Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Still Centre of the World

It's that still moment here before the storm comes - the clouds heap and darken and the ground awaits, again, the first moments of the downpour, perhaps even the boom of thunder above. 

Heaven and earth meeting in the 'judgement' of change,
to harbor the promise of renewal.

Therein lies the reality of our world.

Torn by pain and anguish scarred so deeply into each of our souls, we know the darkness, the evil so evidently displayed in humanity is scorchingly real, and yet, we find ourselves to be creatures who, in our deepest dreams, desires and longings, know there is a richness and a beauty behind the screech of the nightmare that we so long to meet, long to embrace, long to become our own. 

We were made to be lovers, and when we catch the fragrance in the stars or upon the wind, that hunger rises from within.

The chains, of course hold us back. We cannot escape the prison of our broken natures.
The beauty, the enchantment of the world has been dragged down into the poison and cancer of our fallen humanity.
We now belong to a father who snubbed the wealth of a true romance from and within our maker and the creation for the lie and misery of self-determinism and naked shame - the pain of alienation.

It  truly would have been our end, our annihilation amidst meaninglessness, were it not for the God who so knows and enjoys love,  acting to make that love hold and heal us anew.

He came into death - the darkness and despair of our existence - and used death itself as the very means to resolve our slavery and corruption.
By His triumph in and through the horror of death and the grave, God has made His first promise to our enslaved race - of freedom from our pit - ours through simple trust in His saving love.

But the story does not end there.

All of the world is groaning, crying for release, 
which will come,

in the day of final death... and resurrection.

The advent of Christmas tells us that the God who made us, keeps His promises to our failed race, and because of this, there is great hope, even in the storms of hardship and death.

There is a weave behind this brief moment we currently call life, and the season of Christmas invites us to come and be embraced by it's dance and rich delight.

Amidst all our pain and lostness, there is the one who comes to us from heaven to heal the life of earth, and He is here, waiting to turn the ashes to the foretaste of an everlasting joy.

"For our sake,  God caused Him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in Jesus Christ, we might become truly righteous....

we implore you, therefore, be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ".

In excelsis Deo!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

The discomfort zone

"How could you have become so foolish? What delusion has distracted you from what you once clearly saw - the Gospel of grace in the saving death of Jesus Christ?"

Paul to the Galatians  (3: 1 -paraphrased).

I've often wondered, whilst I've attended church over the numerous decades of my life as a Christian, why it is that, so often, the gospel itself simply isn't enough.
It's often all too clear that it isn't - in our preaching, our worship songs, our busy little service activities and the pointing to all that we're doing beyond that - there's a clear emphasis. Like the rich man who came to Jesus looking for 'the formula' or the 'how to' guide to eternal life, we are clearly convinced that what it's all about is ticking the particular boxes that mean all is right with the world - yep, it all looks good, and, of course, it keeps us well away from all that 'free grace' naivety... fine for those 'new' to the faith, but we've 'moved on' and are now more 'spiritual' than that.

We can dress it any way we like, but the truth behind so many of our 'good' pretenses is that we're playing at religion because we're deeply uncomfortable with the bare, unvarnished reality of the message of grace.

'How can it be fair or right', a little voice inside us asks, that the vilest sinners (not us, of course) get into the Kingdom of God before those who do so much good, who are so noble and upright in their living... it truly beggars belief!  How can I really have confidence in a message which has such ridiculous notions of what really counts.... no, we clearly need to be busy to make this whole thing of value.

And so, we undermine the real truth of the matter - that our 'righteousness' is a mere mask for the canker that resides beneath (which we usually refuse to see) and thereby we cannot recognize, every moment of every day, our total need for nothing more than a deliverance entirely beyond ourselves.

The tragedy of such ugliness is two fold. It actually removes us from the life which comes from Christ, for that gift is replete with mercy given in time of need (and, let's face it, we really don't see much of a need for that) which is tragic enough, but it also means we offer nothing but a ghastly caricature of both God and His saving grace to those who come amongst us hungering and thirsting for His care and love.  To be a saint, we teach, you must become like us, 'godly... pure... beyond reproach'. Like the Pharisees, we make such 'converts' twice as fit for hell as ourselves!

