Monday, 19 March 2018

Perilous Perspective!

"last thing I remember, I was running for the door,
 I had to find the passage back to the place I was before,
'relax', said the watchman, 'we are programmed to receive,
you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave'".

The Eagles - Hotel California.

I live close to some nationally preserved moorland, and we have just had a weekend where one of those rare phenomena - snowfall - has occurred. The view today has been quite stunning in some gorgeous sunlight, but when I went to work today, even though I was a good thirty minutes closer to the moor after my walk, I had entirely lost the view.

Science lost Stephen Hawking this past week, a man whose work has and will continue to cause much discussion and debate about the nature of existence. In an interview for ABC news, he once stated his well-known opinion concerning where his studies had lead him:
“One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist. But science makes God unnecessary. … The laws of physics can explain the universe without the need for a creator.”

It's a strange statement, especially in the light of what had happened on his 70th birthday, in 2012.
Here's what unfolded.

A fellow scientist, Alexander Valinkin and his associates, who had been discovering some fascinating data since 2003, proved that an expanding universe is not previously eternal. In other words, this work offered a proof that the universe we exist within had a beginning.

Philosophically, it provides support and weight to cosmological arguments regarding our being here is with intent.

Scientifically, it means we do not live in a universe of infinite regress, but one which came into existence at a fixed point.

Theologically, it lends credence to the biblical account regarding not only the work of creation itself, but regarding the nature and intent of the one behind this.

It means that Hawkins was wrong.

Professor Hawkins once argued that his understanding of physics and cosmology lead him to conclude there was no higher purpose beyond the material universe itself. it's regretful, at least publicly, that Professor Hawkins never expressed the manner of conclusion provided by one of his famous predecessors:

"I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me".

Sir Issac Newton.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Holding the image

"There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment"
- Robert Frank

"And we, with unveiled faces, are being transformed, by beholding the glory of the Lord, which is transforming us, from one degree to another".
- Paul. 2 Corinthians  3:18.

One of the great splendors of life I have begun to appreciate as I've grown older is composition. As a Photographer, there's something truly satisfying bringing the right elements together to compose a moment that, hopefully, will resonate with those who see it. As a writer, there's something vital about writing words which may help someone to locate something that can, on occasion, help bring about some good.

Creation is a work of composition,
not just on the small scale that you and I can produce,
but in it's entirety.

Creation is seeking to fashion us into those marked by telling realizations regarding ourselves, and the true nature of the world we inhabit.

It's a journey marked by joy and pain, honesty and hope, and, because of the one behind this fashioning, love and mercy above all else.

This last few days has brought me into contact with a new on-line community of fellow believers, and we've already shared some fun moments together, but some of that engagement has not been easy, as it's meant seeking to address ourselves with genuine candor before the light of scripture. As with coming to church on Sunday (if it's a worthwhile church), and beginning with confession and absolution, drawing closer to each other means a level of honesty that can be cutting, but what is wonderful is how, in those very moments, the 'oil and the wine' of God's vital love given in Christ holds you and allows you to continue to share, bruised yet not discarded, and allow for a deeper conversation/connection in that splendor.

One of the things that was shared this week really speaks deeply about just how crippled sin makes us, but equally how immediate and ample the love of God in Christ is to us amidst our demolished lives (by the way, this is a website that is really worth several visits).
We sometimes, perhaps often, look at all the pieces of what is, and we find it hard to understand how they can ever fit together -
how can things which are so dark, and we all know them, ever be gone?
The answer, the completion of the composition, is when all things become defined and established in a light that is behind the present composing - a love that will bring all things to a place where that wonder is the how and the why that defines.

What's key here is that none of this is about a losing of our humanity, but a work that re-establishes and crucially establishes what is good about that.

It's not easy, moving forward, but it is something that transforms the moments into a life in which true, genuine change can take place.

Saturday, 10 March 2018


I went to see my sister
She was staying with a friend 
Who had turned into a preacher 
To save the world from sin. 

