. Hot sunshine. The exhaust fumes stunk. We were supposed to be walking around the National Mall in downtown Washington, enjoying our first visit to a major US city, not seeing how many state plates we could spot in the traffic jam heading out of New Jersey and into Delaware. There were no exits. We hadn’t had lunch, we needed the bathroom, we moaned. I considered crying. This was cutting into our free time.

 

The cause was three lanes closed on the Delaware Bridge. In the middle of a week day they decided to drop a metal plate into the bridge, holding up everyone heading south on the I-95. Nuts. Eventually we passed it, we were free.

I was thankful to be on the trip. Our friends who we travelled with are representatives of International Justice Mission in Atlantic Canada. Rick is a police officer and Bronwyn is a lawyer so it makes sense for them to be there, but us? Yes, I’m stirred about these justice issues but, I felt a little like a fraud. ‘Roofer and library clerk tag along!’ We’re meeting up with the folks at IJM Canada and it’s a little hard to believe. Isn’t that how God works though, sometimes with the least likely people? As I saw through the couple of days we were there, it takes many kinds of people to do this work.

Just a bit of background. International Justice Mission works out of 17 field offices across Africa, Latin America, South America and Southeast Asia. IJM partners with local authorities to rescue victims of violence, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors, and strengthen justice systems. They’re the largest international anti-slavery organization in the world. They partner with local authorities and organizations to tackle modern-day slavery, sex trafficking, cybersex trafficking of children, sexual violence, police brutality, property grabbing and citizens rights abuse.

One speaker said at the first meeting we went to, ‘Are we more in love with the idea of justice, than actually doing justice?’ Not his exact words, but along those lines. We like the idea of changing the world, but it requires effort to go through with it. I may be guilty of this. I love the idea, I’m angry at injustice, but when it comes to it, I’m not great at being out of my comfort zone. Someone else said the work of justice is sometimes, ‘long and boring’. Advocating for others isn’t an instant fix, it takes time, diligence and hard work. If we’re serious we’ve got to be prepared to persevere.

For this among many reasons I love the work of International Justice Mission and other organizations like A21 who are on the ground fighting injustice. They are in it for the long haul, and they are passionate in what God has asked them to do, and confess their dependency on him to do it.

I liked one of the stories of an IJM rescue mission early on in their work in Cambodia. Some young girls that were rescued from a brothel were then thrown in jail. Nowadays IJM would have agreements in place so that wouldn’t happen to survivors of trafficking, but then it was different. It had already been a very long day, there was nothing more they could do, so the lawyer sat outside the cell all night, just so someone was there with those girls. Fortunately she couldn’t understand the language so didn’t understand when she was being asked to leave. She was just there for them. Sometimes all you can do is be there.

There was story after story of horrific injustice, but then of rescue, of miraculous speeding up of legal proceedings, of restoration. There were stories of police forces in India and elsewhere trained by IJM to deal with human trafficking as well as how to treat survivors. Sometimes IJM works to free large numbers of slaves from brick kilns and other such places, sometimes they search for the one trafficked girl. Sometimes it takes several attempts to rescue the one. In each prayer room, there was one for each Field Office, we started with thanking God for what has already happened and then asking for more.

There were stories of progress, of attitudes changed, of police forces starting to protect the vulnerable, of places where trafficking of minors is reduced to almost nothing. There are also stories of huge challenges, from governments who block the work to the sickening increase in cybersex trafficking (people paying for girls and boys to be abused over the internet) to the safety of the teams on the ground.

On the first full day I listened and prayed, prayed and listened. Some things I knew of, some I didn’t. It was a lot to take in, but I was okay. On the second day it started to get to me and the tears started to roll. When you hear about children of ten years and much younger being taken from their families and made to work as slaves it’s hard not to.

Two stories told by the people themselves stood out for me. Neither of them I can share in detail here as we were requested not to for security reasons. I wish I could. I wish everyone I know could have sat and listened to these beautiful people. One used to be a slave in India, one was an orphan and victim of injustice in a country in Africa. They both endured different forms of injustice. Both went through terrible trauma. Their lives have been hard and filled with grief. Yet their faces shone.

The former slave is now a lawyer, helping to free others like him. The African woman who at one time only had a strip of cloth to cover her, stood in the most beautiful dress and told us she is now a social worker helping others in her country. Both thanked Jesus for first saving them. Both have the biggest smiles. Joy.