We are indeed like the second son in Christ's parable (Matthew 21 :28-31).  In truth, we often believe that our ability to 'change our spots' and 'be good' is so the norm, that we can deny the Father's request to go and truly work in the field (share we He wants us to share) beyond some form of lip-service to it - nothing more is required. 

We need to see afresh what such 'goodness' costs - it does nothing to help, but merely murders the truth.... We become a 'bushel of works which stifles the light of the world'.

The Gospel points us to a life, a work, a gift, which is entirely outside of us. The very faith needed to trust in its scope is alien to us - a gift of God - so why do we then chose to hide in the hovel of our own self-worth?

'Church' is here for one purpose, and one only - to point to Jesus, for He alone is the one who saves us totally. Everything else, including all those 'little goodnesses' we so easily allow to pat us on the back, are, as the old hymn says, sinking sands.

Our life can only be 'hid' in Christ before God.
May it ever be.


This is, without doubt, one of the key areas where Christians go wrong.... Sanctification.
This latest post from Alden really hits the spot.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Wounding Church

"We limp in faith from the bed of our death, through the blood of the cross, to the the joy of Christ's resurrection".   Robert Capon Farrar.

I watched a two-hour long documentary last night on the growth and teaching of the emergent church. The analysis was telling, not only in its accuracy with regards to where the likes of this phenomenon has departed from orthodox theology and practice, but equally, if unintentionally, as to why so many have made such an exit from mainstream Christianity. Amidst the sharp critique of some (not all) of those defining the painful declarations of de-constructive spirituality, was a clear adherence to the kind of theology which internally wounds the church as much as any external intrusion of alien (non-christian) approaches to God.

It's usually pretty easy to unmask teachings which present a God or faith which is contrary to the character and relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to His handiwork, but what is equally, if not far more dangerous, is those welcomed within the very fold and ministry of the faith who are effectively tearing down the very core of God's redemptive work in Christ (justification by Grace alone through Faith alone) by a seeking to re-establish the place of the Law over and above the Gospel.

Sometimes this happens simply out of ignorance. I recently attended a service where a young student minister was preaching in such a fashion, that I don't  think he was even really aware of what he was doing. It made my blood boil to hear it, but I know that there are others in that church who will work hard to take and keep people beyond such folly, so that is something (and quite rare right now), but watching the documentary made me realize afresh why it is that so many have been so scarred and bruised amidst Christianity- not by Christ, but by the church- that they have had to go elsewhere to try and find something better! The reason why such movements begin and grow is because of the great numbers of people who have gone to 'orthodox' churches and been thrashed again, and again, and again by nothing but a 'gospel' of law which has been emptied of the riches of Christ and God's unmerited mercy and love towards us.

When the Gospel is 'clipped' of this primary, essential message of the redemptive work of God in Christ, then all religious belief and practice becomes nothing more than our seeking to be valid before a god of our own making, and most certainly not the living God who justifies the wicked.

We can indeed become grieved when men profess a faith which denies Christ as seen in His own words or those of His Apostles and Prophets, and rightly so, but should we not be all the more deeply anguished when, in those very churches which deem themselves to be genuinely 'christian', the life-giving bread of the Gospel, the person, of Jesus Christ, is not broken and shared, but in truth withheld from the very souls which are there to feed upon Him - to meet with God with a broken and contrite heart and to eat of His grace in their time of need? Is that not the greatest evil of all - to leave men and women outside of that mercy and fellowship when that is why we are here... to hold out that word of life?

We simply cannot deal in many of our churches today with the manner of 'Lordship' evidenced in Christ Himself in the upper room at the last supper - removing His clothing and girding Himself in a towel (dressing Himself as a slave, as the Living Bible so succinctly puts it) to wash the feet of those who were His friends - those who, in spite of all the failings and denials, He loved totally, and would give His life to save just a few short hours later. 

This gospel means we totally and entirely saved "not by our successes but in and through our failures... Our so-called 'successes' cannot be saved - they are nothing but suits of obsolete armor, ineffective moral and spiritual contraptions we have climbed into to avoid facing the thing which can save us - our totally naked vulnerability before Jesus, for it is the person He lives and dies for, not the suit we contrive to wear" (Farrar - Parables of Judgement).

Is this the God with whom we have to do in our Sunday services, our bible studies, our daily lives, because if we are not focused upon this God, seen in the incarnation and life of His only begotten Son, then we really have nothing to say  - THAT is the reality.

