“While discussing the growing antipathy towards Christians, a friend remarked to me, ‘There are three kinds of Christians that outsiders to the faith still respect: pilgrims, activists and artists. The uncommitted will listen to them far sooner than to an evangelist or apologist’. Although non-believers do not oppose a spiritual search, they will listen only to those Christians who present themselves as fellow pilgrims on the way rather than as part of a superior class who have already arrived. Activists express their faith in the most persuasive way of all, by their deeds. And art succeeds when it speaks most authentically to the human condition; when believers do so with skill, again the world takes note.”
Philip Yancey – Vanishing Grace
There’s a lot of wisdom there. It often feels as if we’re meant to be more sure of having all the answers – but that seems foolish.
Regardless of our belief, our view of the world is no more valid than anyone else’s. The journey of life is equal to us all. Holding a Christian belief makes for no less fumbling around in the dark, we’re just believing to have seen a light only visible from the minds eye.
I wish we as the church could live pilgrimage better than we do.
Receptivity is not a single thing; it is a compound rather, a blending of several elements within the soul. It is an affinity for, a bent towards, a sympathetic response to, a desire to have. From this it may be gathered that it can be present in degrees, that we may have little or more or less, depending upon the individual. It may be increased by exercise or destroyed by neglect. It is not a sovereign and irresistible force which comes upon us as a seizure from above. It is a gift of God, indeed, but one which must be recognised and cultivated as any other gift if it to realise the purpose for which it was given. Failure to see this is the cause of a very serious breakdown in modern evangelicalism. The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is now too slow, too common. We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action.
A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.
The tragic results of this spirit are all about us. Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasis-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of the dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit: these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.
For this great sickness hat is upon us no one person is responsible, and no Christian is wholly free form blame. We have all contributed, directly or indirectly, to this sad state of affairs. We have been too blind to see, or too timid to speak out, or too self-satisfied to desire anything better than the poor average diet with which others appear satisfied. To put it differently, we have accepted one another’s notions, copied one another’s lives and made one another’s experiences the model for our own.
A.W Tozer, 1948.
We’ve come a long way.
If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.
C.S Lewis – Mere Christianity
One day soon we will round a bend in the road, and our dreams will come true. We really will happily ever after. The long years in exile will be swept away in the joyful tears of our arrival. Every day when we rise we can tell ourselves, my journey today will bring me closer to home; it may be just around the bend. All we long for, we will have; all we long to be, we will be. All that has hurt us so deeply will be swept away
John Eldridge – Epic
Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents.
And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him?
She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.
The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise – the king took on a totally new identity – He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.
Søren Kierkegaard – The King and the Maiden
Written as a modern day parable of the coming of Jesus.
Love can’t be forced. It’s given freely, or it ceases to exist; always leaving a choice to be received or rejected. But it must be that way.
God descended and appeared, to tell me and show me he loved me.
How will I respond?
Evan Almighty’s a pretty forgettable film but there was a poignant moment at the end.
Without explanation God appears to Evan and is told to build an ark, in essence becoming Noah incarnate. He resists, runs away, denies it, fights the command and generally makes it incredibly hard for himself, but he’s eventually worn down and goes along with it.
It’s only right at the end, in hindsight that the explanation becomes clear, and had he known what he knew at the end, I can’t help but think he would have chosen to make the journey far smoother for himself.
Evan: You knew along, didn’t you? You knew the dam was unstable. If it hadn’t been for the ark, my family, my neighbours… [would have died]. I fought you every step of the way…
God: Yes, but you did it.
Evan: So, you had nothing to do with the flood? Like where the ark landed exactly?
God: I gave you a little shove at the end. Sue me…
I’m exactly the same. I fight God. I fight the circumstances he beckons me to walk through that I don’t understand. I throw regular tantrums along with the hand he’s dealt me back in his face. I tell Him he’s wrong; that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I tell him I know best.
Deep down though I know I don’t. He knows best and I know it. He knows everything. The whole lot. Every detail. Nothing’s a mystery to God. He’s never surprised… and with hindsight, anything He calls us to do or asks of us will be justified and shown to be good, or at least to carry some sort of purpose or redemption.
