Wednesday, 21 January 2009

M e r c y

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is…
We are more sinful and weak than we ever dared to admit and…
We are more loved and accepted than we ever dared to hope.

(Tim Keller with thanks to J Spadino)

So there we all were, a group of Christian men, aged from early twenties to late forties, on a gorgeous summer day in London attending a theological conference. It was the lunch break, and we we're heading down the main road towards a sandwich bar, passionately discussing the content of the morning papers, when the mood changed.
Walking towards us in a short dress which fitted in all the right places, was a totally stunning blonde. In a moment, the conversation had virtually stopped, as our attention was clearly taken elsewhere... for a few seconds.... then we all smiled at each other, and carried on.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not giving this example to lecture on looking at women (actually, when things were good in the garden, we were certainly meant to look), but to touch on what we looked at last time - how when Adam and Eve took their eyes off of how things were meant to be and then neglected this due to a 'promise' of something else, the whole world spun out of control.
It's a reality that is often pretty well dismissed as incorrect today - we're not the way we are because of a some story about naked forebears stealing fruit from a tree! We're just, well, naturally selfish - it's just part of what makes our species good survivors.
The whole point of the Genesis record, however, is to say we didn't survive.
We were alienated totally from our true humanity, our true connection to life, creation and each other. Everything became tainted with death because of that one catastrophe, which then lead to countless others (just read through from Genesis 3 to 11 to get the big picture).

The point here is that rebellion has made everything rotten to the core, and there's no known remedy for that. You can seek inner peace, work down to your bones doing good deeds, be as pious as please, but it won't change what's true at the heart of us. As Bob Dylan once phrased it so well, "I was stone cold dead when I stepped out of the womb".

We have to start there. We have to start there, because only then, when we see just how far away we are from what is meant, when we understand how far we have fallen, can we really have our eyes open to the answer.
When you're in a hole that deep, then you understand that the only way out is rescue - someone has to come to your aid, and that is what the message of Jesus Christ is all about.

We're pretty good at distracting ourselves, often for all sorts of 'good reasons', but God wants us to look squarely and deeply into this reality, so we go running to him for mercy - for rescue.
Look hard there, and then turn and look at the person of Jesus Christ.
He came that we might know life again, and know it in all of it's beauty.

Friday, 16 January 2009


"There must be some way out of here".

Have you ever viewed the world through pieces of a broken mirror?
The vision - usually many images of the same thing - strikes you, because even though this fractured view is a distortion of what is actually in plain view, it 'speaks' of something true none the less - a world painfully real to each of us, brutally etched with pain, suffering, brutality and the ever-encroaching reality of death.
Like the images of broken glass, it speaks so clearly that something is terribly wrong.

The clues should tell us how far we have disconnected from where we began.
One of the things which so strikes me about the opening account of the creation in Genesis is just how close the realms deemed 'heaven' and 'earth' were at the start.
When creation was complete (that included the realm we call heaven - angels and the like), God would literally walk in the garden at the end of the day, to enjoy His handiwork.
The very realm that we now find incredible in our 'sophisticated' society was as close as the dawn or as tangible as the earth beneath us. That should cause us to pause, to begin to glimpse just how far we have fallen.

For thousands of years, we have employed every means at our disposal to seek to gain some insight into who and what we are, into finding our place amongst all that's there, but however hard we look, the answers are damned unsatisfying.
Life equates, apparently, to no more than a cosmic accident, with no intent, real value or purpose, so we might as well just get used to it, make the most of the brief span we have, and try not to think about it too much. Is that it? The universe is meaningless.
That is the death of our race in Eden.
We were murdered by the lie that we are meant to merely be what we now are - pained, crooked things, empty of any true value. Heaven and Earth within its sphere have become a foolish dream, a myth for the foolhardy.

But God comes, not to a garden, but to this barren world.
He faces us as ourselves - as what humanity should be - and calls us to turn from the dark.

Jesus Christ teaches us that there is an end to this nightmare of corruption and death - if we but trust in His saving care.

The world empties us. It leaves us stripped bare of all that is good, for it leads us all, without fail, to the grave, and to all that death truly entails,
but that curse, that emptiness, is broken, by He who knew no wrong, breaking what we could not break, healing what we could not heal, and now, there can be reconciliation.

As the world staggers on, we can either continue to look into it's broken shards, or we can glimpse a deeper, harder reality - that beyond pain, beyond death, beyond our own corruption, there is a new life that makes a call upon each of us.
The days are approaching when heaven and earth will marry once again.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Opening Creation

"The instrument or means which God made use of is His omnipotent Word, thus Paul notes that through Him all things are made".

Luther on Genesis 1:3.

It's been a pretty chilly winter here, but the bright days have meant that braving the cold reaps a reward.
This last weekend, I ventured out with a friend to view the magnificence of Bedruthan Steps on Cornwall's West coast - one of the most spectacular landscapes on these shores, where huge stone pillars rise from the golden sands, like titans marking the limits of the land and sea. I always feel inspired at that spot, nature is so immediate, and it helps to remind me just how normal the miraculous actually is.

It's often hard in our modern world to see all that we touch, taste, smell and view as a miracle, but the revelation of Old and New Testaments speak together with a clear voice - God formed these things by His Word - the very same Word which generates faith in us to trust in His mercy and redemption. When we look upon the majesty of creation, bare of our pretenses or impositions, we are encountering a life, a miracle that is akin to regeneration, and that is why both Creation and Redemption "speak' so loudly of the nature and closeness of God - they are both formed and sustained by the same living Word.