He said, "First deny your body, 
And then learn to submit. 
Pray to be made worthy, 
And tithe your ten percent." 

I said, "Is this all there is, Just the letter of the law?" 
Something's wrong. 

What about the Love by Amy Grant.

TED talks. Probably an acquired taste, but every once and a while, one of them proves worthy enough of a proper listen.

Dawn Smith's sadly familiar story of what happens when Christianity (so called) goes wrong fits the worth hearing category, not because you haven't heard a story like this before, but because it's a chilling reminder to us of what happens when Law becomes the Gospel.

Naturally, we'd all prefer to be 'religious' like this - deeming ourselves worthy because of some notion that we have merit or some gift that allows us to see ourselves better than others (isn't that why we're the ones in charge?). Religion based upon what we determine to do, what we determine is right and wrong, readily facilitates our whims and leaves plenty of space for our untouched vices. Such 'righteousness' can be worn as our merit, as our underlying adherence to a killing piety is whimsically sung in the chambers of our poisoned hearts.

Jesus will have none of it (Matthew 23).
Paul vehemently denounces it (Romans 2, The book of Galatians).
Peter defines it as sheer evil (2 Peter 2).

Christianity ends such religion because it brings us, often dragging and screaming, to our true nature before the requisites of love (Matthew 5, verses 21-48) and leaves us unclothed and unmasked. It leaves us totally devoid of any hope or confidence in ourselves, critically needing another to rescue us from ourselves.

That is why Jesus Christ is good news. He comes to a miserable people and by His life, death and resurrection, does what none of us can - he divorces us from the poison of our wretched sin, our fallen estate (Romans 3:21-26). 

We cease to be the church when we sabotage the message of God's saving us by His righteousness in favor of what we can do or be - there's religion a plenty that amounts to that and nothing more.
The truth is we're running on empty, and God needs to change us to make us people who depend on another to know love and to share love.

Our broken world is filled with empty wells where people are drinking dust because they're needing so much more.
We can offer waters so infinitely more satisfying, because they flow not from us, but from the mercy throne of God's astonishing love, evidenced at the cross.

Let's move close to Him this easter.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

J O Y !

"Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world". Martin Luther.

I think it must be a universal truth.
There are moments, when you've had a bad week, or are in the midst of trials, when suddenly, your entire nature lifts because you hear a particular song or melody which carries you out of the gloom and into a truly better place.

That's why, at least in part, I suspect, that certain pieces become favourites to us - they're tied to moments or times that are significant or special in our lives, and they're often bursting with words or themes that lift us, touching us at our deepest point.

I recall, for example, a moment in 2004 when life was truly falling apart - my wife was in a hospice, my future looked truly empty, and I was totally uncertain about where to go. I believe I was in a car with a friend when I heard Natasha Bedingfield's song, "Unwritten" for the first time. It was like an arrow to my heart. I was staring at a blank page, a dark window - I needed the Sun (the Son) to illuminate the broken thing that was my life.
As I sought to pick up the pieces in the year that followed loosing Kay, that song would motivate me to move forward.

It's so often the way that songs and other joys that matter arrive as gifts into our lives.

Yesterday, I was searching around for some music for an art video I was completing, when suddenly, boom, a whole set of videos came up of a favourite group, but from an album that was entirely new to me... what revels were mine for the next hour as I sat and listened to each track, delighting in songs which dripped with beauty and grace.

Just look at these lyrics to see what I mean...

You're a treasure no one opened, you're that diamond no one found,
There's no casual liaison when your heart is in the clouds,
Could have been your bit of style, could have been your bit of grace,
Could have been the way the starlight played upon your face,
Starlight played upon your face.

Moonlight, be a friend tonight,
We're all wrecked up on these dreams, holding on a bit too tight,
Well, I've got splinters from these moonbeams,
If it seems I'm falling down,
If it seems we're falling through,
Darling, you know that is nothing,
You know that is nothing new.

Look at me with longing eyes and I will always know the score,
Say the words I long to hear and I won't need them anymore,
If this moment seems forever, there are some things you don't waste,
If it's a little bit of God, then come in here and have a... come in here and have a taste.

