Monday, 19 September 2016

The Conversation

"He who has ears to hear, let him hear".  Jesus.

So there I was, facing an unexpected delay in my journey home from my little holiday with family this weekend, when I found myself giving assistance to a young Australian man named Daniel, who was touring around Southern England as part of his tour of Europe.
Soon, after sorting out what train we needed to wait for, we were discussing the English way of life, current political and economic changes, and the many places he had and was intending to visit, and his passion for 'certain English things', especially the likes of Tolkien and C S Lewis.

As we boarded the first train, the conversation began to focus on deeper things, especially in relation to science and how so many of our pursuits here actually seem to touch on deeper things - the longings expressed within us for 'something more'. This, in turn, when we boarded our second train, naturally lead on to talking about destiny, the big questions, and finally, focused upon the nature of God and the relevance of Jesus Christ, especially His teaching about the Father and His resurrection and the implications of this. 

Daniel had clearly been doing some deep thinking, and was eager to consider and discuss such matters with someone who could provide some pointers as to where to look next to slake his genuine thirst for wisdom and understanding about what mattered. I was delighted to spend the journey talking with such a person, and was reminded that it is as we seek (a desire that truly has to be awakened within us), God has promised that we shall find.

Lewis notes that we all have such an appetite, but often we can ignore or seek to divert its genuine purpose from where it is meant to lead us - to enquire about things that count - into far more mundane and unsatisfying pursuits.

It was truly refreshing to meet someone who was hungry to move forward, and hear the one who invites to us to come and dine at His bountiful table.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

"Clutter"

"I haven't done such things for years, but I still find myself giving in to the irresistible temptation that if something's going to be done right, I have to do it myself".
Mike Horton - Rebels with a cause.

It's almost everywhere you look these days.
On pavements and streets, in roadside hedges or blowing around in the country...

and in People's heads.

'I'm pretty OK', the thinking goes, 
'in fact I'm probably better than just OK - actually quite decent most of the time, and occasionally even devout, so I can't really be that wide of the mark when it comes to what's needed to be truly good, even holy... I just need a little something - let's call it grace - every now and then, to give me a boost - a bit of a re-charge, and the (temple, shrine, therapy... insert what's most appropriate) I occasionally frequent and it's devotions suit just fine for that, so I'm good'.

The presumptions we can make, and the prevalence of the amenities/apparatus that panders to this in our times are as pervasive as trash on the streets.
Whatever it's particular slogan, this delusion leaves us woefully distant from the truth of what and who we really are - one look at the death of Jesus Christ and you are starkly reminded of the horror of our true situation; so far from God that He Himself had to come and give Himself to such an emptying to rescue us beleaguered, beguiled wretches from our perishing end.

The message of Christianity stands in stark contrast to all religion.
God loves us enough to give His Son to us, who saves us when we trust only in His unmerited rescue from the plight of pulling ourselves up to being "good enough". Everything else, notes Jesus, will sell us short, leave us in darkness, and lead to a bitter end.
Being 'born again' is clearly, first, about believing and trusting in what He spells out here, and being deceived (as Paul goes on to show to the Galatians) is to allow ourselves to move away from this back towards our self-baked piety.

You cannot have the freedom that Christ brings if you continue to hold on to the 'rightness' or 'value' of your own merits.

Paul tells us that he had come to see that he could only count his own zeal, devotion, virtues and merits as nothing more than rubbish - worthless, in order that he might apprehend the splendor and wonder of the gift of Jesus Christ and the singularly sufficient rescue He brings (Philippians 3: 7-9).

Religion is about sprucing up a corpse.
Christianity is about burying the dead in order that they can be raised to a newness of life that is truly outside of us.

We need to stop adorning ourselves in garbage, and become firmly anchored to the only sure and certain hope for all men and women forever -
it is Christ alone who is able to save to the uttermost.




Sunday, 28 August 2016

Kitted out

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the first-born from among the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent. For in Him all the fulness of God dwells, and through Him to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross". Colossians 1:15-20.

I've never been much good at DIY, which becomes something of a problem when trying to maintain your own home on a tight budget.
Back in March, severe gales took down most of my garden fencing, and whilst I managed to cover purchasing the panels, the work was going to have to be done principally by yours truly. Well, I took it one step at a time, wood preserving the new panels first before then removing all the old debris (the decayed fencing) and finally fitting the new. The whole experience taught me some valuable lessons - good preparation works, and (as Scotty on Star Trek would say) employing the right tools to do the job really helps to get the right result, meaning that after a couple of weeks of work, the panels were replaced and actually looking good.... something that would have probably shocked my old woodwork teacher.

Over the summer, I've been taking a series of studies on what Paul terms 'the mysteries' of our faith - The 'Grand Miracle' (Lewis) of the Incarnation, the amazing work of regeneration, the love that is made ours in Adoption and the surety of that love in the scope of Salvation (finishing things off with the hope of the new creation). Like my home repair experience, it's reminded me that faith and life can only be done well when we fully understand what's involved and how to apply that now.

