Monthly Archives: February 2009

Fear is love of the self

“….whenever I discern a sounder opinion in any matter whatsoever, I gladly and humbly abandon the earlier one. For I know that those things I have learned are but the least in comparison with what I do not know.” John Hus

“Fear is nothing more than a love of self” John Knox

“I continue to find Paul totally stimulating, exciting and fascinating, which is more than I can say for any creed or confessional formula.” – NT Wright

Random penance

Random penance

Iona 21 I’m giving up worrying about hymns. The hymns fit and that’ s the end of the matter.

I’m giving up imaging every problem is my responsibility. I can’t remember causing half the problems so they can’t all be mine.

I’m giving up thinking the whole ecological crisis is mine alone. I’ll share my blue bin with anyone.

I’m giving up believing my pew was given to me by God for my bottom. It was given to me by God to make friends with a stranger.

I’m giving up supposing communion is going to be all that it ever was in the past. Bread is bread and that’s communion enough.

Anyone else want to add to the lenten list? Feel free.

Taken From Roddy’s Blog Here.

A River Runs Through It

Page 2-

“As a Scot and a Presbyterian, my father believed that man by nature was a mess and had fallen from an original state of grace.  Somehow, I early developed the notion that he had done this by falling from a tree.  As for my father, I never knew whether he believed God was a mathematician but he certainly believed God could count and that only by picking up God’s rhythms were we able to regain power and beauty.  Unlike many Presbyterians, he often used the word “beautiful.”

Page 4 –

“My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe.   To him, all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.

Page 10 – reminding one of a journalist reviewed on a site not too far from here:

“The editor was one of the last small-town editors in the classic school of personal invective.  He started drinking early in the morning so he wouldn’t feel sorry for anyone during the day and he and my brother admired each other greatly.  The rest of the town feared them, especially because they wrote well and in a hostile world both of them needed to be loved by their families and were.”

Discomfort at easy answers

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

Source: unknown

Bible As Story

A Story About Trust

In the 1940s (I cant’ be too sure of the date), a young and promising preacher, a man who seemed to have something of a gift for evangelism, found himself wrestling with the truth of the Bible.

There had for the previous 100 years been much criticism of the historical reliability of the Bible.  People had poured on scorn that on old Testament giant like David actually had existed, that details in the New Testament like the birth of Jesus had been invented to fit earlier prophecies, that Jesus’ resurrection was merely a hallucination, a powerful piece of wishful fulfilment experienced by Jesus’ followers which had given them the energy that they poured into founding the Church.

These questions were flying around the Theology Faculties, and eating at the confidence of the Church.  A good friend of the evangelist had himself begun to succumb to his own doubts.

So what this man did was he went out at night and he wrestled with God – a way reminiscent of a story about Jacob in Genesis – he wrestled all night with the truth of the Bible.  He did not get technical answers on the Greek used to describe the Virgin birth, or a piece of historical data that confirmed the resurrection.

But what he did receive was a sense of presence of God, and a sense of submission, that in ways he did not fully understand, this book could be trusted.

The man’s name was Billy Graham.  Possibly the most influential Christian leader of the last 50 years.

From that moment on his ministry experienced a new power.  His ability to communicate words which reached into the depths of people’s lives, and offered hope, the possibility that they could be different, and a fearlessness in the face of death; this ability touched millions in America, in Europe, in Africa and Asia.

When Billy Graham spoke there would be a constant refrain – “The Bible Says, The Bible Says, The Bible Says”.  His preaching was a passionate repetition of the truths found in this book; truth which has transformed millions and millions of lives.

A Story About Limits

I read recently a modern reworking of Darwin’s “The Origin of The Species” – the book through which the theory of evolution through natural selection was given to the world.  The book is called “Almost like a Whale” – which is a line taken from Darwin who was speaking about the habits of certain bears to float around in the water with their heads up to catch flies; looking “Almost like a Whale”.

Steve Jones who wrote it, and who was the scientific advisor to David Attenborough on his recent series on the Tree of Life, is passionate about the theory of Evolution.  He, like his fellow Darwinist, Richard Dawkins, is a committed humanist, but at the end of his book he says some words which Dawkins would never write, but with which I wholeheartedly agree:

When it comes to what makes us different from other creatures, science can answer all the questions except for the interesting ones. (pp432-433)

Much of what makes us what we are does not need a Darwinian explanation.  The birth of Adam, whether real or metaphorical, marked the insertion into an animal body of a post-biological soul that leaves no fossils and leaves no genes. (page 437)

Having spent too much of the last couple of years reading Richard Dawkins’ work, I was shocked to read such words from a biologist.  I would not have been surprised to read something like that from a physicist or cosmologist.  There there is a point – underneath the quarks and the bosons, after you have driven huge tunnels under the Swiss Alps and eventually got them working, after you have comprehended the vastness of the universe, the bendiness of space and the possibility of a billion billion universes, you start to run out of answers.


And you end up where Billy Graham ended up in the night back in 19XX, with a book that goes further, makes outrageous claims, asks and then answers the question in the deepest possible way, the question “What is going on?”

The Bible As Story

The Bible can be broken down into many different ways:

You can have the most common division: Old Testament – life before Jesus and the history of Israel; and New Testament – life after Jesus and the history of the Church.

You can have a history of covenants, agreements, key points when God and people come to agreements about the future: agreements with a man called Adam, with Abraham who became a father when he was 100; Moses who led the Israelites out of Egypt and then received the 10 commandments; David and the story of the Kings who led and then failed to lead Israel and the exile of Israel from Israel to Babylon – Iran and Iraq; and then the arrival of Jesus and the new covenant, the unbreakable agreement with his followers the Church.

