Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Credible.

 "If anyone thinks he has reason to be justified by his merits, I have more".

Paul - Philippians 3:4.

It's late 2020, and you're a leading consultant on medical issues for various national bodies. You're invited to take a simple test that shows the veracity of a new product - a rapid confirmation of just how safe it is and how effective it will be for the vast majority of people. You're so convinced by the results, that you happily go on national media and inform those that are hesitant about using this that they're perfectly safe to do so...

Two years later, you have discovered the truth of what was actually happening - the 'proof' was actually irrelevant, and the danger was terribly real.

That's the story behind this latest interview on the untold story (for most of the public) in regards to what happened in respect to mRNA vaccines last year.

Truth is the currency that God requires us to deal with in respect to our lives here. It's the case in respect to our faith, and it has to be so in our dealings with life in general if we are to live well.

Like the Apostle Paul, a wake up is required in respect to where we are and what truly matters, and that wake up has to be evidenced in the church.

May God help us to come clean on this issue.

Saturday, 13 August 2022

The scourge of the Sentinels

 "I opened to my beloved, but he had turned and had gone. My soul failed me... I sought him, but could not find him. I cried out, but there was no answer.

Making their rounds, the Sentinels came upon me - they beat and wounded me, taking away my mantle - the 'guards' of the city walls" Song of Songs 5:6 & 7.

It is terrible when hope is taken from us. As with the woman in this love poem, we die inside, but something even worse can then follow. When we loose our intimate connection with the one who is the dayspring of existence, we find ourselves left only with the rude and punishing requirements of the 'sentinels' - those precepts which wish to reduce to something viewed as unworthy of any such splendour and affection.

A good example of this manner of trouble is seen in John 5, with the healing of a man who had been lame for 38 years.  The "crowd" are so perplexed by their pedantic fixation on what was lawful, that they entirely loose sight of Jesus, and end up not knowing who had actually performed the healing. As with the guards of the city in the song, they have absolutely no conception of what is actually taking place around them, or its profound significance, so they behave purely from their own, entirely incorrect instincts.

The writer of the song was very wise. In his book on the subject (proverbs), he speaks of the 'first tier' of such understanding being evidenced when we live our lives with genuine virtue. The 'second tier' is when we learn to accomodate suffering, respond well to injustice, and work through numerous times of hardship and perplexity. Jesus teaches us that there is a vital third tier - the 'dying' to live, the loosing to gain - the 'wild' drive of the lover in the poem, in other words, which compels us like her to pour out our lives in what is so risky, or viewed as wasteful, or foolish... pouring it all out as if there was an infinite capacity to expend what you are and what you have.

The 'guardians', no doubt, believed their role was to maintain some semblance of 'first tier' order, but the truth, of course, is their behaviour was well below even the most rudimentary requirements of such virtue (hence, their violence and malice in their behaviour). In contrast, the woman is acting at the highest level of what counts, because she faces her anguish and such aggression against her due to her total commitment to what mattered - re-uniting with the one she lived for.

Most of us, no doubt, vacilate on this scale. We can easily be as brutish as the sentinels in both our behaviour and our reductionism of what counts to a 'legal' rendering which leaves us way outside the actual bounds of what is desired to convey what is good, but hopefully, we will know the overwhelming beauty of the passion of the beloved - that all of life is worthwhile, even the painful aspects, because we are so totally and entirely loved by the one who has captured us.

It is when such virtue is in full flow that life reaches its true realm of joy bestowed through trial, because the love that surrounds us in such splendour cannot be quashed or denied, can never be suppressed, even by death.

May you and I be 'set as a seal' of such beauty upon the heart of the lover of us all!

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Between the Cracks

"How come everyday, I'm waiting for the change?
How come I still say, give me strength to live".

Pavement Cracks - Annie Lennox.

Outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outplanned.

Is it any wonder we sometimes gain a sense of paralysis!

When we read the narrative of those who desire to do something beyond conforming to the ugliness of life, it is most certainly like looking for something rare amidst the broken highways of the world. Where is the strength that cuts iron bars, breaks apart those brazen gates of bronze, and turns mountains taller than Everest into smooth paths to walk on? Where is the precious bounty from the deep places that, surely, should accompany those times of trial and hardship?