Moonlight, be a friend tonight,
We're all wrecked up on these dreams, holding on a bit too tight,
Well, I've got splinters from these moonbeams,
If it seems I'm falling down,
If it seems we're falling through,
Darling, you know that is nothing,
You know that is nothing new.

You and me could build a bridge over every place that hurts,
Time to tear the walls down hard, 'cause they never really worked,
And if the first words start to stumble and sound slightly out of tune,
It's the opening of hearts, it is the closing of... closing of the deepest wounds.

Moonlight, be a friend tonight,
We're all wrecked up on these dreams, holding on a bit too tight,
Well, I've got splinters from these moonbeams,
If it seems I'm falling down,
If it seems we're falling through,
Darling, you know that is nothing,
Darling, you know that is nothing,
Darling, you know that is nothing,
You know that is nothing new.

Darling, that is nothing new,
Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing,
That is nothing new,
Darling, darling,
That is nothing new.

From You Know That by the Vigilantes of Love.

It may be that today, life is hard, or circumstances ahead look so dark and troubling, you're not sure where to look or how to go on. Perhaps there's a song that can cause you to look further than the winter of our hearts and our often painful lives to remind you there is richer things, and there is a care beyond our current pain.

The days now so often seem to be about our being seeded into death (presumably because of our broken natures), but we can know that the warmth and ravishing love of a lasting life, a better wine, is breathing close upon the wind.

The Gospel brings us home, and music often softens the journey there.

Friday, 2 March 2018

The inoculation

"So Welcome to the Machine". Pink Floyd.

So, who hasn't yet watched "the" Jordan Peterson interview?
I guess there are a few, even though the Channel 4 full version on You Tube shows nearly 8 million views.

There's been loads of analysis since it appeared at the end of January, most discussing why Cathy Newman got it so wrong, and Peterson himself, on plenty of other videos, talking about what he is actually trying to say. It's all part of the present culture wars thrust and parry amidst the maelstrom of how we speak about, or speak to, our culture, but there's the rub... Can we really talk about "a" culture any longer?

I was bluntly reminded this morning that the liquefaction that is violently tearing us apart is much, much deeper than we think, and this is why the tussles between the likes of Peterson and Newman, when placed within the real context of today, are almost irrelevant.


The malady is that we can think that if we're engaging with these kinds of discussions, reading the latest 'advice to ("young" men/women/??? - fill in the appropriate blank)' best seller, looking to science for gifts akin to vibranium (aka Unobtainium), we think we're aware, but we are, in fact, just skating on thin ice.
The real problems, which, like weeds, have worked roots down into the very fabric of the world, are much, much deeper.

Here's an inkling of just how deep they are.

It all reminds me of a very telling (and quieter) moment in Ridley Scott's epic spectacular,

The barbarians have been quelled, so even though the old order, in the form of Marcus Aurelis, has passed, there really isn't anything to worry about - Commodus has brought bread and circuses back to Rome... a grand era of games, so all is well, notes his cunning ally, Gaius.

"He will give the people death", Gracchus astutely retorts, "and they will love him for it".

Poison in the form of refreshment and stability.

We touch it everyday in what is so often deemed to be 'recreational' - narcotics, sex and eating addictions, gladitorialism in virtual reality... these are the church windows of our temples of self indulgence.

It's the dying nightmare of a burning world tarnished by our unrelenting "triumph" - the telling neglect of the dreadful death that resides at the core of each of us, concluding in our own sorrowful physical demise as we finally cannot escape our long-standing exile from home any longer.

The hollowness of the days can be tracked right into the very heart of all our most revered professions and houses of power.
When his nation began to fall into the abyss of decimation, the Prophet Ezekiel looked deep into the sanctuaries of the land and found only evil of the darkest kinds (Ezekiel chapter 8). As with the warnings of Jeremiah, there were plenty who sought to downplay the significance of such exposure, but their very words re-affirmed the tragedy of the times.

