Saturday, 17 November 2018

The Thorn that makes or breaks us

Heaven bend to take my hand and lead me through the fire
Be the long awaited answer to a long and painful fight
Truth be told I tried my best
But somewhere long the way, I got caught up in all there was to offer
But the cost was so much more than I could bear

Fallen by Sarah Mclachlan

The eve of the year becomes a war zone in my yard.
Having four oak trees surrounding me, when the winter winds arrive means I spend a great many hours having to clear up the seasonal debris, several times over, to maintain the area in the light of what 'naturally' transpires. Blocked gutters and drains, hazardous steps and pathways, falling materials that can cause dangers on dark nights, all have to be dealt with, however 'natural' the occurrence.

What's true of my trees is doubly true of human nature.
We don't see ourselves as doing anything wrong in behaving 'naturally' in respect to our proclivity to put ourselves and our opinions first, but it doesn't take much - some sober analysis of the kind the likes of Jordan Peterson has been calling for - to begin to peel away the pretense and discover what folly and misapprehension lies beneath.

This is doubly so regarding the essential suppositions concerning atheism.
Here is a video that asks some reasonable and honest questions on the nature of those presuppositions - why are they held, and are they genuinely applicable.
It's imperative to honestly expose ourselves to such considerations, because without them,
we find ourselves in a trap of our own making.

In his book Grace in Practice, Paul Zahl states in the concluding paragraphs of the first chapter that "internal motives are the most compromised of all data", particularly in respect to our defining the world as made up of good people and bad people. His analysis here - which brings a really deep jolt when you stop and think on it - is derived from what's said by Jesus about us (Mark 7:20-23) - that the real problems we encounter much of the time derive fom what so 'naturally' comes from us.

Our views, our attitudes, our motivational imperatives, are far from innocent, so we shouldn't be surprised that we 'rationally' read the world and our place in it, wrong. Our entire propensity is to stack the deck in favor of one thing - me - and that leaves us "blind as a bat and out of control" - we just can't live with that admission, so we contrive to make our folly true, whatever it takes.

The cliff-edge precariousness of our folly is only truly embraced when we know we're powerless to change our situation and understand that we need to. That's when we can step out into what first appeared to be void and discover there's far more than one hard, dark season - more than our constantly shelling out what we singularly deem correct.

The winter can unfold and break towards more than cold, short days can ever hold.

There's a far bigger world in God's good grace than you find buried beneath all the ruins of self determined existence.

Friday, 9 November 2018

No Strings Attached....?

"Jesus replied, 'it isn't the healthy that are in need of a physician, but those who are sick - I have not come to arouse or  invite those who deem themselves to be righteous to a remedy for sin, but those who know they err and are seeking change'". Luke 5: 31, 32 (expanded).

The divide could not have been any wider.
There I was, sitting in a carriage reading a sign that stated 'the best things in life are fee free', encouraging me to use their free wi-fi, whilst the connecting page for this service on my tablet was demanding payment.

How often do we make Christianity like that.
We say we can freely come and partake of God's mercy, but no sooner are we over the threshold than we're presented with a barrage of increasing tariffs (quite literally in respects to money in many churches) and by-laws that demand what we really cannot give, because all we have is us - the mess that drew us to what we hoped would be unmerited mercy in the first place*.

Jesus, of course, is on a different page. The passage above tells us exactly where we are - the sick - and what we need - Him; no ifs or buts or small print. God's astonishing mercy and astounding loving kindness is indeed deep and full and wide.

But wait, comes the cry, what about our repentance? Isn't that what we do - what we bring to the table to receive?

Steve Paulson, in his introductory work on Martin Luther notes how the reformer spent much time dwelling on that, and he came to realize something imperative about repenting.

Repentance was nothing more than the putting of the old sinner to death and allowing Christ to raise the dead to new life. The important thing to note, however, is that it is Christ alone who makes us the subject of that work of God's Spirit, that it is God who does the deed... we are entirely acted upon by God in His mercy, not the ones who are acting at all. In other words, any faith or repentance we bring is God's gift, not something we can "do" ourselves.

There's a really important truth here.
Religion always causes us to fall back 'into ourselves', seeing something we've done (our faith or our repentance) as the doorway into blessing, but in truth we're like those in hospital, perhaps miserable at the fact that we have to be here, but understanding that the treatment is entirely necessary if we're to be made well.
The good news is that the hospital also turns out to be a banqueting hall, where we are freely invited, constantly, to come and dine at the table of grace, purely because of love for us, and that is what overshadows our past, present and future.

It's not our diagnosis or resolutions that change a thing.
It's not what we bring to the table, impoverished and miserable,
It's what has been made ours in Jesus Christ alone that heals us, clothes us, feeds us and cherishes us.

God's goodness and love are simply astonishing.
Our seeking to corner and contain that gift into something we want to define by our own religiousness is nothing short of terrifying.

We need to come to His love and care and find the remedy.

Christianity is that, or it is an empty and dangerous thing.

*A really helpful sermon on this can be found here. Have a listen to Joe Dent's message on Titus 2, given on the 4th of November, 2018.