God's hero's and millionaires are often those that serve amidst the broken places. They are the richest of people, because they have discovered how to be grateful in the most common things of life, because the deepest wealth is when we share unmerited love amongst all of us broken souls. Genuine, everlasting love is something way out of our control, that brings a sweetness and beauty that wonderfully transcends all the pain and the misery. It makes us thankful to be alive.

God's house is a refuge for those, notes Chad Bird, who know of the 'streaks of blood upon the floor, from the wounded who drag themselves there after a week of addictions, griefs, and family fragmentation. Scratches are evident on the walls from those seeking to claw their way free from the demons they harbour within. Vomit is on the carpet from women seeking to free themselves from men ruined by anger. Everywhere you look there are faces marked by the trails of tears upon children longing to be freed from the famine of despair' (Unsexy church).

These should all be present, he notes, because beneath all the veneer of our exterior 'niceness', we are wretches marked by filthy rags, needing the singular salve of the blood of Jesus, over and over again.

This is our only Bethel, our only hostel at the gateway to what is so far, so very much 'higher' than us. 

The vital truth, notes Chad, is that the Lamb of God stands firm in our midst, taking away the sins of the world. That is the stone upon which we can rest and see heaven open.

The people of God have often been a band that you would not look at twice on a normal day, but behind all the hobbling and the need, there is the blood-bought mantle of God, making them a army, fierce in prospect, arrayed in banners.


May we be so clothed today in all our 'small corners'.


Saturday, 6 August 2022

Clarity

 "Beloved, if anyone becomes caught in any particular sin, you who are free and discerning in the Gospel should restore them in a spirit of gentleness, keeping guard on yourselves so that you are not tempted by such a sin. By bearing each others faults, we fulfil the will of Jesus Christ". Galatians 6:1 & 2.

Any time we put our heads above the trenches these days, the sexuality issue is everywhere.

In a day when , because our culture has lost God, it’s no surprise that we loose ourselves.

This message, given by Jackie Hill Perry, is a genuine salve to the soul.


Friday, 5 August 2022

Ending the harm

 "He who forgives all your sins, and heals all your diseases". Psalm 103:3.

"As the sun was setting, they brought all those who were sick with various diseases to Him, and laying His hands on them, He healed each of them". Luke 4:40.


Back in my twenties, I had an opportunity to vacation on the Greek island of Kos. Hiring a bicycle, I proceeded to zoom around various parts of the island, and thereby found myself outside the ruins of the school of Hippocrates on a bank holiday when entrance was free. The ancient forum is famous because it was here that the universal credo of the medical profession - 'do no harm' - was supposedly born.

Fast forward several centuries to the present, and the scope of the Hippocratic oath in respect to the preservation of life has well and truly been re-defined.

In a week where a British mother's very reasonable request for more time in respect to her son's brain injury has been refused by both the medical profession and the courts, we face the stark reality of the ramifications of that change. The reality is that authorities of 'free' countries have taken it upon themselves to own comprehensive measures of well-nigh exclusive boundaries of control to those they deem 'qualified' to determine the health and medical rights of everyone else (and, as is being evidenced right now, they do not intend to stop there). This has all been predicated upon the idea that these 'experts' know exactly what is best for everyone, and therefore, legislation is imposed to insure that total conformity is maintained, even to the point where "DNR" notices are given without any reference to the desires of the patient or their families.

How such 'procedures' become acceptable has been evidenced in the devastation now beginning to emerge as a direct result of the pandemic policies of the last few years. In the last few weeks, Germany, France and Sweden have all published initial materials which reveal serious adverse consequences of the rapid, inadequately tested mRNA materials employed against Covid, and other studies show that this is almost certainly the tip of a much larger series of consequences in respect to long-term health in realms such as natural immunity against disease and male and female fertility.  In truth, then, it appears that the pharmaceutical corporations have been given free reign to introduce an agent into the very vital chemistry of people's bodies that is essentially poisonous to life.

The great tragedy here is that several medical voices have been raising these manner of concerns since the very beginning of this outbreak, publicly questioning the veracity of both social restrictions and the well-nigh mandatory imposition of the vaccination program. They have been muted by the mainstream and ridiculed by authorities, but the growing body of data validates their concerns - our medical bodies have been turned into a singular point of delivery to provide little above and beyond the authorised "remedy" of these highly dangerous materials.