But today I want to think of the Bible as a big story, a big story which answers the question “What is going on?”

Like all stories there is a Beginning, A Complication, A Resolution and An Epilogue.

The Epilogue is often an attempt to get back to the beginning


And you see this in Toy Story, Lazy Town, in Lord of The Rings, in Star Wars, in Bambi, in 24.


The Complication is long and brutal

And the Resolution is long and glorious


The Complication has lots of hints of resolution

And The Resolution still has to deal with the long painful history of the Complication.


Beginning, Complication, Resolution and Epilogue.



The Beginning changes the question from “What is going on?”

To “Who is going on?”


The Beginning is this


In the beginning “God.”

God is the subject of the Bible.


That you can ask questions about quarks and genomes

You can psychoanalyse the id, and materially organise the economy

But nothing can happen, nothing can change

Nothing can change

Until you start to ask questions about God

Or more properly “God starts to ask questions about you.”


In the beginning God – four words in – and you get to God.


In the Hebrew its quicker, the word for God is Elohim

Beraishit, Bara Elohim.


“In the beginning God” says the book of Genesis


And it is a beautiful beginning.  You know the story, but hear it again.


In the beginning God creates the heavens and the earth.


Space with all its bends – because in real space parallel lines do meet each other at infinity

And time can go at different speeds

And the electron over there knows exactly what to do, in the same way as the electrons over there

Something is holding these guys to the same program


And there are 10-11 dimensions the physicists tell us – and even that theory is struggling.


And God said “Let there be light” – God starts with light, that most basic of things.

Stunning to discover that as a beginning.

Suggestive of a big bang, but deeper than that, probing at what light is, energy

And the light is separated from the darkness and you have night and day and the basic rhythm of the cosmos is established, you now have time.


And God created an expanse in the middle of the waters, the waters above are the clouds, the waters above are the seas, and the expanse between God calls “Heaven.”


I know that some of you will have in your Bibles “Sky”, but its not Sky, the word is Heaven


Heaven is between the clouds and the seas, that space is called Heaven

Yes it’s the space above the clouds as well

But it’s also the space below the clouds.


I want to have words with Bette Midler and Sir Cliff Richard who said that God was watching us from a distance.

Because Heaven where God reigns is so much closer, an Irish proverb says its three foot above a man’s head, but it’s closer than that, it’s on the tip of your nose


And that is the second day.

The third day is when earth is made, mud, earth, soil.

And the plants upon it fruit and seed – and do you notice here that in biology now you have death and life – not the second, terrible, moral death with which Adam will be inflicted, but the death that Jesus spoke about when he said “unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it remains a single grain.”  The rhythm of losing what you are in order to become something bigger.  That is there now on the third day


And this thing called life.

This vital spark


Called life, it is there and this is the third day and God saw that it was good.


Do you notice you Christians who remember your Easter story and who know about crosses and empty tombs (we’re jumping ahead here, and pretending that we don’t know any of this is about to happen) that it is on the third day that life appears, and on the third day that something new happens, God saw that it was good.


Because creation is not just generation, but also appreciation.


You notice that rhythm here – generate and appreciate.


Any time you make something you are doing a little sniff of what God does in Genesis.  But to complete the cycle you have to appreciate.


This Tuesday when I was meant to be preparing this talk my son Sam was unwell and instead of doing deep reading and translation (for those of you who came today looking for deep reading and translation and are not getting what you came for, you can blame the nursery where Sam got the virus), so instead Sam and I decided to make puppets.  This was begrudging.

As Anna my wife drove our two daughters off to their child minder and left me with Sam, as I called out “Love you” her parting words “Make sure he isn’t watching the telly all day” (which is what I had planned because I was hoping to do some deep reading and translation) so we were inspired by a program called Big and Small to make some puppets.  Here they are.


And I loved making these.  And I loved appreciating them.  I would quite happily stop the seminar for the next five minutes to enjoy that cow’s nose.


Because Creation is about generation and appreciation.


On the fourth day, God refines what he created on the first day

And he puts lights in the sky – sun, moon and stars to rule the night and day

And God saw that it was good.


And on the fifth day God populates what he made on the second day.

Birds that fly across heaven (v20)

And God populates the water under the earth with great sea creatures.

And God saw that it was good.


And on the sixth day God populates what he made on the third day

He populates the earth with livestock and creeping things

And you know the story because he makes something in his own image

Something that the stars and the centipedes do not share

He makes us

Male and female.

And you know the story in Genesis 2 where male himself in a garden

Where they are to eat, the Hebrew says eat, eat the fruit of every tree.

Trees and fruit, eat eat, says God

And there is the tree of life

There is the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil

You must not touch that says God you will surely die., you will died


And a river runs through the garden


I want you to remember the river and the two trees.


And then God sets to finding the man a companion

And so God takes from Adam’s side – not from his head to be above him, not from his feet to be below him, but from his side, the woman, his companion

And they are in the garden

And they are to eat eat of all the trees in the garden

But not from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.


The Complication

And then there is the complication.  To understand “What is going on?”

You need to understand “Who is going on?”

And you need to understand “What went wrong?”


And what went wrong was that all the trees in the garden weren’t enough


What went wrong was the woman and the man who was standing next to her

Listened to the wrong voices

That voice that sowed doubt


“Did God really say you shall not eat of any tree in the garden”


And the woman doesn’t spot this.  Because there is the kernel of resentment


Because she can have the grapefruits and the oranges and the apples and the satsumas and the tangerines and the clementines and the mandarins and the jack fruit (the world’s biggest fruit by the way) but she cannot have the fruit of tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  She can enjoy 99.99% of all garden fruit, but the serpent picks up on the limit, and suggests that God of satsumas and mandarins and jack fruit is a miser.


