Sunday, December 30, 2007
Dear Adam... A letter to South Africa
'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?... O, my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.'
'I have been allotted months of futility, and nights of misery have been assigned to me. When I lie down I think, "How long before I get up?" The night drags on, and I toss till dawn.'
'Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees. But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged... Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?'
Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them... when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted.
Now if we are children, then we are heirs... if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
(Psalm 22:1 and 2; Job 7:3 and 4; Job 4: 4-6; Isaiah 30:20 and 26; Romans 8:17 -- all NIV)
This letter is a reflection on the struggles that both the writer and reader share in being people-helpers:
Dear Adam, I feel so strange writing this letter to you, a person I don't know in a situation I know so little about, thousands of miles away. All we have is a mutual caring friend, who asked me to write to you, a mutual profession and a mutual dark night of the soul.
I don't really know what to say as the same words at different times by well-meaning friends have injured or uplifted me, as I have dragged myself through the blackness of depression.
All I can do is sit in the 'dust and ashes' with you, and place my shaking hand on your boil-infested body and quietly share your pain and cry for justice. Words are so inadequate, those around us are threatened by our cries and God seems deaf to our pleas.
In my own room I have cursed the night as once more, like clockwork, my troubled spirit awakens at 2.00 am. I have lain there tossing, turning, shaking and sweating as wave after wave of fear and despair rolled over me like the fever of malaria. My God, what had I done to deserve this, night after night?
The texts on the wall mocked me as they became readable in the growing light: 'Be joyful always...' 'they are new every morning...'
I just want to turn my face to the wall and die.
Yet 1 am still here, and have found out that I am not the only one like this. In some strange way I can begin to understand a little of what Paul means when he talks about sharing some of the sufferings and comfort of Christ so we can, in turn, comfort those experiencing similar valleys of shadows as we are.
I also gain some strange comfort in knowing that some of the great men and women of the past and of this century have gone through similar expenences. These indude Elijah, David, Job, John of the Cross, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Spurgeon, J.B. Phillips... to name a few.
But apart from this growing insight, I have few other answers, Adam, to your (our?) many questions. I don't know why, to quote you, God 'has brought together two people on different continents... two people sharing most of the inner distress of walking through a desert blindfolded...'
However, I do draw strength from the progress I can read in your letters, faltering as it may be. In your August letter, your feelings of anxiety and depression, the lethargy and lack of energy, your critical spirit were to the fore, while your November letter seemed to indicate some slow but positive re-integration and ability to face others.
Your January letter seems even to have some sense of excitement about 'the learnings that we are to discover and share with each other.' I hope I can catch that beginning sense of excitement. My feelings still fluctuate so much, yet I feel a little of the vision and energy returning, but for how long? I'm so afraid of being hurt further or of hurting those I love with my black moods and critical spirit.
Perhaps you are right in thinking that part of the problem lies in our being 'driven people' rather than 'called', to quote Gordon MacDonald. Like you, I have tried to control my goals and direction and have been disappointed and angered by those who didn't live up to my expectations or 'vision'.
I haven't been 'success-oriented' but, perhaps I have channelled such desires into my Christian life and ministry. Oh, how do I become called rather than driven? I suspect that the 'solutions' lie not only with me, but with the Christian Church as well.
Personally I'm sure I need to learn how to wait and abide more in Christ; to listen to what he is calling me to. Perhaps this is why I have been forced to slow down. In the meantime, I need to forgive and let go those who have unknowingly hurt me and not close off completely to others.
I need to spend more time with people that energise me and less with those who drain me. Gordon MacDonald's book Restoring Your Spiritual Passion has some good things to say about this.
Also I think the Church has a lot to account for in the way it hasn't enabled the laity to recognise and follow God's calling for them. Because of this, much of the work is left to the very busy few who, in turn, are resentful of the lack of participation by the majority. This often leads eventually to apathy, depression and 'burnout' in these few workers.
Finally, thankyou for sharing your thoughts with me; my attempting to reply has helped some things fall into place. Perhaps some of our questions will never be answered this side of heaven. Keep the faith, Shalom...
Tragically, when people who are accustomed to their role as helpers get depressed, they experience more difficulty than the average person in seeking professional help and in making good use of it when they find it.
John White, Masks of Melancholy
Spurgeon himself was quick to admit that he was not immune to periodic bouts of depression. He said that he knew 'by most painful experience what deep depression means, being visited there-with at seasons by no means few or far between'. He then went on to cite from the biographies of Martin Luther and John Wesley, which are full of reports about their own experiences of depression.
Arch Hart, Coping With Depression
'This evil will come upon us, we know not why, and then it is all the more difficult to drive away. Causeless depression is not to be reasoned with... If those who laugh at such melancholy did but feel the grief of it for one hour, their laughter would be sobered into compassion.' (Charles Spurgeon)
H. Norman Wright, Now I Know Why I Am Depressed
I have always been plagued by depression, which has often been so excessive that I could neither work nor relate to people... This was so extreme, that I wished to die.
Robert Girard, My Weakness: His Strength
Walter Trobisch, a Christian counsellor, notes that the word for depression in German is schwermut... It means the courage to be heavyhearted, the courage to live with what is difficult. Strange as it may seem, courage is part of depression...
Once I heard an experienced psychiatrist say, 'All people of worth and value have depressions.' Indeed, superficial people seldom have depressions. It requires a certain inner substance and depth of mind to be depressed.
H. Norman Wright, Now I Know Why I Am Depressed
Depression is a symptom which warns us that we're getting into deep water. It is, I believe, designed by God as an emotional reaction to slow us down, to remove us from the race, to pull us back so we can take stock... It is a protective device which removes us from further stress and gives us time to recover.
Arch Hart, Coping with Depression
There are many Christians -- true believers in the Lord Jesus, who are genuinely seeking to follow him -- who, like me, have, for too many years, been desperately lonely, and in great emotional distress, each thinking that he or she is the 'only one' who, as a believer, still struggles and fails so miserably against sin. Baffled by repeated defeat in areas where other Christians seem 'to have the victory', these miserable strugglers are on the point of giving up.
Robert Girard, My Weakness: His Strength
Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too! I thought I was the only one!' (C.S. Lewis)
Robert Girard, My Weakness: His Strength
Being fairly suddenly deprived of the ability to 'perform', my sense of security and of being useful deserted me and all kinds of nameless terrors swept over me, usually at night.
Vera Phillips & Edwina Robertson
..then we also should have an address book of our special friends... special friends are committed to helping each other discover and maintain spiritual passion.
Gordon MacDonald, Restoring Your Spiritual Passion
Dear Lord, at times I feel so tired and weary; I have so many questions to ask you, but I don't even have the strength to ask them now.
Please let me rest a while in your arms and be carried close to your heart. Let me cry and drain out all the pain I carry deep inside me for myself and others.
Lord, break me if you will, but do not crush me. ...Your Kingdom come, your will be done...! Amen.
Here I am, Lord. Here is my body, Here is my heart, Here is my soul. Grant that I may be big enough to reach the world, Strong enough to carry it, Pure enough to embrace it without wanting to keep it. Grant that I may be a meeting place, but a temporary one; A road that does not end in itself, because everything to be gathered there, everything human, leads towards you.
Michel Quoist, Prayers of Life
Rowland Croucher ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys, Albatross/Lion, chapter 17
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Those who depend on obeying the Law live under a curse... the Law has nothing to do with faith (Paul). If [faith] is alone and includes no actions, it is dead (James).
We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions. In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body.
