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Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Category Archives: encouragement

Water into wine.

water-wine

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
John 2:1-11

I realise there are many layers in this story, there are many nuanced potential meanings and things we can learn. I just want to focus on two elements of the story and their possible interpretations.

Firstly a look at the verse that contains the following:

“Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.”

Jesus uses the contents of something that was used for ceremonial cleansing to produce wine. An unusual approach, a possible paradox.
Water from these jars was used to clean people – symbolically, if not actually, to take away the grime and uncleanliness of our humanity.

Jesus therefore takes this thing linked to uncleanness and uses it to provide something fit to drink. Something clean, something pure.

Symbolically, I feel like this is akin to his transformation of us from sinful to forgiven, from unclean to washed clean.

Secondly the master of the banquet, later on says:

“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

While I was listening to the audio bible of that passage the following struck me.

I think, amongst other things, this is Jesus reminding us that whatever good things we have tasted or experienced in this life should be celebrated, it is good to experience good things but these are just the appetiser, there is something even better to come.

Jesus proclaims in this miracle, this ‘sign’, that God is saving the very best until last: His Kingdom.

The experience of the fullness of the Kingdom of God will be will be the best, it will be better than anything anyone has ever tasted or experienced.

Linking these two ideas, in my mind, creates a powerful couplet – we – the most wretched and unclean beings are cleansed, made fit for purpose, made fit for a purpose; not just for the sake of being cleaned. We are being cleansed to bring forward flavours, colours, visions, tasters of the best of what God has in store for the world until it eventually fills the whole earth with God’s goodness again.

With that in mind, our job in the world is to ask “how can we help to make things better? How can we give God more glory?”

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21

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I believe in Hell

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I believe in hell!

I have seen hell and it exists.

It isn’t at all where it has traditionally been portrayed and it isn’t what those old paintings or new television shows make it out to be.

It is happening for people right here and right now and we have seen it this last week.

Hell is when gunmen break into restaurants, concert halls, music and sports venues and methodically murder hundreds of people.
Hell is where someone deluded and radicalised blows themselves up killing scores of others.
Hell is when your home is swept away by a mud-slide or a tornado or an earthquake leaving you without clean water or sanitation.
Hell is when you believe your best hope of survival is fleeing.
Hell is when you believe that it is safer in an inflatable dingy trying to cross the sea than on the land where you live.
Hell is where you watch boats filled with expensive consumer electronics sailing past the beaches of your country, the very country who’s land has been pillaged and exploited for the raw materials that make up those devices with no benefit to the people who live there.
Hell is where a child breaks into his own school and guns down 15 other kids in his classroom before turning the weapon on himself.
Hell is where your life caves in on you, your world crumbles and leaves you emotionally burned out, physically drained and spiritually empty.

I believe in hell.

To explore one example: the atrocities we saw in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad last week, there is a relevant parable that Jesus told, recorded in Matthew 12 and Luke 11.

“When a demon goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other demons more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”
Luke 11 v 24-26

It is a fairly accurate picture of the problem we have in this world today.

The armies of the west have gone blundering into the middle east, clearing out one ‘demon’ after another: Sadam has been ousted, The Taliban ‘defeated’, Colonel Gaddafi has been deposed…
It would be generous to say that the middle east was left “swept and put in order”, but the next sentence is definitely true: –“Then he goes and takes with him seven other demons more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first”

The middle east has never been as unstable or dangerous and the problem with the ‘demon’ “returning” with “seven other demons more wicked than himself” is that the fallout is now spreading beyond the borders of those first ‘houses’.

The problem is, nothing was put in to fill the vacuum.

So IS came and made the situation seven times worse.

Almost always, after something like this, the question that comes at me as someone who is a follower of Jesus is “where is God”?

Where is God in the famine? Where is God in the flood? Where is God in the oppression and the exploitation, the violence, war and broken lives?

I believe that mostly, when God works in the world he works through people, so the only answer I can ever give to the question “where is God?” is actually a question: “Where am I?”

Where am I in the famine, flood exploitation and violence, the war and the broken lives? If I claim to be a follower of Jesus, I must believe what he tells me. I must believe the promise he makes to live in me.

