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Tuesday, 27 October 2015


Jesus can be rather blunt. We might consider some of the techniques he uses to challenge his disciples somewhat inappropriate if he wasn't the one using them: "Are you so dull? (Mark 7:18) "Are you still so dull?" (Matthew 15:16) These are hardly words of encouragement; this is exasperation.

One day last week, I was driving down a road that I have driven down a thousand times when I was suddenly overcome by the sheer beauty of the world outside my car. That sounds a little melodramatic but, for a few seconds, I was completely flummoxed by the radiance of nature, by the fire of autumn trees, the brilliance of blue sky, the golden glow of a low sun. A sense I had forgotten I possessed was awakened. For a few moments, a veil was lifted and creation was what it is always is: a canvas displaying the glory of God. (Psalm 19:1) How is it that I usually miss this? Am I so dull? 

For I think this is what Jesus is getting at: his anger is not that of a teacher infuriated by a student's innocent mistake, but by the inability of his disciples to spot the blindingly obvious. The word translated as dull on both the occasions that Jesus uses it is asynetos. It doesn't simply mean foolish or stupid or without understanding - although it carries hints of all these things - but, more properly, it describes a person's failure to structure information in a meaningful way and therefore reach the necessary conclusions. 

And so, Nic, on an average day, walks around and sees the skies and the leaves and the colours and the stars and the glaringly brilliant beauty of creation and doesn't think to praise God for it; doesn't think to offer up gratitude and thanksgiving to the one who created it in the first place. I have all the information needed and yet, somehow, I don't structure it meaningfully; instead the moments pass me by: I arrive at the shop and get distracted by what I've forgotten to put on my shopping list; I start thinking about something insignificant and petty and unimportant and... the moment has passed. Dullness.

And the worse thing about this state of dullness - lay aside for a second the potential arguments about whether nature does or does not prove the existence of God - is that it is void of joy. It misses the opportunity to celebrate, the opportunity to drink in life and savour its sweetness. It substitutes the thrill of childlike wonder for the stern, busyness of adulthood: "We get so preoccupied with ourselves, the words we speak, the plans and projects we conceive that we become immune to the glory of creation...we never think and blink about the bounty of God's creation. We grow complacent...we miss the experience of awe, reverence and wonder." (Brennan Manning, the Ragamuffin Gospel)

I don't want to miss out.

And this, again, is where I think Jesus' exasperation comes from: he doesn't want us to miss out either. He doesn't want us to walk through life blinkered to the reality of a world that was meant to display his beauty; he doesn't want us to shut our ears to the whisper of his voice and ignore invitation to walk alongside him. There is pleading in his rebuke: don't be dull. Wake up. Open your eyes. See the world differently. Experience wonder.

As I prayed for the young people that we took away to Fort Rocky, a Youth for Christ event, this past weekend, I was reminded of my experience in the car, of the lifting of that veil and the boundless joy of seeing the fingerprints of the Creator in the marvel of creation. My longing for our young people is that they would know that same joy, that, somehow, their senses would be awakened to the possibility of God's love for them, to his tangible presence in their lives.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul entreats his readers to be those who are awake: "You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober." (1 Thess 5:5-6) The reference to sobriety is interesting. I don't think it means boring. This is not a call to be sombre and lifeless; it is the opposite: a plea to be fully alert, to not have our senses deadened. The issue with drunkenness is that it dulls us; we are dulled to the goodness and the nearness of God when we don't know what we are doing. Hence, the cry to get drunk on the Spirit instead (Ephesians 5:18). Get drunk on what will keep you wide awake; not what will make you sleepy.

Paul uses similar language as he writes to the Ephesians: your minds used to be darkened. Your senses used to be asleep. You had lost spiritual sensitivity and thus couldn't see God's nearness. (Ephesians 4:18-19) But now you are awake! Don't fall asleep again. Don't become numb. Don't stop noticing the beauty of this world. Don't stop expressing a childlike awe at the God who would speak to us through his creation and want to share its wonders with us.