Christ is like a single body, which has many parts; it is still one body, even though it is made up of different parts. God put every different part in the body just as he wanted it to be... There would not be a body if it were only one part! There are many parts, but one body.
What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror... What I know now is only partial... Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.
So, then, let us stop judging one another... aim at those things that bring peace and that help to strengthen one another.
And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.
Accept one another, then, for the glory of God, as Christ has accepted you.
Above all, keep your love for one another at full strength, because love cancels innumerable sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Whatever gift each of you may have received, use it in service to one another, like good stewards dispensing the grace of God in its varied forms.
(Galatians 3: 10, GNB; James 2: 17, GNB; Romans 12: 4-5, GNB; 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13, 18-20, GNB; 1 Corinthians 13: 12-13, GNB; Romans 14:13 and 19, GNB; John 13: 34-35, GNB; Romans 15: 7, GNB; 1 Peter 4: 8-10, NEB)
Snoopy was typing a manuscript, up on his kennel. Charlie Brown: 'What are you doing, Snoopy?' Snoopy: 'Writing a book about theology.' Charlie Brown: 'Good grief. What's its title?' Snoopy (thoughtfully): 'Have You Ever Considered You Might Be Wrong?' This points up a central Christian dictum: God's truth is very much bigger than our little systems.
Our Lord often made the point that God's lathering extended to all people everywhere. He bluntly targeted the narrow nationalism of his own people, particularly in stories like the good Samaritan. Here the 'baddie' is a hero. It's a wonderful parable underlining the necessity to love God through loving your neighbour -- and one's neighbour is the person who needs help, whoever he or she may be. But note that love of neighbour is more than seeking their conversion, then adding a few acts of mercy to others in 'our group'. Jesus' other summary statements about the meaning of religion and life in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 involve justice too: attempting to right the wrongs my neighbour suffers.
'Ethnocentrism' is the glorification of my group. What often happens in practice is a kind of spiritual apartheid: I'll do my thing and you do yours -- over there. Territoriality ('my place -- keep out!') replaces hospitality ('my place -- you're welcome!'). I like Paul's commendation in Philippians 2:19-21 of Timothy 'who really cares' when everyone else was concerned with their own affairs.
Sometimes our non-acceptance of others' uniqueness has jealousy or feelings of inferiority at their root. You have probably heard the little doggerel, 'I hate the guys/that criticise/and minimise/the other guys/whose enterprise/has made them rise/above the guys/that criticise/and minimise...'
In our global village we cannot avoid relating to 'different others'. Indeed, marriage is all about two different people forming a unity in spite of their differences. Those differences can of course be irritating -- for example when a 'lark' marries an 'owl' (but the Creator made both to adorn his creation).
Even within yourself there are diverse personalities. If you are a 'right brain' person, why not develop an interest in 'left brain' thinking?
The Lord reveals different aspects of his truth to different branches of the church. What a pity, then, to make our part of the truth the whole truth. Martin Buber had the right idea when he said that the truth is not so much in human beings as between them. An author dedicated his book to 'Stephen... who agrees with me in nothing, but is my friend in everything.' Just as an orchestra needs every instrument, or a fruit salad is tastier with a great variety of fruits, so we are enriched through genuine fellowship with each other.
A Christian group matures when it recognises it may have something to learn from other groups. The essence of immaturity is not knowing that one doesn't know, and therefore being unteachable. No one denomination or church has a monopoly on the truth. How was God able to get along for 1500, 1600 or 1900 years without this or that church? Differences between denominations or congregations -- or even within them -- reflect the rich diversity and variety of the social, cultural and temperamental backgrounds from which those people come. But they also reflect the character of God whose grace is 'multi-coloured'.
If you belong to Christ and I belong to Christ, we belong to each other and we need each other. Nothing should divide us.
Diversity is a hallmark of life, an intrinsic feature of living systems in the natural world. The demonstration and celebration of this diversity is an endless rite. Look at the popularity of museums, zoos, aquariums and botanic gardens. The odder the exhibit, the more different it is from the common and familiar forms around us, the more successful it is likely to be. Nature does not tire of providing oddments for people who look for them. Biologists have already formally classified 1.7 million species. As many as 30 to 40 million more may remain to be classified.
David Ehrenfeld, 'Thirty million cheers for diversity'
We cannot easily forgive another for not being ourselves. Emerson
I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.
Shylock, The Merchant of Venice
Truth is what people kill each other for.
After three days of discussion at Marburg, the Reformers agreed on fourteen articles, but could not be reconciled on the fifteenth concerning the Eucharist. This led to a division between the Lutheran and Reformed churches which continues to this day. It is reported that when Luther refused to shake hands with Zwingli in farewell, the Swiss reformer left with tears in his eyes. His attitude throughout had been most brotherly.
Arthur Gum, Ulrich Zwingli, the unknown reformer
If Jesus ever came down to earth again, the Spaniards would dance with joy, the Italians would start singing, the French would discuss whether his visit was timely and the Germans? Well, they would present him with a schedule.
Cardinal Sin, of Manila
Different groups within the Christian church are at odds with one another because their models of the Christian life, its beginnings and its fullness, are so diverse. One group of genuine believers can never remember a conscious conversion to faith in Christ; another insists that a datable experience of being 'born again' is essential; a third says that a second distinct experience of 'baptism of the Holy Spirit' is necessary for Christian maturity. When we 'test the spirits' in the lives of representatives among these groups, we often find an equal level of spiritual vitality -- or deadness! -- in each sector. The Christian life is being offered in diverse packages, but what is inside is the same -- newness of life in Christ. Nonetheless, the different groups enjoying this life are readily offended by another's packages. One person's piety is often another's poison.
Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life
Inevitably, law reduces things to a common denominator. Under grace, everything is completely different. Individual difference is encouraged.. Each Christian becomes an authentic witness, since each has their own experience of Christ, incommensurable with that of any other person, since all genuinely personal experiences are Individual and unique. Each has his or her own irreplaceable contribution to the life of the whole. Each has an instrument to play, a gift to offer to the harmony of the whole orchestra.
Stephen Neill, On the Ministry
We can no longer doubt that there are many different expressions of Christianity within the New Testament. These patterns... did [not] always complement each other; on the contrary, they not infrequently clashed, sometimes fiercely... The language forms were different, often so different that the words of one believer could not serve as the vehicle of faith of another, or even for himself in different circumstances... So, if we have been convinced of the unity of first-century Christianity, we can hardly be less convinced of its diversity.
James D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament
[The church of the next century must be] a church which allows considerable diversity of outlook and expression and does not insist on rigid uniformity. We should not be afraid of diversity within the church. The fact is that people have different temperaments, and these require a variety of expression of faith and worship. But there is another more profound reason for pluralism within the church. This is that no one of us and no one point of view can comprehend the fullness of the mystery of God. We know him only in part, and we can see him only from a perspective which is formed by our historical, cultural and sociological heritage as well as by our personal experience. The pluralism within the church is far from being a simply negative thing and need not be divisive.
Archbishop Keith Raynor
'The very idea of diversities compatible with communion. . . or of the sufficient minimum of doctrine to be held in common if unity is to be preserved... is the object of all my research.' It should also be an object of vital interest to all Christians. The diversity which always has existed in the church is still, theoretically, valued and not merely tolerated. Where differences did not inhibit communication by leading to an isolated sectarianism, communion was not sundered; folk lived out, and died for, the one faith before it found uniform expression in creeds and conciliar definitions. If the same faith is being lived, varying formulations of it (which may have equally respectable apostolic origins) must be reconcilable.