And she doesn’t spot it, and before you men get superior and start muttering to ourselves (it’s always the women’s fault), dufus silent boy in the background, he doesn’t spot it either.  And the woman says

“We may eat (not we may eat eat) of the fruit of the trees (not all the trees) in the garden or but you shall not eat from the tree that is in the middle of the garden  nor shall you touch it (a wee addition from Eve) lest (this is also a different word – God had said “for” you will definitely die, on that day; but this is weaker, you will be in danger of dying) you die (and the die is only once here).


In short what Eve has done (and silent, no help at all at this moment boy) is forgotten the kindness and severity of God.


And having moved from doubt, the serpent moves to lies

You will be like God, and you will not surely die


And the woman sees that the fruit is good to the eyes (not to the taste – remember fruit is for tasting, not looking at; the test of a fruit is not how much you want it when you don’t have it, but how much you enjoy it when you eat it) is to be desired to be one wise (not “good and evil” but to be wise) she took of its fruit and ate and she gave some to her man.


And what great divine knowledge do that man and woman gain from this incredible fruit which promised so much.

They know they are naked and they make fig leaves and loin cloths.


And you know the story.


God, who is intimate, with his people, seen, unveiled,

Comes walking in the garden and the man hides (next time you wonder about the pain of God being invisible, remember it was us who hid first) and God says “where are you.”  And seeing the man suddenly self-conscious says “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat.”


And Adam says “Yes”


No of course, because we never admit we are wrong, we look for someone to blame.


“The woman whom you gave me she gave me and I ate.”

And the woman says “The serpent tricked me.”


And the serpent is cursed – and there enmity between him and the man

And a verse I want you to remember “between your seed and his seed and he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.”


And there is strife between the man and the woman

And they are banished from the garden

An angel and a flaming sword guard the entrance so they cannot get back to the tree of life – remember that tree.

And there is a chasm between the humans and God because never again does God walk amongst his people in the same way.


And that is the complication.  The thing that undoes the refrain of “this is good, this is good”.  Because now there is something that is no good.


It starts with something remarkable trivial.

The eating of fruit

But inside that one act are darker intentions about feeling hard done by

And resenting authority

And listening to the lies of the liar

And desiring fruit that looks good and but whose taste is forgotten


If the first sin had been a murder, or a rape

Then we who have never murdered or raped could have said “That had nothing to do with me”

But because it came out of something stupid, pathetic, foolish, trivial

All of us are drawn in.


And forced to watch in horror as what began with fruit theft turns into murder

And all the carnage of humans at their worst is unleashed on the earth.


And that Old Testament – if I can generalise hugely is about dealing with the complication.


Dealing with the outworkings of this estrangement.


There are new starts like with Noah and the ark and life after the flood – and you can read about Noah in Genesis 6-9.


And with Abraham – above all with Abraham who inherits a promise that from him will come a great nation, and a people who will bless all others.


In all this story of hope, there is the threat of unhope


Abraham is hold, his wife is ninety, and still in the depths of his being the light flickers but it has not vanished and he still believes.


He tries to get round the thing by having a child with one of his wife’s servants – but Ishmael is not the one.  He has to keep hoping, and he keeps believing and this is called righteousness.


And you have beautiful moments with Abraham promises to him in Genesis 12, 15 and 17 – including the covenant of circumcision

That God will not let down Abraham, and Abraham believes and this is counted as righteousness.


And with Moses – who leads an escape from slavery that will rebirth Israel, and inherit a law ten famous commandments; 613 commandments in all that instruct and let people know what the standards of God are, but fail because laws cannot change the heart. But you can read about Moses and the laws in Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.



And from Moses you have a degeneration in the promised land, the days of the judges when anarchy reigns.


And with David the king after God’s own heart, who is weakened by his folly, but has the courage to trust grace.


And you can read about David in 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel and the start of 1 Kings.


And you can read the thoughts given to David the psalms

Beautiful honest raw prayers to God

The one I read this week read “God you do not go our with our armies any more and it is not our fault” (Psalm 44)


And like many of the attempts to rescue


The Kings fail, because they want more power

And they want Gods apart from God.


And this genetic flaw from Adam

This lust after self-importance and refusal to trust the generosity of God

Nor face the severity of God

This kills us,


All the attempts at rescue fail.


The other attempts are wisdom – the Proverbs of Solomon

And the prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel , Daniel; Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah Jonah Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Zechariah, Haggai, Malachi

Who speak the words of God to a rebellious people.


None of this quite works.


Noah through a starting again with people who are good.

Moses through law

David through authority

Solomon through wisdom

The Prophets through the words of God.

It doesn’t work because it can’t affect the heart.


Only Abraham’s believing God, trusting God and this is righteousness, only that one will have a chance.


And so that is the complication.





And now Resolution

The Resolution

The resolution happens when something happens when something that had not happened since God walked in the garden looking for Adam and Eve, God comes down.


It is interesting that the two trilogies that have captured the imagination most in the last few decades: Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings.


Both of them Resolve with the hero returning.  With Lord of the Rings it’s Return of the King, and with Star Wars it’s Return of the Jedi.


There is a notion here of Return of the Creator.


It is John’s gospel which gets at this most explicitly.


Firstly a hark back to Genesis “In the beginning” but this time it’s “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 was not anything made that was made.  In him was life.

            John 1


And God comes back.


He comes back and he deals with the tragedy that has ensued from the Eve’s apple.


