Tuesday, 1 September 2015


"May we no longer be children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, by the cunning craftiness and schemes of those who lie in wait to deceive us, but, speaking the truth in love, may we grow up into Christ, through whom the people of God grow well together as they are knitted together in love".  Ephesians 4:14.

Yesterday, I visited a favorite location on the moors for a little r&r. After a refreshing dip in the river, I was meandering along the bank when I came something which sent shivers up my spine. Just into the flow of the river itself, someone had deliberately smashed and left a glass beer bottle, its jagged, dangerous pieces spiking up amidst the shallow stones close to the shore. Carefully, gingerly, I painstakingly removed each piece of the object from the surrounding sand, collecting them into a bag and taking them home to be safely deposited into my refuse.

What shocked me was the utter wickedness of this act. The place is often visited by youngsters and walkers with dogs, especially over the summer, and someone who hadn't had been so fortunate as to just be ambling could have easily been caught in the diabolical malice of this.

I found myself thinking about how so easily we can become victims of things which are equally as dangerous.

Paul's words in Ephesians remind us that, outside of clearly growing in the life and faith given in Christ, there are numerous teachings and teachers waiting to trap us in such malicious snares. 

The ones which so easily bruise us, of course, are those regarding ourselves. We can so easily become focused upon the wrong things (our actions, choices, and the like) thinking that these make us 'right' instead of Christ.

As Robert Farrar Capon so helpfully puts it:
“Trust him. And when you have done that, you are living the life of grace. No matter what happens to you in the course of that trusting - no matter how many waverings you may have, no matter how many suspicions that you have bought a poke with no pig in it, no matter how much heaviness and sadness your lapses, vices, indispositions, and bratty whining may cause you - you believe simply that Somebody Else, by his death and resurrection, has made it all right, and you just say thank you and shut up. The whole slop-closet full of mildewed performances (which is all you have to offer) is simply your death; it is Jesus who is your life. If he refused to condemn you because your works were rotten, he certainly isn't going to flunk you because your faith isn't so hot. You can fail utterly, therefore, and still live the life of grace. You can fold up spiritually, morally, or intellectually and still be safe. Because at the very worst, all you can be is dead - and for him who is the Resurrection and the Life, that just makes you his cup of tea.” (Between Noon & Three - Romance, the Law and the Outrage of Grace).

Notice how Paul gets us to focus on exactly the same source of aid in his counsel. Teaching and teachers of His children only truly help us when they point us to the love (grace) of God in Jesus - that is what begins, nourishes and matures His family, and allows us to truly engage with life and the world in a manner which sees the dangers and counters them well. It is in His death and resurrection that we are bought and made free, and that is what makes all the difference, so the next time you're tempted to begin looking towards your own record of achievement or program for progress, remind yourself of what truly counts - what God has done in Christ alone. Share that with your soul, with your fellow travelers, and with the world at large, and you'll truly be putting your life in good order.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Deadfall Pit

"I grew up in a town like this, we knew the names of every street
On the surface it looked so safe, but it was perilous underneath
That's the place you shoved your doubts and hid your ugly scars
God forbid if word got out about your house of cards"

Mary Chapin-Carpenter

All of us have things we relish. One of the biggies for me (and, I suspect, lots of you) is chocolate. I can't recall the first time I ate some, but I can easily tell you the occasion when I ate something that claimed to be the desired item and it wasn't. I was in America a decade ago, and I thought I'd buy the popular brand and give it a go... most of it went straight into the bin. Gone was the smooth, rich encounter with dairy milk confectionary, to be replaced by a sickly, OTT sugar bar (no wonder the Americans label it candy). I was so relived that I'd brought some good old British Chocolate with me and that later in my stay, I found somewhere that sold the real mc coy - phew!  Imagine my shock, then, to walk into my local store recently to discover several shelves of the confectionary counter now selling the American glupe (I can call it that because that's the way several of my American friends describe it) - have people lost all taste?

It is, of course, one of the issues of the day - our seemingly insatiable passion for sugar, which, it appears, is softly killing a generation.

