Addiction and Grace

Repression, then, in spite of its sinister reputation, is relatively flexible. It is workable. Addiction, the other force that turns us away from love, is much more vicious.

Gerald G. May MD Addiction And Grace

 

As reflected in my posts of late, the idea of being vulnerable and broken has been burning within my mind and heart. I have been contemplating the effects of denying my own brokenness on my relationships and the expectations I have within them. By relationships I also refer to the one I have with myself. The questions regarding how I interact with myself, treat myself, apply also to the way I treat others. This is because the command that I feel my desire leads me to try and follow is that by Jesus to us to try and love our neighbor as we do ourselves.

I have therefore been forced in a way to confront my own desires, both the deep inner good ones as well as the deep inner bad ones; the kinds that lead to my diceitful and selfish choices – choices that I knowingly make and even desire to make. This contradiction is a reflections of my own brokenness and unless I face them and begin that first journey of self acceptance, there would be little success in my attempts to love others or even accept being loved – especially by myself. Odd to think that unless I see myself for what I am, warts and all, I am bound to constant self-deception which weakens rather than strengthens.

In discussion with a close friend about these conflicts within me, the ideas regarding addiction and repression in respect to sin were brought up and he recommended Gerald G. May’s Addiction And Grace which I have just started reading. It is very insightful and one chapter in has opened my heart to thoughts I had denied within myself. The nature of addiction is still far from my understanding. The nature of love, however, is much closer and I think is the driving force on this journey.

Lets see where it leads.

Happy New Year to you all.

 

Love came down

“The truest gift is that of fearce, undying, unconditional, and preemptive love”

So, last night as I sat with my wife, her mother and brother, unwrapping the presents we had got each other, I cast my thoughts back across the afternoon. We had sat together and read from Luke 2 after which we sang a few carols and finished with a prayer.

Over the verses concerning the birth of Jesus, I had poured many times before; so too had I sung the carols time and time again. There was however, something quite different taking place. In this intimate space, where I was part embarrassed by the sound of my voice joining the harmonies filling the room, the canvas of monotony was lifted and fresh meaning began to emerge from the verses and the lyrics.
 I was overcome with a deep sense of appreciation for the expression of love shown to me by the Father through – and by the Son. The sense of celebration transcended the Gifts underneath the tree, sailing past the feeling of belonging : as I was gathered with family, and resting on a Spiritual awakening: that the gift was to my heart and soul. The birth of Christ became a tangible, as well as a Spiritual, joy.
Opening my presents, I was surprised at the way in which my wife and her family surpassed my expectations. They had given me far above what I deserved and it made me feel equally loved. It was here that the other verses i had forgotten began to pour past.

because He first loved us

love is itself. It is an action and not a response. It is not something that can be cultured or grown, love comes complete and whole. What we mostly mistake for love is intimacy, which takes time to grow and develop. You need intimacy in order to express love because intimacy is the currency of relationship. Love is as love is; a thing with no beginning and no end. It is a space with no boundaries; infinite and incomprehensible in its totality. It emerges – reveals itself – leaving us to react to it with our actions. You cannot show love without its revelation to you; thus the verse.
As I pondered this, the next verse flew by…
for God ‘so’ loved… That He ‘gave’
Generosity  is love’s character. The only thing that proceeds from love is an act of giving. Love gives. A wise man once said to a group of boys, of whom i s one, that love in action is ‘sacrificial giving of what the subject needs, not what they want’. This rings true with sentiment that withholding for a time falls in the remit of love’s generosity. For God so loved the world that He gave… Not only did love act, love sought to get intimate with us so that we may understand it, enjoy it, relate to it, and share in it – with it. (Something worth chewing on)
‘no greater love has a man than this, to lay down his Life for his friend’
This final verse led me to the conclusion that the generosity that love displays is a total one. That is, one that asks for handing over of what is most delicate and precious. Love shared its life – the soft inner part of itself – with us.
How fearce, how free, how complete, how compelling. Death was not the only purpose, He was born to live, to be learnt, to be doubted, to be trusted, to be embraced, to be denied, to be seen suffering, to be seen hungry, to cry, to be human. All so that Love could be understood.
Merry Christ Has Come!

Faith: Shame and Glory (a)

Elohi! Elohi! Lamma Sabbach Thani!

