Archives for posts with tag: Faith

I aspire to love others the way Jesus did – fearlessly, tenderly, and at great personal cost.  But I rarely do.  Probably never.

Just occasionally, I have a thought so out of the ordinary that I sense a touch of heaven in it.  A different logic, beautifully right.  Even more occasionally, I might act on one of these thoughts.

Like, what if I buy this drunken, tobacco-stained homeless person a KFC, instead of walking past?

That’s a small one really.

So, what if I help him get his coat back on?

Slightly better.  Now here’s the thing: what if I don’t force a conversation about how God loves him, don’t patronise him in any way, but just sit with him in the gutter?  Give him some attention and respect, because he deserves it as much as anyone else.

He deserves it more: ‘The price must be paid by those who are blessed and fortunate, for those who are lost and in despair.’ (Dr. James Chinkyung Kim.) This is living the gospel, rather than talking about it.

Religious hypocrites want the poor and needy to be sanitised objects of our selfish piety.  In reality they are difficult or dirty – because that’s what despair and poverty does to you.  And we are all as vulnerable as they are, though we easily forget.  Jesus loves us all just as we are.  (Except, perhaps, the hypocrites.)

Related but slightly different to the above thoughts, the thing I really want to say is below.  Bear with me if it seems like a change of theme.

After feeling powerless against the prejudice, violence and death being inflicted on Christians in so many corners of the earth, I decided to train for a sponsored run this September, to support them.  I need to set up a sponsorship page soon.

‘We’ are now the most persecuted people group on earth.  Apparently, eighty percent of all acts of religious discrimination across the globe are against Christians.  And apart from the North Korean regime and other country-specific issues, there appears to be a strongly Islamic nature to the problem.   For some groups, like ISIS, the hatred of Christians (and others) is theological.  I wrestle with all this, trying to see the common humanity in all people without giving in to hatred or fear.   (In one of my darker periods I wrote this poem).

One day, on a Muslim friend’s Facebook page, I saw an article about Buddhist extremists oppressing, killing, and burning Muslims.  And immediately I felt the injustice and pain that I knew he felt.  I thought of the injustices held close to heart by many Muslims about so many things – Gaza, Bosnia, drone attacks.

And another thing gave me pause for thought.  I recently rang up a different Muslim friend (a gentle man of peace who I respect), to suggest getting together for a coffee to get to know each others’ beliefs better.  To build bridges where so many are retreating from each other.  Somehow I got talking about the violence in the world and I think I drove him away.   I became too intense (oops, I sometimes do that!).  He didn’t want to meet.  He couldn’t be sure of my motives.  He said he doesn’t listen to the news anymore, but focuses on thinking about good things and creating a good home for his precious children.

How many of us, as we look around, are wondering will there be a place of safety for me anywhere in this world?  Perhaps this is the issue for some who distort their humanity into acts of terror – a longing for a place of safety, to get rid of those who threaten them; to create a state where everyone is like them.

Shamefully, I feel a resistance to empathising with oppressed people groups or religious groups who are wholly foreign to me, or especially who threaten me.  A part of me wants the clarity of ‘us’ and ‘them’.  A part of me needs my ‘own’ injustices to be the most important.  I want to forget our common humanity in case I seem (or actually become) naive, in case I start to justify the evil acts of a minority of people who come out of those groups.

The web of injustices is too tangled to really give anyone the moral high ground (though some clearly occupy the low ground).  Over and again the oppressed become the oppressor, and all are victims.

Am I wishing for the oppressed to be devoid of vengeance or hatred before they are worthy of my compassion?  Am I wishing for them to come only from people I can identify with, before I am willing to help them?  Am I wishing for them to be sanitised, before they are worthy of my selfish acts of piety?

Would it honour Jesus Christ more to dedicate my sponsored run only to the people who bear his name, or to share my sponsorship with those who are oppressed under a different name?  Even to support those who it’s tempting to call our enemies?  This was the thought I had today that might just have the touch of heaven in it.

In one of Jesus key phrases, where he reveals what he’s really all about, he says:

‘Love your enemies and bless the one who curses you, and do what is beautiful to the one who hates you, and pray over those who take you by force and persecute you.’ Matthew 5:44

A friend of my wife’s, a lovely lady, told us how she went door to door fundraising, in her hijab, for Gaza, when kids were being killed in the latest Israeli incursion.  Instead of just feeling powerless she picked up a bucket and did what she could, she’s that kind of person.  But she faced consistent disinterest from the older white members of the community.

