Saturday, 31 August 2019

'Twixt the now and the not yet (better than "it's now of never"!)

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed"  2 Peter 3:10,11.

"By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it". Revelation 21:24.

Do you think we'll eat in the new creation?

Is there a place for really sitting down at table with others to feast-in and then revel in the marital union of heaven and earth?

That may appear a little minor (how can that matter?) to some, but think about what's behind the question for a second.
Were we made to be creatures of dependence, or self reliance?
Eating is certainly one of those ways that a key truth about us is expressed, so the question touches on what will be different or in some respects better, but similar, come the resurrection.

Even if eating is, perhaps, possible, then surely, some may answer, other, more 'divine' contemplations will take precedence. Isn't that the real pursuit of heaven?

So then, it follows, we should certainly deem even more bodily activities, like sex, as entirely foreign there. No opportunity, then, it would appear for Isaiah's vision of the new earth filled with families and children (Isaiah 65:17-25).
Spiritual beings are far above such earthly pursuits, it's been argued, so this is merely a quaint image of the afterlife.
So why were we made bodily, and why does that mode of existence continue (1 Corinthians 15:52) to fundamentally define us... forever?

Some religions, of course, see it completely differently.

Whilst Gnosticism entirely denounces the body in the afterlife, Islam views heaven as almost nothing but perpetual sex, as does Mormonism.

That's actually why I begun this entry with the two verses concerning what's to come.

Peter in his statement is placing things in terms of the end of the present age - everything we know will be gone - even the elements burn, but the terms used here are nuanced in a fashion that we may not see at face value. Whilst he's aiming to show that, just like in Noah's day, there is an end to the present, principally to curtail evil, the terms like 'dissolved' also contain the meaning of change.

When I consider the concept of heaven on earth, I usually find myself looking at those few verses in Genesis 2, where there was that brief, shining moment of the potential of exquisite, natural life before the face of God - to raise a people working and nurturing towards that glorious garden city we glimpse in Revelation, fed and watered by the tree of the Lamb's throne (Revelation 22:1-3).
The language speaks of the marriage of all that was made good with a humanity clothed and nourished by the very life of God. I'd suggest that's what is encapsulated in that vital, 'turn or perish' promise - redemption.

This takes me to that other verse I referenced.
Whilst nothing impure belongs in the marriage city, it's clearly saying that the earth glory that has been known by it's kings is brought in as part of the splendor.

Place the expansive conclusions of these two verses together, and there are some major ramifications to consider. Redemption is a purifying, continuing extension of all that creation has been made to be.

Perhaps the question, then, needs to be how can we be anything other than genuinely human in the new earth? How could we not be engaged in the most splendid activities that are wholly creative if we are to show the true worth of what has been so fully given to us as His beloved?

When we look at Christian fellowship at its best, we see a very natural extension of all that is good about family. When we consider the saving work at the core of Christianity, we see it is entirely about two (God and humanity) becoming one.

How will creation be employed following the day of its renewal?
Certainly, the answer must be that everything within it will be used exceedingly well to express and delight in the richness and measureless radiance of the dwelling of God with men.
The problem isn't will the material have a role to play in all of this. The trouble, of course, is that we currently inhabit a realm where the vitality of what is made is dulled by sin, so creation itself is desperately eager to be allowed to once more burst out in its true glory (Romans 8: 20,21). Those verses are staggering, because they are saying we haven't even begun to see the proper natural splendor of the world, and certainly not of those created to express something of God's radiance.

There's a gorgeous moment in C S Lewis' Perelandra, where Ransom meets the queen of that world for the first time. Whilst the description is exquisite, it's the 'weight' of what is captured here that makes me tremble. A humanity without sin is a terrible, awesome thing, and the day is fast approaching when we will know that dress, because the life in our veins will be that of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Such reflections need to truly be ours, for they are our treasure.

Christ calls us to know this beauty - to look at the magnitude of what is said in both creation and redemption, and then, to find ourselves in the saving life that He gives.

Look up into that goodness, and life will certainly be more than we've yet seen or heard.

Saturday, 24 August 2019


"You make me want to be a better man".

Melvin Udall - As Good As It Gets.

"The structural feature of being human is being a lover... The question is not whether we love but what we love".

James Smith - Desiring the Kingdom.

Back in the early 80's, my young marriage had hit something of a wall.

Due to my inexperience, I'd messed up, but it didn't take long for me to begin to recognize my idiocy and start getting things resolved so, long term, all would be well.

