Category: God’s love

scarred love

 

There have been several major tragic events in the UK in the past few weeks, involving significant loss of life and injury, and my heart goes out to all who have been bereaved or injured.

Recognising and honouring the incredible acts of selfless generosity and heroism that have been shown in response to these events is one way in which we can respond with hope and resilience in the face of tragedy. Responses in these extreme circumstances are of hope not hate, of kindness not cruelty, of love not loathing, of heroism not hesitation. These responses (to me) reveal glimpses of the intended qualities of the One who created human nature.

There are different levels of human culpability in these horrendous events (by which I mean that I am not wishing to prejudge the outcome of any inquiry, trial, etc). We have to accept that if humans had not acted in certain ways these tragedies may have been avoided or far less tragic. We also recognise that there is a pernicious quality to the evil side of life.

 

So what do we do?

Scream

Rage

Weep

Sit in dumbfounded silence

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All of these and more. I think that we need to be honest with ourselves about how we feel as a first step towards being honest with one another. What emotions are we feeling? Why do we feel these things?

One response to these sorts of event is regret expressed as ‘if only’. If only’ regrets can be corrosive. They can eat away at our ability to confront the impact of what has happened and begin the long process of coming come to terms with it and how we feel about it. But I can’t help feeling a deep sense of ‘if only’ regret on behalf of the victims. All suffering and death is a vile reminder that things are not as they should be, but somehow when the victims are those we would deem to be ‘innocent’ that exacerbates our sense of outrage and indignation that it should maraud savagely into our relatively well-ordered society. So we wonder whether it could have been prevented?

‘If only’ also looks for someone to blame: someone should have done something differently. Often that ‘someone’ is someone who is not known to us. It is much more difficult to cope with when ‘if only’ points the finger of blame and someone closer to home, or even to us. The ‘if only’ blame requires someone to resign or to be convicted or to apologise. And while collectively we may feel better when that happens we transfer the blame to that person / organisation and we distance ourselves from it. But the regret remains.

If you want to blame someone, by all means blame God. If you want to complain about the injustice then give him your best shot. He can cope with the raging lashing-out of hurting people.

Writing this post today I remembered writing a lament to God a few years ago for those who died when a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane was shot out of the sky over Ukraine. I was surprised to find that this was 18th July 2014 – how was it so long ago and how had I forgotten all about it?

Did you hear the 298 30,000 foot screams? Do you know who pressed the button: do you know if they feel guilty? Did you fall with them? Do you share the grief of the parents, partners, children who have an unexpected chasm opened up in their life? Do you know how angry we feel about it?

Do you care about the people of Ukraine, because we have replaced them with new news? Do you understand the depth of division that is so deep that people have given up on politics and taken up guns? Do you know how many people have died unseen by the world’s media and unnoticed by most of us?

Do you know how many people are buried in the rubble of Gaza or how many have escaped with their lives but that’s all they have left? Do you comprehend the incomprehensible hatred that fires random rockets and retaliates with missiles that infuriate and motivate more rockets that exasperate and lead to invasion? Do you weep with the families of four young boys who had been playing football on the beach until the shells hit?

And then there’s the Islamic insurgency in Nigeria, civil war in South Sudan, ongoing uprisings in Afghanistan, destruction and devastation in Syria and Iraq, and so many more. We name countries because the people are unknown to us and because it makes it easier for us to cope rather than think of all of the individuals.

Does the inhumanity make you weep? Does it make you regret? Does it erode hope?

It’s wrong. So wrong. Words can’t express it. But they are all you have given me.

One of the consequences of our global news social media world is that, while we feel the impact of each new tragedy more keenly because we see footage from camera phones from those who were there and we hear eyewitness accounts almost as they happen, we move onto the next one fairly rapidly with an almost macabre fascination. I could easily change the words above to reflect the most recent events. And in a few weeks’ time perhaps (please God no) there will be new events to replace those…

But when you are screaming at God when these things happen, ask him where he was and is.

God is not indifferent to our suffering.