The pain of the emergent church is great, but that is primarily because it shouts so loudly regarding the failure of mainline Christianity to 'speak' the truth in love, evidenced in God's reconciling work in Jesus Christ. Because of that failing, many of us who, miraculously still attend a church, know only too well of such wounding, and can only hope and pray that even as such bruised reeds and smoldering flaxes, we can seek to point to true grace in these days of such great need.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Sola Christos

"One thing, and only one thing is necessary for Christian life, righteousness and freedom. That one thing is the living Word of God - the Gospel of Christ " (John 11:25). Martin Luther.

Happy Reformation Day!

Sunday, 28 October 2012


"This parable insists that the kingdom enters the world at creation and that there is not, and never has been any 'unkingdomed' humanity anywhere in the world. For by, through, and with the very breath and waters that make and restore creation... in the mist that watered Eden, in the paschal blood upon doorposts, the Jordan waters and the flow from Christ's side on the cross, the river of life of the New Jerusalem is evidenced - the Word is indeed the yeast that leaves not one scrap of the world unleavened - He has always been hidden within creation".

Robert Farrar Capon on the Mustard seed & the Leaven.

I was recently reading C R Wiley's review (Modern Reformation magazine) of Alain de Botton's recent book, Religion for Atheists, which makes a mixture of astute and predictable observations of both contemporary Atheism and Christianity. What truly struck me in the review was both writers' focus upon what Wiley terms "Reformed aesthetics", or more precisely, the lack thereof.

Since my childhood, I've been drawn to the power of 'picturing' the wonderful, be it Tom's magical garden, or the snow-covered woods of Narnia. When I was fourteen, my art teacher introduced me to the Tate Gallery in London, and I spent an amazing afternoon amidst the Pre Raphaelites. In the mid-90's , I can also recall a truly wonderful visit to London's V&A and being enthralled in the renaissance sculpture gallery. These are just a few select moments of many where the visual has enthralled, inspired and informed my own life and fed my soul.

Painting such images - using the visual to speak loudly of the spiritual in life - is not alien to our faith - far from it. The Old Testament and the Gospels, as well as Revelation, are full of images from history, and equally in poetry and parable that are provided to convey some key truths to us about the spiritual within the material, so where are such manner of illustrations in our modern culture?

Contemporary artists of all stripes around us are not afraid to tap this rich resource. Some of the best movies, shows and books of our times readily access the themes of human nature and the need for redemption in many of their major themes, and yet the church often seems strangely removed from such potent inter-action. Are we meant to be the advocates of the bland, the mediocre, the ugly? Shouldn't we be using the visually striking to stand up and say "do you see that? Do you understand what that implies?"

In the work of Creation, the very first element that is brought to bear upon the crude, unfurnished mass of the heavens and earth by the Word is light, for this brings clarity and allows an understanding and an adornment of the universe that is satisfying and inspiring. The work of God is to allow to us to see His hand in Christ within life if we genuinely look for this. If we are children of His mercies, then surely, our art (speaking, painting, writing) can do no less.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Thinking Aloud...

I'm very thankful to my friend, Steve Clement, for this link. There are a whole range of papers here on Christianity's relationship to key issues facing us today, so well worth a visit. I particularly enjoyed Stephen Meyer's robust paper on why theism is still at the very heart of understanding what science is telling us about the nature of reality.


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The right direction.

The first thing we need to do when opening a New Testament letter is understand who it's seeking to address, and why. Alden's new innings of discussions on Christians and the Law does so on one of the essential pieces of the scriptures - The Book of Romans.
you can read this introductory study for yourself here.

I'm already thirsty for more!

Monday, 10 September 2012

The New Day

"I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence". 

A Tale of Two Cities, Quoted by Jim Gordon in The Dark Knight Rises.

I had a shock in church last night.
We were singing John Newton's Amazing Grace, which had suddenly 'grown' a chorus (which was fine), and a new final verse, which really wasn't.

The lyrics talked about the earth 'melting away like snow' - "The earth shall soon dissolve like snow". Now I know Peter talks about the refining of creation at the end of the age (Greek: kainos, meaning renewal, not neos, meaning brand new) - change that will reform everything, even the very elements - but the end of the material creation is certainly not what's planned here, so why are we happy to sing lyrics which speak about the world being "dissolved"? Why are we still, so often, thinking of the eternal as something less not more real than what we currently know?

