The Tree: a Good Friday meditation

‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? … For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.’
1 Corinthians 1:18‭-‬20‭, ‬25 NIVUK http://bible.com/113/1co.1.18-25.NIVUK

Art work my own… where Genesis 3, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 1:18ff and Good Friday/John 19 meet… 

Image: (c) Ruth Marriott 2017

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Five Minute Friday: GATHER

Five Minutes unedited here we come…the word-prompt today is Gather.

GO

Jean-Francois MIllet 'The Gleaners' 1857

Jean-Francois MIllet ‘The Gleaners’ 1857

I see in my minds eye, the Shepherd with his arm full of lambs.  And I see the Biblical Ruth – my namesake – with her arms full of gathered wheat.  Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The fields are ripe for harvest, open your eyes; pray for workers…’

And so we pray.

I know nothing of sowing, reaping, harvesting.  I know nothing of the back-breaking work of leaning down in a swelteringly hot field, picking from the ground my supper, my eating.  I know nothing of that sort of hard work.

I know nothing of the farming, the raising of livestock.  I don’t even own a dog.  It speaks to me of mess, smell and poop.  They can be cute and fluffy, but they can be barky or sickly.  Troublesome.  An armful of wriggly escape-artists.

You would have thought that an armful of lambs would have the sense to nestle in to the Shepherd’s embrace, eh?  I never saw a Farmer with one that didn’t want to wriggle away to ‘freedom’.

sheep_1391730cThis gathering of souls – lambs – sheaves of wheat.  It’s hard, messy, exhausting work.  God give us the strength for it.  God give us the eyes for it too… the vision, the sense of urgency there is to get out into the fields and get on with the job.  We co-labour with him.  We think it’s tough?  I’m reminded of his first ‘labour-pains’ in Gethsemane, as he wrestled with a vision of humanity saved, and what it would cost him to open the way for us all to come back to God.  Then he went though with it.  Right to the cross, to death, hell and right the way up to heaven.  He’s opened the way.

We must point to that open door.

STOP

 

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Carried

Welcome to the New Year!  Maybe you feel like you’ve made it only by the skin of your teeth.  Maybe you’re not looking forward to the new year at all – it holds only dread and burden and fears and sickness and overwhelming responsibility.  Maybe the bills loom large.  I’ve had mixed feelings as the year turned myself.

Jacob Epstein's 'Jacob and the Angel', Tate Britain

Jacob Epstein’s ‘Jacob and the Angel’, Tate Britain

But at Tate Britain this week I saw Jacob  Epstein’s ‘Jacob and the Angel’ and it’s formed an image in my mind that I can’t shake.  Wrestling with a being more powerful than himself, he was broken and overwhelmed.  Seeking the blessing for himself, he was brought to the end of himself.  And there he hangs, limp and spent in the arms of a powerful angel who looks directly at him – his face only inches away, as Jacob himself stares heavenward, still seeking mercy from on high.

I’ve wrestled my way through 2014.  I’ve fought, hung on, desperate, seeking.  But today I wonder if I haven’t also been brought to the end of myself for the same purpose.  God wants to carry me.  God wants to put me in a position of receiving, of needing and utterly depending on his help.  God doesn’t want me charging across the river into 2015 to face the challenges and fears on my own.  He is prepared to break me, to wound and pain me, in order to bring me into blessing.

So this morning I find myself starting as (I hope) I mean to go on.  God, I don’t find any joy in my heart this morning.  Would you put some there?  I don’t know what decision to make about this or that – please guide me and cause me to make a wise decision.  Lord, I’m tired and fatigued.  Would you give me your strength and healing?  Lord, I’m caught up in my own needs.  Please turn my eyes outwards.  Lord, I’m discouraged.  Give me hope.  Lord, I’m afraid.  Fill me with courage…

And it goes on.

Oh Lord, if it is true that you want to carry me – and indeed have always wanted to carry me – please give me the grace to yield and be carried by you.  Don’t let me be a willful child, refusing to eat of the feast you have set before me.  This year you have opened your table of grace to me.  You invite me to your house, to church and to your people, and you have given me a place among them.  You have promised to meet me there.  This year you have set before me your cup and bread and told me to ‘take, eat, for this is My body which is given for you… this is my blood, which is shed for you.’  And you said you’d strengthen me, and live in me as I commemorate your death as you instructed.  In so many ways, you have showed me the means of grace, the way you wish to bless.  Give me the wisdom to come to you on your terms.

Give us all the grace to come and be carried.

So I pray as you read this that you will also know God’s love and grace carrying you into this New Year.  His arms are strong enough for you and all your burdens.  His grace is enough.

31 days: The 10 commandments of social media

the 10 commandments

Moses holding the Ten Commandments

#1 of the 10 commandments.  Have no other gods before the One true God.  He really is more amazing than anything you will encounter online.