The answer isn't in us.
As I've sought to say here before, we need the remedy of the saving grace that flows from God in Christ alone.

We need to have that shock of what is hit us full on - then we'll begin to see we cannot do anything except ask God for that lifeline.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The nature of things.

"And a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries". Paul Simon - I am a rock.

"They became futile in their thinking". Romans 1:21.

So, there I was on you tube, re-visiting some material on science and faith to pass along to a friend, when I noted in the other videos column an item - sourly titled - that was seeking to demean the thinking of the person I was listening to.

I clicked on to this at the end of the video I was watching to see what kind of arguments were being made, and quickly discovered they were not actually attacking an argument by the person they were seeking to dismiss, but, initially at least, only his re-telling of an argument made by C S Lewis.

Here's the original version by Lewis himself:
“Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.” (The Defense of Reason).

Notice what He is stating here - if what we deem intelligence is merely a quirk of an a random process, what objective data (beyond our own senses) gives it the validity to be trusted as a means of genuinely defining and rightly understanding the nature of things, even in regards to the purely material sophistication of the world?

 The response to this argument on the dismissive video was pathetic. It stated that because we're made of the same stuff as what's around us (atoms and the like), these are therefore perfectly acceptable tools to employ to understand that manner of stuff, so Lewis and others who employ this manner of questioning are just plain wrong.

Another video I watched recently included a section in which Richard Dawkins and Neil De Grasse Tyson were discussing the nature and purpose of intelligence, and they raised a fascinating dilemma. If you look at the astonishing forms of life on this planet, very few (and they concluded, in a real sense, probably only one) has seen it beneficial to develop and employ the strange phenomena of intelligence. What makes this phenomena even more puzzling, they noted, is why, because from a naturalistic (survival and transmission of genes) perspective, it's clearly not required, so why is it there?

The truth is actually much stranger than fiction.

When Sir Fred Hoyle undertook his research into the proliferation of carbon in the universe, he realized that the hard data was telling him something he didn't expect, and didn't like - the very nature of the physical order had been toyed with in a manner that wasn't random. The numbers proved it. The atheist encountered the fingerprints of God.

Using our faculties is meant to cause us to stop and ponder what is really around us.

We all know that our senses give us information all of the time - a frame of reference that we implicitly trust because without that, the world would become entirely alien and life impossible, but honest evaluation of what we can see when we look hard enough, jolts us, because it tells us 1. There are clearly limits to what our faculties can comprehend and 2. Within those limits, there is information that points to deeper aspects of reality, beyond the purely utilitarian.

Naturalism wants to argue that such "aspects" are merely the result of ignorance, either due to our current lack of information, or, as in the case of the video I encountered, because the person making a case for more than the material is, in effect, ignorant, but what is often happening is the real argument isn't being heard by those seeking to dismiss it.

A classic example of this is how naturalism often "reads" what is deemed science and thereby believes it negates that need for theology.

Let me conclude by pointing to another of Lewis' superb arguments on this very subject.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

In this tussle...

"Looking for the right one, when will the right one come along?"  Art Garfunkel.

It's a familiar story - the push of life's obligations against the pull of our deepest desires.
It's a miss-match of epic proportions.

How do we handle it?

Mockingbird contributer Charlotte Getz has written one wonderful piece on this this week.

I love her candor. I love her no-holds barred honesty. I lover her conclusions.
It makes sense of what the day to day is about, but far more importantly, it tells us that our deep in the depths of us yearnings and longing aren't meant to go away - they're meant to steer us to richer shores than we can currently even fully comprehend.

I'd love to just let rip about what Charlotte says, but I'll just enjoy the warmth of it, and encourage you to have a read for yourself - it's excellent.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

When Church Fails

"Those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me".
Paul - Galatians 2:6

Some of you may have picked up on former gymnast Rachael Denhollander's story last week, regarding how she confronted her abuser with point-blank gospel truth about herself, God and forgiveness, but it turns out that this was only the first part in her story.