He does it in very real terms.  In his return to his home town of Nazareth, he says he has come to proclaim Good News to the poor

Liberty to the captives

Recovery of sigh to the blind

And at liberty those who are oppressed

And to proclaim the year of God’s favour – the year when debts are forgiven.


And in ways which are physical (the blind receiving sight, prisoners being set free) and financial (Good news to the poor, the year of the Lord’s favour which was about money)  Jesus is reordering life on this beautiful, broken place.


And he tied the physical to the moral, it happened in one incident where a paralysed man is lowered through his roof.  And he sees that what afflicts this man is moral as well as physical, so he proclaims the forgiveness of his sins, and then heals the man of his disability.


And so when Jesus talks about the blind he is talking about people with cataracts and people who fail to see what God is doing in the world

When he talks about freeing prisoners he is talking about those imprisoned under trumped up charges, and those in prison because their guilt doe not let them go

When he proclaims the year of God’s favour it is about an economic system where debts are not allowed to build to catastrophic levels, and where all the debt of all the malice and the all bitterness and all the violence of all the ages, all of that debt is to be forgiven.


He taught that Kingdom of heaven, heaven , the place where God reigns, could move three inches.  It could move from the air, and all that surrounds, to the human heart.


He taught this, and he lived this truth in the most shocking way.


He got angry at hypocrisy

He handled money and he possessed little of it

His first miracle involved the manufacture of wine – a miracle that happened let it be noted, “on the third day”.

He used violence against property when that property exploited the poor.

He referred to the children of a foreigner as “dogs” and then healed the same child.

He questioned the position of his mother and brothers

He engaged with a woman who had five husbands in a way that she seems to have regarded at first as flirtatious

He said that the greatest faith he found was in a member of the occupying army.

He did miracles all over the country except in his home town

Despite the calls to do otherwise, he insisted on going to Jerusalem where he knew he would be killed

And when he was killed, the most agonising, tortured of deaths, he prayed for his persecutors to be forgiven

And when he was at the very cusp of achieving what he had been sent for, he asked why God had abandoned him.


But at the end he did say “It is finished.”


What had been finished

The rescue from the moment that forbidden fruit had been taken.


On that cross which is the centre-point of our faith

The centre-point of this drama

Of this book.


There are different ways of understanding this moment

It is to say that the debt is paid, the ransom is paid – we are released

It is to say that though we have committed the crime we are declared not guilty – we are justified

It is to say that the anger of God against us has been met by God’s own grace – the word for that is propitiation

It is to say that the power of death within us is defeated and the power of life is now at work within us – we are being made holy – sanctified.


And all these images point at the character of God who is perfect, holy, cannot just forget what is brutal and count it as nothing.

And God who is grace who does everything, who gives up his own life to win us back, who loves us before we loved him.


The question “What has happened?” gets a second answer

“God has died for us.”

The power of the genetic flaw had been undone.


And this is done through the way that Abraham first encountered

Through faith.

We are justified (rectified is a better word) by faith

By trusting.


By trusting Jesus to heal us, we are healed.

This is the gospel,

This is how the victory of Jesus becomes our victory.

This is the resolution.


And just as the complication had a long tail in its wake


So the resolution does and did too.

It’s consequences are still being worked out

And are still in conflict with the consequences of the complication.


We exist in this in-between time

When the victory has been one

But the battle is still being fought.


And how we are as people of God is captured in this in-between time.


We aspire to love.  And at moments this breaks through


We at times, with the people around us become hugely irritated, irrationally conceited, proud, spiteful, gossipy – and yet at other times we manage to experience the forgiveness of God, and recognise that we are all, each of us broken, and in love live with those around us.

We are greedy, we consume too much, drive cars that have too big engines, fail to recycle, choke the planet with our excessive air miles- and yet are capable of sustainable decisions of self-sacrifice in imitation of Jesus who did not have a home to call his own.


We play power games eager to be recognised, promoted – and at other times we are happy to wash the feet of our friends, and do the least tasks without credit.


We got lost in ourselves, but our best moments we are not the bodies of Christ but the body of Christ.


We live in this in-between time.  Where the kingdom of heaven has moved three inches, but it is still fighting for final control.


In our faith we waver between the mountaintop where all is clear – and the depths where we are met with grace to match our suffering and in-between where apathy and blandness and emptiness terrify us; there is also strength for another day, meaning, joy in the ordinary, glory in the grey.


You see this in the letters to the early Church.


Paul writes to the “Saints” of the Church in Corinth and also tells them not to visit prostitutes.

He tells them that they are the fools of the world called to shame the wise; and also hints that some of them have died early because of the way the celebrate communion


The Church today with its grand visions, but the worries about who gets the credits

The servants of the one who gave up his glory who hope that one day they might get to run a mega-Church or get to speak at Keswick.


We are caught in-between.


We say we have faith but we panic when the pound loses its value

We say we have hope in God, but have all load of supplementary measures up our sleeve in case that one doesn’t come through

We say we believe in love, but cause great great hurt through the way we manage our relationships

We condemn the addictions of drug, but say less about our addictions to porn, playstations  or shopping.


We are caught in-between.

This is where we are.


That is what is going on.


And if you want to understand the world

If you want to understand ourselves

If you want to know God

This is the book that tells us.

We will all one day get a Stephen.

Finally there is the epilogue.


Which I want to put under the question “What is going to happen?”


The answer is that we will all one day get a Stephen.


We will not be in-between forever.


The best description of the timeline of the Bible is that at the present time, believers in Jesus when they die go to be with Jesus, and enjoy his presence in paradise.


But there awaits an even greater day.