Perhaps they were afraid of the unknown.  Surely they cared about dying kids and suffering people, but maybe they feared giving money to someone they didn’t know, someone they were ever so slightly fearful of.  What if they were accidentally supporting a cause they might not fully agree with; the promotion of an ideology they weren’t comfortable with?

I have imagined myself going door to door in this community to raise money for the persecuted church.  I have imagined myself being rebuffed by some Muslims, but striving to ‘open their eyes’ to the huge injustices against Christians in their country of origin.  I have imagined myself compelling them towards compassion.

But have my own eyes been fully opened to the injustices they too feel so keenly?  Am I seeking only to be understood rather than to understand?

Am I willing to stop the ‘us and them’ mentality, and to raise money for the oppressed on ‘both sides’ because really it should never have been about taking sides in the first place?  What else will stop the madness?

To love our enemies is risky.  it is a different logic, and beautifully right.

Please give me feedback.  Please share examples of the different logic.  And while I already have a charity in mind to support the persecuted church, please suggest charities who might be a trustworthy channel of funds to persecuted people of other faiths.

This is a profound book – I urge you to read it!  Life is a journey home towards a deeper, wiser, happier simplicity – what he calls the second half of life – but not everybody gets there.

It’s the kind of book that I want to quote in its entirety!

But here is an excerpt:

There is a gravitas in the second half of life, but it is now held up by a deeper lightness, or ‘okayness’. Our mature years are characterised by a kind of bright sadness and a sober happiness… There is still darkness in the second half of life – in fact maybe even more.  But there is now a changed capacity to hold it creatively and with less anxiety…

In the second half of life one has less and less need or interest in eliminating the negative or fearful, making again those old rash judgements, holding on to old hurts or feeling any need to punish other people. Your superiority complexes have gradually departed in all directions.  You do not fight these things anymore; they have just shown themselves too many times to be useless, ego based, counter-productive and often entirely wrong.  You learn to positively ignore and withdraw your energy from evil or stupid things rather than fight them directly.

You fight things only when you are directly called and equipped to do so.  We all become a well-disguised mirror image of anything that we fight too long or too directly. That which we oppose determines the energy and frames the questions after a while.  You lose all your inner freedom…

The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better…

Such inner brightness ends up being a much better and longer-lasting alternative to any war, anger, violence, or ideology could ever be.  All you have to do is meet one such shining person and you know that she or he is surely the goal of humanity and the delight of God.

(This extract is taken from Falling Upwards by Richard Rohr with kind permission of SPCK)

Light in the darkness

I saw a darkness in the world.
I found it mirrored in my soul.
The world, my nation, and my street,
Seemed daily paced by evil’s feet.

With violence there, suspicion here,
I soon succumbed to constant fear.
(For loss of hope seems logical,
When darkened eyes see dark in all.)

We build a fake security,
I told myself with gravity,
While others far away from us
Are bombed, beheaded, ground to dust.

And so I judged the lives we’d kept,
And scorned our houses, neatly swept:
Our comfort feeds our apathy,
While evil grows and hate roams free.

And as the dark completely gripped me,
I presumed to see more clearly:

It’s like the lawns we tend with care:
In vain they mask what’s really there,
Now let us face the truthful part:
That this whole world is black at heart!

And all the good we do in life
Is not enough, no more than skin,
To hide the darkness, dirt and strife,
That lies there – just the same – within.

So I resolved to dig a hole,
To lay things bare through sweat and toil,
No longer holding to illusion,
Seeking truth as my conclusion.

Wrestling deep inside my soul,
In thoughts and words I dug my hole.
Deeper into dark it took me;
Lonely fearful visions shook me.

And though in muck I found some gems,
I couldn’t find a place for them,
And though I chanced upon deep roots,
I lost the way to find their fruit.

And all this striving to be free,
Was just another vanity.
Exhausted now and far from home,
I gave up in my pit, alone.

 

—————–

 

Until a gentle voice broke through:

 

Look up, I’ve not forgotten you

 

Still hardened to the voice of hope,
I said, yes Lord, but what’s the use?