In an astonishing follow-through piece this week in Christianity Today, we learn of another dimension to her pain - caused by the failure of the church to support her.

The awful truth is not only was she not helped through the trauma of her experiences by the church she attended, she was actually cut off from membership simply because the church entirely failed in its call to minister to and aid a suffering member of its body, leaving her facing an even greater amount of suffering and vulnerability.

The CT article mentions the particular church group involved, but this is sadly not uncommon. Back in the 80's, Christian sociologist Ronald Enroth wrote a telling study into how commonplace such a plight was in America in the work, Churches that Abuse, showing how miss-application of presumed authority and teaching that permitted this created a plethora of damaged and broken people. Andrew Walker was to touch on some of the same manner of abuse which occurred here amidst similar schemes in his book, Restoring the Kingdom, but most of these abuses and their perpetrators have become forgotten some 40 years on, causing some to, mistakenly, think that such errors don't happen now.

Of course, the troubles don't always begin too extreme to begin with. A piece today on the Mockingbird website shows how easily this failure can become established.

 It all sounded so worthwhile in Paul's day.
Be a "super-spiritual" follower, not only having believed, but now, keeping all these requirements given to us by Moses himself.... my, won't that please God!

We totally fail when our best intentions become about anything but what Christ alone has done at the cross. That is what should cause us to lay ourselves down for each other, but we're so easily lead to thinking that we can make things so much better by our own spit and polish.
It doesn't take long before others are suffering as a result.

The church does something wonderful when it points away from itself to the weakness, the failure, the tearing truth of the cross. There and only there can life emerge from death.

Let's really learn something from Rachael's valuable work of speaking the truth in love.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Exquisite Romance of Grace

"No, no, no. It's not the cheating. It's the hunger. The hunger for an alternative and the refusal to accept a life of unhappiness". Sarah Pierce - The film Little Children.

"I love it when passion rips open that dull, nine to five facade and bares the writhing orgy of need underneath". Tim Kredier - The essay, The Creature Walks Among Us.

"I've never gone so wrong as for telling lies to you
What you've seen is what I've been
And there is nothing I can hide from you
You see me better than I can
".  Lyrics from 'Till I Gain Control Again'.

There's a wonderful moment in the song of songs that says so much about passion and genuine love, but before we get to that, I wanted to refer to another touchstone, for me, on this vital subject. It's found in Jim Mc Neely's superb book, The Romance of Grace, which is simply one of the best works in print on the value of desire and the astonishing love of God.

The book is littered with gems, but it's chapter 4 - Grace is the Air Love Breathes - that I want to draw from today.

It starts with focusing on a very universal truth - we are not in control of our own desires. We often "feel" we want things in a particular direction, but because that impulse is usually without any real centre, we "might as well try and grasp the wind or embrace the ocean"... and yet, our passion really counts. When love becomes something wonderful, it really does colour everything in a brightness that furnishes all of life. It allows us to overlook faults, work through troubles, care unselfishly and even unceasingly for someone that was once a total stranger. Love alone actually enables us to totally give ourselves, not out of duty, but out of a yearning to please and delight that one who fills our world.

There are, of course, countless songs, stories, poems and other expressions that bear witness to the power of such affection, which is no doubt why, at the very heart of our bibles, we find a truly vivid, no holds barred, love story.

One of the questions asked at the end of this insightful chapter is "is Hollywood right in conveying that we fall helplessly in love with someone and have no real control over our affections?

The Song of Songs answers with a resounding YES!
Take a look at this typical passage from the work:

"My beloved says to me, 'Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away" (2:10). The object of desire, hearing this call, then yearns eagerly to be with the one who loves her (see the opening of chapter 3).

Its exactly the same in regards to the love of God.

The Apostle John notes that we know we're redeemed and shall be reassured in our hearts, even when feel condemned, because this redeeming love of God is far, far greater than our hearts, and the one who loves us this way knows everything (1 John 3:19-20).

In other words, as John also says, we can now love because we were first so totally loved (1 John 4:19).