Now, I appreciate that there's always going to be an issue of tastes when it comes to something like which chocolate bar you consume, but what about when it comes to truth?

I spent some time this past week looking at and conversing with people on a "progressive christianity" site to see just where such theology desires us to go with regards to the nature and the value of truth. It's always interesting to see that what counts in such a realm is not what you or I may believe about God - particularly when it comes to the nature and message of Jesus Christ - but that we really just need to figure out how we can, well, just get along with everyone, because that's what counts, right?

The 'gospel' here then, so far as there is one, is that Jesus came to give us an example of love, so all the seeking to see Christianity as something that needs to defined in the manner given to us by The Apostles and others in scripture is, well, pretty pointless - we just have to follow the 'golden rule' of loving people and everything else will be fine.

Well, I'd agree that religion can be all about what we do - Adam's first "religious" act was to cover himself with pretense when God came looking for him - but it really doesn't begin to deal with our deepest problem; that we're alienated from God and need rescue. You don't tell a drowning man that he needs to do all manner of things to be comfortable with where he is (any more than that man thinks his rescue is his doing) - you just reach out and save him! That is why the key message from the moment we fall into our own exile is how God will brings us back (Genesis 3:16, John 3:16) - Jesus is the one who rescues us.

I think what bothered me most about this last week's discoveries was the way in which people could blithely dismiss the actual theology of the faith, usually on the pretext that my concerns (or, as they put it "interpretations") were marginal or only "one view", which was fine until I submitted materials from the early church which showed that this wasn't the case at all, at which point the retorts became more personal and the silence regarding what I'd supplied telling. How can we call something "Christianity" if it seeks to distance itself from the clear and vital sources of that faith?

If we take away the very nature of God, revealed in Jesus, and the good news of what has been given to our world through Him, then there's not much left to say. The problem for the 'progressive' movement is that, like certain kinds of candy, you may develop a liking for it, but it only leaves you liking something that is a substitution for something better - it leaves you hiding with your own pretensions, and whilst you may think it tastes/feels OK, it's really doing you no good, but a great deal of harm.

The Apostle John says in his letters that real fellowship can only come when we know that God is our Father, and we know that because we trust in the love He has shown in sending His Son. Those who wish to effectively dismiss what John is telling us here and in his Gospel have placed themselves into a very deep pit indeed.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

For what it's worth?

"Eden was... God's first (earthly) temple... When Adam sinned, the unity of worship and culture was dissolved".  Michael Horton. 

Ever wondered what the first real act of worship is in scripture?

Perhaps we could point to the singing of the hosts as God fashions and furnishes the heavens (Job 38:7). Certainly, that would be a contender chronologically amidst creation, but  in reality, of course,  even that splendor is preceded and entirely surpassed by the sheer joy of the fellowship shared between the Father and His Son  (Hebrews 1:8-12).

Genesis 1 shows how God delights in His handiwork, because the intent and purpose of that creation (expressed in its most complete fashion in the shaping and life-giving to humanity) is to express and thereby reflect something of the beauty and rapture of the life shared by the Godhead - the richness of the fellowship between Spirit, Father and Son  (John 17:3). The Lord, therefore, has no issue in giving everything He makes its true value and worth (shown in the use of the phrase "and it was good") or in reveling in such things, as He refreshes Himself in them on the seventh day - a picture itself of the intended completion that will be found through this work (Hebrews 4).

The first thing we notice in the inter-action between God and Adam is that a true sense of worth can only come about when we see things as they really are (in this case, Adam's loneliness) and the real value and meaning of things is understood (here, Adam's relationship to the realm around him) in the light of this. Idolatry is not about not giving something a true value - it's about measuring and then ascribing its purpose and role in a deceitful (crooked) way. Adam is encouraged by God to truly "see" the nature, place and purpose of the creatures that surround him, and this in turn helps to nurture an understanding of his own value and role in relation to all that's in the garden, and to confirm his need for something more... a true partner.