Once the pieces started to fall into place, I thought it would be a nice idea to have a few days away with my understanding wife, so booked what I expected would be a good location for a weekend break. The hotel was described as overlooking the Thames in a 'quiet area', and had its own restaurant, so it sounded great for a short period for some quiet, a nice meal and an opportunity to commence the road to recovery.

It soon become clear why the location had been so 'reasonable' in respect of price.

The hotel overlooked a fuel refinery (!) and the evening meal was undercooked and inedible. Things were so bad, in fact, that we were offered another weekend break as compensation. Needless to say, we didn't go back, but my comedy of errors actually proved exactly the right tonic to bring some unexpected charm into the moment, and my wife and I did have a restorative weekend - elsewhere - as a result.

One of the things that genuinely commenced at that point - though it would grow over many years - was an essential appreciation for the significance of the partner God had given me, and a growing awareness that I could so easily be mistaken, not just concerning a good location or just about the basic requirements of marriage, but about the astonishing gift that is woman, especially when she is your wife.

The church has made some big mistakes when it comes to what the faith is all about. We've seen ecclesiastical power hold sway through those who have sacralized all manner of bad practices and proclamations (Rome has been the mother of such misery in the West, but many modern 'christian' movements have followed a similar path). We have often turned the truth thereby into a strictured system of external moralism (what we must and must not do) that would have no doubt delighted those Jesus so thoroughly condemned because they only knew the hollow shell of an external form of righteousness, and we have so painfully reduced both the value of Women and the goodness of the material from around the time of Augustine onwards.

Much of this was a result of some very bad decisions as the church sought to grow first, with the lessening of imperial persecution and then amidst the many pagan aspirations of the Hellenic and then Germanic world.

I say all this because there are two key things I think we all should consider afresh when we seek to unpack a biblical understanding, especially of women.

First, Eve wasn't made like Adam.

Adam was made, we're told, from the dust of the earth, and needed God to breathe life into Him, but Eve was made from Adam - from what was already living, and as such, she become the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20).

Secondly, Genesis clearly shows us a work of progression in respect to the material universe - from basic inanimate 'stuff' to start with (Genesis 1:1), to life itself (1:20), and finally, to those creatures that express and reflect the image of God (1:26,27). We are indeed the place where all that is made finds a definition and bearing that is unique, and Eve was the pinnacle of that. Notice the way in which Genesis 2 is written principally to show this.

Those two points should really get us thinking.


Well, that is the mystery that Paul touches upon in Ephesians 5.
If we want to glimpse at the glory of what is coming in respect to the maturity of what Christ is forming in the living ones that are His bride, then we catch it, if but briefly, in that gorgeous moment when Adam sees Eve for the first time and, astonished, says "this is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" (Genesis 2:23).

I lost my beloved to cancer some 14 years ago, but rarely does a day pass now when I'm not reminded in some fashion of her warmth and brilliance, and how amazing it was to spend the  many years together that we did - something I know will be renewed in an even better fashion come the resurrection.

My reason for writing this today, however, contains another vital aspect. It reminds me that there is so much that I have to learn - that what I began on that bad but good 'romantic' weekend so many years ago is actually part of a learning curve that will continue for eternity, because the love at the core of all this - the love known and shared by God - is something wider and deeper than words can express. Being made as we are provides a theatre in which so much of that can genuinely be expressed, just like marriage.

As a book I've been re-reading reminded me this week, so many of the troubles we face today, in the church, and in culture, is because we miss-read the real place and value of key elements of what life is - our roles to each other and how precious these are meant to be.

We cannot be a church marked by the mistakes of the past - we have to learn from these and move on, and that is clearly the case in respect to our understanding of the glory and the role of women. The very reason that such questions have been so prominent in our culture for the past century is, clearly, because we've had it wrong, and need to see Christianity itself return to the manner of life and practice on this subject evidenced in the Apostolic church.

A final thought.
Creation is clearly all about God bringing the higher into the lower, so apprehending and enjoying what's good isn't just a case of our loving objects, but becoming lovers of being - the inner wealth that allows us to truly fragrance our world. As Adam comprehended the physical grace of Eve for the first time, he understood that something much deeper had begun. That is indeed the way God desires life to speak to us.

Love indeed takes what would naturally be a tragedy and turns it into beauty.

That's why God opens eyes and hearts to Jesus Christ.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Joy Unspeakable?

"Who, for the Joy that was set before Him, endured the cross".
Hebrews 12:2.

