Monthly Archives: August 2014

A Sense of Wonder

 

“WOW! WHAT’S THAT?”!

…was my 2½ year old daughter Hannah’s instinctive response when she saw this honeysuckle picture on my laptop screen, with its intricate display of extraterrestrial tentacles.

Honeysuckle, Hastings Country Park, July 2014

Honeysuckle, Hastings Country Park, July 2014

 

If only we could retain that childlike incredulity at the world around us! No wonder Jesus said we must become like little children to see or enter the kingdom of heaven.

And if Jesus said we need to do that, then I guess we can!

I pray that my kids never lose that sense of wonder.

And that I too – and you, dear reader – would always be astounded at this universe we’re privileged to participate in.

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“Didn’t I come to bring you a sense of wonder

Didn’t I come to lift your fiery vision bright

Didn’t I come to bring you a sense of wonder in the flame”

Van Morrison

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Do you look at the world around you, awestruck?

When did beauty last drive you to tears?

What sights and sounds and sensations unleash the sense of aesthetic in your soul?

Are you bewildered at the existence of existence?

Does this universe fill you with questions of eternity and purpose?

Do the discoveries of science amaze you, at the same time as leaving you convinced that there will always be more to this universe than human reasoning can fathom?

And yet, isn’t it astonishing that the human mind can fathom our world at all?

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Brimstone

One of the best and most beautiful nature photos I’ve ever taken.

A Brimstone butterfly, snapped quickly, opportunistically, a few years ago at New Wine, the Christian conference/festival in Somerset we enjoy every year.

Is it a coincidence that this moment of nature’s beauty was captured at an event where all eyes, all focus, is on the Creator and Saviour of all, where God is worshipped and adored? Maybe. Maybe not.

Perhaps there’s greater significance in the exact location it was taken: right at the edge of a car park, on the very outskirts of the event.

The wonder of God’s presence may be found at the centre of the festival celebration, in the midst of united worship…and yet also here on the outskirts, in the translucent wings of a butterfly.

In our society splendour is often associated with those who seem to be at the centre of everything. The celebrities. The limelight.

Yet another kind of magnificence is to be found on the outlying places of society, in the souls and faces of ordinary people.

Are you just as awed by the wise and wicked humour of that wizened lady in the queue at Tesco?

Do you spot the transcendence in people like the ragged guy I spoke to a few minutes ago in the street, who asked me if I could spare a pound?

Do they, too, fill you with wonder?

Do you see a reflection of the divine in their eyes?

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“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Your works are wonderful, I know that full well”.

Psalm 139

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“The basic intuition of the psalms of praise, as one Old Testament scholar points out, is a sense of wonder, awe and admiration, characteristic of every authentic spiritual life. It is translated into an enthusiasm for Yahweh, his power, goodness and love.

These psalms are pure adoration, the Amen of the community in response to God’s revelation”.

Brennan Manning

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Hannah, on her first day in this world

Hannah, on her first day in this world

 

My Dad, in his agnostic/atheist days, would question his faithlessness at the sight of a newborn baby. How could he not believe in God when faced with such a mind-blowing miracle?

Sadly, he died a few years before Hannah was born. But he enjoyed his other grandchildren, who no doubt helped to re-awaken his faith in his Creator.

How easy it is, though, to marvel at the phenomenon of a small child and go all gooey at its cuteness. And how easy it is, sometimes, to see the beauty in others, but to miss it in ourselves!

You are a perfect miracle, a bespoke gift from the Creator to himself and to those who love you.

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When did you last stand in wonder of yourself?

Take a look in the mirror. Forget society’s expectations and your own insecurities, and behold the divine designer construction that you are. Your body (yes, yours!), your own particular personality and dreams.

Stand in awe of yourself!

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And how about the divine becoming human? How about the self-giving sacrifice of God’s son for us, again demonstrating how awesome we are to him – in spite of everything horrible about humanity?

No wonder Christians have such a sense of self-worth. No wonder we have such a sense of wonder.