If I believe Jesus lives in me, and I do… Then it is the face of Jesus that I need to display. And it is the behaviour of Jesus that I need to display. And in behaving like Jesus, I am the one that needs to reach out to lift up the broken and oppressed of this world. I am the one who shows God in the famine and the flood, in the violence and the war. It is in my example and my actions that people see God in these circumstances.
You and I are the people that can show that we have, by the grace of God and his life within us as Jesus people, the power to make this planet a better place.
The response to hell today is not to retaliate. Retaliation only leads to escalation and further hurt.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King

Care workers on the fringes of disaster

If you look at the periphery of the disasters we have just witnessed, you will see God at work. The people who are caring medically, putting other bodies and lives back together. Those that are trying to protect others and keep the streets calm. Friends and family supporting the injured and those with broken hearts.
That’s where you will see God at work, that is where we must be to lift the broken and hurting, to demonstrate the love of God and to show that the world is not a cold dead place hurtling head-long into destruction and oblivion.

We can only start with ourselves to make a difference to our families and communities, but we must start, because that is the way God will use Love to overcome the hatred in the world.

Averting the Apocalypse

Image used without permission but Attributes to http://www.silverpetticoatreview.com/I am a staunch Dr Who fan.

Episode 13 in season 1 of the ‘re-boot’ with Christopher Ecclestone and Billie Piper contains a scene in which, Rose Tyler (Piper) breaks open the heart of the TARDIS in an attempt to save The Doctor (Ecclestone). Rose looks into the heart of the TARDIS and it changes her. There’s a pretty low-resolution 4 minute version of it here.

When she arrives and saves The Doctor, he asks: “What did you do?” and Rose replies: (watch it here)

“I looked into the TARDIS and the TARDIS looked into me”.

It transpires after that point that Rose has special abilities, she destroys the daleks, she is able to bring back to life Captain Jack Harkness who has just been exterminated.

Once Rose looked into the heart of the TARDIS, she was completely changed by what she saw. She could not un-see, she couldn’t let go of what she had seen and could not be unchanged from how it had changed her.

I would argue that this works as a lovely illustration of when we truly see the heart of God. When we look into God’s heart and see the depths of his love and the extent he has gone to display that love to us, we can’t help but be changed. And if we truly connect and really see the heart of God, we cannot unsee, we cannot be changed back, we can’t ever return to what we were before.

In an address to students at Harvard university in 2008, JK Rowling said:

“we do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside of ourselves.”

And in many ways, she is right because of the promise of Jesus in John 14:11-21

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

The root of this concept is stated in 1 John 4:9

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

This is the message of God through Jesus: Just as Rose was changed by viewing the heart of the TARDIS, we are changed when we see the heart of God and it changes us to be more like Him. He promises to live in us.

We can’t sit around inert, expecting God to step in and save us all from either our current situation or the problems we find ourselves surrounded by in this world.

Make no mistake: He Will.

One day, God Will complete the process of redeeming and restoring this planet, creating a place where everything is, once again, returned to a condition where all the earth continually sings His praises.

But while we wait for that inevitability, it is the job of believers to be the hands and the feet of God in this world.

It starts within our homes and our church family.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:35

It’s not radical, it’s not new, its not easy but it is vital and mandatory.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:12

When we look ‘into the heart of the TARDIS’, when we gaze into the heart of God and God gazes into our hearts, we become changed, we become the agents of Gods’ love, the vehicles of his power at work in the world and that love is good news to the people around us. It is a life that displays “the gospel”.

Think of the tangible benefit to us personally and our communities if we were to take on Jesus’ example and embrace the counter-cultural world of Matthew 25 – a life lived as if God is not coming to mend all our brokenness and it is our job to put in the leg-work.

I am a great fan of Mother Teresa of Calcutta who’s words speak into this approach to faith and life.

“You can do no great things in this life, only small things with great love”

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I believe that when God works in the world, he works through people. You and I are the people of God and we are the ones to push through the expectation of some supernatural intervention and demonstrate the ‘love beyond magic‘ that Kester Brewin talks about in his book.

