Sunday, 25 June 2017

"It just came out of nowhere"

Nowhere.

The Formless.

The Fathomless.

The Deep.

The wasteland that lives between those seemingly long moments of our business, our 'normal' comings and goings. The dearth that suddenly grabs us hard when we don't expect it.

The chords of pain. The torrents of destruction. The snare of death (Psalm 18:4).

There is no compass, no exit that marks a way through the perilous nightmare of being abused by either someone or something - a person or a set of devastating circumstances. You are just left torn from what was, with nothing but void where there had so deeply once been life and purpose.

You find everything has become tarnished with a malignant futility.

How can life ever become anything more again than a going through the motions?

God
Is at the very heart of this unfathomable place  (Psalm 18:11).

I don't write those words lightly.

My own life has been marked by some very cruel moments, from early on in my childhood, to some unwarranted brutality towards me in my youth, and then in the loss of both family and my wife in more recent times. Most of these incidents I've never discussed publicly and probably never will, but they are wounds that mark my days hard, and I know that none of that suffering would have been in any way bearable at all were it not for the God who, amongst the darkness, is truly present and able to inhabit even death with the enduring truth that such evil, however cruel its intent and work, is not the final word.

John tells us in the opening of his gospel that this manner of light shines in the darkness. Its nature is such that it cannot be quenched, cannot be subdued, by the awfulness that on occasion so encompasses and presses upon us in the travail of both body and soul.

The impact of the dark is terrible - all too palpable in the moments I have encountered. Torn from so much which should be good and whole, the abyss swallows you and there is nowhere to go.

Jesus is found in that place.

Whilst 'gods' arbitrarily 'rule' us by dictates distant and capricious, be they learning or myth, bruising us to the point of ending us, Christ hangs upon Calvary, broken and enveloped by darkness, that what was described by the Prophet Isaiah many centuries before may occur - the poison of sin and death is drawn into that death, into Him, that we are healed in that one point, that one event, in all of eternity.

That is my shelter in the violence of a broken life, a murdered world (Psalm 18:16).

Because He came and bled, the day will come when the beast that tares and stabs us will be ended. Every tear and wound will finally be ended by His stripes and balm.
Until that day, we can find Him there, in the very centre of the carnage -
the God who can inhabit all our sorrows by His astonishing love.

The mercy is that He alone has taken upon Himself all our grief, all our sorrows, all that has caused that tragedy, and He alone will take away the brutal sting, the savage cut, that these dreads bring upon us.

In the midst of our pain, He cries out upon a cross and brakes the cycle of our being destroyed. He rises victor from those benighted realms and assures us that, in Him, our grief will end.

Our true life is to come. Heaven on earth, when sorrow is over (Psalm 18:19).
That is the God who comes in our present darkness.



Saturday, 17 June 2017

D e l u s i o n a l


Everything that is part of this current fallen world system - satisfying merely immediate desires, becoming obsessed by the immediate, filled with pride about ourselves - is not from God our Father, but purely from ourselves and that broken system, and as such, it is all temporary and passing away, but what truly pleases God (knowing and living the truth) lasts forever.  John's first letter (2:15-17. Expanded).

This week saw a great tragedy in the city of London.
Not an act of terrorism, or some heinous crime, but the horrifying deaths of many through the rapid and, as yet, unexplained, engulfing of a tower block by fire.

Concerns have already been raised about factors which may have contributed to this - recent 'environmental' changes to the building, confusing safety procedures, lack of sprinklers - all of this may have played a part, but the reality at the end of the day is that these people were not saved by either the infrastructure or the brave attempts that were made to rescue them.

Something either was or went seriously wrong.

Is the same true for us?

We probably don't live in a similar situation, but there are plenty of everyday examples when straightforward accidents happen because of either assumption or neglect which then result in unavoidable consequences. In my own job, we were informed not so long ago of two employees who died because of such circumstances.

We so easily revert to "OK" mode, especially when our surroundings are comfortable and familiar, but the truth is there are dangers present all the time.

What is true materially is doubly true spiritually.
We act on presumptions about ourselves and the universe that are flawed... and murdering us in the process.

The modern delusion is that science tells us who and what we are, but as I was reminded recently, there's been a whole bunch of pseudo-science materials generated recently that, because they've sounded credible, have been accepted and reviewed as science, when they've deliberately been total bunk.

Some of us are old enough to recall the Piltdown man fraud (which was then defined as a missing link in the evolutionary development of man), but what most are currently not aware of is that finds in this field over recent times have absolutely demolished the evolutionary tree essential to Darwin's theory.

Just last week, a friend of mine posted this on Face book:



Sounds like a really convincing argument, doesn't it?
Well, that was until I replied with a whole load of examples of when science itself - from the discovery of meteorites, to the first steps in manned space flight - rejected such progress as totally unscientific (See Richard Milton's fascinating book,  Forbidden Science, for the true history of this overlooked reality).

We continue to believe the lie.
The poison is in the water we're drinking, in spite of our being unable to see or taste it.

And the reason for our being so trapped is simple. John nails it in his letter when he speaks about us being people entangled by our desires, and those being fulfilled by what's available around us.

Our de-fault setting is to be self-referential; to believe that our understanding is giving us a true reading when it comes to who we are and what's really going on, but it can't deliver this because there's something in the way...  Pride. Our pride won't allow us to take in what's really happening here and to us. It tells us that it's all good, that we're getting the most out of things, but it doesn't see the holes in front of us, doesn't want to take on board that what's installed into our world-view has left us without the safety gear to make it through the emergency we all face - when that self-confidence goes, and we're left  with the sobering reality of our own corruption and approaching end.

We know there's more.
Every time we look another person in the eye or ourselves in a mirror, we're confronted with an image that says "goodness, what are you?", but we suppress or re-direct such thoughts into zones which are manageable - not disquieting.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is unequivocal.
You and I were made by a God who loves us and this world.
You and I can be defined by that love by trusting in the love He has given to us and that world through His beloved Son, Jesus,
or we can perish without it - not by ceasing to be, but by spending eternity wrapped in the darkness of our own conceits, our own incarceration (See John's gospel chapter 3).

The truth stands before us, stark and unchanged.
The life and death of Jesus is history, not myth*

Are we going to be ready, in the light of such truth?

* Lee Strobel's recent film, The Case for Christ, looks at this in detail.








Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Down with discouragement!

"At present, so much of this seems hard, but it will yield a much richer fruit - righteousness,
so lift up those drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, so that full healing can be the way before you".
Hebrews 12: 11 & 12.



You know what it's like... You're working hard, and usually alone, to finish some really awkward job, and an 'expert' turns up and proceeds to tell you you're doing it all wrong, which is bad enough, but they then proceed to explain to you, at length, how they would do/ have done it.

Funny how those people always appear at that moment, and the 'help' they give usually isn't that helpful - Stevie Wonder's "He's Mr Know it All' often starts playing in my head about then.

Nehemiah had similar, but far bigger, troubles.

Jerusalem in his day was a rubbish tip - little more than piles of rubble and had been for a long time, but now, the exiles had come back, and they set about working hard to find stones so they could re-build the old walls and start the long process of renewing this city once more.

The problem was, the 'new' locals had plenty of advice, as they wanted things to stay just as they were. They were organizing to teach these unwanted meddlers a lesson.

The burdens - foreign and domestic - were just too great.
We can look at our present circumstances in exactly the same way, and often that's a fair assessment -
We sigh, we groan, and we feel that there has to be a way our of here.

Nehemiah, however, was able to press on, and encourage his fellow company to do likewise - because he had a far bigger picture than the rubbish heaps or the folly of his enemies.
He knew Jerusalem had once been the jewel of the world, and that in spite of present troubles, its greatest 'day' was still ahead, for behind the idea of this place was an even bigger reality, and that was going to bring a moment the world would never forget.

The only way forward was to actually get the job done, so these folks re-doubled their efforts, focused on the task whilst keeping a watchful eye for intruders.

Slowly but surely, in spite of all the meddling by others, the walls rose, the temple was restored, and the people turned afresh to God. The preparations, as it were, for something much better were back in place.

We can often be in exactly the same place as those unwanted exiles.
We look at the day to day of living out our faith, and it seems that all we're doing is bending and scraping to place a few old burnt stones in a pile, but occasionally, God allows us to look around and see how that connects to what else is going on around us, and then, perhaps, like Nehemiah, we catch a glimpse of the far bigger picture - that all of this is to make ready for the great day that's fast approaching.

Discouragement can be so destructive, so next time things are hard, don't listen to those who are telling you how bad you're doing - the walls are rising, and the new city is on the way, so just keep pressing on, running the race... Because of what happened outside a city wall on a cross, a new world is going to replace the old, whatever the critics say.

Monday, 29 May 2017

The Many... and the one

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or the one".  Spock (Star Trek 2).
"Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many". Kirk (Star Trek 3).

One of the things that religion is often damned for is its exclusivity - as in it only really applied to those who are part of a particular flock - but there are telling examples when people in general pick up on the fact that something much bigger is going on.

One of the best examples of this in the Bible is about a typically self-referential man named Jonah.

The story begins with a total shock to the system. A pagan city called Nineveh is in real trouble, so God speaks to Jonah and tells him to get up and go to these people to warn them of their plight.

What would you do?
Well, Jonah was having none of it... Lower himself to go and help a bunch of pagans, ha!
He runs to the port and jumps on the first ship he can find heading in the other direction.

Well, that's that then - Jonah's off, and that's all there is to it.

Not quite.

Once at sea, there's a huge storm, and the Sailors realize that these aren't normal conditions - somethings bringing them bad fortune, so Jonah is awoken from his slumber (some people can sleep through anything!), and they discover that he's the cause of the trouble, so he's thrown overboard, as they recognize they cannot trifle with the God Jonah knows.

Alternative 'transport' is then provided, and Jonah finds himself spewed out... beside Nineveh.  Reluctantly, Jonah does what he's been asked to, and, yes, the people believe his message and pray and fast for help from God.

So, job done then.

Not quite.

Jonah is totally ticked off by the fact that these unrighteous pagans have actually turned to God, and asks God to just end him. God, instead, initially provides him with a plant to shelter under, but then the plant dies, God seeking to teach Him something about what really counts.

The book ends with God seeking to tell Jonah why all this has happened. Here's a city, he says, with some 120,000 people. It was so big, Jonah had himself noted, it took three days to walk around. These folks needed to hear what you had to say - they were ripe for something other than their folly - they just needed the right word at the right moment.

The story, however, is not just about this vast company. It's equally about a man who thought he'd worked out his priorities and who thought, because he prayed a great deal and abstained from certain things, he was just fine, but he wasn't.

Here was a man who needed to come to understand the true value of God's amazing mercy, and it was clearly a hard lesson for him to learn.

So Nineveh got it's messenger, and was saved, and, hopefully, Jonah got the message.

Job done, right?

Not quite.

What this story tells us is that this God is the one who sees and knows us, whether we're like Jonah - comfortable in our own "religion", or just doing the latest thing that's popular, and what's both wonderful and worrying is that He loves us all, and is going to shake things up because he does, so we cannot allow our days here to just pass idly by without a care.

If religion, or the lack of it, leaves us detached from what counts, then I pray we'll have a share in the mercy of this story, because what should really matter in this universe of ours is a love deeper than we can possibly imagine, but can truly know, because we were meant to do so.

The encouraging message of Jonah is that it's not over, and the needs of the many, the few, and the one, are all being accounted for.


Friday, 19 May 2017

The rarest thing



It's all about the journey, apparently.
We trek out into life, learning as we go, becoming older (and wiser?), until...
What?

Job was a man who had, materially, what most would consider a pretty good life. He, no doubt, believed he had things pretty much together until the day all of it fell apart and he was left, naked and alone, suffering dreadfully and being repeatedly told he was wrong - brought to a point where people thought the best thing that could happen was that he ceased, 

but he knew they were wrong.