Jesus

I’m always harking on about the power of vulnerability and the importance of openness. A thought crossed my mind as I sat to a bowl of leek soup – that’s a story on it’s own. What was taking place on the cross? This in keeping with the idea that God intended not only demonstrate love but also how to love. So… He is crucified. (Phillipians 2) Having already come down from heaven and been condemned by man, Jesus faced death at the hands of the beings He created (John 1). Not only is that a lesson in humility – the bridge between shame and glory, submission and leadership, accountability and Lordship – it seemed to me to be a deep lesson in vulnerability. For God saw fit to show his biggest strength and ultimate power by being victorious over our biggest enemy (sin and sinfulness), when under great shame (that of dying on a cross) as well as the great pain of separation.

When darkness fell, the Son called out to the Father, The Father – for Justice – turned away. Our LORD fell into death and emerged victorious. In crying out, Jesus was honest about His pain, honest about His circumstance, needing the Father – such brokenness, such shame, how glorious. Jesus was honest about His weakness; His need for the Father. Naked of outward Glory, but still shining nonetheless.

My soup went cold for the contemplation led me to praise. I made no noise, sang no songs, and in fact said little. Overwhelmed with the sense of God’s ability and desire to share life ultimately, I rested in the state of overwhelm (I’m still there).

I think heaven will be an eternity of moments like these – Infinite spaces to discover more about the Infinite father, the incarnate Son, and the Intimate Holy Spirit.

 

PS: I haven’t studied theology so correct any mistakes!

Keep God in the heavens

Outward authority is cast off and is replaced by the inward authority of the individual thought or experience. Reason here, emotion there, usurps the place of God… every individual becomes a law unto himself in religious matters. God is dethroned, humanity reigns, and in practice humanity means little more than individual man, the thinking or feeling self.

The New Bible Commentary Revised ed.

I came across this excerpt in the introduction to the commentary quoted and had to halt for a moment. My first instinct was outward and the thought that dominated my mind was that of how it summed up the simplicity – stupidity even – of a lack of faith. Refusing to acknowledge God – Keeping Him in the heavens – was tantamount to outright rebellion and all who indulged in it did so at their own detriment. If only there was a way ‘I’ could convince them otherwise. It was at that thought – the ‘I’ – that caused check from my conscience – Holy Spirit time.

It is a strange commission that we have been given: to go into all the world preaching the good news of Jesus. I’ve always wondered – especially when with my intellectual friends – why God didn’t just reveal Himself to them in power like he did for Paul. Why was it that He left it down to me at times to try and defend his cause? Carrying the frustration of failing to convince – to convert even – after throwing all I knew at the person. To aid my arsenal, I read a plethora of books and took an interest in all manners of religious ideologies as well as philosophy: none of which made a difference. The basic fact was that the inward authority of my individual thought and experience was not enough. It would take an outward one, expressing itself – impressing itself onto the individual – to inaugurate change. In my drive to convince, I had kept God in heaven. Professing my faith in factual terms, as the most rational way, meant that I had entered into the selfsame realm of rebellion. Let me quantify this.

Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent (Alpha and Omega): God is infinite and complex. Where would his complexity and magnitude be if ‘I’ – a human being unable to totally comprehend himself – could present God boxed in a present at the end of a rational pursuit. This is what makes proclaiming the Gospel, especially in this day and age, quite a difficult task. We can easily make it scientific, or philosophical, with proof  and Logic being the only modes of discourse. Have you ever encountered someone who is as sure of his disbelief in God as you are of yours in His existence? There is the frustration that accompanies the urge to with Reason destroy the erroneous edifice within which your compatriot is hiding, ushering him into the light – and delight – of a relationship with God especially if, like the people I know, they are stubborn intellectuals.

Unless, however, there is that total dependance on His Outward authority, the exercise is futile. Part of the message itself is the call to humility: that is the idea of a total surrender – intellectually as well as emotionally – to the Godhead. Our faith begins with bad math, we have to let go of Logic, let go of proof, and surrender before we are able to see the logic. The temptation is to keep God in heaven so we can reign – inaugurating change on the strength of our argument. But as Paul says…

The kingdom of God is not of talk but of Power

1 Corinthians 4:20

Far from giving me a rod to condemn unbelief – whose symptoms I sometimes show – the excerpt challenged me away from loftiness. As an evangelist – which we all are – the most important thing to be able to say is “I don’t know it all”. It is true because we don’t. Relinquishing our inward authority breeds a reliance on God and invites Him down to earth – or rather acknowledges that He is already here. It is an act of faith – assurance of hope in the face of skepticism – exemplified by Jesus in the garden.

