Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Grace uncovered (getting it, and not getting it)

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  
C S Lewis - The Weight of Glory.


There's an interesting pattern in Paul's letters to fellow believers.
The imperatives always come before the indicatives.

Let me unpack that a little.

Take the book of Romans.
For eleven chapters, Paul speaks out loud and clear on the fact that the only way we can deal with the issue of our unrighteousness is because of the righteousness that has been freely given to us through God's giving of His only Son. Only by having faith in this amazing gift can we be set free to become those who live anew in the life which comes to us from God.
Then, he concludes his letter by offering some guidance on some practical issues regarding how to truly serve one another and the world around us well. The essence of this can be summarized as because we have become his children, we will truly care for each other, so we won't seek to harm others in our living, but show God's goodness to all.

The problems start when we seek to 'do' Christianity the other way around...

You must only teach our manner of ecclesiology (churchianity).
You must keep the sabbath (whenever we deem that to be).
You must abstain from anything we have deemed 'worldly'.
You must distance yourself from the ungodly.
You must be seen to be different (abiding by our codes).

Paul knew the consequences of this reversal only too well - his letters to the Colossians and the Galatians tell us something of the manner of calamity which follows.

It's all too easy today to fall into the indicatives trap - you just have to love people to be 'good'; show them what's (morally) right and wrong and insure that's evident in your behavior and their behavior, and, hey presto, there you have it!

Jesus had seen plenty of that in the 'piety' of His day.

There were many who prescribed rules, but didn't follow them.
The burdens they imposed were great, and the penalties for missing the mark harsh, but their outward shows of otherness and devotion helped no one.
Their manner of behavior only blinded people to what truly mattered.
(See Matthew 23).

 The reality is that true righteousness, viable morality, is far beyond our capacity.

We have to see that true goodness, true beauty, true virtue, are so much bigger and deeper than us. We're the urchin playing in the dirt, not the truly devout and unblemished, upstanding creature we deem ourselves to be.

The reality is that the truly unblemished had to become 'smitten by God and afflicted, pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities' (Isaiah 53: 4 and 5) so that we could truly be delivered from our corruption. If we place our confidence and hope of making it anywhere else than in His giving of Himself for us, we're truly without hope.


Falsehood tells us we're making it by faking it. Truth tells us sin yet remains (1 John 1:18), and that true and total sanctification will only be seen within us come the resurrection (Romans 5:10).

That's why we must always start with the imperatives -
then we can see the gap between ourselves and God, and how that gap could only be filled by God Himself, and that it is that one truth alone that frees us to live well (2 Peter 1:3-8).

Martin Luther spoke of liberating truth being that which is "extra nos" - outside of us.
It's the reality made ours by the one who hung on a cross outside the walls of the city to bring down the wall of division imposed by my sin and yours.

The life, the health, the peace, the joy, that defines life, now and forever, that allows us to even desire something more than our hovels, is found in that one death and resurrection ( 1 Corinthians 15).

So, the next time someone begins to lay out Christianity to you as a whole list of do's and dont's, you know where to point them.






Saturday, 5 August 2017

Escaping the Tyranny (of the 'if only's' and the 'maybee's')

"I, for one, am still at a loss to understand why there is a selective advantage for eels to travel perilously to the Sargasso sea, or why Ascaris has to migrate all around the host's body instead of comfortably settling in the intestine where it belongs, or what the survival value a multiple stomach of a cow has when a horse, of comparable size, does very well with one. You cannot reject these and innumerable other questions as incompetent".
Ludwig Bertalanffy - Scientific Symposium on Beyond Reductionism.

"When it is evening you say, 'it will be fair tomorrow for the sky is red', and in the morning, 'it will be storm today for the sky is threatening'. You know how to interpret the statement of the sky, but you cannot read the signs of the times". Matthew 16: 2,3.

Last month (in a post entitled 'trapped'), I sought to show just how dangerous to us certain 'orthodoxies' can be. This is because they lead us to holding a prescribed view of our world and ourselves that disconnects us from for more imperative and vital realities.

