‘Lengthy’. That sounds like a negative word, right? Unless, perhaps, I’m referring to a holiday in balmy Malaga, by a pool-side, reading Robert Harris, eating paella, sipping San Miguel. But, I did say yesterday that I would look at how it applies to Jesus and prayer.
We don’t like to wait. None of us do. Or, if we have to, only for very short times that seem reasonable to us. When it comes to the things we want, we ‘want them now’. Obviously, this is both a Universal human condition, (our inherent desire for instant gratification), but also a peculiar product of the tick-tock, treadmill, consumerist age in which we live. It gets all over us like a materialist mist – we can observe it clearly for what it is when we’re far away out of its reach, but, within it, we’re oblivious to the effect of its density. And it’s getting worse, generation by generation.
One of the sweetest highlights in pastoral ministry I’ve experienced thus far was when I was stood next to one of my best friends on the front row of the church we were leading together at the time. Like in any church, there were seemingly thousands of things/responsibilities/behind-the-scenes situations that were threatening to kidnap my simple worship and devotion.
I was stood wrestling with a few things, including fear, my eyes closed, as I tried to push in to his presence. I was trying. I’m still trying today, with a whole bunch of things. (more…)
If we stop even for a minute and think about what ruined castles and cathedrals might represent to us today, we could easily come up with an metaphorical message that could be spiritualised to mean something that is gospel-centred and Christ-exalting. For example, castles could be portrayed to represent the distant kingdoms of Earth, the limited strength of mankind and the blunt pinnacles of hierarchical societies. Conversely, cathedrals could be portrayed as prophetic structures; as places of sanctuary amidst persecution and timeless houses of worship.
The post yesterday tried to shine a spot-light on the nature of God as an affectionate Lover of His people and the difference between this reality and the notion that God loves us only because He loves us unconditionally, as though we weren’t lovable to Him. Of course, our standing before Him is both transactional and covenantal (Romans 3: 1-24) but His love is not without emotional affection.
I was at a friend’s house over the weekend for breakfast and afterwards watched his little 4-year old boy plumb the depths of despair and rise to the heights of elation, back and forth, in literally less than a second. His roller-coaster emotions depended entirely on the pressure of water coming from the water hose pipe he was holding during a garden-based water fight. His little facial expressions were genius!
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.
“If we really believe the gospel we proclaim, we’ll be honest about our own beauty and brokenness, and the beautiful broken One will make Himself known to our neighbours through the chinks in our armour – and in theirs”
In September I wrote about The Furious Longing of God, by Brennan Manning, whose revelation expresses the mind-bending truth that Abba “loves us as we are not as we should be”. The full truth of course is that none of us are as we should be.
“All Is Grace” is a moving autobiographical account of Manning’s life including his deep struggle with alcohol addiction. The account is so transparent that it served to kindle again the fire of grace in my life. Sometimes this fire might simmer down in all of us to something more resembling a glowing ember, and so it needs the stoking of testimony and of revelation.
There are three absolute gems that I’d like to make a note of from the book and then let you hear/see a song I wrote and recorded earlier this year that gives a voice of worship to these glowing, but ignitable, embers of the fire of grace.
Gem One – “God Loves Us As We Are Not As We Should Be”
This inexhaustible phrase is a statement of truth that seeps through the human psyche only by faith. When it does, it begins to permeate all of our living as the reality of His unconditional love becomes our felt experience. I have been the kind of Christian who says that I believe in a love like this but who rarely feels it by personal experience. But this is changing – I am ‘Daddy’s little boy’ – period. Let us be aware of this sounding to us like a wooly emotional crutch for the weak or the ‘needy’. This is the gospel and, I’m convinced, the key to all of our living. As Mike Bickle says, “I am loved by God therefore I am profoundly successful”
Gem Two – “Gulping and Sipping”
In the foreward of the book, Philip Yancey refers to Manning’s ‘gulping of grace’ as his way of life. It caught my attention because all too often I know that my drinking (or receiving) of His grace is much more like a sipping. In Jesus, Abba has made provision for our constant gulping of these waters and we honour Him as we do so in every single minute of every hour of every day. We need to and He is glorified as we do. There is a tendency for all of us to default back to a surveying of our ‘track records’ or ‘current performances’ as the true indicator of our standing with God – there is something very strong within us that wants to be justifiable by ourselves not justified by a Saviour. We must resist this to grow in grace.
