If you want to study human nature in any meaningful way work for a charity. In provides the whole range of human experience - the glorious ruin of the human condition. You get the highs of seeing hope on previously hopeless faces, acts of love to the loveless, compassion to the needy, courage and honour found in the least likely places, injustice averted and acts of self sacrifice that go unnoticed and unheralded by the world. And you get the other side too: the evil of man towards his fellow man, the greed of the human heart and its insatiable desire for more, the wilful blindness of humanity to the desperate need of humanity and the corruption of all good gifts.
For the last week I've been at the Christians Against Poverty debt centre in Edinburgh following around the two best centre managers in Britain. I had some experience of the ground work of CAP last year when I was volunteering as a befriender but it was good to be reminded of what the work is like.
Back in Head Office, working in Finance, it can all become so distant and detached, nothing more than numbers to be crm unched and expense forms wrongly filled out. Going on visits with the two centre managers closed that distance, bringing you into the homes of clients and seeing first hand their stories and troubles.
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,
“I have a shelter in the storm
When troubles pour upon me
Though fears are rising like a flood
My soul can rest securely
O Jesus, I will hide in You
My place of peace and solace
No trial is deeper than Your love
That comforts all my sorrows”
Just about the only people writing proper good hymns today are Sovereign Grace Music and the above verse is one of theirs. It’s rather applicable to my life currently as I find myself halfway through fourth year, approaching graduation and with everywhere I applied to for a job rejecting my applications. As a planner I don’t like uncertainty and not knowing both what I want to do and what I will do frustrates me. It’s a real effort not to worry and by real effort I mean a complete failure on my part not to worry.
Yet why so I feel this way? “Cast your anxieties on God because he cares for you.” it says in 1 Peter 5 v 7. That verse alone is enough to grant me peace, God cares for me! What then do I have to fear? What is there to be worried about? Course, truth is I’m a functional unbeliever in this great truth. While ascribing to it with mouth in deed I worry.
This is the second part of my post on reflections of three years in the School of Christ. You can read the first part here. Let’s jump right back in there…
Read the Puritans (especially when things go wrong)
This may sound a bit of an odd one but only if you have never read the Puritans! They have been my companions through many a difficultly. Richard Sibbes (called the heavenly doctor – you soon realize why!) has helped me when I was in darkness and sitting in the silence of God with The Bruised Reed and Martyn Llyod-Jones (yes, technically not a Puritan but kind of is…) gave me comfort through The Causes and Cures of Spiritual Depression; then Sibbes came to the rescue again when I went through a relationship breakup with The Love of Christ and he was joined with John Flavel and The Mystery of Providence – one helped me when I was ever feeling unloved by riveting my attention back on Christ’s love for me and the other when I was feeling grumpy by casting my mind to higher issues and all that God does through the hardships of life. Or what about All Things for Good by Thomas Watson, Charity and its Fruits by Edwards or Communion with God by John Owen? What heavenly medicine they bring! In comparison most modern authors are mere children compared to the depth of God-given wisdom these men had along with such a pastoral concern for the souls of their fellow brothers and sisters. It is easy to tell, when reading the Puritans, that here were men who walked closely with the Lord.
You can keep your Pipers, Driscolls, Kellers and Chesters; they ain’t got nothing on the Puritans!
The Christian Union weekend away has come and gone and it gives me pause for thought and reflection as it marks the anniversary of my conversion three years ago. In 2009 then God took the question: “Are you living a distinctive life for Christ?” and used it to open my eyes to the truth that I wasn’t and that I should be. That evening I came to Christ, aware for the first time of the hopelessness of my condition without him and that in him lay the only way to salvation.
It’s been quite a ride since then, time has flown by and it feels like I’ve lived a lifetime as a Christian not just one thousand and ninety six days. It’s a misconception to think that conversation is the be all and end all of the Christian experience. Far from it! Conversion grants us immediate and compulsory enrollment in year 1 of the School of Christ with a set of courses and lessons perfectly tailored to our weaknesses and needs. For God is not unconcerned with his people, he loves us too much for that and he sets about completing the good work he has started.
This School has one main goal for all its students: holiness, being like Christ and growing in love for both God and man. The only graduation students see is the graduation of moving from this life to the next. It is without question the best and hardest school in all the world.
I should probably add that though I can highlight a lot of lessons I’ve learnt they are in the same breath a lot of lessons I am still learning. After all, the first rule of the School of Christ is that there is no end to the School of Christ!
Potentially to my shame, there are only a few Christian books which have ever had a profound effect on my faith: The Love of Christ by Richard Sibbes is one of them. If you are tired and weary of the fight of faith, downhearted and struggling, stagnating and cold, discontent and untrusting, spiritually miserable, longing in anyway to be so much more than you, feeling that you stuck in a rut and going nowhere; if you are going through hard times, tests of faith, trials and afflictions of any kind or if you are abounding in every way and knowing blessing upon blessing then this book is for you for the topic it covers is medicine to any soul and Sibbes is for good reason called the heavenly doctor.
He does not content himself with merely pointing the reader to Christ, no, he goes out of his way to win the reader to the lavish affection of Christ for his people. Mainly using chapters 4 and 5 of the Songs of Solomon he goes through the process of a Christian who is asleep to and his love Christ (“I slept but my heart was awake.” Songs 5v2) and how that Christian awakes and finds Christ again. For Sibbes Songs of Solomon was all about Christ and his Church and he applies it excellently in this regard. One of my favourite quotes was:
“Sometimes she [the Church] is all compounded of joy, vehemently desiring kisses of her beloved. She holds her beloved fast, and will not let him go; and sometimes, again, she is gone, hath lost her beloved, is in a sea of troubles, seeks and cannot find him, becomes sluggish, negligent, overtaken with self love, after which she has smarted in her omissions, as here again, she is all fire for Christ,”
“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will rejoice over you with gladness; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 4 v 17
Every so often I come across a bible verse that is so wonderful I can’t help but smile and the above verse is one of them. It comes at the end of Zephaniah, in the previous chapters there has been pronouncements of judgement on Israel for their rebellion and sin but in the last chapter a new theme is taken up and this theme is the love of God for his people.
Last Christmas was one of those rare perfect days that crop up every so often. There were just the six of us from my family and a guy from church and his girlfriend but it was a time of happiness, laughter, presents, good food and my brother failing to be good at yet another board game. It was one of those memories that are worth treasuring away.
It stands out in particular because in the months that followed I went through some pretty dark times as God and I had a few difficulties to sort out. By that I naturally mean that all the difficulties lay with me and I have quite a number of memories of days when continuing the Christian walk just seemed so pointless, days when I reached out for God and couldn’t find him, dark days, painful days because it felt like my God had forsaken me.
It struck me that this pretty much sums up life. There is so much happiness to be had in this world and so much grief as well. It is hard to meet anyone who is a stranger to suffering, it is hard to meet anyone who has not known times when they hurt more than they thought possible. So we have this dichotomy that runs throughout a man’s life and his very being: such more good, so much evil and pain.
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