Category Archives: Christian

A real ingredient in the divine happiness

“To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son – it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.

C.S. Lewis, ‘The Weight of Glory”

‘Nuclear Man’

“From time to time a man enters into your life who, by his appearance, his behavious and his words, intimates in a dramatic way the condition of modern man. Such a man was Peter for me. He came to ask for help, but at the same time he offered a new understanding of my own world! Peter is twenty-six years old. His body is fragile; his face, framed in long blond hair, is thin with a city pallor. His eyes are tender and radiate a longing melancholy. His lips are sensual, and his smile evokes an atmosphere of intimacy. When he shakes hands he breaks through the formal ritual in such a way that you feel his body as really present. When he speaks, his voice assumes tones that ask to be listend to with careful attention.

As we talk, it becomes clear that Peter feels as if the many boundaries that give structure to life are becoming increasingly vague. His life seems a drifting over which he has no control, a life determined by many known and unknown factors in his surroundings. The clear distinction between himself and his milieu is gone and he feels that his ideas and feelings are not really his; rather, they are brought upon him. Sometimes he wonders: “What is fantasy and what is reality?” Often he has the strange feeling that small devils enter his head and create painful and anxious confusion. He also does not know whom he can trust and whom not, what he shall do and what not, why to say “yes” to one and “no” to another. The many distinctions between good and bad, ugly and beautiful, attractive and repulsive, are losing meaning for him. Even to the most bizarre suggestions he says: “Why not? Why not try something I have never tried? “Why not have a new experience, good or bad?”

In the absence of clear boundaries between himself and his milieu, between fantasy and reality, between what to do and what to avoid, it seems that Peter has become a prisoner of the now, caught in the present without meaningful connections with his past or future. When he goes home he feels that he enters a world that has become alien to him. The words his parents use, their questions and concerns, their aspirations and worries, seem to belong to another world, with another language and another mood. When he looks into his future everything becomes one big blur, an impenetrable cloud. He finds no answers to why he lives and where he is heading. Peter is not working hard to reach a goal, he does not look forward to the fulfillment of a great desire, nor does he expect that something great or important is going to happen. He looks into empty space and is sure of only one thing: If there is anything worthwhile in life it must be here and now.

I did not paint this portrait of Peter to show you a picture of a sick man in need of psychiatric help. No, I think Peter’s situation is in many ways typical of the condition of modern men and women. Perhaps Peter needs help, but his experiences and feelings cannot be understood merely in terms of individual psychopathology. They are part of the historical context in which we all live, a context which makes it possible to see in Peter’s life the signs of the times, which we too recognise in our own life experiences, What we see in Peter is a painful expression of the situation of what I call ‘nuclear man.’

…Nuclear man is a man who has lost naive faith in the possibilities of technology and is painfully aware that the same powers that enable man to create new lifestyles carry the potential for self-destruction…

…Only when man feels himself responsible for the future can he have hope or despair, but when he thinks of himself as the passive victim of an extremely complex technological bureaucracy, his motivation falters and he starts drifting from one moment to the next, making life a long row of randomly chained incidents and accidents.

When we wonder why the language of traditional Christianity has lost its liberating power for nuclear man, we have to realize that most Christian preaching is still based on the presupposition that man sees himself as meaningfully integrated with a history in which God came to us in the past, is living under us in the present, and will come to liberate us in the future.

…A preaching and teaching still based on the assumption that man is on his way to a new land filled with promises, and that his creative activities in this world are the first signs of what he will see in the hereafter, cannot find a sounding board in a man whose mind is brooding on the suicidal potentials of his own world…Obviously the level of awareness and visibility is different in different people, but I hope you will recognize in your own experiences and the experiences of your friends some of the traits which are so visible in Peter’s life style. And this recognition might also help you to realize that Christianity is not just challenged to adapt itself to a modern age, but is also challenged to ask itself whether its unarticulated suppositions can still form the basis of its redemptive pretensions.”

Henri Nouwen ‘The Wounded Healer”

A Mighty Fortress is Our God

A Mighty Fortress is our God

-Martin Luther

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Sunday best

Something that struck me this morning is the hypocrisy in much of the current charismatic church. We ridicule traditional churches who dress up in suits and ties – ‘Sunday best’ – to impress everyone, yet we have our own brand of ‘Sunday best’ – the caricatures of our lives. We paint these wonderful pictures of strength, success and happiness for everyone to see, but whether or not they are true is immaterial. This seemingly small flaw in our churches is so nefarious that we should be repenting ad nauseum. God help us!

