Winter Trees at Sunset

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.

“Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

C.S. Lewis

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Morning Glory

“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it.” Brother Lawrence

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“Prayer at its highest is a two-way conversation – and for me the most important part is listening to God’s replies.” Frank C. Laubach

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“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God – it changes me.” William Nicholson

palette

“The Christian in the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.” Francis A. Schaeffer

I recently came across Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Artists, and from the moment I read it I wished I’d discovered it sooner. It’s a beautiful description and proclamation of the role art has to play in the life of Christians.

As more and more followers of Jesus use art to express their faith, John Paul II’s words provide inspiration, encouragement and support. Here’s a small section – you can read the full letter here.

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“In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery…

“In Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself. All believers are called to bear witness to this; but it is up to you, men and women who have given your lives to art, to declare with all the wealth of your ingenuity that in Christ the world is redeemed: the human person is redeemed, the human body is redeemed, and the whole creation which, according to Saint Paul, ‘awaits impatiently the revelation of the children of God’ (Rom 8:19), is redeemed. The creation awaits the revelation of the children of God also through art and in art. This is your task. Humanity in every age, and even today, looks to works of art to shed light upon its path and its destiny.”

Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists
1999

Culture of Grace

May 13, 2013 — Leave a comment

For a long time, I’ve wanted to write about grace. Yet it hasn’t happened, because I haven’t been able to find the words I need to express what I want to say.

Then I found this video, by the wonderful folks at Trinity Grace Church. It’s 3 minutes and 15 seconds long, and it encapsulates all I wanted to say and more.

I urge you to watch it.

heart

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Mother Teresa

I recently heard a story of a lesbian and a Bishop who were part of a television debate. There was a huge amount of vitriolic argument, with the criticism aimed mostly at the Bishop. The majority of those present, both on the panel and in the audience, suggested his views on sexuality, equality and ethics were outdated and bigoted.

Despite the abuse thrown his way – particularly on the issue of sexuality – the Bishop responded to each question with love, humilty and grace.

At the end of the debate the lesbian participant approached the Bishop, moved at how he had responded so gracefully. She said this:

“I would rather be disagreed with and loved than tolerated.”

The Bishop – despite having strong views on her sexuality – had treated her with love, grace and respect. He hadn’t judged her, hadn’t criticised her, hadn’t made her feel guilty. He had shown her love.

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In the latest edition of Relevant Magazine, editor Cameron Strang writes this:

“Even when it isn’t popular, or it means we might be labeled or even attacked, we are called to speak the truth in love. We can no longer be voiceless.”

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In Rumours of God, Jon Tyson and Darren Whitehead point out that in the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t criticise those society would define as sinners.

Jesus loves them. He forgives them. He rebukes those who considered themselves righteous, the Pharisees.

But to those who were expecting to be condemned, Jesus only shows love.

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I wonder what our worlds would look like if that was how we treated people. I wonder what my world would look like if that was how I treated people.

If I was quick to love, slow to judge, even slower to condemn.

After all, that’s what Jesus did.

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“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” Langston Hughes

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between understanding God and knowing God.

I think it’s important we try, within reason, to understand God. While we can never fully get our minds around his power, love, grace or holiness, it is undoubtedly helpful in our relationships with him to grapple with these facets of who he is.

After all, many people over the years have helped other Christians by developing their understanding of God.

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But more so, I think sometimes we (and by we you can definitely read I) worry too much about understanding God and don’t spend enough time simply knowing him. I may not fully grasp God’s love for me, but I can fully experience it. I may not completely comprehend how great the gift of grace is, but I can embrace it and live my life in it.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying we should never try to understand God. There’s a definite time and place for such thinking.

But I believe understanding God alone will not transform us, will not turn our lives upside down for his Kingdom and fill us with the peace that God offers.

Only knowing God can do that.

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“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart…live in the question.” Rainer Maria Rilke

overflow

While praying recently, I saw a picture. I don’t often get pictures and so when I do, I tend to take notice.

The picture was of a person pouring water into a cup. The closer to the top of the cup the water got, the more cautiously the man poured the water. As the water lapped the edge of the cup, the man stopped pouring. As he stepped back, it became clear he was afraid of the cup overflowing.

Despite there being plenty of water left in the container from which he was pouring, and despite the fact his aim seemed to be to empty that container, he stopped short of overflowing.

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So often, I hold back from giving all of myself over to God.

There’s a variety of reasons for this, but one is that I’m afraid of the mess. Because giving ourselves over to Jesus will result in mess.

But the beautiful thing about this mess is that it’s just that – beautiful.

