Real Faith for a Real Life in a Real World.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

So This is Christmas...

The original Christmas, when God gave his Son to the world, is arguably the most momentous event in history.  Yet, in our modern world, the season is almost entirely devoid of its real significance: its true meaning has been buried under a landslide of glitter! Transient pleasure has become the focus whereas the real meaning encompasses our deepest need and highest purpose.

The predominant atmosphere is one of jollity and fun.  The shops are full of tinsel and music and the chirping of cash registers.  Christmas is a time for children, family gatherings, parties and revelry; for giving and receiving gifts.  Even so, for others it is a crippling expense, a rekindling of family feuds.  For some, the merriment casts their hopelessness into such stark relief that it becomes the time when they are most likely to commit suicide…

Christmas should fill us with hope.

Isaiah foretells a human child who would be called ‘Mighty God, the Everlasting Father.’  He would be the ‘Wonderful Counsellor’, well able to help and guide needy people, and the ‘Prince of Peace’, who would reconcile God and man (Is. 9:6). 

It is mind-boggling that God’s Son identified with our human condition so completely, retaining no special advantage.  He ‘… made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.’  Jesus came as a real human baby and, like us, he would have cried, suckled, had the same bodily functions, cut his teeth just as painfully, and kept his parents awake at night.  He experienced all the trials of humanity.  His family was lowly, his parentage questionable.  His homeland was under military occupation and its politicians duplicitous.  He faced immense personal pressures, being ‘tempted in every way, just as we are—yet … without sin.’ (Heb 4:15).

If God became flesh and dwelt among us in such a way, it must have been with very good reason.  Our highest purpose is to glorify God, to know him and enjoy him forever.  We were designed to live in relationship with him.  God is the context we need truly to enjoy the world he gave us. 

Our trouble is that we have taken ourselves out of context; declaring our independence, we make our own decisions about how to live.  We take liberties with God-given delights.  Eating is enjoyable but our gluttony leaves millions starving.  Sex in a loving marriage brings pleasure but we take it wherever we can at the expense of ourselves and those we exploit.  Comfort is desirable but we amass transient possessions to the neglect of eternity.  Serving others brings fulfilment but we serve ourselves and leave others in want.  We love ourselves more than our neighbour and disregard God completely.  Our highest purpose is beyond our grasp.  Our deepest need is for a saviour who can rescue us from our predicament.

Christ came to Bethlehem with Calvary in mind.  He was given ‘the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ (Mat 1:21).  At Calvary, Christ gave his life for ours and now all who depend on him find the Father’s welcome.  Our deepest need is met and our highest purpose is once more attainable.

We have so much because of Christmas: God’s Spirit within us, strength for today and the brightest of hopes for tomorrow; joy in this life, even amidst its troubles, and everlasting treasure in heaven!  This Christmas, let us seek to bless those in our world for whom Christmas holds no joy.  May all our celebrations, our giving, and our hospitality, be permeated with the joy and generosity of spirit that flows from above.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Throwing Caution to the Wind

By nature, I am a cautious man. I like to know I am secure and my instinctive response to a new challenge is to assess the sufficiency of my resources. My life could be described as a punctuated equilibrium, to borrow a once-popular scientific term. The punctuation marks are the choices that led from one plateau of stability to another, each with different characteristics.

The positive transitions have been those events when I acted against my nature and took risks. Twice I have gone against parental pressure, leaving a safe apprenticeship to return to school and take my A-levels, and then leaving a safe-but-boring office job to do a physics degree. Twice I have ventured alone from the safety of my home environment, firstly to do that degree at a distant university, secondly to take a job in an unknown city. Latterly, I stepped nearer to a perceived financial precipice by moving to a costlier but deeply satisfying home in the country. Interestingly, the worst times in my life have resulted from transitions where I followed the 'safe' course: taking that boring office job, moving back home after my first degree, deciding to stay there when my parents split up, passing up a couple of opportunities to move away sooner. In my experience, the safe option may bring stability but rarely growth and discovery.

Our abilities and limitations are not bad in themselves. In fact, they can give us a good steer on our calling in life: I am good with computers, good enough to earn a reasonable living in the field, but, although I can cook well, I would never survive as a chef! The danger we face is to limit ourselves to only those opportunities that lie within our perceived limitations. Indeed, we can be so cautious as to never discover our boundaries; failure is always a possibility of risk-taking but so is adventure, and even failure teaches us valuable lessons.

In the spiritual realm, I have discovered that my natural caution mitigates against faith. Please note that I am not equating faith with recklessness: Jesus himself said we should not start to build a tower if we do not have the resources to complete it. Someone has said that faith is spelt, R-I-S-K, and so it is because it demands that we operate beyond our inherent abilities. Then again, it is not so because it does not demand that we operate without resources: God provides more than adequately for the work that he gives us.

The Bible tells us that God is real, that he loves us, that he is with us and that he wants to work in this world through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is full of people who have demonstrated that. The best example of all is Jesus Christ himself, 'who, being in very nature God, ... made himself nothing ... being made in human likeness' (Phil 2:6ff). Even if we set aside the eternal salvation that he won for us (not that I would wish to), look at what he achieved: he changed the world, just by doing the things he saw the Father doing in reliance on the Holy Spirit. We too are human. We too have the same Holy Spirit, if we are his.

