Tag Archives: life

Controlling Fertility

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you…

Psalm 81:1-10

…O Israel, if you would but listen to me!

…Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

For we do not proclaim ourselves;

we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. …

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;

perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken;

struck down, but not destroyed;

always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. ….

Mark 2:23-3:6

… “The sabbath was made for people, and not people for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

…He (Jesus) looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart …

The readings today carry us through that narrow place between the absolutes of the law and the freedom we have as people to show compassion; the way the world should be and the way it is.

For most of us, life throws perplexing circumstances and we find we cannot know what to do; there is no answer. Jesus commands us to be obedient to his word and his word is that we are to love God and love our neighbour. The high calling for us is to come to Jesus with the decisions we have in life and know peace as his teaching is not a burden; God from the beginning calls us to choose life.

So where do we stand when people celebrate the freedom to abort babies? We are told it is a human right that women are able control their fertility. We are told that the right to life is a human right. The UK has amongst the most liberal abortion laws in Europe. Abortion is available up to 24 weeks and beyond if necessary. The foetus has no human rights until it is born; up to this point it is only the life of the mother that is considered to have human rights. As a follower of Jesus, the truth is we know the reality of hardship and its ability to crush us; we look around and we see people despairing and abandoned.

Personally, I stand with new life being life from the beginning. I have known people tormented by the power of nature to abort. I have accepted as natural babies being lost through miscarriage and been saddened by hearing of babies being born dead, alive till the moment of birth. I have communed and rejoiced with those desperate for children who in conceiving one life have destroyed the remaining embryos. I have grieved with those whose babies have been born disabled. Am I conflicted?

Abortion will happen: John Wesley in his book Primitive Physick opens with how an abortion could be done. His heart was to see health care extended to the poor. The tragic stories of the lengths women would go to abort a baby remain in our folk memory. John Wesley’s response was to make this safe. To some of us this may be horrifying.

For the Jews, controlling fertility was at the heart of the story of Moses; his abandonment under order of the authorities resulted in him becoming a prince in Egypt. In our time the Chinese have tried to control fertility as have the Russians and the government of Peru to destroy the native population.

At the time of Jesus and into the first 300 years of Christianity, child exposure was practised by the Romans to get rid of unwanted infants, but not by the Jews. Two abandoned babies were said to have been the founders of Rome, brought up by wolves. Babies were left out to die or be claimed as slaves. Many were disabled and most were girls.

What was the Christian response, but to collect these babies and care for them. This has to be my response; my path between law and human freedom. Life sucks for some people and we need to care for all. Yes, the rejoicing over abortion sickens me but what I need to do is show compassion.

The ideal is that life starts at conception, the reality is that every birth is a miracle. This has been my own experience being at the birth of my own children; life is fragile. The world is mucked up.

Given the widespread practice of infant exposure, the Christian practice was to care for the poor and the abandoned, not condemn the poor. By 374 BC they had shown the way and the practice was made illegal. Our weapon is to love, not condemn.

I know it is wrong to argue from silence, but nothing in the scriptures condemns the practice of infant exposure, but we know it is wrong. We do have the wonderful story of John the Baptist recognising his saviour whilst in the womb of Elizabeth and our heart tells us that life is precious from conception.

Conception and birth are redeemed in Christ. Being in Christ, our practice is to care for the afflicted, the crushed; those abused and abandoned. Through our being true to love we can work to create a world around us where there is no abortion only hope.

Fully alive

Prayer can become a seeking after experience; just another high and of no earthly good; lots of words or no words at all.

Ways of praying being idols is a real issue in our times. Prayer methods becoming sacred is a danger. We have to pray somehow, but the how brings quarrels and disappointments. Jesus teaches a place for prayer and a pattern for prayer. His ministry heralds a revelation that worship is in spirit and truth. Repeatedly, Jesus encourages us to ask for what we need in our prayers. But, in my experience we come to worship the manner of prayer not the substance and prayer becomes a way of controlling people. The truth of prayer is important as it makes us fully alive.