The day of the return of Jesus when the great resurrection of the dead will happen

And those who have trusted in Jesus will go to be with him


And in the words of the Epilogue in Revelation


Heaven will come down to earth


And at last in the fullest way

The Blind will see and the captives will be set free

And the year of the Lord’s favour will be proclaimed


And you can read about this in Revelation, particularly the last two chapters.


Heaven will come down,

And every tear will be wiped from every eye.


The nations will come from the East and the West

And they will still be nations, they will still be speak their native languages

Did you know that in heaven you will still speak English but that you will also understand French and Swahili.


There will be a banquet, a wedding feast, and we will all get married to Jesus

Which for blokes I think takes a bigger leap of the imagination than for women.


But in the words of Jerry Maguire, we will be completed

Or in Biblical language, we will be made full.


And songs will be sung

And a table will be spread

And the poorest will eat fare that on earth that was denied them


And God will be with us.


And there is city, and a river runs through it – do you remember anywhere else that had a river.


And also a tree, and what tree is it

It is the tree of life.


The tree that we were barred from the tree of life


With twelve kinds of fruits – what kind of tree has lots of fruit

No tree.

But this is God loving to give his children fruit

And the leaves are for the healing of the nations.


And we are back to the garden


Back to peace


This is what is going on.


We are going back to God.


Let This Word Dwell

There is a curious relationship between these words and the truth they describe


That to devote ourselves to these words

Not in the way of the critics who want to know about tense, and mood and number

Important things by the way, but not the most important.


But to devote yourself to these words, the way that Billy Graham did, to devote yourself to trusting them


To let God, to let God the Holy Spirit truly teach you what is going on

Is to let your life become the life that is called to be.

It is about you being you


It is about knowing that you are going home


And the ones who go home, don’t just go home

They get a Stephen – from the Greek word Stephenas meaning crown.


That our ability to live story

To do what Jesus did and undo the complication and live the resolution.

It is not forgotten


This is the story of this book.


What is going on – is really Who is going on – this is God’s world

What is going on – you have to know two things that happened

A man and a woman ate a fruit – the complication

And a man died on a cross – the resolution

What is going on – we are in-between but we are going home – the epilogue.


Thank you very much for listening to this afternoon.




Prayer. Life. Make ending poverty part of ours?

As I’ve travelled round the developing world, I’ve been humbled, challenged and inspired by the prayers I’ve heard. The prayer of one young Malawian mother called Sophia, who didn’t have enough food for her children, resonates with me– ‘I pray about the food shortages – bless our village that we can have a good harvest. May you defeat the problems so that we can have food’.

As a father of two young children I felt tears well as I heard someone pray their way through one of the worst situations I could imagine.

Over the next few weeks, Sophia’s prayer reverberated in my soul. For most of my life I’m in control – I can afford most things I want and my job means that I get to develop strategy, plans and new ideas. This sense of control shapes my prayer life – I see my faith worked out incarnationally in what I do and I ask God to bless that. This young mother’s prayer made me realise that prayer calls me to interact with God as an independent being, someone who operates well beyond my circle of influence. Somewhere along the way I –  the independent 21st century Christian, the manager, the strategist – had lost that.     

I also realised that I was part of the answer to this woman’s prayer. If I bought more Fairtrade clothes, then the local cotton farmers in her area would have a better wage, benefiting her community. If I gave a little more money, local churches could help her family develop agricultural programmes and micro loan schemes to help lift her out of poverty. Prayer should open me up to the possiblity of change, that God may be calling me to action.  Like Isaiah or Amos before me, my prayers should connect me with God’s heart for justice and how I am living that out in my daily life.

At a very deep emotional and spiritual level, I recognise my own need to connect with people like Sophia. Her story reminds me that even in the current financial situation I have so much. Her hope and faith reminds me of the fragility of my own.

This week, Tearfund is inviting Christians in the UK and Ireland to pray alongside people like Sophia, to join a global chain of prayer which seeks to unite Christians to bring help and hope to the communities around them.  

Augustine said ‘Pray as if everything depends on God, act as if everything depends on you’. My challenge this week is to live that out.

By Tim Magowan, National Manager Tearfund, Northern Ireland


The Divine Conspiracy – Part 8

The time of action

  Key Words Worship Devotion Discipleship Work
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 311
  Quote From Brother Lawrence:

Our sanctification does not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake which we commonly do for our own… It is a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times. We are as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action as by prayer in the season of prayer.

Page 313 – on making one’s job a primary place of apprencticeship to Jesus

Not, we quickly say, by becoming the Christian nag-in-residence, the rigorous upholder of all propriety and the dead-eye critic of everyone else’s behaviour. I hope that this would already be abundantly clear from our study of Jesus and of his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere.

The pearl of great price

  Key Words Value Worth Kingdom
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 320
  Quote Talks about the great value of the pearl in the field

Only with such images before us can we correctly assess the famous “cost of discipleship” of which so much is made. Do you think the businessman who found the pearl was sweating over its cost? An obviously ridiculous question! What about the one who found the treasure in the field – perhaps crude oil or gold? No. Of course not. The only thing these people were sweating about was whether they would “get the deal”. Now that is the soul of the disciple.

Page 321
The counting of the cost is to bring us to the point of clarity and decisiveness. It is to help us to see. Counting the cost is precisely what the man with the pearl and the hidden treasure did. Out of it came their decisiveness and joy. It is decisiveness and joy that are the outcomes of the counting.