At the risk of being insensitive to those who are suffering in ways far beyond anything I can imagine I do believe that part of the answer to that is that he is with us, he is in the pain, he feels the impact, he is screaming the screams of anguish. Why? Because he loves each one of us with love that goes far beyond that of any parent or child. He loves us because he made us lovingly. When his beloved ones are damaged, ruined, destroyed, and defiled his love – even though it remains undiminished – becomes a scarred love.

Be blessed, be a blessing

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post-truth?

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The word ‘post-truth’ has been declared the Oxford Dictionaries word of 2016. It is an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. It emerged this year to try to describe the way in which the UK Referendum on EU Membership and the US Presidential election were conducted and how people voted.

I am not keen on the word. It’s not because I don’t think that both the UK and US campaigns were marked by misleading, emotive and undeniably false claims and statements aimed and getting an emotional response and appealing to less honourable human instincts. It’s not because I don’t think that people were unaffected by these claims and statements. It’s because I don’t think that ‘post-truth’ is the root of the problem.

People have always responded to others with a combination of heart and head. And that has always been exploited from the time that Thag persuaded Ug (remember them from yesterday?) to come hunting with him with the promise of a full tummy at the end of it right through to advertising campaigns and political debates today. What I think has changed is that those who are seeking to affect public opinion are no longer being held accountable for what they say.

Part of the responsibility for this lies with us, the general public. We have allowed things to slide: by not challenging disingenuous statements in the past an environment has evolved in which it is acceptable knowingly to make outrageously false statements and get away with it.

Part of the responsibility for this lies with the media – television, TV, radio. They need headlines that grab our attention. Why else do newspapers devote so much of their front page to a few words in massive print? Why else to news programmes trail the rest of the programme with sentence summaries of what is coming? And the more outrageous the headline, the more likely we are to pay attention to it. Why else did a bus get driven around the country with “We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead” plastered down the side? It got a lot of publicity because it was considered headline-worthy, even though those who were funding it had no intention or power to use any saving from leaving the EU to fund the NHS.

Part of the responsibility (and I think the biggest part) lies with our culture in which ‘the end justifies the means’ has become one of our mantras.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to buy the goods we want for the cheapest possible price because we want to maximise what we have while ignoring the price paid (literally and metaphorically) by those who are the sharp end of the production process.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to tell lies about someone else in order to protect or enhance our reputation without considering the impact on the other person.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to feel okay about polluting our planet in order to allow the rich minority in the world to continue to live in the manner to which we are accustomed.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to salve our consciences when innocent civilians are killed by ill-directed bombs or drone strikes in the so-called war on terror.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to make false statements in order to try to get elected or the outcome we want from a referendum.

I don’t like to think we are in a post-truth era. I think we are in an era where we are reaping a harvest from a lack of love. Not mushy romantic love or sweaty sexual love, but dogged, belligerent, ‘want-the-best-for-you’ love in which we value every single person has as much as we value ourselves.

You see, when you love someone like that you don’t want to deceive, dishonour or destroy them because they matter so much. Rather you want to respect, encourage and bless them with the way that you speak to them and treat them. You are not indifferent to their suffering, anguish or despair. Rather you want to alleviate suffering, comfort and affirm them.

Perhaps we are not in a ‘post-truth’ society so much as a ‘post-love’. What would a political campaign look like that was based on that sort of love? What would a life look like that was based on that sort of love? (Hint, if you want to know read one of the Gospels in the Bible).

Be blessed, be a blessing

a love story

This Sunday morning in my sermon I will be exploring Hosea (the whole book). Every time I come to Hosea I find myself thinking, “What would I do if I was in Hosea’s position?” How would I feel? How would I cope?

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Hosea’s story is a love story… of sorts. The narrative is fascinating: Hosea set aside his personal preferences and on God’s instruction married a woman, Gomer, who was of dubious reputation (to say the least). This was to be a prophetic symbol to the nation of Israel about how God saw them – promiscuously pursuing other gods. He even named his children with names that spoke prophetically – how would I feel if God told me to name my daughter ‘Not Loved’?! And then there’s the emotional pain and heartache of Gomer’s further unfaithfulness and prostitution.

