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

Category Archives: spirit filled living

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…

Our Street

We live on the best street in the world!!!

It may not be the prettiest, though it is pretty at times.
It is definitely not the most expensive or most salubrious, but its still the best street in the world.

And that’s because of the people.

Our neighbours are just fabulous.

The people that live around us were there to support us and provide a shoulder to lean on as we tried to pull things back together in the aftermath our burglary.

There’s nothing that our neighbours didn’t offer in the way of help, resources and comfort to get us back on our feet, they are kind and considerate, they are generous and friendly.

And that’s why we live on the best street in the world.

In many ways, our street acts as our church as much as our church does. It provides community in the way we support each other. There is love between us as neighbours in friendship and in the display of patience, kindness, unselfishness, no envy or boastfulness, no rudeness or pride.

It reminds me of a song by the band faithless “God is a DJ“, the relevant lines being:

This is my church
This is where I heal my hurt
It’s a natural grace
Of watching young life shape
It’s in minor keys
Solutions and remedies
Enemies becoming friends
When bitterness ends
This is my church

It’s a great tune and a great fit for our street. Have a listen (spotify install needed).

In general, the whole community in Old Trafford is great, full of incredible and fantastic people, but we feel that our street has got that little something extra special.

Blessed are those who mourn

I love the Beatitudes, partly because they are a bit confusing, but mainly because Jesus is announcing something new and fresh and we are often too dull, even now, to fully grasp the newness and freshness of Jesus’ words.

But this one…

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted
Matthew 5:4

Sorry, mourning? Just say that again Jesus, I’m blessed when I am mourning? Just what about mourning am I supposed to be feeling good about, what is there about mourning that is a blessing?

It wasn’t until recently that I really understood this beatitude.

I’ve spent parts of the summer in mourning for various reasons. All of them trite and shallow so don’t get thinking that there’s anything to worry about.
I have been in a minor state of mourning because

  1. The Olympics ended
  2. The Paralympics ended
  3. We didn’t have a proper summer

I told you they were inconsequential! However, there is a serious point to this. As I blogged last month, somehow, I came over all tribal and patriotic, weeping at the slightest thing (if you call other people contesting and receiving medals the slightest things). And then when it was all over, I felt profoundly depressed for a while, until the Paralympics, which elicited the same leaking eye symptoms at every TeamGB success. Of course, once again, when it all ended, the blues returned, only allayed by that spectacular US Open win by Andy Murray. Gosh I must sound shallow and vapid, having my whole emotional stability propped up by British sporting achievement.

Anyway, back to the topic. To a certain extent, the ‘comfort’ from mourning came from new, exciting things, fresh success, new records, boundaries pushed, but because they were temporary, because that feeling was based on transient moments and memories, they faded and I was left with the feeling that something was missing once the events were over. Incidentally, there was a very interesting interview with Victoria Pendleton on BBC Radio 5 where she described the same sort of thing for athletes, even after winning Gold or a world championship, they often experience a profound low patch.

I use these fairly light examples to introduce the concept because my journey to truly understanding the beatitude “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” is a much deeper, more personal voyage.

I find the re-worded version by Don Davis more helpful to me personally as I can make more practical sense of it based on my own experiences.

Fortunate are those who’s hearts are completely broken over loss, because God Himself will carry their load.

I think perhaps that it is only once you have experienced this that you really understand it, much the same as many other spiritual and relational concepts.

Being comforted and having the pain of loss taken away is not the same thing. Feeling comforted, cared for, held securely in the arms of a loving God does not necessarily mean you will suddenly find all the emotion, heartache, disappointment and sadness disappears.
Being held close to the heart of the divine comforter brings the appreciation of God’s presence with you in the pain and sorrow and God’s presence in the middle of your disquiet brings a profound sense of shalom.

I use the word shalom because, though the literal translation of it is ‘peace’, it means so much more than just ‘peace’. Shalom peace is more than the absence of noise, it is more than calm, it is more than space and shelter, it conveys the distinct sense of everything being in the process of being made right and at one with God, the feeling of comfort, contentment and completeness even in the storm of our own troubles. Shalom is the sensation of wholeness and harmony, homeostasis and symbiosis as God comes to live with and in his good world, this world, the one He is interested in, the one He has been restoring and redeeming and renewing from the beginning.

It was not only on looking back on how God had carried us and our turmoil of emotions, anxiety, feelings of loss and raw, deep, aching heartbreak that we felt His shalom but also at times within the whirlwind. Between 2009 and 2011, we experienced four consecutive miscarriages and within that period there were unmistakable times that the peace of God broke through and it genuinely was like sitting in the eye of a hurricane. Life, life’s problems, life’s emotions and experiences were whirling around on the outside, but the peace of God brought contentment, courage, strength, energy and purpose. Knowing we were not abandoned, but rather, carried, gave us the will to carry on and the desire to choose to live in a way that was not made bitter by our anguish but made better in our response to God’s love and care.

Unfortunately, well meaning and with the best of intentions though they were, lovely, caring people reminding us that ‘at least we had two healthy children’ was not what brought us comfort. The pain of loss in this situation was not reduced in being reminded of what we had and whilst that might sound ungrateful, it really isn’t, it’s just the truth of the raw feelings that we experienced.
There were many wonderful and supportive friends and family that committed to emailing and texting words of gentle encouragement and others that were just there for us, sat with us, cried with us and it was in these moments, we felt the touch of the divine.
When God works in the world He most often works through people and that is our experience, a God who was hurting with us and holding us close to Him, making his presence felt through the people that propped us up and clung on to us to make sure we didn’t fall.

Being comforted in mourning and therefore blessed, being fortunate when our hearts were completely broken over loss, because God carried our load and brought us shalom, was an experience I wouldn’t change for anything despite the pain and tears, maybe even because of what I learned through the agony and weeping.

My main reason for writing this is not to open wounds or start a dialogue about our past but in knowing that there are bound to be many people in many and various situations, going through many trials, sorrows, excruciating pain, loss, relationship issues etc. Much of the time, when you are in the middle of it, you can’t see the end, you can’t see a way out, you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and even if you can, you suspect it is a train approaching in the opposite direction. But my point is that you can get through it, it will be ok, when everything seems lost and broken, lying shattered on the floor around your feet, God is still God and God is still Good and He will find a way to redeem you and your situation however bad it may seem.
It may take some time, it may take many different things, maybe even including; counselling, swallowing your pride, seeking or offering forgiveness, reaching out in utter, helpless desperation or just surrendering everything into the hands of the one who promises to “never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6), but somehow, some way, it will be alright. I can speak from experience, even after the fourth miscarriage and rather scary aftermath, it was ok, God made sure we were still ok, it wasn’t what we planned, it wasn’t what we wanted, our hopes and dreams were in tatters, but still, God was still with us and even in mourning, we felt that comfort, we felt fortunate that God carried our load. Without that, what hope could we have had?

Perhaps strangely, the passage that gave me most comfort was from Daniel. In Daniel 3, Daniel’s friends are told to worship the image that king Nebuchadnezzar had made or face being thrown into the furnace. When they don’t worship the image, the king threatens them with the furnace again and their response is this:

“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Daniel 3:16-18

Daniel’s friends choose to worship God because they believed that their circumstances don’t change who or what God is. Worshipping isn’t always a reaction, a heartfelt response or an emotional connection, sometimes it is a choice. In the middle of the sadness and despair that we faced between 2009 and 2011, we chose still to worship God because we understand that what happens to us doesn’t change who and what God is. God is still God. God is still Good. Bad things, unpleasant things, unplanned things, painful things may happen to us, but that doesn’t change who God is.
In those years of uncertainty and sadness, we learned to personalise and pray the prayer of Daniel’s friends:

“The God we serve is able to deliver us from our situations, able to take away the pain and tears, able to ‘fix’ everything for us and make it all the way we want it… but even if He doesn’t, we will still worship Him.”

So take heart, during and after all sorts of troubles and difficulties in life, it can be alright and it will be alright.
I’m not pretending it is easy, as I already said, the pain continues to be very real and very obvious, but we found that even in the thickest fog of despair, the deepest chasm of sorrow, the murkiest waters of upturned aspirations, you are still loved by God. You are, by His grace and sometimes only by His people, still held close to the steady, rhythmical beat of His heart and offered access to an endless peace, serenity and comfort. Trust God, be open to His presence and the work of His spirit in your life, and you will feel the shalom that He brings.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Fortunate are those who’s hearts are completely broken over loss, because God Himself will carry their load.

Showing how we’re saved.

