The Rubber hits the Road

theologyTheology is really easy to talk about. It is easy to sit down around the table with the steam of hot coffee rolling around the edges of the cup, having your bibles open and your notebooks at the ready. It’s easy to say words like penal substitution and Calvinism and eschatology. They roll around your tongue and you spit them out.

It’s easy when your twenty something to see the world as black and white and carry theological debates in your pocket. You can argue about the pie in the sky until the blueberry filling squirts you in the face.

I feel like I am in the business of talking about theology. I can read the arguments and thrash out a theological position. I can quote scripture and I can also tie myself in knots with the straw from the thousands of straw men I create. And it’s good to talk, it’s good to work these things out and question and ponder.

But theology isn’t just about talk.  It isn’t just about the debates or late night discussions about predestination.

I think the rubber hits the road when life smacks you in the face.

Last week I was watching a programme where cameras followed around 4 families in their every day life. One family had a daughter and her partner expecting a baby but their were complications. They lost the baby. During this the mother makes a comment about religious people having faith and believing in God and how he comforts them. I think she really wanted that, deep down I think she yearned for that comfort.

Thing is, it’s easy to have a sound theology and all the right arguments, but when something like this happens its hard, it’s messy. It isn’t so black and white. I wanted to tell them that Jesus really loves them.

As Christians when suffering comes along we are caused to wrestle with the truths of scripture and God’s character. We ask: Who is God? Is He good? Does the death and resurrection of his Son matter? Does God understand my suffering?

I guess the heart of theology is believing in the middle of my suffering.
It’s clinging to Christ while in pain.
It’s believing in the resurrection when death knocks on your door.

I think theology tastes and feels different when you walk that road. It also sounds different when you walk that road with friends.

I haven’t really gone through great suffering, but ive walked with friends who have. The way they talk about God is different, theology has a different musical note. It’s no longer pies in the sky, but its real and it has to be wrestled with. It’s not about being right or wrong as in a debate, but it’s about clinging to Christ and finding joy and hope.

I think theology is good to talk about. But things aren’t always clear-cut. The part where it really takes effect and really matters is where theology meets real life.

And so, rich theology often comes alive when you go through an experience. Suddenly theology is no longer abstract but its earthy, weighty and holds more significance for you. The Hymn “O Love that will not let you go” by George Matheson, was birthed out of a painful experience of rejection and loss. The reality of the Lord’s love and comforting promises in a time of suffering becomes not just mere words, but wonderful truth to cling to, so that he can sing in his anguish verses like this:

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

What beautiful theology! What a beautiful Christ we have! This is theology in action and I feel the best kind of theology there is, a theology that doesn’t just stay at the edges of the table, but overflows into our lives and helps us cling to our beautiful saviour in times of trials and darkness.

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing

2013-04-15 20.18.42At first glance you may think this book is a children’s book. But once you delve into the beautiful pages you soon realise this is a book for all ages. “Thoughts to make your heart sing” is a collection of stories, thoughts with bible passages and illustrations written by Sally Lloyd Jones and Jago. Sally also wrote the story book bible which is a fantastic book and this would make such a great companion to that book.

Each page is filled with stories that truly does make your heart sing. And the songs you will be singing will be about Jesus. They are heart-warming thoughts about our wonderful saviour and what he has done for us and how he cares and loves us. They are simple and short yet piercing and captivating. I really love reading the stories.

The illustrations are brilliant and drawn by Jago. They really capture the message of each thought and story and they are just really nice to look at as you read the book.

ttmyhsThis is the kind of book you could use in your devotional time. You can open the pages when you feel a bit lost and lonely and be reminded of Christ. You could also read the stories to your children and show them the wonder and beauty of Jesus.

I would recommend this book for every Christian and I would also think it would be good to give to a non-Christian as well. Tim Keller says:

“I would urge not just families with young children to get this book, but every Christian–from pew warmers, to ministry leaders, seminarians and even theologians! Sally Lloyd-Jones has captured the heart of what it means to find Christ in all the scriptures, and has made clear even to little children that all God’s revelation has been about Jesus from the beginning–a truth not all that commonly recognized even among the very learned.”