Now, we are witnessing the unveiling of the awful economic, medical and social consequences of this vile policy. Thousands of excess deaths are being reported, access to vital health services are being curtailed so that many cannot consult with doctors or obtain essential medical treatments. Young children have been drastically impaired in their essential development due to school closures and social distancing/masking regimes, and are now being required to take a substance into their bodies for a threat that almost exclusively kills the elderly.

The consequences of the actions of the last two years are horrendous, and those who sought to say this must be challenged are being proved right, but for most of us, this leaves us in a state of deep vulnerability. The fact is that the institutions that most of us have depended upon for much of our lives have been seriously crippled by what has been imposed upon them. Just a few months ago, a large body of nurses, for example, were protesting outside of hospitals because they were about to be forcefully expelled from their profession because they refused to be injected with this deadly substance.

What are we to do?

Where can we find aid in this time of need?

The churches in general have taken the view that these policies have all been good, closing their doors when told and even becoming vaccination centres, holding out a poison as remedy instead of remaining open to hold out the genuine word of life. This is a ringing inditement against their 'faith', especially as it amounted to the ostracism of any medical or theological questioning of the well-nigh mandatory requirements. Only when we reached the point where society would only allow the vaccinated access to normal activities was there any form of concern.

We have to be pragmatic, taking 'a little wine' (medication) for our health where required, and seeking to eat and exercise as best as we can to keep ourselves in good health, but the honest truth is that most of us will continue to need the assistance of this crippled service.

My own hope is that after such abuse, we will begin to see a reversal of the madness in what unfolds next - that some in places of authority will begin to speak up and aim to undo some of the damage that has been done. This isn't going to be a panacea that will remedy all the ills by any means, but we can pray that this will be a genuine step in the right direction.

What is required now is a great deal of care, discernment and wisdom on our part in respect to what we say and do, seasoning the days where possible with what needs to be addressed, and seeking to show by our own example that the life bestowed by heaven is one of blessing and goodness, even amidst such pestilent days.

The vital remedy is always the healing of our souls, so that though this body is indeed destroyed, yet in this very flesh we shall see God.

Redemption for the individual and the world as a whole only comes through the death and resurrection evidenced in the Cross of Jesus Christ, so all that is truly vital for us, must be bestowed from that eternal source.

May God continue to give us wisdom and mercy in these days, and may they indeed be rich because He does so.

Saturday, 30 July 2022

Dirty Hands

 "Now when the scribes and Pharisees gathered to Him, some coming from Jerusalem, they noticed that some of his disciples ate with hands that had not been ceremoniously washed and were therefore unclean (and thereby defiled according to their traditions)" (Mark 7: 1-3).

How much of what you what deem to be meaningful is defined by what you observe?

I'm not merely talking about what you visually notice (or what you miss), but what you "see" that directly impacts upon the way you behave or what essentially defines what you determine to do.

Paramount in the spirituality of the men with Jesus here was their 'pots and pans' mentality (it actually says that - see verse 4). They expected everything to be clean enough that they could see their own piety reflected in it. Anything that dropped below this exacting standard was vile, so when we're told that they enquired of Jesus how it was that His followers didn't come up to spec, they weren't simply seeking to correct a minor mistake of social etiquette - they would have been boiling at such disrespect for what was, to them, the "weight" of the Mosaic law; the display of godliness.

We always know when we're dealing with that kind of regimental control. The supposed reasons for "holiness" have nothing to do with God showing up, but entirely revolve around not deflating our own sense of importance (because we set the ground rules, period).

Jesus understands we're filthy. Not because we haven't worn our pharisaical best or forgot to apply a little soap and water, but because that's exactly what we are. Abraham may have been a man of faith, called by God, but that didn't change the fact shortly after leaving Ur, he was back to his weaselly ways of seeking to wriggle out of trouble.

It's not the dirt that's the trouble (at least, if we're honest about that). It's when we seek to contrive ourselves to be something (godly) that we're not, and then expect God to give us credit for our self-deceit (hence, the tragedy that was Cain).