Max Lucado writes daily ‘blessings’ or ‘devotionals’ – little short, spiritually uplifting thoughts, one a day, and I find them very useful.

Here’s one from 28th March 2012

A person is made right with God through faith.

If you’re trying to save yourself—you never know for sure about anything.

If you’ve hurt enough. Wept enough. Learned enough. Those who’re trying to save themselves promote themselves.

Those saved by works display works.

Those saved by suffering unveil scars.

And those saved by doctrine—well—you got it. They wear their doctrines on their sleeves.

Dare you stand before God and ask him to save you because of your suffering or your sacrifice or your tears or your study?

Neither do I. Nor did Paul.

Good works, suffering, or study may be the result of salvation, they’re not the cause of it!

How will you escape God’s judgment? One way: through faith in God’s sacrifice.

It’s not what you do—it’s what He did!
(Max Lucado)

Those lines 1/3 of the way through really struck a chord.

Those saved by works display works.

Those saved by suffering unveil scars.

And those saved by doctrine—well—you got it. They wear their doctrines on their sleeves.
(Max Lucado)

These words got me thinking. They are so true, and you can see so obviously how each individual Christian responds to the good news by the way they behave.

So I just wanted to add to Max’s words as an encouragement to myself to be a little more like Jesus and a little less like me.

Those saved by faith display faith.

Those saved by grace show grace.

Those saved by Jesus begin to look like him a little bit more every day.

It’s a gradual, natural progressive change that we undergo as God works in us by His spirit.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
(2 Corinthians 3:18)

The TV Remote

eugene-polley-remote(Credit: AP Photo/LG Electronics)

On 22 May 2012, Eugene Polley, the inventor of the TV remote control died.

Eugene Polley(Photo: http://www.gizmodo.com.au/)

I imagine, like myself, not many people knew this man’s name and yet, for all those people who own a television (99% of the US population and Probably a similar amount in th UK, bearing in mind that 84% of britons receive digital TV) the remote control has profoundly and quietly moulded your life and habits.

Back in 1955, we had far less channels to watch, yet now, the constant channel flipping in any household is pretty much taken as normal.

How has it changed us? Well, if you want more, deeper detail on the mechanics, have a look at a previous series on this blog about ‘Message and Media’, however, to put it succinctly; the ability to change TV channel without needing to get up from our comfortable armchair or sofa has, in the words of Zoe Williams, Guardian Columnist, on the today programme on BBC Radio 4 Wednesday 23 May 2012 (feature from 1:41.58), has turned us into ‘attention deficit, sensation seeking watchers’.

Zoe went on to state that the TV remote has changed our behaviour and attitude to television and in response to the new way we view television, the medium itself had altered, programming now panders to impatient people wanting immediate gratification and simple points. We can’t settle on anything any more especially if we don’t like / can’t cope with what we are watching, if it is too challenging, we can flip channels until we can rest on something more comfortable.

Has that affected our spirituality? I imagine so. Not only has the medium of TV become a shaper and non-neutral purveyor of the messages it transmits, but the way we use TV with a remote control has shaped the way TV is delivered and our approach to endlessly seeking something new and fresh, whilst often only being truly content with old and comfortable programmes.

Are we, in our spiritual journeys constantly in search of new and fresh, yet having great difficulty letting go of the old and ‘comfortable’?

Are we having great difficulty in settling on the truths that God has laid out for us and the experiences of that truth which he invites us into? Do we constantly search for something different when we are not entirely comfortable with or are overly challenged with the things that God is laying in front of us?
Do we seek to twist and wrench scripture to our own ideas, asking God to make it a bit more palatable to us, rather than saying “This [the bible] is what is true and if there’s a difference between this and me, I’m the one who has to move”? {Quote From Gerard Kelly}

What influence does TV, the TV remote, and the adaptation of both media to each other and so to us have on your life, your spiritual journey, your relationship with God?

