10 October 2012

Worship in the tracery

We are made in Yahweh's image and as he does all things well, so should we. In fact, working well and to a high standard can be thought of as a form of worship. We take a look at this in terms of mediaeval workmanship.

York Minster's stone traceryA few days ago I posted about York Minster and provided links to a small collection of photos of this famous building. This time I want to focus on one of those images and consider how worship can involve doing things well.

Right at the outset it's worth saying that true worship is 'in spirit and in truth'. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, and he is also the Spirit of Truth because Jesus is Truth in person. If I worship in and through Yahshua (Jesus) I will indeed worship in spirit and in truth because that is who he is. But can a building be worship?

No it can't, but the act of building it may be. We are made in Yahweh's image and part of that image is creativity. He is creative and he made us to be creative too. It comes out in so many ways, we see it in art and literature, in business, in science and technology. His creativity far exceeds ours and we worship because of that greatness, revealed partly in what he has made. This universe is so far beyond anything we can make. Our creativity is limited to merely rearranging small parts of what already exists; he created it all from nothing.

In terms of quarrying and selecting fine stone, intricately carving it to an overall plan, and assembling it into a beautiful window, a mediaeval craftsman could do an excellent job or a less careful one. He would of course have been paid for his work, but he might also have done his very best in order to glorify the Almighty. To this extent his work would be a form of worship.

If we viewed this lovely window from inside the Minster we would not notice the quality of the stonework but instead we'd be struck by the gloriously luminous stained glass work. Paul writes in Colossians 3:15-25 that whatever we do should be done as if we're doing it for Jesus, in his name, and giving thanks to the Father.

Few of us are called to make beautiful stonework or luminous stained glass. But whatever we are called to do we can (and should) do to the highest standard possible, no matter how humble the task. We can glorify the Creator by doing our very best in everything. He has set an example of work well done and we are meant to follow him in that as in all things.

Another UK blogger, Rhoda, makes the same point very effectively in her post in September called 'A Verse to Memorise - Working Wholeheartedly'. In fact her blog is called 'Living to Please God' and working wholeheartedly is a key part in doing just that.

08 October 2012

Accepting one another in love

All around us are people who seem to be difficult, unlovely, angry, and burdensome. If we follow Jesus we will find a way to love all these people. And the benefits of doing so are boundless.

The Henri Nouwen Society website
This is a repost of something I wrote in June. It seems appropriate to use it as link six in a chain blog started by Alan Knox on the topic 'One Another'.

Showing is more powerful than telling. Doing and showing is how Yahshua often revealed the truth. That doesn't mean he didn't use words, but he did things like washing his follower's feet and then used words (if necessary) to clarify the meaning of the action.

To love or to judge? - A difficult situation arose amongst friends recently, and the Spirit of Christ showed me that the best way to resolve it will be to demonstrate love. Isn't this always the best way? I think so.

We are not called to put one another right. We are called to accept one another just as we are, to love the unlovable. If I cannot do this, how will I ever love anyone? And if those around me can't do this, how will I ever be loved? Papa loved us long before we began to love him. If I am truly made in his image I will love others before they love me. Sometimes this may be very hard - but it is also very necessary.

If I demonstrate love and others copy my example, great benefit and joy and peace will result! If I demonstrate judgement and others copy my example, great misery and shame and angst will result. Why do we find it so hard to go first in love? And why do we find it so easy to go first in judgement?

Henri Nouwen understood these principles. The quote below is a meditation from the Henri Nouwen Society website. You might consider signing up for these emails yourself, they are always helpful and always so gentle and wise.

Small Steps of Love - How can we choose love when we have experienced so little of it? We choose love by taking small steps of love every time there is an opportunity. A smile, a handshake, a word of encouragement, a phone call, a card, an embrace, a kind greeting, a gesture of support, a moment of attention, a helping hand, a present, a financial contribution, a visit ... all these are little steps toward love.

Each step is like a candle burning in the night. It does not take the darkness away, but it guides us through the darkness. When we look back after many small steps of love, we will discover that we have made a long and beautiful journey.