We noted that in the realm of scientific pursuit, the cardinal form of such wickedness (there really isn't another way to speak about it) is the atheist's favorite toy, Darwinian evolution, and I also touched on why this is so contrary to actual empirical data that it needs to be dumped, but that doesn't change the numbness of the 'orthodox'. Only this week, I was once again seeing materials that stated 'evidence' indicates that transitional forms provide us with the corroboration required for the theory, but the animation to show this was total conjecture - the actual fossils themselves are not there, and this leaves the same unbreachable gap that Darwin feared in his original research.

It's never easy to give up what we want to be true.
Back in the early 90's, Oliver Stone's 'JFK' appeared to me to present at least enough troubling data to suggest that there was a second 'grassy knoll' gunman, and that this anonymous assassin, not Oswald, had delivered the kill shot, but was that really the issue? I thought so for a long time, but I was recently shown some new ballistic research that verifies how a single shooter could have killed Kennedy from the Dallas book depository, so other theories really are no longer required.

The reason I touch on this is not to dismiss certain issues out of hand in regards to this historic event (Stone's movie still chills me in respect of other matters that appear to surround the killing and the Warren commission), but to highlight what can be proven when we have the materials required and the means to test these to show what can happen.

It is entirely different when it comes to evolution.

Without the essential hard data from the fossil record, there simply is no evidence to support the supposition that one species gradually evolved from another.
Stephen J Gould was totally honest about this when he noted "can we invent a reasonable sequence of intermediate forms - that is, viable, functioning organisms - between ancestors and descendants in major structural transitions. I submit it may reflect my lack of imagination, that the answer is no". Gould is saying that merely trying to invent such a process by using imagination, he cannot see how it can be done. That is the cardinal reality the theory faces - the cupboard is quite literally bare of evidence.

That would be bad enough, but the revolution that's taken place in molecular biology has truly deepened the dilemma, and is bringing scientists to a point of seeing that other, astonishing processes are at work in nature that have nothing to do with the survival requirements of natural selection.

The real shocks come in life when we recognize the full ramifications of what we're witnessing before our eyes, and experiencing a crucial shift in ourselves as a result.

When Jesus talked to Nicodemus, he cut off all this 'teacher of Israel' thought he knew about  God and righteousness and zero'd-in on the very truth that was supposed to be at the heart of his own religion, but Nicodemus was oblivious to it (John 3: 3-14. See also Jeremiah 31:31-34).

When we advocate an orthodoxy that nullifies the full nature of truth, we kill ourselves and others, so we must be careful, on every subject, to speak the full truth. What troubles me so often, not only concerning worldly "truth", but orthodoxy amongst 'teachers' of Christianity, is that they are guilty of stifling the richness and the freedom that the Good News of God being Creator and Redeemer brings because they seek to impose unbiblical restraints on theology amongst us and thereby impede our life with God and each other.

Let me conclude this entry with an illustration.

One of the most important examples of this is given in the story of Jesus out walking with His disciples on a sabbath (Matthew 12). The religious police were keeping an eye on them (probably ready to pounce in judgement if they took one step beyond 'a Sabbath's journey' (see Acts 1:12). The disciples, walking across a field, no doubt did something quite natural to them - they plucked some of the ears of corn there...

Gotcha!
Instantly, the Pharisees attack (verse 2) - look, they cry, work on the sabbath! These men are nothing but law-breakers.

They are so blind to the real picture of what the truth of the law points to, so eager to trap anyone who is not on the same page as them with regards to what is orthodox, that they jump without understanding.

Jesus quickly not only shows from their own history why their interpretation is wrong (verses 3 & 4) but how the very law itself negates their interpretation (verse 5), but finally, that all of this is of minor important to what is actually unfolding before their eyes (verses 6 & 7). The fulness of the Godhead, as Paul would later write, bodily, was there for them to see, hear and know, and yet their framework was denying them a revelation of the most important moment in all of time and space.

Is your 'orthodoxy', secular, religious, reformed or otherwise, doing the same?
Are you someone enjoying that conversation with the one who makes everything wonderful in its time, or are you on the sidelines, merely waiting for an opportunity to dismiss because the determinations of self require it?

The gateway of truth is narrow not because it negates a relationship that encompasses all things, but because it demands an ending of an ego that will not pass through its requirement to become new. The Cross alone opens the tomb and the fellowship of resurrection.