OK, maybe you don’t feel this way or believe what I do. I respect that. But for me….I stand awestruck time after time at the changes he’s brought about in my life since the time I started to believe that Jesus really is the Way.

 

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My heart beats to the same rhythm as countless others who live and breathe in awe of the one whose forgiveness and transformative power have shaped our lives.

And when I’m singing, whether at home, at church or in the car (yes, that’s me you’ve seen crooning away as I’ve been driving down the road), my voice joins with millions of others throughout the ages in adoration of our Saviour.

 

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IMG_1861aWhat have you stopped to take notice of recently?

What have you taken time to admire?

Have you paused recently to appreciate a colleague’s dedication to her work?

Or stopped to feel the breath ebb and flow in and out of your lungs?

Doing these things is good for our mental and emotional health. God has made it this way. Those who follow a reflective or meditative faith have known this for countless millennia.  Now NHS bodies have incorporated this idea into their evidence-based Five Ways to Wellbeing. (Go on, Google it – it’s actually very good).

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In recent years Van Gogh, Brennan Manning and Van Morrison have all played a part in unlocking my own internal sense of wonder; have helped me to appreciate the aesthetic, to stand in awe of my Creator and, I’m not ashamed to say, to cry in the presence of beauty.

In my busy, goal-oriented, task-centred life, it’s been a much-needed, revitalising awakening of my inner being.

Like a re-balancing of my soul.

Let me finish by leaving you with a masterpiece by Van the Man (Morrison, not Gogh). If, like me, you appreciate the poetry, music and spirituality of Van Morrison, then you’ll probably love this. I think it’s pretty wonder-full.

 

(The photos in this post are all mine, but not the video).

 

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Vicky Beeching, Romans 1 and 21st Century Life

In response to some friends’ recent Facebook discussion on a Christian view of homosexuality, following Vicky Beeching’s ‘coming out’, here are a few thoughts to throw into the melting-pot!

Let me start by asking….what is important to God? My answer….

In relation to him: undivided love, trust, adoration, gratitude, humility, etc.

In relation to others: selfless love, generosity, faithfulness, compassion, reconciliation etc.

In relation to ourselves: security in the Father’s love, integrity, wholeness, purity, joy and peace in life, etc.

In relation to everything and everyone, including ourselves: wonder at the beauty in all that God has made (Rom 1:20).

And perhaps you’d add other attitudes and attributes to those statements.

Passages like Romans 1:18-32 (and others that appear to be about homosexuality) are concerned with practices that threaten those principles: e.g. idolatry and sexual practices that go against people’s own nature in hedonistic revelry, often (in those times) in association with worship of false gods.

The Bible writers didn’t have the benefit of the biological understanding of sexuality that we have today. They were speaking against sexual idolatry, not homosexuality that is integral to someone’s own natural identity.

If an LGBT person enters a faithful, loving relationship with another person of the same gender, they are fulfilling God’s ‘law’ of love, not going against it.

God is concerned with the heart – a heart of agape love towards others and towards him, and is grieved when anything pulls a person away from that. He’s concerned with motivations rather than mechanics.

What does the Bible say? That the word of God is a stale, dead, dry encyclopaedia of rules and laws?

No! It says that it is living and active. It’s a living thing. The way it applied to 1st Century Rome should be different from how it’s applied to 21st Century life in the West.

If Romans 1 is concerned with anything that detracts from a life of love towards God and others, then perhaps applying it in a living and active way to 21st Century UK means using the passage to address issues like consumerism, our obsession with mobile phone technology, general gadgetry and the internet, sexual hedonism (still) (whether heterosexual or gay), and all manner of ethical questions around scientific advances. These are some of the things that go against nature and/or take people’s eyes off God.

For example, does the amount of time I spend online detract from my love for God?

Does your desire for the next version of iPhone interfere with your desire for God?

Or: can we justify the amount of money spent on exploring space or on Hadron colliders when a third of the world’s population is starving?

What are the implications of cloning or the creation of 3-parent families?

These advances in science and technology go against nature.

