For those who think the title is a little harsh on the city of Bradford: my bike was stolen last night so I feel perfectly justified in quoting Obi Wan Kenobi's wise words. What to say about the last month? By all accounts, it's been a time filled with answer to prayer. Before moving down I was praying that God would prepare the way before me and that prayer has been answered quite wonderfully.
Praise be to God, who looks after his children and provides for their needs! I see this in many areas, firstly in the provision of work for the year. The Reach internship has been fantastic so far and a 9 to 5 job has its quiet satisfaction of a good job done well. I see this in the provision of housemates and friends, often a blessing that is easily taken for granted. And I see this so clearly in the church I go to. Christ Church Bradford could not have been more warn and welcoming (or more generous in their offer of food and Sunday lunches!). Working in a charismatic environment means that it is fast becoming a refuge of sanity in my life. Not that charismatic Christians are insane but that it's nice to have fellowship with Christians who are on the same page as me and who don't say things I internally wince at.
It's funny what makes me homesick - generally I don't feel it, being very busy and not having a nature predisposed to being emotional. But I made the mistake of watching a trailer for Sunshine on Leith, a film set in Edinburgh, with Scottish accents, racism against the English and music from the Proclaimers. Ouch, that tugged at my heart!
The title for this piece is one of my favourite hymn lines, a lovely description of the Christian life and one of the easiest truths to forget. The verse springs to mind because Wednesday evening is my church's prayer meeting and as has often been the case of late God was with us and I realised afresh the bountiful joy of the Christian life. For context here's the verse the hymn line is in:
"Fading are the worldlings’ pleasures,
It is easy today to take a negative view over the future of the church in Britain; it isn't exactly doing well at the moment. Inside the church then errors abound, reformed truths have been cast aside and the church seems to be trying to conform more to the world than to the likeness of Christ. We're exactly like the woman in Songs of Solomon: "I slept but my heart was awake. Listen! My beloved is knocking." We hear the knock of Christ, we hear the thud of our conscience but as we stir we say: "I have taken off my robe - must I put it on again? I have washed my feet - must I soil them again?" We care, but not enough to fully wake up, we want to change but we're too lazy to put good intentions into practice, we know we're not what we should be, we're also unwilling to be more than we are.
Looking outside of the church will hardly encourage us to hope either. Our government has taken the first steps to legalizing gay marriage, not that it is surprising, we lost the battle for marriage decades ago; the tide of secularism is rising and persecution of Christians is a reality closer than we want to think. Society is falling into a type of madness only found when departing from biblical truth, good is called evil and evil good.
Yet despite the darkness of the day then we still have any reason to hope. Sure, looking upon things with the eye of sight gives us every reason to despair but the eye of sight is an uncertain, narrow, short sighted thing that has no foundation. If we look upon things with the eye of faith then we find a new picture, a sure and certain picture, and that of a God in complete control of everything.
What’s your god in your life? What is your driving ambition? What do you make sacrifices for? What do you define your happiness and security by? What are you fears and insecurities? What do you define your reality by? What do you bend your imagination towards? What do you spend your money on? What are your most uncontrollable emotions connected with? What, in short, have you made your god?
There are infinite possibilities for the gods you have set up in your life. And we all have them as God says: “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 1v25) It is not for me to say who or what this god or idol is in your life, it is not for me to the point for the finger in blame for I know all too well the lure of idols and other gods, but it is for me to feel pity for you because if there is one thing I know and one thing that I were to share with you about these idols of yours then it is this: they will never love you.
There are moments in life when a particular truth about God hits home harder than it normally does. One such moment happened to me today. Whilst I was praying I was pondering the goodness of God towards me and how underserved it was and suddenly for a few seconds I beheld a measure of the fullness of the infinite goodness of God and it was too much. I had to recoil not because I did not like what I was thinking of, far from it, precisely the opposite was true, God became too wonderful to comprehend, his beauty was too great for my eyes, his love to vast to fathom, his glory beyond tracing out.
And it called to mind a passage in Isaiah which runs as follows:
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Isaiah 6 v 1 - 7
A few months ago Rob Bell released a book called ‘Love Wins’. It was widely regarded as being somewhat heretical. He goes wrong for me in the title; not that it’s not a wonderful statement of truth for love does indeed win but because it emphasises the wrong thing. Personally, and I don’t want to press this too much, I prefer to say that is not just love that wins it is Christ who wins.
Christ wins. Because, well, he does, all the time. Jesus Christ has never failed. This is an amazing truth and one that is hard to grasp at the same time. After all, he was executed as a criminal of a cross, surely this was Christ losing? Except we know that in dying on the cross and his resurrection from the dead Christ won victory over sin and death. As Paul writes:
It’s that time of year again. The time to eat Christmas leftovers, set about on the systematic consummation of Christmas chocolate, read one of three new theology books, watch films you’d never normally watch, fill in the no man’s land between Christmas and New Year and, of course, reflect on the last three hundred and sixty five days.
And what a year it’s been. The latest report has put it as one of the most exciting of my life. This may just be revealing of how boring my life is. I should probably say that the following is constrained both by my fallible memory and my ego. If you wanted a mention but didn’t get on please don’t take offense it’s just that my mind didn’t consider you important enough to remember.
So in the words of Charlie Brooker: we start as years often do with January.
This question crops up from time to time and is, naturally, totally the wrong question to ask. Because what the question really means when people ask it is: ‘Why do I have to bring myself down to worship God?’ or in some cases I get the impression that people are asking: ‘why doesn’t God worship me?’
But despite it being asked from completely the wrong motives I think I’ll go ahead and answer it anyway:
“Day and night they never stop saying:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.’
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
Revelation 4 v 8 – 11
“Great are the works of the LORD;
they are pondered by all who delight in them.”
Psalm 111 v 2
God is great. Possibly this comment wins the prize for the single most obvious statement in the entirety of human history. Of course God is great, he’s God, what else could he be? But far too often we lose sight of the greatness of God, we limit him, we doubt him or we rebel against his greatness.
Open the Bible at a random page and you find on in an account of God’s greatness. Hang on, I’ll show you: