Sunday, 4 December 2016

Beyond Eventide

"Resurrection from the dead promises that we shall be made anew out of the nothingness of relationlessness, remade ex nihilo, if through faith in the creative Word of God we allow ourselves to participate in the love of God which occurs as the death of Jesus Christ. In this sense, Christian existence is existence out of nothingness, because it is all along the line existence out of the creative power of God who justifies". Eberhard J√ľngel

It's pretty bleak stuff. 
Genesis tells us that our world and the universe itself began "without form and void" (Genesis 1:2) - something which modern cosmology pretty well affirms in its own particular way, but that really wasn't, as we can see, the end of the story. The question is, why did it begin that way, and why did anything else then happen?

There is, of course, heaps of maths and theorem about order and process, but it all proceeds from the notion that development was, in effect, the reasonable outcome (because that's what we have), but theology gives us a very different and striking insight into what's going on. It tells us that this life is currently devoid of what really matters, and the reason for that is because the very fabric and fiber of what's going on has been tainted by a cosmic tragedy, (Romans 5:12) so here's why, I suspect, we have Genesis stating that things have been brought about in a particular way.

The first image of creation scripture provides is one of darkness, emptiness and void. It's not that there's nothing there, it's just that until it is acted upon by one outside of it, it's not going anywhere - stasis as a barren realm is the status quo.

So much for the 'natural' state of affairs.

Then we have the miracle. 
As in the moment when a seed dies to produce something more glorious, God takes the crude mass of the heavens and earth and breaks upon them with His living word, and light  explodes to furnish the darkness. What could never be 'naturally' is made to be so by the very nature of one who can take what is empty and fill it with a significance it could never of itself have known.

The world today tells us why it was done this way.

In spite of all the frenetic pace of our scurrying race, we in truth are as lifeless as the primal mass that of itself could produce nothing. We babble loudly in our to-ing and fro-ing, but we're entirely overshadowed in our brief moment here by the void of death, and nothing we can say or do can break the hold of what is deemed 'natural' upon us. We are a thing aching for the radiance that flickers in starlight and the astonishing grandeur occasionally encountered in our soul or art, but we are imprisoned by the poverty of our beguiled exile.

This reality impinges on our every moment, no matter how much fury we employ to negate its hold, so everything in itself can only return to ash and dust. That is the awful truth.

And yet, our dreams and loves say we should be more than this.

And Genesis itself does not leave us in such captivity.

As the Father brings form and life to His first work through Word and Spirit, He weaves seasonal renewal within the pattern of creation that speaks continually of the promise that will come through our age of exile to restore, amidst death, the return to life where death is ended (Genesis 1:11-13). So it was that the one Born not of the will of men came, grew and was executed that our incarceration should cease. "Born", He was, "to raise the sons of earth". Died, on a Cross, that from His death and rising would come a second birth (1 Corinthians 15:35-49).

Without The Godhead, there is certainly only darkness and void, and death -  both mortal and eternal -  which ends us all. With that life which conquers all, all things, even physical death itself, becomes but a prelude to the moment when the great light of the eternal day erupts upon us.

The winter speaks to us  - to our frailty and mortality - confirming that all things end, but it was amidst this very darkness that Christ came. The light, notes John, has shone into this darkness (John 1: 5), and just as that first word in creation brought such light, so now the word brings life that overcomes our being shackled only to death (John 1: 14, 10).

Something to ponder on the nights of the season, as we consider that first advent.

Season Greetings!

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Looking for the city

"There is a river which makes glad the city of God, the habitation of the most high". 
Psalm 46:4

Ever been caught in the middle of a big storm? It can be pretty terrifying.
I had an experience back in the Spring which really scarred me. I was in the middle of the moors on Dartmoor, and visibility had reduced down to around 12-15 feet due to the mist. The Sat Nav we were using lost signal, and in moments, we were uncertain as to our direction. Then the rain came, lashing into us on a strengthening wind, soaking us to our skins through layers of clothing in minutes. The rain started to chill my body, and I could feel my legs freezing up. We were in serious trouble. Thankfully, at that moment, the dark shadow of the only building for miles appeared close by, and we were able to reach shelter, but it was a close call.

In Psalm 46, the sons of Korah see the present world in similar terms. When we look at things politically, economically, socially, then it does indeed appear that the earth gives way, the mountains shift into the depths of the sea, and those waters engulf what seemed so certain with a roar of overwhelming power.
What are we to do?

The answer lies in our coming to understand that there is something far more permanent than any of these swirling forces. At the end of the song of songs, the lovers have learned that nothing, not even death, is stronger than love, and that they can confide and rest in that mercy, as their experiences had taught them. The Psalmist here equally instructs us to a higher view - that God is a refuge amidst such troubles. As nations rage in their rising and falling, we can look to something greater and richer to aid us - to make us glad - in these days. We're not going to see the troubles end (that happens when The Gospel has reached every corner of the world), but there is help amidst those trials.