#2. You shall not make for yourself an image/idol of any kind… You must not bow down to them or worship them… How do we feel about the big fish in the social media stream?  Do we wanna be them? Do our avatars look anything like us? All this looking at other peoples’ images, and what they portray on their feed – it too often makes us jealous, and it takes our focus away from the amazing wonderfulness of the REAL God.

#3. You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God.  Not even when you drop your phone down the toilet.

#4.  Keep the sabbath day holy.  We’ve gotta take a break and not let this rule our lives! #unplug!  What does this look like, really?  I try to unplug for an entire day once a week, and turn devices off after a certain point in the evening so I can get to sleep better.

#5 Honor your father and mother.  Then you will live a long, full life in the land… That’s right, mum said turn the device off and show up for dinner. I’m pretty sure she means now, not next week!  There’s a good reason to do this one, too.  The food is lovely, and the company is even better.  You only have one life.  Cherish the ones you love, while you have them – do it face to face, with the phone turned off.

#6 You must not murder.  Jesus said that being angry at others, or even dismissing them as ‘idiots’ was as bad as murder:

21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. Matthew 5.21-22

So what’s really going through ours mind as we read some of that feed?

#7 You must not commit adultery. Or lust after that image of the scantily clad woman/man – they’re even coming at us through the adverts!.

27 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away.  Matthew 5.27-29

Drastic measures are called for to keep our eyes from seeing stuff we didn’t oughta, and there are a range of means to get clean and stay clean – from netnannys to accountability groups.  It’s possible, but might require some radical strategies to get there.

#8 You must not steal.  Particularly photos or intellectual content.  We’re called to honour the owners, the copyrights, and give credit where due.

#9 You must not tell lies about your neighbour. Too easily done on a Facebook comment line.  How can we check ourselves before hitting ‘return’?  But there’s also a challenge about integrity here too.  Are we lying to others by posting only the good stuff?  Is it a real, honest, balanced insight into our lives?  Without oversharing, how is it possible to avoid  projecting a persona that’s been ‘airbrushed’ to perfection?

#10 Do not covet.  That means don’t envy your neighbours’ social media following, or their wonderful digital lives and reported experiences.  They’re not telling you the whole truth anyway!  Can you find – somewhere – the ability to genuinely celebrate your friends’ connections and platform success?  Do you see these followers as ‘fans’ to bolster your ego, or as people to serve and encourage?

 There’s plenty of food for thought here, and if I’m honest, it leads me to my knees.  I don’t think there’s one social media command I’ve kept.  LORD, would you come to us and show mercy, and forgive.  We are so far from your standard – in our hearts, minds, and digital lives.  Come and cleanse us, restore us, give us strength for the challenges, and a genuine change of heart where it’s necessary.  Bring us into community, so that together we can help each other engage in this digital world with integrity and honour.  May others see the difference, and wonder…

 

Read the whole series: 31 days of digital REAL
< (previous) Authentic community
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31 days / Five Minute Friday: LONG

Once again Five Minute Friday meets Write 31 Days, and we see what prompt Kate Motaung can throw out to inspire my monthly theme of digital REAL. So here goes with the #fmfparty gang as we write unedited today on LONG.

(You can join the Five Minute Friday part all year round too – here’s how.)

GO

Where can I start today, except at Psalm 42?

A street child drinks water from a tap in a slum area of New Delhi June 4, 2003 to quench his thirst during a heat wave.

A street child drinks water from a tap in a slum area of New Delhi June 4, 2003 to quench his thirst during a heat wave.

As the deer longs for streams of water,
    so I long for you, O God.
I thirst for God, the living God.
    When can I go and stand before him?
Day and night I have only tears for food,
    while my enemies continually taunt me, saying,
    “Where is this God of yours?”

My heart is breaking
    as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers,
    leading a great procession to the house of God,
singing for joy and giving thanks
    amid the sound of a great celebration!

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God! (Psalm 42.1-5)

I’ve spent half a month, acknowledging that my heart is ‘so sad’ as I wrestle, and fail, to use social media well.  I have admitted that ‘my heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be:’ – socially, in terms of how we used to relate to each other better…

I challenge myself.  Am I really looking back at the last two decades with rose-tinted spectacles on?  Perhaps it’s just that in the last years, while this digital revolution has been underway, my heart has also been enamoured by idols, by other distractions, and lost sight of God himself.  Like I said before, Digital’s not the problem.

This psalm talks about the deep thirst we find in our souls sometimes.  But what I love about it is that it also points to our Source…. to the reasons we’re so desperate and to the place we’ll find our joy again.  It’s simple, Jesus said,

37 On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! 38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” 39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.) (John 7:37-39)

He made this statement from the original in Isaiah,

“Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
    Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
    I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David. (Isaiah 55.1-3)

God knows we need the rivers flowing.  We need the wine and milk.  We need to find life, and drink deep of the unfailing love that He has promised us.  Chances are, that’s not going to happen while I’m typing at my laptop.