That's why this same chapter has the story of the noticed gentile woman (vs 25) and the miraculous restoration of senses to an impaired man (vs  32). They were 'heard' because they were both in poverty, and all they needed was Jesus to meet them where they were. What they didn't need is all the "provisos" that Jesus Himself warns about (7:14-23) after setting the religious tea-set owners in their place (6 & 7). That's where we need to zone-in when it comes to the issue of "our" religion - the measure by which we choose to 'weigh' another up.

So what does Jesus say? What amounts to 'pots and pans' as opposed to genuine spirituality?

There's an interesting notation in John's third letter about a character named Dieotrephes (See verse 9). In spite of all that John had written in a prior epistle about the necessity for Christian love and an adherence to truth, this clearly sanctimonious and self-referential blotch had managed to place himself at the very core of a Christian company in such a fashion that John's teachings were deemed to be unacceptable, and the Apostle himself barred from this gathering.

This is where the hollow 'noise' of false pietism takes its adherents.

We can readily point to 'the world' and simply throw it all under the bus, but Jesus is saying those things we want to make a real song and dance about aren't actually the real problem. It isn't what's "out there" that brings evil, He notes, but what arises from inside us to abuse ourselves that manufactures all manner of obsessive religiosity, not to mention iniquity, especially when it comes to harming ourselves and others.

The clean cutlery brigade are highly dangerous because they want, at all costs, to evade the real trouble - the stinking mire festering inside their dying souls. That is why religion is so dangerous. If it becomes all about what we "are" (in our own estimation) and not what we actually harbour - the things listed by Jesus (verses 21 & 22).

Martin Luther became a real person when he came to understand how much he actually hated God. Religion merely amplified the notion that God was nothing more than a cruel, sadistic tyrant, who demanded total commitment through genuinely pious behaviour, and would bring countless ages of "refinement"  (purgatory) if there was even a hint of resentment or a moment's lapse of devotion, and if you were less 'godly' than that, then the torment would be eternal. Life, says Jesus, can only begin when such folly is ended by the truth that only God's love saves us entirely, and the wretched woe of our sin was fully met in by Christ's deliverance on the cross. It was as Luther discovered this for himself in Paul's letter to the Romans that he finally became a free man, and the tyranny of religion was dissolved.

Jesus, in this passage in Mark, calls people to be His on the very same basis (verse 14) - to put aside all the 'externals' that they thought were vital and merely trust that He could do something about their real problem within.

So, where does that leave us?

That "inner" notion we have of ourselves being 'good' people because we tick all the  'clean and tidy' exterior boxes can so easily leave us looking away from God's mercy to something else as our virtue and merit, but that is utter folly.

Jesus wants us at His table, with all our baggage, and the dirt very evident indeed, whatever others think about that. He wants us to be trusting entirely upon Him.

Vanity purchases a wardrobe of outfits (beliefs) that suit our propensity for self religion. "Worship" becomes a contrivance through which such self veneration is bolstered. The consequence is an eternity of void between us and the only healer in town. He is the one that needs to be seated at our table, continually.




Friday, 22 July 2022

Restoring Beauty

 "May I reside here, in this, your house, everyday that I have, to encounter the glorious radiance of the most high, and to be at home, here in your presence".

Psalm 27:4.

So, this week, Andrew Klavan sought to address the monumental task of how we seek to see genuine beauty become evident once again in life and action in a manner which truly seeks to express something of the marvel of God's extravagant and pervasive goodness and truth.

Whilst I am delighted to see this head on approach to something that truly matters, I want to unpack some of what he stated, because it was both useful and troubling, pretty much in equal measure.

THE REASON

Andrew is certainly correct to seek to address the "slump" in our culture, and the need to see this addressed in a fashion that moves beyond the nasuiating limitations of politically correct culture. The recent massive success of the film, "Top Gun - Maverick', for example, which has taken over a hundred and fifty billon dollars at the box office states loud and clear that people are looking for something far more genuinely entertaining than the dross of the recent Disney films, Netflix and Amazon shows, that keep pounding the woke drum, but this shouldn't cause us to loose sight of the genuinely good film makers that are still very much at work in that genre. Directors such as Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Guillermo Del Torro, and Denis Villeneuve, have found ways and means amidst the past troubled few years to continue to maintain and produce visual works that genuinely speak to the power and scope of cinema to tell human stories of worth and significance, so our examination of the arts needs to be nuanced by such considerations.