I see it on Facebook every day.
The sheer delight that mums take in their new arrivals or young ones, that lovers take in each other, that friends revel about as they engage in some bold venture together.

It makes one thing very clear.
What makes life fantastic isn't how much material wealth you gather, or how much you can ingratiate yourself on someone else (because they have no choice), or how much sex, drugs and rock and roll you do (we'll come to all that in a minute).
What actually stacks way, way higher in our experience is the absolute gorgeousness of enjoying the beauty, the charm, the brilliance, of those who are significant to us, because we feel profoundly connected to them.

Try to imagine a world for a moment where that kind of care didn't exist. Hard isn't it.
The truth is, we simply wouldn't survive for very long because we'd all literally die for lack (giving, as well as taking) of affection.
Meeting our needs, even meeting our desires or pleasures just isn't enough - we have something much deeper powering the vital core within each of us, and it's a heart which wants to not just know love, it wants to be defined by giving love to another.

It may well be the case that we're often selfish about what we want because that deep need to give has been snubbed or abused when we've tried to reach someone else, so we have this break or fracture inside us that taps into another very rudimentary piece of being a fallen creature - to do what we want and to hell with everything (and often everyone else). We need to be significant, and that need is bridled to becoming whole by loving others. When we encounter nothing but pain or abuse or guilt, we often withdraw to darker modes of activity, where selfishness can scar us deeply.

Christians often talk about the Joy of the Lord being a strength in life, but what is that joy? Are they talking about some manner of transcendent experience or feeling, or is it perhaps derived by a person's assent and acceptance of the vital truths that Christianity gives - that we have a genuine peace with God because of the precious gift given in the salvation He has provided?
Whilst Christians certainly encounter moments where both of these are no doubt true, I don't think that's really what the faith is driving at here - the truth is far more in keeping with the brilliance and radiance I touched on in my opening statement - the delight one person has for another.

When Jesus appeared in public view as a man to start His ministry, we're told that the heavens opened, and as God's Spirit descended upon Him, the voice of His heavenly Father declared "This is my Beloved Son, in whom I delight".

Did you hear it?
The cardinal thing that makes God the Father's universe brilliant is not something obscure or alien or abstract. The character of God may indeed be Almighty and Transcendent, but at the very centre of His nature is something anyone who has genuinely loved someone else can understand - that what's to be treasured above all else is the beauty of another.

At the very centre of our faith, as the verse in Hebrews shows, is the fact that Jesus endured the ugliness and horror of the cross (taking sin and death) because He knew there was a far greater joy to come. He dealt with our ugly and dreadful wickedness, that we might be united to the true source of joy.

His Father would rejoice in Him forever. The very reason the Father sent Jesus is to show what He truly is - a person entirely motivated by love. But it wasn't just some obscure display, some moral example - that giving, that sacrifice would bring a countless number of people into sharing that same joy with Jesus in His Father forever.

This is why the scriptures tell us so clearly to see Jesus. When we begin to really comprehend Him, we see a beauty and a splendour that is simply astonishing. It is this that opens the way into real and lasting joy.

What makes me a Christian isn't what countless mysteries its truth explores and resolves in even bigger mysteries (though it does!) - it's opening the Gospels and encountering a person who is astonishing in His love for us - a man who also is God.
Eternal life, He says, is all about knowing Him and knowing the Father who has sent Him.

That is really what joy creates - an eternal fellowship of God and humanity in the bonds of a love that will be shared by all in the new creation.
That all may sound too good to be true, but think about it. The most valuable thing we have is each other, so if we're truly made for one another, why wouldn't eternal life be all about seeing the significance of that deepened and strengthened... forever. Doesn't that sound like something to be joyful about?

We all know how great it is to enjoy those who are so special to us.
Redemption is all about the very kind of bliss... amplified - forever!

That sounds like a treasure worth pursuing.

Saturday, 10 August 2019


"Didn't you get the memo?"
Wiliam Earle - Batman Begins

"Didn't you get the memo?"
Lucius Fox - Batman Begins

"The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners".

Apparently, Paul didn't get the memo - not according to the popular theology doing the rounds. To summarize the trend in one comment I read yesterday,"We have already rejected the Evangelical Gospel with its Redemptive Violence, relentless fear-mongering and intellectually primitive Devil as the CEO of Evil . Yet we sense something in the broader arcs of scripture. As metaphor it is engaging. As history it is inane".

