When all is said and done,
We spoiled it,
But He made it all okay again.
When all is said and done,
We spoiled it,
But He made it all okay again.
When does one actually step into the light?
I mean, its not like I hadn’t already realised that becoming a Christian was a process and especially in Western Europe where most people are now growing up in secularism. Even my own ‘conversion’ feels less like an experience than a growing into – and that is in the Northern Irish Evangelical context where sinner’s prayers are flung left right and centre.
So for example, a guy starts coming along to bible study – he buys a bible and excitedly shares that every time he picks it up he learns something new. He explains how he’s started praying every night before going to sleep. During the group he prays out loud to thank God for drawing him closer to knowing Him and asks Him to help in the path.
Alongside this, he talks about not really believing in eternal life. Or he claims to have bought a book about angels as well as having bought a bible.
I guess ultimately I believe that only God really knows whether there’s a specific moment in someone’s life where they enter ‘the light’. But also that (she typed, thinking ‘out loud’), perhaps starting to walk in the light is less a lightswitch (as the Calvinists might claim?) and more a chosen direction. So, if I turn away from my own way and start walking towards God, then I’m walking in the direction of the Light and the path is therefore lit, whereas before I was walking away from the light and was therefore in darkness, you know?
So this friend of mine seems to be walking in the direction of the Light and that’s exciting. He could change his mind at some point and dander off the other way, as could I.
It could be the wine, but, you know what? I think everything is going to be okay.
(I’m not going to admit how many times I had to use the ‘delete’ button for that sentence… yowzers – time for some coffee…)
Seriously, though. I think it might turn out all right.
A while ago I wrote about a tiny miracle as to how I found this apartment and here I am on the balcony (LOGGIA actually, but more about that in a minute.), looking out on a storm that’s been brewing for several hours :
I’ve cosied up with wine, salad, cheese, my journal and Eva Cassidy and now I’m on the chocolate and coffee. I’ve been listing reasons I’m thankful – a much better pursuit than the intended rant and self-pity sesh. And here’s why I think it might all just be okay…
God knows better than I do what the desires of my heart are.
It was the small fact that the apartment I accidentally ended up renting has a loggia rather than a balcony that excited this epiphany. I had spent some time expostulating about how I’d REALLY like an apartment with a balcony, please, Lord. And I thought he’d found me one. But no. He found me one with a Loggia.
You see a balcony, according to Wiki, is “a platform projecting from the wall of a building, supported by columns or console brackets, and enclosed with a balustrade.” and therefore might look like this :
Whereas a loggia, according to Wiki, is “mostly described as a recessed portico, or an internal room, with pierced walls and open to the elements.” and might, for example, look something like this :
The crucial difference being that is has a roof and sides. Therefore I can sit quite comfortably with my Mac and coffee while the rain pours down outside. Now, who’d have thought to pray for that???
“Now to Him who is able to do more than we ask or imagine…to Him be glory…!”
I figure that if God cares about that, then he might care about the other stuff I care about and have asked him for. He seems to know more about what I really want than I do, so I reckon it all might just be ok.
Four friends in a prayer square – all linked in different capacities and depths, but linked all the same. One trusted the others because of the others.
They were beautiful, these four girls – beautiful with a vulnerability that came and went as they struggled with fear, inadequacy, guilt, desire… Thoughts and feelings both expected and unexpected in women. Beautiful with a depth of honesty not many shared and they shared with few others. Beautiful.
And I was one of them. Valued and loved, heard and known, seen and unseen. I don’t think its arrogance to say we were beautiful – beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I hold them in my ‘I’.
Its been a while since these four met – or at least since this one met with those three. Much has happened, continues to happen, while I – removed from them – have happenings of my own that wrap me up in myself. Not so pretty.
Guilt and I are not friends – I will not have coffee with him, nor will I lie with him, not even hold hands. Though sometimes we bump into each other – a fleeting glance that makes me sad. Sorrowful until I remember my true friend Forgiveness, also known as Love, Truth, Jesus.