Over the years, I have acquired a sound grasp of biblical doctrine and theology. If this knowledge finds no practical use, amassing it is like working out just to develop an impressive-looking body. This knowledge does not in itself amount to faith. Even believing in the truth of this knowledge does not amount to faith. Faith is active: it is a way of life.

Down the years, my spiritual journey has mirrored my natural one: when I have taken the risks of faith I have grown, and the safe route has led to stagnation. Faith only grows if we use it, otherwise it atrophies. For those of us who are risk-averse, the acting out of faith can be a big problem. We cannot discover the real adventure of walking with God unless we live what we claim to believe. My real experience of God did not start on the night I became a Christian, it began when I took the risk of telling my schoolmates what I had done. Knowing the doctrine about the gifts of the Holy Spirit is not nearly so enriching as receiving my first word of knowledge and having the courage to share it.

The development of our faith is a journey that starts from where we are. In whatever condition we find ourselves, we can begin exercising again and improve it. As we use faith in small ways, God reveals the reality of his provision and encourages bigger steps. Each step can seem risky: what if we get it wrong? We may find that we are not designed for some avenues of service but that is OK: for mistakes there is grace and, I believe, the warm smile of God for trying. Ask a different question: what will we miss out on if we back away from the challenge? What might happen when God prompts you to do an act of kindness for someone, to speak a word, to stand up for the oppressed, to pray for healing?

We may well miss our vocation by not taking risks of faith. If we are prepared to step out with God, he will lead us into our calling. We can discover the things that our Father is doing and, just like Jesus, engage with them. The life of active faith is a voyage of discovery, and the route is uncertain. The important thing is to venture forth, allowing the wind of the Spirit to fill our sails; only when we are under way can we be steered. We get nowhere by staying in port.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Even More Poetic Meditations

I forgot to mention my latest two poetic efforts inspired by the events of a Passover weekend a couple of thousand years ago. You can see them on the Poetry section. They are God's Friday and Son's Day Morning.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Love - A Meditation Based on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Being loved by you is amazing.

Often – if I’m honest – I’m slow to catch on to your leading, or even just plain difficult to deal with. I sometimes wonder why you bother but you don’t shout at me, or force me into submission. I’m sure I frustrate you but you keep on showing patience.

There are times of worship I have known, both in a corporate context and on my own, when you have touched my life and made me feel so happy; not because I’ve deserved it, just because you are kind and you love me.

You’ve no reason to envy me; I have nothing you need, and I don’t compare well… It doesn’t bother you that I have time in my life for things other than you. I rather think that you take pleasure in what my God-given faculties are attuned to. You give generously, and are happy that I enjoy what you give.

If anyone has anything to brag about, you have; you made everything and it all belongs to you. You’re the only genuine Mr Big there is but you don’t use shock and awe tactics. You come alongside me quietly, without intimidating me, and that fills me with awe.

You came to our mess of a world as a servant. You played down your miracles, washed your disciples’ feet. Now, you seek out my lowly company, and that makes me feel special.

You never belittle or insult me – although I know I am nothing and you could quite justifiably call me all manner of horrible names; I have never known you be rude or off-hand or dismissive towards me.

You are the only being in existence who deserves worship, the only one worthy of glory – fact – but our relationship doesn’t seem to be about your getting glory at my expense. On the contrary, you want me to be like you, to share all that you are.

There’s no denying that my behaviour has been extremely provoking at times, and I couldn’t complain if you rained fire down on me. I’m not saying that you’ve never been angry with me but it seems to have taken a lot of effort on my part…

Even when I have messed up, and you out-manoeuvre me, get me cornered and make me face up to my mistakes and failures, once the matter has been dealt with, it’s gone. You never rake up the past and each incident is like the first with you.

You hate it when I mess up and suffer consequences, it doesn’t please you that I bring pain on myself; there’s no, ‘Told you so,’ from you. On the other hand, you absolutely love it when I get real. So do I.

You have spoken to me about difficulties I would have to face so that, when I faced them, I had somewhere to take shelter, something to hold on to, something that guaranteed I would get through the trial. You always protect me from ultimate disaster.

I’m far from perfect; even so, you let me take an active part in what you are doing, letting me loose in the lives of others. For some reason, you still trust me, despite the times when I’ve proven unworthy of your trust. When I reflect on that, it makes me want to do it right. Your love inspires me to better things.

Whatever I am now, you always see what I will be when your work is finished. You never, ever give up hope; you already know what the outcome will be! Your hope gives me hope, and I don’t have to live a life based on my past.

I’m still on the potter’s wheel being shaped, worked, and reworked. Even when – at least from my perspective – all seems lost, you keep on working. Thank you for that. Thank you, big-time.

You know what? You will achieve your aim for my life. You will transform me into your image. One day, I shall be like you. It is inconceivable that you, or your love for me, could ever fail. It's wonderful that you are growing that same love in me.

Being loved by you is amazing.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

My First Break

My first paid publication has appeared in The Plain Truth. You can read it on the magazine's website. It's only a short article but it's a start.