Yves Congar, Diversity and Communion
With regard to the question of a 'minimal creed', what might it affirm? Here's a suggestion: We affirm: 1. One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; 2. Jesus Christ as my Saviour, my Lord and my God; 3. The scriptures as authoritative in all matters of faith and conduct; 4. Love for, acceptance of and full fellowship with all who thus confess their allegiance to Christ through Christ; 5. Our commission to continue the holistic ministry of Christ in evangelism and social action to a lost world.
Rowland Croucher, Recent Trends Among Evangelicals
Jacques Ellul, noting that in many of the conflicts of our time sincere Christians are to be found on both sides, welcomes this fact, for he claims that their Christianity can unite them across political and partisan divisions, so lessening the hostility of those divisions and preparing the way for eventual reconciliation.
John Macquarrie, The Humility of God
Jesus brings together Jew and Gentile and from them both produces one new kind of person... It is not that Jesus makes all the Jews into Gentiles, or all the Gentiles into Jews; he produces a new kind of person out of both, although they remain Gentiles and Jews. Chrysostom, the famous preacher of the early church, says that it is as if one should melt down a statue of silver and a statue of lead, and the two should come out gold. The unity which Jesus achieves is not achieved by blotting out all racial and national characteristics; it is achieved by making all people of all nations into Christians... Christianity produces people who are friends with each other because they are friends with God.
William Barclay, Galatians and Ephesians
Lord God our Creator, when you made all creatures great and small in their rich diversity you were so delighted. And when you made human beings (in your image) to be so diverse, they must represent somehow the rich diversity of the Godhead itself. Lord, our Redeemer, when Jesus Christ died to draw all unto him, it was in prospect of heaven being populated by people from every tribe, language, nation and race.
Lord, help me to appreciate all this richness; may my theology not be too eccentric, peripheral to the central concern of the gospel which is to increase love for God and others. So teach me how to stay close to you, close to humankind, and make it the goal of my life to bring God and humankind together. Help me to move from law (with its tendency to reduce everything to a common denominator) to grace (where individual differences are celebrated).
May my view of myself be conditioned more by my being bound up in life with others, rather than my separateness from them.
Help me to be big enough to be all things to all people, to help in their saving to keep the bridges between me and others in good repair...
Cure thy children's warring madness Bend our pride to thy control; Shame our wanton selfish gladness, Rich in things and poor in soul. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, Lest we miss thy kingdom's goal.
Gather us in, thou love that fillest all; Gather our rival faiths within thy fold. Rend each one's temple-veil and bid it fall, That we may know that thou hast been of old; Gather us in. Gather us in: we worship only Thee; In varied names we stretch a common hand; In diverse forms a common soul we see; In many ships we seek one spirit-land; Gather us in. Each one sees one colour of thy rainbow-light, Each looks upon one tint and calls it heaven; Thou are the fullness of our partial sight; We are not perfect till we find the seven; Gather us in.
May God be merciful to us, and bless us; look on us with kindness, so that the whole world may know your will; so that nations may know your salvation.
May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you!
Psalm 67:1-2 (GNB)
>From Rowland Croucher, ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys, Albatross/Lion, chapter 13
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Love that gives itself away
Love that gives itself away - (Anders Nygren)
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. You, O Lord, are loving.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. God is love; he who dwells in love is dwelling in God, and God in him. This is for us the perfection of love, to have confidence on the day of judgment, and this we can have, because even in this world we are as he is.
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves others has fulfilled the law.
For the whole law is fulfilled on one word, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'
Love contains no fear -- indeed fully-developed love expels every particle of fear, for fear always contains some of the torture of feeling guilty. This means that the person who lives in fear has not yet had love perfected.
(1 John 4: 10, NIV; Psalm 62: 12, NW; 1 John 3: 16, NW; 1 John 4: 16b and 17, NEB; Romans 5: 8, NIV; John 13: 34, NIV; Romans 13: 8, NIV; Galatians 5: 14, RSV; 1 John 4: 18, Phillips)
What is this thing called love? A four letter word, easy to say, but incredibly hard to do. And not all that easy to understand, since (in English at least) the word is used in so many different ways. It carries an enormous freight on its small shoulders: it can be love for God, or for truth, or for having one's back scratched; it can be love for one's family, or for chips with vinegar, or a love affair in illicit circumstances. Has it been so inflated by over-use that it is now devalued?
If love now means everything and therefore nothing, we have a problem. For the apostle John says that God is love! What a risk John took even if the Greeks did have at least four words for love! The biggest danger is that people will make a 'dyslectic' mistake and conclude that Love (capital 'L') is God. A transcendent sexual experience, a sweet revelation of family life, a friendship that passes the love of women, and behold, they think they have been visited by a divinity. And like a god, such love issues commands which they obey to the letter: selfish, mean, manipulative and treacherous acts are defended because it was 'love' that told us to do them.
But John took the risk: 'God', he said, 'is love'. John did more than that, he 're-minted' the word and gave it a character so radical as to shake all ancient (and modern) ethical systems. He taught that love is to give yourself away for the benefit of others regardless of whether or not they attract you or deserve your goodwill. John learned such love at the foot of the cross where God's love-gift of himself was poured out for those who put him there (1 John 3: 16).
The love that gives itself away comes from God. He and such love are inseparables, the 'Siamese twins' of the universe. This love 'has flooded our innermost heart through the Holy Spirit he has given us' (Romans 5: 5, NEB) and what he has worked into us must now be worked out in daily living. Such love is a gift to be received, but making it work will cost us all that we have and all that we are.
If we had not seen the love that is revealed in the cross of Christ, we should not have known what love, in the Christian sense of the word, is. We should doubtless have known what love in general is, but not what love in the highest and deepest sense is, not what divine love, agape, is. What, then, has the cross of Christ to tell us about the nature and content of agape-love? It testifies that it is a love that gives itself away, that sacrifices itself, even to the uttermost.
Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros
The model of suffering love is God himself. Why, a reasonable angel might ask, did the Creator not give up millennia ago on these stupid rebels? Why does God not call a halt to the frustrations of human history? Why does he not let us finish ourselves off with the doomsday bomb? Why does he not come quickly himself to turn the world into his perfect kingdom? Why does he wait so long before taking decisive action? The answer: God is love. Love suffers long.
Lewis Smedes, Love within Limits
For the love of God is broader
than the measures of man's mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more simple
we should take him at his word;
and our lives would be illumined
by the goodness of our Lord.
In the Bible, love is much more a matter of will and of action than of feeling. Feeling may come into it, but it is not the central thing. Love in the Bible is a steady direction of the will towards another's lasting good. Love means coming to help in time of need; it means saving activity. In the parable of the good Samaritan, when the Samaritan saw the wounded man, he came to his help; a kindly feeling of pity would not have been any use; what was needed was action to save a life. Jesus told that parable not only to show us how we ought to act, but also to show us what God is like, and to make clear to us that God also acts to save.
Stephen Neill, The Christian's God
On the whole, God's love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for him. Nobody can always have devout feelings and, even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian love, either towards God or towards others, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do his will we are obeying the commandment, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God'. He will give us feelings of love if he pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, his love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, ,at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to him.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
The love of our neighbour is the only door out of the dungeon of self, where we mope and mow, striking sparks, and rubbing phosphorescences out of the walls, and blowing our own breath in our own nostrils, instead of issuing to the fair sunlight of God, the sweet winds of the universe.