The worship and the splendor of the angels in Job is no doubt magnificent - something which leaves us rightly trembling - but there is another kind of glory, wrought from dust into naked, communing flesh which also 'tells' of God's greatness in a manner that is unique amidst all the array of His works.

The first act of Adam, as he awakes and views Eve for the first time, is indeed one of worship (Genesis 2:23), expressed afresh in every joining of man and women before God (Matthew 19:5, Ephesians 5:31). An intrinsic part of our true affection and genuine worship of our Heavenly Father, then, is to truly (properly) esteem and value what He has made and will bring to completion through His glorious Son.

Which is why I had a problem with a recent sermon, in which I was informed that my being (body) may be a place of worship (to bring such honor to God, which indeed it is), but is not to be an object of that manner of honor.

Worth (something invested with an inherent value), is of course, something which is conveyed not only towards God. It is conveyed by God Himself to all of His handiwork (John 3:16). The New Testament really shows this.

When James, for example, examines how we can miss-use the tongue in his letter (Chapter 3), he notes how easy it is for us to 'bless our Lord and Father' and yet to also curse those who are made in the image and likeness of God (verse 9). We may be fallen, but you will never meet a person who does not have infinite worth because of the one who made us to speak of His character. This is why we are reminded by Peter to give true value to everyone (1 Peter 2:17).

God has invested all things with their proper "glory" (Matthew 6:29) and that significance is something which has become renewed by God in Christ to be fully restored in the age that is fast approaching  (1 Corinthians 15:40-42). Idolatry is when we fail to grant to others or ourselves the value God has given - when we misconstrue, demean or warp that truth into a negative and it thereby becomes a caricature or lie, beguiling us like the poison fed to Eve in the garden (Genesis 3: 1-7). 

 To truly honor our Father and His astonishing love and mercy shown through His Son, we must value and enjoy all He makes splendid in its time. That will help us, amidst the troubles of this present blighted age to taste and see, even in the wilderness, that He is surely good.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Seeing Red

"But you keep my old scarf from that very first week,  
 because it reminds you of innocence,
 and it smells like me, you can't get rid of it, cos' you remember it, 
 all too well".

Taylor Swift - from the album, Red.

So there I was, listening in on a conversation on spirituality, and wondering where I might jump in with a comment, when a familiar theme is expressed -religion of any sort is finished... science is the only game on the block which counts now, so man up or ship out.

There's a fascinating conversation on You Tube* between Richard Dawkins and Physicist Stephen Weinberg. After laying out their common understanding that, in science, using 'God'  has merely been a metaphor for the unknown, they begin to unpack the real state of affairs with regards to the limitations of what we know (something, incidentally, which was truly amplified a few weeks ago by the latest information from CERN). Weinberg freely admits that when it comes to unpacking why things are the way they are, science is probably going to fail to really answer or resolve the cardinal issues (i.e. the reason why the universe is how it is), and that we have to accept this as just part of the human tragedy.

Back in the mid-nineties, science writer John Horgan provided a provocative look at the nature of what the prevailing view of such men gave our culture in his work, The End of Science, in which he, in part, concluded that God may indeed be something more than a useful metaphor. The reasons for such a conclusion are stark.

In spite of scientists telling us that what see is merely an "illusion" of design, there are clearly forces at work that beg to differ. The Cosmological constant, set to one part in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion,  is a staggering example of fine-tuning. 

Without such manner of exactness, we would never have come about, and the universe would be little more than an expanse of gases.

Weinberg is entirely honest when he states that this places "us" (the scientific community) in a 'fix' which is often not stated well (hence, the confidence of the familiar statement in my recent conversation). This is no doubt because the two alternative approaches to such laws being designed currently provided by popular hypothesis (1)the multiple universe or (2) a TOE which includes data on such constants so far unknown) is, as Weinberg notes, very much situated in the realms of 'what if' thinking, with nothing of substance to support them, so for those who cannot entertain the possibility of design, the human condition must, ultimately, be one of total tragedy - that there probably is no answer, so the laws of entropy (and for the natural realm, death) reign supreme.