Forgive me, friends, for what I have left unknown, unacknowledged, unheard, unmet, unheld…and come, there are many days to tell, much dreaming to do, old demons to face and new life to meet.
I’ve heard a lot of Christian talks in my lifetime. It seems that in a fair number of those talks, the idea that the bible and that the gospel are explosive (or could be so) featured so heavily as to have been engrained in my head.
I’m just wondering… Is the bible meant to be ‘dynamite’? Is the gospel?
Its just… well, when I think about it, the idea of the bible of the gospel exploding in a great big BANG doesn’t seem to fit. There is something slow and steady about scripture, something growing, something expanding. Like sunrise or sunset – where you can’t quite tell the moment where they begin and end.
The whole smell of the Jewish culture in the Old Testament, the simplicity with which churches met and began to grow in the New Testament… Yes, there are moments of great drama and ‘explosion’, but is it not mostly the simple bread and wine of daily life under a new King?
We are exhorted and exhort people with the message that the power of scripture and the gospel are incredible. Which of course is true. But do we do more harm than good when we light a fire under people and tell ’em to go and use dynamite to change the world?
Dynamite is powerful and impressive – you certainly can’t go hiding your dynamite under a bushel. Dynamite is effective, speedy and the results are immediately discernible – not just by the one who lit the fuse.
So what happens when our use of the ‘dynamite’ is more of a fizzle than a bang? What happens when our use of the ‘dynamite’ brings no visible results and certainly not speedily or even effectively? What does it say about our lives when they are… frankly… normal? No wham-bam-pizazz here.
Too many times people (especially young people) are being told to go and shine, go and change the world, go and… blow up the bastards!!!
That may be paraphrasing a little.
What does that mean for the kid who is shy? What does that mean for mother of two small children who barely sees the outside world never mind have time to light a fuse? What effect does that have on the capable, dynamic young person who has grown up in a quiet country church with very few outlets for ministry? What does that look like for a new church-plant in secularist Western Europe whose members are not yet on spiritual meat?
Running around talking about chucking dynamite seems like it could leave people feeling useless, stressed, arrogant and dissatisfied…
It seems to me (tonight as I think ‘out loud’ onto this blog) that everything about the way Jesus came was on the small-scale. A town no-one wanted to go to, a young girl no-one would know of, a birthplace less than immaculate… A carpenter from a town no-one thought of, from a people who’d been crushed and despised for centuries, hanging around with a bunch of nobodies… New life coming to prostitutes, tax collectors, undesirables. A criminal’s death. Angels witnessing to ‘little women’, powerful preaching from unschooled fishermen, centres of learning for tradesmen and non-scholars …
Yes, all of it had an incredibly life-changing, profound effect on the cosmos but yet happened in such ‘ordinary’ circumstances
If we’re talking about ways to ‘get people’ with the gospel, dynamite is a pretty messy way to do it – I’d think its much more along the lines of putting the frog in the cold water and heating him up…!
How would it affect us if we thought of what the church is doing as a heating up rather than a blowing up?
We’d be less concerned with being impressive. Fewer ‘slick’ youth programs and polished worship bands, more real relationships and genuine engagement with truth. Depth rather than height.
We’d be less concerned with efficiency. Fewer 12 step-plans to greater holiness, more stickability when the going gets so tough it seems to be going nowhere. Faithfulness rather than results.
We’d be less concerned with seeing results, fast. Fewer unrealistic expectations of what it takes to know God, more actual living with and knowing God. Endurance rather than ‘success’.
The power at hand is indeed incredible, but does that mean we wrap it up in red, light a fuse and stand back to watch the explosion?
Darkness is the absence of light. Evil is the absence of good – or rather of God.
In giving his creatures love, creator God gave his creatures the choice of not-love. In plucking that fruit from that tree, the creatures sought Me-ness which is, indeed, not-love. In the way that love is light, not-love is the absence of that light and in the way that love leads to light, to the Light, not-love leads to darkness, to not-light.
Where there is light, there is no room for darkness; where there is love, there can ultimately be no not-love.