George Macdonald, 'Love thy neighbour'
If lovelessness actively repels people from the church and the gospel, thus being the biggest single obstacle to effective witness in a community or a nation, it also evacuates the Christian of his significance before God. He becomes a nonentity, a cipher. God cannot use the loveless Christian for his glory, even if he is gifted with prophetic speaking; even if he is able to understand and explain the deep things of God, man and Satan, even if he is knowledgeable about the vast field of truth and experience; and even if he has the incisive and bold measure of faith envisaged by Jesus himself -- the faith that moves mountains.
William Barclay, Flesh and Spirit
Love sees possibilities that apathy and indifference cannot see. This works on many levels of life. Driven by self-giving love to seek a happier personhood for another, we are able to hear signals in the other person that hint at a will to change. Love keeps us open to possibilities within the loved one. It is only when we lose patience or no longer even care that we say: 'he's hopeless'. At another level, when we experience the love of God, we feel possibilities for newness on every side. The Spirit of God is the agent of love within us. When God takes us into love's embrace -- when all our sins are forgiven, when all our blemished past is accepted, and when we face our future as a tomorrow bathed in the atmosphere of divine love -- we are reborn in hope. Desire is transformed into expectancy. We know all things are possible. The love of the Spirit communicates the wellspring of hope.
Lewis Smedes, Love within Limits
When I want to be free at all costs
I am already beginning to bind myself
When I pursue my own wishes
I throw myself in chains
I do what I don't want to do
I am at my own mercy
And when I finally consider myself free
Freedom becomes a burden
Because 1 must make decisions
Which I am unable to make
And my freedom turns into a new prison
I can only find freedom
In the ropes that bind me
Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.
Song of Songs
Lord, we might have known that you would be love! If you had not poured yourself into the tiny frame of the Babe of Bethlehem and then gone on to pour yourself out on the cross, somehow this truth about you may just have penetrated our darkened minds. If we had summed up all the best and noblest thoughts that ever came into our thinking, all the beauty, truth and goodness that is possible, and then if we had pushed it to the ultimate, we should perhaps have just managed to see the dim outlines of love. No doubt we would have badly distorted the picture and got much of it wrong, but our poor hungry hearts would somehow have recognised that when we were in touch with love we were in touch with truth, with reality, with you.
But Lord, you did not leave us to guess and to grope in the darkness. You came down to where we were: Love translated into flesh and blood, Love active and living in the dusty lanes and by-ways of the world. You gave yourself utterly all day and every day until on the cross there was nothing more to give. And then Love, which crashed headlong into human sin and selfishness, crashed through into victory and the power of an endless life. Risen Jesus, Risen Love, you reign for ever and ever. Amen.
May the Father's love which gave to the uttermost and spared nothing in its downreach towards men and women, and may the Son's love which touched and healed and bled and died for us, and may the Spirit's love which is poured into our hearts, bless, preserve and keep us in time and in eternity. May the presence of the living God and the power of his crucified love move us and change us and turn us upward to him and outward to others now and forever. Amen.
High Mountains, Deep Valleys ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 76-81
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
[The brothers] left Egypt and went back home to their father Jacob in Canaan. 'Joseph is still alive!' they told him. 'He is the ruler of all Egypt!' Jacob was stunned and could not believe them.
When the Lord brought us back to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! How we laughed, how we sang for joy! Then the other nations said about us, 'The Lord did great things for them'. Indeed he did great things for us...
[Jesus] said this and showed them his hands and his feet. They still could not believe, they were so full of joy and wonder...
So Peter was kept in jail, but the people of the church were praying earnestly to God for him... Peter knocked at the outside door, and a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer it. She recognised Peter's voice and was so happy that she ran back in without opening the door, and announced that Peter was standing outside. 'You are mad!' they told her. But she insisted that it was true. So they answered, 'It is his angel'. Meanwhile Peter kept on knocking. At last they opened the door, and when they saw him, they were amazed.
...the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me.
I do have faith, but not enough. Help me to have more!
(Genesis 45:25 and 26; Psalm 126: 1-3; Luke 24:40 and 41; Acts 12: 5, 13-16; Galatians 2: 20; Mark 9:24 -- all GNB)
It was the first lecture of the diploma course and I was briefly surveying the history and religion of Israel. When I recounted the story of God's decisive intervention at the time of the Exodus, there was a sudden exclamation of 'How marvellous!' from one of the forty or so students crowded into the class. Startled by such an unusual occurrence in a normally sedate group, I traced its source to a frail-looking young man -- he looked as though the proverbial puff of wind would blow him over. A few minutes later, when we came to the point where God, in his grace, made a covenant with Israel, he exclaimed, 'That's terrific!'
Back in the staff common room I confided to my colleagues that we had something of an oddity in the first year diploma class. That was when I discovered that Richard -- his name -- was in fact an acute asthmatic who was so frail that he had never attended school; his entire education had been by a personal tutor who had encouraged dialogue and interaction.
Sadly, Richard quickly adapted to the 'hallelujah-less, take-it-for-granted' atmosphere so characteristic of so much of our Christian community. We know the story, perhaps too well, and it fails to excite us. But God is a God of miracles; all things are possible with him (Luke 1: 37) and he does surprise and delight us. So often he works for us in ways that appear almost too good to be true.
It was so with Jacob. There was nothing he could have wished for more than to know that Joseph, his long-lost son, was alive. The joyous assertion of the brothers (Genesis 45: 26) was, for him, too good to be believed. But Joseph was alive!
Or consider Israel in exile in the iron grip of a conqueror who had devastated its land, destroyed its capital and decimated its population. It seemed like a dream when God moved the heart of a heathen king (Ezra 1) and the captives, their long exile over, were back in Judea once more (Psalm 126). But it was not a dream and the God who controlled events on the international scene then is the same today.
Even our prayer life can be permeated by a strange mixture of faith and unbelief. Picture that prayer meeting in Jerusalem (Acts 12) when Peter was under sentence of death: the earnest petitions, the remembrance of God's miraculous interventions in the past. Yet when Peter, very much alive and well, arrived on the doorstep, those godly prayer-warriors were incredulous, unable to accept what God had done! Knowing how often we pray without any conviction of a divine response, we are hesitant to criticise those disciples, but God does work in answer to prayer!
Think, too, of the bleak despair and hopelessness of the disciples after the death of their Master. They were shattered men. How they must have longed for the tumultuous events of those days to be reversed and for their Lord to be restored to them! If ever there was a thing too good to be true, this was it! Luke 24:41 (RSV) has the strange, almost contradictory statement -- 'they still disbelieved for joy'.
But it did happen! Jesus was alive! He had broken forever the bonds of sin, death and the grave! He had answered decisively that age-old question, 'Is there a way out into the unknown -- a bridge into eternity?' Yes, there is. Jesus has pioneered that way and we may travel it.
All these miracles are well documented historical facts. But there is a miracle which takes place in our personal experience, the miracle of Christ's redeeming love for the individual: 'the Son of God loved me and gave his life for me' (Galatians 2:20). How impossible that must seem! I can comprehend that 'God loved the world' (John 3: 16) -- the world is a big place, with millions of people. But for the Son of God to love me -- just one amongst five thousand million people in the world today -- in a universe so immense! It seems too good to be true. But this is the glory of the gospel and its message of redeeming love. It reaches right down to the individual, it is personal and we can both accept it and rejoice in it. 'What is man, that you think of him; mere man, that you care for him?' (Psalm 8: 4, GNB) P.S. And Richard? He longed to serve Christ amongst young people, but in a few brief years after leaving college his flail body gave up the struggle. I can well imagine what he has been exclaiming since! 'How marvellous! That's terrific!' There is so much morel
The validity of the Christian faith rests on one supreme miracle: the cornerstone upon which the whole superstructure of Christianity rises or fails, depends on the truth of this miracle -- the resurrection of Jesus Christ...