It is only through love that we can achieve godliness. It is only through love that we can slowly, carefully redeem and restore this world. It is that same sacrificial love that we see demonstrated on the cross that gives us the example to do likewise.

Whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8:3

1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:8

If anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever says that he lives in God must live as Jesus lived.

1 John 2:5-6

This is our call to arms as believers. We can revert the apocalypse, we provide the hope to the hopeless, we demonstrate the love of God and provide the care of God’s hands, we can be the support for others in the way we have been taught by God.

I realise that I am suggesting we live with the paradox of living as if God will not fully and finally step in whilst knowing full well that he will because that’s what he has promised us he will do. Sometimes we have to hold this tension.

Are you, like me, feeling sand, angry, disgusted, enraged, compassionate about the situation in Syria?

Now is your chance to step in. And don’t leave it at that, live your ability to demonstrate God’s love into every single apocalyptic moment or situation that you see.

But what hope is there if you are feeling hopeless? Are you someone who’s life is fractured and broken? Do you wake up and see an endless black hole of depression? Are you at the bottom of the pit without a ladder, struggling to make ends meet, desperate to find some way to put food on the table or clothes on the children.

Are you feeling like you are unable to pick up the weight of the responsibility that comes with being a follower of Jesus?

Firstly, rely on your church family. That’s really kind of the point: We connect to each other and to God through our shared brokenness, not through our personal victories, strengths and accomplishments or some supernatural magic. Our church family will be the arms that God will wrap around you. They will make sure that God’s promise to provide is not an empty one. They will be the people that will carry you close to their hearts until you can soar like an eagle again.

If you aren’t a believer, but feel like you want the world to stop so you can get off or facing any or all of the hopelessness and pain that I outlined above; go and search for a community of people that will provide the love and support that I’ve just suggested should be present in a church family.

Hopefully you will find it in a group of Jesus followers. You may find that it is displayed better in a smaller group / church, a house group or you may find that one of these new fangled ‘worship centres’ or ‘life churches’ can provide the love, care and support that shows the life of Jesus and the love of God.

Secondly, I have seen what happens after Revelation 20. After the metaphor that describes every struggle, every challenge, every war, conflict, oppression, famine and disaster, man-made or natural that has torn at our hearts and bodies in recorded history…

There is still hope.

God does step in to make all things new. So hold on to that hope, the hope for the hopeless, the salvation for the un-saveable, the great love for the unloved.

I heard a great voice, coming from the throne.

See, the home of God is with His people.
    He will live among them;
    They will be His people,
    And God Himself will be with them.

    He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
    Death will be no more;
    Mourning no more, crying no more, pain no more,
    For the first things have gone away.

Revelation 21 v 3-4

Read the rest of Revelation 21

Great Church!

greatchurch

I love my Church.

Partly because my Church is a community of people and not a fancy building, but also because it’s on its way to being great.

I don’t mean in the way a lot of people talk about great places, experiences or events and I don’t mean in the way people talk about “going to such a great church where the singing is awesome and the preacher is just so relevant and the seats are so comfy and they serve real coffee…”

No, I mean our church is building towards being GREAT.

G – God Centred: Rooted in the love of God and dedicated to centring our lives and what drives our behaviour in the word of God as made alive in Jesus.

R – Respected: Known in the local community to be reliable, honest and dependable, to demonstrate integrity and love. Local people may not agree with what we believe, but they shouldn’t be able to deny that we live by the blueprint of Jesus and they would rather work for or live next door to or have their children marry one of us than someone else.

E – Embracing: Open armed, accessible and welcoming to all that come through the doors, whether dancing or stumbling, whoever they are and whatever their issues. We are aiming to be strong at the centre and open at the edges, drawing people into a growing relationship with God.

A – Active: Putting God’s values, beliefs and preaching into practice by living out love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, generosity and touching the local community with those practices.

T – Transforming: Within ourselves, to be more like Jesus and for those we touch, to change their lives by our own lives being changed. Gradually displaying a more accurate image of God and his generous love to the whole world, allowing that to alter us and reaching out for that to transform other people’s lives.