Paul's words in Colossians clarify who our God and Savior is - one who is truly supreme, but who rules entirely by love, abundantly outpouring mercy upon us and the world He not only made, but came and gave Himself up for as a man and in death on a cross. It is so encouraging to know that the one who is King and Lord of all is the one who is fully aquatinted with all our sufferings, our weaknesses and our needs, and that these do not need to alienate us from God, but just help us to draw near and ask for His help in our time of need.
He is the one who not only made all things, but He also makes all things new.

Life can often show us that there's much more to learn and understand, but also that there's many things we constantly need to be reminded about, the key one being the love of God given to us in Jesus Christ.

My success in the garden has encouraged me to pick up a paint brush again and take steps to yet more repairs in the month ahead. May we grow in the richness of God's life through the care and grace bestowed in our friend and Saviour, Jesus.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Getting it right.

Why Christianity is never about us trying to be better people...





It's all about seeing what Jesus tells us here.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Grace unbound.

"Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relived".
John Newton.

Sometimes I have a problem with 'new' liturgy.

Back in my school days, one of my teachers beautifully hand-wrote a copy of all of Newton's famous hymn so we could sing it in assemblies, and I really started to miss that treat in the light of the recent 'new' popular version, which omits half the original verses, and chops in part of Charles Wesley's 'And Can it Be' (in itself a superb hymn)  as a repeating chorus.

I know, it's just personal preference, but it does touch on something important.

School gave me a whole series of routines, which, even though it took a while to sink in, allowed me to begin to realize that many of the everyday things in life really matter and give us place amidst our time here. When we find those routines making room for engaging with each other - creating a place for the richness of community - then we begin to truly benefit from what is going on.

The same is true, of course, in church. The reason for liturgy, sacraments, preaching and teaching in a communal context, is because they give us the same kind of environment in which something deeper can transpire - a growing together in the deeper things of faith and life.

Robert Farrar Capon, of course, nails it:
We need good liturgies, and we need natural ones; we need a life neither patternless nor overpatterned, if the city is to be built. And I think the root of it all is caring… True liturgies take things for what they really are, and offer them up in loving delight. Adam naming the animals is instituting the first of all the liturgies: speech, by which man the priest of creation picks up each of the world’s pieces and by his wonder bears it into the dance. “By George,” he says, “there’s an elephant in my garden; isn’t that something!” Adam has been at work a long time; civilization is the fruit of his priestly labors. Culture is the liturgy of nature as it is offered up by man. But culture can come only from caring enough about things to want them really to be themselves – to want the poem to scan perfectly, the song to be genuinely melodic, the basketball actually to drop through the middle of the hoop, the edge of the board to be utterly straight, the pastry to be really flaky. Few of us have very many great things to care about, but we all have plenty of small ones; and that’s enough. It is precisely through the things we put on the table, and the liturgies we form around it, that the city is built; caring is more than half the work.

We can so easily detach the spiritual and the natural, the holy and the mundane, but in God's good work of creation, both are found in the very same place at the same time, so everything becomes valuable and worthwhile because of that.

There are, of course, many moments in life which fragment us from such wholeness, not least our own personal sins and weaknesses, but the joy and splendor is that the one who cares is here, and can aid us in some of our hardest moments.

In Psalm 93, David contrasts the immovable nature of God's throne and what He has established with the roar and fury of the floods. Yes, those waters are high and constant, breaking upon us all, but the psalmist's gaze sees further - greater, higher than such pestilence and travail is the testimony of God, sure and unmoved. Such care is what truly holds us.



Sunday, 12 June 2016

Beyond The Bitter Fantasy

"but the serpent said to the woman, 'you will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be open'". Genesis 3:3.

Collateral damage. It's often an irritation, like storm damage, but often, it's viewed as something we think we can deal with, especially if we apparently 'gain' something (winning an argument, a business deal, a termination to a relationship, or an armed conflict)  we want when it's experienced.

By the end of the first world war, it was estimated that around 60% of the 9.7 million casualties were soldiers killed by shrapnel from the millions of shells that had been used. What was not realized until after the conflict had ended was the devastation was much greater than was contained in those dreadful figures.

In the years that followed the carnage, it was realized that a further 200,000 men were suffering from what came to be termed 'shell shock' - they had been so profoundly traumatized by being close to exploding shells that many of them lost their hearing or sight or speech, even though there was no physical damage.

Today, we have learned that many others suffer from variations of this misery under the panacea of what is termed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Essentially, we close down and disconnect when the momentous sheering forces of life become too much and we begin to come apart because we're just not equipped to cope.

The reason for our malady is an old one...

The real, abiding  damage was done to us in that moment in Eden, when we believed we were smart enough to walk out of the sphere of our Creator's care and go it alone - to bequeath ourselves to self-centered 'gnosis' (a blind alley grab for power)  rather than be nurtured and sheltered by a Father's unending love.

Our expulsion to the consequences of our actions (the alienation God described to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3) was for one purpose - to get us to call for help.

The truth is, like those brutalized men of war, we are broken and bleeding from the inside, and we need a rescue that is far greater than we can imagine - but the remedy, thankfully, far exceeds our failings.