There is, sure and certain, a better way for each of us in Jesus Christ.



Friday, 28 July 2017

S t a s i s

"What a week I'm having!!!"
Walter Kornbluth - Splash.

It's been one of those weeks... isn't it so often?

But why? Why does so much of life seem to just stand still, even go nowhere, whilst other things, (like months and years) rush past?

I was certainly having one of those weeks this past 24 hours, and wasn't even sure how to deal with it, when I looked at Mockingbird's new articles on the bus to work...
and found a piece that grabbed my attention.

I won't say any more than if you're having a week like mine, have a read of Ethan Richardson's 'When God leaves it unresolved'. It won't solve the issues, but it will tell you why you and me are where we are.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The rewards of uncomfortable conversations

'Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks'.
Proverbs 4:23

The tweet said it all.
"Someday, not now, I'd like to have a real conversation".
How many others who are never devoid of their technology these days could say the same?

People spend inordinate amounts of time talking.
Is that really conversing?


It costs to really talk.


Thoughts, feelings, opinions, they all become exchanged, but are you getting closer, deeper, further into knowing who you're talking to by what's being exchanged...?

Is there something more that could be, should be said, but never is?


Conversation truly happens when it discloses the who, the core of me.

Conversation is dangerous.

Once, there was a man, crippled, waiting for a cure to his ailment.
He thought he was in the right place, he just needed the right moment, the right conditions, to take the final step, and...

For years, it was always the same. The moment just never came.
However close it sometimes seemed to be, he was still here, no different.
Like everyone else in this place of longing, he was locked inside the never-changing truth.
However much he wanted to be whole... he was still crippled inside.

Today was different. 
Someone new was beside him, really talking to Him... asking him to do the very thing he'd longingly thought about, dreamed about, but never realized.

This one, this whole person, was making it happen, giving him the strength to get up, to leave the convalescence of his broken self and find a health that, moments ago, was impossible.

A conversation happened, and life changed.

The event didn't end there, because there were plenty ready to jump on the one who had spoken so deeply, and tell him you can't do that - actually 'speak' to someone. Why, what would happen if you keep on doing that?

We'd hear deeper, clearer, than we ever thought we could.

Our world is restless in it's chatter.

Are we ready for a conversation?

The one who heals, who truly speaks is waiting.

"You search, but you cannot see what needs to found - needs to be heard.
You cannot hear me.
The very things you search are telling you this, but you cannot hear it.

When you hear me, everything will change".

(Jesus - The Gospel of John chapter 5).

This same Jesus is beside you right now.
The conversation begins when you're ready....

to really talk.


Sunday, 9 July 2017

Trapped

"I did not then in the least doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the bible... Whilst on the Beagle I was quite orthodox and recall being laughed at by several of the officers for quoting the bible as an unanswerable authority on a point of morality".  Charles Darwin.

"Woe to you, teachers - you who travel across land and sea to make a single convert to your cause, and thereby make them twice the child of hell as yourself!"  Jesus.

I was sent an ' it's up to us' video link on Face Book this morning. The message was 'they' (the people with money) have imprisoned us (the people with less) and 'we', from inside ourselves, can make things different - we just need to change the way we see and thereby do things.

The Victorians had the same approach.
They'd become locked into an orthodoxy which said everything was fixed, but change was in the air. In no time at all, the old, supposedly immovable beliefs about the world would be swept away and everything would be replaced by the unstoppable progress of the new truths, scientific and therefore correct, about us.

They may have stopped believing in Noah's flood, but the deluge they encountered released by Lyell's work on Geology and then Darwin's about the natural processes of life, was overwhelming and changed the world forever.

It left us with a new tyranny, just as crippling as the old.

'Nonsense!', I hear you cry.
We have decades of lovely natural history programs and lots of broad statements by 'those who know' to show just how true all of that material is -
we are products of chance in a blind universe.

It's simply untrue.

Here's why.