God not only told Hosea to take her back but he actually BOUGHT her back – perhaps paying off her pimp! Again, this was to be a prophetic sign of how God was going to treat Israel for a season (Hosea bought Gomer back but they were to abstain from sexual intimacy for many days and in the same way Israel’s return would be gradual). It’s only 14 chapters into the book (the final chapter) that there is a glimmer of hope for Israel as Hosea the prophet finishes denouncing them and instead announces the possibility of return to God, forgiveness, reconciliation and a renewed relationship with him. Hosea went through an emotional and reputational wringer in order to give the people God’s message. Some of you may be empathising with him a little! But he was willing to allow his whole life to be a message from God, not only his words. It’s a love story where we are Gomer and God is Hosea.

Ministers can feel a pressure (it may come from within or from outside us) to be a shining example of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and not admit to any weakness. We can present ‘supercope’ to our people: nothing fazes us and we are as close to Jesus as it is possible to be this side of heaven (I exaggerate for comedic effect) (I think). But do we really want people to look at us and see a message from God that it’s wrong to admit weakness and that we never struggle? That’s not a message we find in the Bible: read Romans 7 if you doubt me!

It is important for people to know that we are trying our best with God’s Spirit’s help, they need to see leadership from their clergy, and the qualities of a leader are clear in the Bible. But I believe that we also need to admit that we are fallible, that we are not perfect, and that we don’t have it all together. I’m not talking about airing all of our dirty laundry – we have to be sensible about what we share. But how often are we prepared to be vulnerable about our own doubts, failings and struggles? Can we admit to people that we make mistakes – even Ministers who have trained, studied and are set apart for ministry? Do we dare allow the admission of our mistakes to be a message from God  – that no follower of Jesus is perfect but when we struggle, fail or even doubt there is hope because his Spirit is in us? Does admitting our struggles strengthen or weaken the message that there is the possibility of return to God, forgiveness, reconciliation and a renewed relationship with him?

What message from God do people get when they look at you?

Be blessed, be a blessing

I don’t think Facebook really cares about me

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Early Facebook?

 

When I log on to Facebook now I often get reminded of a post I made a few years ago on the same date with the heading, “Your memories on Facebook”. I quite like that, it reminds me of things that I had forgotten had happened and people with whom I was in touch at that time.

The text under that heading reads: “Nick, we care about you and the memories you share here. We thought that you’d like to look back on this post from x years ago.”

Now I seriously doubt that Facebook care about me. There are over 1.5 billion users of Facebook and I don’t think that Facebook actually cares about each one of us as an individual even though the message is personalised.

Equally I don’t think they care about the memories I share on Facebook. They care whether or not I keep on being active on Facebook and want me to keep posting on Facebook in order that they continue to gain advertising revenue and sustain the business model under which they operate.

And I am pretty sure that they didn’t think about me and whether I would like to look back on a particular post. I suspect (cynical? me?) that there is a program running at Facebook HQ that picks out posts from previous years and lobs them onto my page for me to consider. No human thought was involved in selecting that memory for me.

I like the reminders of the memories, but I don’t like what feels like an attempt by a Faceless Corporation to try to personalise my experience and make me think that I am a valued customer. I know that it’s exactly the same experience as all of the other 1.5 billion users. They don’t care about me. They don’t think about me.

And sometimes I wonder whether that is how people experience God through Christians: almost as if we have a stock computer-generated response that may look on the surface as if it is personal but actually is more of a platitude: “Jesus loves you.”

How do people know that Jesus loves them? Not just because some random stranger tells them. Please note: I am not discounting random encounters but most people find faith in God through a long process of engagement with friends and family who are followers of Jesus. They know it because they experience it as true in the lives and words of those they know and trust. They know it because people they know and trust have taken the time to listen to them, to understand them and to love them unconditionally.