I felt humbled.

After, the worship leader said, ‘Surely we are among kings and queens.’

I think we all felt that. Outside on the tv screens in the foyer of the conference centre the news channels’ coverage of the musician Prince’s death rolled on and on. The world mourning an idol. A few blocks away helicopters and security forces guard the White House. The contrast of the pride and grandeur of the city outside compared to what we were hearing and praying about was not lost on us. Yet we were in the presence of kings and queens. Kings and queens of endurance and faith.

Those stories. Saved from slavery, going through programmes to heal and restore and then going to school in order to turn around to rescue and help others. There’s beauty in that. It’s brave. It’s gritty.

It all put our few hours stuck in a traffic jam into perspective. Our discomfort only lasted a very little while. Though we wanted someone to do something about it, we knew that we’d get through the traffic eventually. We were safe. How quick we were to moan and to get impatient when our plans were interrupted!

People held in various forms of slavery around our world today often have no idea when it will all end. Their lives are robbed from them. Often they have no one to call on, to protect them, they don’t know when or if they will be rescued.

I’ve heard this story on a number of occasions: ‘We prayed to every god of every religion, but then we prayed to the God of the christians and He answered.’

I don’t know what my role is, but I want what I do in my life to bring others freedom. I’d like my children to get this too, to consider how their training can serve others, how they can play a part in bringing justice and mercy to a broken world.

Then there’s the wider challenge. It’s too big a thing for organizations like IJM to tackle modern-day slavery and other injustices alone. It is the calling of the church. In the fight for justice the church should be the loudest voice because our God is the God of justice. It’s all about bringing his kingdom in.

We are called to pray and to use our training, skills, creativity and voices to bring love and justice to those suffering injustice in our community and globally. The task is overwhelming, but God is a big God and it is his fight. Some of us will be on the field, others not. We’re still all called to be people of justice. We can only give what we have to him and then see what he does.

Learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause. Isaiah 1:17

 

Who Am I? pt. 1

the following has been adapted from material by Neil T Anderson

Since you are a saint in Christ by God’s calling, you share in Christ’s inheritance. That which is true of Christ is now true of you, because you are in Christ. It’s part of your identity. Here are 36 verses through the New Testament that proclaim who you are in Christ. Read this list aloud. Read it often.

  1. I am the salt of the earth (Matt 5:13)
  2. I am the light of the world (Matt 5:14)
  3. I am a child of God (John 1:12) Continue reading Who Am I? pt. 1

Advent: Jesus

by Pamela Naugler

 “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  Matthew 1:21

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

Isaiah, a prophet in the Old Testament, spoke about the period in time when the tables turned, when God decided that now is that time.  The Holy Spirit came upon Mary and history would be forever changed by His work of creating a baby in Mary’s womb. God stepped into earth to rescue His people. This is the wonder of Christmas.

God’s plan was put into action: Jesus coming to earth to save us. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)  Through Jesus, God offers His grace and freedom.  Although I have known Him all of my life, my journey with Jesus has not been straightforward.

When I was very pregnant with my third daughter, a very close friend prayed for me on a consistent basis and spoke encouraging and prophetic words to me. She also strongly encouraged me to talk to my doctor and I was terrified. I was terrified of admitting so many things hidden deep in my heart. I was terrified of drugs that might impact my baby. I was terrified of admitting failure. Darkness veiled my mind and anxiety was a very real and physical thing. I faced the possibility of another long and difficult childbirth, if past experience was any indication, and then the reality of having a newborn. I knew what it was like to have a newborn and another child. Now I would have to balance the needs of two small children and a newborn… how was I to do it?  I hadn’t slept through the night in years. And there was the added stress of our business and paycheques that were at times few and far between. There were prayers for groceries and unpaid bills.  Sometimes the stress was crushing.

Sitting in the doctor’s office, my doctor intuitively asked me how I was doing. Tears began flowing down my cheeks.

My doctor listened and even hugged me. She took action. Though she encouraged me to take anti-depressant medication, she left the decision with me. She called my husband, called the Mental Health clinic, told me to contact my church and get help immediately.  There was no single, quick, easy answer… except to ask for help and receive it. I had to go for counselling, to learn how to take little steps forward. I came to the end of being able to hold myself up and received the support and counsel of others. Through lots of great counselling sessions at Christ Central Church and millions of tears, my heart was changed through the restorative work of forgiveness and prayer.  People came around me and showed the love of Jesus through their actions, making meals for our family, buying me paper plates so I didn’t have to feel the overwhelming burden of washing the never ending dishes by hand. People stepped in. His peace stepped in.