In the life of Jesus - Here are some other examples from the life of Jesus (there are many more, the gospels are full of them). Jesus was quick to feed the hungry crowd, speak to the woman at the well, call to Zacchaeus in the sycamore fig tree, die for our sin, release the woman caught in adultery, heal the sick, cast out demons, turn water to wine. In every case people were needy, inconvenient, sinful, unlovable, pressing in, without hope. In every case Jesus touched them in their need and error and unloveliness.

Here's a challenge. Who will you find to love today? And how will you express that love?

See also

  • Henry Drummond wrote an essay called 'The greatest thing in the world'. It's on love and is available as a free download. Highly recommended.
  • Greg Gamble's list of 'The One Anothers' as basic rules of engagement for believers.



This post is the sixth link in a chain blog, started by Alan Knox, on the topic 'One Another'. Please have a look back through the other links and comments to join in the topic. You can even join in the chain – read the rules below to participate.

 Links in the 'One Another' Chain Blog
  1. Chain Blog: One Another - Alan Knox
  2. Linking One Another - Swanny
  3. What Does It Mean to Love One Another? - Chuck McKnight 
  4. The treasure of 'One Another' - Jim Puntney
  5. This is how the world shall recognise you... - Kathleen Ward
  6. Accepting one another in love - Chris Jefferies
  7. One Another-ing: A meta-narrative for the church - Greg Gamble (also see part 2)
  8. Individualism and 'one another' - Pieter Pretorious
  9. All Alone with One Another - Jeremy Myers
  10. When it's OK for Christians to compete - Joshua Lawson
  11. Jesus Christ: the Corner Stone for One Another - Peter
  12. Be Superficial With One Another - Jon Hutton
  13. The Unmentionable One Anothers - Alan Knox
  14. Loving more fully and widely - Chris Jefferies
  15. The one another weapon - Dan Allen
  16. Corporate one anothering (Part 1) and (Part 2)- David Bolton
  17. The last revival - Tobie van der Westhuizen
  18. Love: a 'one another' comic - Dan Allen
  19. I can only love you if... - Rob
  20. Who will write the next link post in the chain?
Chain Blog Rules
  1. If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment on the most recent post stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.
  2. Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain.” Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog (both this post and the other link posts in the chain).
  3. When you write a link in this chain, please reply in the comments of the previous post to let everyone know that your link is ready. Also, please try to keep an updated list of links in the chain at the bottom of your post, and please include these rules at the bottom of your post.

06 October 2012

York Minster

(Click the photo for a larger view)

York Minster from the city wall near Monk Bar - Photo taken 4th October 2012
This cathedral church, the seat of the Archbishop of York, is the largest Gothic Cathedral in northern Europe. It dominates the city centre and is here clearly seen from the ancient city walls.

Like all mediaeval cathedrals, York Minster was constructed to reflect the glory of the Most High. In its day it would have been completely awe-inspiring to the ordinary working people, a building seemingly as far beyond their humble wattle and daub dwellings as heaven is from earth. (More photos of the Minster.)

Although we are not affected by the architecture in quite that way, we can still appreciate the enormous sacrifice of expenditure, care, hard work and exquisite craftsmanship involved in creating the Minster. It does, indeed, represent a form of worship, though not the worship 'in spirit and in truth' (John 4:23-24) that we are required to bring. It's an external work of praise, men and women doing their best for the Almighty, great but not our ultimate calling. What he really seeks is an internal work of praise, hearts that love him intimately and will follow him wherever he leads.

What does this image say to you? There are no wrong answers. (Add a comment).

Click the 'image' label below to see other image posts.

03 October 2012

Surprises open us to change

< Where he treads I must follow | Index | No later items >

Here is a second set of answers to some questions about how Papa is dealing with his people in our generation. You might like to consider your own answers which may be quite different from mine. See what you think.

Full of surprisesThis is part two of of a series in which I'm sharing my answers to some questions posted on the 'Missional Challenge' blog. See the first part for the background.

Here are the next three questions, then we'll work through them one at a time.

  • How is God coming to this generation?
  • How is that different than any other generation?
  • Are you under God’s authority? How do you know?