It’s not enough to comfort me,
While still out there the hate roams free,
While still out there the babies die,
While people’s lives are torn apart
And all the while you stand apart.

This faith that did once set me free,
Now strikes me as hypocrisy:
The hopes that led my youthful years,
Now grate upon my care-worn ears.
The love that once allayed my fears,
Seems insufficient for these tears,

 

Look up He said, Look up at Me

 

So now at last, in honesty,
I faced my Lord and let him see.
And looking up to hear Him speak,
I felt great tears fall on my cheek

 

The tears you cry, I cry them too.

 

But why Lord, why, should this be true?
I mean, Lord, why this need to cry,
Why must you let good people die?

Though death may come it has not won,
My child, you know this to be true,
Your childish faith will yet grow strong,
But you must let me comfort you.

Your eyes have opened to the fight,
Between the darkness and the light.
You mourn the losses, I do too,
This battle is real so the losses are true.

You say that I have stood apart,
You feel this anger in your heart,
Do you forget I came to earth,
Faced death myself to bring new birth?

Now will you face this truthful part:
It’s you who tries to stand apart,
While wrestling with these painful things,
You still refuse to enter in,

To help support the orphaned youth,
To push back darkness with the truth,
To love the hurting on your street.
That’s why you feel so incomplete:
You’re called to be my hands and feet.

Fighting darkness all alone,
You lost the light to guide you home,
You feared the darkness would be stronger,
You were wrong: my light shines longer. 

Turn your eyes now to the light,
Give up your striving in the night,
The light I bring you from above,
Is the greatest power, the power to love.

You said in youthful enthusiasm, ‘I want to serve you Lord, and whatever you need to put me through, bring it on!’

Filtered Light

Did you mean it?  Would you have prayed this so proudly if instead of the grand and challenging adventure you imagined, your training ground was to be years spent in disappointment, doubt and despair?  Could you accept failure, confusion and pain as the necessary cost of forming your character?

And what if His purpose for you is to be humbled, to serve without recognition, or to be set aside altogether, for the sake of a plan beyond your comprehension, the fulfilment of which you never get to see?

Would you still trust Him, even then?

Yet do not fear, do not despair:

For these light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

Fear is trust. The things we fear or trust are the things we expect to prevail, so both are a type of faith. To fear God is to trust him, for He is good. To expect evil to prevail is to trust it, and to live in fear.

Faith attracts it’s object. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Fear the darkness and it looms larger.

We have a choice where we focus our attention.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? …One thing I ask of the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple”
Psalm 27

Some time ago I shared these drawings from an old notebook, about breaking through to see the light of hope even in the midst of darkness and despair.  To hear God saying, ‘I am still up here’.

This reminds me of the hidden realities and how my experience of them varies according to: 1: the stage in a journey, and 2: the posture I choose in a given moment.

This reminds me of the hidden realities and how my experience of them varies according to:
1: the stage in a journey, and
2: the posture I choose in a given moment.

A few years on I see another picture.  Sometimes the darkness is so great, so deep, we can’t reach a way out of it.  Then we need to know and trust the light deep in our hearts, to be able to behold it even in the presence of darkness.  Training our spiritual eyes on truth and keeping them fixed there even as the dark clouds pass, we will find the light is not just ‘up there’ but also ‘right here’ with us whatever is happening.

Light in Darkness Drawing

“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!…”

But do we believe that goodness is real, and really greater than the darkness?  If we don’t, the darkness will fill our vision when it comes.

For me, the horror of recent world events caught me already reeling from personal disappointments with God and brought darkness and fear to my mind in a whole new way.   I know I am not alone in this 21st anxiety.

Can I break through the cloud of fear, the cloud of Isis, of Ebola, of political corruption and economic crisis?  The darkness of fragmented communities closer to home, fear and suspicion in my own town? The mourning for better times now past, and the well-reasoned anticipation that things will only get worse?  The underlying pain of tragedies in my own family and the long, wearying frustrations in my own life?

I could break though it all as long as I believed that goodness was stronger.   But my trust in God had taken a battering – and goodness has always, for me, been synonymous with God.  Actually I still believed that God is good – I had too much past evidence of this in my life.  But deep down I’d begun to wonder if he was either not strong enough or, more likely, not really concerned enough to intervene in any of this.  There was evidence to suggest this was true.  And therefore, perhaps to all intents and purposes I was on my own.