The Jesus culture I discern is one where we rest in the knowledge that all things, good and bad are in God’s hands and that there is an enemy that opposes this faith. The attitude is seeking God in all circumstances, in hope. Seeking God in the good and the bad; seeking God in the moments of our lives; knowing God to be near; knowing that we are loved and forgiven, is the foundation of prayer.

To avoid just talking to ourselves, we need to be present and listening in our practice. Jesus sets our relationship with him firmly in love. He commands love.  Only through forgiving are we forgiven and in loving our neighbour we know God. Our abiding in him and who he is becomes his abiding in us. The truth is, whatever our practice, God is there waiting. Prayer opens our eyes to this ever-present reality. In a blink of an eye we become aware of this reality (Kierkegaard’s Instant).

This mystical experience is available to all. Suddenly we know beyond words, beyond understanding. This is a ground for our faith that God’s light shines in everyone. From this light we draw faith. In this light we know Jesus and become his presence in creation as we listen and are transformed.

This transformation can lead us to difficult places. Jesus’s frustration with the disciples’ little faith and lack of realisation of who was amongst them, serves as a warning. It is a rebuke we may need to take. The mystical experience is there for reason; it answers a human need. We are here to walk in the coolness of the evening with God yes but we are also here to tend his garden. We are here to serve and follow the leading of the Spirit. Prayer isn’t an end in itself.

“The glory of God is us being fully alive,” says Irenaeus (3rd Century). We are to be fully alive as God created us.

Could this mean, navigating the inevitable wounding that is life; from conception, to birth, growth and death? Does the reality of a free world where we can be free mean we will continually fall from grace and be separated from life? God gazed on what he had made and declared it good; it was all very good. Is this path of woundedness a source of glory? Light is born out of darkness; the new day begins with the morning. Our pool of darkness, the chaos of life, is the reservoir of transformation in us (Bourgeault, p106)  that brings transformation in the world. Just as God creates out of the void our glory is to take our brokenness into new life through prayer.

Heaven is the perfecting of who we are. It is the transforming of our woundedness into us being fully alive. The more we know our sin, the more we know our separation from God and the depth of his continuing love. The more we forgive, the more we know forgiveness and the deeper our love.

We see with the eyes of the wounded healer, Jesus. Jesus heals us by his wounds. In suffering our wounds and transcending the assault of the enemy on our lives we are able to bring healing in Christ; bring new life. The greatest healing is the life transformed by forgiveness and abiding love. Jesus says that those who mourn are blessed because they are comforted. It is the blessing of the poor in spirit, that it is they who receive the kingdom of heaven.

Life hurts. Life faces us with a messy reality and God’s heart is to bring blessing out of this. God’s glory is us being fully alive in all circumstances; to live a life of abundance. This is where prayer leads us, why God teaches us to ask in order to receive.

Through prayer we come to know that the life that is in Jesus is our life. We are found in him. We are to do works greater than his as we live in the fulness of the cross, knowing him to be seated at the right hand of the Father. We are found in the mess of the cross and the beauty of the resurrected Christ.

Christ is not physically amongst us and we can’t touch him, yet he is fully present to us in the Spirit. It is the work of the Spirit that is the greater work. The wounds of Christ are still there, his scars remain. It is these wounds that heal us. We are to heal through our wounds. The glory of our wounds, inflicted by others or inflicted by ourselves, inflicted by circumstances, the collateral damage of life, bring glory to God as we bring healing through them. It is prayer that enables this bringing of the presence of Christ to the world.

Jesus calls us to himself to be comforted and to find rest. We are to dwell in the kingdom of heaven in all its vital, visceral glory knowing peace. Jesus shows us in our prayer the fullness of being alive. Jesus heals the afflicted; the lame walk, the blind see and the deaf hear. Today, we are saved through the earthly good of prayer not its form or practice.

Psalm 29

… May the LORD give strength to his people!

May the LORD bless his people with peace!

 

Romans 8:12-17

… For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.

When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

 

John 3:1-17

… The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

…God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

 

Ref:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Centering-Prayer-Awakening-Cynthia- Bourgeault /dp/1561012629

 

Fully Human: a reflection for Sunday 20th May 2018

In Jesus, God gets his hands dirty. Jesus is fully human; he is fully God. We have an amazing path to follow, to navigate. God’s essential nature is love; God is love. God responds to us with compassion and steadfastness. God is faithful. Paul teaches that love does not grasp or insist on its own way and does not keep an account of wrongs. Jesus shows us that love is perfected in self-denial; in losing your life to gain life. Paul tells us again that love is humble and pours itself out for others.