  References Pearl in the field (Matthew 13)

Obedience and abundance

  Key Words Discipleship Obedience
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 342
  Quote Certainly life on the “the rock” must be a good way to live. Wouldn’t you like to be one of those intelligent people who know how to live a rich and unshakeable life? One free from loneliness, fear and anxiety and filled with constant peace and joy? Would you like to love your neighbours as you love yourself and be free from anger, envy, lust and convetousness? Would you like to have no need for others to praise you and would you like to not be paralysed and humiliated by their dislike and condemnation? Would you like to have the inspiration and strength to lead a constant life of creative goodness. It sounds pretty good thus far, doesn’t it?
  References Life on the rock (Matthew 7)

The advantage of belief

  Key Words Belief Trinity Trust Doctrine Knowledge Wisdom
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 348
  Quote The advantage of believing in the reality of the Trinity is not that we get an A from God for giving the “right answer”. Remember to believe something is to act as if it is so. To believe that two plus two equals four is to behave accordingly when trying to find out how many coins or apples are in the house. The advantage of believing it is not that we can pass tests in arithmetic, it is that we can deal much more successfully with reality. Just try dealing with it as if two plus two equalled six.

Hence, the advantage of beliving in the Trinity is that we then live as if the Trinity is real: as if the cosmos surrounding us actually is, beyond all else, a self-sufficing community of unspeakably magnificent personal beings of boundless love, knowledge and power. And, thus believing, our lives naturally integrate themselves, through our actions into the reality of such a universe, just as with two plus two equals four. In faith we rest ourselves upon the reality of the Trinity in action – and it graciously meets us. For it is there. And our lives are then enmeshed in the true world of God.

Objectives of the disciple

  Key Words Discipleship Growth Vision Experience
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 351-353
  Quote Willard talks about the objectives of a curriculum for Christlikeness.

There are four things which must not be objectives:
1. Special experiences
2. Faithfulness to the Church
3. Correct doctrine
4. External conformity to the teachings of Jesus

Instead there are two prime objectives:
1. A delight in God and a fascination with him.
There is the illustration from 1 John 1:5 – what is it that John says is the message he heard from Jesus, how does he summarise it after all these years – “God is light and darkness in him there is not, none”
2. To remove our automatic response against the kingdom of God to free apprentices of domination, of enslavement

  References God is light (1 John 1:5)
The slavery of disobedience (Romans 6:6)
A slave to sin (John 8:34)

God in nature

  Key Words Nature Revelation Creation
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 358
  Quote God is revealed in nature.

Willard quotes Epictetus, a contemporary to Peter and Paul
“Any one thing in the creation is sufficient to demonstrate a providence to a modest and grateful mind.”

The argument here is that nothing in nature is self-productive or self-sustaining, and thought what seems to begin things is a mind, a thought.

From Wordsworth
And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with joy
Of elevated thoughts, a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns
And the round ocean and the living air
And the blue sky, in the mind of man
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of thought,
And rolls through all things.

The notion here is that God is sensed through nature, in the same way that we sense another person’s thoughts when we are with them.

  References God’s invisible nature (Romans 1:19-20)
The word of God to the ends of the earth (Psalms 19)
The word of God to the ends of the earth (Romans 10:18)

Days in the wilderness

  Key Words Solitude
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 388
  Quote It was an important day in my life when at last I understood that if he needed forty days in the wilderness at one point, I very likely could use three or four.

Page 390
I had learned that intensity is crucial for any progress in spiritual perception.

Page 392
Thus the Christian philosopher Pascal insightfully remarks “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they are unable to stay quietly in their own room.”

Living the eternal life

  Key Words Discipleship Eternal Life
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 402
  Quote We should be aware of, roughly, five dimensions of the our eternal kind of life in the Kingdom Among Us, and these dimensions more or less arrange themselves in the following progression:
1. Confidence in and reliance upon Jesus as “the Son of man”
2. But this confidence in the person of Jesus naturally leads to a desire to be his apprentice.
3. The abundance of life realised through apprenticeship to Jesus, “continuing in his word”, naturally leads to obedience.
4. Obedience with the life of discipline it requires both leads to and then issues from the pervasive inner transformation of the heart and soul.
5. Finally there is the power to work the works of the kingdom.

Belief in the future life

  Key Words Hope Growth Eternal Life
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 424
  Quote From John Hick:
If we trust what Jesus said out of his own direct consciousness of God, we shall share his belief in the future life. This belief is supported by the reasoning that a God of infinite love would not create finite persons and then drop them out of existence when the potentialities of their nature, including their awareness of himself, have only just begun to be realised.

We shall rest and see

  Key Words Eternal Life Paradise Heaven
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 436
  Quote From Augustine:
There we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise. This is what shall be in the end without end. For what other end do we propose to ourselves than to attain to the kingdom of which there is no end?

The Divine Conspiracy – Part 7

Not fixing others

  Key Words Discipline Community Correction Reproof
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 264
  Quote If you have a friend who is addicted to heroin, however, or lost in the jungles of intellectual faddishness, then whatever else you may do to help, him , you had better pray. Not just because “fixing him” is beyond you, but because it is good it should be beyond you.
  References Jesus prays for Peter (Luke 22:32)

Heroic efforts in prayer

  Key Words Prayer Spirituality Hero
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 265
  Quote It [prayer] is much harder to learn if we succumb to the temptation to engage in “heroic” efforts in prayer. This is important. Heroism, generally, is totally out of place in the spiritual life, until we grow to the point at which it would never be thought of as heroism anyway.

Page 266
Prayer simply dies from efforts to pray about “good things” that honestly do not matter to us.