How is God coming to this generation? - That is a huge question, and the answers we find are going to be game changing. If we get this wrong we will constantly struggle because we'll be working against the grain of everything he is doing. If we get it right we will be in tune with his purpose and swept along effortlessly by the wide, deep river of living water.

Also, it would be foolish to think we will all hear the same thing from him. It's entirely possible I might be right for myself but wrong for you. Caveat emptor! It's also possible I might be wrong for you and wrong for myself.

But here's my best effort to express the way I see this right now. I think he's coming to this generation in ways far outside our normal expectations. He is blessing people from every kind of church background - whether you're Catholic or Orthodox, Baptist or Anglican, Messianic Jew or Lutheran. I'd go further. He's blessing Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and Christian Scientists. He's blessing Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, even Agnostics and Atheists. His heart is always to bless and the Holy Spirit needs only the tiniest crack of obedience to begin his work.

I just don't think we can overestimate his grace and willingness to overlook error. Let's face it, if he didn't come to find lost sheep, we would all be permanently... well, lost!

We'd better begin to expect the unexpected, because he is always full of surprises. That is how he is coming to this generation.

How is that different than any other generation? - I don't think it is. He's always surprised us. He surprised Abraham and Sarah with Isaac. (He surprised Abraham with Isaac twice. Think about it). He surprised Jacob's sons with Joseph. He surprised Jacob with a dislocated hip, Moses with a burning bush, a divided sea, manna and quails. He surprised Saul with David and Solomon with wisdom... Need I go on? He surprised Saul on the way to Damascus. We should never be surprised to be surprised!

All of that means that any rules I come up, methods, structures, hierarchies may at best be rendered inappropriate by the next surprise to come my way. And at worst they were already inappropriate. Nothing I plan or design or set in motion is of any real kingdom value. Only the things that the Father, Son and Spirit plan, design and set in motion are of real use. Doing it my way can only make things worse.

I think the church at large has so far failed to grasp this simple but fundamental truth. To that extent, how he is coming to this generation may be different. I have the sense that he's sowing the seeds of this understanding in the hearts of people here and there, and that the growth these seeds produce will change much in the way we are and in what we do (and don't do).

Sometimes we think in terms of modernism, post-modernism and so forth. I dare say Papa deals with us differently according to our thinking and culture, but what I wrote above remains true. He will always find ways to surprise us. I think he likes to catch us off guard. Perhaps he can better reach us when we're a little off balance.

Are you under God’s authority? How do you know? - Sometimes, yes. Often, no. I have the opportunity to be under his authority at all times. But sometimes I allow myself to fall under the authority of others, or worse I seize the reins myself. I think I'm (very gradually) getting better at it. I sense that I notice more quickly when I do come off the rails. I'm more aware of the dangers and more eager to avoid them.

When I'm in the right place I'm usually aware of it - he shows me things - he speaks with me - I can walk in silence with him - there is a deep peace in my heart - I'm untroubled by problems and issues.

But I'm rarely (if ever) aware of the many times I do it my way. Sometimes I spend days, weeks or months, even years struggling along before it dawns on me that I'm alone. He's still at the centre of his purpose, I've wandered off on some side-mission of my own devising. When I do realise my mistake it's most often because I suddenly realise he's not there. I don't mean he abandons me, but he's far off because I've abandoned him. I think he comes to find me and I think 'Why am I struggling with this when the King is here?'

I hope this answers the 'how do I know' question as well.

Were these the sort of answers you expected to read? If not, why not?

< Where he treads I must follow | Index | No later items >

02 October 2012

Doggerland

The book 'Britain Begins' tells the story of the landscape and people who lived in these islands from the end of the last great ice-age (when they were still part of mainland Europe) right up to the end of the Saxon period. It's a great read.

Part of north-west Europe 10 000 years agoI'm currently working my way through 'Britain Begins', Barry Cunliffe's latest book. Sir Barry Cunliffe is a well-regarded archaeologist working at Oxford University. In fact he's Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology at the University's Institute of Archaeology.

