Warner's TheoBlog

Thoughts from a disciple who writes


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You found me

I have thought long and hard about whether I should put this Psalm on my blog. I really don’t want people to think that I am on the edge of depression or about to lose my mind. I am not. But, at the same time, I know that my thoughts can become quite bleak and melancholy.

I was recently asked a question – “How would your life would look if I had not met Jesus?” I cannot imagine that, without Jesus, I would lose myself to a life of drugs and debauchery, but I can imagine that, without Jesus, my life would be dark, introspective and deeply negative, philosophically and spiritually. Father God gives meaning and shape to my life. Without him, I would simply be purposeless and lost because, as I look around the world, watch the news and hear the stories of people’s lives, I find little hope or relief from the state of humanity. The poor and humble are stamped on for the good of the powerful and well off. Everything is the same as it has always been. For every hopeful moment of progress there seems to be the same or more injustice and pain for the vast majority of the human race. The only real hope for the world is in Jesus.

This Psalm is the result of my cogitation based on that question. Whilst it starts quite darkly (although this is severely edited from the original 4 pages), it is not dark… it is full of hope. Read the second half first if you like.

A Psalm about being known

Without you, I stand alone,

once hopeful life becomes a howling waste.

No consolation in my own importance,

no purpose in life,

overwhelmed by the brief instant of time.

I have been overcome as I realise that,

when the music fades and my life is overtaken by reality,

there is only me for the blink of an eternal eye.

Born to breathe…

Death my inevitable end…

Dust my destination.

Remembered for a generation if I am lucky.

Subject only to the selfish ramblings of others,

using my brief flame as a justification for my own significance.

In truth there is senseless transitory breath.

Each one of us is unique, making it sadder still when we pass away.

Each person is temporary… unrepeated, forever lost.

Life is dust to blow away on the wind.

 

But, you found me.

You found me.

You know my name.

You are my Father.

You found me.

You found me.

You know me by my name.

I am not lost.

 

Insignificant no longer.

Apart from the crowd.

Chosen, called, redeemed…

I am a child of God

Uniquely made,

uniquely saved.

I have a name.

I am my Father’s son.

 

You found me…

I see you.

I recognise you…

Father.

You give life meaning.

In you there is purpose.

In your hand I was formed from dust.

Made so much more… your child.

I don’t understand,

I don’t need to.

I lay down my right

to know and comprehend.

I cannot find meaning without you,

man made boundaries just wont do.

True value is in you.

Only you!

 

I stand in your presence,

breathing deeply,

breathless in the gale of your Spirit.

I am alive!

Holy Spirit blows,

filling my lungs,

tears springing from my eyes,

breathless exhilaration in life.

I am embraced

for no other reason than love.

I am loved!

You know my name.

 

My voice cries out,

no longer lost in the vastness of the universe.

I cry out to my Father,

greeted with raptured attention.

You hear my cry

and respond in love.

My desires are reformed,

My will re-made,

More like Jesus,

No longer just for me.

Illuminated by everlasting love

Shaped by sacrifice and grace.

 

I am alive!

I have a purpose!

I have a reason to breathe,

to speak,

to write,

to live.

No longer an empty universe.

I am loved.

I am cherished.

I am given a purpose.

I belong.

I am yours!

You are mine!

My Father, Mother, Saviour, Friend,

Peace, Grace, Truth, and life.

My everything.

 

You found me.

You found me.

You know my name.

I am your child.

 


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A lament of thanksgiving

I hate the door to my prison.

It stands, apparently immovable, between me and the outside.

It stubbornly refuses to move, to open or to fade away.

I remain here, in my prison.

 

Yet, this prison is a gift from you, O God.

A holy opportunity to spend time in your presence.

Your presence fills my cell and your voice is clear and fluent.

How wonderful it is to be with you.

 

My human nature rebels against the walls,

yet my spirit soars without limitation.

Time in your presence is never wasted.

True freedom resides in being where You want me to be.

 

I could kick down the door and run outside,

but all I would achieve would be to escape my freedom;

an escape from your presence;

an escape from your perfect will.

 

I will wait for you, O Lord my God.

I still yearn to see you open the door to my cell.

Because then I will be released

and together we will walk into the light.

 

Lord, come quickly.

Father, fulfil your promises.

Make real the visions of my youth and the promises you gave.

Lord, open the door for me to walk with you into the light.

 

I yearn to be free,

yet I will not walk out of my prison if you do not walk with me.

I no longer fear solitude,

because you are with me and closer to me than ever.

I am never alone,

because you are here with me, O my Lord and my God.

 

When the prison door is opened, I will dance into the light.

But,

until then,

I will dance in the dark.