You can answer the question, or hop channels, flip over to another blog! ;P

Holy Ground


I was a great fan of the classic 80s TV cartoon “Spiderman and His Amazing Friends” when I was growing up, but there was one of the characters that I particularly aspired to be – ‘Ice Man’. Spiderman was pretty cool with all his swinging on his webs, though I struggled to see what the other ends stuck to, and tangling up the bad guys ready for the police to pick them up, but ‘Ice Man’ was the persona I assumed in the school yard at break time. Very much like ‘Frozone’ from the 2004 movie ‘The Incredibles’, ‘Ice Man’ was able to produce a constant stream of frozen water from his outstretched hands upon which to skate from place to place, slipping up criminals and blocking the pathway or projectiles of the evil nemesis of the week. It was this ability to provide his own personal path that attracted me to ‘Ice Man’ and eventually, inevitably, I began my habit of discovering the spiritual within the ‘secular’.

In Exodus 3, God calls to Moses from the middle of a burning bush. It should probably be noted that it was effectively a non-burning bush, the bush was on fire but was not burned up.
However, God calls Moses over and then says to him “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Moses was probably fairly surprised. Firstly, there was a voice coming from a bush that was on fire but not being consumed. Secondly, the voice knew his name and thirdly, It told him that the ground on which he was standing, ground he had probably passed over many hundreds of times over the forty years he spent as a shepherd, was ‘holy’.

Moses, at this time in his life was a failure. He was a prince-turned-shepherd, the very antithesis of upwards social mobility. It was the equivalent of Moses playing caste snakes and ladders and stumbling onto the snake at square 99 that took him right back to the beginning. Shepherds were, culturally, in this historical context, not far from the vagrants or homeless of our contemporary society. If you spotted a shepherd you might have crossed the track because they spent their time with smelly sheep, sleeping in the dust and dirt, tramping through dung and whatever else to take the sheep to the next pasture or waterhole.

Yet still, the voice spoke to Moses, called him by name and said: “Take off your shoes, you stand on holy ground.” Moses knew he wasn’t holy, he knew he was a murderer and a coward, he knew he was a traitor and a runaway. Moses ran to Midian to escape punishment from either Egyptian or Israelite sources, that’s not the actions of a ‘Holy’ man.

Yet still, the voice spoke to Moses, called him by name and said: “Take off your shoes, you stand on holy ground.” The Hebrew for ‘holy’ – ‘qodesh’ (incidentally, the first use of it in the bible) literally means ‘separate’ or ‘sacred’ or ‘set apart’, which wouldn’t have made much sense to poor Moses. Moses knew the ground wasn’t ‘holy’, he had walked it many times with his sheep and ground is far from ‘holy’ once sheep have trodden it down. Moses knew that this dust, mud, scrubland – wilderness was, aside of the asbestos bush, essentially, completely ordinary, very different to ‘holy’.

Yet still, the voice spoke to Moses, called him by name and said: “Take off your shoes, you stand on holy ground.”

What was God teaching Moses in this experience?

The ground on which Moses was standing was made holy not by the presence of Moses.
It was not made holy because of the place it was, because of the particular area of Midian or because of some special attributes.
Moses stood on ground made Holy because of the presence of God.

The very special thing about Moses’ experience was that God came to meet him, not the other way round.
When God presented himself to Moses, he asked him to connect to the ground on which he stood there and then, by removing his shoes.
God wanted Moses to appreciate the ordinariness of the ground on which he stood, the ground on which he walked and worked, the ground he was accustomed to, familiar with, comfortable on and to connect it to the place to which God was calling him.

God was asking Moses to connect with God in the place he stood and connect that place with where God was calling him to be.

The same call comes to us too, not just echoing through the centuries and the scriptures but clearly, boldly in the here and now of our everyday lives. God calls to us in our lives and in our places of work, rest or play and speaks the same sobering, yet vibrant and exciting words.

Do you constantly feel or have you been constantly told that you are ‘too old’ or ‘too young’ or ‘too worldly’ or ‘too spiritual’ or ‘too clever’ or ‘too thick’ or ‘too good’ or ‘too bad’ or ‘too liberal’ or ‘too conservative’ to be connected to the mission of God?

To each of you, God says: “Holy Ground” The ground on which you stand is made holy not by your presence, not because of where it is, but by God’s presence as he comes to you to meet you where you are.

What’s your position or place now and where do you think you are heading?
What is your whole life circumstance in which God comes to you and says: “Holy Ground”?
What can you see now that can connect to somewhere God might be calling you to?

Can you hear the love call of God saying: “Take off your shoes, you stand on holy ground”?

How could you find ways to listen out more carefully in your life to God’s call?