In the book he traces the origins of human occupation in what is now the British Isles, though at the time of the early settlements some 10 000 years ago, most the North Sea was an extension of the North European Plain and Britain was part of the European continent.

Part of an illustration from the book (right) shows some of the Atlantic coastline of Europe around 30 000 years ago, along with the ice sheets in grey and today's coastlines in orange. (Doggerland in my title refers to the central part of what is now the North Sea. It was an area of rolling hills and river valleys.)

Although the ice retreated almost completely from Britain by 15 000 years ago, sea levels remained low for some time and migrating hunter-gatherer communities would have been able to live in the new landscapes right across areas that are now the English Channel and the North Sea.

What a fascinating insight into a time before history began. Although we don't know the details of life in those days, Cunliffe is able to draw a lively picture in a general way. He writes of the separation of Ireland...

The return to temperate conditions beginning around 9600 BC set in train the processes that created the British Isles familiar to us today. The first stage was the separation of Ireland from the mainland. This occurred around 9000 BC as the deep river valley, scoured out by the flow of meltwater from the Scottish ice-cap, was progressively flooded by the rising sea until the last land bridge between the north of Ireland and the Inner Hebrides was broken through. The deeper waters of St George's Channel and the North Channel, now below 50 fathoms, mark the course of this original valley.

It's a great book and I highly recommend it. Cunliffe condenses a great deal of scientific and archaeological data into a cohesive description of Britain from the final stages of the ice-age to the time of the Norman Conquest and the end of Saxon rule. The book is accessible to the interested layman (like me!) but will also find a special place on library shelves in schools and universities.

If you're interested in the history of these islands - buy a copy!

01 October 2012

Powerless!

A power cut was soon solved once the engineer was called. At first he arranged a temporary fix, then he brought in a team to make a permanent repair. Even in this ordinary event there's an analogy for a spiritual issue.

Power engineers at work
Yesterday was an interesting day. I was working on a blog post when I became aware the laptop screen had dimmed and I'd lost the internet connection. It dawned on me that we might have had a power cut and when I checked, sure enough we had.

Donna headed off to an all-day meeting and I began work in the garden where I'm dismantling our old greenhouse. Coming back in later I found the power was still out... hmm... Nearly an hour now, on the very rare occasions that we have a cut, it usually comes back within ten minutes or so.

I went next door to ask if they had power - they did! This might be bad news, perhaps something was wrong with our distribution box. I went the other side and they told me that yes, they had lost power too. Not just us then.

I phoned the distribution company and they took my details and said they'd send someone out. The engineer quickly confirmed that the problem lay with the main supply in the street. It was going to take some time to fix so they brought a generator, set it up in my neighbour's garden, powered up the system and connected both houses. What a relief, life could continue as normal.

During the afternoon a team arrived to dig up the grass verge outside the house, after some effort they found the faulty section of cabling and replaced it. I admire the way they work with live cables - rather them than me! We were soon back on mains power and the generator was removed.

I'd also like to say 'Thank you' to all the guys involved. They came out promptly on a Sunday morning and stayed much of the day to get the problem corrected. They were friendly, efficient and worked hard. From my initial phone call to replacing the turf everything was done well.

The incident made me think about living with power and living without it. They are very different experiences! Almost everything we do in our daily lives requires electrical power, from the mains, from a vehicle outlet, or from a battery. Without electricity, modern life would simply grind to a halt.

As so often, physical truth illustrates spiritual truth. Without the power of Jesus in my life I would be ineffective in every spiritual endeavour. Like electricity, it's easy to take him for granted. Like electricity, we soon remember our need of him when he seems to be not there.

There was power in the mains cables in the road, but it wasn't getting as far as my house. Church life can be like that - the power is out there but it's not getting as far as my house. This is a fault condition. It needs fixing.

Is power sometimes missing in your spiritual life? What do you need to get reconnected? Maybe a prayer is like a spiritual phone call, maybe the first thing is to ask for help. Until I phoned, nothing was going to happen and the power would still be down. It takes an expert to solve electrical power loss. It takes an expert (Jesus) to solve spiritual power loss.


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