That’s why I love my church.

And we all love it when other people want to be a part of that so if you fancy working for the glory of God and the majesty of Jesus, we can always use a hand…

It’s all about Rescue – Part 1

Creation is not the first belief about God!

In the ancient Hebrew world, God was not primarily ‘Creator’.

The first real nation-wide interaction and exposure to God for the Israelite people was at the Exodus. The people were rescued from slavery in Egypt, hence the first part of Exodus 20

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
Exodus 20:2

The people, rescued from slavery, led out by Moses, who then really introduced them fully to God in the next few chapters, initially thought of God as rescuer, then went on to explore what else God was. They posed the question “Who is this rescuer God, what else has he done?”

And then the story of creation was explored and told and passed from generation to generation as were a lot of other stories throughout history. Many of them are other stories about rescue!

In fact, if we read the creation story as not a completely literal, historical account, it too can be thought of as a type of rescue. There is a growing acceptance that in aligning the evidence we have available through scientific exploration and reasoning, and the biblical text, we should be viewing the ‘Adam and Eve’ story as more symbolic, and that in the event of the two – Adam and Eve being real people who actually existed (I’m not denying it as a plausible possibility), they were called away from the race of people that existed at the time and as-it-were, ‘rescued’ – set apart to and for God. See ‘Who Were Adam and Eve Part 1 and Who Were Adam and Eve Part 2 for a bit more exploration into these concepts.

From the beginning then, we can see God is a rescuer, saving people, drawing individuals out into relationship with Him.

The next most obvious, perhaps most famous rescue story is of course that of Noah in Genesis 6 + 7.

God the rescuer, rescuing Noah from the adverse and oppressive, the wicked and sinful.

But (at risk of being accused of jumping around) if we go back almost to the beginning and look at some of the earlier stories in a bit more detail, we can discover yet more rescue.

One of the most striking is God’s rescue of the first convicted murderer.

Genesis 2 holds the story of Cain & Abel – the story of the first farming rage incident and the first recorded murder.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Genesis 2:2-16

What fascinates me is God’s double rescue – firstly in verse 7

“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

God is offering Cain a way out before he even gets to murdering his brother – God is saying, bring me a sacrifice in the way I have asked for it and there’s no problem any longer. God is also warning Cain that if he doesn’t, God can see that he is going to face temptation that he will find hard to resist.

Then, after Cain murders Abel, you might think that as punishment, God would just finish him off, but instead, God protects him from anyone else – Verse 15

“the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him”

God rescues the first murderer. Yes, Cain faces a punishment / consequences of his actions, but God will not allow him to be harmed. That’s fascinating. That’s incredible grace. Not to totally condemn or reject the first murderer, the first person to kill someone else is rescued by God from anyone seeking revenge.

It’s all about rescue, really, all about rescue.

There are more, lots more, but they will have to be covered in part 2.

Late to the ‘party’

The other book I had with me on holiday was Rob Bell’s (in some circles – controversial) book “Love Wins”.

Yes, I’m pretty late reading it and passing comment and I’m sure that all possible comments have already been aired on the book, but I wanted to share some thoughts on what ended up being another fairly rapid read.

Interestingly, going back to read Rob’s earlier book ‘Sex God’ since I’ve been back from holiday and remembering a fair amount of ‘Velvet Elvis’, ‘Love Wins’ is really just further development of a thread that runs through a lot of Rob’s work.

Rob came in for a lot of criticism having written this and was called all sorts of things even before its release, even by people that hadn’t actually read the book (a dangerous policy if you ask me).
The first label levelled at Rob was that he is a ‘Universalist’. I didn’t get that impression from reading the book. Rob is definitely not saying “everybody gets saved in the end regardless”, he does however ask the question “what kind of God do we believe in?” Do we believe in an all powerful God that can find a way to redeem everything and everybody in His own way, or do we believe in a God that isn’t powerful enough to find a way to restore all things to himself?”

That’s quite a different thing and its quite a fundamental and important question.

There’s some very good explorations if what we understand by Heaven and Hell also. For example, in summing up the chapter on Hell:

“To summarize, then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God
has for us.
We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way.
And for that,
the word “hell” works quite well.”

