Saturday, 27 October 2018

Restoring All Things.

Speaking to an artist recently, he described how a painting took shape.   He starts off with an idea in his head but he is never quite sure how it will work out in the end.  He said: ‘I like the painting to speak to me.’  There is a sense in which the painting itself guides him.

It’s not unusual to find artists and writers describing their work in this way.  I once heard a poet say he never finishes a poem without a sense that in some way it has been given to him.  Paul McCartney promoting his latest album said he will never tire of writing songs because of the thrill of seeing something being produced out of nothing. 

None of this should really surprise us.  There is something about the creative process that is beyond our understanding.  But when you believe in a God who created the Universe out of nothing and who has created humankind in His own image, then to engage in any kind of creative activity  is to be touched by His being.  That is why there is so much satisfaction in building, painting, gardening, writing, knitting, decorating.  All of  this draws us into the Source of all creation. 

I suppose, however, that God’s biggest current project is re-creation.  Erik Varden, a Cistercian monk writes: ‘From being a garden of peace and sweet encounter, the world became a laboratory of selfishness, violence and warfare.’   But God has not turned His back on His ruined creation.  He is working towards the day when we will be returned to the garden.  Through His death and resurrection Jesus has made it possible for us as a renewed people to take our place in a renewed creation. He has emerged from the laboratory of selfishness, violence and warfare as the Risen Lord showing in Himself what God has in store for us when this ‘old and weary earth’ gives way to the new heaven and the new earth. 

The season of Remembrance brings to mind the worst of times for so many people but along with this we hold the faith that Jesus is building the best of times for us all. 

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Getting Real!

The Summer weeks gave Gabrielle and I the opportunity to attend the theatre for the first time in many years and we were struck by what we have been missing.   There is something about a ‘live’ performance, more immediate, more engaging, more personal than anything we see on a screen.  And I say that as a lifelong movie fan! 

Watching the actors living their parts, giving everything to their performance, I was reminded of the bishop who was deeply moved by an actor’s performance.  In meeting him afterwards the bishop asked him why actors seem to have no difficulty making an impression on their audiences while preachers frequently leave them cold.   The actor replied:  ‘Actors speak of things imaginary as if they were real, you preachers too often speak of things real as if they were imaginary.’ 

Ouch!  Everyone who is called to preach God’s Word should take note.  But really this is a challenge to every Christian.  In the way we live our faith, in the way we share our faith does the world experience this as ‘real’?   Are the truths rooted in our lives bearing fruit, shaping our attitudes, clarifying our priorities, enabling us to be the light of the world as Jesus longs for us?  

None of us can be entirely comfortable in the face of this challenge but there is a way forward pioneered by the Apostle Paul.   He was deeply aware that as a Christian he was not the finished article but he held fast to the belief that in the course of his life no matter the circumstances he could grow closer to Jesus and live his life more fully in his ways.   He once wrote:

‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.’  (Philippians 3: 10-11)

Paul is not just speaking to an early Christian community.  He sets this aspiration before every Christian community in every generation.  This is the way for us all to ‘get real’ about our faith.   

Friday, 19 January 2018

Our Brightest Hour.

I wonder how many actors have played Winston Churchill on television or in movies?  Those that spring to mind are a galaxy of talent: Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall, Brendan Gleeson, Albert Finney, Robert Hardy, Timothy West.   Now add to those Gary Oldman, confidently tipped for an Oscar for his performance in ‘Darkest Hour’.  

In order to take on a physical resemblance to the great man Oldman wore a ‘fat-suit’ and endured three hours of prosthetic make-up every day.  The voice might not be such a big deal.  I remember my father doing a passable imitation.  Nevertheless, the end product is impressive and worthy of the publicity slogan: ‘Gary Oldman is Winston Churchill.’ 

The Apostle Paul often speaks of the Christian believer undergoing a transformation.  God is seeking to make us more like Jesus.  In Romans 8: 29 he speaks of Jesus as the elder brother in the Christian family and His followers are destined to be ‘conformed’ to His likeness.   Of course, this is not a physical likeness or something that can be worked up or acted out.  God is seeking to bring out from our own unique character the character of Jesus.  It is an inner transformation.   Paul says in Romans 12: 2: ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’   

Paul sees this as the Holy Spirit making an impact on the mind of a man or a woman through the Gospel.  He or she is convinced that Jesus is the Son of God and that His life is the pattern for all Christian living.   The Spirit seeks to confirm the believer in that faith and to bring out all the qualities of Christ-likeness.  What are these qualities?  Paul speaks of them as ‘the   fruit of the Spirit’: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  (Galatians 5: 22)  To live by the Spirit is to commit our lives to all these qualities.  Paul speaks of keeping in step with the Spirit.  He sets the pace and we seek to keep up.  But in a way no coach or Personal Trainer can do the Spirit gives us His strength to keep up. 

In the end God does not want an impersonation of His Son but a genuine growth of those qualities that reflect His very nature.  No Oscars are handed out for this.  The glory belongs to God for doing in us what we could never do for ourselves and giving us our brightest hour.