THE ROAD AHEAD

Society, as Lewis noted in the Abolition of Man, clearly has a pernicious tendency to turn us in upon ourselves. That indeed is a spiral to madness (hence, plenty of 'art' today that conveys just that), but good art always causes us to look outside of this vortex - to perceive the 'hand' of something or someone greater reaching in to take us into a far better place of seeing and understanding what and where we are. Such truth brings a depth of acknowledgement of our shortcomings and a greater truth beyond ourselves.

Mere images and appearances - the peripheral - is what has become key in our present fixation upon the immediate (our momentary wants), hence so much of our media is tellingly geared to the satiation of this. Nature's overt glory is therefore discarded because it "sings" of a far higher beauty, as does the very truth of the image within ourselves that we must impugn in order to 'protect' ourselves from hearing the explicit 'song' that the natural realm proclaims so loudly within and without (Romans 10:18).

The present moment reflects how all that is essential in respect to ourselves and our world becomes severed when we dissect our nature and existence by the scalpel of nihilism. Truth instead exposes the very nature of our soul and marrow as the explicit property of the divine. The popular error is indeed artistic annihilism - the incarceration of the person and the culture, as evidenced in the realm of such evil expressed, for example, in Germany in the 1930s.

There can be no doubt that such "death" has been at work in our society throughout our times, but it would be wrong to assume that this has been the only 'voice' at work in the West. Some of us have witnessed first hand the 'wind in the trees' of awakening and renewal in life and faith, and this has often lead directly to very genuine expressions of the life which comes down from on high to enliven our engagement with society and the creative aspects of existence.

THE ISSUE

The intention of beauty, he (Andrew) notes, is to essentially point to truth. Beauty is abused, then, when we seek to mutilate its inherent virtue to construe something 'as' beautiful which maligns and demeans us via our encounter with it (Genesis 3:1).

Our affections, our ability to use our faculties to visualise wonder, can either be a gateway to something genuinely rich and marvellous, or, if beguiled, to become enslaved by a wickedness that is our undoing. The David who wrote in the Psalms of the astonishing splendour of the 'fearfully and wonderfully' made human body, for example, was also the man ensnared by inappropriate desire when he neglected his vocation and surrendered to his propensity to sin.

Part of the problem today is properly defining beauty. The 'goodness' of this virtue, the video notes, is expressed in its consequences, but that does not mean that a valuable definition cannot be given.

Beauty is the means whereby what only 'appears' to be secular actually becomes a jewel which reflects the deepest expression of what is eternally good and true. Genuine beauty can therefore take what is naturally "dissolving" (pain, suffering, death), and bring a virtue and a value into these realms that is genuinely sublime and extraordinary.  Art, therefore, is 'good' when inviting us to look for, to discover, what is genuinely the most important, the most just, in what we can encounter in song or sculpture or moving images.

Beauty, then, seeks to express what is 'highest' in the realm we inhabit, but the encounter elevates us to beyond the merely temporal - it encapsulates a genuinely transcendent quality. In this manner, it is truly married to truth and goodness, because it is a threshold into what is essentially, vitally deeper and richer than the merely mundane.

RENEWING THE SECULAR?

Given the above definitions, can something that is contemporary (post-modern) be used in a fashion that conveys truth?

This surely depends upon the intention of those who are using a medium - what is it that they want to express?

In my younger days, many sections of the church stated that rock music was simply 'of the devil', but that simply was not the only statement to be made of such a genre.

We can so easily 'miss' the fact that God can take a stone, a stick, a bush, or a human embryo, and by filling it with Himself, make it an expression of extraordinary truth and beauty.

Whilst we can agree with Andrew that what we so often see and hear is truly degraded by the human condition, this does not prevent God from picking this up and using it for His glory.

There is no denying that modernism - which, as Andrew shows in his own book on beauty, really commenced in some of the streams which emerged at the time of the enlightenment - seeks to demean and expunge genuine beauty from life, but not everything that is part of present culture belongs in that stream, and therefore, the right place to start is to truly enjoy, advocate and value what is good (Philippians 4:8) - hence, venues like this (I hope), where people are encouraged towards this.