 

Black Mirror: The Entire History of You

entirehistory Imagine if you had a perfect memory. Imagine if you could store in your mind every moment and every conversation you have ever had. You wouldn’t forget anything, you would never lose your keys and if there was a moment that you wanted to watch over and over again you could easily do that.

In Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror: The Entire History of You, we are taken into a world where memories are stored on a hard drive in your brain (by a device behind your ear) and you can project those memories on the TV screen for all to see like an episode of Eastenders. This gadget seems like a perfect device for CSI – you can look at people’s past events and see whether they are lying or not. Employers can see your past events to see if your life matches up with your words. Your entire history can be accessed in extreme detail. It seems bliss and this episode shows successful young people in beautiful houses exhorting this technology for laughter and pleasure. But there is a darker side.

The protagonist, Liam, starts to become paranoid about his wife. He has doubts about her faithfulness to him so he goes back over and over situations they are in. He rewinds and plays moments over and over again. The truth unfolds to show that she is unfaithful. He makes her play those moments of the affair. These memories are stuck in his head.

Play. Pause. Rewind. Play…Repeat

The most horrific moment on constant repeat. Sounds terrible. The only relief and salvation is to remove the device from the brain. The only way to forgive and move on is to erase the memories altogether.

This happens in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The main characters Joel and Clementine want to erase their memories of their relationship – it becomes too painful to carry on with those memories so the best way to deal with it is to get rid of those memories and start again.

“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned.Alexander Pope

erasemeIt sounds like the perfect salvation. Imagine being hurt and having that constant memory stuck in your head, going around and around interrupting your sleep. The best way to deal with it is to get rid of the memory. Pretend it never happened.

“Blessed are the forgetful: for they get the better even of their blunders.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Black Mirror challenges us on how we leave an entire history of ourselves on the internet, with our e-mails, bank accounts, facebook and photos. Everyone can see them, our history is displayed to see. Yet if something or someone upsets us, well lets just erase it, lets just delete that friend, lets just untag ourselves. Simple.

Except it really isn’t. We are creatures that often cling to the hurt and pain of memories instead of the good and truthful ones. Just reading the Old Testament  shows how forgetful Gods people are to His goodness and salvation. In my own life its easy to remember the hurt and pain of a remark or a friendship breaking down – it runs deep and raw. It would better to just pretend they never existed. But in reality that won’t ever heal your heart.

There is something of forgiveness that brings a great balm to our souls and memories. If we could just erase memories, I wonder if it would truly remove the heartache, would it truly heal the ache or just bring about emptiness? Sin runs deeper than memories, it’s a sickness of the heart and the painful memories are often a reminder of the need of salvation. True salvation is not simply forgetting or erasing the memory or hurt, but true salvation is forgiveness and love piercing through those memories and hurts and healing the heart.

“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”
Lewis B. Smedes

Just look at how Jesus forgives. He knows all our sins, all our idolatry and hate crownofthornestowards him and yet while we were still enemies he dies for us. A forgiveness that runs deep into the heart and gives us hope for the future. It can only be satisfied on the cross.

What Liam needed in this episode was not his memories erased, but he needed the cross – the place of true forgiveness where memories of hurt and pain run loud and clear and yet in spite of that they are covered in blood bringing forth a healing forgiveness and love. If we simply forget those moments of painful memories then we will never learn forgiveness, we will only seek a numbing half lived life where we carve out all the best and good bits. It’s the struggles, the pain, the brokenness that brings us to the cross and teaches us about true love, healed hearts and restored relationships.

Can we know God?

solitudeI read a sad article today. An article written here.

A question is behind this: Can we know God? The writer of the article says no, he says “The more you claim to know God and attempt to delineate his nature the less likely you are to have hit the bull’s eye.”

He goes on to say: “Faith is not the progressive unearthing of God’s nature but a recognition that he/she is fundamentally unknowable. The signpost points not to growing certainty but towards increasing non-knowing.”

It saddens me because if this were true, if God is indeed unknowable then all of us are in trouble. An unknowable God does not speak into or indeed to his creation (Genesis v3) or walks among them (Genesis 3v8) or dies for them at the cross (Mark 15v33-39). An unknowable God doesn’t adopt us as sons to the Father (Galatians 4v1-7) or betroths us to the Son (Hosea 2v19-20). He doesn’t sing over us (Zephaniah 3:17) or warms our heart with his tender mercy (Luke1v78). Instead we are left outside, cold and very alone.