Creator God promises to one day reveal the fullness of Light to those who choose Love. Not only will those who chose not-love not be able to support that Light, neither will that light be able to support its darkness – there will simply be no room. Darkness is nothingness, light is fullness. Where there is fullness there can be no nothingness, no not-fullness.
For those who live in Love, who live in Light, they will no longer know not-love or not-light. Where there is fullness, there can be no nothingness, no not-fullness. If not-love and not-light are allowed entry, there is not fullness – Love and Light are not full.
One day not-love, not-light and not-fullness will be put away and Love and Light will reign in all His fullness. And we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
(Oh yeah, oh yeaaahhh)
Everything in me wants church to be perfect.
Now, I don’t mean that I want church to perfectly reflect Jesus (although I don’t mean that I don’t mean that) – I mean I want a church service to run perfectly. For me its one of those things that has both good points and bad points.
I feel quite strongly that when we ‘do’ a church service – worship, prayer,sermon, communion… – we are creating something, if you will. We are acting and enacting the beauty of the gospel – a sort of drama ‘in the round’ into which we invite people to participate and go away changed. For that, then, it is important, essential even, that there is a certain ‘slick’ to what is done in order that people can enter into the story without being distracted by clumsy direction or drunken players (metaphorically speaking!).
The danger is that it all becomes something like this…
When I studied theatre at University (ha ha – that sounds great, doesn’t it? It was 2 modules out of 18!) I discovered the term ‘suspension of disbelief‘ which is a principle that the audience in the theatre will willingly overlook the limits of the medium in order to enjoy and follow the show. For example – the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet – Juliet’s balcony is at best made out of wood or fibreglass and is just one wall rather than a whole building; those realities would somewhat spoil the romance of the scene. Or the final scene in ‘Juno and the Paycock‘ where Johnny get shot – they are not likely to actually shoot the actor nor even have real guns on stage – but if someone were to point that out, the tragedy would be somewhat compromised. See?
But in church, we’re not suspending disbelief, we’re engaging belief, we’re enacting belief, we’re revelling in what we believe. Part of what we believe is that we are NOT perfect and that is why the gospel is good – because it is God who is working in us to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:13b). It is for this reason then, that church cannot and should not be “perfect” and in fact, if there is no room for us in our human imperfection, there is no room for the gospel and no room for God and therefore is not church at all, but rather just a play.
What do we do then? How do we console those who cringe at lengthy, garbled announcements? How do we heal those who go mad at out of tune music or non-responsive singing? How do we encourage those who would rather send their friends who are curious about church to the bigger, slicker ‘cooler’ church in the city?
Speaking of wanting to invite friends who are interested in church to our own church… What is our obsession with wanting ‘church’ to be cool? Let’s be honest, the music could be perfect, the sermon spot-on in terms of relevant, the people might even be the most welcoming people on earth but the essence of what church is is just weird! We can’t hide it! We’re completely counter-cultural – in a good way to us if we’re reflecting Jesus at all, but probably just plain weird to your average Joe on the street. How do we know that the very flaws in our church won’t be the very thing God uses to open our friends heart to Him?!
A question : How do we best honour God in re-enacting his story through church without pushing him out of it?
A friend once told me an illustration she’d been given about how God’s sovereignty played out in her service. Wracked by fear of making a mess and not being good enough, she was encouraged by the following…
Its like we’re in the workshop of a master carpenter; we’re sawing and hammering away, nails and sawdust flying everywhere – working really hard. We suddenly realize we’ve made a mistake or what we’ve been making isn’t really very good and certainly doesn’t measure up to the Master carpenter’s standard. We’re distraught and feel like a failure, anxious about the mess we’ve made of things. Then we discover that really its what the Master is doing that really matters – that the work we’re doing is very small in light of what he’s done and so it doesn’t matter if we don’t measure up – he’s done it all already. Its like a father who has given his child a spare bit of scrap wood to mess about with, just so that they feel loved and feel part of what he’s doing.
I suppose it could be comforting when we feel our efforts for the Kingdom are pitiful or that we’ve made big mistakes in our life choices – its good to know that there’s a Master craftsman who’s really building and who’s getting it right and making it beautiful.