Mike Horton in his book, Beyond Culture Wars notes that there is only one remedy to the furor of the day, and for us to look beyond politics or moral crusades - the answer does not reside there. It can only be found in the stream that flows from Zion above - the river of mercy which brings us the good news of Jesus Christ. This alone can set us free.

God alone will bring peace to the earth, when His kingdom comes. 
Until then, His people, through their living, vocations, recreation and worship, should be seeking to engage in one thing above everything else - a holding out of the word of life (Philippians 2:16), because it is here and here alone, in our current trials, that we can taste and know something of the joy that is coming - the peace with God made ours in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan women at the well (John 4), it wasn't to bring her some collection of electoral pledges or moral and social imperatives - it was to feed her with the waters of life. Our manner of living, especially before our friends and neighbors, should be to do just the same (Romans 13:1-8). The 'wood, hey and stubble' of fools wisdom is everywhere, but the treasure that is more precious than rubies is only found in the fragrance and sweetness of the message of Jesus.

God 'brings' desolation for a purpose, and storms can often be the essential step towards our finding and truly appreciating refuge. It's then that we can truly be stilled and know His transcendence and imminence, and understand that the day is coming when He will truly be seen as Lord of all.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

All bad but us?

"We have met the enemy, and he is us".

There's probably nothing that's worse in life than a sense of powerlessness - the discovery that you're incarcerated in a manner that leaves you incapable to determine or change what matters and thereby leaves you bereft at the very core of what counts.

I was bluntly made aware whilst listening to an annual lecture this week that modern society considers people like me to be so beguiled. You see, I've fallen under the illusion that when I consider the universe around me to speak of majesty and thereby design, I have been duped by an illusion that naturalism dogmatically propounds is superficial. Yes, there may be an 'appearance' of design about us, say those leading this charge, but the real story is, of course, evolution, so any adherence to the notion of purpose is tilting at windmills.

This deceptively circular conclusion reminded me a little of the reasoning of the fantasy movie some friends got to take me to see recently, in which a scientist contends with a mystic that we're all just dust and that images and ideas which say otherwise belong on nothing but gift shop cards. The mystic proceeds to 'open' the multiverse to the scientist's mind to contend this, but as the plot unfolds, numerous people die (become dust) and all the mysticism actually changes nothing about the natural state of affairs (decay and death), so, there you go - that's all there is.

Well, that's fair enough if that is all there is to say on these subjects, but it isn't.
Go back to the first point - does science show us that seeing design is nothing more than a smoke and mirrors act? Naturalists may like to thinks so, but as I've touched on here at other times, leading physicists in their most honest moments will tell you that such views are saturated with lashings of desirable conjecture to keep the ardent atheist rested in their assumptions, but that's as far away from what we actually do know as pinning down the real nature of who and what we are.

We have to start with the nature of what's really going on in this striking yet crippled thing called humanity - what is that trying to tell us? We have all manner of guises to keep ourselves from soberly looking at that, and the world that actually surrounds us, so until there's at least a little willingness to crack open that reflection, we're not really going to see who we truly are and what is happening in front of us.

The painful truth that Christianity points us to is that we first have to understand not just what we have discovered, but how much we have lost - that our race is currently alienated from what and where it should be, but the appetite and perception of there being much more hasn't left us. The reality is that we are powerless to really change this, no matter how much we learn or how loudly we object via our various alternative notions. The prison doesn't dissolve, and the greater reality can still be glimpsed through the bars, however constraining they may be. We need one from outside of our predicament, our disconnected state, to break through and change the nature of our unbreakable futility. Christianity reveals that this has happened at one particular place in our history, in the person of Jesus Christ, and what He has done disposes of all the other 'gift cards', whatever their particular denomination, because only He has broken down what divides us from what is meant to be - a home that will bring an end to all futility. In truth, then, we not only have to confront the issue of the transcendence of God, witnessed in the marvel of Creation's declaration, but His immanence by His becoming one of us, and doing so to rescue what had become lost.  

We can, of course, chose to see that as delusional, and stay behind the prison walls, but why would we choose to do so? The only answer is that we really do not wish to truly see and understand our own  situation, or the rescue that has been given to remedy this.

Materialism tells us that what we see and inhabit truly matters, but only in a temporal, transitory fashion - it will all come to dust. Christianity tells us that the ruin and decay are temporary - a repercussion of our rejection of life from God - but the day is closing when all things are redeemed in Jesus Christ and begin to inhabit their true estate.

Take a look through the bars, and ask yourself - isn't it better to engage with the wonder, as we were meant to?

Monday, 31 October 2016

For Reformation Day

Why Martin Luther's work is as vital today as it was 5 centuries ago:
Mike Reeves on the 'joint' statement on Justification and why it changes nothing.

Happy Reformation Day!

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.