I include three things: the first is an excerpt from ‘What’s So Amazing About Grace?’ and the second and third are lyrics from two profound songs:

1-

“A prostitute came to me in wretched straits, homeless, sick, unable to buy food for her two-year old daughter. Through sobs and tears, she told me she had been renting out her daughter – two years old!- to men interested in kinky sex. She made more renting out her daughter for an hour than she could earn on her own in a night. She had to do it, she said, to support her drug habit. I could hardly bear hearing her sordid story. For one thing, it made me legally liable – I’m required to report cases of child abuse. I had no idea what to say to this woman.

At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naive shock that crossed her face. “Church!” she creid. “Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”

*From Phillip Yancey’s excellent book ‘What’s So Amazing About Grace?

2-

CASTING CROWNS
“Stained Glass Masquerade”

Is there anyone that fails
Is there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin’ so small

Cause when I take a look around
Everybody seems so strong
I know they’ll soon discover
That I don’t belong

So I tuck it all away, like everything’s okay
If I make them all believe it, maybe I’ll believe it too
So with a painted grin, I play the part again
So everyone will see me the way that I see them

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation’s open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

Is there anyone who’s been there
Are there any hands to raise
Am I the only one who’s traded
In the altar for a stage

The performance is convincing
And we know every line by heart
Only when no one is watching
Can we really fall apart

But would it set me free
If I dared to let you see
The truth behind the person
That you imagine me to be

Would your arms be open
Or would you walk away
Would the love of Jesus
Be enough to make you stay

3- 

Jason Gray – The Golden Boy And The Prodigal Lyrics

 There are two sides to every person

Like the two sides of a dime
Heads or tails it depends upon
Who’s watching at the time
Though I hate to say it
Mine is no exception
One part is the prodigal
The other part: deception

Like the prince and the pauper
Like Jacob and his brother
Each hide a different heart
Each a shadow of the other
Me and my doppelganger
Both share the same blood
One I have hated
The other have I loved

One of them’s the Golden Boy
The man I’d like to be I show him off in the parades
For all the world to see
The other is much weaker
He stumbles all the time
The source of my embarrassment
He’s the one I try to hide

The Golden boy is made of straw
His finest suit will surely burn
His vice is the virtue
That he never had to earn
The prodigal’s been broken
And emptied at the wishing well
But he’s stronger for the breaking
With a story to tell

I’m not easy with confessions
It’s hard to tell the truth
But I have favored the golden boy
While the other I’ve abused
And he takes it like a man
Though he’s longing like a child
To be loved and forgiven
And share the burden for awhile

So take a good look in the mirror
Tell me who you see
The one who Jesus died for
Or the one you’d rather be
Can you find it in your heart
To show mercy to the one
The Father loved so much
That he gave his only son…

Vulnerability

The last 30 days in my life have been very eventful. I am beginning to gain intellectual momentum and starting to understand how to learn. Notwithstanding the above, I think that this video is one of the top three most significant things I’ve read or seen this year. Brene Brown, a ‘vulnerability researcher’ explains her findings in 20 minutes on TEDx. The truth contained in her talk has the power to transform the way we live and how we evaluate what is happening to us. Highly, highly recommended!!

A brief overview from Brain Pickings

“Brené Brown‘s fantastic talk from TEDxHouston deconstructs vulnerability to reveal what she calls “wholeheartedness”: The capacity to engage in our lives with authenticity, cultivate courage and compassion, and embrace — not in that self-help-book, motivational-seminar way, but really, deeply, profoundly embrace — the imperfections of who we really are”

Why can’t I hear God?

A very cool interview with Eugene Peterson – perhaps the wisest Christian alive today.

Interview with Eugene Peterson
Why Can’t I Hear God?
By Nancy Lovell

Readers of the best selling Bible, The Message, find themselves holding onto lines from his fog-slicing Bible paraphrase and many other works.

Recently, we asked the man himself: What are devotions and why do they matter in our daily work?

Why do so few people who believe in God bother to know Him?

The most obvious answer is that we’re in a hurry and not used to listening. We’re trained to use our minds to get information and complete assignments; but the God revealed to us in Jesus and our Scriptures is infinitely personal and relational. Unless we take the time to be quiet, in a listening way, in the presence of God, we never get to know him. The same question is why so few married couples really know their spouses. People get divorced after 20 years of marriage, and the rejected spouse says, “I never knew this was coming. I thought everything was fine.” But there was not much listening in those 20 years.

Devotions are the discipline of being quiet and listening for what we don’t hear in the streets, in the media, in the workplace.

