I love the title “Surprised By Hope”. Especially that Surprise. That Jesus was much more than was expected both of those who expected only a man and of those who expected God to come in a way they thought was right. He shatters both of those assumptions. To the person who wants just a man, just the material they were used to, they’re faced with someone who heals and brings back from the dead. And to those who expected God to come as bright light, fire and full-blown deity they got a puny man dying the death of insurrectionists and false prophets. Then it ties up in the resurrection with the man who is immeasurably more than Man yet is man, standing before his closest ones. All boxes were broken for something immeasurably better to be witnessed taking place during those days from Cross to Resurrection into Now.
Salvation to bestow;
But they refused, and none
the longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.” —Samuel Crossman
Russian – Vladmir Nabokov describes it best: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”
I like this word. Not because it speaks of anything good, it seems a decidedly negative one, but it sums up in two syllables something that takes paragraphs to say in English. Maybe English should absorb this one too, into the amorphous amoeba-like globule that is our vocabulary.
Many of the rest are funnier…
I am filled with excitement.
“[Phoebe Palmer] formed the spirituality that formed me. She changed the world. Who am I to even think of defending her?
By any standards, she was one of the most powerful preachers, and most influential leaders, of nineteenth-century American evangelicalism.
For me to try to defend her ministry would be as ridiculous as a worm trying to defend a lion.”” —
Rev. Dr. Steve Holmes, St Marys College, St Andrews University.
Happy Women’s Day
Today the idea of a ‘mess’ theology was brought up in our Pastoral Theology seminar. Things are messy, this world is messy. When we take theology out of the clean orderly world of logic and systematic theology we find that we then have to carry those truths into a world that is dark and gross and chaotic and messy. Yet the difference is where God was once an idea, a ‘being’, bound by who He was and who He revealed Himself to be, we step into the mess and find that in the midst of the chaos and mess is a Man. Then we see where He is now and what He does now.
From my friend Steve:
“Jesus was God in our messiness - he walked and bled and pooped […but] God is not a God of chaos. But He stepped into the mess and became messy for the sake of love - for the sake of the world”
And from Prof. Aguilar:
“Some say if you are clean and well-dressed then you have lost touch with reality.
I love my suit, I wear it every day.
What doesn’t wash out is the dirt on the soul. That is harder to wash - when people’s messiness meets us.
Yes. God is messy.
He came, was arrested, detained and tortured. It was a messy affair. He could have done it another way. But He did it this way.”
Prof. Davila - 9.20am
*note: this is in reference to parts of 1 Enoch a.k.a. the Book of the Watchers that is not part of the canon of Scripture. And yes, it’s talking about the Nephilim from Genesis 6. It’s…a weird book.
Should/does real love say “I need you” or “I want you”?
“One thing we learn is to be led in prayer. I’m apt to think of prayer as my initiative. I realize I have a need or I am happy, and I pray. The emphasis is on me, and I have a sense when I pray that started something.
But what happens if I go to church? I sit there and somebody stands before me and says, “Let us pray.” I didn’t start it: I’m responding. Which means I am humbled. My ego is no longer prominent.”
- Eugene Peterson, Foreword to “The Contemplative Pastor”
I like this because I feel it applies to many other things. One of the first that also springs to mind is worship. Because when we allow ourselves to be led, it takes trust in the other members of the Body to lead us. It takes our trust of our brothers and sisters who put the prayer leader or the worship leader up there. It takes trust in the Holy Spirit who leads all of them.
There’s a point where ‘discernment’ becomes critique and critique turns to standing on doubt and mistrust. Especially when we are faced with the unfamiliar - a new song, a new style, a new prayer, new words used. But often this is related to a place of pride. Pride in our way of doing things, pride in our ideas which leads to wanting to question if people truly love God as God would want them to if they disagree with how we like to.
But are we humble enough to allow ourselves to learn from the others of the one Body of Christ? Do we allow ourselves to be humbled before ways of speaking or thinking of, or singing or speaking to, God that we never even considered before? Do we trust Him, the great loving infinite, to guide us into the New or Other?
As this wonderful man writes “Be teachable before you start teaching them. Take the beam out of your own eye.”. Or with respect to worship I prefer Mike Pilavachi’s ‘don’t be a connoisseur of worship’.
Let’s be led in humility. Discern, yes. But let’s be humble. Let’s understand that a worship song that meditates on a single truth in repetition has as much to offer as a theologically rich hymn or that long liturgical prayers, often archaic in the words used, are no less intimate than the heartfelt train-of-thought prayer?
What matters is the heart. Right now I’m learning to come to worship and prayer for one reason - to love on God. No other motive, no other reason than that He’s worthy and deserving of that love and I want to pour it out. Ultimately no other reason that that I love Him. From that place, when we worship God for no reason other than to love on Him and pour out our everything to Him, then does it matter if we sing “I am Yours” over and over, or all 6 verses of Amazing Grace?
Do we come to pour out love with the heart that says “but only on my terms, only in my way”, or the even more dangerous “but only on these terms and this way because this is God’s preferred way”? Or do we come to with a heart that says “I love you” in the peace, in the storms, in the comfortable and uncomfortable - familiar and unfamiliar?
John Frame “John Frame’s Advice: 30 Suggestions for Theological Students and Young Theologians” (http://andynaselli.com/john-frames-advice-30-suggestions-for-theological-students-and-young-theologians
Sink or swim I’m diving in
Where the river starts rushing
Where my heart starts beating
For the rhythms of the testing
And the songs of the trials
I will lift a cry up to You
Sung with hope inside my eyes
Sink or swim I’m diving in
To the passion of Your heart
Where love starts
Let this be a year of seeking the Father’s Heart. Lift up the prayer “I want to know You and Your Heart better. Break my heart for what breaks Yours and make my heart race with joy and love for what (and who) make yours do the same”
With that, know that He ALWAYS is delighting in His children.
God is not angry, God is not witholding.
He is not offended, He is not frustrated, He is not annoyed, He does not roll His eyes.
He smiles; He delights; He enjoys; He takes joy; He loves perfectly, at all times and forever more; He is there always, filled with joy in our joy and catching each tear as we hold on in the storm. He holds back no measure of love.
He desires to make us new, completely new and restored. He desires to restore hearts and nations. He desires to give good gifts to His children, they only need ask.
Let us seek after more of Jesus. Let us call out to Him to bring us deeper into the endless sea, the abyss, of who He is and how He loves us. There is no end to what He has to show us of who He is.
Let us, this year, seek after more of His unconditional love. The love we receive, are filled by, and can shine out to the broken. Let us learn to stop for the one. The fatherless, the outcast, the lonely, the cold, the wretched.
Let us seek our identities that are set entirely in Him and His delight and love for us.
Let us ask for the impossible and know that our Abba, our Daddy, loves His children.
Let us seek impossible things from Dad in the hope (and there is no doubt in hope, only expectancy) that He comes through. In the hope that He can and DOES bring life from nothing, beauty from ashes, turn mourning into joy, bring the dead alive, wipe away every tear and restore absolutely anything.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
John 1:1-5, 10-13 NKJV
ON A COLD NIGHT
On a cold night there arrived, not long after sunset, a man and his wife. They had survived the trek, they had passed through dark valley and over desert road. They had outrun the shadows that followed them to the gates.
He had guarded and guided her so long a journey. His rest was at hand yet he knew the night would be long.
She was heavy with child, exhausted from the journey. She was apprehensive about what the night would hold yet a thrill came forth as she recalled all the angel had told.
Ready to begin the long labour.
A labour that had groaned through creation for millennia. Therefore, rather, you could say this was to be the labour at the end of the labour; the last shout, ending the groans; the last charge, to start a new war; and the last push to bring it to victory.
And a push it was.
Alone they felt, two in the cold with one to come and no inn to rest. At every turn it seemed an unseen enemy closed doors. The Enemy moved. He had moved for a long time. At every opportunity he did battle. He brought the forces of darkness and the darkness of man to halt this birth divine.