No other religion has ever dared to put forth this challenge, has ever dared to make its appeal to miracles, and rest its appeal on a miracle.
Kathryn Kuhlman, I Believe in Miracles
So often we pray with such little belief in the efficacy of prayer that we are 'astonished' when the answer comes. How we need the word of Mark 11: 34, 'When you pray, believe that you receive... and you shall have...' Other conditions being satisfied, this believing before receiving is a mighty prayer secret.
Guy H. King, A Day at a Time
Each of us is created in God's own image, and it means that, though we are creatures and full of sins and defects, there is the deep-down likeness between us and God, and our destiny is to be with him. When we say that God loves us we mean that he cares for each single one of us as if there is no-one else for him to care for.
He cares for you in all that unique individuality which is yours. He wants you to be with him forever, to share with you all that he has to share.
The wonderful thing about man is that he is described as being in God's own image. Not that God and man are identical in all respects -- far from it. God remains the Creator, and we always remain creatures, utterly dependent upon him. Yet there is a true affinity between God and man. Man has powers of memory, thought, consciousness, purpose, appreciation of beauty, appreciation of truth, moral distinction between right and wrong, and a rare potential of freedom. Above all, he has the possibility of really knowing God, and having fellowship with God.
Michael Ramsey, former Archbishop of Canterbury
It is a thing most wonderful, almost too wonderful to be, That God's own Son should come from heav'n, And die to save a child like me. And yet I know that it is true...'
William Walsham How
God commends his love - Greater could not be - While I was a sinner, Jesus died for me.
Why did he love me? I never can tell. Why did he suffer to save me from hell? Nothing but infinite grace from above Could have conceived such a story of love
G.R. Harding Wood
Here might I stay and sing, No story so divine; Never was love, dear King! Never was grief like thine! This is my friend, In whose sweet praise I all my days Could gladly spend.
What can I offer the Lord for all his goodness to me?
Psalm 116: 12, GNB
Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all!
We may have as much of God as we will. Christ... bids us take all we want. If a man is admitted into the bullion vault of a bank and told to help himself and comes out with one cent, whose fault is it that he is poor? Whosefault is it that Christian people generally have such scanty portions of the free riches of God?
Lord, I thank you for the gift of love; indeed I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I praise you for all that goodness and tender mercy which have surrounded me all the days of my life; for those divine interventions, both great and small, which have marked out the days and years of my pilgrimage.
Above all, I thank you for the miracle of the new birth in your Son, my Saviour, Jesus Christ, that in him I am a new creation. Like Paul, I confess myself to be the chief of sinners, but you loved me and you have bound me to yourself, eternally, by your love and grace. I cannot fully understand such love, but I can and do rejoice in it; I cannot begin to comprehend why you should choose such a person as I am to serve you, but I gratefully accept that role as your servant -- and the servant of all, for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Help me never to take you for granted; never to lose sight of the wonder of your love; never to cease to respond sacrificially to your love; never to lose the hope of seeing the miracle wrought out in my life worked out in the lives of those about me, however unresponsive they may seem to be.
Go into this day in the consciousness that the Lord God Almighty invited you to walk with him. May the humility which marks out the person who walks daily with God be accompanied by a sense of your thrill and wonder at the way in which the Almighty works in your life and in his world -- today.
High Mountains, Deep Valleys, by Rowland Croucher ed., Albatross/Lion, chapter 5
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Suppose a brother or a sister is in rags with not enough food for the day, and one of you says, 'Good luck to you, keep yourselves warm, and have plenty to eat', but does nothing to supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So with faith; if it does not lead to action, it is in itself a lifeless thing.
Religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God the Father will show itself by such things as visiting orphans and widows in their distress, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.
At the beginning God expressed himself. That personal expression... was God. So the word of God became a human being and lived among us.
Let what you say be simply 'yes' or 'no'; anything more than this comes from evil.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of one who brings good news, who heralds peace, brings happiness, proclaims salvation, and tells Zion 'your God is King'.
(James 2:15-17, NEB; James 1:27, Phillips; John 1:1,14, Phillips; Matthew 5:37, RSV; Isaiah 52:7, JB)
Communication is the first essential ingredient in any relationship: between marriage partners, parents and children, labour and management or in international affairs. Failure to communicate lies at the root of all tension, friction and fear. Mankind's objects -- to achieve peace and reconciliation -are possible only through real human communication. Communication is a bridge fashioned out of words, feelings, gestures, 'body language' and attitudes. Words are the most common vehicles of communication.
Words are amazingly powerful. They can sway crowds for good or ill. They can bring relief, hope, encouragement. The gospel is couched in words -- the greatest words in the world: love, forgiveness, grace, reconciliation, faith. It is the good news about Jesus which has the power to save and dignify human life.
But words, rather than being a vehicle of deep communication, can be a barrier to effective communication. Words are too often substituted for action. They can be offered instead of sacrificial and loving involvement in another's needs. Words can be the world's most devalued currency.
The most powerful temptation to beset the preacher -- or any Christian who wants to communicate the gospel -- is to offer words (however true and orthodox those words may be) instead of offering him/her self. Great Christian words of faith all too easily become mechanical formulas.
Words are a cop-out whenever they are cheapened.
God's means of person-to-person communication extended beyond the words of the law and the prophets, to incarnation -- the Word becoming flesh!
Christians dare not forget that incarnation lies at the heart of the gospel and its communication. There is no escape for the Christian who takes Christ's commission and method seriously.
The whole anguish of religious broadcasting is that we are transmitting a message of love and it is costing us nothing. It costs us nothing to say 'I love you' or 'God loves you' except the breath it takes to speak into a microphone. There is a powerful missionary movement being built up around the use of private satellites and cable television, based mainly in the United States. From these sources, electronic missionaries placed 23,000 miles in the air will preach the gospel to the people of Africa, Asia, and South America. But you see, it costs nothing. In terms of personal cost -- of the real giving of self -- it doesn't cost a thing. Therefore it is a ghost, a distortion of what Christianity is about. Unless I actually stand alongside you -- not as an electronic ghost, but as someone who shares your life, who sweats, fears and hungers, and who risks the same diseases, it is not what Christianity is all about.
Colin Morris, Head of Religious Broadcasting, BBC
The most immutable barrier in the world is between one person's thoughts, and another.
That blackguard who uses the science of speech more to blackmail and swindle than to teach.
Henry Higgins, in Lerner and Lowe's My Fair Lady
Words are, of course, the most powerful drug in the world.
The finest possible communication... (brings another) into a relationship instead of isolating him.
Berthold Brecht, Radio as an apparatus for Communication
In the beginning was the Word. The Word was made Flesh. His word was his bond. He was true to his word... And it is startling to discover that 'the word', whose possession marks man off from the rest of creation, whose employment is the key to his self-knowledge, his relationship with others, and his intellectual, spiritual and material evolution, leads his understanding as far as it can go into the inmost nature of the Trinity. The word plies between heaven and earth, has application to both God and man, and is the sign through which each, in that many-layered expression, gives himself away...
The Word which is Christ is the most translucent window opening onto the inner nature of God. And the words we use in everyday life are in similar fashion windows through which we know each other. The word is not our only means of communication. But since the dawn of language -- and how awesome and mysterious must that dawn have been -- words have been the most universal, most serviceable and most flexible vehicle of human communication.