Rarely does he oppress his will upon us harshly. Often he coaxes us gently. We kick and scream but He never loses patience. He knows how slow we are to learn and that our learning to trust him will be messy. I think we expect ourselves to cope far better than he ever does; when we struggle to accept what he’s doing in our lives he just loves us.
Was clearing out a box of old games a while ago. Settlers 3 was a classic. You basically assume the role of God, create tiny people (called settlers), assign them various roles, and then watch them gather, mine, fish, grow, and carry a colony into existence.
It gave me a faint glimpse into how God might possibly see us within the context of creation.
Despite my settlers being nothing but combinations of coloured pixels, I found myself getting weirdly attached to these little guys. I wanted their good and to see them flourish. Pathetic I know, but, if that’s how I can feel about pixels, imagine how much more God must delight in me. My settlers have no life. They don’t feel. They’ve no personalities. No ability to chose or reason or think for themselves. They can’t speak or relate to me personally, they simply follow a set of pre-determined behaviours developed by a programmer.
We can do all those things though and are infinitely more complex, so how much more must God think of and feel for us?
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
C.S. Lewis – The Last Battle
As a Jesus fan, I know what I should believe, but in the context of day-to-day life belief is messier, less clear cut and inevitably more mysterious. We all adopt philosophies for life that shape how we live and form the basis for many of the decisions and choices we make. A friend was having some doubts about the whole God thing a few weeks ago so I quickly scribbled down a few random completely incomplete thoughts to see what it is I really believe in day to day…
At the most basic level I believe I exist. I believe that there’s something greater than me, that made me, and created a vague sense of order and creativity in all I see around me. I believe he is good and I call him God. I believe he is incomprehensible.
In me are desires. Wants. A seeking of pleasure and security. Comfort. Connection and relationship with others.
I believe I feel more complete when I live a life of generosity; when I live for the good of others. Sacrificially. In pursuit of their joy. I believe that seeking my own ends will make me miserable and ultimately prove meaningless.
My belief is stubbornly “to whom else can I go” [in respect to Jesus]. I see no alternative. I feel no alternative. I want no alternative. Even if I decided God to be mere imagination, I would still choose sacrifice. It brings joy. And joy lasts. Pleasures don’t. They come and go, rise and fall, but always fade. They don’t last. They always have a low-hanging ceiling, that seeking to break through will either kill you or at least dehumanise you. If I get to the end of my life and it turns out God doesn’t exist, that Heaven was an illusion of my mind, what have I lost? Has the world not been a better place for my living as if he did?
I believe in goodness. And love. In beauty. In gentleness, kindness and mercy. In respect, honour, dignity, light. I believe in work and development. In growing, in cultivation of all things good. I believe in rest, in relaxation, in appreciation. I believe in solitude and crowds. Retreat and participation I believe in spending myself for the sake of others, that the greatest beauty is displayed in the most costly sacrifices.
I believe I will live forever, but don’t know where for sure until I get there. I’m not afraid of death, i’m curious, i’d just rather not have to die. It doesn’t look nice, even if it’s passing is natural. I believe that one day i’ll understand everything, that i’ll see Jesus’ face as he welcomes me Home.
I’ll probably add to them at some point.
This songs blessed me over the last few weeks. Watch it on YouTube
God loves for us is amazing.
I hear You say,
“My love is over. It’s underneath.
It’s inside. It’s in between.
The times you doubt Me, when you can’t feel.
The times that you question, ‘Is this for real? ‘
The times you’re broken.
The times that you mend.
The times that you hate Me, and the times that you bend.
Well, My love is over, it’s underneath.
It’s inside, it’s in between.
These times you’re healing, and when your heart breaks.
The times that you feel like you’re falling from grace.
The times you’re hurting.
The times that you heal.
The times you go hungry, and are tempted to steal.
The times of confusion, in chaos and pain.
I’m there in your sorrow, under the weight of your shame.
I’m there through your heartache.
I’m there in the storm.
My love I will keep you, by My pow’r alone.
I don’t care where you fall, where you have been.
I’ll never forsake you, My love never ends.
It never ends.”
(Tenth Avenue North – “Times”)