Friday, June 29, 2018

So that’s the funeral, where to from here?

She sat there broken yet dignified as I delivered the eulogy on her behalf. The picture of strength in weakness, everything I observed about her suggested she wished to acknowledge everyone else’s pain while still being real about her own anguish. You know the kind of experience when you want to encourage someone who just seems to epitomise everything that you admire; this widow was that person.
As this wife sat there, allowing me to serve her and the assembled throng just as I was engaged to do, I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit out of my depth; that I was doing such holy work as to be unworthy of it.
Of course, with almost a fortnight’s preparation, and the execution of the service itself, the family are left with picking up the pieces of what remains in those minutes when those last visitors ebb away.
When the funeral is over, and the wake is done, even that night those ones who are proximal to the deceased come face-to-face with the lonely prospect of what now.
The season is thereby entered, and there is no mistaking it. The growth journey is a miasma like poison in a river of love made toxic, making the ground etched in promise appear as if it is death itself.
No wonder this growth journey is found so untrustworthy. No wonder the grieving person makes a deal with denial or bitterness or depression or a vicarious combination of these.
Grief is far too hard for any of us to explain it away.
Even as I write these words I know that without my personal testimony I am unqualified as credible, yet just because I have grieved, and knowing what I know, I realise I am still unqualified to commentate another person’s grief journey.
All I can do is promise to sit there with them, to pray silently for them, to authenticate their experience as beyond my understanding, hailing the mystery of the God of love and loss, promising to continue to glorify this Lord who continues to allow such suffering as to even further deepen our resolve of love.
This widow’s testimony mentioned this exact thing; the realisation that the loss of her husband was but a significant and stark lesson in love, both the hardest and deepest lesson love could teach any of us. Oh, and how we want love to be real! Love has a sting in its tail.
As we go on, those moments when people split away, and we can no longer ignore the gnawing reality, I’m reminded of the very first moment in the maternity hospital where the reality of Nathanael’s death grew exponentially into a giant before my eyes. We had had a visit from the social worker who had not asked whether it was a good time or not to visit. I mentioned to her in uncharacteristic bluntness (I don’t normally treat strangers that way) that she should come back later, because we wanted to sob in peace. She was very nice and understood and promptly left. These were the first moments we had had alone with him without others around; 18 hours after his birth.
It’s the same kind of thing, the day after we have buried or cremated a loved one. We either feel the gravity of emptiness or we are confused as to know how to feel. And then there’s the war within the logical and feeling mind that produces guilt for feeling normal when we feel we don’t deserve to feel normal.
How are we supposed to feel?
Some may think, how am I meant to go on?
Some are still desperate for answers. Others cannot believe how blunt and how final grief actually is. We quickly come to experience just how unfair life is, that it’s capable of poleaxing us. Until we come to this place, we never realised just how painful life could be. It is only later that we realise that the suffering that was real to our experience is a suffering eternally available within the realm of humanity. Until now, we had been ‘saved’ from it.
Of course, there is a sanctifying property about suffering. We learn a compendium of compassion in it. But this article is not really about that. It’s about sitting in those awkwardly futile and unimaginably agonising places, clawing for a way to receive respite. There are times when we find what we are looking for, but this unfortunately is in the minority of our experience. The majority of our experience impels us toward the unfathomable reality of life that has no way of reckoning a compromise to peace.
And that is loss; a grief that steals gone our capacity to manage the pain away, and to stay in this place for months if not years. Do I write these things to discourage you? Do I write these things to depress you? No, I write these things to validate what you, the reader, has come to recognise as normal given the new state of things.
Are we supposed to hold it together?
Are we supposed to be able to bear this most gruesome reality?
No, I am convinced that these realities that are far too big for us are given to us in order to challenge and transform us. They are to unify us within a community of sufferers. They are to break us sufficiently that we realise the folly in relying on our own strength. They are to grow us up.
Grief cauterises both want and capacity
for doing life in our own strength.
These experiences are there to open our eyes; the eyes of our hearts. Only as we recognise the dearth of our capacity can we reach up and take hold of a capacity that is fully of God’s hand and provision.
We have many heroes in this life. But none more courageous than the widow or widower or the parent who suffers loss. Forget about the sports stars who thrill us with their skill. Forget about the artist who inspires us. Forget about the songs we sing that titillate our heart.
The one we ought to applaud the most
is the one who is silently suffering for love.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Repentant Believer’s Prayer