What are the motivations for those advances? To promote the good of mankind, the wonder of God’s creation and a love for God? Or to promote the cleverness of man and continue to push ethical and scientific boundaries as far as possible, just because we can (like the story of Babel)?

I’m not judging on these experiments and explorations. I’m just saying that these are the kinds of questions that arise when we apply Romans 1 to our own society.

A gay person in a relationship with someone of the same sex is not going against his or her nature, or even nature in general. Nor are they committing idolatry.

An LGBT relationship is no more likely to detract from a love for God than a heterosexual relationship. A faithful, committed gay relationship is promoting love, not working against love. And, I don’t need to tell you, but…. God is love.

Ideal sexual purity involves faithfulness in mind, body, heart and eyes. This is what concerns God’s heart, not the mechanics of gender.

As stated previously, the Bible writers (both OT and NT) wrote about homosexual practices from their perceptions of the surrounding hedonistic, idolatrous people groups. The Romans passage condemns love-less, perverse lust and idolatry (including heterosexual people engaging in bisexual orgies – going against their own nature), not faithful love between people who are gay by nature.

We need to develop our relationship with God and our understanding of his heart before we can understand the finer details of his will. We need to see the big picture first, in order to perceive the smaller elements.

Knowing God develops through time, receiving the Holy Spirit, Bible reading, prayer and a humble heart.

We also gain a greater sense of who God is by engaging in the things that are close to his heart:

“ ‘He gave justice and help to the poor and needy, and everything went well with him. Isn’t that what it means to know me?’ says the LORD”. (Jeremiah 22:16; italics mine).

By acting out his compassion towards ‘the poor and needy’, I believe we inevitably see God in those people, grasp a greater, more beautiful picture of God and paradoxically also develop a greater sense of ‘unknowing’, of learning that God is both knowable and also a sublime, wondrous mystery.

The more we get to know the brokenness, complexity and mystery of human beings made in God’s image, the less black-and-white our view of others and the world will become. Our view of people like Vicky Beeching or others facing complex moral issues will become less black-and-white.

I’m not saying I know God better than anyone else, just that working over the years with broken and vulnerable people has influenced my theology, i.e. my knowledge of God.

[BTW: I suspect that this progression of theology as a result of working with vulnerable people is also the experience of Steve Chalke, to whom I tend to relate in terms of both heart and views].

Jeremiah also explained: ‘But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken!’ (Jer. 9:24)

The Pharisees searched the scriptures ruthlessly but failed to recognise Jesus or receive the life he offered (John 5:39), because they didn’t truly know God. So, scripture alone without God’s heart can lead us astray. They failed to see the big picture of God and so misunderstood the finer details of his will.

We need to beware of simply quoting scripture rigidly to defend our case. Much harm has been done in this way.

HOWEVER….

Even when we’ve all searched for God and developed our relationship with him after many years of prayer, humility, scripture and compassionate action, we still won’t all come to the same conclusions about every issue, because we’re all so much smaller than him. We see him from a different angle, through our own life-tinted lenses.

To repeat: God is both knowable and also a sublime, wondrous mystery.

For that reason, and because I have a deep love and respect for the Bible which has played an important and powerful part in God’s transformation of my life, while also recognising that you and I may have a different approach to the Bible, I write this with humility and trepidation, stating here that this is purely my own understanding.

I submit this to my brothers and sisters, feeling a deep and sorrowful sense of empathy with those who have been excluded or felt excluded from the church or even Christianity because of their sexuality, and believing passionately in my heart that the church needs to fully accept LGBT relationships equally to heterosexual relationships……. while knowing that some reading this will vehemently disagree with me.

I hope, in that case, that we can respect each other’s view and demonstrate agape love for each other, in agreement with God’s heart.

I also submit that I may be wrong! This is my view, not my dogma.

I’m of far greater conviction that whether I’m right or wrong in my statements above…and even if the view that homosexual practice is always wrong in God’s eyes is correct…that this is still a minor question and God’s heart is far more concerned with issues of mercy, justice, love, faithfulness and care of ‘the poor and needy’. That this question of sexuality should remain a matter of conscience, not of dogma.

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