He knew that behind the celestial expanse above his head and far beneath the vast depths of the oceans that surrounded the dust on which he lived (Job 9:8), there was an understanding that wasn't being heard. He couldn't say or do anything except express his confidence in that truth, and wait until that was the one voice, the one message, that was allowed to speak.

Job was right.
At the end of his crucible, amidst the power evidenced in nature, God came and made clear that He alone was indeed the only one who knew, who understood the true nature of what is and what will be (Job chapters 38-40).

We have trouble with that because no matter how hard we look at the world, we forget something that Job himself states.

To gain what is rare and precious, men employ great ingenuity, craft and strength to dig deep into the earth to gain the most rarest of gems and precious materials, yet, says Job, that manner of endeavor is paltry when compared to our ability to gain and comprehend true wisdom - it isn't found amongst us (28:12). He comprehends something that no amount of counsel, suffering or current experience can ever change - behind all that he sees and encounters is a far weightier truth and reality... That we exist purely because there is a Lord and Creator who truly knows all things (28:23-28).

The wisdom, Job understands, is there. We simply do not have the tools, in and of ourselves, to access or comprehend what it is saying to us, because, like those who sought to counsel him, we are so entirely locked up by our own ignorance regarding what is actually being said to us.

Things haven't changed.
This week, I've been considering the astounding amount of information that's been accumulated in the last couple of decades that so clearly shows that our being here is because the very things Job touches on - the 'message' of the stars (cosmos) and the depths (nature) of our world have been devised to perfectly provide for our existence by one who has made it to be so, and yet, in spite of an avalanche of such evidence, the world ignorantly chooses to 'journey' along as if nothing had happened.

Our being here is nothing less than a miracle of truly inter-galactic proportions, yet we stumble around as if nothing much matters more than our next thrill or distraction - what a waste!

The universe is literally bursting with wonder and exquisite provision, but most of us spend our time thinking about no more than what's going on in front of us right now or what we plan to do next.

Job understood that wasn't anywhere near enough - that what was truly "there" spoke deep and clear about what really mattered (19:25-27), but that was just page one of what was to be comprehended.

God can take such a man and begin to open up to him the fathomless depths of what has been put into action in the realm that surrounds us - nothing less than the eternal purposes of an Almighty Creator and Redeemer.

The lesson of this journey is abundantly clear. Life moves along at a rate of knots, and we can busy ourselves with all manner of trivia and hold to an array of pragmatic ditties we gather on our way, but none of that is worth squat when we confront the truth behind the vastness of what surrounds us and allows us breath - that is what should truly stagger and overwhelm us, because, literally, written in the stars and the seas is the signature of God. Science confirms it, and scriptures reveals it, so stop, and consider what is really going on here. This alone leads to health for you and me.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Breakthrough

"I am going fishing"...
"they caught nothing".  John 21:3

It's hard for me to imagine what it must have been like, as I've never seen a miraculous physical healing, or a storm ceased by a word, or 5,000 people fed with just a handful of fish and bread, but these seven disciples fishing had. The last three years of their lives had been astounding, and then, to top it all, they'd recently seen their teacher extinguished by the most cruel form of capital punishment the Romans could employ, only to see Him physically return from death a few days later.

How would you respond to something like that?
Well, Peter had pretty much had enough, and for good reason.

The events of the last few weeks had shown to him and everyone else what kind of person he really was. When the going got tough, he cashed in. When he was called on to stand up and be counted, he scurried away and just couldn't take it.

Peter's like us. 
Me and you.
When we get right down to facing the kind of crucible he did, fear can grip us so hard that all we can think about is our own skins, never mind the consequences on someone else.

Satan has desired to sift you, Jesus told Him at the last meal together.
If you're someone who knows that Jesus is the truth, then make no mistake - you're in those crosshairs.

Mercifully for Peter, and you and me, that isn't the conclusion to his days with Jesus.

There is Peter and his associates, doing what some of them at least understood - bringing in a catch, except it wasn't happening. Not even his old skills were proving to be any good on this night. If he couldn't go back to fishing, what was he going to do?