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash
Lord Jesus,
You came to live life as a human, You taught and served and healed, and died a sinless man for sinners like me.
You did not deserve the kind of death You died, but Your death to save humankind was foretold, and death didn’t stop You. You rose again, and after forty days ascended to be with the Father once more.
When the fiftieth day came, You sent the Spirit, so every true believer could be baptised in You.
And this:
the Lamb that was slain,
deserve the reward of Your suffering,
and that is my life for You.
I’m going to obey You and love You and serve You and do what You want me to do, all the days of my life, even if I go to hell when I die, and even if I suffer in this life, simply because You’re worthy to be loved and obeyed and served. And because I’m not trying to make a deal with You. I trust You regarding my worldly and eternal destinies.
I want to live for You in such a way that the desires of my heart align with Your will, by putting Your Kingdom and Your Righteousness first in my life. I understand this isn’t always easy, so I ask You now to give me the heart of flesh to replace the heart of stone I’ve had until now in areas of my life.
May worship be my means, justice be my measure, mercy be my modality, and humility be my method.
Grant me the wisdom to love and to serve and to honour You, the serenity of peace as the assurance of my way with You, and courage when life is hard, when fear berates and shakes my being.
May my allegiance to You always overcome the temptations of the world, my flesh, and the wiles of Satan. May You attain the reward of Your suffering for me through my earthly life. And may I live a life according to Your Beatitudes, honouring all Your core teaching. Finally, may You always help me pour contempt on my pride so I can walk humbly these remaining days You give me on this earth.
Yours, always, a living sacrifice, for Your sake,

Friday, June 22, 2018

The heart of brokenness is brokenness of heart

Photo by Tanzim on Unsplash

Spiritual revival of towns and cities has historically come through the sweeping reform of an uncommon repentance, as persons one by one came face to face with accountability before God.
Repentance is about a heart of brokenness where, before God, we acknowledge our spiritual nakedness, and we feel compelled to do something to put it right.
As we look over the history of revival worldwide we notice a trend that reveals a truth from the ages:
To recognise the utter paucity
present in our own heart
is to recognise the most powerful truth
that exists about us.
The heart of brokenness
is brokenness of heart.
When revival is the born and it spreads, it has its genesis one person at a time, but in viral stereo. 
A message of brokenness is preached. A message entirely foreign to the carnal instinct of humanity. A message that is eternally warranted. A message that, on the one hand, we despise; but on the other hand, we know we need it. It’s a message we’ve been waiting all our lives to hear. That God would have the audacity to usher the message into our consciousness.
It’s the moment we recognise
God has caught up with us.
It’s the moment our fraud comes to light, but we find grace doesn’t judge it. It’s the common fraud called sin. It’s both a transformative and a terrifying moment. But we face a just and trustworthy God. We are safe in His hands. And revival is about to break out in and through us, as a person of God. And though it will shake us to our feet, the result will glorify God.
We’ve perhaps been a person of God for years. Maybe we’re brand new to this kind of faith. It matters little where we come from, or from how far we’ve come. What matters right now is this moment of holy reckoning. It’s as if we’re dressed to rehearse our meeting with God where, once for all time, we must give an account. And arriving at such a moment, on this side of eternity, is the blessing of a lifetime, no matter what it seems to cost.
Such an account is different
to all other accounts we’ve ever given.
This time, instead of defending ourselves, we tell on ourselves. We hold nothing back. And the more we confess, the more God shows us, and the more that is revealed, the more two divergent things happen:
the more cut to the heart we are about our sin,
the more forgiveness we experience.
The more of God’s forgiving grace we experience firsthand, the more we realise that it’s now our eternal possession. It can never be taken away from us. And suddenly the fleeting fancies in life pass over for the surpassing glory of God which we now lay hold of. All from brokenness of heart.
And yet, for sin, for brokenness, for shame, we’re reconciled to the only saving grace there ever is, was, or ever will be. The secret, the only secret, is unveiled as the veil is torn in two.
For honesty,
because we stand on the Lord’s side against ourselves,
on account of our sin,
which is the only way we can be for ourselves.
And, there, in that locale of being on the Lord’s side, we sit astride these two divergent realities at one and the same time: as we give ourselves wholly unto the truth, God’s truth, where there is complete exposure with perfect composure, we reconcile our lack and redeem the divine shalom. In one and the same movement of spirit. Then, what is ours can never be taken away from us, as we reside in a kind of Mary-moment (Luke 10:38-42), where the Lord said that what she was experiencing would not be taken from her.
That same peace of Mary’s,
a communion with the Saviour,
is ours as our strength-of-self falls away.
Mary’s communion with the Lord Jesus came because she sought the only fulfilment any one of us needs. Knowing she was broken without her Saviour, in her communion she reconciled her lack simply being at Jesus’ feet.
In being true to her brokenness, in her vulnerability and acknowledgement, Mary was able to sit with Jesus and experience His fullness of Spirit.
When the world of circumstance breaks our heart,
and we feel so misunderstood and betrayed,
that’s when we can feel God’s empathy most.
God’s Presence is felt closest
when we’re farthest from ourselves.
When we’re most heartbroken,
we’re least lost to God.
God is closest to the broken-hearted.
God can reach and help us most
when we have least strength.
This is why there is strength in weakness.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Living the freedom of priceless worth