Whilst it could easily be argued that the whole world is ‘holy’ as “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1), the personal, intimate presence of God does make a profound difference.
I like to imagine my life journey with God as a constant walk through a continuous stretch of ‘holy ground’ being laid out in front of me.
In much the same way that ‘Ice Man’ created a frozen pathway for his feet, God paves the way ahead of me with his footsteps and says: “walk in my footprints, take off your shoes, you walk, with me on holy ground.”

(First published in Endeavour Magazine, December 2011 Edition)

Jubilee Economics

Jesus walks into a Synagogue and starts reading from Isaiah. (Sounds like the beginning of a joke doesn’t it!)

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Isaiah 61

And then he rolls up the scroll and sits down again!

This section in Luke 4:16-20 ends with the sentence:

The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him…

To which I would add “I bet they were!”

The Jesus story is well known, maybe not this bit, but much of it, yet the audacity of Jesus’ action here – coming in and reading only a few sentences from Isaiah’s prophecy, never ceases to have an impact on me.

The people in the synagogue would have wondered what in the world was going on.

The hindsight that we can view this passage from gives us a lot of perspective and the rest of the story, because most people (Christians especially) already know the ‘ending’, ends up detracting from the cultural, historical power that Jesus’ next words carried.

“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Picture it: Israel as a whole was occupied by a suppressive Roman presence. Perhaps the most potent section of the ‘great prophet’ – Isaiah – the most venerated among the ancient voices, was being firmly pushed in their faces by a comparatively young upstart Rabbi. He was claiming to be the one who was bringing “good news to the poor freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed.” That he was “proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour” possibly passed them by in their surprise.

But in many ways, that’s the really important bit! The ‘Year of the Lord’s favor’ is another way of saying ‘Jubilee’ as described in Leviticus 25.
Jesus was claiming that in his coming, true Jubilee was being declared.
The picture of Jubilee in Leviticus is one that encompassed some of the other things Isaiah spoke of, namely; freedom from slavery, cancelling debts, returning land to it’s historical family’s ownership. A vision of a utopian paradise where justice and equality were maintained, where the next generation of people were given another chance to get it right if their parents had messed up or a chance to make their own living rather than have it left to them by their well-to-do ancestors. Debts and bad decisions never lasted more than a generation – 50 years, and everyone got a huge party and a clean slate at least once in their lifetime.

Who wouldn’t want a part of that?

I was recently pointed towards this talk by Walter Bruggeman at Mars Hill and found it compelling, encouraging and challenging in equal measure. I say “found” but really I mean “find” because the clarity and freshness of his words loose nothing in the third, fourth or even fifth hearing.

Brueggeman encourages the Mars Hill community to re-vision what a ‘new Jerusalem’ might look like in the contemporary picture of failed economics and a society that has ruined itself on greed and corruption. The talk was given just after the ‘sub-prime‘ fallout and collapse of Freddy Mac & Fannie May in 2008, but I think it’s just as pertinent now as we watch the possible failure or even complete disintegration of the European Economic Community. In Brueggeman’s words, the message of Isaiah is teased out for the present, reminding us that God’s Kingdom is designed, not as an exclusive gentleman’s club where only the ‘pure and true Israelites’ (see Ezra Ch4:3, Ch7:10 and Ch9) were allowed in, but where even the people with “messed up sexuality”, those eunuchs that had ‘sold out to babylon’, compromised themselves to work in the King’s harem, the ‘foreigners’ (Isaiah 56:3-7) were also welcome. The only caveats that Isaiah includes are those of keeping Sabbath and of ‘neighbourliness’. That is, not being people that are preoccupied with production and consumption, of being stuck in the 24/7 world of consumerism, but in being people that are practicing the principals of jubilee. I love that one of Brueggeman’s key points was that our neighbourliness needs to impact our “private economic wellbeing”. If we don’t really feel any impact on our own quality of life when we give, are we giving enough? That’s not a rhetorical question, but it’s one I feel is worth (me at least) grappling with.

I would strenuously encourage you to listen to Brueggeman’s talk, it’s excellent.

Jesus’ arrival in the world, though he speaks out the words of Isaiah and embodied the prophesy, did not herald the completing of the fullness of God’s plan. We still live in a world where all the things Jesus said were ending in this proclamation are still going on, perhaps even more so.
Jesus’ proclamation of ‘Jubilee’ was as much a declaration of his own presence to begin the process of restoration as it was a promise of a future free from injustice, inequality or exclusivity.