Words are hard to pin down. Far worse is the damage we human beings inflict upon words by negligence or malice. Words are the coin of mutual trust. When we use them carelessly, twist them out of shape, force them into the service of falsehood and half-truths, we debase that coinage and undermine the trust that keeps society functioning. Christ tells us that he is Truth. It is the Devil who is the father of lies. To be a follower of Christ entails being a servant of the truth; and that service requires that we keep the vehicle of truth, our language, our words, in good repair.
John Harriott, 'Words and the Word', The Tablet
Words and magic were in the beginning one and the same thing, and even today words retain much of their magical power. By words one of us can give to another the greatest happiness or bring about utter despair... Words call forth emotions and are universally the means by which we influence our fellow creatures. Therefore let us not despise the use of words.
In Hebrew the term debar means both 'word' and 'deed'. Thus to say something is to do something. 'I love you.' 'I hate you.' 'I forgive you .' 'I am afraid.' Who knows what such words do, but whatever it is, it can never be undone. Something that lay hidden in the heart is irrevocably released through speech into time, is given substance and tossed like a stone into the pool of history, where the concentric rings lap out endlessly.
Words are power, essentially the power of creation. By my words I both discover and create who I am. By my words I elicit a word from you. Through our conversation we create one another...
God never seems to weary of trying to get himself across. Word after word he tries in search of the right word. When the Creation itself doesn't seem to say it right -- sun, moon, stars, all of it -- he tries flesh and blood... Jesus as the mot juste of God.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking
Lord, give us grace, and give us the spirit of adventure and sacrifice that will transform each of us from being a mere vehicle of words, to becoming living words of life and hope, a word of God to others.
0 Lord, I know that men and women in past ages have heard your word, for it is so true today; it changed their lives and made them feel part of a great purpose. Grant that I may relate the truth of your word in the past, to life today. I pray also to speak to me anew, new things under new conditions, for the sake of him who was the word made flesh and is the eternal word, revealing meaning and truth, even Jesus Christ, my teacher and my Lord.
George Appleton, Journey for a Soul
Lord, never once did you substitute words for actions. You achieved the perfect balance between what you said and what you did. Of all people who ever lived, you are the only one whose actions were the personification of his words. And whose words were the commentary on his actions. You did not shrink from total involvement with individuals in their need, nor even humanity in its suffering and lostness. And the word you brought was yourself. Offering words, even good words, is so often for us a way to avoid offering ourselves. Help us to follow your paths of costly caring and true communication, because it is in the same way as the Father sent you -- the way of incarnation -- that you send us. It frightens us, but we know it is the only way to touch, heal and save others. Lord give us this grace. Amen.
Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the faint-hearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honour everyone; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 269-273
Saturday, December 15, 2007
God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day... He who is pregnant with evil and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment. He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made. The trouble he causes recoils on him; his violence comes down on his own head.
Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the Lord. O Lord, your hand is lifted high, and they do not see it. Let them see your zeal for your people and be put to shame; let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them.
The Lord... is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame... 'Therefore wait for me,' declares the Lord, 'for the day I will stand up to testify. I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them -- all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.'
Do not fear those who kill the body and after that have nothing more they can do. I will warn you whom to fear; fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.
... our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in blazing fire... he will do justice upon those who refuse to acknowledge God and upon those who will not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal ruin, cut off from the presence of the Lord... Destroyed they shall be, because they did not open their minds to love of the truth, so as to find salvation.
Therefore God puts them under a delusion, which works upon them to believe the lie, so that they may all be brought to judgment, all who do not believe the truth but make sinfulness their deliberate choice.
... there were loud voices in heaven, which said: 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.' And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshipped God, saying: 'We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great -- and for destroying those who destroy the earth.'
(Psalm 7:11,14-16, NIV; Isaiah 26:10-11, NIV; Zephaniah 3:5,8, NIV; Luke 12:4-5, NEB; 2 Thessalonians 1:7b-9; 2:10b-12, NEB; Revelation 11:15-18, NIV)
The prospect of a judgment that is final and a condemnation that is irrevocable causes distress to all sensitive persons. The understandable recoil of mind and emotion has led many to ignore or deny these teachings. Yet for those whose knowledge of God and of final reality are derived from divine speaking rather than human speculating, there is no possibility of denying judgment and hell, which are all too clearly attested in the teaching of Jesus and of scripture generally. Moreover, they are not found there as an extraneous or unassimilated extra, but as an integral part of the whole biblical portrayal of the nature of God and of the reality he has made and is making. Seen in this light, some of our distress at the prospect of judgment is a measure of the discrepancy between the biblical revelation of the character of God and our own more sentimental notions. Here, as in so many other things, the revealed reality of God cuts across our preferences.
Yet there is a distress at the inevitability of judgment that is both valid and necessary (see, for example, Luke 19:41-44). Such pain is both an index of the momentous, even awesome character of human choice and responsibility and a measure of the horror. of grace spurned and destruction embraced.
In the Bible the certainty of judgment to come evokes joy as well as tears. Most honest readers of the Bible would have to feel dismayed by the way in which some passages rejoice in this prospect. Yet closer inspection shows that the authors are not motivated by the almost ghoulish pleasure at the terrors of judgment that has been evident all too often in Christian history. Rather, their joy is the result of a passionate devotion to the honour of God and a zeal for the triumph of his purposes. His judgment is prayed for and rejoiced in because it means both the vindication of his truth and holiness in the face of all that is false and wicked, and also the renewal and restoration of the creation, eliminating all that is rebellious and fully implementing his righteous rule. They know that the alternative to judgment is a creation which becomes a labyrinth of evil, in which all fixed points are finally obscured by layer upon layer of duplicity or wiped away in the escalating spiral of violence. (Any good spy novel will provide you with a glimpse into such a world.)
It is no light thing, therefore, to pray regularly for the coming of God's kingdom, for to do so is to pray for the execution of final judgment. The believer faces this prospect with tears and yet greets it with joy.
It is no light thing, either, to relate daily to persons who are being prepared for glory or who are preparing themselves for destruction!
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'
C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
The love of God, with arms extended on a cross, bars the way to hell. But if that love is ignored, rejected and finally refused, there comes a time when love can only weep while man pushes past into the self-chosen alienation which Christ went to the
cross to avert.
Michael Green, The Empty Cross of Jesus
Hell is not like a gaol where prisoners are longing to be free but like a sit-in where the protesters have barricaded themselves in.
Hugh Silvester, Arguing with God
The agents of hell disappear, the human, they shrink and dissolve Into dust on the wind, forgotten, unmemorable; only is here
The white flat face of Death, God's silent servant,
And behind the face of Death and Judgment
And behind the Judgment the Void, more horrid than active shapes of hell;
Emptiness, absence, separation from God;
The horror of the effortless journey, to the empty land
Which is no land, only emptiness, absence, the Void,
Where those who were men can no longer turn the mind
To distraction, delusion, escape into dream, pretence,
Where the soul is no longer deceived, for there are no objects,
No colours, no forms to distract, to divert the soul
From seeing itself, foully united forever, nothing with nothing,
Not what we call death, but what beyond death is not death,
We fear, we fear.
T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral
... God's judgments alone stand between us and a universal tyranny. If the effects of original sin were allowed to work themselves out unchecked, man's inhumanity to man would know no bounds. Such elements of stability, freedom, mercy and goodness we enjoy, we owe to the operation of God's righteous judgments among us.
J.W. Wenham, The Goodness of God
Heaven and its happiness are wrongly conceived as immunity from judgment instead of joy in the consummation of judgment in righteousness and holiness for ever.
P.T. Forsyth, The Work of Christ
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.
C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Proposes a Toast
Lord, have I over-reacted? Have I been so conscious of the 'so heavenly-minded, no earthly use' danger that I have lived too much as though there were no deadline and destination ahead of us all? You know how hard I have to fight in my work against the 'tyranny of the urgent', seeking to prevent the immediate from crowding out the important. Have 1, in the midst of all this, succumbed to the same tyranny in another way by now allowing the immediate to shape the ultimate ? Have I been so concerned to distance myself from ghastly caricatures of biblical teaching that the reality and finality of judgment have no real place in my working theology? Have I related to individuals only in terms of the day and its needs, and not also in the light of the eternal destiny to which we are moving? I have tried hard not to allow my capacity for compassion and grief to be dulled by constant exposure to news and pictures of human suffering. Have 1, in the midst of all this, allowed my capacity for grief and outrage to be dulled by constant exposure to the human wickedness that slights the honour of your name, spurns your grace, and rebels against your wise and righteous rule? Do I long for the end of physical evil more than I long for the end of moral evil? Lord, you know me. Give me grace to know myself.
Lord, correct me. Restore the balance and perspective I need, not so that I may pride myself on my neat, orderly theology, but so that I may live in line with your truth, allowing each day to be shaped in the right way by the last Day.
Lord, renew me. Give me a new sense of awe at the burning purity of your holiness, and a fresh sense of zeal for the honour of your name.
Lord, use me. Help me to live and serve in a way that alerts people to the reality and finality of the ultimate horizons by which all our lives are bounded. Give me grace, where there is opportunity, to give bold but gracious testimony to the One who rescues us from the coming wrath.
May God himself direct and protect you this day. Approach your work this day in such a way that the last Day will show that you did not run or labour in vain. Approach your decisions this day as someone who is to appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Approach your relationships as one who is dealing with those who will be 'immortal horrors or everlasting splendours'. Above all, approach the throne of grace with awe and with confidence, to receive from the God who is a consuming fire both mercy and grace to help in time of need. Amen.
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 251-256
Friday, December 7, 2007
For whoever would save his life, will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.
Master... I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.
A grain of wheat remains a solitary grain unless it falls into the ground and dies; but if it dies, it bears a rich harvest.
So do not start worrying: 'Where will my food come from, or my drink, or my clothes? (These are the things the pagans are always concerned about)... Instead, be concerned above everything else with the kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things.
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.
If one of you wants to be great, he must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, he must be the slave of all. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(Mark 8:35, RSV; Matthew 25:24-25, RSV; John 12:24, NEB; Matthew 6:31-33, GNB; Galatians 2:20, RSV; Galatians 5:22-23, RSV; Mark 19:43-44, GNB; 2 Corinthians 12:10, RSV)
The various forms of our first Bible sentence (Mark 8:35) occur often enough in the gospels for us to regard it as expressing Jesus' basic law of living. The other sentences group themselves around two aspects of that profound saying.
The primary meaning is the folly of trying to 'play it safe' in the face of Christ's call to a radical adventure of faith, in which we risk losing what we most want to preserve. Second, there are many things we seek which do not seem to yield to a direct approach, one that is self-defeating. They are, rather, a kind of by-product of something else altogether.
This latter is a principle of very wide application. Its relevance to many human quests is well-known, such as happiness, security, freedom, peace and so on, but its operation in other areas may not be so well recognised. Personal influence, for example. The harder we try to accomplish this, the less we succeed. Few things get our hackles up more quickly than the suspicion that somebody is trying to set us a good example.
Another example is the common quest for ecstatic spiritual experiences for their own sake. This so easily becomes a form of self-indulgence, and is subject to the law of diminishing returns. The truly great moments come unbidden, and are unpredictable.
The cultivation of personal character by means of devotional exercises is another example. Character, in our use of the word, is not really a biblical word at all. Goodness is not the aim, but the result of our dedication to God's will. 'Man's chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever,' and goodness is a by-product of that.
It could be a valuable devotional exercise to try to identify other areas where this principle applies.
The man, says Jesus, who is always trying to 'save' his life, to ensure security, material, intellectual, spiritual, to keep his personality sheltered from the risks and hardships which are an essential part of the discipline of life, will find at the end that he has lost it: there is nothing there to save, nothing but a handful of dust, the dust of withered opportunities. The man who sees the truth of this eternal law of life... and is therefore ready to take risks, to throw away security and hazard life itself, will find that he has discovered its secret, and entered into the fulfilment of it.
F.A. Cockin, in The Christian Faith
The more a man goes out from himself, or goes beyond himself, the more the spiritual dimension of his life is deepened, the more he becomes truly man, the more he grows in likeness to God, who is Spirit. On the other hand, the more he turns inward and loses himself in self-interest, the less human does he become. This is the strange paradox of spiritual being -- that precisely by going out and spending itself, it realises itself. It grows not weaker, but stronger, for it is not a quantifiable thing.
John Macquarrie, Paths in Spirituality
I cannot emphasise the element of risk too strongly. To embark on a change of milieu, a change of habit, always feels like a 'little death'. Every step forth into a new dimension of life is a kind of dying. It must have been that, quite literally, for birds that lost their forest feeding-grounds, and ventured into the edge of the lake, initiating a habit that was to launch a new species of spoonbill. Certainly ,for us who are so much more conscious of the choices we make and the habits we change, real advance never seems like self-fulfilment, though that is what it is; it is always experienced first of all as self-
John V. Taylor, The Go-Between God
Friendship can only occur when we give ourself to the other, and to offer ourself to someone else is the most risky of all
Andrew M. Greeley, The Friendship Game
War knows no power; safe shall be my going, Secretly armed against all death's endeavours; Safe, though all safety's lost, safe where men fall; And if these poor limbs die, safest of all.
True attention is an involuntary self-surrender to the object of attention. The child who is absorbed is utterly relaxed. The adult mind, also, must be unstriving, receptive, expectant, before there can be any creative insight. Again and again this is the state of mind in which new truth dawns. We do not work it out or think it out; rather, we have the sense of waiting for the disclosure of something that is already there.
John V. Taylor, The Go-Between God
... truth, like love and sleep, resents
Approaches that are too intense.
W.H. Auden, New Year Letter
Writers on ethics have often spoken of 'the paradox of hedonism' -- the fact that the quest for happiness defeats itself. But they have not so often noticed what I call 'the paradox of moralism' -- the fact that the quest for goodness defeats itself.
D.M. Baillie, God Was in Christ
This whole concern about our own effort, moreover, is hostile to the spirit of peace. The faith which does not rely wholly upon God, but partly on exciting or disciplining its own soul, lives in valetudinarian anxiety about its spiritual health. To be perpetually feeling our own pulse is the surest way to rob ourselves of the self-forgetting vigour in which health is displayed.
John Oman, Grace and Personality
Only those who are generous to the limits of self-loss can hope to be channels of the generosity of God. In that crisis the I, the separate self, with its loves and hates, its personal preoccupations, is sacrificed and left behind. And out of this most true and active death to self, the spirit is reborn into the new life: not in some transcendental world, but in this world, among those who love us and those we love.
Evelyn Underhill, The School of Charity
In his poem (Song of a Man Who Has Come Through), Lawrence has deliberately used biblical imagery to suggest the mysterious depths of human life: the irresistible wind, the bubbling inner fountain, a knock on the door in the night. We can, if we give ourselves in surrender to God and our fellows, travel fast without movement; reap what we never sowed; be refreshed from the deep fountain welling up from the heart; find our deepest friend in the one who frightens us by coming in out of the night. And all this, provided we do not say to Christ, the Spirit-bearer: 'Ask of me and you will not receive; seek and you will not find; knock and I will not open the door.'