Rob writes very gently and graciously and even if you don’t agree with his position, you would need to work hard to take offence, the book is more about asking the questions than specifically finding the ‘right’ answers.

Rob likes the parable of the prodigal sons and he uses it in this book because it highlights both extremes of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’, coexisting in the same place: it’s purely our response to God’s love and grace that defines which place we chose to exist in. Rob rounds up the story by saying:

“Neither son understands that the father’s love was never about any of that (being good enough to deserve the father’s love or bad enough for it to disappear). The father’s love cannot be earned,

and it cannot be taken away.

It just is.

It’s a party.

The final chapter closes with a great passage that encapsulates both the continual restoration of all things into God’s “shalom” and our response to God, His love, forgiveness and grace.

“I believe that the indestructible love of God is an unfolding, dynamic reality and that every single one of us is endlessly being invited to trust, accept, believe, embrace, and experience it. Whatever words you find helpful for describing this act of trust, Jesus invites us to say yes to this love of God,
again and again and again.”

The book is definitely worth a read, I have barely scratched the surface in reviewing it here, it is also the perfect companion to ‘After Magic‘ by Kester Brewin if you want to read two books together!

After Magic

I don’t get very many of them but having a holiday is good for me in many ways. One of them is that I can make some time to read. On holiday I read more of my bible, and I get to try and read some of the books stacking up on my reading list.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this year I have brought (and finished by day 2 of the holiday) the most recent Kester Brewin book “After Magic” a fairly slim volume but compelling and a cracking good read.

It could actually work as a final section to Kester’s previous book “Mutiny” – my all time favourite book of 2012, but it has rightly been written separately, as, though there are certainly some overlapping themes, shared material and concepts, to combine both into one volume might have clouded the ideas in ‘Mutiny‘ and been too much to absorb in one sitting.

Firstly, it is not for people that aren’t able to read with an open mind.
Secondly,it is a mature work of depth and whilst it deals with some complex theological and philosophical ideas, it is still clear and concise.
Thirdly, it is a profoundly challenging piece, sometimes paradoxical and regularly counter-intuitive, yet I found it difficult to outright disagree with anything in it.
Fourthly, I would encourage you to read it, whoever you are, whatever your belief system or background, I believe Kester has captured something radical, in as much as a radish is radical; something that returns to the roots of the Jesus movement, something that, if adopted by Christianity in general, could return people’s view of Jesus and his message to their compelling and beautiful origins.

I’ll begin with the basic premise of the book and then discuss a few points that came to me as I was reading it.

‘After Magic’, drawing on many contemporary and historic sources of literature and cinema, refers to a number of ideas revolving around the structure of a magic trick: “the pledge”, “the turn” and “the prestige”.

  • ‘The Pledge’ – showing the audience something ordinary and ‘unchanged’.
  • ‘The Turn’ – making that ‘ordinary’ object ‘extra-ordinary’ (making it disappear or something similar).
  • ‘The Prestige’ – bringing that ordinary object back again.

Whilst people enjoy a good magic show, they don’t really believe what they see is actually magic, nor do they want the ‘trick’ completely explained because then it will loose it’s mystery and excitement. What people do is temporarily suspend their disbelief to participate and fully enjoy the spectacle.

The central theme to Kester’s book is that all superheroes need to renounce their super powers to actually reveal their true humanity. Kester argues that this is true in the dance with the divine also, the unrealistic and infinite demands of the gods that are worshipped, on route to them offering us meaning and power, purpose and wealth.

Kester makes a good case for the structure of a magic trick being adopted in the gospel story, with a slight twist on the traditional angle:

  • The Pledge: Revealing Immanuel – God with us
  • The Turn: Christ crucified
  • The Prestige: The resurrection of Jesus and his subsequent charge to his disciples to be his body acting as him in this physical world

Kester posits That only in renouncing his divinity and revealing himself through the medium of his human son can God truly divest himself of these infinite demands that we believe he has of us and only by moving through and beyond the super-natural, the belief that God is going to step in and magic things better for us in our tricky situation, and embracing real love in the way we live on his planet, can we truly be released to live out the life outlined by Jesus in Matthew 25 (and incidentally that of Mathew 5 also).