Christ came and bore the full measure of the agony of what we are and where we have fallen.  His breaking of Himself is our healing - our promise that the cycle of sin and the horror of death will be exhausted and we can be enveloped in a depth of life that comes from God once again - to be made whole by the only one who can truly heal our wounds.

Here's how the Prophet Isaiah speaks of this amazing truth...

He would be despised and rejected by men, a man marked by sorrow, aquatinted with grief, despised and evaluated as worthless,
but it would be Him who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows,
stricken and smitten of God, and afflicted,
He was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities,
for on Him would fall the chastisement for our peace,
and by the stripes He received, we would be healed.

Isaiah 53.

The oppression, affliction and violence of life are so very real,
but so is the one who can return us to a Father's amazing love.

This is the message that is the sweet aroma God has placed in our broken world - God has come to us in Jesus Christ, that we might indeed be free.

We tend to try and mask the damage we carry behind our pride and masks of 'I'm fine', but ultimately, they will slip and we will be the ones found to be bleeding and dying, and all that we trusted will be found hollow. Only the one who has reached to the very depths of our need and our severance can raise us once more.

The burden can be shared and made light, and true shelter, within everlasting arms, is close at hand.

Draw close, and He will hear and answer in the gift of His beloved Son.

Monday, 16 May 2016

The tragic reality



So, there I was, after hanging on a 'please stay in the queue... your call is important to us' line for a long time, trying to resolve the issue of why my new modem was not talking to my computer and was, in fact, causing it to freeze.
Than I get through. The guy from the service department goes through the motions... was the device/line/filter all connected correctly? Once he'd checked they were, he runs a test ... the line signal was weaker than it should be. Maybe the modem is faulty.

Um, I don't think so - the phone's working and there's wi-fi on my tablet. What I'm trying to resolve is why is my computer freezing? Surely, if there is a signal (which there was) and it's registering elsewhere (which it did), then there's another problem here.

The service centre ignores this. The call ends with the company deciding to mail another modem, and me very aware that the root problem -what's happening to my computer- hasn't been touched.

I ponder on this and then do my own search to find if others have had the same trouble, and sure enough, they have, and there, on the discussion page, is a procedure to resolve it. I follow the simple instructions, and a minute later, the issue is resolved and my computer is back to normal.

It's a telling case of miss-diagnosis, due to really poor (inadequate) communication.

Most of us of course have had this kind of experience with technical or product issues, but it made me wonder how often does this issue arise in other more important fields?
Like dealing with the 'tangle of wiring' that make us us?

Miss diagnosis is a truly huge headache.
Whether you're looking at medical, social or psychological fields, there's a plethora of data to show just how quickly mistakes can be made, and the reason, often, is that there's a lack of meaningful engagement with a person initially to truly get to the heart of their troubles and then seek to provide a real solution to the problem.

The real human condition is a mine field, and often, we are woefully beneath the task of dealing with this well.

So, what does it take to get it right?

We can get a helpful glimpse into this when Jesus meets the woman at the well (John 4).

The first point to notice here is that Jesus is outside the bounds of what would be seen as approved of/normal in His day - He's spending time publicly talking to a woman who is a member of a culture that was deemed excluded by His own society. Good communication almost always involves putting aside such segregative and alienating conventions if we really want to get to know someone. Reaching those who were deemed 'unclean' - touching someone at a point that counts isn't easy and is often costly - that's often why we're so bad at it. Convention makes it easy for us to 'go through the motions' and "engage" at the level of a narrative, to borrow from Shakespeare, 'shared by fools, signifying nothing'.

Secondly, He begins by simply using the commonplace and immediate (having a drink) as a means to step into conversing about deeper things - what really matters in life. This is where discernment really comes to the fore. We can so often "jump in"  (the annoying street stranger, asking if you're saved or born-again) when it comes to talking about what counts without really 'hearing' or knowing what's important to who we're talking to, and without truly wanting to do what Jesus does here - He

touches on a deep desire (10-15) and then
touches what prevents that desire from being met - on the person's sin (16-18)

Notice what really counts to this woman. Yes, she tries to evade Jesus' homing-in on her immorality (vs 20), but even in that, she is still showing an interest in the major theme that Jesus has raised - how and where people know and worship God (the deep desire). Her need for intimacy and connection (a string of partners) is clearly associated but miss-placed to the common longing we all share for being right with God and each other.

Jesus responds by clearing away the clutter and cutting through to what counts (vs 21) and the following conversation and results are striking (verses 23-43), but also notice how the Disciples of Jesus just didn't get it (27). They were still a long way from truly comprehending what truly mattered - 'feeding' the world's deepest need of life from God.

My 'communication' with my internet provider concluded with them sending me a customer satisfaction survey to complete on-line, which, of course, I wouldn't have been able to do in the situation their 'customer service' had left me in (!).  It spoke volumes.

That's the status of life outside of what God gives us... dislocated, frozen, and so in need of a real answer.

God is here, thankfully, in Christ, to bring us meaningful help in our time of need.