 

I will dance because of your love and grace.

I will celebrate your mercy and open handedness.

I will cavort and spin and bounce and sway,

because you are God and I love you.

 

Be with me Lord.

Be with me, my Father.

I do not hate my prison cell.

I don not hate your presence.

 

I hate the sin that holds me here.

I begrudge the nature in me that needs to be changed.

I acknowledge this is the way by which you are changing me.

In truth, there is neither prison nor freedom, there is only your presence.

 

O my Lord and my God, do not wait forever.


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Paying the price

I wonder if, for too long, the Christian faith has been presented as an easy option?

Let me start by stating that Jesus has paid the price for our salvation, once and for all. We are saved by grace, not as a result of our own righteousness. In this way, the price that we simply cannot afford has already been paid, fully and unequivocally, and salvation is free. BUT…

However, it is not salvation that is at issue, so much as it is the life of a disciple.

To paraphrase Bill Hybels, if the Christian faith is only about salvation, why are we still breathing? Why is it that we are not, as soon as we believe, taken into heaven? What happens after salvation? It is after we are saved that God asks us to pay a price. We don’t have to pay it, but we are given the opportunity to do so over the rest of our life on Earth.

Richard Taylor, at #RMLC2014, talked about an aeroplane where the ones who are in first class are simply those who are willing to pay the price expected to upgrade from standard seating. All of the passengers are heading for their destination, but some have paid more and so find more on their journey. The difference between standard and first class is not where one travels, it is how one travels.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)

These words of Jesus do not say that there is a cost to salvation. Anyone can hear the words of Jesus, comprehend the meaning and believe in the truth. Yet, there is a difference between those who believe and those who follow. Following Jesus costs more, but it means more too.

To follow Jesus we must give up our own preferences and life choices. We must choose to submit our future to him, living in a way that is consistent with his teaching, even if it is different to what we have always known. This might mean that we strain, or even lose, relationships with family and friends who do not agree with us or understand our faith. It might necessitate a change in our priorities of time and effort. Following Jesus will almost certainly mean that we have to sacrifice our need for control over our own destiny, choosing to live by faith instead of knowledge.

Following Jesus ALWAYS leads to change. We will change, our lives will change, our relationships will change and our view of the world that we live in will change.

The Cost of following Jesus is simply that we have to follow Jesus, wherever he leads us… even when it results in derision, persecution and, possibly, death.

Why? Because Jesus Christ is the only way for the people of the world to be reconciled to the God who created them. He is the only way to be forgiven from sin and the only path into the presence of the living God. Further, the people of this world NEED to see the truth that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. It is through the lives of the disciples of Jesus that they will find the evidence of the truth of salvation by grace. We are the body of Christ!

To be saved does not mean that I need to be a disciple of Jesus. I don’t have to pay that price. But, because I am saved, how can I not follow? How can I not dive into God? The question is this… am I willing to pay the price so that my fellow men and women of the world might taste and see that Jesus is the way to full and wonderful life?

“Where else can I go? With you, Jesus, are the words of eternal life”

End Note – This blog is the result of my thoughts following the @RMChurches Leadership Conference in Norwich (#RMLC2014).


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Happy Christmas! He is in it with us!

Christmas cogitation part 9

For me, one of the most important verses in the Bible is also the most important verse of the Christmas period.

“The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the Only Begotten Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NIV)

I like the translation in Message too;

“The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.” (John 1:14 MSG)

Jesus is the Word. He is the beginning and the end. It is this Word that is incarnated in the person of a human baby. He takes the form of a human being, just like us. Why? So that we can be rescued to be just like Him.

Human beings are separated from God by the sin of pride. It is our pride that leads us to conclude that we do not need God. That we can find our purpose and being in the world we live in by our own actions. This is simply not true.

Without God, there is no purpose or meaning for us. We are formed by God to walk with Him. Our purpose is to live in relationship with God and as long as we do not do so we will forever be disconnected and lost. When we walk alone we are simply not doing what we are supped to be doing. We are like a shoe that is being used as a doorstop. In some way the shoe is up to the task of keeping a door open, but this task is so much less that the purpose that the shoe was intended for.

In the midst of this beautiful, broken and suffering world, humanity is lost and alone. Struggling to create a place of meaning and significance, yet doomed to failure since our meaning and significance rests in God. We will only ever find eternal meaning and significance when we live the life we were created to live. When we walk with God.

God sends His son, Jesus, to be born, live, walk, suffer, die and rise in the same world that we live in. He literally moves in to the middle of the neighbourhood where we live, so that he can point us towards the Father. Jesus is in it with us.