The wounds upon our civilisation are indeed deep, and one of the flaws of post-modernism is the manner in which it seeks to lie about the impact of these upon us, but beauty actually requires us to take a hard, comprehensive look at these evils, to engage with their relationship to us, in order that we might truly be broken and genuinely healed (Psalm 51:8).

Our "greatness" sprang from a moment when we were able to look back at the glories of the past and see these renewed through the cypher of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The Renaissance is the twin of the Reformation, so when we see Martin Luther, industriously working with his pen to conform the faith back to the gospel, we see it marries to the work of Cranach the Elder and others, in their seeking to illustrate the freedom of what such words conveyed, and this is a very familiar pattern (look at the relationship between Moses and Bezalel).

Such majesty cannot help but generate the splendour of what followed.

The shock of the devastation of the world wars is indeed traumatic, but it would be wrong to say that our culture was simply entirely killed off by those events. The 're-invention' of the West was to say that something splendid derived from those ashes - the rise of Hollywood, of Rock and Roll and modern society, has all been looked upon, for better or for worse, as a turning of the tide against such atrocity.

SPECKS OF GLORY

It's imperative we understand this. Anyone who has seen a movie as good as Chariots of Fire or the Shawshank Redemption, or enjoyed the orchestral scores of composers like John Williams, or acknowledged the sheer artistry employed and expressed in numerous works by modern photographers and artists knows that, whilst post-modernism may drain the colour from contemporary society, it has clearly not entirely removed it. Shards of the excellence of this, our pre-(French) enlightenment days, clearly remain and illuminate some of what is still in view.

C S Lewis rightly discerned that when we are enthralled by such forms, it is not because these are inherently "vessels" which convey the totality of beauty in themselves, but they act as means whereby we are drawn to look beyond them to the source of all such whispers of something profoundly and eternally true.

What we encounter in such moments is something far above and beyond ourselves, and that is why we desire to return to such again and again. Our "gaze" merely comprehends (because we have been permitted to do so) something so much more than ourselves or the merely natural ability of our senses. We glimpse the nature of true wonder.

LESSONS FROM THE GREEKS?

In the middle of his recorded travels in the books of Acts, the Apostle Paul finds himself in the ancient hellenic capitol of culture - Athens. Unlike Rome's insatiable thirst for dominion, the Athenians sought to excel in seeking to reasonably understand the nature of existence, and this was particularly expressed in their methods of artistic representation. Paul walks amongst them, and taking an opportunity to address their thinkers, he notes that examining our form is useful, even necessary, if it leads us to recognise our profound dependance upon the one who made and sustains us.

Art may take us, in other words, towards a threshold, but it is only an act of divine inter-ventive grace which carries us over.

This was the vital lesson stated by Michelangelo towards the end of his life. The magnificence of art is empty before the profound revelation of God in Christ, reconciling us at the hill of the skull; the crucible of redemption.

DEEP INSIDE

Good art always reflects the naked truth about ourselves - that which we all know to be proudly true. The body in art alludes to that glory which is now so often marred or masked by sin, but when we allow the rightness behind such shades to become evident, when the body has become defined afresh by the resurrected flesh of Christ, then the true nature and value of God's handiwork is restored, and we can begin to look afresh upon the divine purpose and intent for what was animated and enlivened from dust.

What, therefore, makes art 'good' is not merely the immediacy it inherently contains to draw us, but it's ability, however distressing its content, to profoundly convey to us something essentially and crucially true about what is vital.

When we come to overtly good religious art, what is so profound is the manner in which this ties to something inherently human in respect to the manner of occurrence it portrays, but equally, additionally, the palpable embodiment of some divine 'word' it is seeking to convey (an expression, then, of the theology provided through this particular incident or scriptural passage). What is certainly natural becomes embued with an entirely deeper level of meaning and significance due to the depiction involving the recognition of the Most High being related to an event.

Beauty allows us to open a link between ourselves and what is true, what is good, what is virtuous and what is perpetually valuable in our realm of existence, and beyond this. It acts as a means to 'see' further than the confines of an existence merely defined by the mundane and the meaningless. If we loose the "upward" level that beauty is continually wanting to allow us to acknowledge, then we become dreadfully deformed and empty in our days here.

May the depths of beauty truly allow us to see well, and thereby recognise and know the hand that provides such a splendour.