Testimony of a marriage

My wedding day was one of the best of my life. How could it not be! Surrounded by the people I loved most in the world, about to marry my best friend, dressed for sure to impress! My wedding day was incredible, one of the most special of our married lives, but how would it sound to you if when you asked about my marriage now, I went back to 12th December 2009 and started gushing about our wedding. 


We love to hear testimony don’t we, hearing how people came to know Jesus. It’s incredible, it’s special. But if we speak of testimony all the time as past events, if we confine our testimony to how God brought us to Himself, as incredible as that was (if indeed there was such an isolated, particular special moment or day), would it not be like talking about your marriage and only ever speaking of your wedding day?

Nearly 11 years on in our marriage, and Ben and I have gone through so many joys, celebrations, so much pain and grief. Our marriage has been tested through times of physical and mental illness, through times of infertility, and times of helplessness in parenting. We have let each other down, and we have built one another up. We have known plenty and we have known lack, and there have been countless moments where we have reacted and responded in completely opposite ways to one another over the same event.

Our marriage is so incredibly precious to both of us. We are each other’s fiercest defenders and champions in life. We speak the truth to one another, at cost, and we vision big together. There are times we do that well and in a way that our heavenly Father delights in, and there are times we do that thoughtlessly. Our marriage can certainly testify to the power of repentance and forgiveness. So it would be weird wouldn’t it, if when you asked about my marriage, I spoke of vows without the lived out and ongoing fulfilling and failing of them. It would seem strange to confine talk about my marriage to the two of us, when now we have two daughters and one another’s families.

To speak of my marriage is certainly to share of how Ben and I met (at a mutual friend’s party and then out in Eastbourne town- sorry it’s not more classy!), to tell you about our wedding day, but for you to truly now about my marriage now, you would be waiting to hear of how life together is now. 


And to speak of our testimony is of course to share how the Lord brought us to Himself. That is incredibly precious and memorable. The beauty of a Christian upbringing, hearing the gospel as a child, singing hymns before you knew what Spotify was. That is powerful testimony. Or maybe it was a confrontation of sinful behaviour and life lived far from the Lord, and brought into Christian fellowship, into light and life with Jesus. However we come, it is testimony to God’s gracious merciful and powerful work in our hearts by his Spirit, calling us to come to Him as our Father through His Son, Jesus. The Christian life of repentance and faith, of assurance in Jesus’ death on the cross for your sins is life worth testifying to. 


But in the words of Spurgeon, 


However you come to Christ you can never place any confidence in how  you came. Your confidence must always rest in him you came to- that is, in Christ- whether you come to him flying, or running, or walking… it is not how you come, it is whether you come to him”


Our testimony is the testimony of God’s work in the lives of His children. It is by nature not a past event, not a once in a life time moment, not a unique and special day. It is ongoing, a work that God has begun in us and which He assures us He will bring to completion at the day of Christ Jesus. 


As he does so, after those wedding vows are made as it were, as we are united to Christ by faith, we live out those vows. He is the perfect groom who loves his imperfect, but ever so dearly, so perfectly loved bride. The experiences of our life with Christ, just as the experiences of my marriage with Ben, are the ongoing testimony we bear witness to. 
The experiences God takes us through can be so full of joy, of celebration, of pain and grief, but they are the places in which the gospel is grounded, embodied, interpreted and lived out. 


Human experience is the place in which God by his spirit works. Our experiences form us and shape us because through them it is God, by His Spirit forming us and shaping us. Our experiences, the things that ‘happen to us’ are not detached from our Christian faith. Our lives are our lives lived with God, even before we knew Him, as He knew us. 


We don’t know God apart from life, as separate to life. Our Christian faith is not an add on, a list of our hobbies, an experience separate to other experience, or a relationship even that is separate from all others. Our living, our experiences shape us, because God at every moment of our lives is working in us and through us, revealing His character to us, and working out his Kingdom plans. 


My testimony, and yours is the testimony of God and his work in the lives of his children. My story is part of His eternal, universal, story. We give testimony because we testify not to ourselves, not to bear witness to our work in our lives, not even to the events themselves, but to the eternal glorious, loving, merciful work of God throughout history and through us. 
We give our story as part of the story of history. 


The story of our life as part of this eternal story of God as Father, Son and Spirit. 

Sibling love

We may have grown up in the same house but you were raised by different parents!
Sound familiar? Sibling rivalry is the basis for TV Shows (If you haven’t seen it already make sure you watch Life In Pieces), Christmas Day arguments and many a therapy session I’m sure. 


It’s the prerogative of the older child to complain that their younger sibling got to do things sooner than they did. It’s the right of the younger sibling to complain about hand me downs and feeling overshadowed all the time! We joke about it and when we can, we should (good humour will save on the therapy bills for a start). But it can stick, and hurt, it can creep into adulthood and leave scars. It can leave a legacy for some that proves painful. Sibling rivalry is sinful rivalry. 