I feel like the underlying message of ‘After Magic’ is about living as if God did not exist, so that we use the abilities and power God has invested within us to work through all the challenges we face with real love, and not wait around for some supernatural intervention to make things right again.

I think that works as an argument. I don’t deny that there are times when God does step in and act in supernatural ways, I’ve met too many people, heard too many true stories and observed and experienced this on too many occasions to say that, but if we live in a way that is always waiting for the supernatural to happen to correct things, if we only worship out of some desire to appease or win favour, then we deny the power of God to work through people.

To get a genuine clear grasp of the depth of Kester’s ideas, you do really need to read the book, my summary skips a lot of important stuff and is rather a skim through. It’s a great read, well worth both your time and money.

A couple of ideas that came to me on reading the book:

I wondered whether some of the references to some of the writers (film and book) were drawing on an approach that they are essentially attempting to portray that “humans do really have all the answers to the problems of this world, future, etc. if only we look deep enough inside ourselves.” I’m not sure whether I do fully subscribe to this view and I’m not sure if Kester is actually supporting it. There is a reference in the book to an approach to Christianity that relies on people attempting to earn salvation and do the work of saving humanity themselves. I would echo Rob Bell’s words from “Love Wins” which say in reference to Philippians 3 “Let us live up to what we have already attained.”

“The Father has taken care of everything.
It’s already there,
ready,
waiting.
It’s always been there,
ready,
waiting…

…Jesus forgives them all,
without their asking for it.

Done. Taken care of.”

All that is left to do is to carry on displaying this God and this Christ in the way we live, in love as humans.

Which takes me to the next point which Kester looks at in his last chapter which is a fitting conclusion to the book.

On ‘living as though God doesn’t exist’, Kester suggests this naturally leads to the outworking of Matthew 1:21, in that we live from, through and out of that love, that we are saved from our selfishness and other destructive behaviours.
That really resonates with me and in a very real way, it will manifest ‘Immanuel’ – God with us, because God is love and this fits neatly with Kester’s interpretation of the phrase “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

So. Go and buy the book, you won’t regret it. http://www.kesterbrewin.com/aftermagic/

Busy

busy-character2I am trying to expunge the word ‘busy’ from my vocabulary.

I learned the other week from Steve Wiens that the Chinese pictograph for the word busy (at the top) is composed of two different characters: heart and killing.

Yet, when digging a bit deeper, I have discovered that this is not quite the case. Victor H. Mair, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature refutes the claim in a very precise etymological post.

However, his conclusions don’t detract very much from the idea that there is a drain on our hearts if we overload ourselves. Even if, as Prof. Mair suggests, the second character is strictly a phonophore, or phonetic indicator, not a character that attributes meaning to the word in question, it is clear that the ancient wisdom of the Chinese connects the concept of business directly to the heart.

With that in mind, I’m stopping saying I’m ‘busy’. I have plenty of work but I love every minute of it. I am involved in a partially hectic and occasionally frantic home-life, with the activities and general hubbub of three children, but all of it still feels life-giving, life-affirming, not heart-draining. I’m still contributing to various activities within our church (despite the sabbatical) yet none of these feel like a burden.

So no, I’m not busy. I’m active and occupied and sometimes don’t have all the time that I feel like I need to complete what I want to complete, but I’m not endangering my heart in any way and I’m going to stop saying the word, because I am, at the moment, incredibly happy and content with the way things are.

Which is probably when I ought to be careful not to get complacent or smug. It could be dangerous if I got trapped into thinking that either I was ‘busy’ or that I could just coast along.

I’m still working at living up to the words of 1 Timonthy 6:6

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment.”

Letting Go

I don’t know if you have ever had the experience of doing something for a long time and then stopping and stepping back and deliberately not doing it.

I’m not talking about breaking a bad habit, but about the things that you do, through choice or occasionally by default that often while you are doing it, you look around you and wonder if anyone else could do it or if you are actually the best person to continue it in that situation.