In our world, mess gets a bad rap. Being messy is considered a character flaw. Which I think is a shame, because often out of mess come the most beautiful creations. Out of the rubble that surrounds us can rise the most incredible monuments to hope and love.

It’s also a shame because life with Jesus is beautifully messy. It’s messy because his kingdom is so backward – the first are last, the poor are rich, the weak are strong. It’s messy because he takes us to places the world scoffs at. It’s messy because it takes who we are, completely shakes us up and re-aligns our lives with God’s kingdom.

Sometimes I’m not ready for the mess. I’m not ready for what handing myself over to Jesus will mean. I’m not ready to have my life turned upside down, to be realigned to God’s perspective. But the promises that come with that mess? They are amazing. Life-changing. Culture-shifting.

The challenge I face is to open up to the mess. To embrace the mess. To recognise that in the mess is hope, love and grace.

All resting in that beautiful mess.

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“You are a beautiful mess, you are the melody.” William Paul Young

blossom

“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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All around, trees are blossoming. Up and down the roads surrounding my office, the trees are showing off their finest pinks, delicate petals proclaiming that spring has finally beaten winter.

I love the annual reminder that winter is only for a season. It seems that each year, just as it seems winter has set in for good, glimmers of spring appear. Slowly. First, a bud. There’s a long way to go, but there’s a whisper of hope in the air.

The bud grows. Day by day it becomes bigger as the blossom inside prepares for its moment. If you look closely, you can see hints of what is to come as the bud bursts at its seams.

And then one day you wake up and there, in all its glory, is a tree shimmering with blossom.

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It doesn’t last forever. This display of breathtaking colours will depart all too soon, leaving nothing but memories and brown petals on the pavement.

But each year we know that despite the depths of winter, spring will triumph, announcing itself in a burst of colour.

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“What a strange thing! To be alive beneath cherry blossoms.” Kobayashi Issa

Well this is it. I’m nearly there. Only two days of my 40 Days of Water challenge remain. Two more days until I can drink what I like, when I like. Freedom.

Except.

Part of me is sad it’s going to finish. I know once it is over and I can resort to morning coffees I will feel differently, but I genuinely feel it’s been quite an impactful journey to have been on.

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I don’t want to use the classic cliches that could be applied here – “It’s changed my life”, “Now I realise whow much I take for granted”, “I’ll never look at a glass of water the same way again” – because that would be, well, cliche.

But the truth is, I think the last few weeks have changed me. They’ve made me realise how fortunate I am to live in a corner of the world where water is available at the turn of a tap. I’ve come to be grateful and thankful for the water I use – particularly to drink – rather than going through the motions. Above all, hopefully the money I’ve raised can make a difference for communities who don’t have clean water.

As far as sacrifices go, it’s not been the most difficult. I’ve not gone without anything I need, just without some things I’ve wanted. But the shift in my perspective has been significant, and something which I don’t think I’ll forget in a hurry.

Blood:water Mission are an amazing organisation who do amazing things, and I’m proud to support them and have been part of the 40 Days of Water blogging team. One community at a time, they are spreading God’s love and showing compassion to God’s people.

Whether it’s Lent or not, that is a challenge which we should all rise to and be inspired by.

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To learn more about blood:water mission visit their website, and to learn more about 40 Days of Water visit the campaign page. You can also follow #40days on Twitter.

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It’s been a while since I blogged about how my Forty Days of Water challenge has been going. Things at work have been very busy – which is partly why the last few weeks have been so hard.

No conference is complete without copious amounts of coffee at every turn. So the fact the last couple of weeks have revolved around conferences has meant there’s been coffee galore. More than that, because I’ve been helping to run the conferences I’ve had early starts, late nights and lots of times when coffee would honestly have been incredible.

But I’ve made it though unscathed and decaffeinated. I haven’t had anything but water – despite my tiredness, despite my desperate desire for coffee.

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At the back of my mind every time I’ve craved a coffee has been the knowledge that I’m so lucky it’s even an option for me. For so many, clean water is a day’s walk away. For communities around the world, clean water is something people dream of.

That knowledge puts my desires for coffee (and other drinks) into perspective. Yes, it’s difficult having only water. Yes, it’s frustrating and yes, there have been times when I’d give a lot for a coffee. But each time I’ve thought that, I’ve remembered why I’m doing this.

And if that’s how I change during these weeks, that’s fine by me.

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To learn more about blood:water mission visit their website, and to learn more about 40 Days of Water visit the campaign page. You can also follow #40days on Twitter.