That God would make and enact such a plan is the proof of His glory and the evidence of his commitment to the people that he created. Jesus directs us to the Father, evidence of His grace and the truth and that the only true purpose for human beings is found by being close to Him. We are adopted by God, as beloved children, as a result.

I simply love this concept. Jesus is in it with us! He has moved in to the same situation that we live in, for the profoundly simple reason that we need to be offered a way to come to God. We cannot do it for ourselves, so Jesus does it for us.

An idea and truth that is worth celebrating.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!


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Good faith is good

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1)

I have spent a lot of time in the last week or so cogitating on this verse and the chapter that follows it. I hesitate to blog on it, because I am not entirely sure that I have a proper handle on it. I seem to have a lot of interesting ideas but I am struggling to put them into plain English. (What is the point of an idea if no one except I can understand what I mean?). So let me know if the following is clear.

My first thought is this. Faith is good. Actually, let me put it slightly differently. Good faith is good.

Faith is, according to the verse above, surety of what we hope for and certainty about the things that we do not see. From the perspective of the passage, this is a good thing. All of the people listed in Hebrews 11 stand in faith upon positive promises of God. They hold on to the things that God has said to them and they act in accordance with the future that God has promised, but that is not yet realised.

All of us need to take this on board. What are the promises of God for you? There are many that are clearly general promises in the Bible. That God will bring us into His Kingdom, that those have faith in Jesus will be saved, that the Holy Spirit empowers those who have faith in Jesus, and so on. There are also promises that are specific to us. God speaks to His children (another promise) through the power of the Holy Spirit. What has He said? How we live our lives and the choices that we make point clearly and honestly to where our faith lies.

A specific example of this from my own life is that God called me, 4 years ago now, to leave the church, stay in Braintree and He promised to provide for me and my family. The decision that my wife and I made as a result was to leave our denomination and stay in Braintree. Even though we had no work or home of our own in the town, we put into action the decisions that were in accordance with God’s word to stay in Braintree. We found that, after we had acted in faith, God provided work and, miraculously, the ability to buy a home. God is always faithful to His promises. I have faith in this.

My second thought is similar and, possibly, equally obvious. Bad faith is not good. Faith is the surety and certainty of what is as yet unseen. Therefore, if one is sure that things are going to turn out bad and fearful that the path that might lie ahead could lead to difficulty or pain, then that too is faith (just not a good sort). This kind of faith will also determine our actions and lead us on a path other than God’s.

Fear is not simply the opposite of faith, it is another kind of faith. How many of us who claim to believe in the word of God really, beneath the surface, worry that it is not real or true? Many, many Christians live by fear of what might go wrong rather than faith that God is REALLY all powerful.

For example, how many of us have a stronger belief in our own unworthiness than we have in the grace of God? If we believe, at the heart of things, that we are unworthy of God’s love more strongly than we believe that God offers His grace to us freely and without any need for us to earn it, then we will act accordingly. We will live in fear of God’s punishment rather than assurance of His love. It is so easy to believe that, really, after all is said and done, in the end, I need to be a better person in order to know God. All that this leads to is a guilty conscience and slavery to religious practices that are supposed to purify us for God. When we have faith that God offers free grace then things are very different. It is only after we come to God in Jesus that we change and are transformed into better people because we know God. When we come to God in faith, in humility and submission, then God’s plan unfolds in our lives and we are transformed by it. We are not changed in order to come to God, we are changed because we do come to God.

Fear is a faith that things might not turn out well and it dominates many Christian’s as they try to live in Jesus. Fear ruins the lives of disciples, because it is twisted faith.

I guess the question goes something like this… what do you have faith in most strongly – God or something else? If our faith is in God, then we will act in a way that opens the way for the power of God to move, because we will be in step with the Spirit. If our faith is in something else, then we will act to please or mollify that thing… or we might not act at all. Even then, we will probably try to justify what we do by saying we are doing it for God.

It is hard to think of examples that are simple to give. Yet we all know the competing voices that call for our attention in every area of our lives. The “What if…” question is always loud and it can cripple us as we seek to follow the will of God for our lives. If Noah had listened to what if… he would have drowned in the flood. Had Abraham listened to the what if voice… he would have died in Haran like his father before him.

There is only one voice that matters. The voice of God. When God speaks, there is no what if because we can be sure that He has the what if in hand. Our calling is to walk the path rather than plot the course.

The question I ask myself is this. “What has God said to me and am I acting upon it by faith? If I am not acting in accordance with it then why not?”

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1)


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Simon Schama’s ‘The Story of the Jews’

Whilst my blog is most often an opportunity for my theological thoughts and cogitations to be aired, there are times when I feel it necessary to make a comment on culture and the media. This week is one of those times.