Some twenty years ago, Molecular Biologist Michael Denton published a book* which exhaustively examined both the history and the empirical data behind Darwin's theory, and showed that whilst natural selection's 'special' application of change certainly applies within nature, allowing change within birds, plants, lizards and so forth, this in no way supports or validates the general theory that is vital for the essential and crucial assumption to be true - that this process naturally produced life, and that nothing else was required. 

This remains entirely unsupported. Countless decades of study, discovery and research have left this assumption without merit - that's what the data shows.

Since that book, Denton and others have gone on to show that there are, in fact, numerous kinds of variation within nature that have nothing at all to do with the natural selection process (i.e. survival), but clearly show other factors are at play which have far more to do with elegance and even extravagance.

Fascinating.

The consequences are clear.
Evolutionary theory is an answer to existence which fits as well as seeking to produce a star drive by employing a piston engine - it doesn't have the depth or scope to begin to deal with the real nature or splendor of what we are, or what's going on.

So why is it still paraded at every opportunity as the answer?

In the chapter on how the theory became cardinal, Denton makes a very telling observation:
"Once a community has elevated a theory into a self-evident truth, its defence becomes irrelevant and there is no longer any point in having to establish its validity by reference to empirical facts". In those circumstances, he notes, dissent is viewed as irrational and no more than irritating.

Such orthodoxy is the mark of all murdering, tyrannical error.

The religious leaders Jesus encountered in His last years were of similar inclination.
They had their irrevocable truth, handed down by angels, no less, on the burning slopes of Sinai - there could be no jot or tittle refuted.

Except they were wrong, root and branch.
Granted, the Law they trusted had a place, just like adaptation in nature, but it wasn't what made them, what was truly required of them... or us.

These 'orthodoxies' leave us dead, naked and alone, craving only what our greedy flesh can gain or achieve for itself, and then we might be a tad magnanimous, so long as no one rains on our parade.

Jesus tells us truth as it really is.

We're lost (1). We're blind (2). We're empty(3), and we cannot change that.

Thankfully, there's a "BUT" (4) at this point.
He came to set us free from our constructed pretenses, our chains that we are deluded into seeing as our freedom. He came and healed, died and rose, so that you and I can be far more than blind and empty fools, living on a broken ball spinning down to extinction.

We all know that Love is the greatest, so why do we run from the deepest, richest, truest love that can be known?

Because we have to throw away our orthodoxy.
We have to leave behind the lie that we can make it, that we have what it takes.
We have to abandon ourselves to the love that gave all to set us free.

Truth isn't just a set of cold propositions in a theory or a religious moral code.
Truth is a burning, living grip upon all we are, body and soul, to draw us up from the darkness into the furness-like light of purging grace of saving, refining love - love that emptied itself totally on a cross to rescue you and me.

Here, even in our dark little corners, we can still see there's so much more, but to be clothed in that splendor, we have to drop our pretense, our contrivance, and stand naked in the light.

He alone is able to save us totally (5), because He broke the agony of us to do just that.

Come, says Jesus, and I will set you free (6).

The Good News:

1. Luke 19:10 - "I have come to save that which was lost".
2. Matthew 15:14 - "If the blind lead the blind, both will fall".
3. Mark 8:36 - "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but looses his soul".
4. Ephesians 2:4 - "But God, being rich in mercy, even when we were in sin, made us alive in Christ".
5. Hebrews 7:25 - "He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to Him".
6. Matthew 11:28 - "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest".

 *Michael Denton. "Evolution: A theory in Crisis". Still available via Amazon.
Denton's recent work, "Evolution - A Theory still in Crisis" is also available.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Some painful truths

"What misery has befallen those who call good evil and evil good, who establish darkness for light and deem light to be darkness, who insist what is bitter is sweet... What affliction has befallen those who are made wise by their own conceits, who believe themselves shrewd by their own estimation" . Isaiah 5:20, 21.

A new UK survey posted this week was highlighted in the press by statements that we are becoming a much more 'tolerant' society, but when you actually begin to unpack the details, that isn't as good as it sounds.

Whilst more said they are happy about same-sex marriages, sex outside of marriage, abortion on the basis of a mother not being able to financially support a child, and a strong inclination towards requested euthanasia, more also said they wanted indefinite detention of people deemed a threat without due process and more powers to stop, search and detain people, and that our personal data should be monitored.