Others I’m guessing would feel much more like what is really in play is the following…
We’re in the workshop of a Master carpenter; we’re sawing and hammering away, nails and sawdust flying everywhere – working really hard. We suddenly realize we’ve made a mistake or what we’ve been making isn’t really very good and certainly doesn’t measure up to the Master carpenter’s standard. We’re distraught and feel like a failure, anxious about the mess we’ve made of things. Then we discover that really its what the Master is doing that really matters – that what we need to do is to get out of the way and let him do it. So we sit back and watch the Master at work, peeking over his shoulder trying not to get in the way, marveling at his skill and whilst there are things he’s doing that we don’t understand, we simply know that in the end his finished work is glorious.
I’ve been thinking about this ‘workshop of life’ 😉 about this Master craftsman and me. Both the above scenarios mean that the work gets done – in the end there is a pure and beautiful masterpiece on the workshop table and whilst I feel a certain sense of security or comfort of life being that way, both pictures end up leaving me cold.
The second paints a picture of a God who does whatever he wills in order to get the work done, regardless of what we do to get in the way. Our part is to watch and glory in the craftsmanship. We have no real part, we’re just tools (or even distractions) in what he’s doing.
The first picture, then is surely better as we get in on the fun – we hammer away and design things and glue stuff… we’re given a scrap piece of wood to muck about with while God is doing the real work. Our part is to have a bash and keep ourselves busy, have a go at copying the glory of the craftsmanship while not actually making any impact on it. We have a part, but it doesn’t matter about how it goes, because really its just a scrap that the Master has thrown at us to muck about with.
The cold feeling these images bring means that really I think there is a third way at work in God’s sovereignty. Of course, no one image will fully convey it, but I’m thinking that if I’m going to think about such a workshop scenario, it would go much more like this…
We’re in the workshop of a Master carpenter; we’re sawing and hammering away, nails and sawdust flying everywhere – working really hard. We suddenly realize we’ve made a mistake or what we’ve been making isn’t really very good and certainly doesn’t measure up to the Master carpenter’s standard. We’re distraught and feel like a failure, anxious about the mess we’ve made of things. Then we discover that really its what the Master is doing that really matters – he is teaching and training and showing and hanging out and inspiring and repairing and (dare I say it…?) marveling and smiling at what we’re making together.
See, I think I really am building something here – and not just mucking around with scrap – it is of great value, it is important… essential even. I really am making decisions, I’m designing and crafting and shaping life. I really am doing the work, but I think I might be a master in training with THE Master. An apprentice, if you will.
I am learning to create and craft at His side.
The bits where I have no clue how to do it, how to make it fit, he’s working on – but always in a way that teaches and trains me and my workmanship in his masterpiece. The bits where I’ve accidentally gouged a great big chunk out of the wood, or mucked up the design, he transforms into something more beautiful than i could have imagined – showing me what it looks like to heal and refine and redefine. I can be careless and flippant or meticulous and particular or creative and flamboyant. Such freedom gives both weight and value to my choices and creates the beauty of true partnership.
This is a frightening concept.
It means that when I have a choice to make – about marriage or about career for example – I cannot sit back with my fingers in my ears and sing ‘Jesus loves me this I know’ and wait til it all works out or til Jesus comes back – whichever comes first. Rather, I must take steps towards seeing things happen, recognizing that I have a responsibility to bear for my own life; to live life rather than to simply let life happen. That my choices (or lack thereof) have consequences carries weight but therefore also worth.
This is an incredible concept.
The biggest part of this freedom is that even when I’ve no effing clue what to do, or how to proceed, or things seem impossible, the Master is there. Not to take control and do it for me, not to relegate me to the scrap woodpile, but to put his hands on mine and guide me through in a way that not only accomplishes something, but that also means together we create something beautiful. Something beautiful in me and through me and even for me. Something beautiful that is part and parcel of this Master’s greatest work of art.
Not many people know this, but I used to play the double bass.