Gem Three – “Banana Peels and Fairy Tales”
Right at the end of the book, Manning highlights that this kind of grace will be like a ‘banana peel for the orthodox foot‘ and ‘a fairy tale for the grown up sensibility‘ – in other words, something that makes them fall on their butts or something that they reject as a made-up story. This makes me want to be neither orthodox or grown up! Why? Because I don’t want to waste my life sipping nervously or uncertainly from the infinite grace of Abba by labelling it as ‘cheap’ if I fall. Or wasting my life worrying about my weaknesses and all the while not experiencing the fulness of the Father’s love. It’s not cheap grace, says Manning, it’s free grace! Instead of a person who is gulping from grace being called a ‘cop out’ couldn’t we live increasingly with the understanding that when we do sin we have an Advocate in heaven interceding on our behalf and that, regardless, we have an Abba who loves us furiously? But God does mean that our gulping will result in our healing from sin (1 John 2:1).
“It’s Your Grace”
is a response from my life to the reality of being constantly touched and kept by grace every minute of every hour of every day that I’m alive. I’d like to think that if Brennan was to hear it that he’d worship Jesus along with me. I hope you will too.
It is true to say that the right book in the right hand at the right time can literally save a life. And the power of someone’s testimony in the right hand at the right time is spectacularly powerful, let alone a husband and wife’s.
In “Love and War” John and Stasi Eldredge have ‘bared all’ to give any engaged or married couple an absolute must of a gift when it comes to preparing for and living in happy, glad-hearted marriage. Of course, it is also a must read for single Christian people to prepare their thinking in advance of finding the romance of love and the heart-ache of the relational war that will go hand-in-hand with ‘boy meets girl’.
Love and War combines profound insight, honest and refreshing directness as well as disarming humour that opens up the readers’ heart to better understand, and more deeply love, the one to whom they are betrothed. It is a cool, trendy, relevant exploration of this mysterious thing we call marriage and should be read prayerfully as it will require you to change, big time. Highlights include the chapter on sex, the perfect storm, the greatest gift you can give and a cracking sub-section on opposites do attract.
Thanks to the Eldredge’s for their testimony and not giving up that others might also get to 25years, and way beyond, as happily married Christian men and women.
We all know that God likes it when we’re humble and He’s not very happy when we’re proud and arrogant. How is it then that we often struggle to take the last spot in the queue or the smallest bit of pizza from the Domino’s box? Why do we insist on giving ourselves the best shot instead of making room for God to do something far more glorious?
Living in Christian community can be very challenging. Getting on with people can be very challenging. Not taking offense is an on-going challenge. But the call from God is to ‘go low’.
I visited IHOP (see http://www.ihop.org) a couple of years ago and this is where I heard the phrase ‘getting low’. It means that whenever we are tempted to climb higher on the back of our own sense of ‘justice’ or ‘rightness’ or whatever it is that we think is the ‘way’, we need to forget that and place our own agendas down. Jesus said to consider the needs of each other….to prefer others to yourselves. And James talks about bearing with one another in gentleness (James 3: 17-18 MSG) as being a true sign of holiness and wisdom.
So, I am reminded again to ‘get low’, get on the floor, eat carpet, let go of offense and hurts, prefer others, love others, look to the interests of others…and when I see situations on the horizon to ‘get high’ for myself to instead resist and get down low.
Father, I ask you today for a greater anointing of humility on my life and for all who read this.
The other day I was running along a canal near to where I live in Bradford and I was praying as I started picking up speed.
As I was running this particular day, a young chap with a bright ginger beard, a caring face and a full-length shell-suit caught my heightened attention as I noticed him stroll past me as I’d stopped to stretch. My half-hearted attempt to respond to what the Holy Spirit was saying was to ask him for the time, which he didn’t have.
“So you’ve just asked him for something you don’t need instead of giving him what you do have and that he desperately needs?”. That was my canal-side conviction.
Off I went a few minutes later thinking I might see him again, and I did, coming back towards me. This time I bailed out again – silly thoughts overtaking the Holy Spirit in me – ‘what should I say?’ – knowing full-well that I’d know right in the minute.
I carried on running away from this chap who I’d just passed again. I didn’t get much past a minute down the canal and I had to turn back around. If you want it to, the love of Christ will compel you. Up ahead I saw the guy who I was just about to find out was called Adam. Jesus is awesome and He’s with you – that’s all he needed to hear.
The smile that crept across my face after we’d finished talking told me, “that’s it!!”.
When we engage with what God is saying at any given moment we cast ripples across eternity.
I kicked a few stones in the canal and praised God.