In Psalm 93, the Majesty and splendor of the Lord and His throne is married to the establishment and permanence of the earth, which 'shall not be moved' (verse 1). Since the moment God formed this realm through the going forth of His Word and the nurturing of His Spirit, He has had one goal in mind - to dress and beautify creation, through His Son and those who are His kin with the great delight and refreshment God Himself knew on the seventh day, when He sanctified His work and resided within it. The great yearning of all creation, notes Paul in Romans 8, is to escape the futility now imposed upon it because of our rebellion and to live again in the weight and significance of what was and what shall be - that is the great and precious promise God has made to us - "I will never destroy every living thing".

The earth is the Lord's  - everything in it is His, made to express and reflect His glory; a living, breathing work of art and beauty, that, in the ages to come, will truly and entirely "sing" of that wonder.

I couldn't sing the new added words to Newton's hymn, but instead, recalled the final verse that I've always sung before: "When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise, than when we first begun".  The New Jerusalem is on its way, adorned and radiant, from heaven to earth - there we shall truly enjoy and exult the Lamb, forever!

When He renews the land and sky,
All heav'n will sing and earth reply
With one resplendent theme: The glories of our God and King!

from 'Creation Sings' by Keith & Kristen Getty.

Sunday, 19 August 2012


"If we confess our sins, then He is faithful and just to us, and will forgive us, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness". 1 John 1:9.

It's been interesting being back in a church these past few months, going through a set service of prayers and thanksgiving before the ministry of the word, especially focusing upon our need for grace at the end of what is often difficult weeks.

The aim here is actually very simple. It's to bring us back to the focal-point of our faith... to allow us to see once again what Christ has done and what that means for us as we face the realities of a life which can often seem so far from God and what He intends.

Some people 'read' all this the wrong way round. They take the verse I've quoted above as a pretext for believing that it is their action (in confession and repentance) that is the thing of value, and not the essential work of Christ alone, that this is meant to bring us to, which counts. It's a tragic mistake, because it means that being right with God becomes dependent upon what we say and do, not what He has already accomplished.

Robert Farrar Capon puts it like this:
"All real confession (that is not just a fudging of our own crooked books) is subsequent to forgiveness. Only when, like the prodigal, we are finally confronted with the unqualified gift of someone who died*, in advance, to forgive us, no matter what, can we see that confession has nothing to do with getting ourselves forgiven. Confession is not a transaction, not a negotiation in order to secure forgiveness; it is the 'after' - the last gasp of the corpse (us) - our finally accepting we're dead and accepting His resurrection. 

Forgiveness surrounds us...
we only confess to wake ourselves to what we already have".

(Parables of Grace).

It's our realizing that what was ours in the moment He saved us on the cross makes us forgiven 'before, during and after' our sins, because all of this is resolved solely because there is a forgiver, who has acted to forgive, freely and completely, and we are buried and raised into that in our union (baptism) with Christ.

The entire aim is reconciliation, and our moments of confession are to lead us to the one who has brought that peace through the blood of His cross.

so go and call your neighbor
proceed with all due haste
go grab your wife and sweet family
see there is no time to waste

we're gonna drink out of that fountain
on a hill called double cure
i wanna show you my allegiance Lord
yes i wanna be a son of Yours

ask me why i love Him
He gave riches to this poor
yes and i will one day see that face
over yonder shore

Lyrics from 'Double Cure' by Vigilantes of Love.

(*Most of us don't see a 'death' in this parable, aside from the fatted calf, but as Capon shows, there are several -  his book is worth reading just for the insights here, but there are many more).

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The nub of things.

"The figure of the tortured and executed Jesus is the overthrowing of the Satanic image of God (oppressor, judge, accuser), for God as friend, lover, victim, counsel for the defence, fellow accused and flayed flesh and blood. It replaces the Satanic God not with humanity at its most triumphant, as rationalist humanism does, but with humanity at its most torn and vulnerable". Terry Eagleton.

Really worth reading: Humanism and Christ.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Bulls eye!