Now, when I say I used to ‘play’ the double bass, really I mean I used to get lessons on the double bass. These things are very different. But seriously, give a nine year old an instrument twice their height and tell them rather than taking that instrument home to practice that they have to forgo their school breaktime to practice instead and you tell me how successful that will be…?
But that’s not the point.
The point is, I didn’t practice. And when I didn’t practice it meant that the old lessons with Mrs Coleslaw didn’t go very well. Then when I went to high school and took lessons with Mrs Basher, those didn’t go very well either. Both ladies were grumpy and frowny and frankly terrifying. To this day I’m not sure if it is a requirement for double bass teachers to be able to shout at ear-splitting levels and to wither your liver with one look… Their shouting and looking – as terrifying as it was – weren’t the most dreaded response to my inability to match the notes on the score to finger-positioning and lack of practice. The phrase I dreaded most in response to my eyes-down confession of 5 minutes practice a week was “I’m not angry… Just disappointed.”
Even now it sends shudders down my spine and plants anvils in my gut!
Undoubtedly you have your own experience of these kind of traumatic guilt-inducing childhood memories? Or perhaps it was just me. But anyway…
In the last couple of years in listening to Darrell Johnson teaching the gospel of John I have been interested in the concept of ‘zoe’ the Greek word for life of the spiritual kind rather than ‘bios’ as life in the biological kind of way. C.S Lewis also talks about it in ‘Mere Christianity’. I won’t try and explain it all here, but suffice to say that it made me think think along the lines of Jesus saying that he came that we might have ‘life (zoe) in all its fullness’ and that therefore all the things we turn to apart from him (ie sin) steals zoe from us.
For me, this perspective on sin helps me understand that it is not that God is some sort of cosmic spoilt child who, because he didn’t get his way, wreaks havoc in his judgement on our sin. But that rather, God wants us to know and live the life he had always intended for us so sent Jesus to do the whole life-death-resurrection-ascension thing so we can be free from sin and death and hell.
SO… by trusting in Jesus I am sorted and that life (zoe) is mine. Except… I’m not very good at practising. I still muck around with my sin mud pies: holding on to grudges, serving myself over others, discontent and grumbling…
If I am talking to someone who says something similar of themselves, I feel that in that context the way forward is not to preach fear tactics; not to tell the person that those sins make God angry and that he punishes and disciplines them. My tactics would be to point out that those things steal true life from us, that they ruin ‘shalom’ and why would we want anything to do with them? to encourage them that true life and beauty dwells in following the way God says to go. ‘Whoever lays down his life for me and for the gospel will find it!’ God wants so much more for us than that!
Except… Somewhere in all of this I suddenly got the feeling that the trajectory of all this could lead to that same feeling from my childhood neglect of the double bass. I mean, can you imagine…? Standing before the judgement throne of the infinite creator of all things seen and unseen, realising in full the absolute and utter idiocy and ugliness and emptiness of all those things you mucked around with in your earthly life, clinging to and claiming the name of Jesus and the voice of the Almighty booms those dreaded words:
“I’m not angry… Just disappointed.”
I’m sure there are many smarter people out there who can punch holes all over that and who can identify what my issues and misunderstandings are. To clarify – that’s not really how I believe God will react when we finally get to the point of hanging out forever, I’m more just trying to work out why I was reminded of the Mrs Coleslaw and Basher when thinking about this stuff the other day. So please feel free to help!
But it also took me back to some pub theology about right and wrong as verbally-processed from this soapbox. Does our obsession about right/wrong behaviour mean that we miss a bigger picture? Does our measuring of our sinful/righteous responses to life’s circumstances mean that we’re trying to ‘keep a balance’ when life with God (zoe) isn’t anywhere near a set of scales?!?
Eugh… I just don’t know! What do you think?
“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…” Isaiah 30:15
Just read something this morning that is interesting in regards to this stuff. The author pointed out that in leading someone in prayer to come to know Jesus, we only lead them in repenting of sin and not renouncing sin. This reduces ‘sin’ to our thoughts and actions as opposed to an all-encompassing force which enslaves and destroys… Helpful perhaps?