And then all the problems of the world fell on my shoulders.  And in my weakness I had no hope or strength to carry them.  Of course, I couldn’t possible carry them.

But as He has done so often before, in his own frustrating timing, later than I would have wished, He stirred hope in me again.  First He led me to what I have called our secret woods,  bringing to mind Psalm 23: ‘…He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.’  This shabby woodland has become to me a symbol of the life and peace that may be hidden away in the most unexpected places.

I started to prioritise the still times and safe places that we all need.  This was a big step forward: allowing myself to retreat like this was a healthy acknowledgement of my weakness – that I can’t expect to be strong and resilient all the time – I need constant restoration, and a place to pour out my sorrows and find rest.

‘The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still’

Yet too often I continued to reject stillness for desperate activity or anxiety – the frantic buzzing of the bee trapped in a web.

Because there was still a niggle in the place of rest.  Even as I rediscovered the incomparable comfort of God’s presence I wondered if He was only my comforter.  Could He also be the warrior-king I need Him to be in the face of evil?  Is the image of the shepherd of sheep too weak for my deepest needs?

And now, through a message from a friend, He has brought to mind more of that Psalm:

‘… I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.’ 

And of course that line is written in the context of the darkest valley.  So I decided for the first time to look into what the rod and staff used by a shepherd really were, and why they should be a comfort.

I encourage you to read more here but in summary the rod is a symbol of his strength, his power, his authority in any serious situation.  A weapon against threats, a tool of loving discipline.  He is no weak shepherd, not merely meek and mild.  But it is also used to count and examine the sheep, for example parting the wool to detect any hidden problems that needed to be dealt with.  “This is a most searching process entailing every intimate detail. It is, too, a comfort to the sheep for only in this way can its hidden problems be laid bare before the shepherd.” 

And I am reminded that he searches me, knows me, tests my anxious thoughts and leads me in better ways.  I know, in many different ways that He is really doing this.

And the staff – it is a symbol of comfort, a tool for prods of guidance, and for rescue.  The shepherd talks of, ‘sheep stuck fast in labyrinths of wild roses or brambles where they had pushed in to find a few stray mouthfuls of green grass. Soon the thorns were so hooked in their wool they could not possibly pull free, tug as they might. Only the use of the staff could free them from their entanglement.’And I know this is where I so often find myself – and I have known both His strength and His comfort in the past, pulling me free.

I am reminded that the fight is against ‘…the principalities and powers; the dark forces of evil in this world…’.  And the place where this fight begins for all of us is in the dark strongholds that have taken root in our own minds.   It is this personal darkness that leads to the darkness of war, abuse, negligence and corruption that besets our world.  And though I still long to see God intervening visibly in the events of the world, I know that His primary concern has always been the individual human heart.  And to defeat the darkness in my own heart is a big enough miracle for starters.

This is where my hope begins.  As I see His light, there is a chance I may lead others to His light.  And that is all I can do; all He would ever ask me to do.  I don’t need to carry the weight of the world – I’ll leave that to Him.  I only need to be a light on the hill where has has placed me.  And I can only do even this as I behold Him, choosing not to fear the darkness, for He is stronger.

Northumbria Seascape

I stood on the rock looking out to sea.
I saw a rainbow above the distant waters and it was beautiful.
The rock was my safety.
The churning waters left me untouched.

Then the tide rushed in and I almost lost my footing.
I couldn’t see the rock but I knew it was still there beneath me.
As I regained my balance, I took pride in my ability to stand firm on the rock that was no longer visible.
But as I looked out to sea, the rainbow faded and the sky darkened.

Then the whole earth shook, the waters churned, and I fell to my hands and knees,
clinging on yet choking on the crashing waves.
I began to lose my grip, flung back and forth in the deepening waters.
Above me only black sky and pouring rain.

I cried out ‘why is this happening to me? Where is my strength, my security, my hope?’

And I saw a figure walking on the waters. ‘Come with me, I am here,’ he said.

But I was afraid.

‘I am your way forward, I am your hope and your strength.
You thought you would find me only on the rock, in your place of safety.
But you will find me on the waters too.
Keep your eyes on me and walk with me, it is time to walk upon the waters.’


Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Saviour

(Hillsong: Oceans)