In the 1850s, an Englishman made his fortune in the Californian goldfields, and as he travelled overland on his way home, he arrived in New Orleans. He did what a lot of tourists would do in that day; he went to the slave market, when, in that day, there were still slaves sold openly at market. He saw in the lot a sole African-American woman there, being auctioned. One woman in a multitude of men. He overheard two evil men who were bidding for her, discussing what they would do with her, and repulsed of heart, he decided to bid for her. He waited until the bidding slowed, and as the gavel was about to fall, made his bid — a figure exactly twice that of the bid that would have won — utterly beyond anything that had ever been paid for a slave before.
They said, ‘Have you got the money?’ ‘Here it is,’ he said, as he handed it over. So, after the Bill of Sale was made out, they let the woman down to him, and as she made her way to the successful bidder, she made up a mouthful of spittle. When she was within two-feet of him, she let fly and spat full into the man’s face; hissing an obscenity of disgust that all could hear. The man drew the back of his hand up and wiped his face, not saying a word, showing not one sign of anger.
He took her by the hand out of the markets, down the muddy street a little way, and led her into an office building. She couldn’t read, so she didn’t know where she was being led. They entered that office and the man spoke with the clerk at a desk.
The clerk began to protest — ‘You can’t do that!’ he said.
But the man said, ‘But I insist; it’s the law!’ and, after a short disagreement, the clerk acceded and began writing what looked like a certificate.
Money changed hands and the slave-buying man received the paper.
He walked over to the woman as urgently as he ever could and gave it to her, saying,
‘Here, here are your manumission papers, you’re free to go.’
She said back to him, ‘I hate you!’
He said to her, ‘Didn’t you understand; here are your manumission papers, you’re free, you’re free to go…’
‘But, sir…’ she said, ‘You paid twice as much as anyone has ever paid in that market… do you mean to say you paid twice as much to set me free? I don’t believe it.’
‘It’s true, I bought you to set you free,’ he said, thrusting the manumission papers in her hand.
‘You bought me to set me free?’
‘Yes,’ said the man.
Tears welled up in eyes that hadn’t known tears for a long time.
‘You set me free?’ ‘You paid twice as much to set me free?’ Still in disbelief, she said, ‘I’m free? You set me free?’
She sank to her knees, unable to do anything but to repeat the words, ‘You bought me to set me free… you paid more than has ever been paid before to set me free.’
Looking up with eyes of disbelieving joy, a face softened and moist, she said, ‘Oh sir, all I want in life is to be your slave, you bought me to set me free.’
He bought her to set her free.
Jesus bought you to set you free.
Jesus bought you at such a handsome price it is incomprehensible — not simply double, a price beyond the concept of mathematics. He paid for all our lives, yours as much as anyone’s, through the price of His own life. And Jesus did that to liberate us from our slavery to sin.
Jesus freed us in such a way as to understand this: when we’ve been loved so much that Jesus has given us our manumission papers by losing His own life to save ours, our response is instinctual; sensing the only safety we’ve ever known, we lose our lives all over again simply to remain in the Presence of salvation, which is Jesus Himself.
He, who is our one and all,
will never again let us fall.
Jesus bought you — His death for your life — to set you free. Your freedom, in turn, remains a gift for you only, however, as you choose, like He did with His, to give your life away.
Otherwise, ‘salvation’, like all other things we end up enslaved to, becomes its own idol we place before Jesus. Yes, even salvation.
Jesus is relationship. Jesus is salvation. In sum, Jesus is our all. Jesus, a freedom of priceless worth.
A person is wise when they let go of what cannot satisfy
to gain what their lives are worth: the Jesus who died for them.
Him, and Him alone. The only true worship.
May the Lamb that was slain
receive the full reward
of His suffering…
A YOU who never has to live enslaved again.
A YOU who is freed to live in allegiance to The Master
who created, who knows, and who loves YOU.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Crossroad on the Journey to the God-willed life