Peter de Rosa, Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me
Seeking and losing life belong together so closely that any one prudently trying to save his life might as well be intent on losing it. But, turned around, the connection between losing one's life and actually saving it breaks apart on the words, 'For my sake and the gospel's.' Whatever else these words may mean, they certainly direct a man's whole intention and attention toward another goal than in the end saving his own life.
Paul Ramsay, Basic Christian Ethics
Show me, Lord, what all this has to do with me, and the service I am trying to render in your world. Am I too much of an activist? Am I trying to take over in areas where you are trying to say to me, 'Move over, and let me be God'?
Keep me from becoming obsessed with what I see as success, and to be more concerned with doing your will as I discover it; and from being too discouraged by what seems to me failure, knowing how ambiguous these two words are in Christian affairs. Save me from the fear of losing what I prize, not realising that by giving it to you I gain and enhance it.
Help me truly to understand the paradox of '1, yet not 1'. l seem to drive myself too much towards certain goals, overlooking the fact that they are the fruits of the surrender of my will to you and your purposes in the world. Help me to understand what is happening when what I want most seems to elude me at every turn, and what I have surrendered comes my way unbidden, and strangely enriched.
So many of your words seem a little hard to understand, but, if I am to be quite honest, my confusion often arises not from my lack of understanding but from my lack of willingness. Remind me of what I so easily allow myself to forget: that this world is full of situations which call for courage and the taking of risks. Let me know the joy, the 'creative ecstasy' of really losing myself for your sake in some enterprise for the help and liberation of others.
May the grace of Christ uphold you,
And the love of God enfold you;
May the Holy Spirit guide you,
And all joy and peace betide you,
Now and always. Amen.
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 213-217
Sunday, December 2, 2007
For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
'Men of Galilee,' they said, 'why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.'
Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?. You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming... But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.
(Matthew 24:27; Acts 1:11; James 5:7-8; 2 Peter 3:9-12a and 13-14;
John 3:2-3; 1 John 2:28 -- NIV.)
The world may end tonight or earth could be attacked by aliens. Whatever happens, only one man can save us. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. 7.30 tonight.
Dr Margaret Mead, the late anthropologist, has asked the question: 'Are we going to survive?,' She said, 'The major struggle of marriage is not who takes out the garbage. Does it matter who takes it out if we are not going to be here?,' She asks again, 'Are we going to be here?, It is very doubtful. The whole world is in terrible danger. We could go tonight.'
Ray Stedman, from a printed sermon entitled 'Are These the Last Days?.'
Why is God landing in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil?, Why is he not landing in force, invading it?. Is it that he is not strong enough?, Well, Christians think he is going to land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why he is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining his side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side. God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realise what it will be like when he does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks onto the stage, the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on his side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else something it never entered your head to conceive -- comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left?, For this time it will be God without disguise; something ,so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Strange to say there are four very evident attitudes manifested in the professing church towards this blessed hope: aggressive hostility, listless apathy, fearful apprehension and loving expectancy. Some hate it; some are totally ignorant of it; some are afraid of it; and some love it.
Ruth Paxson, Life on the Highest Plane
The centring of the Christian hope on the personal return of the Lord Jesus Christ needs to be underlined. It is possible to become so involved in the intricacies of prophetic fulfilment or with a study of the accompanying events that we can miss the central event... the Christian hope for the future is not a timetable of events. It is not concerned finally with a series of impersonal happenings. Its heart is nothing other than the expectation of the personal appearing of the Lord. If we find our interest in the last things is centred elsewhere than in the Lord himself, then we are already out of step with scripture.
Bruce Milne, The End of the World
An ocean liner leaves New York bound for Liverpool. Its destination has been determined by proper authorities. Nothing can change it. This is at least a faint picture of sovereignty. On board the liner are several scores of passengers. They are not in chains, neither are their activities determined for them by decree. They are completely free to move about as they will. They eat, sleep, play, lounge about on the deck, read, talk altogether as they please; but all the while the great liner is carrying them steadily onward toward a predetermined port... The mighty liner of God's sovereign design keeps its steady course over the sea of history. God moves undisturbed and unhindered toward the fulfilment of those eternal purposes which he purposed in Jesus Christ before the world began.
A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
An eleven-year-old boy, engrossed in an adventure book, protested when told to go to bed. He pleaded to no avail that he must find out whether the hero would escape from an impossible situation and would rescue the heroine from the clutches of the villain. Later, with the aid of a flashlight beneath the bedcovers, he read the final chapter of the book. Sure enough, the hero rescued the heroine, and the villain was captured and put in jail. However, because he could not imagine how such a turnabout had happened, he began reading again at the place he had been forced to stop. Each time the villain did something wrong the boy said, 'If you knew what I know, you wouldn't be acting like you are.'
Avery Willis Jr., Biblical Basis of Missions
When the drama of history is over, Jesus Christ will stand alone on the stage. All the great figures of history, Pharaoh, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Churchill, Stalin, Johnson, Mao Tse Tung -- will realise that they have been but actors in a drama produced by another.
Helmut Thielecke, The Waiting Father
J. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission wrote: 'Well do I remember the effect when God was pleased to open my heart to the great truth that the Lord Jesus was coming again, and might come at any time. Since he might come any day, it is well to be ready every day. I do not know of any truth that has been a greater blessing to me through life than this.'
J. Oswald Sanders, The Incomparable Christ
D.G. Barnhouse was once asked what he would do if he knew Christ was returning tomorrow. He replied that he would do what he had planned. He knew he was doing God's will and that's all that mattered.
Finish then thy new creation:
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see thy great salvation,
Perfectly restored in thee,
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love and praise.
Lift up your heads
to the coming king.
Bow before him and adore him, sing.
To his majesty
let your praises be
pure and holy, giving glory
to the king of kings.
Steven L. Fry
At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow
Every tongue confess him king of glory now;
'Tis the Father's pleasure we should call him Lord,
Who from the beginning was the mighty word.
Caroline M. Noel (Philippians 2:10-11)
Thank you, Lord, for the days in which we live. What exciting, what frightening days they are. Thank you for the assurance that you are still in charge, that we do not determine our own destiny nor set our own schedule.
Thank you that you are working out the events of earth according to your own programme and nothing can stay your hand.
Thank you for letting me live in these days.
Help me to keep sane and sober,
alert and watchful,
expectant and hopeful,
labouring while it is still day
in the fullness and power of the Spirit
to accomplish your purposes for a time
such as this.
Lord, the first time you came so quietly;
The next time there will be shouting and the trumpet of God.
The first time you came in poverty and humiliation;
The next time you will come in glory.
The first time you came in weakness;
The next time you will come in power.
The first time you came to loneliness;
The next time you will be accompanied by the heavenly hosts.
I get a little nervous when I really think about it.
After all, you're the king and I'm not exactly court material.
And I'm going to be like you, for I shall see you as you are.
Therefore Lord, will you accept the adoration of my heart
and the devotion of my life in order that I might always live
for that which is eternal and be found faithful.
Until you come again
In your name, Amen.
And now may the dying Saviour's love
the risen Saviour's power
the ascended Saviour's blessing
and the returning Saviour's glory
Be the joy and comfort of your hearts
Now and forever. Amen.
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 204-209