The latest popular notions - of "Christ" without (or not exclusively ascribed to) Jesus - are not actually that new. Numerous pseudo-christian movements and cults throughout the centuries have claimed a 'unique' insight into this issue at the expense of demoting the Gospel and it's particular affirmation of God manifest in the flesh in favour of a more 'universal', dualistic approach to both divinity and redemption. This negation of essential Christianity is vital because if God truly revealed Himself in flesh, in particular revelation as the sole way whereby creatures such as ourselves can be restored, then you cannot have some other "universal" truth that does the job just as well without such history. The reverse is also equally as true - why would God act in the manner the scriptures state if all we required is some fine-tuning to the 'revelation' that makes us genuinely whole? Why bother with all this business of Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection if all that's required is some moment of enlightenment?

If all Christianity gives us is a collection of stories that actually do little than perhaps suggest at points a gateway to some manner of higher enlightenment, then it most certainly can be viewed, at best, as useful as any other 'pathway' to be employed in seeking truth (the likes of teachers such as Teilhard De Chardin would say that's what genuine spirituality is all about), but if the faith is actually the unique story of how God acts in this world to bring about its rescue, then we entirely miss- represent its unique value and revelation if we make it less than the perfect jewel it proclaims to be, and neither Jesus or His Apostles leave us in any doubt that is exactly what happens if we fail to hear what they are saying.

We must always seek to identify the folly in popular notions that because something is 'likable' it is therefore good and true. Evil often comes in the guise of what appears to be well reasoned - the serpent in the garden appealed to a sense of worth within his venom-laced allure! - but taking away pain doesn't deal with cancer... something much deeper is required.

The message of Christianity isn't seeking to reconcile us all in our present state of existence - that estate is in deep trouble. It wants to redeem creation into something much better. The good news is the Cross does bring reconciliation, the empty tomb does mean we are rescued from sin and death, so the tables have been turned. We deeply need to see God in Christ, however, to appreciate and appropriate these marvels to our lives.

Saturday, 3 August 2019


"A deep shade of blue, is always there".
Sun aint gonna shine anymore.

It's all about the mix, apparently.
That's what I concluded from a recent "Self-Care" breakdown.

First,  there's the physical - sleeping, eating, exercising, then there's the emotional - calm, collected, placid, followed by the social - respect, boldness, bonding and finally... the spiritual, which pretty much amounts to 'centering' in on yourself.
So, I just assemble all these bits together in their right amounts in the package known as me and, shazam!, life is good and I'm livin' the dream... right?

Every Spring, I get abruptly infused with the zest of what's happening not so much by nature generally waxing lyrical (bird song and bluebells), but by the poignant, intoxicating moment when the honeysuckle erupts into that agonizingly teasing scent tip-toeing in the air, making me stop in my tracks, heart racing, body purring,wanting to ascend and become enveloped in the moment.

Notice the difference?

We have countless 'good' advice guides about how to and what to and where to, but if we're honest, most of us know that it doesn't amount to much more than a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things (the daily drudge), because what we really long for is not the ho-hum of just ticking along, but the moments when life totally ravishes us, and we tingle with the possibility that there's more going on than just living on borrowed time until tragedy arrives.

That's why getting our kicks is so key to our free time. We know we were built for bigger things, even in respect to what's sensual, than donning our smiles whilst the 'shade of blue' shadows our souls.
People want to encounter what really jolts them - to be not just pleasantly but comprehensively surprised yet assured that life is about more than our self-care being nicely tucked-in.

Life in general is often so hard, and as we get older, we ask ourselves 'is that it, then?' more often, but it's easy to get philosophical with ourselves, when what's really needed is the budding of someone else's fragrant, astonishing story into our senses (heart, mind, and soul).

When Paul speaks of truth being something akin to a gorgeous fragrance that is diffused everywhere when the reality of the person and work of Jesus is conveyed, he's not trying to coach us with a few choice life pointers, or waxing lyrical philosophically and he's certainly not donning his 'time to to get religious' persona.
He's saying that the one who has come amongst us full of grace and truth wants us to encounter the full dimensions of that brilliance, that beauty, head on, just like honeysuckle in the spring, and it's going to bowl us over, confirming all our deepest suspicions that we really shouldn't just settle for a 'nice' personal care plan to spruce up our personal shade of blue.

Galaxies are exploding with billions of new stars, life is springing afresh all around us, beauty resonates at our deepest core, and it's all to whisper...

Come and see why such gifts are yours, and what they are really trying to tell you.

Behind it all is a history, a personality, that is simply staggering. He wants to let you truly discover why it really all is astonishing, and worthwhile.