As dawn breaks (don't you love dawns), they hear a familiar voice telling them to try once again. As once before in their experience, there's a remarkable catch as they do, but Peter's already forgotten about that and makes for the shore - Jesus is on the beach.
He's made a fire, and as they have breakfast, Jesus reconciles a devastated man.

I'm so glad for this amazing moment.
It tells me that you and I can (and, no doubt, will) be the biggest screw-ups in time and space, but if Jesus cares for us, then things are going to be good, even if we have, in this moment, shut up shop to go fishing, or something else that seems to put us a million miles from God, because we've totally failed.

Jesus came for His friend. He heals him in that moment by confirming that Peter does really love in the way that truly matters, because he is loved, and by telling him that he has a future beyond a fishing boat and the same-old, same-old.

The same is true for us if we trust in the Jesus who came for us, died for us, rose for us. Sure, we're going to have 'gone fishing' moments when everything is so out of joint, but sometimes, those are the very deep moments when the miraculous unfolds as Jesus comes and speaks to us through His word and marries us to His peace, and His truly astonishing, secure love.

Peter would go on, as Jesus promises in this conversation, to live and die for the riches that God gives Him in this moment.

So, if you have been out toiling in the dark all night, aware of God's truth, but distant from it, take a look as the dawn comes up, and see who is waiting to share breakfast with you on the beach. There's good news, thanks be to God, for each of us, if we do.



Monday, 1 May 2017

" V O I D " ?

"Because of what I said you believe? Truly, you will see greater than this"
John 1:50.

It's been an interesting week, particularly as I've been seeking to 'hear' what some have been saying in the atheist camp regarding the nature of Christianity, and the 'God' behind it being a monstrous invention that humanity would certainly be better without.


The argument, from what I can gather, is something like this  -  after numerous ages of death and suffering on our planet, "god" (or at least our rendition of him) decides to intervene by demanding attention (worship and total commitment) from us, and that if this isn't given, then more misery and tragedy will ensue. Christ, apparently, adds to this the additional terror of hell, and the entire primitive notion of blood sacrifice is played out in his death, concluded in the myth of resurrection. Like other religions, then, we have something which merely preys upon our fears and panders to our miss-placed wishes of escaping death, both of which are fool hardy and merely amount to a form of wicked abuse in the cold, hard light of the real world.


It all seems pretty conclusive - a fabrication that's just an ignorant conjecture on our part, until we knew better. Sown up? Well, only until you begin to consider what Christianity actually says about all of this.


Here's a statement worthy of consideration:


Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshiping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle to the Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever succeed (see the Epistle to the Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his life, death and resurrection.


Robert Farrar Capon.


There's a really important insight hinted at here. In the Old Testament, there were lots of rules and laws, regulations and requirements regarding everything, but what can so easily escape us when we examine this material is that before any of it was delivered or required, God had already shown that something much better had to be at the very heart of what counts between ourselves and the one who made us.


There's a really pithy statement in the letter of James.

"Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. And he was called the friend of God" (2:23).

God asked a man to trust in His faithfulness, His promises, and he did - that brought about the essential first step in what became a life-long relationship, but that wasn't by any means the end of the story. As Abraham goes forward, the issue of our being what we can truly be, without all the trouble that still assails our hearts has to be faced. Religion or Reason may like to teach that we can, somehow, scrape through that one on our own, because these comfortable routes essentially seek to externalize our corruption, but God knows better. The reason we have a world filled with pain and sorrow is not because 'that's just how it is'... we're all just accidents of a cosmic explosion, so what can you expect (the meaning is meaninglessness). No, Christianity (and the life of Abraham) says we may have made it that way, that we have certainly royally screwed up (look where Abraham was raised), and life would therefore certainly be pointless, except that we haven't been left there.


