Archives For Jesus

The weight of words

October 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

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“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” Markus Zusak

Words are powerful. So often it’s what people say to us that lingers in our minds, nagging away at us and chipping away our confidence. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a cutting comment or an unintentionally upsetting remark – and the chances are, we’ve made a few of those comments ourselves. Words have power.

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The Hebrew language has a depth which our tongue can only dream of. There are seven words to describe love, with the three most commonly used drawing distinctions between friendship (raya), intimacy (dod) and commitment (ahava). This allows for intentional use of words to define a situation.

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the words we use to define and describe our faith; the language we use when discussing our relationships with Jesus.

In the course of my day I can say I love Jesus, the sun, the West Wing, kiwi fruits and the book I’m reading. I can also hate tube delays, chocolate ice cream and the way a national news story is portrayed by the media.

Two words – love and hate – that we apply to countless situations, to the point where there is a danger they lose their meaning. Do I love God the same way I love kiwi fruits? No. Do I hate injustice the same way I hate chocolate ice cream? No.

Yet the limitations of language mean the lines are blurred.

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The question is, does it really matter? Because truth be told, it seems unlikely a whole generation will be able to change the language they use to describe their feelings. Individually, I may be able to adjust what I say, but it will not make much impact on others.

Or will it?

You only have to spend a short amount of time in a group of people to notice certain phrases repeated again and again. Within a small, intentional group, language crosses the boundaries of our own tongues. What we say gets picked up. Repeated. Embedded. Accepted.

So maybe we do need to adjust our language. We cannot create a new set of words overnight, but we can adjust our intention and think about what we say, and how we say it. We can reserve reverence for the things that matter, and disdain for the things that deserve it.

It may not change the world, but it may just begin to change, in a small way, how we talk about God.

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Rudyard Kipling

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.

candles

I’ve been thinking about candles a lot lately.

I’ve always thought there is something special about candles, something that makes them feel almost out of place in our world. They possess a ethereal quality which no other light-source has, and yet they are at their core very simple. They have one job – to provide light.

Yes – you can get fancy candles, multi-coloured candles and scented candles. But a candle, at heart, is meant to give light.

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Candles, however, have a lifespan which is defined. It is something that no one can change. You can spread out this lifespan by lighting the candle only rarely, but in the end it will only last for so long. At some point the light begins to flicker, the glow begins to fade and the shadows creep in.

The light is extinguished.

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Contrast this to the Light of the World. Contrast this to Jesus, God’s Son, the light who stepped down into darkness to rescue us. The light that shines in the darkness, the light which the darkness cannot overcome.

Sometimes it can feel as if the light of God is flickering in our lives, barely visible among the shadows. Sometimes it can feel as if the shadows are winning, as if they are enveloping the light for good.

But the beautiful truth of Jesus is that his light, his hope, his strength, will never go out. The darkness cannot extinguish it. No storm, wave or attack can overcome his light.

The light wins. Always.

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“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost.

“From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.” J.R.R. Tolkien

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Someone asked me the other day how I knew when God was telling me to do something specific, or to follow a certain path.

My answer was that, more often than not, I’m rarely fully sure. I have times when I think I know what God is saying, but it’s never 100% clear, and there’s always a part of me which worries that I’m just convincing myself that it is God’s voice rather than mine.

All in all, it’s a very confusing business.

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Looking back, the times God has guided me haven’t been signposted by Damascene moments, accompanied by bright lights and a booming voice.

Instead, I can look behind me and see a series of doors which have opened for me, and some which have been closed. I see conversations with people, things I’ve heard at church and passages of Scripture all fall together into a path which I’ve followed, even though at the time I didn’t relise I was following it.

Rather than tell me from the start where I’m going, God instead seems to prefer leading me one step at a time.

The difficulty with this is that it results in a lot of uncertainty. For a lot of my journey, I don’t know where I’m going. But I think it’s partly so I remember God en route. If he was to tell me the path, tell me the destination and tell me the obstacles I’d encounter on the way, I wouldn’t need him as much. I might remember things he said, but I wouldn’t rely on him.

I’d rely on me.

By taking me through one door at a time, guiding me step by step, God teaches me to rely on him. Trust him. Follow him.

Don’t get me wrong – I’d love for him to speak louder sometimes.

But he knows what he’s doing.

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Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
Then world behind and home ahead,
We’ll wander back and home to bed.
Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Working on my reflection

September 21, 2012 — 1 Comment

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I love Jesus. I’m quite the fan.

But frankly, I really struggle to be like him.

I know it’s because as a fallen human, I am not perfect, and so can’t ever be completely like Jesus. The thing is, I want to be more like him, but I find it really difficult.

I find it hard to love those who annoy me. There are plenty of people with whom I don’t see eye to eye, and I struggle to treat them as Jesus would have. He’d have loved them, given them time and shown grace to them. All things I probably don’t.

If I’m honest, I find it hard to love the poor and the lost as Jesus would have done. Yes, I give money to charities which support them and provide hope. But whilst money and support is vital in helping these people, Jesus never gave anyone cash. He gave them his presence and his love.

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I wonder what would happen to those around me if I was more like Jesus. More compassionate, gracious and loving. I don’t wonder that from a self-centred, “wouldn’t it be brilliant if more people looked at me and thought I was amazing” perspective.

I wonder it from an honest place of longing to be more like Jesus. Despite all the wonderful programs, five-year goals and objectives our churches put in place, these aren’t going to transform the lives of those around us.

Only meeting Jesus is going to do that.

We are the representatives of Jesus for so many of those in our lives. In my life, I know there are some people whose only contact with the church is me. So how I act matters. How well I reflect God’s love matters.

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I wish it was easier, but it isn’t. Being like Jesus can be hard, because it flies in the face of what the world defines as successful.

But the impact it can have on people is beyond anything this world can offer.

For all the struggles we may have with it, the difference our reflection of God can have in the lives of those around us echoes into eternity.

I think it’s time I worked on my reflection.

Over-complicating God

September 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

God is pretty complex. There’s a lot to him. After all, he made the universe and everything in it, knows the numbers of hairs on each of our heads, and knows what has been, what is, and what will be.

The Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit exists in perfect harmony, is the same but different.

Frankly, I don’t really get it.

I did a theology degree, and took modules in how to understand God, and I still don’t.

Sometimes, this frustrates me. I want to be able to logically formulate why God loves me, and why he forgives me. I want to find some theologians who back me up, academics who I can name-drop when I need to. I don’t know if it’s because I sometimes find it hard to fathom God’s love, but I find myself trying to produce a formula to prove it.

God = creator. Jesus = creator’s son. Spirit = creator’s presence on earth now. (I’ve probably said some heresies already). God loves us. You. Me. Jesus died for us. The Spirit came for us. God + love + Jesus + his death + coming of the Spirit = salvation.

That’s not even close.

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I think I spend too much time trying to explain and understand God, and not enough time enjoying him and loving him.

There’s no doubt there is a time and a place for trying to understand God, for theology and exegesis and picking apart the story of Jesus.

Ultimately, however, I think God wants us to love him. Wants us to believe his promises, to trust him, to shelter in his grace.

Sometimes, it’s that simple. The life we get in return isn’t always easy or straightforward. More often than not, it’s the opposite.

But through it all, God reminds us of his love, and longs for us to love him with all we have.

His message to me, and to all of us, is simple.

I have done, and will do, anything for you. You are my child. Take shelter in me. I love you.

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“No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, never so much as imagined anything quite like it – what God has arranged for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9, The Message

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“We meet again, at the turn of the tide. A great storm is coming, but the tide has turned.” JRR Tolkien.

When I think about my relationship with God at the moment, the only way I can begin to describe it is with a roller coaster. Since I lost my job a few weeks ago, I’ve fluctuated between excitement and dread, hope and fear, expectation and resignation.

Some days I wake up and I’m fully confident that God and I are together on this adventure. I’m completely sure that he has the plans laid out for me, that it’s only a matter of time before he lets me know and we get on with living the dream.

But some days I wake up, and I get this feeling in my gut, this worry, concern, fear. That I don’t know what’s going on, and that I’m not sure God does either. It sounds stupid to say that, but that’s sometimes how it feels. It’s not how I feel, but it’s how the process feels.

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I’ve written about it here recently, but I can’t seem to get away from talking about storms at the moment. The last two weeks at church we’ve looked at Jesus leading his disciples into the boat and into the storm.

Christ leads them there.

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All of this comes together when I feel like God has forgotten what’s going on in my life. When Jesus was asleep on the boat in the midst of the storm (Matthew 8:23-27) he hadn’t forgotten the disciples. He hadn’t abandoned them.

They might have felt forgotten, felt like Jesus was ignoring them. But he wasn’t. He knew what he was doing.

That’s the truth I keep reminding myself of at the moment. God has not forgotten me and will not forget me. He does not and will not forget any one of us.

Through the highs and lows, his loves outshines the darkest darkness.

I wonder…

August 30, 2012 — Leave a comment

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I wonder…

I wonder what God thinks when all I do is come to him with a list of things I want, rather than simply sitting and listening.
I wonder what he thinks every time I fail to do something according to his word, or his will for my life.
I wonder what he thinks of church.
I wonder what he thinks of what I do at church.

I wonder what the Trinity thinks when it looks at its creation killing each other.
I wonder what Jesus thought as he looked out from the cross.
I wonder what the thief on the cross next to him thought when Jesus said, “You will be with me in paradise”.
I wonder what God the Father felt the moment Jesus breathed his last human breath.

I wonder if I’ll ever truly grasp the love of God.
I wonder if sometimes I should stop trying to understand and question God’s love and just live in it.
I wonder what those who don’t know Jesus see when they see me.
I wonder if I’ll fulfil all my dreams.

I wonder.

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“Your plans are still to prosper, You have not forgotten us, You’re with us in the fire and the flood. Faithful forever, perfect in love, You are sovereign over us.” Aaron Keyes.