Monthly Archives: April 2014

Hope in the fog and rainbow (that’s not the name of a pub, by the way)

Here’s the other blog post I wrote during my Lenten break from Facebook, which you may not have seen. This proved to be wonderfully, prophetically true, right from the day I posted it. I love how our God turns things around for good.

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Thick fog draped the South Downs, marshes and fields as I drove over to Brighton from Hastings the other day, making driving conditions difficult and robbing the countryside of its usual verdant vibrancy.

I pondered how my emotional and spiritual life has felt fog-like over recent months, drudging as I have through a sludge of uncertainty, self-doubt, bereavements, practical problems, over-introspection, low mood and relationship difficulties, all no doubt exacerbated by physical tiredness from increasing demands and pressures at work and the endless broken nights forgivably caused by our delightful 2-year-old daughter!

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Gingerly negotiating my way round the blind bends, I thought about how I’ve tried to ‘slow down’ in my spiritual fog recently, taking more time to pray and reflect, to seek more of God again*.

Driving along the A27, I remembered in reflection and prayer how fog often seems to be a precursor to glorious sunshine, and felt…

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Simple as This

The one word “girl” towards the end of the lyrics is the only clue to the simple answer to Jake Bugg’s search in his soulful song, Simple as This. When I first heard it, I’d wondered if the song was about something else – more on that thought in a minute…

According to the song, he’d been round the world searching into all kinds of philosophies, spiritual ideas and substances, only to find fulfilment in a relationship with this girl.

Yep, another “silly love song”, as John Lennon might have said. (Paul McCartney’s Silly Love Songs was allegedly a response to Lennon’s jibe that McCartney “just writes silly love songs”)!

Have a listen to this beautiful, folky, simple, silly love song…

I’m not sure that that this romantic notion is ever a realistic remedy for our deepest needs, however important human relationships may be.

Like Jake Bugg in the song, I’ve known a great many people over the years who have explored a range of remedies and ideas in search of meaning, identity and wholeness. Some of them never seem to find that answer and appear to spend their lives dissatisfied and a little lost.

All their self-help philosophies, mix & match religion, globe-trotting, their quest for peace in a pipe, pill or bottle, even romance and relationships, never quite hit the spot.

Some of these people, however – some of my friends, in fact – did find what they were looking for, just as I did. Like in the Bugg song, it turned out to be something so simple. So surprising. And in a way, so close to home.

And Bugg was right in one sense – it is about a relationship.

At this point, if I start talking about a relationship with God, with Jesus, you might switch off; you might think it either boring or nuts. But I’m hoping that you’re curious enough – or kind enough – to read on…

People get turned off by religion. At least, I do, and I’m a churchgoer! But Jesus excites me. The actual Christian message of a relationship with God never ceases to thrill and engage me.

You see, although it’s possible to go into theological depths of the atonement, propitiation, the Trinity and all that…

…and although it’s useful to engage our brains with theology as best we’re able to…

…although that understanding may build faith….

…although the letters of Paul and the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament do contain all that stuff for our benefit…

In everyday practice, it’s so simple.

The message is all about a relationship of trust and love. It’s about placing all we have, all we are, into the hands of Jesus, trusting his love.

It’s about who we trust in with our hearts, not what we believe in with our heads.

About a person, not about facts.

The beauty of the Christian message is that anyone can receive it. In fact, sometimes it’s the smart people, or those who think they are, who just can’t accept it. Sometimes, with great intellect comes arrogance, and the message can only be received by humble hearts.

One evening, years ago, I was invited along to a service where two young men with profound learning and physical disabilities were being baptised. I vividly remember, as they were each lowered in turn into the pool, their faces beaming with profound delight at giving their lives – placing their trust – in Jesus in this public way.

It’s an act of trust, a decision of the heart, rather than intellectual, scientific knowledge – although our faith does rest on reasonable, historical facts. So the great intellectual theologian Paul admits (in 1 Corinthians):

Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

Although there are complex theological claims in the Bible, Jesus himself tended to simply invite people to come to him, and to find a new way of life, in fact a new life, that would simply flow from that relationship with him.

To be a Christian, we don’t have to believe a whole set of doctrines.

To find new life, we don’t have to adhere to any particular denomination’s take on Christianity.

We do need to believe that Jesus is who he claimed to be – the messiah who came to give his life for us and to overcome death, and we need to place our lives into his hands.

If we do that, we will experience a new birth.

Our hearts will be changed, as the Holy Spirit works inside us.

We will begin to love God. Our love for him will grow.

Our love for others will grow.

Our addictions and dysfunctionality will begin to be healed (although not all overnight).

And we will be motivated from the heart to do the things he said we need to do, like forgive those who hurt us, care for those less fortunate and work for peace. Our actions will be evidence of genuine faith.

Jesus emphasised relationship rather than rules.

And deeds, not doctrines.

Recently I’ve been enjoying this prayer and invitation from the lips of Jesus:

“O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!

“My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”  (Matthew 11)

I bought a new car (no, not brand new – I’m not that rich!) last week and I’m lovin’ it! I have no idea how many pistons or valves this the car has, or what they even do. I don’t know how the turbo-thingy works; but I know and love the way the car pulls away sharp-ish when I put my foot down! I know it gets me about reliably and I’m enjoying the relative comfort of a newer car compared to my old clapped-out Zafira.

Perhaps if I took the time and trouble to learn how an engine works and understood the specifications of this Ford S-Max, I’d get more out of the car. Maybe.

My relationship with God is a bit like that. The theology can help, but I don’t have to understand exactly how Jesus paid the price for my sin, or get my head round how God can be three in one, or get involved in debates on women bishops or creation and evolution. Like with the car, getting in and going forward is what it’s all about.

Years ago, I found peace with God, rest for my soul. I haven’t lost that, but from time to time, I’ve found I need to renew that peace by returning to the simplicity of faith – turning my face to my saviour again.

If, like me, you’ve been a Christian for years and years and years and have got bogged down with doctrines and questions and theology (which can be a help or a hindrance), you too may need to return to Jesus’ simple invitation:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”.

And if you’re still searching, the invitation is also for you.

It really is as simple as this.

 

Lyrics to Jake Bugg’s Simple as This:

I’ve been in search of stones , Making up the pavement of less-travelled roads Mining for treasure deep in my bones That I never find

Went looking for reverence Tried to find it in a bottle And came back again High on a hash pipe of good intent But it only brought me down

Tried institutions of the mind and soul It only taught me what I should not know Oh and the answer well who would have guessed Could be something as simple as this Something as simple as this

Travelled to each ocean’s end Saw all seven wonders, trying to make some sense Memorised the mantra Confucius said But it only let me down. Tried absolution of the mind and soul It only led me where I should not go Oh and the answer well how could I miss Something as simple as this Something as simple as this

I’ve been falling, crashing, breaking All the while you were stood here waiting For me girl Tried liberation of my own free will But it left me looking to get higher still. Oh and the answer well who would have guessed Could be something as simple as this

God knows how I could have missed Something as simple as this

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