Sunday, 23 October 2016

The worst of all

I don't know how it is for you, but I regularly get all manner of 'drop mail' that others have liked or re-posted on my general Facebook page. Much of it gets skimmed over, but every once and a while, someone adds something that gets my attention.

This week, for instance, someone posted a link for '50 things that Jesus hates'. Intrigued, I clicked on this to see what was there, and wasn't surprised to find myself looking at nothing more than an empty entry alongside numbers 1 through to 50.
I'm sure that raises lots of smiles on unquestioning faces, but I immediately found myself thinking of what's said in Proverbs -
There are things that the Lord hates and that are detestable to Him;  haughtiness, lies, love of evil, murder and ill passion, and those who conspire to act wickedly (Proverbs 6;16-19)

It's so easy for us to forget, for example, in the Gospel of Matthew, that one of the very last things Jesus is engaged in before going to the Cross is cleansing the temple (Matthew 21) and then confronting the religious leaders of His day with a full on list of woes that will befall them because they entirely fail to hear what counts and willfully lead people astray as a result of their blindness and arrogance (Matthew 23).

Mike Horton notes in he opening of chapter 5 of Beyond Culture Wars that we may be surprised by some of the life of the 'saints' in Corinth, which was clearly tarnished and needful because of their sins, but these were not, he notes, by far, those who were in the greatest trouble in those days. Read the books of Galatians (1:6-10, 3, 5) and Colossians (chapter 2) and it quickly becomes apparent that the hideous thing which severs us from God's love is when we give ourselves over to a manner of belief and then practice which in effect deliberately denies God's revelation and seeks to assert our 'right' to determine what is good and right in detachment from that. It's the poison that Paul informs us which leads to judgement in Romans (1: 21-32) and the darkness that Jesus tells us leaves us without remedy (John 3:19-20).

The thing God hates is our rejection of His love for things which are so pitiful and brief that they do nothing but diminish us to creatures without hope and, eventually, even devoid of natural affection.

The weight of this life is often great indeed, but the true joy of it is that even amidst our trails and our pain, we can become those who recognize the glint of something sweeter, greater than the fool's gold of wanting nothing but our own satisfaction. Life, notes Solomon, must be defined by something more than such vanity.

The hateful thing is that evil which makes us into nothing more than a shell of what love is aiming to forge and fashion in our broken, shattered world.

God wants men to see the folly of life without that remedy, and hates it when we choose to ignore His care in showing us His love. May we be people who draw close to Him in our times of need and thereby find the richness of His unique, enduring and steadfast love.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Scourge

"The reason we live in a culture increasingly without faith is not because science has somehow disproved the unprovable, but because the white noise of secularism has removed the very stillness in which it might endure or be reborn".
Andrew Sullivan - I used to be a human being.

Running on empty, but still running as hard as proves possible, we're a race that is progressively leaving some terribly deep and cruel scars.

If we look at the earth, then we've managed to loose, for example, around a tenth of the world's natural wilderness since the 1990's. That's staggering.
It also sounds a large warning about how what we're so often about is running away from a stillness, as Andrew Sullivan notes, that challenges us to be satisfying something more than the hollowing blur of the painfully present, unrelenting in its demands upon us.

Recently, I had a 'luxury' holiday with some of my family, generously paid for by them. Whilst it was certainly an experience, amongst all the scheduled events for our pleasure, we spent an hour playing a game of quoits, which was filled with everything that defined us as people who just enjoyed and loved each other. It was exactly what was needed.

The scourge of our times is that we're so often prevented from becoming something richer, deeper than what a schedule provides (or allows). "Radical" thoughts and opinions on the nature of what defines us are no longer given space to even be raised, much less considered, and that is our tragedy and loss, because when we're "allowed" to be that free, the real treasure begins to be discovered (see my prior post, 'The Conversation'). Candid expression and conversation may not be easy, but it's often the route we need to take.

It's not our immediate choice, but we have to start 'loving the alien' - finding ways to comprehend and then appreciate what is outside of us, because what really counts is so often out of reach of our regular thoughts and opinions. Paul leant that as Saul, breathing nothing but threats and murder, on his furious drive to Damascus. His 'network service' was cut (something that would amount to total tragedy for most of us) and love broke through, turning him into a man who had a passion to share something far deeper than the daily schedule (what his own religion gave him) to everyone.

There is, indeed, a better way, which would allow us to use all this stuff well - not as the be all and end all, but as a means to something deeper.