Yet I want your will to be done, not mine

Luke 22:42

Think on this

The Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: and whoever is moved by faith to ascent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience

David Hume

More musings to come.

Feel free to comment or query.

Psalm 137

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever”

George Orwell

Life can seem unfair. Things can look bad.

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept 
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

 

When the Psalmist writes, Israel is in captivity. The Babylonians have come in and taken them into slavery. This was a situation they knew they would only find themselves in if they were collectively disobedient. Being right with God equaled being In Israel and worshipping in Jerusalem. Being rejected by God equaled captivity.

To be a Jew then meant to be set aside for God. To be chosen away from the rest of the world, to be God’s special people. To be rejected by God meant loosing identity, it meant loosing their sense of significance; and loosing their land. And to make matters worse, the Babylonians mocked them and asked them to sing songs about God.

As Christians – God’s chosen people – living in today’s world, the boot on the human face, it is hard to feel constantly connected to God, Let alone praise him. The sense of God’s absence, or what we perceive to be his passiveness is magnified. With all the power at his disposal, why is it that people die of hunger, children get abandoned, siblings become strangers, and divorces happen. Fathers reject sons, loved ones pass away, heartbreak and loneliness are commonplace even within the church. Meanwhile thieves get away, embezzlers get rich, and power stays with the corrupt. And at times corrupts the true.

 4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?

Well first thing is to follow the psalmist and remember Jerusalem.

“They defeated the evil one by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony”

Revelations 12:11

Last time I focused on the ‘word of their testimony’ part of this verse as an urge to us for honesty with each other, sharing the moments of God’s blessing and intervention in our lives. This time I focus primarily on the ‘blood of the lamb’ part of this verse. The first thing this speaks to me about is that God didn’t let the evil one prevail. Even from genesis where sin has caused mans separation from Eden (the place of unity with God), within the curses of separation is a promise. Of one whose heel will stamp on the head of the serpent.

The problem of the world is the human beings within it. Adam and eve with the freedom that God out of his love gave them, for pride and selfishness turned away from him. What we see and experience are the accumulated effects of this same pride and selfishness over the span of man’s reign.

The solution to the world comes from the God who made it and them. This is the Good news, that God has not left the world – and us – in the state that we are in. That there will be an End, which will in fact be a beginning for perpetual joy and fellowship, and deep intimacy with Father. In fact with Christ, this end has begun.

 For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only begotten son, that whoever believed in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

John 3:16

   may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.

Remember that God has a plan. And that there will be an end to injustice – the boot kicking the face will be stopped. There will be an end to pain, to sorrow, to rejection, to insecurity, to sickness and to loneliness. There will be a beginning to life, to joy, to peace, to reconciliation, and to freedom.

The Psalmist says.

“happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.”

But does this mean we can’t complain about how things currently are? At times I’ve found, that being a Christian magnifies the sorrow of the situation. Knowing how good things were or could be, or will be (in our case) makes how things are sometimes more painful. For instance: I pray for the health of my non-Christian friends because the thought of them dying without ever knowing the love of God through Jesus is difficult to deal with. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to actually loose a loved one before they knew God. Or even just loose a loved one. I haven’t spoken to my father in months. Knowing God and his love for me, amplifies the desire to be loved by my father and increases my pain at his silence. These things make some of my conversations with God extremely difficult.

I remember the first time I spoke to one of my friends (he was not a Christian then) about God, he swore at God. Life had been so hard on him that the thought of God loving him didn’t make sense. And a God who seemed to stand by while everything bad took place in his life wasn’t worthy of praise but on the contrary – to my friend – should be cursed. I stepped back because I thought lightning would strike him and was a little shocked when it didn’t. What actually happened was a slow resilient hug from heaven. He was a Christian in the space of months and still is today.