I stepped away from most of my church duties at the beginning of December 2012, partly because of the birth of our third child and partly because I needed some distance and a bit of a rest from all the many different things I was doing.

I wanted to have space to think, space to write (I committed to writing at least one blog post per month) and space for things that had been going round my head, thoughts to emerge and be able to expand things without time constraints. My idea was hopefully to be able to have a few developed things under my belt for when I decided was the right time to pick up some of the things that I had previously been doing.

One of the responsibilities I had previously held was of preparing all flyers, posters, promotional material etc. for all the different church activities. This included a certain amount of design, a heavy weight of time, lashings of patience and developing a diplomatic streak that I had previously not been aware I possessed. Over the last several (I can’t remember well enough to count) years, I had tried, by use of layouts, fonts and styles to develop a recognisable ‘branding’ or ‘identity’ that would make it clear and apparent to people looking at some invitation or information from The Bethel, that it was from the same place, that a thread ran through, that we were unified in our approach, not just a disparate random selection of activities with no collective or binding core. I’m not sure how well I did, but I think that by the time I stopped, the church ‘literature’ (hate that word) had some level of common, recognisable identity. In fact most of the good stuff was developed in creative partnership with real, genuine artist Sarah Gillingham (not available on the web).

When I stepped away from this, I didn’t know what would happen, I wasn’t sure whether some things would be done at all. I was anxious that it would fall back to the previous state of things not being obviously linked or coming from the same group of people.

Sometimes when you let something go, it’s hard and there is a sense of mourning in some ways, and it creates a void that looks like it might not be adequately filled.

And more often than not, stepping away from something that you are proficient enough at, to have a rest and let someone else do it becomes the best thing that you could ever have done…

…because the person who comes in to replace you is so much better than you could ever have been and they create things of genuine beauty and creative genius and if you hadn’t let go of it, they would never have had the chance.

And that’s what happened.  Thank you Tim Stock, a truly sparkling, creative mind, bulging with fresh, stunning design, with a fierce passion for fonts to match my own and rather too much interest in creating the perfect height for a parenthesis or exclamation mark.  More to the point, Tim’s natural flair and proper training in graphic design truly dwarfs my inherited / genetic and mostly cobbled together ‘design’ credentials.

life-love-hope-cutout

You might not believe how much I feel relieved, enthused, excited, like a weight has been lifted, like I know that I can pass everything over into some really good hands. The first genius stroke was the design for the ‘life love hope‘ Easter programme we put on. The web page doesn’t really give the design the credit it’s due, the print media was just brilliant.

Maybe you can learn from my experience. Maybe there’s something you need to let go of to allow someone else to take on and fulfil their potential. And maybe the results will be more incredible than you could ever imagine.

Worship

I have heard so many times, increasingly more recently “letʼs worship together” or “weʼre going to have a time of worship”, before a congregation sings together and the term ʻworship setʼ used to refer to the songs that are going to be sung.
It seems there is a narrowing of the scope of ʻworshipʼ, there seems to be an idea creeping in to Christian consciousness that worship = singing; and only that.
It may just be lazy use of words or sloppy terminology, but if we arenʼt careful, we will start forgetting the importance of ʻworshipʼ being a way of living, not just the songs we sing together.

The first use of the word ʻworshipʼ in the bible is in Genesis 22, verse 5, when Abraham “said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
This is before the ʻsacrificeʼ of Isaac, I donʼt imagine Abraham was referring to him and Isaac going off and singing a hymn together, there is more evidence that Abraham was referring to the act of sacrifice he was about to undertake.

The second use of the word is in Genesis 24, it is used in response to generosity from Rebekah to Isaacʼs servant. It says in verse 26 & 27: “Then the man bowed down and worshiped the LORD, saying, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my masterʼs relatives.”

This is very clearly a prayer, a prayer of spoken worship.

Through the Exodus story, Moses constantly asks Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go (out of Egypt) so they could ‘worship God’. Clearly this is more than just singing, they could easily do that in Egypt. The worship was going to be a complete separation of the people from their oppressors and the toxic culture of Egypt, a time to truly worship God. The worship was to include sacrifice and burnt offerings to God (Exodus 10:25) and maybe other things, even Moses says to Pharaoh in v 26 “until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the LORD”.