Well worth reading if you get the chance...
Christ the Truth's blog on memorialism.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012


A Superb Review of the theology of the new Batman movie here:
Redemption in Gotham

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Death Within

"By the mystery of your Incarnation, your nativity, your baptism,
 by your agony, by your crucifixion, burial, resurrection and ascension,
 and the coming of your Holy Spirit,
 Good Lord, deliver us".      The Great Litany.

It makes for pretty uncomfortable reading, but it's clearly there in the Gospels.
Jesus was becoming known by what He could do - the 'signs' that the Kingdom had clearly come meant that He was gaining quite a following. It was, no doubt, the very thing that John the Baptist and others were looking for, hoping for - the one who would truly bring the life and message of God. 

Of course, the problem quickly becomes such 'signs' themselves. Jesus understood how that is what was wanted by the many who followed, not the genuine reality of the kingdom behind such power, and that is what truly counts. That's why the 'popular' moment of His ministry ends and the 'difficult' period truly begins - why He stops the majority of such public miraculous activity to journey to Jerusalem where He knows He will be killed.

For us, that's a hard truth - not exactly what we would expect of a Messiah, but then again, there are some 'mysteries' about the very nature of life itself that are at the core of what is happening here, and it is those that we rarely encounter.

Take death itself. We normally talk about this as Christians only in terms of its relationship to sin, and therefore, as both being 'enemies' of life. Now, it's clearly right to see death in it's ultimate, godless expression as just that (what is often talked about as 'the second death'- the point of eternal separation from God), and there's no denying that our mortal deaths are moments of great sorrow and tragedy, but there's something vital for us fallen creatures about that final moment. It can actually become, as it was for the thief on the cross, the moment of liberation into life, which is why our baptism is a baptism 'into' Christ in His death and resurrection.

Death is actually the instrument or means God uses to bring about life. Think for a moment of the splendor that was Eden - a gloriously furnished creation, which would sustain the creatures God makes to live there through every 'seed bearing' grass, herb and tree (Genesis 1:11&12, 29 & 30) He provides. The natural world is sustained by these plants 'giving seed' to the earth which die to yield new life, so God weaves the value of death into His creation from the very beginning.

The Same mystery is clearly evident in the creation of Eve. Unlike all other creatures He has made, He causes this person to be fashioned by placing Adam in a 'deep sleep' (2:21 - 'to die') to form the one who is truly 'bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh'. This, as Paul alludes to  towards the end of Ephesians 5, is one of the clearest images in Scripture of the relationship between Christ and the Church (5:30-33), and in both, it is the work which God does 'within' death that is key to the glorious creation which follows.

It is perhaps hard for us to understand such works - they run so contrary to the way in which we would chose to achieve things, but the necessity is no doubt due to the manner of character (the nature of the Son) which God is seeking to place within us.

In the book of Revelation, John speaks of the 'Lamb's book', written 'before (or from) the foundation of the world' (13:8). It is this nature - expressed in the image of a slain lamb - that defines the God who has made us, sustains us and is at work to complete the work He has begun in what He has made. This nature resides at the core of His character, His work, His love and His goal for us and creation, which is why the 'power' of His kingdom lies in the clear unveiling of the 'message of the Cross' - from Christ's emptying of Himself to live a life aquatinted with sorrow and grief, to death amongst the lost. The seal of God's new creation is a world lead through such depths by Christ, that these powers may never hold dominion over the realm which is coming, which is overseen by the throne of the Lamb.

We cannot face our pains, trials and the dreadfulness of death alone - it is truly a tragedy for us to seek to do so - but through the Lamb of God, these woes become the very means God has used to invest eternity with the fulfilled Word who has come to us, that this realm may truly be  furnished through Him. 

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

An ugly truth

"There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.  I wish I could believe that"
John Connor - Opening of Terminator 3.

It's a popular philosophy - captain of our own souls, our own destiny. It's popped in Western culture numerous times, probably even pre-dating the Greeks, been given political and economic currency since the Enlightenment of the 17th century, and is toyed with in some measure by anyone, I guess, who 'defines' themselves, at least in measure, on line,
but there's a flip side to this 'bright side' attitude to ourselves and life, a murdering sub-strata of 'monsters from the id' which are just as sinister as any Morlock and as incarcerating as the Arkum Asylum - it is these which are the sirens of times.

The problem, of course, is they are so cloaked in a 'shroud of decency', that their forms are barely made known in public, and so, faceless and hidden, they escape scrutiny, and the hollow dream of self-determinism continues to the ashes of the grave.