I spent an interesting and enjoyable hour watching Simon Schama’s new BBC documentary, The Story of the Jews. As with all of his history programs, it was good TV and he is an engaging presenter. Since I am not an historian, I would not comment on the historical accuracy of his programmes, especially the ones that have focused purely on the history of Britain or America. Whilst I watched this one, however, I became increasingly uncomfortable.

I have a more than passing familiarity with the history of the Jews (through my theological studies) and as I watched him presented his understanding of the ancient history of the Jews I felt that it was almost unrecognizable. It took me a good half an hour to work out why.

When Simon Schama began the programme, he set out his reasons for doing so. Chief among them was his own need for identity as a Jew and his desire to belong through a shared story. Yet he very clearly avoided declaring a faith in the reality of God. In fact, he declared his solidarity with Sigmund Freud’s need for identity and conclusions as to his Jewish personhood. Freud was a secular Jew who believed that the concept of God was a projection of human need and could be reduced to an expression of the human psyche. Schama is, it seems, and Freud was, an atheist.

Schama went on to set out the ancient history of the Jewish people with only a passing reference to God and, when he did refer to God, only with the implication that God was a necessity of unenlightened, pre-enlightenment Jewry. Implying further, that a concept of God was not a necessary. Even when footage of he and his friends celebrating the Pesach (Passover) meal was shown, the impression was that the presence of God in the story of the Exodus was an incidental explanation for suffering and escape needed by an ancient people.

Simply put, his history of the Jews was God-less.

He went on to suggest in his thesis, with little or no explanation, several ideas that were very problematic. Among them were the ideas that Moses must have died at the point when the law of God was developed and that the law was simply an enactment of communal grief on behalf of the people, and that the Bible itself was changed in Babylon to make the law even more rigorous. Neither of which fit with the biblical account and both of which are only necessary if one does not have a concept of the need for God.

Simon Schama has produced a documentary, all be it an interesting one, that is not ‘THE story of the Jews’, but ‘AN INTERPRETATION of the story of the Jews’.

To leave God out of the history of the Jewish people is like leaving flour out of bread. You might still be able to cook something with the ingredients, but you are not going to get bread. Perhaps his reply to this point might be that God is only the leaven for the bread of Judaism, but I would simply say that without God there is no bread at all. The presence of the One True God is at the heart of Judaism and it is what lifts it to transcend national identity. God offers purpose and meaning to the existence of humanity in the universe, a truth that is made clearly evident in the People of God, the Jews.

I am not Jewish and can never truly understand the historic suffering of my Jewish brothers and sisters. But I am a believing, faith filled Christian and I believe that the God of the Bible (both Old and New Testament) is the meaning and purpose that lies behind the existence and life of humanity. I pray for those who believe in the God I follow, even those who do not yet know Jesus to be the Messiah, and I hope that, even as I watch and enjoy the rest of Schama’s TV series, the presence of the One True God will shine out of the story of the People of God for all to see.

As the Bible says,

Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’ (John 4:21-24)

That time has come in Jesus.


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How to create your very own Jesus

In order to create your very own Jesus, take the following ingredients and follow the instructions below.

  1. The Jesus who is in the Bible.
  2. The expectations and morals of the society you live in.
  3. The things that you prefer to do.
  4. The things that you think are good and right.
  5. 1 pair of philosophical scissors

Pile all of the ingredients on top of each other, ensuring that the ‘big’ Jesus of the Bible is at the bottom. (Inevitably, the Jesus stuff will be far bigger than all of the other things). You will notice that the edges of the Jesus stuff will stick out, overlapping the rest of the things in the pile. Take your philosophical scissors and cut away any of the Jesus stuff that sticks out. (After all, if it doesn’t fit then you don’t need it do you?)

What you will be left with is a Jesus who is exactly the same shape as you think he should be. This new Jesus will fit in comfortably with your life and will never make you feel guilty. In fact, you will hardly notice him at all. (Admittedly, he is not the same Jesus who lived or was sent by God to save the world, but at least he is not uncomfortable or inconvenient and you can fool yourself into thinking that you are a good person because this new Jesus looks a lot like you).

Alternatively, you can access any number of pre-packaged ‘Jesus substitutes’ from a vast selection of self-improvement books, TV channels and some bloke down the pub who is always happy to tell you what he believes and thinks that because he believes it to be true it is true.

Or… as a really radical idea… you could find the Jesus of the Bible and follow Him because He is real. He might not be comfortable or convenient, but He will offer you life in all its fulness. Even if the life he offers is a little different to the life you think that you want.

The best plan is to follow Jesus and be a disciple!