No wonder the people at the time had some difficulty accepting the message, the same difficulty that people today still struggle with. We are too used to things being finished and all wrapped up in our time. We are impatient for the promise to be a current reality, but, much like the last episode of spooks, no matter what the fallout, no matter what struggles we face, life goes on. Our Job is to find ways to bring foretastes of the Kingdom of God into this world while we await it’s triumphant arrival. Can we do a better job than Israel who never managed to act out Jubilee?

Let’s live Jubilee lives, the world can’t afford to live ‘The Dream’ (especially not ‘The American Dream’), but we can all do with getting to grips with some individual redistribution here and now.

Jesus began the work of jubilee living by pouring himself out for the world – John says as Jesus approaches “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.

Can we continue the jubilee principals in our lives – giving generously and unselfishly to spread out the excess we have to those that need it?

Isaiah’s vision of Jubilee, pointed at the Israelite’s returning to their land, it pointed at Jesus, it pointed at us and it is still pointing beyond to the return of our King.

See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
“Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
They will not labour in vain,
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the LORD,
they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the LORD.
Isaiah 65:17-25

Third World Symphony

Shaun-Groves-Third-World-Symphony-iTunes-banner-728x90

Before 16th September 2011, I had never heard any music by Shaun Groves!
However, I have been a regular reader of his blog for several years.
In the process of releasing his latest album, Shaun had released various pre-mastered, development versions of his song “All is Grace“, none of which I listened to, yet I still bought the album. In fact, I pre-ordered the album and then I bought it on iTunes too.

Before you think I’m completely mad doing this, there are two reasons why I chose to do this.

  1. I wanted to listen to the album in its entirety without any previous Shaun Groves music experience so I could write as objective a review as possible.
  2. I bought into the reasons Shaun was writing the music, I resonate completely with the way he lives and the principals he subscribes to and the background to why he wrote the album.

The reason I went “crazy” not only contributing to the ‘Kickstarter’ project to raise money for Shaun to record in the first place and pre-ordering the CD, but also buying the digital version was that I believe in what Shaun was doing / trying to do / is doing.

So Here goes.

Since I bought it, I’ve listened to almost nothing else on my iPod (save for a couple of Mars Hill / Gerard Kelly podcasts). Because the album is that good.

The album as a whole is ‘bite-sized’, it takes just over 37 minutes to listen to which is, I think comparatively short in album terms. That’s no criticism, I like how you can listen to the whole thing fairly quickly and have a really nice overview of the music and lyrics.

The things that most struck me about the album as a whole are the clarity of Shaun’s voice and the excellent instrumental balance throughout. I really love the mandolin and banjo in there and the rhythm section discreetly sets the whole thing off very well.
Somehow, though it’s all new music, new songs, new words, none of which I’d heard before, the album immediately had a familiarity which I can only attribute to the fantastic ability of the profoundly gifted songwriter and musically mature creative spirit that Shaun shows himself to be in this album.

The only drawback for me, which is purely a personal preference is the flute on some of the tracks. Possibly because it seems from the credits that it must have been a synthesized flute not a real one (I might need to be corrected by Shaun on that?) but possibly because I have an incomprehensible, inexplicable dislike of the flute.

Initially I thought that there were too many ‘2 bars intro then add the vocals’ type of tracks, but the more I listen to it, the less that strikes me and I think the balance of differing styles of the songs fit really neatly together.

On to the individual tracks. All lyrics can be found at the Third World Symphony lyrics page.