I expressed these realities in the conversation, suggesting that true religion may offer us something far more objective than we realize, and the response was fascinating. Whilst those holding to an atheistic perspective chose to personalize their scorn of those 'who believe' (easier, for sure, than considering the ramifications of scientific honesty), those who had been advocating spirituality sought to find solace in 'something like' buddhism or hindu views, especially in what Chesterton defined as the dreadful refuge of the 'god within', at which point I raised the matter of Jesus Christ. The response was what you'd expect - the gospels cannot be trusted, leading to my sourcing non-biblical writings of the earliest period which verify that Jesus lived, was crucified and remarkably began a movement that grew so quickly that it became a major thorn to the empire (presumably, as these writings note, because of what these Christians were teaching about Jesus being God and defying death).

The response (aside from a few murmurings) ...  Silence.

And we know why.

We seem to want our place in the universe to be either something we totally define (and thereby control) or, if we cannot have that, a construct which means it all amounts to nothing (any 'design' is pure fluke, as in Douglas Adam's 'Hitch-hiker's" stories), but what if that isn't the reality at all... what if the actual fine-tuning laws that have been discovered behind our being here do indeed express design, and that 'designer' has come amongst us? Doesn't that speak to the necessity of our rejecting what we view as our "necessary fictions"?

There is something much deeper going on. 

As Bertrand Russell once expressed it in a letter:

I am strangely unhappy because the pattern of my life is complicated, because my nature is hopelessly complicated; a mass of contradictory impulses; and out of all this, to my intense sorrow, pain to you must grow. The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain-a curious wild pain-a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite-the beatific vision-God-I do not find it, I do not think it is to be found-but the love of it is my life -it's like passionate love for a ghost. At times it fills me with rage, at times with wild despair, it is the source of gentleness and cruelty and work, it fills every passion that I have-it is the actual spring of life within me. 

 (October 23, 1916 to his lover Colette).

Note what Russell says here - he longs for something beyond himself... A desire as deep as hunger or passion which longs for satisfaction for it is essentially what is at the centre of existence. He could never find what he so needed - his world-view wouldn't provide what was required, but science and philosophy can point further and deeper, as I've sought to show above.

Perhaps, then, we should end with a valid observation from a Scientist.

Albert Einstein once noted:
"No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus... No myth is filled with such life".

(Saturday Evening Post interview, October 26th, 1929).

As I sought to submit in the conversation, it is indeed time to do more than just 'remind' ourselves of such 'innocence' (the hard truths about our understanding of the universe and the choice to often ignore key material that clearly points us to what is going on), and thereby recognize what we cannot escape.... 

The God who is there.

*Find the video at: https://youtu.be/EGL8SesIo6Y

John Horgan's Book at Amazon:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0465065929

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Under arrest?

"And it came about, that as he journeyed, approaching Damascus, that a sudden light surrounded him, and he fell to the ground".  Acts 9:3.

Some situations, we feel, need very immediate and lasting solutions. Hopefully, ones which will go in our favor.

This morning I was listening to a radio snippet, where the 'expert' being interviewed was fervently advocating that the answer to current extremism in some parts of the world was education - tell it like it really is, and such radicalism will go away. I found myself thinking immediately of what was reported in the news this week - the youngest recruit bomber from the UK, who should have been taking exams this month, blew himself up because of the conviction that this was the best way to serve God. Education, at least in the conventional sense, didn't do anything to stop such surprising extremism.

Another snippet I heard yesterday really spoke to why. The call to truly become part of something deeper than ourselves can be totally compelling, especially when we are in a period where we are looking for meaning and identity - if we happen then to hear about a cause, for good or for ill, that can cater to that need, we can quickly be drawn towards it.

Saul was a man of deep convictions, especially when it came to how we define ourselves and our relationship to what is true. He viewed Christianity as a poison aimed right at the heart of that reality, and his response was to zealously seek to uproot and destroy such a horrible lie, but something troubled him. As he heard Stephen speak about the ugliness of miss-placed zeal and understanding regarding what God truly required, he experienced a jolt in his soul - a recognition that there was a radical sickness, in himself and all of us, which meant our best convictions can be so easily warped into something violently wicked.