How are we to understand God, if love is ever serving and never controlling? We see the cross where the extravagant love of God was poured out in Christ. Jesus was not a dam, a wall of righteousness, but his life showed a gushing torrent of grace.

Being a Christian is to live out Christ within us so that grace spills out to those around us. The Kingdom heaven is where God is present: Jesus living through us. Jesus inhabits our troubles and suffering, living through our disappointments, toils and trials. Jesus gets his hands dirty. It is Christ who lives in us and we are confronted with the potential there is in being fully human. We are not God – our essential nature is different; only God is good.

Jesus shows us our capacity as humans with God in us and amongst us. All sickness, tears and suffering are not from God but God is present in them as we walk together. We as believers in Jesus make God present in them and are able as humans to express divinity in humanity as Jesus showed us. Jesus’s word is for us to love and he teaches us to forgive. Through his death in our place he shows us the end of love; what love leads to. We are to love our enemies. Through his resurrection life, we are to know abundant life, in the knowledge that we are forgiven- justified in Christ and through faith receiving salvation and life.

We are to love God with our whole being. The Father and the Son dwell within us and through the Spirit we know all truth. Our eyes are opened as single-minded we seek God through love and forgiveness.

Jesus healed, he delivered and he fed; miracles of nature and the spiritual. Jesus provided a material way to abundant life and calls us to do greater works. He says we are to ask and we will receive. Jesus, rebuking the storm, rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith. In showing his disciples who he was and who they were on the mount of transfiguration, Jesus rebukes the disciples for not being able to deliver and heal a child. Where do we stand in this rebuke?

How are we to realise the power of what we have within? Are we to create apologies and philosophies to excuse our ineptitude or declare long and powerful prayers to cover the fact that nothing happens? To get around what is supposedly made real in faith – Christ within, the power of God?

We are not God- God is love beyond our understanding and any understanding will fall short of the truth. The Spirit reveals the truth and Jesus is God poured out in humanity and humanity filled with God. Jesus was no more than human, no less than fully human. Jesus shows us how to be fully human. Jesus’s miracles are works of his humanity. In this season, we need to navigate a pathway through what we are called to and what we are.

Acts 2:1-21

…All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” …

Romans 8:22-27

…But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

…”I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…

 

Blessed are the pure in heart

As we hold people in our hearts for prayer, we experience love. Our humanity reaches out to them as we want all to be well. Held in our hearts, we are moved to ask God for their wellbeing. As we encounter the world in all its troubles and strife, we experience love as we hold everything in our hearts and struggle to overcome anxiety. Prayer opens our eyes to hope and faith and, in the wrestling, our faith is deepened.

In our wrestling, we are confronted with the messiness of life; the ever-present darkness and suffering. Our hearts speak of the affront to humanity of suffering and tell us it is wrong, sad and needs changing. Our measure is the joy we feel. Helplessness transforms to joy as we imagine the good; there is a better way. Maybe our hope is felt by those we pray for as we struggle for them.

Faith opens our eyes in that transforming moment to the vision of God holding us in the same way we hold others. In our act of faith, we sense God’s faithfulness. We see that we are held by God who is only good and find a way to rest in him. In the abiding in his presence we discover that whatever we ask in this moment, he gives. It is in the abiding we find answers; in the struggling we find the way.

It is a moment by moment practice to allow the lives of others, their joys and their troubles to rest in our hearts; to give thanks for grace, to wrestle with anxiety and suffering and imagine the good; to acknowledge peace and to ask for peace and transformation. This is not the endless repetition of words or the exalted declaring of great truths, but a holding in the heart, to be truly be broken for the needs we hold and enlivened by the vibrancy of God. If this is from God, we will ask and find peace.

Experience might deny our faith; the brokenness we hold in our hearts may continue; those we pray for may even die and situations not change. Sometimes we even find our-selves rejected in our seeking, rejected by those we seek to serve and found to be ridiculous. In my experience we may also feel a profound rejection and the peace you thought you had evaporates. Sometimes things do change; often they don’t. It is hard to see convincingly where involving faith and God has made any difference. Our peace might seem a little hollow.

We want our eyes to be opened so that we can see God. We want to see Jesus revealed in the story of our lives; in our brokenness and joy.

If we accept God as being the author of these moments; moments when we blink and our eyes are opened to truth and our hearts are kindled with joy; if we acknowledge God in our deep sense of being valued and loved, the sense of their being another story; if the inclination of our hearts in the face of suffering is compassion, as this is how we know God to be; if we know freedom in being detached from power and the drawings of wealth, and we are lead to God, is this knowing the limit of God’s blessing? Is this as far as God is involved: giving us a peace beyond understanding?

Is our vision of God of one, perfectly at one with himself- complete? Do we encounter God in a relationship together, in the twos and threes of Jesus’ presence? Do we find ourselves moving with others to experience him, formed as a community of blessing, the body of Christ? Are we deluded?

Our faith is that we are not deceived in our walk and the insight, compassion and detachment that brings peace is being in the presence of God, who is intimately involve amongst us and is the giver of peace.

God’s essential nature is that God is good, steadfast, truth and compassion.  God is humble and un-controlling in his love and comes to live in us. His presence in us means that as he is present to us and we are empowered to be his presence to others. We may be present to others as he is present to us. As we seek abundant life for others, we find abundant life in him. Our faith becomes action and is action. We get our hands dirty.

Is this all there is? Is this our faith? What of signs and wonders; healing and deliverance? To what extent does God get his hands dirty and work miracles?

Jesus as Jew of his time, would have prayed blessings on God’s people each day. We see in his life how these blessings taught him and transformed peoples’ lives, physically, mentally and spiritually. Jesus in the beatitudes teaches, “Blessed are the pure in heart, they will see God.” This is the reward; this is how we see God.

Jesus turns the prayers for blessings into a rallying call to action. This is the promise; from our holding of others in our hearts, he will wash us clean, give us hearts of flesh where there were hearts of stone and we will see God. Our eyes will be opened to his world. In our awakening, in seeing, in our holding of others in our hearts, God abides in us. Jesus shows us that God does get his hands dirty and we are called to greater works than he did. And so, we have the confidence to ask.

In our reasoning this might bring us to silence and the most powerful thing we might do is be silent. From the place of peace groanings might come as we see how small our faith is. From the darkness life comes. We have no answers, but in faith we ask that the imaginations of heart become real.

Psalm 98

…Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

1 John 5:1-6

… whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? …

John 15:9-17

… I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. … I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Fire and Brimstone

“It is worth noting that the ‘fire and brimstone’ school of theology who revel in ideas such as that Christ was made a sacrifice to appease an angry God, or that the cross was a legal transaction in which an innocent victim was made to pay the penalty for the crimes of others, a propitiation of a stern God, find no support in Paul. These notions come into Christian theology by way of the legalistic minds of the medieval churchmen; they are not biblical Christianity.”
(William Neil in The Cross of Christ by John Stott, p202)

“The cross was not a commercial bargain with the devil, let alone one which tricked and trapped him; nor an exact equivalent…to satisfy a code of honour or technical point of law; nor a compulsory submission by God to some moral authority above him from which he could not otherwise escape; nor a punishment of a meek Christ by a harsh and punitive Father; nor a procurement of salvation by a loving Christ from a mean and reluctant Father; nor an action of the Father which bypassed Christ as Mediator. Instead, the righteous, loving Father humbled himself to become in and through his only Son flesh, sin and curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising his own character… The biblical gospel of atonement is God satisfying himself by substituting himself for us.”
(The Cross of Christ by John Stott, p188)

The biblical gospel is one that promises peace with God and a life of holiness. This is a gift of God; faith. Knowing God and his peace is our rock and foundation in good times and in troubled times. The gift is precious and it breaks our hard hearts so that we might receive grace to live in the knowledge of our own forgiveness.