Intellectuals, the likes of Richard Dawkins and Melvin Bragg, can glibly and publicly espouse the virtues of the cardinal philosophies of this nightmare without blinking, because the truth is almost too shocking and certainly too painful to bear - the underlying errors regarding the nature of the human condition within game theory, the mammoth policies of economic, social, political, health and even spiritual change since the 1970's that have been constructed on those same errors, beginning in American culture and being implemented, often by force, across the globe, bringing us to the present state of affairs, where the collapse is real, but the reasons for it are still not understood.

It's a broken, cannibalistic philosophy, it's ultimate victim being the self, which becomes the property of others beneath an illusion of virtual freedom via the means of cyberspace - control through apparent self- expression, where individualism becomes a means of un-purchased but free entrainment to all.

Oliver Stone's striking movie, Nixon, began with a statement which causes us to consider such greed - 'What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but looses his own soul'. Stone's 1987 movie, Wall Street, clearly defines the soul-less 'bubble' that our culture has inhabited for some time. Those words of Jesus stand before our present society and show us its blindness and pain. We must put aside the folly of our self-determinism, and once again seek the one who brings meaning and significance beyond the vanity of our broken age.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Nightmare

It's been an interesting six weeks for me. For the first time since loosing Kay to cancer, I've been attending church regularly and this has brought the beginning of fresh friendships and lots of interesting conversations on a range of issues. It's also been interesting to see, over the same period, that my engagement with the world in general, particularly over social electronic forums has picked up, and I've actually found myself writing, researching and thinking more of late than in quite some time. All of this has been causing me to look again at the present turmoil of the world and really ask how such evil thrives and decimates - what causes such wickedness to become so prevalent and pervasive? 

Whilst we can certainly point to the propensity in the human condition to the flawed and the crooked because of the nature of the corruption of our hearts, there does seem to be a particularly dark edge to current events. There certainly appear to be some parallels in the time of the Prophet Ezekiel.

The culture of Israel had become riddled with arrogant pride in her immoral spiritual and business relations with her neighbors, and God brings a stark analysis of her real condition and its consequences (Ezekiel chapter 16). What struck me here, however, was what resided at the heart of such rebellion.

Ezekiel raises the judgement of Sodom (verse 49), describing the condition of that city as it met its end. His analysis is telling. 

 We would, perhaps, focus on Sodom's sexually immoral lifestyle, but the root problems are stark and chillingly familiar - Pride, excess of material goods, an abundance of idleness, negligence and indifference to the needs of others, arrogance which made allowance for wickedness as socially acceptable.

 In Romans 1, Paul talks about how it is when people exchange the truth about themselves and God for the lie of self-sufficiency in regards to how we define ourselves that we then see the emergence of a culture that is riddled with these forms of cruelty - cruelty to ourselves, because it numbs us to our true condition and then cruelty toward others, as what is deemed to be acceptable is derived from a selfish notion of reality. 

This downward spiral leads to deeper and deeper severance from what truly makes us whole; a squandering of God's rich gifts until we are left, empty and alone, in a cruel world so often of our own making. 

The end would be dark indeed, but the same God who spoke through Ezekiel and the Prophets still speaks to our day and tells us, wonderfully, that there is mercy in our time of need. The future of the world is not in the hands of such darkness. Christ has come to reconcile all things to God so that we can employ and use the bounty He has made well, with thanksgiving and delight, caring for each other through the love He sheds abroad in our hearts - the love which made and redeems creation.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Saying it well

There's quite a bit of interesting thinking and perhaps changes going on right now, so I hope to post something on at least one of these strands in the next few weeks. In the meantime, here's something that is really worth watching with Michael Horton from a recent conference in America. I suggest you sit back with a warm cup of something and soak in these moments which resonate with truth.  Enjoy:


Friday, 6 April 2012

Tactile Truth

"Whatever you think about heaven, remember it has to be real and it has to be now...heaven is about everything - the colour of your beloved's eyes, your forefinger touching your own nose - it is about being risen and glorified right now. It is not something other than this world; it is this world perfectly offered in the land of the Trinity. It is all the moments of time and all the conjunctions of space as Christ holds them reconciled for the splendour, the sheer majesty, of the Father's grace... and it is all of them held for the endless exploration of their depths - depths which we, even as at the moment of again, seeing our beloved's eyes, have only just begun to suspect".