Saul was by no means alone here.
David, raised to kingship over Israel, reached a point where he lost his way and gave in to desires and passions that reside in every human heart (Matthew 15:19), and thereby destroyed himself and several others amidst a period of selfish betrayal of all that God required of him (and us). Fortunately, for these men, and for all who are willing to hear, there was a remedy that is far better than seeking to 'educate' our way out of our malady - God the Father can set us free through His beloved Son (John 3).

It's so often the case that until we're truly, truly, desperate, we run away from the one thing that can help us, because we know it will mean an end to our selfish greed or evil or just plain stubbornness, but so often, when we finally do, we find rescue, costly though it may be.

The answer to radicalism today is something wider, deeper, richer, than we can possibly imagine - it's is God enfolding us in the love which caused Christ to hang at Calvary, breaking our sin, our death, in His own poured-out life. It seems stupid and foolish, and so very contrary to our self-confidence, our noble estimations, but it is indeed the power of God, which makes all things new.

Life is often taken up with a process of hurrying around, trying to find something, anything, that will provide some measure or resolve or satisfaction to our troubles, but if  we only stopped and considered things soberly for a few moments, we'd realize that such answers won't fix the wound, satisfy the hunger, we all share.

We were made for something larger, which is why young men and women especially  will always flock to radical endeavors, no matter how high the cost.

Will we allow God to take hold of us, before death and sin leave us empty of life?

Monday, 8 June 2015

Reading Scripture

A super little gem of a guide from Mike Horton and the White Horse Inn:

Monday, 4 May 2015

Are you sitting comfortably?

"These creatures have no elidia. They are like one trying to lift himself by his own hair - like a female trying to beget young on herself".

Out of the silent planet.

Take a look at this:

One of the earliest events recorded in the Bible regarding the impoverished condition of men once they leave Eden is that of the tower of babel. Basically, after creating a new material for building - the brick - mankind thinks it's ready to really be master of it's own destiny; to not worry about what's really good or important for people, but to marshall all to a common cause - making a name for ourselves. It's a tune that keeps re-disguising itself, but can be heard (if you're looking for it) just as well in our times, whether it's in the writings of someone like Ayn Rand or the intentions of something like the raised kind of underhand wheeling and dealing in the video - it all stems from a greed to own what isn't actually ours and achieve another aim in the process - evict the proper landlord. That was the flip-side of the Babel scheme - to reach heaven itself and to become the masters.

There's no surprise that Genesis tells us why we were aiming at such a dark throne (putting ourselves, ruled by greed, in charge). Anyone who takes even a brief look at the events of chapters 3-6 of the book can see why we were unfit for anything but judgement, so what happens at Babel, as soon as we get organized, is as predictable as an apple falling from the tree. What is surprising is how, even in times of judgement, God uses our very downfall to bring about something much better than greed and selfishness will ever foster. From the very fallout of the Babel incident will arise a family that will see the seeds of a far brighter future - a future that would include the coming of Jesus Christ Himself and the world hearing that in spite of our folly, redemption is truly happening, because God is at work, through Christ, to reconcile what has been so broken and so lost.

Our days here do not really turn around the wickedness of men, though that darkness often becomes very painful indeed - it revolves around a moment in our history when God came amongst us and by death and resurrection, concluded our sinfulness in what He suffered and the life that could not be vanquished by that sin - that is where our torn creation is looking today, for it's liberation will come.

Of course there are those that consider such a hope no more than wishful thinking - the problem there is that what the New Testament tells us about Jesus is pretty comprehensively supported by several other 'secular' sources, so even if you don't accept what the Gospel's say, you're still left with the problem of both what to do with Jesus and the bleak alternative of the 'worlds' we make without Him.

Without the one who sits above the heavens, who came to make us truly free, all we have left is the tyranny of selfish humanity - how long would it be before that corruption truly got its way? So ask yourself, what keeps us considering, longing for something richer and deeper than ourselves, and how will we really respond to that? That's surely wishful thinking worth pursuing.