But, tonight, it was war. Wiles, wit and cunning would no longer stand. Darkness lurking and an enemy prowling an roaring would be proved weak.
Divine this birth was and alone the trusted two were not.
The battle came when darkness met starlight hanging over the cave. And the clash of forces, the ringing of sword and shield on impact, were drowned in already-victorious battle-cry…
…the battle-cry of the choir, as heavenly carnage unfolded: “Glory! Glory to God in the highest!”
The starlight was untouchable by the night, for darkness has no place in the presence of light. The darkness cannot overcome it.
The veil of shadow found itself with a crack who it desperately wished to cover.
In that cave was blood, in that cave was fear and courage - was pain then peace, was a scream then a cry. In that cave was the dawn of the new kingdom through the mess of blood, tears and love by which labour He came.
And so in this dark dank hole - scent of manure and sorrow and poverty - came Eternity into Now. Came Yesterday and Tomorrow, into Today. Came God out of His Mary. Came the most illogical of things.
All of history changed.
In the presence of herder and king; of poverty and royalty. In the presence of those who came to see (oh to see!) the new light spill forth in the middle of the night.
In the midst of blood and tears. In the scent of poverty and despair. Aside the bitterness of myrrh and sorrow of frankincense. Astride the shine of gold but beneath a roof of stone.
God Almighty, the Great I Am.
To the sound of singing over the clashing of warriors. To the tune of the highest praise, the melody of heaven. Beneath a light that could not be overcome, the ultimate taunt to the darkness.
Laughter. Laughter at its endeavours.
A laugh of joy because of
Listen to the angels, they still sing.
All of history changed.
And Time and Death groaned as they became obsolete.
And a cry went out.
A Baby’s voice piercing the night. Cries of defeat pierced the battle. Cries of “Glory to God in the highest!” yet continued.
Sung over the Out-of-Place who lay perfectly where He should be.
Sung at the foot of the cross to which He would walk.
Sung at the mouth of the cave from which He would break.
Sung at the side of the throne at which He sits
Child of the greatest war, child of the greatest healing.
Child of the new, the new man, the new everything.
Man of sorrow, a refugee at birth.
Died the death of shame.
To save all Creation
and raised as He would raise it.
Time and Death groaned as they faced Eternity lying before them.
Baby in a manger, Eternity in a box.
And they caught the gaze of He who held the executioner’s blade over them. He who would make them nothing before Him and wipe away every tear. They followed this loving gaze to the Child.
They faced little Eternity and realised.
They were, in fact, very small.
Smaller than this Newborn.
Smaller than this Son.
Very small and weak indeed.
On a cold night, a baby boy.
(surprisingly) Wreck-it Ralph and (less surprisingly) Les Misérables…
There is a fearful symmetry to life. Just as in the darkest night of the soul the brightest light can shine, so also there is a fearful symmetry in juxtaposing “Holy” with “Father”.
When God is our Holy Father, sovereignty, holiness, omniscience and immutability do not terrify us; they leave us full of awe and gratitude. Sovereignty is only tyrannical if it is unbounded by goodness; holiness is only terrifying if it is untempered by grace; omniscience is only taunting if it is unaccompanied by mercy; and immutability is only torturous if there is no guarantee of goodwill. That which God has joined together, let no man put asunder. Thanks be to God, we know with a surety that His grace and goodness and hope and His love underlie all of these attributes. How do we know? Follow the face of Christ to the cross, and you will see it.” —Ravi Zacharias, Cries of the Heart, p24.
How frustrating must it be for God to face us and want to talk to us and lavish us with knowledge of who He is and how He loves us - yet we still look Him in the eye and ask Him over and over if He is and if He loves us?
He’s right there! Yet He is never frustrated, but embraces us and loves and reassures us where we are just the same.
But He still calls to us over and over.
You’ll give things up.
You’ll learn new things about me and about you.
But I want you to be secure in my love.
So we can start our journey to somewhere
And know I’m still the same.
And know I am right there
By your side.
I always have more for you than where you are now.
And it’s gonna be so good.
Come with me.”