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Friday, 27 June 2014

The God who sings

The is something of a re-revelation, but it's an important one: God sings. More than that: God likes singing. He sings because He's happy. He sings as a father sings over his precious children (Zephaniah 3:17). He wraps us up in a melody of deliverance in times of trouble (Psalm 32:7) Perhaps that doesn't sound so revolutionary, but there is something so beautiful and profound about a God who delights in the world he's created and enjoys rejoicing in it: a God who takes the time to whisper a lullaby to a hurting child, who celebrates alongside those coming up out of a difficult place, who somehow guards with a tune rather than a sword. Often my view of God is so skewed: either he's mushy and fluffy like clouds or marshmellow - pleasant but rather insubstantial - or He's a tyrant waiting for his creatures to mess up and then punishing them for their misdemeanours. But that isn't how the scriptures depict him at all.

Earlier this week I was reminded of a passage in Proverbs which says this:

I was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind. (Proverbs 8:27-31)
There's several thousands pages of hot (or not) theological debate about whether or not this passage refers to Jesus or simply to Wisdom personified, but what struck me was the sense of joy and delight that fills these verses. There is something wonderfully childlike about the depiction of Wisdom watching, awestruck and giddy, as God's creation is birthed. And that giddiness is intensified when humanity is looked upon. People are pretty magical. We are peculiar and funny creatures but we are worth delighting in and our God rejoices at the world that he has made and us little people in it. God is the glad God. Not the tyrant. Nor the fluffy man in the clouds. 

And this God, the God who sings and delights and rejoices, wants us to join Him. Stan Smith, in his book Prophetic Song, talks about our role in joining in what God is doing. The created world in the bible is a world in full song, (Isaiah 44:23, Isaiah 55:12) and yet, as Smith puts it "sometimes we are the one part of creation that refuses to praise." We humans don't always like to sing songs to God. It seems a bit silly perhaps, a bit exposed, a bit awkward. I am not saying that singing is the only form of praise or the only way to worship God, but it is an important one. If we don't praise God then the rocks will do it for us. Smith makes his point by referring to Jesus' triumphal entry: Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for trying to silence the little kids crying out to him. They are the ones who have got it; they are the ones jumping up and down with excitement about the coming of this most unlikely and unexpected king; the reserved and the religious stand back. No such undignified behaviour for them. (2 Samuel 6:22) No thank you very much and do pipe down with your childish squeaks. We don't do that here. 

And yet, their refusal is followed by the great groaning of creation. Where man failed to recognise Jesus and give him praise, creation knew who He was and responded to his death. The rocks, literally, cried out: the earth shook as Jesus died (Matthew 27:51). Creation gave voice to what was happening when man failed to do so. 

I am not quite sure what any of this means. But it means that being glad is important. Recognising God is important. Acknowledging what is good amidst the mundane is important. For me, it has also meant, increasingly, that singing is important. I am not an especially musical person. I can't read music. I don't have the patience for learning an instrument. But I do like to sing. I love sitting with my guitar and strumming to God. And, bizarrely, I only seem able to strum when I'm doing just that. Young people frequently ask me if I can play this and this and this and the answer is usually no. No, I can't. I really can only sing when I worship. Peculiar. And likely laughable to many. But it is bizarrely true. For me, music comes from a place of worship; it comes from the overflow of a childish heart before a mighty God wanting to somehow find the words to say something, express something. Just as God sings when he looks at us his beloved kids, so my own heart starts to sing when I look up at my Dad. 

And so, in fear and trepidation, here's some singing:

Sunday, 15 June 2014

What Jesus didn't do


"One of the great miracles of Jesus’ life is what He didn’t do, and not what He did do. The miracle isn’t that He said, “Lazarus, come forth” (Jn. 11:43). The miracle is that every grave didn’t empty when He spoke the words, “Come forth.” He had to say Lazarus. If He had just said, “Come forth,” all the graves would have opened. Because he is going to say that one day: every grave in the whole earth is going to open when He says, “Come forth.” "
(Mike Bickle, International House of Prayer)

No time to write much of a reflection on this - my mind is too-far stretched by its implications and I'm going to be late for church - but it is a beautifully stunning thought to think of Jesus deliberately restraining his awesome power through his humanity. Jesus could have done anything any way that he wanted to, but he chose humanity's way: he chose weakness, hunger, sickness; he chose the cross. He chose solidarity with the plight of his wayward and beloved creatures in order to woo them back. 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Kingdom Economics

Years ago, my good friend Jody once came across this saying, "All that is not given is lost" and texted it to me, saying that it reminded her of mine and Hamish's philosophy on life. I can't remember the philosopher she quoted in the text or the source, but google tells me that Mother Teresa said something very similar. As did some sage Indian proverb writers. 

I had entirely forgotten about that text until yesterday morning. I was thinking about our tendency to withhold blessing from other people. That's esoteric Christian jargon perhaps, but what I mean is our reluctance to compliment others, our unwillingness commend others for fear that we somehow might lose face in doing so. We are a competitive culture. An ambitious lot of people driven on by need to reach goals and fear that others might prevent us from doing so. It seems a very costly thing to point out that someone else is really good at something - especially if such a thing is a thing that you think you're good at or long to be good at - lest somehow you might be depleted by such an act. I hope I'm not alone in experiencing this phenomenon. It is something that I very much dislike about myself: a withholding of love, a refusal to fully celebrate because of jealousy and insecurity. 

And such a thing is entirely contrary to the Kingdom economics that Jesus lays down: all that is not given is lost. Moreover, giving is actually better for us. To give away not only our money and our time but our encouragement, our compliments, our observations of others' success, is to create a contagious culture of giving away that looks a little bit like heaven. It is better to give than to receive. All that we give is noticed by the king even if no one else takes note (Matthew 6:4). There are no losses in the kingdom. We only finally lose what we try too hard to cling on to. (Mark 8:36)

It is hard though. Something in me finds it so hard to fully love others for fear that I might be forgotten - that by pointing out what is great in them, others might fail to see anything good in me. This is, I recognise, pretty stupid. But I'm just being honest. I pray today for Jesus' view of living: to live fully is to give open handedly and with abandon. And so, give away. Give everything at every opportunity; give your spare coat (Luke 3:11), your possessions (Luke 12:33), your encouragement (Hebrews 3:13), your attention, your time, your love, your very life. Give in every way knowing that He promises to replenish what is spent (2 Corinthians 4:16). For nothing is accidentally spilled and wasted in the kingdom; it's deliberately poured out. (Philippians 2:17, 2 Timothy 4:6)