  1. All Is Grace
    What an opener! (aside of my mild annoyance at the flute bit) Every time I listen to this track, I get shivers down my spine. The clear tone of Shaun’s voice, coupled with the lovely jangle of the mandolin makes a beautiful rolling, building song that naturally climaxes through the choruses and the unresolved ending is so completely fitting. Leaving the end of the song on an unresolved chord immediately gives me images of this ongoing journey, echoing the sentiments of the lyrics that “You have loved us all so We love all”, It’s not a process that is finished, It’s something that continues daily, hourly, remembering the Love God has for us, evoking our response to love others as part of our expression of love for God.
    My lovely wife was slightly confused by the breathy way that Shaun sings “All” for “All is grace”, making it sound a bit like “Hall is grace”. For me, I quite like it but then I knew the title and the lyrics and she didn’t when she first heard it.
  2. Come By Here
    Another ripsnorter of a song, it’s catchy it sticks in your head, the words again are delicately sung and right ‘on the button’: a plea for God to bring his Kingdom here on earth sooner, not for selfish reasons or personal gain, but for the good of the world, especially the downtrodden and rejected.
    I particularly love the tinglefactor that I get from the combination of the musical pause and Shaun’s impassioned “come and meet us here” at the beginning of the final chorus.
  3. Kingdom Coming
    With similar sentiments to the previous song, I might have put this song much later in the album, maybe even at the end, not just because of that, but also because of the cascading, more fully orchestral-style climax of the song, which lends it to be a bit of a ‘showstopper’ or finale piece. Once again, I like the open, unresolved chord that it ends on, musically creating the expectation, the anticipation and eagerness for God’s Kingdom to come fully as well as the ongoing call for it to come through us in the way we live.
  4. Sing
    Another solid, catchy melody. I like the song, I don’t have a lot else to say about it!
  5. Awake My Soul
    Shaun has infused this song with ‘essence of good quality indy-brit-pop’ and reminded me of all the bits of Radiohead that I really enjoyed. The feeling of the chord sequences took me back to (weirdly enough) “Karma Police” from “OK Computer” though quite different in content! The other song it brought back to me was “True Love” by “Phil Wickham” which is probably a more flattering comparison.
    Similarities to other songs to one side, I love this song, the haunting tune and guitar with plenty of reverb on it give it the feeling of a passionate appeal to the apathetic heart of middle-class, wealthy, comfortable Christianity to really respond to the longing love call of our intimate God.
  6. I’ve Got You
    I think this song is lovely. Shaun wrote a blog post about what inspired him to write that track and reading it, combined with the simple beauty of this song, both musically and lyrically, never ceases to soften my hard, cold, cynical heart.
    As soon as I get a link to the original post (because it has disappeared!) I’ll stick it in here, it’s worth reading.
  7. Enough
    This song is fantastic in every way even though the upbeat, bouncy tune seems to be slightly out of keeping with the subject material in my mind. First time I heard it, it made me think of Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago” (also a fabulous track).
    The theology behind the song is so right and yet so far from the experience of so many western Christians and more to the point non-Christian observers. Which is a shame but also the very reason EVERYBODY needs to listen to this album. Shaun Writes here and here about ‘Enough’ (and in plenty of other places in his blog). Shaun is a man that lives what he believes and it’s a fantastic way to show the Gospel – your life displays the Gospel of Jesus when it looks like good news for other people, not just yourself.
  8. No Better
    This might be my least favourite song on the album, (despite the great mandolin work) though I do still like it. Partly because I’ve never really got into country or bluegrass and partly because I guess it speaks most revealingly to my own vulnerabilities, sins and shortcomings. When a song like this shines it’s spotlight on your life, it gets pretty uncomfortable. For me, it’s a timely reminder not to judge others, because as Shaun says “I’m no better”.
    That said, the chorus is pretty catchy and sticks in the head. One other thing… it seems to end a bit abruptly.
  9. Down Here
    Listening to ‘Down Here’ always brings a lump to my throat and I’ve been pretty close to tears a few times. It’ beautiful and compelling, music fits the words like a glove and the symphonic nature of the climactic second chorus is something of a musical masterpiece.
    The epilogue section of the song really rounds it off to be filled with truth and hope, the kind of hope that speaks to the heart of all people that ‘death does not have the last word’ because we believe in resurrection and in the words of Rob Bell, “resurrection announces that God has not given up on the world”.
  10. Just as I am
    Shaun added this traditional song at the end of the album for some very good reasons. And I won’t steal his words so you can read them for yourselves here and here.
    I really love this version of the song with Shaun’s extra words.

I mentioned my lovely wife earlier, and she’s generally not a massive fan of music that isn’t classical in genre, being a very talented lady with an honours degree in music, but she really liked the album too. A definite sign it’s really, really, really good.

You really should buy this album, from iTunes, or Amazon or Direct.
I Promise, Promise Promise I’m not getting any commission. Shaun doesn’t even know me, but You Have to hear it, buy it, support it. And if you like, Go sponsor a child too, it’s a really good and fun thing to do.

Listen to the album below.
Third World Symphony by shaungroves

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