There has been a huge drop-off in what would now be defined as 'old school' morality - marriage as an essential social institution, for example, has taken a huge hit, and whilst people seem fine with tighter laws to control us in some ways, there has also been a major decline in confidence in the institutions (Government, Police) which would deliver these.

If you look closer, then what marks the majority of these attitudes is a view that we should have 'health and safety' in society in general (nothing 'bad' that would be deemed extreme or intolerant should be socially acceptable) but we should be pretty well self-determining with regards to our individual ethical and moral choices, and society in general should affirm this (so long as these choices don't 'hurt' in terms of undermining a tolerant equilibrium).

It all sounds readily familiar to anyone who has lived here over the last five or so decades, but what, sadly, needs to faced is that there is never a vital questioning of secularism itself - a sober reflection on whether we, in truth, actually have the 'right' to be so self- determining in our attitudes and actions, and whether any consideration is ever given to the carnage we leave around us by thinking that we are so 'free' in respect to our life towards others.

In a recent post here ('Delusional'), I touched upon some of the more foolhardy aspects of the popular presumptions that underpin our secular culture. In spite of this kind of 'disconnect' from honest evaluation, these often blind presumptions remain culturally expedient, but objectively unwarranted when tested - in effect creating a distancing from a fair and vital use of reason.

Let me unpack this.

The great mistake of a broken culture, as noted by Josef Pieper, is that we believe we can achieve value in our "recreational" pursuits even though we have cut these from any viable source of credible meaning and purpose. Leisure, he notes, cannot be achieved at all when it is sought as a means to an end (Leisure - The Basis of Culture). Because of our current bankrupt estate, however (noted recently, for example, in lectures by Camille Paglia), we have nowhere else to go, so the hunt for some level of resolve by the only means left open to us become even more earnest (and even more illusionary).

As professor John Gray has argued at length, it is this manner of secularism or humanism which has become the new 'religion' of a post-christian europe, but a truly naturalistic world-view will, in effect, entirely expunge any room for secular optimism. This is because the presuppositions derived from scientific naturalism leave us without any place for a strident philosophy regarding the 'good' or the future of our race. According to an evolutionary world-view, we are only a blip on the cosmic stage, of no importance, so all we can actually achieve is only immediate and truly irrelevant. Secularism, Gray argues, as we currently see it in our day, is merely a watered-down 'non-religious-friendly' version of Christianity, without all the 'awkward details' regarding God or ethics that we find inconvenient. In other words, our society looked into the abyss that true naturalism provides, and shirked away from the horror into an illusion that now severs the day to day from the brutal reality of an empty universe.

Our days of seeking to make people 'free' is derived from Christianity's cardinal concept of history going somewhere (John Roberts - Triumph of the West), not the Darwinian construct that we are just lucky (Humanism, notes Gray, lives today in denial of Darwin's cardinal discovery that we are merely animals, nothing more). However hard we wrap ourselves in our blanket of secular rights, we are all still prey to the same nature, the same conditions, the same mortal limitations, of every man and woman - that is what truly defines our world. Atheism (Gray), Science (Weinberg on the futility of the cosmos) and Christianity are actually 'singing from the same hymn sheet' here - the reality is we are failures, and our current popularist approaches therefore will all fail.

The tragedy is that the mistake of secularism has already been made many times over, especially in the West. Since the end of the second world war and the implementation of a plethora of social and economic policies that were, supposedly, scientific in premise and execution, the fracturing of our society has accelerated, leaving us inherently prisoners of our various nightmare delusions (see Adam Curtis' documentary series, The Trap).

If we are to ascribe consciousness, purpose and meaning, notes Gray, to our race, then we'd have to be able look elsewhere than a 'universe without windows' - a godless cosmos - to do so, and from an honestly secular position, that is not possible. These attributes do not come from a naturalist universe.