So how do you feel when you hear Christ is our elder brother? Does that flood your heart with assurance, thanks to the sibling love you’ve enjoyed in life, or do you fear sibling rivalry in that relationship too?


When Jesus is baptised, the Father speaks to him and declares of Him,

‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 2:11)

The Son is God’s chosen servant, the one of whom Isaiah spoke (Isaiah 42:1-3; Matthew 12:18):

Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,

My beloved with whom my soul is well pleased 


Behold


That first word stops our hearts from fearing. It frees us from the relationships in life we may be tempted to associate with this truth of Christ as our elder brother. 


Behold.

At the baptism of Jesus, the Father may have been speaking to His Son, but He did so with the world listening on.

Just as He promised through Isaiah, God then reveals His Son to the world, His given gift.

The Son sent by the Father for the world to behold. In His declaring love for His Son, God the Father calls the world to lift their eyes in wonder and delight, in love, amazement and to behold, to look at, take notice of and take in the most beautiful sight they will ever see….. Jesus, the Son. 


The Father’s call is one not just of passive spectatorship. It is a call to partake. An invitation not merely to admire from afar, but to receive. God the Father, in declaring his joy, pride and love for His Son, is calling the world to share in that same love, to receive that same Fatherly joy, to become His children.


As the Father calls our hearts to behold his Son, when we behold in faith and love, when we see Jesus as the Son of God, risen and ascended and our hearts come to him in repentance and faith declaring in Him is forgiveness of sins and life eternal, when we behold the Son of God, in Him we become children of the same heavenly Father. 

And then we hear the very same words the Father speaks to his Son, spoken to us: You are my beloved child and because of Christ and in Him, with you I am well pleased


To live as a child of God, we must first behold Christ as the only Son of God. We must let go of our natural sibling and parental experiences, however wonderful or however painful, and we must behold who Christ is as the Son of God and as our elder brother.

Because there is a particular preorogative Christ has as elder brother that we must behold. 


Christ alone has the pre-eminence.

With Christ as our elder brother, there is no sibling rivalry, there is no jostling for parental attention and affection. We must surrender that and we can, because we are not competing as children do over their parents. 


Unlike our natural sibling relationships, there is no grounds on which we as the younger brother, the younger sister, can plead injustice, can grumble about favouritism, or be fed up with hand me downs. I’ll admit my younger daughter often walks round with a slightly bedraggled look (she manages to pull it off!) and her clothes are not as pristine as that of her sister’s, but this is not the case with us and all that Christ passes on to us. 

Christ is first in all things, because there is an eternal relationship within the godhead we are called to behold at Jesus’ baptism. The Father first loved the Son, and then us.  That is true. 


This is so wonderfully, worshipfully true because there has never been a time without God, as Father, Son, and Spirit in perfect love and unity of will. Father declaring love for the Son, and sealed and assured by the Holy Spirit. The picture we’re called to behold at Jesus’ baptism is a glimpse into the eternal trinity. One God, three persons. Father, Son, and Spirit eternal in perfect love. 


Christ is the firsfruits and yet as our elder brother he shares all that are his with us, as our own:

He is risen, so we rise again.

He first ascended, so we will ascend in Him

He is first loved; we are then forevermore loved in the Beloved. 


With Jesus as our elder brother, all the love the Father has for Him as His Son, He has for us. The love with which the Father loves the Son is the very love with which he loves you. The same Spirit that filled Christ in his Baptism is the same Spirit poured into our hearts when we come to the Father in Christ. The same hope of resurrection life is ours in Christ. The grace the Father showed the Son, the favour of God towards the Son, becomes ours.  

Christ is the Son, and so we sons.

Christ is the Heir, and so we are heirs with Him


Christ is the perfect elder brother, who when he receives from his Father, passes on to the sons and daughters of God. 


He is the elder brother who does not think to keep his heavenly Father to himself, to selfishly, or anxiously cling on and block the way for the other siblings. 


He has no need to. 


His Father’s love is ever flowing and ever abundant for all his children. Our heavenly Father does not run out of time, or patience, or energy, or desire as we may do as parents. And Christ the Son knows this. 


He is the perfect Son of God, who clothed himself in the body of man, who left his place of glory by his Father’s side, who suffered, bled, and died, all to bring many sons to glory.


Behold the Son who came that you might become a child of God.

See what love the Father has, and behold what love the elder brother has…..