Paul learned that all the 'stuff' that had motivated him to be so passionate and zealous was actually of no real value, because he'd entirely misunderstood what and where it was meant to be taking him - it was actually driving him in the wrong direction, but thankfully, God wouldn't leave Him there. He wants each of us to exit from the 'me only' tyranny of life into something much more true. Paul was truly 'found' by the excellence of relationship with God amongst us - Jesus Christ. Christ brings to us a new and profound definition of being, something that will change us and, eventually, all of creation, into something defined by true meaning and value. That is how we can use now well - to cultivate something eternally of true value. Don't settle for your treasures being in the superficial - life is meant to be about something far richer!

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Conversation

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear".  Jesus.

So there I was, facing an unexpected delay in my journey home from my little holiday with family this weekend, when I found myself giving assistance to a young Australian man named Daniel, who was touring around Southern England as part of his tour of Europe.
Soon, after sorting out what train we needed to wait for, we were discussing the English way of life, current political and economic changes, and the many places he had and was intending to visit, and his passion for 'certain English things', especially the likes of Tolkien and C S Lewis.

As we boarded the first train, the conversation began to focus on deeper things, especially in relation to science and how so many of our pursuits here actually seem to touch on deeper things - the longings expressed within us for 'something more'. This, in turn, when we boarded our second train, naturally lead on to talking about destiny, the big questions, and finally, focused upon the nature of God and the relevance of Jesus Christ, especially His teaching about the Father and His resurrection and the implications of this. 

Daniel had clearly been doing some deep thinking, and was eager to consider and discuss such matters with someone who could provide some pointers as to where to look next to slake his genuine thirst for wisdom and understanding about what mattered. I was delighted to spend the journey talking with such a person, and was reminded that it is as we seek (a desire that truly has to be awakened within us), God has promised that we shall find.

Lewis notes that we all have such an appetite, but often we can ignore or seek to divert its genuine purpose from where it is meant to lead us - to enquire about things that count - into far more mundane and unsatisfying pursuits.

It was truly refreshing to meet someone who was hungry to move forward, and hear the one who invites to us to come and dine at His bountiful table.

Thursday, 1 September 2016


"I haven't done such things for years, but I still find myself giving in to the irresistible temptation that if something's going to be done right, I have to do it myself".
Mike Horton - Rebels with a cause.

It's almost everywhere you look these days.
On pavements and streets, in roadside hedges or blowing around in the country...

and in People's heads.

'I'm pretty OK', the thinking goes, 
'in fact I'm probably better than just OK - actually quite decent most of the time, and occasionally even devout, so I can't really be that wide of the mark when it comes to what's needed to be truly good, even holy... I just need a little something - let's call it grace - every now and then, to give me a boost - a bit of a re-charge, and the (temple, shrine, therapy... insert what's most appropriate) I occasionally frequent and it's devotions suit just fine for that, so I'm good'.

The presumptions we can make, and the prevalence of the amenities/apparatus that panders to this in our times are as pervasive as trash on the streets.
Whatever it's particular slogan, this delusion leaves us woefully distant from the truth of what and who we really are - one look at the death of Jesus Christ and you are starkly reminded of the horror of our true situation; so far from God that He Himself had to come and give Himself to such an emptying to rescue us beleaguered, beguiled wretches from our perishing end.

The message of Christianity stands in stark contrast to all religion.
God loves us enough to give His Son to us, who saves us when we trust only in His unmerited rescue from the plight of pulling ourselves up to being "good enough". Everything else, notes Jesus, will sell us short, leave us in darkness, and lead to a bitter end.
Being 'born again' is clearly, first, about believing and trusting in what He spells out here, and being deceived (as Paul goes on to show to the Galatians) is to allow ourselves to move away from this back towards our self-baked piety.

You cannot have the freedom that Christ brings if you continue to hold on to the 'rightness' or 'value' of your own merits.

Paul tells us that he had come to see that he could only count his own zeal, devotion, virtues and merits as nothing more than rubbish - worthless, in order that he might apprehend the splendor and wonder of the gift of Jesus Christ and the singularly sufficient rescue He brings (Philippians 3: 7-9).

Religion is about sprucing up a corpse.
Christianity is about burying the dead in order that they can be raised to a newness of life that is truly outside of us.

We need to stop adorning ourselves in garbage, and become firmly anchored to the only sure and certain hope for all men and women forever -
it is Christ alone who is able to save to the uttermost.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Kitted out

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the first-born from among the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent. For in Him all the fulness of God dwells, and through Him to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross". Colossians 1:15-20.