And that’s a challenge to me. Do I care about my friends and family? Do I care about the memories and experiences that have helped shape them and am I willing to listen to them? Have I thought about what they would like? How good a free sample of Jesus am I? Is it clear that I share my faith because I care about those people?

Be blessed, be a blessing

how do you read the Bible?

How do you read the Bible?

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Open Bibles are generally easier to read than closed ones.

That question has a range of answers from the simple: “You open the book and read the words on the pages” to the complex: “You need to understand the culture surrounding the events and you need to understand the form of literature that you are reading.”

Actually both are accurate and fair answers to that question. But I want to frame it slightly differently: do you read the Bible searching for answers to life’s problems and complexities or do you read it looking for wisdom to help you work out how to approach life’s problems and complexities? It may seem like an esoteric exercise in semantics (and tricky words) to pose the question that way but I think the answer is important because it affects how we approach life.

I have a book on my bookshelf that I have had since I was a teenager. No, it wasn’t written on a scroll, but it was published in 1978. It’s called The Answer’s In The Bible. And I think for a lot of my life that’s how I have approached the Bible – looking for answers. I have looked to find out what the Bible says about issues that I face. Sometimes, I admit, I have even naively used it to justify my own actions by taking some verses out of context as an answer (you could use Matthew 25:27 as an argument to save money in a bank and not give it away, but that’s not what the parable is about). But the Bible doesn’t have direct answers for a lot of the questions we might ask today because those things could not have been anticipated in the days in which it was written. It does not have anything to say directly about the internet, computers, cars, aeroplanes, television, space exploration and so much more that we take for granted in our 21st Century cultures and lifestyles. And the Bible’s silence on some issues causes us problems if we are just looking for answers on what to do when…

Okay Christians, put the stones down gently and step away. Or at least don’t lob them at me just yet, please – read on…

You see I do believe that the Bible gives us access to God’s wisdom which enables us to work out what to do and how to approach life’s problems and complexities. The wisdom of God is contained throughout the pages of the Bible*. But there are two overarching themes through the Bible – God’s LOVE and JUSTICE – and they are at the heart of his wisdom.

They trump anything else. And if Love and Justice seem to be in conflict then Love wins every time in the form of grace and mercy. If you want the ultimate example of it you find it in what the Bible has to say about Jesus’ death and resurrection: God’s love and justice are both involved, but love wins even as he dies. (The resurrection proves it!)

So if you decide to look for Biblical wisdom rather than answers what does the Bible say about the internet and computers, for example? Nothing directly, as I have said. But it talks (from a starting point of being loving and just) about being honest, not gossiping, not lusting, not expressing hatred for others, good administration, and a lot more. That wisdom can shape good use.

And the great thing about seeking Godly wisdom from the Bible rather than just answers is that the wisdom crosses boundaries of time, culture, geography, ethnicity and any of the other things that can make it difficult for us to apply those words to our lives today. The Bible is not a rule-book to be followed or an instruction manual to help us maintain our lives. It is God’s wisdom expressed as love and justice seen through his interaction with humanity (especially seen in Jesus where the two are combined wonderfully).

So how do you read the Bible? Searching for answers or looking for wisdom?

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Even the apparently esoteric rules and regulations of Leviticus contain wisdom: not wearing clothes woven of two different kinds of thread (Leviticus 19:19) is about ensuring that clothes will last and provide value for money because when washed different threads are liable to shrinkage and may either weaken or even tear the garment, which could also lead to public embarrassment.

not much has happened

Dear Bloggists, sorry that it has been a while since my last bloggage. Not much has happened in the intervening time…

We have been on holiday to Sweden, meeting up with lots of Sally’s friends (and me making new friends). So I have seen lots of lakes, lots of words that in Swedish are normal but in English are funny (such as the delicious chocolate sweet in this photo).

I have seen castles and visited the Royal Palace at Drottningholm (in my mind a bit like Windsor Palace for the Queen in the UK as it’s a bit out of Stockholm). I have walked in a national park and heard some interesting noises that may or may not have been an elk or a wild boar.