The saints have always known that this 'Word' is not some ethereal or obscure esoterica, some elite, occult prize for the odd adept that aspires high enough. This Word walked openly with Adam and Eve when they were naked in Eden, met with Abram as that man became the father of a nation, and appeared many times to His people throughout the history of redemption. His visage is so deep, so real, that even death could not mar it but for an instant, affirmed so clearly by His friends who recognized Him when risen from the grave.

The instrument of all things good is the person of Jesus Christ - He was as much in the knitting of the weave of time and space as He is in our breaking bread and sharing life.

When He walked this earth in flesh, He showed us that as In Eden, all of life was meant to be good and meaningful - that Creation itself should indeed be the theater for an eternal unfolding of God's working in the very tapestry of our culture - work, rest and play.
Because of the disruption of sin, we have barely witnessed the overture, but the surety of redemption informs us that the true grand performance is not far away.

We need to look upon the world, upon our lives, as something integral to a great work - the eternal unfolding revelation of the love and communion of the Godhead, through the Word and Spirit, to the work of His hands. That is the abundant life we now begin to share.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Deeper Truths

“I have tried to stress throughout the inevitableness of the error made about every transposition by one who approaches it from the lower medium only. The strength of the critic lies in the words “merely” or “nothing but. He sees all the facts but not the meaning. Quite truly, therefore, he claims to have seen all the facts. there is nothing else there, except the meaning. He is therefore, as regards the matter at hand, in the position of an animal. You will have noticed that most dogs cannot understand pointing. You point to a bit of food on the floor; the dog, instead of looking at the floor, sniffs at your finger. A finger is a finger to him, and that is all. His world is all fact and no meaning. And in a period in when factual realism is dominant we shall find people deliberately inducing upon themselves this dog-like mind. A man who has experienced love from within will deliberately go about to inspect in analytically from outside and regard the results of this analysis as truer than his experience. The extreme limits of this self-binding is seen in those who, like the rest of us, have consciousness, yet go about the study of the human organism as if they did not know it was conscious. As long as this deliberate refusal to understand things from above, even where such understanding is possible, continues, it is idle to talk of any final victory over materialism. The critique of every experience from below, the voluntary ignoring of meaning and concentration on fact, will always have the same plausibility. There will always be evidence, and every month fresh evidence, to show that religion is only psychological, justice only self-protection, politics only economics, love only lust, and thought itself only cerebral biochemistry.”

C S Lewis - transpositions.

At the end of the Victorian era, when the West was at the height of its growth and dominance,
it became popular to aspire to a philosophy of the ascendancy of 'civilized' humanity. Popular authors and writers sought to advocate such views and 'new' schools of philosophical and 'scientific' study aimed to define us in solely materialistic terms - the chief of these being the works of Freud, Marx and Darwin. It was all expected to herald a new age, a new order, where man would finally become the defined (and thereby truly free) creature he was meant to be, no longer chained to myth or superstition.

The reality was very different. The 'new age' gave birth to the most destructive century in modern history, where war has become the currency of a world in which genocide, displacement, poverty and disease are the grim reality we see everyday. The illusions of modernity have merely allowed the secular society the freedom to seek to obscure the reality of human nature and thereby the human condition, thereby incarcerating many to a world-view in which there is no true understanding, thus no meaning or remedy.

The 'modern' thinkers of our times wish to brush such realities aside and continue to advocate the contemporary myth of our nature, but there is actually nothing new or unchallenged about an ideology which, in essence, would have comfortably rubbed shoulders with the stoics and epicureans of ancient Greece. The inherent 'myth' of this view is unmasked by the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 1 - a 'humanism' which denies the most profound reality of our existence - that we were designed and created, and we have rebelled against that designer. The consequence is terrible - the construction of our realities, individual and corporate, become founded and raised upon a lie, that we can become 'gods' in determining our own existence, our own purpose, our own ends.

In a year when such voices will no doubt seek to make themselves heard, yet again, loudly and, on occasion, selectively, through the popular media, let's begin by taking a leaf from the observations of Solomon - that wisdom, there amongst our streets and everyday lives, is not something so brash and arrogant, but like the serenity and grace of a gentle woman, is seeking to address us, calmly yet deeply, to open our eyes to a far larger universe.

The God who is there, is indeed the God who is here.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

In with the new

"The room is full of silence - it's getting hard to breathe.
Take this gilded cage of pain, set me free,
Take this overcoat of shame, it never did belong to me.

I need to go outside, I need to leave the smoke,
I cannot go on living in the same sick joke,

It seems our lives have taken on a different kind of twist,
Now that you have given me the perfect gift.

For we have fallen from ourselves, to face the truth about ourselves....

So let's go out, into the rain again, just like we said we always would".

The Gift by Annie Lennox.

So here we are, the world of 2009, and the news is already filled with all the strife and woe that so marks the human condition.
The remedies, the policies, like resolutions (interesting that's what they're called at the UN), come and go , are made and broken, but we're still the same sin-sick race we've always been, in a hole, wanting the stars, but without the nature required to truly dance amongst them.

So much was lost, in the garden.
The only solution is a Saviour.

Christmas already seems old, but the God revealed in that moment is closer than our slight moments, our oh so brief pauses, when we truly 'catch' ourselves in our own reflections or the mirror of our thoughts - all to brief encounters which so tightly speak of our need - a inner scream for rescue.

The world, the ragged thing we term life, the identity of our soul within it, all need something greater than any scheme or sham we can devise.

In 2009, may inner eyes and inquiring minds, amidst all of earth's tribes and tongues, be turned to look to Jesus Christ, the great Lord and Redeemer of the lost.