Our lives so often are at odds with this truth, as we live as part of the world. Through the message of the cross we discover God is above all, through all and in all; a redeeming presence in our lives to free us from the bonds of sin. We find a calling to live as the redeemed in the world, as those not of the world.

We are forgiven, is a sweet sustaining truth that anchors us in the storms of the day. God is good. As we feed on this truth it enters us, we digest it and we are formed by it. Yes, God is good. Our hearts are stirred by it but, how often do our stomachs churn as we encounter our own failings, our own culpability in the injustice and cruelty of our times? What was sweet to the taste becomes bitter in our stomachs. Our hearts cry out for justice and mercy. As we dwell in the truth and listen to our hearts, the voice of Christ becomes clearer. Being saved is not being self-satisfied and inward looking.

This is what the life of faith looks like. We are given the truth, it sets us free and then we live the truth and grow in the truth. The truth is at odds with the daily life we live. Outwardly, we live and breathe and have our being in a world in bondage to sin, subject to chance and time, but inwardly we carry the presence of God however fragile. Living out the truth and persevering in it forms us.

This life becomes our blessing; strength for the day and hope for tomorrow. As we draw near to God he draws near to us and we are kindled into a life of blessing. However useless we feel, weak in our humanity, it is enough to live by our revelation in our heart.

This is becomes the power of our testimony. It doesn’t look like much of a victory. Is this how we proclaim that God is alive and active a counter narrative whispers? We can think that in the face of martyrdom we might stand and it would be glorious. But standing in the onslaughts of the day is a testimony?

How many times does the accuser parade our failings before us and the Father? How many times does the accuser, our adversary, parade our failings before God? My pitiful failings paraded before my Father in heaven? Surely they deny the truth of my salvation Satan insinuates.

To be martyred is to be wondered at, but the daily onslaught of stress, emotional vulnerability and the expectations of life- the daily grind of troubles is poisonous. What can we do? What can we say? We proclaim Christ crucified. His death has saved me from sin. The cross is the victory. As we gaze on the cross are we healed?

We live this life of hope in contrition; brokenness in the face of our own fallibility and find victory in the knowledge of the Holy. It is enough. This is God’s grace to us and his peace in us.

Look at Revelation 14: 18 – 20

 …“Swing your sickle now to gather the clusters of grapes from the vines of the earth, for they are ripe for judgement.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and loaded the grapes into the great wine-press of God’s wrath. 20 The grapes were trampled in the wine-press outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine-press in a stream about 180 miles[d]long and as high as a horse’s bridle.

Here it is, fire and brimstone to shock you. Not in the Old Testament but at the end of the New. Having taken the message so far set before us, we might have hoped that John’s long journey of faith might have resulted in a gentler gospel. Have we been led astray by our own sentimentalism so far? Am I speaking peace where there is no peace and we should be more fearful that our actual condition is that God is holding on to us as we dangle over the abyss, only to let go of our hands to let us slip at the last in to the pit where we deserve to be as some have suggested?

The grapes are fully ripe and are being piled up into the winepress of God’s wrath where holy feet trample on them, releasing their juice. The blood of the evil ones rises as high as a horse’s bridle for miles. The fruitfulness of the grapes is their evil. The whole event takes place outside the gates of the city. The image is of God treading to a pulp those who have not repented and are evil and their blood is a symbol of death.

God has allowed the fruit to ripen; evil comes to its full fruition by God’s will. God allows it to flourish. This is the reality- the real world. Hope calls in the face of daily evil and together we are taught to pray for deliverance from evil. Hope is that, in the end, God’s wrath wreaks vengeance on evil and treads out the life of all evil. God’s goodness is satisfied as, in wrath he at the last treads out the life of the evil. Vengeance belongs to God but none the less there is vengeance, fulfilling a visceral need in our being.

Maybe we recoil at the monster God portrayed, and wonder how we can trust him when he teaches us to love our enemies then tramples to death his enemies. Where has the message of the gospel gone that enables us to forgive? Are we fearful that we have not forgiven enough to be forgiven and we will find ourselves in the winepress? Or is our comfort, there is no winepress? Silly John!