Secularism is established on a world-view that inherently states we have no meaning (somewhat impossible to gain if the universe is no more than an accident), and because of that, each and every one of us has no significance at all (even passing along your genes, as Dawkins would argue, is pretty pointless in the long-run, as our species will end). To therefore say your 'right' or responsibility matters more than someone else (i.e. someone who in your eyes holds more bigoted views) is nonsense - no one is actually creating a better world. In the cold, hard light of random existence, holding anyone to account for anything is no more than one group of creatures imposing their will upon others (in effect, tyranny) because they are the majority - there's nothing 'moral' or 'right' about it, because we're all the same - collections of atoms that truly have no purpose.

Returning for a moment to Pieper, he notes in his study that a morality that is of any real value can only be gained when it is sourced from the dynamic of the truly spiritual life, because only by connecting ourselves to the understanding of the nature of the divine can our lives become imbued with a value and purpose beyond the immediate.

We can, of course, choose to ignore the ramifications of these matters - to 'work, rest and play' today and probably tomorrow as if 'our' point of reference will win the day, but the day will come when that's no longer true - our limitations will kick-in, and the end will come.

The need is for us to find ourselves by loosing ourselves - to become people who would truly love another so much that we'd give ourselves for them (and not just 'to' them for our own satisfaction). Jesus says exactly this, and became the one to entirely give Himself that we could be found in Him (Matthew 16:25, John 3:16).

This world is a war zone, and it will truly kill us unless we are freed from it's dark, conniving brutality by the God who is there.

Naturalism sees the present world as sick and foolish, heading for its demise.
Secularism denies that reality, but cannot escape it.

Christianity shows that there is something greater, and that we can know that not just for a moment, but for ever.

Consider well - what is truly best?



Sunday, 25 June 2017

"It just came out of nowhere"

Nowhere.

The Formless.

The Fathomless.

The Deep.

The wasteland that lives between those seemingly long moments of our business, our 'normal' comings and goings. The dearth that suddenly grabs us hard when we don't expect it.

The chords of pain. The torrents of destruction. The snare of death (Psalm 18:4).

There is no compass, no exit that marks a way through the perilous nightmare of being abused by either someone or something - a person or a set of devastating circumstances. You are just left torn from what was, with nothing but void where there had so deeply once been life and purpose.

You find everything has become tarnished with a malignant futility.

How can life ever become anything more again than a going through the motions?

God
Is at the very heart of this unfathomable place  (Psalm 18:11).

I don't write those words lightly.

My own life has been marked by some very cruel moments, from early on in my childhood, to some unwarranted brutality towards me in my youth, and then in the loss of both family and my wife in more recent times. Most of these incidents I've never discussed publicly and probably never will, but they are wounds that mark my days hard, and I know that none of that suffering would have been in any way bearable at all were it not for the God who, amongst the darkness, is truly present and able to inhabit even death with the enduring truth that such evil, however cruel its intent and work, is not the final word.

John tells us in the opening of his gospel that this manner of light shines in the darkness. Its nature is such that it cannot be quenched, cannot be subdued, by the awfulness that on occasion so encompasses and presses upon us in the travail of both body and soul.

The impact of the dark is terrible - all too palpable in the moments I have encountered. Torn from so much which should be good and whole, the abyss swallows you and there is nowhere to go.

Jesus is found in that place.

Whilst 'gods' arbitrarily 'rule' us by dictates distant and capricious, be they learning or myth, bruising us to the point of ending us, Christ hangs upon Calvary, broken and enveloped by darkness, that what was described by the Prophet Isaiah many centuries before may occur - the poison of sin and death is drawn into that death, into Him, that we are healed in that one point, that one event, in all of eternity.

That is my shelter in the violence of a broken life, a murdered world (Psalm 18:16).

Because He came and bled, the day will come when the beast that tares and stabs us will be ended. Every tear and wound will finally be ended by His stripes and balm.
Until that day, we can find Him there, in the very centre of the carnage -
the God who can inhabit all our sorrows by His astonishing love.

The mercy is that He alone has taken upon Himself all our grief, all our sorrows, all that has caused that tragedy, and He alone will take away the brutal sting, the savage cut, that these dreads bring upon us.

In the midst of our pain, He cries out upon a cross and brakes the cycle of our being destroyed. He rises victor from those benighted realms and assures us that, in Him, our grief will end.

Our true life is to come. Heaven on earth, when sorrow is over (Psalm 18:19).
That is the God who comes in our present darkness.