God was with me, in a profound, personal way.

My beautiful third daughter was born traumatically, quickly in our tiny bathroom, but she was okay. God’s love stepped in and she is a miracle.

“’Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10

I can rest in the fact that Jesus work is complete and He is unshakeable.  My journey with Jesus is not neatly wrapped up.  My heart races with anxiety at times (In fact, I just received prayer for that a few weeks ago!). God is still writing our story of His provision for us in very practical and real ways.

Immanuel – God is with us. Jesus came to earth, was born, lived and died. He rose again and sent the Holy Spirit to fill us, counsel and empower us.  He loves us with a love that will never be shaken.  He is drawing all of us to Himself, and this season my heart’s great desire is to know Him and experience Him more. Jesus alone is our hope, peace, joy and love.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”  Titus 3:4-7

 

Advent: Love

By Emma Bicknell

‘Love requires sacrifice – always.’ This line is from the latest Nicholas Sparks film I went to see with my husband. I cried all the way through at the sad and mushy bits; he latched on to that one line. For the next few weeks every time he did something where he had to go out of his way for me he quoted it, and sometimes when he was just doing the usual stuff too – just to remind me.

Love. I do feel unqualified to write about this, although as is obvious from my tears at the movie I am a bit in love with love, or maybe with romance. I grew up with a love for fairy stories and tales of true love. From Anne and Gilbert in Anne of Green Gables, to Maria and Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music, to the characters in Jane Austen novels, to Jo and Mr Bhaer in Little Women (though shouldn’t it have been Laurie?), to Cinderella and Prince Charming (every version), I’ve wept in every one and day-dreamed myself into every story. More than anything I wanted to be the heroine with my own prince to sweep me off my feet. To say I had high expectations of love is an understatement.

The world knows about love. We know that we humans need it from the day we are born. Children’s development is stunted if they are neglected and unloved. The desire to be loved is right at the core of our being. Mother Theresa said, ‘The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.’ The Beatles sang, ‘All you need is love.’ Hundreds of songs, poems and stories tell of love – the joy of having it, the pain of losing it. We admire and recognize great sacrifices motivated by love. Much of the time though we don’t know what that love is we’re looking for to satisfy the deepest need of our hearts.

No person can satisfy that need completely for another person. I’ve learned that time and again as I look for love in the approval of others, in the love of another person, in the attention of friends. However good it is it doesn’t fill me up, it always leaves me wanting.

Another movie I watched as a young child was ‘Jesus of Nazareth’. I thought that the whole story was so romantic. A young girl visited by an angel and told she’d have a baby who is God’s own son. Then the baby is born in a stable and all is awe and wonder, angels, shepherds and wise men. A bad king wants to kill Jesus, but the little family escapes after another warning from an angel. I wanted to watch that first part of the movie over and over. Of course, I knew the Christmas story inside and out from my parents teaching me and from Sunday School. I never tired of it year after year.

Now I’ve learned a few things in the years since and can relate more to the reality of the Christmas story. An unexpected and ‘illegitimate’ pregnancy is always complicated, childbirth is hard work when you’re in a hospital bed with midwives and doctors on hand to help let alone when you’re without a place to stay, I’ve been to a few stables and they are stinky, and a family fleeing for their lives to another country as a genocide is going on is a terrifying thing. The Christmas story is gritty. Jesus came into the world with the legitimacy of his birth in question, born in poverty, displaced and fleeing as a refugee to another country with his life under threat from the start and living under the violent and oppressive occupation of the Romans.

But what has this story to do with love? We can’t fully appreciate the depth of love in the gift of Jesus if we don’t realize how desperately we need him. In most of the stories I’ve mentioned, love has to overcome obstacles in order for the characters in the story to become united; this is nothing in comparison to the obstacle that God has to overcome to bring us into relationship with him. In this story we aren’t waiting around for Him to come for us as a lover would wait, the Bible says, we hated him (Colossians 1:21). God cares for us. He knows we can not save ourselves, that whatever we do we can’t live up to his holiness and be in his presence.Yet, he still made a plan to do whatever is necessary – giving himself in our place – to restore us to himself.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Jesus left heaven to live as one of us, but perfectly, so he could become the perfect sacrifice for our sin. He came knowing that he would be hated and nailed to a cross, yet he still came. He loves us that much. All of the love that we know stems from the author of love, God himself. No one has loved or will love us more than he does, because he himself is love. Christmas is far more than a fairy story and it is the greatest love story there will ever be. It is the ultimate story of love requiring sacrifice, and in that showing a love that is complete. It is the only love that frees us from our sin and shame and brings us into a relationship with God that can satisfy our deepest needs.

 ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)

 

Advent: Joy

by Julia Thompson

I bring you good news of great joy. Luke 2:10

Joy. I’ve been thinking a lot about that little word and the huge things it means in all of its smallness. Great joy. After all, Christmas can be a difficult season for many – a lonely time, a busy time, a stressful time, a time of to-do lists (my personal downfall), a time full of sad memories. For many a time of anything but happiness, and yet we are still promised joy. It boils down to this: Joy endures.

This is a hard one for me. I’ve struggled with anxiety after the birth of both of my kids. Our most recent addition to the family brought on feelings which you’d think would make me singularly unqualified to talk about joy. I was low – I wondered why I ever thought this baby thing was a good idea, I obsessed over small things, I was unable to sleep, and I struggled to feel anything beyond complacency at best. I didn’t feel those warm, bubbly feelings it seemed all the other mamas felt when they held their babies. I felt inadequate, and that made me, well…sad.

One Friday morning, after a particularly bad night, I got up really early and headed to the doctor’s office. I couldn’t go on like this. Something had to change. I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety/depression. I had checked the medical box, but knowing that ultimately God was my strength, I leaned into Him – I sought prayer, immersed myself in the word and in worship, and waited for things to improve.

The more intentional I was about my relationship with God, the more the way I viewed my circumstances changed and the more joy I experienced. As Christians we experience the same hardships in life as anyone else. We aren’t promised that life will be easy, and joy is certainly not our default setting, but we are empowered to see things differently through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Christian joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and a foretaste of the pure joy found in glorifying God.

So much of the birth of Jesus reminds me of what true joy is. After learning that she would bear the Saviour of the world, Mary declares in her song of praise (Luke 1: 46-55), “my soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” (v. 46, 47) Mary’s response to God’s call on her life was one of joy that glorified God. As with all of the fruits of the Spirit the ultimate purpose of joy is to glorify God – joy helps us to see beauty in the everyday as a reflection of Christ and His love to us. We too can experience true joy, even in uncertainty, when we enter into God’s presence, just as Mary did. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. By spending time with Him and enjoying Him. Trusting in His goodness to us.

I am thankful that I don’t have to summon up joy – I’ve found that to be impossible. Emotions are fickle. They ebb and flow. My responsibility is to worship God regardless of how broken or whole I feel on any given day. Thankfully God’s joy is always accessible and my proximity to Him as the source has a direct correlation on how much joy I experience and reflect in this broken world. When the day is short, I am sleep deprived, and my to-do list is long, changing my priorities goes a long way towards changing my perspective. When I lean into God, and spend time with Him I see my life differently – things that felt like a burden become smaller in the light of all that He has done. I see God at work and I sense His purpose and presence in my life. I am reassured that God knows me, He knows my heart, He knows my circumstances.

I don’t have to be the perfect mom or have it all together. God’s got it all covered, I lack nothing! This evokes a response of worship and an uprising of happiness in my heart. God enables us to experience His joy even when perfection is far off and gives us a taste of the perfect joy we will experience when we glorify God in eternity. It is this joy that is referred to by the popular Christmas carol “Joy to the World” which references the joy experienced at Christ’s return rather than His birth.

That carol is a reminder to me this Christmas that the joy I experience in this life is only the tip of the iceberg. A taste of a promise. God’s joy will come full circle – starting with the birth of a Saviour, the Son of God, who is glorified when we take joy in Him, enabled through His Spirit, and becoming complete upon Christ’s return. The birth of Jesus and His eventual death on a cross extends to us the invitation to experience complete joy with Him one day.  Until that time we can experience the same thrill that accompanied Gabriel’s announcement of the Saviour’s birth, “good news of great joy.” The same joy the shepherds felt then echoes now, all because we have the ultimate joy – Emmanuel, God with us.