A Universe Responsive to Personality

  Key Words Universe Cosmos Consciousness
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 271
  Quote This opens up a deep truth about our universe as a whole. It is a world that responds to desire and to will, and in many ways. That is what we should expect of a universe that is fundamentally Trinitarian, based in the ultimate relaity of an interpersonal union too “one” to be many and too “many” to be just one.

The person we become

  Key Words Growth Fulfillment
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 275
  Quote What God gets out of our lives- and indeed, what we get out of our lives – is simply the person we become.

Page 275
This is why James says that patience in trials will make us “fully functional” (teleion), “perfect” (James 1:4)

  References Patience in trials (James 1:4)

Mercy and truth

  Key Words Mercy Truth
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 289
  Quote The kingdom of heaven is great enough that “mercy and truth can meet together”
  References Mercy and truth (Psalms 85:7-10)
Mercy brags (James 2:13)

Honour your father and mother

  Key Words Parent Father Mother
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 289
  Quote Talks about the importance of the command to honour Mother and Father, how this reflects an innate need within us.

On the greatest gifts of The Kingdom Among Us is the healing of the parent-child relationships “turning the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.”

  References Honour your Father and your Mother (Exodus 20:12)
The hearts of children (Malachi 4:6)

Forgiving ourselves

  Key Words Forgiveness Righteousness Justice
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 290
  Quote Today we sometimes speak of peope who cannot forgive themselves. Usually, however, the problem is much deeper. More often than not, these are people who refuse to live on the basis of pity. Their problem is not that they are hard on themselves, but that they are proud. And if they are hard on themselves it is because they are proud. They do not want to accept that they can only live on the basis of pity from others, that the good that comes to them is rarely “deserved”. If they would only do that, it would transform their lives. They would easily stop punishing themselves for what they have done.

God is spirit

  Key Words Sight Visible Spirit
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 303
  Quote This fits with a lot of what I have thought about regarding Dawkins and his scientific positivism, and the need to view everything as spiritual, as somehow also beyond the visible – Neil.

Willard writes:
The human mind in its now standard form does not, generally speaking, accept as reality what it cannot see. The spiritual nature of God, here reaffirmed by Jesus with reference to his own personality, was presented to the Jewish people early in their history (Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 4:12, 15). But it was something even they never quite mastered – though they did not understand about idolatry. That is shown by the dominance of the highly visible “rightness of scribes and Pharisees”

  References You shall not make for yourself a carved image (Exodus 20:4)
You saw no form (Deuteronomy 4:12-15)

Living the Jesus life

  Key Words Discipleship Learning Vocation
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 310
  Quote I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were me. I am not necessarily learning to do everything he did, but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner that he did all that he did.

The Divine Conspiracy – Part 6

Use of Disciplines

  Key Words Discipline Discipleship Obedience Sanctification
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 221
  Quote A discipline is an activity in our power that we do to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort.

A long death

  Key Words Death Afterlife Heaven Eternity
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 229
  Quote There is, I think, a tendency to regard this treasure in heaven as something that is only for the “by-and-by”. It is thought to be life life insurance, so called, whose benfits only come after death. And indeed it is crucial to understand that, because we are friends of Jesus Christ, we do have “an inheritance that is imperishable, untarnished, unfading, reserved in the heavens for those of us who by faith are guarded by the power of God unto a salvation set to be revealed in due time.” (1 Peter 1:4-5). This is important. As the Egyptians discovered long ago, we are going to be “dead” a lot longer than we are alive on earth.
  References Imperishable inheritance (1 Peter 1:4-5)

The lust of the eyes

  Key Words Lust Visual Eye Sight Temptation Appearance Superficial
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 232
  Quote All of this about food and treasuring food, but of course some people would rather starve than look bad. Thus one of the three things that make up “the world”, the human order according to the apostle John is “the lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16).
  References The lust of the eyes (1 John 2:16)

Dirk Willens

  Key Words Sacrifice Persecution
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 235
  Quote In sixteenth-century Holland, the Mennonites were outlawed and, when caught, often executed. One of the, Dirk Willens, was being chased across and icefield when his pursuer broke thorugh and fell in. In response to his cries for help, Willens returned and saved him from the waters. The pursuer was so grateful and astonished that he would do such a thing but nevertheless arrested him, as he thought it his duty to do. A few days later Willens was executed by being burned at the stake in the town of Asperen. It was precisely this Christlikeness that brought on his execution.

Spiriktual Community

  Key Words Community Passion Fellowship Commnunion
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 237
  Quote From Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Within the spiritual community there is never, nor in any way, any immediate relationship of one to another, whereas human community expresses a profound elemental, human desire for community, for immediate contact with other human souls, just as in flesh there is the urge for physical merger with other flesh.

Love the sin and hate the sinner

  Key Words Sin Self Pride Consciousness
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 248
  Quote It is interesting and important to observe that today the old phrase “hate the sin and love the sinner” no longer is accepted. If you disapprove of what I do or how I do it, it is now generally thought, you can only be condemning me and rejecting me. This is another evidence of the devastating effect of the loss to our culture of any idea of the self as a spirtual being that not only has but is an inner substance. “I am my actions,” it is thought, “and how then can you say you disapprove of my actions but love me?”

This chimes with a discussion of page 209 of the God Delusion about the construction of the self.

Loving neighbour and God

  Key Words Love Witness Evangelism
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 253
  Quote But what are we to do in our desire to help others? Nothing? That would be unacceptable. It is not consistent with really loving those around us. Thus Saint Augustine understood love of neighbour as requiring that “we must endeavour to get our neighbour to love God.’ He understood this to apply to our family, our hosehold and ‘all within our reach.’