This is not so much a rebuke for others as a prayer for myself. I do not want to walk through this world and miss out. I do not want to be deprived of joy because I have failed to thank God for all the goodness that is so beautifully on display. (Romans 1:20-21) And so, wake up, sleepy head. And let the light of Christ shine. (Ephesians 5:14)

Tuesday, 13 October 2015


I have developed a slight obsession with Eldridge's "Beautiful Outlaw." I think because there is something beautiful - and uncomfortable - about realising that perhaps I have spent much of my Christian life stripping Jesus of his personality and that now it is time to reclaim it. To allow Jesus to be wonderfully, compellingly, and, at times, frustratingly, himself.

One of the characteristics that Eldridge most admires about Jesus is his uncompromising honesty. Jesus is honest in a way that very few people ever allow themselves to be. His honesty is shockingly disruptive. Jesus clearly never learned the nice middle class habit of saying nothing if you can't say anything nice. He frequently says things that aren't very nice. And yet, if Jesus is God, and God is love, then even in these moments of brutal honesty, Jesus is loving. As he critiques the disciples, expresses his exasperation with the Pharisees, rebukes the religious and weeps over the state of Jerusalem he is acting in love. He loves humanity so much that he will not allow us to carry on in delusion and self-deception. He will tell us straight. Even if this straight-talking will turn people away from him. (John 6:60; Matthew 19:22)

Jesus lovingly ministers truth to people. Truth is the only remedy for the human condition and he applies it with precision. (John 8:32) He says what needs to be said - especially when no one else is willing to say it. This is a dangerous habit. And almost certainly why I don't indulge in it too often. I am terrified of being honest with people. I don't mean that I deliberately lie. It's just that - most of the time - it's a lot easier to avoid the topic that really needs to be discussed, to gloss over any potential conflict by pretending I haven't noticed just how outrageously one of my friends is acting, and to talk about the inane and meaningless things of life instead.

"Most people go through their entire lives without anyone, ever, speaking honest, loving, direct words into the most damaging issues of their loves...we chitchat. We spend our days at a level of conversation as substantial as smoke. We dance around one another like birds in a mating ritual, bobbing, ducking, puffing out our chests...why aren't we more honest with each other? Because it will cost us." (Beautiful Outlaw, p.70)

I long to be more honest. Not to hurt people, but to love them. To love them deeper and more genuinely because I want them to know what is really true. To be willing to say hard things in love even if it costs me. 

I am trying to let Jesus teach me to be like this. The only problem with embracing honesty is that it also means letting Jesus be honest with me. This wasn't really part of the bargain. On Friday, I met with my dear friend Elaine. She is one who loves me enough to be honest with me, to tell me straight and show me where I have got it wrong. I love her for this. Even if that isn't always obvious at the time of us talking. We talked about many things, particularly my anger towards someone who I felt was acting selfishly. As the words tumbled out, becoming more and more like a rant, and less and less like an appropriate expression of something I was struggling with, I knew it wasn't the right way to behave. I knew that I had crossed a line from confiding to bitching, from sharing a struggle to blatantly condemning someone else's actions. 

It was time for some honesty, the heart of Jesus on display in Elaine's words: you need to forgive. You're not being loving. You are judging someone when, in fact, you are behaving in the same way. You are being selfish, and stubborn and refusing to acknowledge your messed-up-ness. 

I definitely didn't want to hear any of that.

I didn't want that particular dishing out of honesty thank you very much.

And yet, and yet, oh how I needed it. How I long to be better. To be transformed into his likeness, to be one who loves without cynicism, without judgement or criticism. Who loves unconditionally no matter how unlovely the object of that love. For surely I too am unlovely. Jesus, who sees the very heart of me sees all of my unloveliness on display, and then, in love, he tells me about it. In love, he sends his Spirit to nudge and prompt and nag and gently suggest that perhaps this is not how a daughter of the King should behave. Perhaps this is not what is best.

Much Christian imagery paints pictures of a potter's gentle hands; of flames dancing merrily in a kiln; of sweetly scented soap that washes us clean. But this potter knows how to be rough when he needs to be; the heat of the refiner's fire will burn and hurt and scald to get rid of the dross; and it is the harsh bristles of a brush and a launderer's powerful soap that scraps us clean. The truth will set us free but it will not do so without causing some pain in the process.

Oh Jesus, let me accept your honesty. Let me be wise not a fool.

Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. (Proverbs 9:8)