9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

This is the anguish of a true complaint. The sorrow of the situation expressed. We all want some sort of retribution and the psalmist is merely asking for what was done to Jewish children to be done to their captors. The law of an Eye for an Eye. The problem with this law is that if we call for it then we have to live by it. And by the same law that the psalmist condemns he is condemned: the Israelites wouldn’t be in captivity if they hadn’t disobeyed God and the wages of sin – disobeying God – as we all know is death. So having been forgiven, or even praying for forgiveness, we are left to wrestle with forgiving others. Turning the other cheek is difficult.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t complain. Knowing the end, knowing Jesus should usher us into freedom not into bondage. Paul says “there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love” and that God’s “grace is sufficient for us”. This means that we can come boldly before God with our deepest pains’ deepest anguish and darkest laments knowing that the father – thanks to Jesus – understands. And we know this because on the cross, in the darkness, in the loneliness  where he who was perpetually in a relationship was separated from his family and himself, and was being mocked by us; the people he was suffering to save. Jesus, feeling abandoned by his father, complained.

“Elohi, Elohi, Lamma Sabbach thani”

“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me”

Jesus more than us, understood God’s plan for humanity. He even knew the glory that he would receive after he resurrected. That didn’t stop him crying out to his father. And when he died, the curtain that meant Jerusalem was the only place where we could find God was split in two. We were given the right by his blood to come before God as sons and not criminals.

So… take a moment.

Be Still and Know!

….

Feel Free to in comment or query.

Faith 004: Touched (Part 2)

Mark 1:40-42

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”.  Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

 

Grill a Christian, as the name suggests, is an evangelistic event where the floor is open for questions on and about Christianity to be asked and where possible addressed. Once a couple of years ago, while a part of Brunel Christian Union, we held one in a lecture theatre. The question of who Jesus was leveled at the panel.

As a response Kev, one of the panelists, told the story of a group of war prisoners in an underground cell who, having been tortured had cowered together in a corner; keeping their naked bodies warm by huddling together. The indignity they had been subjected to had brought them together but their shame had stilled their tongues. In this dark cell they had crouched silently awaiting their deaths.

After a while a liberating army successfully invaded the land and in the process of doing so had uncovered this prison. Illuminating the cell the soldiers, in full gear, opened the doors and informed the prisoners of their freedom. But rather than get up and leave, the prisoners cowered further: seemingly frightened further at the sight of soldiers.

On seeing this, one of the soldiers slowly placed his weapon down at the entrance and walked into the cell. He then took off his uniform and stood at the periphery of the group in nothing other than his underwear. He then, after a short while moved closer the group and stretched his hand toward the nearest prisoner who responded by taking the soldier’s hand. One by one this soldier led each one of the prisoners, by hand, out of the cell.

The prisoners, like the leper, had lost some of their humanity and, crippled by fear, had a warped sense of expectation. Their experiences had not only changed their perspective of themselves but also of other people. Thus they were afraid of the liberating soldiers.

The liberating soldiers, in the zeal of the freedom they brought were whole. Wholeness to the broken is scary. Faith to the broken is risky. Freedom to the bound is an unknown: this too is scary.

As stated in the first part of this discussion, Jesus – like the soldier – strips himself of his apparel and heals firstly by a show of empathy and compassion. He, at the doorway to humanity removes his robe and his golden sash, wears a human head of hair, cools the blazing fire in his eyes, fleshes out his bronze feet as well as his tongue – which is a double edged sword [See Revalations 1:12-16]. For us to understand the Love of a Lion it comes to us as a humble Lamb.