We can do as David Bryant advises: Is anything left or does this destroy the very fabric of spirituality? What remains is a Quakerlike silence during which we can respond to the numinous, develop our perceptions, hone our morality and enhance our wonder at the staggering complexity of the universe.

It sounds modern, inclusive and quite pleasant. Keep God unknown and then I don’t have to seek him, I can instead find my own path. But this silence will eventually erode you and keep you lost forever. This silence feels very lonely and I don’t think the universe is shouting any answers back.

Instead there is better news than this: come and meet the God that is revealed to us. Come and meet Jesus who reveals the Father to us. For he is:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
(Colossians 1:15 ESV)

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
(Hebrews 1:3 ESV)

Can we know God? Yes through Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals to us who the Father is:

No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.(Matthew 11v27).

What a glorious verse! Come and know the Father because the Son has revealed him to us! Come to Jesus and you will know God. My friends, God is not unknown – the Trinitarian God has been revealed and has pierced this world with his everlasting light so that you no longer have to sit in darkness. Faith is not saying that God is unknown, Faith is receiving what Christ has done for you and believing that he is truly God and truly reveals the Father to us.

Bryant says: “If we envisage God as a person clothed with epithets such as powerful, loving, just, fear-inspiring and omnipotent we are creating a manmade image.”

And yet God chooses to come to us as a baby, which is what the Christmas story is all about. And through being fully human and fully God he shows us who the Father is and what he is like. And he is powerful, loving and just. Believe me you wouldn’t want a different God. The Trinitarian God that is revealed to us through Jesus Christ which we can read in scripture and it is good news and better news than an unknown God.

Calvin says: “For God would have remained hidden afar off if Christ’s splendour had not beamed upon us.”

But if God is unknown to you. Then come to Jesus. You could sit in silence and search for the hero inside yourself or cry out to the vacuum universe for answers of “who am I?” Or instead you can come to Jesus.

Come to him who holds the universe in the palm of his hand, who says to you that he will carry your burden, who will be a light in your darkness and who will give you his identity and the Father will proclaim over you “I am well pleased”. My prayer is that David Bryant and all who may agree with his article will come to Jesus, come and know him and drink deep out of his living water because then they will know God and God will no longer be unknown to them but revealed and found so beautiful.

Christmas: Eat, Drink and be Merry

eatdrinkmerryAdvent Day 14

Vanity of Vanities cries the Preacher. All is meaningless. The book of Ecclesiastes feels very apt for our time. Everything can feel like a toil and a meaningless toil at that. The solution would seem to be:

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. (Ecclesiastes 5:18 ESV)

Just eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow we die. Christmas is a time to be merry and eat lots of food until you are stuffed like a Turkey. It would seem we partly do this because there is no meaning in life and life itself is very short and slipping away so we should get on and enjoy ourselves and yet even this in itself is a vanity. The preacher then goes on to say that death is meaningless:

In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. (Ecclesiastes 7:15 ESV)

It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. (Ecclesiastes 9:2 ESV)

It seems even if a righteous man dies, it is meaningless. Death happens to everyone and it feels empty and meaningless.

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of a baby that was destined to die. The Son of God, a righteous man was born to die. It would seem hopeless and meaningless. As they laid him in the tomb did they whisper “Vanity of Vanities”?

But, he didn’t stay dead. He rose to life and as he burst through death ripping out its sting, he came alive with all hope and meaning. No longer is life a vanity. No longer is life about eating and drinking to escape some meaningless reality or because tomorrow we die. Instead life is about resurrection. And because of resurrection we can now eat and drink and be merry for the hope and life we have before us.

Christmas is about the one who will  be resurrected, so that we can eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we live!