I've never been much good at DIY, which becomes something of a problem when trying to maintain your own home on a tight budget.
Back in March, severe gales took down most of my garden fencing, and whilst I managed to cover purchasing the panels, the work was going to have to be done principally by yours truly. Well, I took it one step at a time, wood preserving the new panels first before then removing all the old debris (the decayed fencing) and finally fitting the new. The whole experience taught me some valuable lessons - good preparation works, and (as Scotty on Star Trek would say) employing the right tools to do the job really helps to get the right result, meaning that after a couple of weeks of work, the panels were replaced and actually looking good.... something that would have probably shocked my old woodwork teacher.

Over the summer, I've been taking a series of studies on what Paul terms 'the mysteries' of our faith - The 'Grand Miracle' (Lewis) of the Incarnation, the amazing work of regeneration, the love that is made ours in Adoption and the surety of that love in the scope of Salvation (finishing things off with the hope of the new creation). Like my home repair experience, it's reminded me that faith and life can only be done well when we fully understand what's involved and how to apply that now.

Paul's words in Colossians clarify who our God and Savior is - one who is truly supreme, but who rules entirely by love, abundantly outpouring mercy upon us and the world He not only made, but came and gave Himself up for as a man and in death on a cross. It is so encouraging to know that the one who is King and Lord of all is the one who is fully aquatinted with all our sufferings, our weaknesses and our needs, and that these do not need to alienate us from God, but just help us to draw near and ask for His help in our time of need.
He is the one who not only made all things, but He also makes all things new.

Life can often show us that there's much more to learn and understand, but also that there's many things we constantly need to be reminded about, the key one being the love of God given to us in Jesus Christ.

My success in the garden has encouraged me to pick up a paint brush again and take steps to yet more repairs in the month ahead. May we grow in the richness of God's life through the care and grace bestowed in our friend and Saviour, Jesus.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Getting it right.

Why Christianity is never about us trying to be better people...

It's all about seeing what Jesus tells us here.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Grace unbound.

"Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relived".
John Newton.

Sometimes I have a problem with 'new' liturgy.

Back in my school days, one of my teachers beautifully hand-wrote a copy of all of Newton's famous hymn so we could sing it in assemblies, and I really started to miss that treat in the light of the recent 'new' popular version, which omits half the original verses, and chops in part of Charles Wesley's 'And Can it Be' (in itself a superb hymn)  as a repeating chorus.

I know, it's just personal preference, but it does touch on something important.

School gave me a whole series of routines, which, even though it took a while to sink in, allowed me to begin to realize that many of the everyday things in life really matter and give us place amidst our time here. When we find those routines making room for engaging with each other - creating a place for the richness of community - then we begin to truly benefit from what is going on.

The same is true, of course, in church. The reason for liturgy, sacraments, preaching and teaching in a communal context, is because they give us the same kind of environment in which something deeper can transpire - a growing together in the deeper things of faith and life.

Robert Farrar Capon, of course, nails it:
We need good liturgies, and we need natural ones; we need a life neither patternless nor overpatterned, if the city is to be built. And I think the root of it all is caring… True liturgies take things for what they really are, and offer them up in loving delight. Adam naming the animals is instituting the first of all the liturgies: speech, by which man the priest of creation picks up each of the world’s pieces and by his wonder bears it into the dance. “By George,” he says, “there’s an elephant in my garden; isn’t that something!” Adam has been at work a long time; civilization is the fruit of his priestly labors. Culture is the liturgy of nature as it is offered up by man. But culture can come only from caring enough about things to want them really to be themselves – to want the poem to scan perfectly, the song to be genuinely melodic, the basketball actually to drop through the middle of the hoop, the edge of the board to be utterly straight, the pastry to be really flaky. Few of us have very many great things to care about, but we all have plenty of small ones; and that’s enough. It is precisely through the things we put on the table, and the liturgies we form around it, that the city is built; caring is more than half the work.

We can so easily detach the spiritual and the natural, the holy and the mundane, but in God's good work of creation, both are found in the very same place at the same time, so everything becomes valuable and worthwhile because of that.

There are, of course, many moments in life which fragment us from such wholeness, not least our own personal sins and weaknesses, but the joy and splendor is that the one who cares is here, and can aid us in some of our hardest moments.

In Psalm 93, David contrasts the immovable nature of God's throne and what He has established with the roar and fury of the floods. Yes, those waters are high and constant, breaking upon us all, but the psalmist's gaze sees further - greater, higher than such pestilence and travail is the testimony of God, sure and unmoved. Such care is what truly holds us.