This will be the last article and post for a while.
Besides a three-month moratorium last year, I’ve written and posted articles continually since before Facebook; over ten years ago. Nearly 7,000 articles later I’ve learned so much. It’s been a major way how God has interacted with me — to the sum of 30-hours per week for those 10-plus years.
But this isn’t just about the writing.
It’s about something more fundamental. There are imbalances to correct.
Like many of you I’m imagining, my life’s revolved around using social media, and it isn’t just the posting of articles; it’s the following of a plethora of other stuff — stuff quite frankly that takes me away from God. There are a million and more distractions from God, so it’s not just social media, but social media has become all-consuming, as the fear of missing out (FOMO, look it up) rides roughshod on the heels of my hurried modern life.
But there’s more to it still. The carnal concerns of consumption have overcome me too much over the past five or more years. I used to have a high degree of self-control regarding my diet. It’s been a while since I’ve been in that place, and given I’m deep into the ‘dangerous decade’, that is ages 44-54, I seriously have to create the changes necessary to ward off heart disease and Diabetes Type II, etc. If even 10 percent of my writing time went into exercise I’d do the exercise required to get and keep fit.
And still there’s more to it. Food and writing and social media have become comforts; and to some degree, idols. The average person may not think that, but I think that’s what God thinks, when they’ve become comforts I’ve routinely gone to. I need to once again be weaned from these comforts. It’s all a bit too convenient, and an irony, that I can write things to bless others when the very process of doing it can at times undermine my own walk with God.
What if God wants more from me? He certainly does! To seek Him more. To be fit and stay alive as long as possible for my family and so I can serve Him as well as possible. To get prepared for what is coming. To be a better husband and father. To be more focused. God certainly desires a revolution in me. I only have the one life. Once I’m gone, I’m gone. For my God, for my wife, for my children, and for those people God wills for me to serve. I must seize the day.
Writing is certainly one way God can and does use me, but it’s not the only way. Besides, Jesus isn’t the kind of King who will graciously allow me to put the cart before the horse like I have. Writing can’t be allowed to be an idol. Jesus desires true allegiance. So, I’m putting it down for a time. And it won’t be the last time this problem will arise.
It’s possible that this little piece might be refined over the next little while as I endeavour it to be a truthful record of where things are at.
Writing can only happen if it brings glory to God, and it can only resume once other factors of balance have been restored.
The social media must go, at least for a time. If it can’t be solely a tool for God (as far as I’m concerned) then I have no use for it. Social media is a counterfeit for true connection, yet it does connect us and many of us would never know each other without it. This is not about criticising a platform that has been a kind of home for twenty-percent of my fifty-year-old life.
This leads to the intent of writing this kind of thing. It’s only fair that I let people know what I’m doing in case people wonder ‘what’s happened to that guy who posted daily and now no longer does?’ Also, in hammering a stake into the ground, this kind of article helps me keep myself to account. God needs to make it clear under what parameters a resumption is to take place.
To the person who has taken the time to read this, thank you. I’m grateful that you’ve waded into this with me. I’m thankful for your prayers, as many of you are in mine.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Longing for God’s strength in our weakness

Photo by George Bonev on Unsplash

There are times when I feel utterly dominated by a spirit of oppression, when there is no life in me, no energy, and every bit of strength in me is sapped.
Times like these I know I have strength in me, I just cannot tap into it. I feel paralysed beyond its access, as if shut-in entirely, silent even though I’m screaming.
No matter what I do or try I cannot seem to shake it, and I have resolved that such a spirit is not so much to be shaken as to be left as it is. Accepted. Welcomed. Embraced.
… then abandoned.
Rather than get upset at this state of debilitation I have learned to let it be — to cease judging it. It will harm me if I get anxious over something that confuses me.
The truth is many of us are dogged by this kind of spiritual pallor, and it usually comes without warning.
As I find in myself the inability to escape what will drag me further down into the mire, I have learned to long for what I don’t have; God’s strength that is infinite and everlasting; a strength I can rest in; a strength that never judges me, but helps me divert from the bondage of a dead spirit.
We speak in terms so often in this faith life of having God’s strength, but we never do have it, only the foretaste or a promise. Yet that’s enough for us, because we know that God is good, and we know that resting in His strength is not about feeling His strength so much as it’s about feeling at peace in our weakness.