After years of living amongst the compromises of kings and others in Canaan and the limitations of his own flesh, Abraham is asked by God to kill his one true son, Isaac (Genesis 22:2). Consider how that must have sounded to his ears - how could God want such a thing, ask such a thing... what kind of God is this! We're right to be staggered by the magnitude of how atrocious this appears. What is going on here? Naturally, the argument of the atheist appears fully sanctioned - see, this isn't a God worth knowing - he demands murder; where is the justice, where is the God that is supposed to be merciful. Reading the account carefully, however, gives a very different spin, because it appears that Abraham, as God's friend, understood that something much weightier was in mind. Notice, especially, when Isaac asks why they haven't brought a sacrifice what his father's answer states (Genesis 22:8).


There's, no doubt, various ways to interpret aspects of that moment, but what's really worth considering here, in the light of our present conversation, is that Jesus tells us that this man Abraham, who became the friend of God, saw something in those years (John 8:56) which informed his words and actions in moments like this one, and it meant that he saw beyond any veil of his own reasoning - which could have only been appalled - or religious requirement - which could only provide a miss understanding of this.


Before getting anywhere near trying to merely equate things to what reason or piety could offer, Abraham tells us in that statement to his son that he'd already penetrated much, much further into what was really going on - that is what we're needing to understand. On the one hand, perhaps, he understood that a God that had given him a heir at such an old age could easily provide an animal caught in a thicket for an offering (what actually happened), but that's just scratching the surface. Abraham "heard" the God of promise who had said to the first man and woman that He would bring remedy to their distanced souls, and what he's heard, as he considered this particular drama, was astonishing. The God who had fulfilled his promise to Abraham in these late years of his life (Genesis 21), working what was naturally impossible, was not going to abandon His promises now - this was a God of the impossible, of resurrection! 


There was a true reconciliation coming, he perceived, by the son - the lamb, who would be offered up in our stead.


That is what is behind his words in that moment -
"God will provide Himself a lamb".

We may wish to argue about the why's and wherefores of what God would do and why it was done this way, but here, many centuries before the event itself, Abraham is certain it will come, and it is the moment that changes everything.


What this man shows us in his life and this event is that a true and comprehensive fellowship with God lies beyond the incarceration of our own small thoughts about what is - the reality is far greater.

Without that kind of veil being lifted, we're all busy seeking to make determinations and judgements of our own accord, so how can we truly evaluate our real condition when we don't actually hold anywhere near all the cards? Abraham had been gifted with the one thing that made the essential difference to our lives (Romans 4:5) - seeing that God is truly here and has done what is required to change our present poverty (Romans 8:3, 5:8).


This event, then, tells us something profound. God will break out against the violence that has been done to us and by us, not in an arbitrary or capricious manner, but by focusing it all in the offering and reconciling work of one - the son He would send.

The truth which Christianity seeks to address is that we're not at fault because we're just DNA machines who happen to be a little more developed than your average primate - the reason we hate, kill, lust and succumb so easily to wickedness is that evil is a very real, parasitical force at work in our world, and must be remedied. The resolve is not within us via reason or religion, even to live up to our own standards - we merely continue to perpetuate the malignancy - it has to come from outside - from one who can actually bring about our recovery, and in that moment on Mount Moriah with Isaac, Abraham gains a glimpse of who will provide that rescue.

The heart of Christianity is the Cross, and the one crucified upon it, because it is here we see that Jesus was in earnest regarding what He taught about righteousness, justice, mercy, and the requirements that these bring. Our sin was far more cancerous than we can ever imagine (Matthew 18:8-9), and no amount of reasoning or pious activity by us can change that. We may object to this, deeply, because it stings against our eccentric yet confident notions of our own capacity, but Golgotha, when rightly apprehended, is the termination of those pathetic, destructive whimpers.

The love of God truly costs all to heal us. That is the God who comes to befriend us.

Perhaps we would prefer a world in which we determine our own good, or at least one where we can actually do good, but that isn't what's here and now, so we need our eyes open to the truth that Abraham saw, that Jesus Himself has made real in death and resurrection, and that God will certainly establish as the bedrock of a creation that will be freed from sin  and death (Revelation 21:5).

The void which imprisons us to a world of our own flawed doings has been bridged at the Cross. The D I Y market stalls of our reason and religion are closed. The God who made us has opened the road to the city built upon a love that will secure us forever.