STOP

Read the whole series: 31 days of digital REAL
< (previous) Tech incuded atrophy
> (next) Digital wars

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31 days: Thinking requires effort

‘Thinking is great work.’ But hard work.  I talked recently with mothers who are grieving the loss of their teenagers’ attention – though sitting in the same room, they lose them too often to the screen of a device, and struggle to call them back into real time and real, physically present and engaged interaction.  We don’t have any easy answers to heal this plague, but over these coming days, I want to think hard about the subject, and to think biblically.  God has a way to redeem it all, but we’ve also got some hard work to do.

For a book that was first published in 1984, the classic ‘Ordering your private world’ by Gordon MacDonald is nevertheless extremely relevant to our issues with digital today:

Thinking is a great work. It is best done with a mind that has trained and is in shape just as competitive running is done with a body that has trained and is in shape. The best kind of thinking is accomplished when it is done in the context of reverence for God’s kingly reign over all creation. It is sad to see great thinking and artistic work accomplished by men and women who have no interest in uncovering knowledge of the Creator. They think and innovate purely for self-aggrandizement or for the development of a human system that assumes it can get along without God.

Some Christians appear to be afraid to think. They mistake the gathering of facts, doctrinal systems, and lists or rules for thinking. They are uneasy when dealing with open-ended questions. And they do not see the significance of wrestling with great ideas if they cannot always come up with easily packaged answers. The consequences are a drift toward mediocrity in personal living and mental activity and a loss of much that God meant for His children to enjoy as they walk through creation discovering His handiwork. Life under such circumstances becomes amusement, function without thought.

The unthinking Christian does not realize it, but he is dangerously absorbed into the culture about him. Because his mind is untrained and unfilled, it lacks the ability to produce the hard questions with which the world needs to be challenged. The challenge for the modern Christian in a secular society may be to ask prophetic questions before there is going to be an opportunity to provide Christ-oriented answers.

Sometimes, because of the massive amounts of information bombarding us regularly, the unthinking Christian longs to run in retreat, leaving heavy thinking up to a few elite Christian leaders or theologians…”

Gordon MacDonald ‘Ordering your private world’ Chapter 8

It is too easy, on social media, to share links as if to say, ‘yeah, what s/he thinks.’  Are we owning our own opinions?  Doing our own thinking?  Or just falling into a lazy world of ‘like’ and ‘unlike’, a mere spectator sport rather than playing the tough game on the digital field, sweating, wrestling deeply with our beliefs and convictions, standing up to real opposition, and taking some knocks?  We need to be trained, thinking, ‘fit’ for such a world.

We need to know whose side we are playing on, in this world of digital entertainment.  God doesn’t actually have an online profile, so won’t give you a ‘like’ in approval for what you’ve just posted… And besides, he’s not on your team (as Joshua found out here).  The real question is, are you on his?

 

 

Read the whole series: 31 days of digital REAL
< (previous) Digital disclaimer
> (next) Waking up to REAL

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Five Minute Friday: WHISPER

Are we really listening? This week I’m taking five minutes with the Five Minute Friday #fmfparty gang to write unedited on a theme sent out by Kate Motaung.  The word-prompt today is WHISPER.

GO

Elijah under the Broom Tree

Byzantine Icon of the prophet Elijah under the broom tree

What a crazy cacophony in my head.  Urgent, driven anxieties shout loudest, then come the nay-sayers, the doomsmongers, and the plaintive expectancy expressed in resistance to the flood-tide struggles to be heard.

There’s a voice that dominates, but I have a plan about that.  She’s too damn negative.  She says ‘no’ to opportunities and new experiences.  She’s too driven, and too much in a rush to stop and breathe in the sounds of bird’s wings as they fly by, or the brush of breeze on a gusty day.  She’s not even living life.  Bound up in her bitterness, frozen in fear, she’s loud in my head because she’s in pain.

The whisper… well hers is the voice I want to vindicate.  It’s that rhetoric that will be released.  The quiet voice is the authentic.  It’s the real, true passion.  It’s boundless, free, fearless, wild.  She’s quiet, because she’s being borne on the winds and doesn’t need to scream for attention.  She’s flying, drinking deep, connected, abiding.  This whisper is a voice of intimacy.  It draws near, so near.  You have to hold your breath to hear it above your own heartbeat, your own rustling movements.  But when you listen… well!  It’s the loudest, most compelling voice of all.

STOP

This image I’m sharing is a Byzantine icon Elijah under the Broom tree, depicting the story told in 1 Kings 19.  Elijah had just confronted the prophets of Baal, and despite the magnificent demonstration of God’s power, right after the triumph he found himself deeply discouraged and afraid for his life. The blog post that features this image shares some moving insights on what happens to us as we come to the end of ourselves, and surrender to the Voice of God. Read more here: Learning form the Faith of Elijah: Resting under the Broom Tree.

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