So

  • Maybe like the healed leper, you are anxious to share your faith. Seeking out at every opportunity to tell people what God has done in your life. Go for it I say. Spare a thought however for how scary the thought of change can be. Be conscious of the radicallity of the gospel and it’s capacity to unsettle and break even the thickest of skins. With the confidence that being Loved by God can give it is quite easy to be a Lion and harder to be a Lamb. Empathy and compassion require patience, touch requires proximity, and proximity – and the intimacy it requires – takes time and patience. Always try to understand [to know thoroughly by close contact or long experience with] as you were once understood. Be Grace-full [unconditional in your love, and long suffering in your forgiveness] and never loose hope for God’s intervention. For us to show how safe and loving the Lion is, we must show ourselves as Lambs beside it.
  • Maybe sharing your faith is hard. Becoming a lamb is embracing vulnerability. This in many ways is very scary. So is touching a leper. The thought that Christ died in order for us to understand love always makes me afraid of expressing my faith. I don’t want to be jeered at, let alone stripped half naked, whipped and then nailed to a cross in front of a city. My thought is this: God’s love changes us from the inside out. His story is one of accepting us where we are and thoroughly loving us until we are so full of love that it seeps out our eyes, ears, mouth, hands etc. If you are not ready, rest in his love. You, like me, are still making my way out the cell. That in itself is a statement to the rest of the people in the cell that trust/ Faith is possible, touch, humanity, and dignity are available, and the hope for wholeness is one that is healthy to have. Be encouraged, you are doing and saying more than you think: “I don’t know enough yet” is equally an important an answer as any.
  • Maybe like me, while in a broken place, you encountered the overzealous soldier. The impatient Christian who barked verses at you never once stopping to see or hear the tears that you had bubbling. If so, I am sorry. The church is filled with people on the different stages within their journey to and from the cross. Its diversity is its one flaw and at the same its beauty. In my experienceGod’s wish is for us to realize his hands beside ours, his tears at the sight of ours, and his aching heart at our sorrow. The imperfection we find in his church is a way of Him expressing to us His capacity to Love. He is in His own way working to perfect it. Until then though it is filled with equally broken people on their journey toward wholeness: not one of us, in and out of the Church, is whole. Be assured however that not everyone within the Church is the overzealous soldier, and that there are places and people who can truly listen with empathy and compassion, sharing and caring with and for each other through the painful and joyous.

Faith 003: Touch (Part 1)

Mark 1:40 & 41

40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

 

I thought it very interesting that the man didn’t ask Jesus to touch him. He knew within himself that Jesus had the power to make him better but seems too accustomed to quarantine to even dream of being touched. Having made the journey to where Jesus was – needless to say it must have been hard especially for a leper – he throws himself at Jesus’ feet and yields both his request as well as his expectations to Jesus’ will. In his ‘if you are willing…” he acknowledges Jesus’ power and authority while at the same time reaching for His heart. With his words he touches the King.

I cannot imagine what would have been going through this mans mind at this point. Drawn to Jesus by the promise of wholeness he yields, kneels and awaits the outcome. It is a place of despair suspended by hope. A place where the pain of rejection, separation, and loneliness collide. Untouched, he hasn’t felt human, connected, loved, whole. And there was the off chance that Jesus wasn’t willing!

‘Jesus was indignant’. The dictionary defines that as angered at something unjust or wrong. What was unjust? Was it the man’s illness? I think not. I suggest that it was the man’s brokenness; his request not only spoke of Jesus’ capacity to heal him but also of the possibility of Jesus being unwilling. It was this thought of LOVE in contradiction; seeing pain and choosing not to intervene that I suggest angered Jesus. The injustice was found in the mitigating of the man’s faith: a statement of distrust in God. It is an injustice to people that they struggle to trust God.

Jesus then reaches out and touches him before speaking: first healing his humanity. This speaks of God who is brim-full of love; unafraid to reach to the lowly, touch the unclean. In touching him, Jesus releases the man from his own quarantine. Touch reopens human contact.

Jesus then declares his willingness and heals the man’s flesh. Wholeness, the disease that Jesus carried, spread to the Leper.

So,

  • Maybe you feel untouched? Does it sometimes feel like you are not worthy of love, of company, of contact?
  • Maybe you feel alone? Is it as though the nearest heart is a million miles way, and if you shouted for help no one would hear or respond?
  • Maybe you feel invalidated? Ever worry that you are not enough, and everyone else is a better option? Ever feel like a shadow in a packed room, constantly overlooked?
  • Do you feel rejected? Is the pain of hope tarnished, love withheld or undervalued is hard to bare?

On the approaching cross, a willing Jesus makes wholeness a Faith Borne contagion. Accessible to all who seek it (Splitting the sin, and the guilt of sin that stopped man trusting God, in two.)

In dying He tastes Mortality (suffering, loneliness, and death). His final cry is one of an abandoned son. “Why have you Forsaken me?” He asks His Father.

His persevearance showed us His Character, and his character gives us hope. Because Love suffered more than any of us could, we can be assured of His compassion for our suffering.

“Jesus wept”

I am certain of this.

There is no better companion than the one who can sit in your heart, undeterred by your brokenness, proud of your honesty, and capable of standing beside you in the midst of the storm.

There is no better friend than the one who “is willing” to forfeit his life, and share His resurrection, inheritance and Glory with you.

There is no better Father than the one who not only cleans your wounds but heals them.

“who when his son asks him for bread will give him a stone?” He asks.

“I am willing” He says.