The story of the cross tells us Jesus was taken outside the city gates and he took the wrath of God in our place. Jesus’ blood flowed outside the city gates. God in Christ gave himself so that we are not crushed. God is satisfied in substituting himself for us so that in Christ he is crushed. The blood of Christ was shed for all men; it was a mighty flow.

The blood that flows, I see as the blood of Christ. Can this gruesome picture awaken in us the scale of what Christ has achieved? Do we come closer to understanding what Christ has achieved by looking at the violent portrayals of God and realise they have achieved their fullness on the cross? In the disgust, can we feel wonder? How is this good is rational question? As it lays bare our doubt, can we find reassurance?

Jesus gave himself for our sins, for now, for today. The evil, present age has an end and God is good. I hold there is a hell for the evil, but that where Jesus finds life, it is his nature to redeem life. What is God like? Look at the cross. As to what hell looks like, look at the cross. And as has been said by another, heaven is not yesterday or tomorrow but here and now, the ever-present age revealed in Christ.

Galatians 1:3-5

May God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ[b] give you grace and peace. 4 Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. 5 All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.

 

Idolatry

Idolatry is a powerful and divisive force in the world – it is evil as it is the outworking and instigator of sin, taking away from the worship that is rightly only given to God, capturing the hearts of men which is the abiding place of God.

Jesus teaches that the way to glory is narrow and found by few while the way to destruction is wide. The narrow way is Christ, knowing no other and trusting no other. Few find it while many follow the crowd.

Idolatry and violence are the wide way; trusting in ways, powers and gifts, leads to disaster. We see this time and time gain – movements fail, nations falter and leaders bring disgrace – the poor and needy are trampled into the dust and kept from feeding on the truth because the truth is muddied by false teachers.

Followers of Christ inherit the promise of Abraham. We are a people of faith, adopted into the family of those who are children of God. We are a blessing to all and the healing of neighbourhoods and nations. We draw strength from God and God alone, drinking from the flowing water of the Spirit. In this knowledge, we read the scriptures, the times and the world around us. Each knows the voice of God by virtue of being in Christ. Any one who tries to take away that gift is an imposter.

In Genesis 1, the sun and moon are mere lights in the sky put in their place by God to govern times and seasons. They are not to be worshipped. In Exodus 20 the foundation of the commandments is love for God and no other gods and the forbidding of worship given to idols, the work of our hands. Our relationship with God is to be immediate. Proverbs 17:17-18 calls us to a narrow way naming pride as contrary to the true way. The letters of Paul tell us idols are not real and echo the prophets in a strong warning against the power of idolatry. Reading these scriptures in the light of the message of Jesus we see why; I am the way, the truth and the life he says – he sees that true worship is not to be confined by places, traditions and peoples but to be in Spirit and truth. The realisation of this truth is the revelation of Christ.

We must guard our hearts and test the spirits. We need to allow the light to discover the darkness in our hearts; the obscuring beam in or own eye.

I can be in the presence of great natural beauty; be struck by the awesomeness of the heavens, the sky by day and the sky by night. I can wonder at the power and beauty of creatures and maybe fear their potential to do me harm or maybe good, giving food or even companionship. I can wonder at the potency of cycle of nature and its life-giving efficiency. I can glory in the beauty and intellectual depth of music, art and poetry – the works of great craftsmen. I can revere great men, their legacy and memorials. There may be places and stones of significance that evoke a connection with their greatness. There may be possessions; a guitar or a handbag, that have come to represent the persona of celebrity and are valued.

To ascribe any of these feelings with spiritual value is wrong if we begin to think that by relating to them we can begin to absorb the essence of the owner. It’s an abomination to think we can come to God through such things. The only way to the Father is Jesus, every other way is pure fantasy, not real and evil.

Our hearts cry foul when we hear of the exchange of great sums of money for handbags, guitars and pieces of the cross, or bishops seated on relics to enhance their authority. Believing relics are powerful is an abhorrence and lie; the idea that their presence exudes holiness is anathema. We are ashamed when people claim vials of blood liquefy and candles burn perpetually, statues rock and virgins walk. We are not those who recognise power in springs and wells and hang out scraps of cloth for luck; we run from charms, symbols and incantations; horoscopes, Spiritism and divination. We are suspicious of the idea of thin places and that the merit of a place is anything but an imaginative engagement with a story. The power is not in the pilgrimage, periods of detachment or maze, it is in taking time to engage and reflect. A song is a song and a prayer is a means not an end. All things are good but not all things are helpful to everyone.