Our surety isn't in the whims of our own turbulent desires, or our "doing well" one day and badly the next - it's in the love that nailed Jesus to a cursed cross so that He could take all our iniquities and end all our diseases.

That's the love we respond to - total and unconditional (1 Timothy 2:1-6).

It has to be this, or nothing, because the alternatives (depending on something other than eternal, steadfast, love) are dire. 

There's a 100% sure-fire way to sell Christianity short.

Turn it into religion.

Turn it into something filled with 'shoulds', 'musts', 'wills' and 'cans' instead of a hunger to be loved, to be carried up by the sweetest bliss of being one totally desired by another (however vile we may be), and you'll end up stoically trudging the road to reverence to something that, if you try hard enough and long enough, you deem (believe) you can plicate, but let's be clear - it's not those who "will" and thereby "run" (Romans 9:15) that make it... It's those who believe that God came to rescue the wicked (us) and trust in that unmerited love that do.

Occasionally, we will no doubt know moments, perhaps even longer spells, where our desires harmonize with the beauty of the holiness God brings to us in His beloved, but if we're honest, we're often usually pretty distant from that. The way to see further than ourselves is to focus on the love that God pours out, without measure, upon us, in Jesus.

As Charles Spurgeon once noted, "If God would have held anything back, it would have been this, His beloved. When He gave us His Son, He gave us all".

Spend some time today thinking about that.
It might do your affections some good.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Light at the end of tunnel (The scope of faith).

"He raises the needy out of Affliction" Psalm 107:41.
"So Abraham called the the name of the place, 'the Lord will provide'" Genesis 22:14.

Sometimes, I find, reading books about theology can be as much about recognizing what has been missed as what had been said, which can be good, because it allows you to don your thinking cap and go deeper!
That was certainly the case this morning, when reading a book on the manner of paradox we can often find in life and faith.

The author decided to use the story of Abraham's offering of Isaac as an opening instance of the kind of troubles we can often face, for example, when something tragic and apparently unjust happens in our lives. The story of a man being required to sacrifice his only child to show obedience to God seems bluntly wicked and capricious today (as various secular writers have contended), so what are we to make of this, and, perhaps more to the point, does this story really comfort or aid people who are about to know the manner of sorrow the author raises in the opening of the book - to be those bereaved and suffer loss?

The tome I was reading notes how the story in Genesis started - with a couple who had no future (no children) - and how miraculously, after many years, that changes - with the birth of Isaac, and how God stays Abraham's hand in the sacrifice story due to the Lord providing another sacrifice in the form of a ram caught in a thicket. It touches on how this incident is one in several moments when God is working in the life of these people to deepen His intent in them of truly knowing Him, and makes reference to Abraham's key confession in the midst of this particular event (Genesis 22:8) which tells us something vital about his faith, but I couldn't help wondering by this point where the initial question raised in this book - of aiding people in the midst of their (probable) great loss - had gone. How did this relate to the actual tragic death of  someone, probably amidst great suffering, especially where no apparent faith was present?

I understand the aim of the book is to speak about how God often is most clearly seen and understood in the most difficult of moments - that was certainly true for Abraham - but this is surely contingent on the fact that here was a man who had seen God in all manner of prior events and conversations, so that when the sacrificial incident occurs, Abraham understands that this is an event in which he will truly learn something about the true nature of God's provision for him and his household, hence his confidence is in God's "speaking" to Him through what unfolds.

Abraham and Sarah had shared, like many now do, a deep desire for children, and God promised as He called them to a new location that He would fulfill this longing, but the events which unfold show how God would only do so after it had became totally impossible for this to be achieved by any natural means. What's imperative to understand, then, is our best hopes and goals can only truly be achieved (truly fulfilled) beyond ourselves in the life which comes from another, for it is only that life which can define and establish something credible and worthwhile.

What, then, of those who are encountering trial and trauma without such confidence?