I have discovered a new special concept: fika. This is stopping for tea / coffee and a cake, and can be at any time. Indeed as I write this bloggage I am also enjoying fika with a cup of coffee and the last of the Swedish cinnamon buns we brought back.

I have performed some magic for some of our Swedish friends, and also for an 8 year-old daughter of the friend of one of our Swedish friends on her birthday. It’s quite a challenge performing illusions when you don’t share a language, but it seemed to go well. I think an open mouth and wide eyes means the same thing for audiences in most languages!

And I have performed magic with a message at Heart for Harlow’s town centre service (not long after two women performed songs from Disney’s Frozen, complete with costumes.

I have had the date confirmed for my interview to join the Magic Circle. If I get through the interview I will then have an examination (audition) to perform later on.

We have been welcomed into Membership of our local church, South Woodham Evangelical Church.

Oh yes, and my friend Richard Jones only went and won Britain’s Got Talent! Well done Richard! You can see the two of us performing together last year here at the end of a show when we hired out a local village hall. I guess his days of performing in village halls may be over!

So not much has happened.

It is easy to get caught up and carried away with events, especially when they are either really positive or really negative, and forget that God wants us to involve him in these things too. When it’s good we sometimes forget to be grateful to him. When it’s bad we sometimes forget to call out to him (unless it’s to blame him).

I have written before about having an attitude of gratitude, and I am so grateful for all of the above experiences.

I am grateful that when things are not so good I know that I do not have to face those things alone. I know that He is with me when I walk through the darkest valley and I am grateful that nothing can separate me from his love.

I guess I am even grateful for the ability to be grateful. And I am also grateful that I have someone to be grateful to. If you don’t have a relationship with God, who are you able to be grateful to?

Today why not try listing things for which you are grateful, and be grateful to the One who gave you the ability to be grateful?

Be blessed, be a blessing

in anticipation of St Valentine

words

This morning there was a discussion on the radio that reminded me that William Shakespeare invented over 1700 new words and phrases that are now in common usage in the English Language. Wow! When you consider that the average vocabulary is perhaps 35,000 words (wow again), that’s quite a significant proportion of words that have come from Stratford Bill.

Regular visitors here will know that I quite like inventing words myself. I’m not setting myself up in comparison with Billy S, but I do like playing with concepts and ideas and sounds and allowing them to merge into something new.

I have attempted words like ambisomnorous, franticipation, technoloiterate and of course regularly use bloggage, bloggerel, bloggists and derivatives thereof. If you want to know what they mean (as if it’s not obvious) stick the words in the search engine on this site and see what mania lies within my synapses.

There are new words in the Bible as well. Perhaps the most remarkable is ‘agape’. It’s pronounced ‘a gap ay’. The word only existed as a verb before the Bible was written but when the Old Testament was first translated into Greek (it was originally written down in Hebrew, having been faithfully passed down from generation to generation in verbal form) they used the verb as a noun.

A simple translation is ‘love‘. It’s something the shops have us thinking about a lot at the moment with cards and gifts and hearts everywhere designed to make them some money out of our love for others. But it’s so much more than that. It’s not romantic. It’s not sexual. It doesn’t depend on familial relationships. It is more and act of will than an emotion. It’s delight in the well-being of the one who is loved; it’s a love that is so deep that one is willing to give up one’s own life for the one who is loved; it is blessing, faithfulness, commitment and goodwill rolled into one.

It’s the lens through which God sees us. It’s the way that Jesus treated other people. It’s what led Jesus to die on the cross in our place. It’s the essence of God.

And it doesn’t come naturally. Naturally we are selfish, self-serving, self-promoting. Our natural instinct is to preserve ourselves, our status, our possessions at all costs. Evolutionary biologists would talk about the survival instinct within us.

So how come such a love as ‘agape’ exists? It comes from God. It points us to God. It enables us to catch a glimpse of God. It is a gift from God. And it is evidence of his Spirit at work in us.

To whom can you show agape today?

Be blessed, be a blessing.