The human heart is a deep well of feelings and emotions, and knowledge of this should be a warning. The heart not bathed in the Spirit of God and washed clean, can easily be moulded by celebrity, fame and renown and be fickle in the midst of strong opinions and crowds – tossed and turned with every wave of excitement – hungry for a new thing, a new phenomenon, a fresh spectacle.

Even the scriptures can substitute for God, written in either words or pictures. Devotion to scripture or icons can easily slip into worship of the form and so become idolatry. We see this when people hang on to old translations, pictures, traditions and places. The consequences are obvious; wars, brawls and gossip. The way to destruction is wide and many find it. You are in a crushing crowd.

We are safe if we stick to the pure message of Jesus. Keep clear of thin places, grave soaking and supposed manifestations of glory in case your good character is ruined. Be more than sceptical, deny their power and in prayer speak to your heart and come fresh to the immediate presence of Christ.

Continue to meet in twos and threes with those whose lives match their words. Be wary of those who would control and shame and deny you liberty insisting that Christ is more present in larger gatherings. You will recognise them as they try to mould your thinking by attrition rather than encourage you to pray and reflect; they reveal themselves by insisting on their interpretation and aggressively deny you your understanding – by their actions they do not trust the power of God as much as their power of persuasion. They demand unity on their terms and lack accountability denying the authority of the gathering of the saints insisting on their own rights. People who stand against them are shamed and undermined, removed to the outside and excluded.

Detach yourselves from those whose thoughts are revealed as being impure in the words they choose and jokes they make. If someone invades your personal space and insists on secrecy or secret knowledge or denies your freedom, they are not of God. If your heart is troubled it is the voice of God. Listen to it. No one in Christ is bound to the power of another – Christianity is not established by compulsion or violence to the individual.

The kingdom of heaven is won by those who are prepared to aggressively stand up for right and by those who are prepared to stand firm in Christ alone,  by the Spirit and the whole of Scripture and endure for this cause. True followers won’t be popular but meek and winsome.

You have no need of a mediator as in Christ alone there is salvation, sanctification and glorification: the knowledge of the Holy is found in Christ.

Prayer is walking with God

Prayer is walking with God. It is turning our very selves to being in his presence, to hear by faith that in us God is well pleased and to ask for what we need. In asking we are being obedient to God’s call and we articulate our faith.

Hearing scripture, meditating on it and contemplation; singing psalms and resting in God’s presence; wrestling with what we hear, read and our faith and sharing our walk together, leads to action. Our lived life embodies our prayer life, giving it expression in acts of compassion and a life together.

Our offering to God is to live out the love we learn through prayer. We, by abiding in God, have the promise that he abides in us. In loving we know God. In giving ourselves to good we know God. God is experienced in our life of being alive in Christ. Like Abel we may be hated and even lose our lives in the offering. In our selves, our hearts might struggle, but we are reassured that in living the life God calls us to he is true to himself and we are loved despite our failings. Gentleness extends this privilege to others.

The Cross is a revelation of our spirituality. Our spiritual life is revealed through the Cross. We love and serve and, by faith, willingly give our lives despite wrath in the world. We take up our cross daily and in being misunderstood and in our suffering, we know death. There is purpose in our dying: the joy set before us is the revelation of our true selves in Christ. In our submission to living a life of faith in all circumstances and following the narrow way of peace, the world is blessed and there is no condemnation. We know peace in Christ: we know our salvation is in him, not in our selves and the wide way. This wide way leads us to hate our enemies. Through the Spirit at work in us we reveal Christ to the world. From the place of prayer comes prophecy that transforms not only us but those around us. Our spirituality is found in forgiveness.

In the stuff of our lives, God is present. This is the foundation and goal of our prayer life, that we can live forgiven. Out of this transforming faith great works are done. Our prayer expresses eternity and we make present God’s presence.