In Psalm 107, the writer begins by speaking of us being redeemed by God's steadfast love via rescue from the 'day of trouble' and being gathered from foreign lands (apt, of course, in the life-story of Abraham). There are those who wandered wastelands (verse 4), those who inhabited darkness (verse 10), those who foolishly wallowed in sin (verse 17), and those in distress in the depths (verse 23). None of these realms, in and of themselves, bring us anything but anguish and pain. The Psalm states that the intention of such times is clear - to bring an end to our own resources (see verses 33 and 34) and ourselves, that these very trails will cause us to faint and cry out (verse 6, verse 13, verse 19, and verse 28). God, in His great mercy, will use such harsh times and dark events to break into our lives if we do so, bringing an underlying mercy whatever the circumstances themselves may produce. Those who endure through the various trails in this psalm do so not because of some inner resolve or stoic character - they cry to God for aid (verses 8, 13, 19 and 28).

The imperative, as Abraham and his son discovered on Mount Moriah, is that we are brought deeper into a fellowship with the one, like the sacrifice on the mountain provided by God, who gives all for us to crush the tyranny of severance and empty existence in our lives. That may indeed mean a traversing of the harsh, unrelenting places so that we can truly learn to trust upon His unfailing care, but far better that than we become those who seek their own solutions to the harsher periods of life.

Abraham travelled long and far with God, and as a result, gained the most precious insight that we can know (John 8:56). May it be the case that all our days, whether times of delight or trouble, will equally open that splendor to us.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

A d v e r s i t y

"Everyone of us was made to suffer, everyone of us was made to weep"
Walking on Broken Glass - Annie Lennox.

'We all have our crosses to bear, don't we', was the comment this morning.
It was apt, because I've been thinking this past week about similar considerations.

Pain and suffering. We're all made to suffer, says the song.
Were we?
And if so, why?

There's been many times recently when I've discovered that why we so often 'bleed' is because of the deep scars we carry... from "home" (broken families) or our youth (abuse is clearly far more prevalent than many ever imagined) or those many cruel circumstances that acted to thwart or twist us in some way.

Is it all really necessary?
I wonder what kind of man a genius like Alan Turing would have become if he hadn't been so wickedly nailed under the floorboards at boarding school, or, come to think of it, if his family hadn't seen it necessary to send him to such a place (I speak from experience... Perhaps I'll write more on all of that sometime).

In Aaron Sorkin's movie about Steve Jobs, there's a line towards the end where the brilliant yet flawed thinker confesses to his estranged daughter, "I was made poorly".
There are huge consequences of what we really are. To reference another film, the candid portrayal of the true story of Johnny Cash, Walk the Line, really shows how this works, particularly through the relationship between father and son.

In sin, acknowledged David, the great poet, I was conceived and brought into life.

Is that the reason?

It's a premise that most of us want to push away, at least until we have to own up to some deeper truth about ourselves and about the pain of dislocation we all bear.

I've spent some time here over the years here talking about the remedy, but there's another aspect to suffering for us when we understand that we're rescued by grace. Hardship can then take on another dimension.

In the opening of his prison-written letter to the Christians at Philippi, Paul can express thanks for his dire circumstances, not because they were not arduous, but because they were part of a package that was producing a deeper understanding and experience of God's great and transforming love in the core of our pain-stricken world. A man who had once been consumed by zealous hatred of others was now content to sit in a cell for those he had once wanted to kill because he had been released from the cancer of sin by the joy of God's healing of reconciliation and peace through His Son. The palpable result of genuine rescue is that it allows us in our present circumstances to see, even amidst the deep and very real pains, that healing is present, and that wonder means that the day approaches when all tears, all sorrow, will end.

The harsh and bitter hurts of suffering may not yet be gone, but they can at least now be woven into a manner of being that is approving of and seeking to give what is truly excellent - the righteous fruit of healing righteousness that has been bestowed to us, leading to a completion that means our trails will be folded in to that increasing peace and rich life that is finally fully unfolded when creation is eternally made whole.

Perhaps today, our "crosses" can remind us of that cross, that cost to heal us, so we can cleave to something true in all our pain.