Robert Farrar Capon - The Youngest Day.

It's probably one of the biggest problems in theology - making it real. We live in a world where, let's face it, the virtual plays a huge part in the daily routine - whether it's doing the shopping, organising records at the office, or entertaining ourselves. I guess that's why I enjoy people photography so much... in this sadly often dislocated inter-action which passes as life, working with another person allows you to truly glean something about them and hopefully learn something of the real value of another person; something which virtual exchange can often limit or entirely mask.

Popular ideas of heaven can be like that. Like Sunday School images, they can charm us into looking at a place detached and distant, where nothing we currently understand really adds up to much and isn't going to matter....

so, why do we bother with all this?

That's the trouble with so much that passes under the guise of 'spirituality' - if you examine it a little closer, it essentially says that none of this really adds up to much, if anything at all.

Easter has a way of bringing us back to earth with a bump. The tactile moments the Gospels convey concerning the last supper, the garden betrayal, the bogus trials, the execution, and the very tangible shock of what follows, all immersed in the very real anguish and joy of those who were there, tells us, as plain as the noses on our faces, that God is with us, and that it is, indeed, this world, this strange, feeble and failing race of creatures that we belong to that He is involved with, deeply, in terms of making this world, this existence, the one which will have eternal ramifications.

Reality isn't merely defined by a series of 'truths' we adhere to and practices defined by such truths - these are, at the end of the day, merely a means to lead us to a real person, who has come to show us that eternal life is to be encountered, now, in the richness of the communion He has known with His Father, our Father, before anything else existed - that is what will mark and define the quality of life, forever. It's seeing that everything is related to this vital reality that truly allows us to begin to know, to encounter, what heaven is really all about.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

At play in the field of God.

"We only need to think for a moment how much the Christian understanding of life depends upon the existence of Grace; let us recall that the Holy Spirit Himself is called a 'gift' in a special sense; that the great teachers of Christianity say that the premise of God's justice is God's love, that everything gained and everything claimed follows upon something given and comes after something gratuitous and unearned...that in the beginning there is always a gift....
In the midst of creation is a sacrifice of God in Jesus Christ which makes everyday a feast day, celebrated as sacrament, in all the visible signs of what has been bestowed. in such leisure, men are lifted above the frontiers of the mundane into the ecstasy of what has been given - the Logos - that we might be rapt into the love of what is above and beyond us amidst what is seen".

Josef Pieper - Leisure- the Basis of Culture.

I made an interesting discovery during a lunch-break at work this week.
Due to some unseasonal good weather, I went out for a walk along Plymouth Hoe with my camera, and found myself at the Mayflower memorial arch - a place I'd been before, but I'd never ventured onto the viewing platform which looks out to the sea. Inscribed into a semi-circle of green slate plates upon the railings is a statement which encapsulates the intent and accomplishment of those who sailed from this site to the new world:
'As one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone to many and, in some sort, to our whole nation'.
I found myself wondering about that... how often do any of us do something which makes that kind of an impression upon others? Most of us are not Bach's or Galileo's (and many such folks were miss-understood or maligned in their own days), and what we do seems pretty small, but what is true is that we so often benefit from such moments, which can enrich our own lives beyond ways we often comprehend... Perhaps the best we can do is take a moment when such thoughts play upon us to recognise and appreciate the value of such gifts.

There is, of course, an even bigger 'canvas' which we all play upon, and that is the splendour of life itself. Josef Pieper seeks to remind us that that activity itself is only possible because of the love, care and giving of another - it is by their giving that all of our activity is possible, because it is born purely out of love, shared with us.
In his book, the Parables of the Kingdom, Robert Farrar Capon begins his study on the teachings of Jesus in these gems by seeking to describe the essence of what scripture itself is trying to say to us - what statement is writ large beneath its archway of departure?
"It is about the mystery by which the power of God works to form the coming city, the new Jerusalem, prepared as a bride, adorned for her husband". What this means, he notes, is that the Bible is not about some strange place called heaven, nor somebody far away called God, but it's actually about this place, our journey, and the intimate and immediate-ness of the one who is at the heart of it all, who is at work to bring all of life to a place where it is true to His care and His purpose.