Many of the references to worship in Genesis and Exodus include ʻbowing downʼ, a symbol consistently used to show reverence and deference to someone of higher authority or to indicate humility.

It is very rare in the scriptures that the word ʻworshipʼ is coupled with singing, not that I am saying that singing isnʼt worship, only Iʼm advocating a much wider use of the word than the narrow term that it seems to be becoming.

Worship breaks down to ʻworthʼ ʻshipʼ – the act of giving something ʻworthʼ, holding something in high esteem or honour and most of the references in the Old Testament refer to one Hebrew word ʻshachahʼ – meaning to bow / fall down / reverence / stoop. It has a wide range of possible meanings but all seem to point to putting yourself in a humble position and lifting up someone or something else. Incidentally, the other word that only occurs in Daniel, translated as worship (KJV) is ʻcgidʼ and has a very specific meaning – to ʻfall down / prostrate yourselfʼ.

The Old Testament definition of worship seems to be completely tied up in, putting something or somebody else above yourself and sometimes above anything else.

Obviously this is relevant and appropriate when thinking about our relationship with God but not always with other things.
The most common Greek word in the New Testament for worship is ʻproskuneoʼ, meaning reverance, to adore, to fall prostrate before, followed by less frequent but still very common ʻsebomaiʼ – to be devout and ʻdoxaʼ, meaning glory, honour or praise.
Again, no mention of singing in any of these uses. Donʼt get me wrong, Iʼm all in favour of singing, I think itʼs an important part of worship, but it doesnʼt seem sensible to refer to worship exclusively as singing when biblically, worship seems to be about a whole way of living and an attitude or posture toward God (when spoken of positively) or other things (when warned against).

Someone once said: “everything is an act of worship, you just choose what you are worshipping”.

I think thatʼs broadly true, we make choices daily what we are holding up as most important. It changes throughout the day and in different seasons of life, for some of us, most of the time itʼs God, and for some others, God gets worshipped very infrequently, perhaps only one day a week when we join others to worship.

Of course, Iʼm no better than anyone else, I need to point the finger at myself more than anyone else. I often worship myself above God – looking after my own needs, desires, vanity before I look to God. I often put technology in a position higher than God, preferring to answer emails or do other things on the computer / phone than focus on my Father in heaven. Some of us put our health or appearance up as an object of worship, some of us houses or cars, holidays, other humans… the list could go on and on.

I think that it is really significant that an act of sacrifice was the first event referred to as worship in the Bible.
Abraham was asked to worship God by sacrificing the thing most precious to him, the thing he had invested everything in, his son Isaac. What is more, it is crucial that we see how Abraham was absolutely prepared to go through with it. God said to him “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore… …and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me”. For believing God, and that being credited to him as righteousness, Abraham was known as a friend of God.

Could I, in the same way, be classed as Godʼs friend? I know I would have failed Abrahamʼs test, I canʼt imagine ever being able to get even close to agreeing to deliberately harm my son or daughter. However, we are called to make sacrifices, we are called to put nothing above God in the things we give worth to, the things we worship. More than that, worship really needs to be a whole approach to life, not just the singing we do together when we meet.

Romans 12:1-2 says it all, more succinctly than I could.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Godʼs mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Godʼs will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Live life in a way that puts God at the top in every thought, word and action, thatʼs a life where your whole body is a ʻliving sacrificeʼ, thatʼs a life dedicated to loving God with ʻall your heart, soul, mind and strengthʼ.

Colossians 3:23-24 puts the idea of ʻlife as an act of worshipʼ into context for us: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

For me, too much of the time it is purely aspirational, but through Godʼs grace and the power of His spirit working in us, we can slowly move towards that idea for it to become more of a reality.

Life is an act of worship, not just singing. It might include a fair bit of singing, but please, lets not allow it to stop there and lets not make the mistake of subconsciously accepting that by using lazy language.

This first appeared as an article in the Endeavour Magazine December 2012 Edition (though the language was ancientified by the editor)

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