What about people who sincerely set apart time, read the Bible, stay still, and hear nothing? They ask themselves whether God’s voice is anything more than their own thoughts.

We’re not good at this. We’ve had no practice doing it. No wonder we only hear our own thoughts. This is why the church is so insistent that we do this whether anything happens or not. Supported by 2000 years of history, we know that God does commune with us in our listening. But because we’re so unused to this way of communion, we don’t hear it. So it takes time.

How would you direct someone trying to start?

I would say: Get your Bible and find a place. If you can’t do this daily (some people can’t because of their life circumstances; mothers with young children are obvious instances), try for at least 20-30 minutes, two or three times a week, or four. Don’t make demands on yourself too high. Don’t ask questions about, “How long is this going to take?” Believe that something does happen in that silence—usually through Scripture, but not always—in prayerful, attentive listening, knowing that you’re in the presence of God. I ask for a commitment of six months; don’t come back in three weeks and say nothing’s happened.

I’ve never had anyone who’s done this at least six months who came back to me and said, “I did it and nothing happened; I’m going on to something else.” Not many who give this a fair test ever say that nothing happens.

Also, when I’ve asked people to do this as their pastor, I also ask them to worship regularly. This is a place where the whole community is gathered and listening and being in the presence of God.

Is that how you started?

I was lucky. In the family I grew up in, I started when I was about 14 …mostly with the Psalms, but all the Scriptures become part of it.

In your writing and speaking, you must have seen moments when a person realizes, “Yes, I want more and I want God.” What turns on the light for people?

Often the motivation is that people are tired of the way they’re living. They think there’s got to be more than just the motions they’re going through and the work they’re doing. There’s a craving and hunger that they identify with God. There’s enough pain or boredom or something to motivate them to do something that the culture’s not telling them to do.

I got a letter recently from a friend of 40 years. She had been a parishioner of mine for a long time. Then she was ill, and divorced; and she quit, just gave up. She quit reading the Bible, quit going to church. Six months ago she wrote me a lovely letter that she was sitting with a group of friends and, in her words, “a rooster crowed”—it all came back and she was a Christian again and aware of the presence of God. Isn’t that a wonderful phrase? A rooster crowed.

Who knows what went into that statement of hers? Twenty years of unhappiness, pain, suffering, disillusionment …but still there was the need. She would have said during that time she didn’t believe in God. But the rooster crowed. That’s why we use the term the Holy Spirit to explain times like this.

Given that it’s hard to discipline ourselves to silence, listening—and to daily time in quiet—tell us about your devotions on this website.

I wrote those in the early morning for 20 years, maybe 25 years. And what I was trying to do was be present to the Scripture, listen to God, and to write as honestly as I could. I wasn’t thinking about anybody else but me. It’s really hard to be honest as a writer. You get these wonderful ideas, and you love to manipulate words and see if you can make it sound good. It’s hard to be honest, especially working for God. That was the thing I was most aware of. “Eugene: Don’t say anything that is not relational, immediate, honest; stay present to the text and be honest before God.” I believed if I could be honest, I could draw some other people to honesty, too.

In one of your early devotions, you point out that Cain wasn’t listed as one of the descendants of Adam, and you ask why. But you never bring it up again, much less offer an answer.

That’s part of this life: You ask God questions and you go without a lot of answers …you learn to live with the mystery of a God who doesn’t tell us all the details. Kids ask their parents a lot of questions. And sometimes parents say to their kids, “Just trust me. You don’t know enough to understand the answer. So just live awhile.” Being a Christian and reading the Bible is not a way to get all your questions answered. There are few answers in the Bible. God is wanting to draw us into a relationship of faith, intimacy, and love. That doesn’t come through information alone. It comes through trust, obedience, and the willingness to be present in the mystery of God. It comes through letting Him reveal himself to us as we’re able to receive the revelation. If God just dumped all the answers on us at once, we probably couldn’t handle it. We’d misuse it. We’d think we had control of it now.

© 2001 – 2011 H. E. Butt Foundation. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Laity Lodge and TheHighCalling.org

Counterfeit Gods

“When people say, ‘I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself,’ they mean they have failed an idol, whose approval is more important to them than God’s. Idols function like gods in our lives, and so if we make career or parental approval our god and we fail it, then the idol curses us in our hearts for the rest of our lives. We can’t shake the sense of failure”

“The idols that drive us are complex, many-layered, and largely hidden from us”

-Tim Keller in ‘Counterfeit Gods‘ – PROFOUND!!