The view from on high

To this day I can’t listen to the Beatles without thinking of Italy. What better soundtrack to a newly-weds first holiday abroad…. well I beg to differ and I’m not the biggest Beatles fan, but even so, whenever I hear the words: Love love me do. You know I love you, I’m straight back to those views as we drove down the Amalfi Coast to stay with friends. Come on Baby Drive my car flings me ironically into the hair-raising memory of driving in Naples (what were we thinking?!), and When I saw her standing there brings back the most stunning sights of the Calabrian coastline having driven up 524 metres of winding mountainside roads to the hillside town of Aieta. 

As The Beatles blasted out of our 1litre hired, distinctly non air conditioned car in the 35 degree heat, gradually our singing became stifled as the cliff edge drops and mountainside turns grew increasingly more dramatic. Preoccupied with just trying to stay alive on the Italian roads, our singing was gradually silenced! 

Needless to say I have a rather Love-Hate relationship with The Beatles…….Music really does evoke powerful emotions and memories. 
The view at the top was more than worth it! But Aieta and its views aren’t just a memory of my newly-wed days. Standing at the top of the mountain I remember really feeling my size, feeling my place in the world and it felt small! The expanse and immensity of the views in front of me literally expanding my horizon and stretching my perspective. The space I occupied in the world, even the town I called home, is just one part of this much bigger world. 


As we gaze on that which we cannot contain with a look, or capture with a photograph, or even describe in a blog post, as our perspective of the world in which we live is stretched and expanded, we cannot help but realise there are times in life we are powerfully put in our place, when we realise we aren’t the centre of the universe. Standing on top of the mountain can make us feel less like Kings and more like creatures. Those panoramic views, hilltop vistas and a sense of the vastness of the world cannot help but stir up for us both wonder and worship. 


As we take in creation, we are taken up in praise and adoration of our Creator. 


It doesn’t take a mountain top view to do this. God uses the world he has created to reveal to us His loving creating, sustaining hand all the time. Every time we are confronted with a perspective that challenges us, with a sight that astonishes us and we can’t being to describe, those moments we feel God forcing our eyes open, clarifying our sight, sharing with us the immensity of the world, there is no song we want to sing better than that of praise.

A Beatles album may take me back to the moment of driving to Aieta, but it offers no words for my response to the views God gave me of his world from that hillside point. The only words, the only song, the only response to such a vision of creation is that of praise to the Creator. 


Creation is one of God’s means of grace he uses to lift us out of ourselves. But as we gaze upon creation, as we very soon realize our own createdness, consider our place in the world, there can be pain in the placing. When we praise God alone as Creator, we have no choice but to declare at the same time that we are distinctly created. Praise can be painful as it wrenches our hearts’ focus away from ourselves, as we powerfully proclaim God alone is King, Creator and Lord of the world. There is pain in praise, but there is so much power. 


Breaking, displacing, reorienting, shifting the rule of of pride and self despair in our hearts.
Consider Job- he is pretty drastically confronted with the vastness of the world. When he questions God’s rule over creation, when he questions God’s methods and wonders whether they are truly just, when he fires questions at his Creator, he receives an overload of questions back that put him in his place distinctly as he who is created. 


The creator- creature distinction is re-established as God calls Job to wonder and behold the vastness of creation, questioning Job’s ability, creativity, goodness, power and purposes. As Job’s mind is filled with a vision of the world, and more so, of his Creator God who brings into being, sustains and upholds that world, he is confronted with the reality of how things are. His whole perspective is redeemed, renewed and transformed as he is lovingly put in his place by his Heavenly Father, by his Creator, Redeemer and Lord. 
For Job, to realize his place in the world brings him pain, but of the type necessary for effective healing. There is true healing in the humbling, and that can only lead to praise adoration and worship of the Creator, pouring from the lips of the Created. 


It may be that the mountain tracks, the winding cliff edge paths you’re facing this week feel like they’re going to choke all hope, stifle all ability to sing. But don’t resist that painful place you realise you’re in. Admit and declare that you are not Creator. Cry out in the pain of feeling your created state, your fragile, seeming insignificance and lift your voice in praise to God declaring that He alone is Creator. 


Our choked singing, our lone voices as we join in church online at home may seem weak but they are lifted to our heavenly Father, our Creator and Sustainer who receives them. 

They may seem insignificant and pitiful at times, but when we use our voices for praise instead of self pity or pride, we are humbling our hearts and allowing God to lift us far higher than we could possibly do ourselves. 


Our world in this place can feel painfully small. But as God lifts our gaze to the perspective before us, and assures that while He is Lord, King, Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of all that we will see this day, he lifts our hearts to the significance of His place for us in His world. Our place that is planned, purposed, given and specifically created. His place for you, for me, in this world is part of a vision we can never begin to capture, a vision that is eternal, that spans not just the earth we inhabit, but the heavens too. The world is the Lord’s and so are we.