Page 259
We need to love our neighbours as ourselves, do to them as we would be done to. Receiving the good news of the kingdom will enable us to do that, for it obliterates scarctiy and win-lose relationships. Then, indeed as well as in prayer we will seek their good as well as our own. A life of prayer shows us the way to what we need and harmonises the desires of everyone in the group. Because we are living in the kingdom of the heavens, we are released from absorbing desires that would deflect us from what is really good. In many ways it is the life of prayer that discovers a space in which all can live.

We never go one-on-one

  Key Words Love Community Friendship Neighbour
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 260
  Quote Another way of saying this is that among those who live as Jesus’ apprentices there are not relationships that omit the presence and action of Jesus. We never go ‘one on one’; all relationships are mediated through him. I never think simply of what I am going to do with you, to you or for you. Likewise, I never think of what you are going to do with me, to me and for me, but of what will be done by you and Jesis with me, to me and for me.

Page 261, From Bonhoeffer

Jesus Christ stands between the lover and the others he loves… Because Christ stands between me and others, I dare not desire direct fellowship with them. As only Christ can speak to me in such a way that I may be saved, so others, too, can be saved only by Christ himself. This means that I must release the other person from every attempt of mine to regulate, coerce and dominate him with my love… Thus this spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ. It knows that the most direct way to others is always through prayer to Chirst and that love of the others is wholly dependent upon the truth in Christ.

Glory dust and death

  Key Words Humanity Finitude Limit Death Failure
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 262
  Quote Pure “Spiritual” relationships with others would , therefore, be dangerous at best, for they are inherently false to the human condition. That condition is one of labour, glory ,dust and earth. It is one constant incongruity between human dreams and dignity, on the one hand, and human realities on the other. We are incarnate and finite beings, trailing clouds of over-aspiration and ragged incompleteness. When our “spirituality” disconnects from the natural contexts and relationships that are always there nevertheless, one of the chief signs of what is happening is that we lose our ability to laugh.
  References He remembers that we are dust (Psalms 103:14)

The Divine Conspiracy – Part 5

On being Good

  Key Words Sanctification Goodness Growth
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 145
  Quote From C.S. Lewis
The command “be ye perfect” is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.

On Jesus (from Willard)
He takes this concrete approach because his aim is to enable people to be good, not just talk about it. He actually knows how to enable people to be good, and he brings his knowledge to bear upon life as it really is, not some intellectualised and sanctified version thereof.

He knows that people deeply hunger to be good but cannot find their way. No one wishes to do evil for its own sake, we just find it unfortunately “necessary”. We want to be good but are ready to do evil, and we come prepared with lengthy justifications.

Page 154, from Bonhoeffer
The only proper response to this word which Jesus brings with him from eternity is simply to do it

Page 146
By contrast, a little girl in Sunday School expressed the human ambiguity well. When asked what a lie is, she replied “A lie is an abomination to God and a very present help in time of trouble.”

The revolution that lasted

  Key Words Jesus History
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 147
  Quote From Michael Grant:
The most potent figure, not only in the history of religion, but in world history as a whole, is Jesus Christ: the maker of one of the few revolutions that have lasted. Millions of men and women for century after century have found this life and teaching overwhelmingly significant and moving. And there is ample reason… in this later twentieth century why this should still be so.

Murder and anger

  Key Words Murder Hate Contempt Anger
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 168
  Quote In the United States there are around 25,000 murders each year. There are 1,000 murders in the workplace, and a million people are injured in the workplace by violent attacks from co-workers. Most of the workplace murders occur after long periods of open rage and threats, and many involve murders of innocent bystanders. It is a simple fact that none of the 25,000 murders, or only a negligible number of them, would have occurred but for an anger that the killers chose to embrace and indulge.

Page 169
But there is nothing that can be done with anger than cannot be done better without it.

… To retain anger and to cultivate it is, by contrast, “to give the devil a chance” (Eph 4:26-27). He will take the chance and there will be hell to pay. The delicious morsel of self-righteousness that anger cultivated always contains comes at a high price in the self-righteousness reaction of those we cherish anger towards. And the cycle is endless as long as anger has sway.

Page 177
If you pull contempt and unrestrained anger out of human life, you have thereby rid it of by far the greater part of wrong acts that actually get carried out.

  References Give Evil A Chance (Ephesians 4:26-27)

How things turn out

  Key Words Love Outcomes Consequence
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 177
  Quote Standing in the kingdom, we make responsible decisions in love, with assurance that how things turn out for us does not really matter that much because, in any case, we are in the kingdom of the heavens. In that kingdom nothing that can happen to us is “the end of the world.”

Men who were right

  Key Words Sexuality Adultery Lust
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 178
  Quote Jesus was confronted with multitudes of men who thought of themselves as good, as right in their sexual life because they did not do the specific thing forbidden by the commandment. They were like those who thought they were right in relation to their fellow men because they had not killed them.

The Unrivalled Master Of Human Life

  Key Words Discipline Obedience
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 206
  Quote And it is with regard to this issue of what kind of people we are to be that the teachings of Jesus about the rightness of the kingdom heart show him to be the unrivalled master of human life. Any serious inquirer can validate those teachings in his or her own experience. But they cannot invalidate them by simply refusing to consider them and hiding behind the dogmas of modern intellect.

Genuine theological research

  Key Words Prayer Theology
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 214
  Quote Prayer, it is rightly said, is the method of genuine theological research, the method of understanding what and who God is.

Pretty words

  Key Words Scripture Belief Trust
  Source The Divine Conspiracy
  Source Author Willard, Dallas
  Location 219
  Quote Lack of confidence in the kingdom will force us to take the “pretty words” reading of the words of scripture.
  References God-breathed scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16)