When we consider the actions of those who took to sea aboard the Mayflower, not truly knowing what awaited them or if they would even survive the journey, their actions often seem extraordinary, but the benefits have been equally astounding. So it is with the God who has acted in creation, revealing Himself through Jesus Christ. We cannot dismiss the benefits, which sustain us, however we respond to the source.

The call to each of us is to the journey - to the wonder and the mystery. May we be brightened by such a endearing light.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

For times such as these...

Love does not dominate, it cultivates. – Anonymous.

Back in the late 1970's, much of Western Christianity found itself facing the whirlwind which became known as the Charismatic movement - a collection of experiences and practices which emphasised a renewal of the miraculous within the normal, even the mundane. The movement was certainly widespread and still encompasses many sections of the church today, but it's essential theology about such issues was thwarted all along - not because the miraculous isn't seen in the modern world, but because the definition of this within the movement was simply too narrow, and thereby actually missed the vitality of God's gifts amongst us by often majoring in minors.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul seeks to highlight essentially the same problem. Yes, Christians can manifest and express a whole range of spiritual gifts, and these can be useful, but without the core expression of God's life and work within this world - without Love - all such manifestations are empty.
It is the grace of God poured into normal life which is truly 'charismatic', which is why very commonplace aspects of life, such as marriage, are defined as 'grace-gifts', given by God to everyone - God's love and mercy is evidenced amidst creation as universal, but that often creates a problem.

In the Old Testament, God's purpose for the nation of Israel was that they would become a beacon to the other nations of a people who truly knew the care and manifest splendour of a God who made them rich in His love, but they refused constantly to fulfil such a role, often seeking instead to hoard or squander such an inheritance, and as a result, being left to their own futile devices and the consequences they bore. In our times, the church has been called to the same astonishing role - to 'hold out' to those around us the richness of the life God wishes for everyone through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, but as with our defining of spiritual gifts, we so often negate this role by effectively minimising the sphere and depth of the richness of God's love and calling amidst this world - it is far easier to narrow our understanding to what transpires in separate, private sections of our life than within the larger 'field' where the harvest is often ready - it merely lacks those willing to engage with such a realm.

Jesus teaches us that we all stand before a heavenly Father whose purpose and intent is to bring good gifts to His children - to rescue and restore us to the relationship we so need with Him and each other that is founded upon and grown through genuine Love.

Every day, amidst all the pain, we are still reminded of God's unceasing care and mercy towards us and His handiwork. Is it not time for us to truly convey the splendour of that to this deeply needy world?

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Beyond the Static

"Memories...You're talking about memories".
Deckard - Blade Runner.

For most of us, Christianity was 'learned' as a religion of 'the book' - the things we do, say, and know were often determined by referring to scripture in a 'manufacturers handbook' fashion, but there's a problem with that. Most of us may have guides for all kinds of things in our homes, but real life often has a way of surprising us or circumventing 'the norm' to leave us somewhere totally unexpected (and believe me, I'm writing this on a day when I know this to be so very true).

The people that left Egypt and also those who met in the Upper Room (before and after the resurrection) were not able, in the manner we do, to 'go by the book' - they didn't really have one! What was imperative to their faith was the God who was nurturing them in the womb of fellowship which of necessity would be defined by a living faith in the richness of His care - scripture has always been meant to be an aid to that core reality. As they celebrated passover and then later, the Lord's Supper, it was God 'inhabiting' their communion because of His love that was the vital, reconciling event, and this also marks us, defines us, because it is His love, made evident amongst us, that makes us His - that is the true purpose behind creation and redemption.

It is all too easy to revert to 'procedural' mode when it comes to living the Christian life - prayer, study, church attendance, belief and practice - but God is calling us to something much more profound and, therefore, dangerous. The world we inhabit leaves us with numerous questions, but the reason this world has value is because the one in whom we live and breathe and have our being is also the 'lamb, slain before the foundation of the world' - it is that wonder, that astonishing truth, which lies behind all of our trials, joys and reflections, and truly defines what is of value, especially in our growth and inter-action with life and each other.

What truly matters, amidst all that goes on here, is that we truly see His work - His reconciling of the world to Himself through Jesus Christ. It is that 'holding' of all things, in heaven and on earth, in Christ's own person, that takes our thoughts here into a realm of true value and eternal weight.