The Sweetness of the Gospel

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’” – Hosea 14-16

Hosea 2:14-23 is the sweetness of the Gospel. The Lord sets out to allure and draw to himself a bride that has nothing in her worth alluring. By nature she is an outcast, running after the dregs of idols to satisfy a longing deep in her but soon finds murky water at a broken fountain. But the Lord, a sweet overflowing spring of fresh water calls her out from these dregs and calls her into a wilderness. This wilderness is desolate, reflecting the state of her condition; he draws her away from the distractions of the world to stand before Him. It is easy to assume that the Lords tone of voice towards the unfaithful bride would be that of anger and jealousy. This would seem fitting and at times we have seen the Lord be angry towards his bride for the way she has deserted Him and played the whore with other lovers. But in this passage the Lord speaks tenderly to his bride, it seems so soft and dripping with forgiveness. The sweetness of the Gospel is illuminated at this point, the Gospel is unveiled to show a great mercy and love from the Lord towards a wretched prostitute. Not only does the Lord speak tenderly to the bride, but he gives her vineyards and he makes the valley of trouble into a door of hope. He brings life and hope to a place that should be trouble and he gives it to her as a gift for she cannot earn such love. But with this gift he also gives her the most treasured gift of all – himself. He is no longer seen as a master or a ruler but she shall call him her husband. The wretched prostitute is spoken to with love and mercy, given hope and life and has been given a husband who loves and cherishes her, she shall not see him as a slave driver, master or dictator – but as a husband who will make her lie down in safety, who will never leave her, who will die for her and will give her his righteousness.

This Lord draws me and you to himself and speaks a great tenderness over us. I love this because it goes against what I expect the Lord to do and the way I hear people talk about the Lord. Often we hear how God hates us and hates the things we do. At this point in Hosea I don’t see a Lord who hates, but a Lord who loves very deeply for his people and his bride. This Lord speaks tenderly to capture her heart away from idols and shows her that the fullness of life is in Him alone. Despite times before where the Lord is jealous and angry with his people, it is always due to the overflowing of his love because it pains him to see his people drink from the maggot invested pits where next to it is beautiful spring water. So the question I ask myself is – do I preach this? To myself and to others? Or is it far easier to preach a God that is full of wrath and anger? It seems more affective, especially if it motivates people to live better lives. Many times I have heard – “we speak much of the love of God, but not enough of his wrath”.

Yet if we just speak of wrath it will only frighten and dull hearts. The love of Christ is the one that frees us, the Love that speaks tenderly, allures, gives himself, dies for us on the cross and gives us a new identity – brothers, sons, and bride. I want that to captivate my heart and the heart of my friends so that they may be drawn to Christ in awe and a burning love, rather than out of fear and duty.

The Gospel cannot be sweeter than this,we are that bride, we played the whore and gone after other lovers and yet he allures us and speaks tenderly over us. It’s a relief to know that in Jesus my desires and longings are fulfilled where as in idols I am left wanting with a broken heart and a deep hunger. And as a wretch myself to know that the Lord has called me out of slavery and into an adoring relationship with him where he is my husband and will never leave me is very good news!

Talking with art students

I am no expert in art. I like some art, I like engaging with it and looking at it etc. As Christians I think we need to encourage our brothers and sisters who are artists or art students in our churches. So I want to bring to your attention a great blog written by two of my friends on staff who are reaching art students on their patch and they are engaging with art in an amazing way. Why not check them out here:

http://uccf-arts.blogspot.co.uk/

Here are some fab quotes from the blog to wet your appetite:

“We are passionate about seeing Christian art students live wholeheartedly for Jesus: both in the way that you create,  and also in the way that you do life at art college.  We pray that this blog will bless, encourage and resource you to get digging deeper into gospel truths, and delight all the more in the gifts God has given you.”

“Artists are societies’ visionaries or to quote Mark ‘society’s equivalent of specsavers’!  As artists we help people to see what they don’t naturally see.  We are more deliberate in feeling, seeing, hearing, tasting, and sensing the world around us because we study it in a more intense and deliberate way, and so we are making people see more of what’s around them.”

“Whether you are based in an art college, a university, or an office, they all have a culture of their own which has been produced by the people of that place over years.  Do you ask questions of the cultures you live in?  Are you contributing in a Godly way to your cultures, or are you just going with the flow?  Are you mindful of what you paint, sing, dance, design?  Cultural history is easily read through the art of the time so we really do have a great responsibility as the current generation of Christians making art.  Let us have dominion, make work and live lives that produce a cross shaped culture.”