Viv Thomas: Paths & Connections

ERT4EdXbViv Thomas is the Associate International Director of OM International, and Hon. Teaching Pastor at St Paul’s Hammersmith. He has authored Future Leader, Second Choice, Paper Boys, The Spectacular Ordinary Life and The Spectacular Ordinary Organisation. His next book, Wisdom Road, will be published in December 2015.  For more information on Viv’s ministry click here, or for OM, click here. I have known and worked with Viv for many years and have appreciated his heart and his input.  In this post Viv offer three foundational questions we should be pondering.

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Phileena Heuertz suggests some questions that help us get to the core of what is going on in our lives. I suggest that we let them rumble through our minds and conversations listening to the voice of the Spirit as we go.

Who are you?

This is the identity question. It is not always easy to answer this but important in your spiritual growth. It may take a while to answer and the answer may change over time. God has given us bodies, placed us in communities and distributed gifts. So who are you – or we – in the middle of this? What words or images constantly repeat themselves in your mind signalling your own sense of who you are? What do you say to yourself about yourself? Is your heart focused on giving God as much glory as possible or could it be you are overwhelmed by negative experiences that have developed cynical speech or a hard heart as your identity? If your identity is not being rooted in the love of Father, Son and Spirit there is a confusing road ahead. So who are you?

What path(s) are you on?

We are all on different and multiple paths towards the future. I could be on a path towards a new job, out of sickness, towards middle age, out of a particular location, into a relationship, out of a cold heart, into porn addiction or feeling like I am on a path to nowhere. Some paths we choose others we walk because we have to. It is worth asking what will be the outcome of walking the paths I have chosen and do I want to walk these paths?

How do you connect with God?

Where and when do you and God meet? What is the nature of your relationship with Him? What does he feel about you and how do you know? There is a well-marked path for the life of prayer. Our spiritual fathers and mothers have marked it out through the practice of spiritual disciplines or rhythms. There is a rich and huge variety in this prayer walk. Corporate worship, solitude, scripture meditation, having a spiritual director/mentor, silence, service and great conversation all work for me.

Are we free and courageous enough to be attentive to the foundational questions?

Dave Bish: Where Are the Depths Found?

BishDave currently serves on the staff team for Grace Church Exeter, but is pursuing a next step into pastoral ministry elsewhere in 2016. He’s married with three young sons. He previously spent 11 years on the staff team of the UCCF, as a Christian Union Staff Worker and then as Team Leader for the South West. He’s edited three volumes of sermons by puritans Richard Sibbes and Jeremiah Burroughs in addition to many years of blogging at thebluefish.org.  As Foundations is being released, I am thankful to Dave for this guest post on what it means to be human.

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“The depths which were previously located in the cosmos, the enchanted world, are now more readily placed within.” Taylor, p540.

In his enormous book A Secular Age Charles Taylor is examining the shift that has occured over the past 500 years from a world in which it was plausible to believe to one in which it isn’t so much.

At the heart of his case is the observation that we have moved from considering the universe to be a meaningful cosmos to being an empty space. We find ourselves alone in the silence.

Taylor notes that where today’s youth may despair of whether there is any meaning in life, 500 years ago it was the overwhelming weight of meaning that might crush the young. The Alpha Course’s old investigative slogan “an opportunity to explore the meaning of life” raises hope today but would’ve seemed strange centuries back – the question would’ve been how to navigate through the immense significance of everything.

We used to view the world as enchanted. Michael Ward notes the goal of CS Lewis’ Narnia books: to re-enchant us with a magical world, to reawaken our imagination, so we might better know Christ in our world. Allegory in places, but much more a participation in a “meaning-drenched universe”.   For which see also Evan Koons work For the life of the world.

We struggle to hear the heavens singing their song, to see meaning in the seasons, but knowing there must be more we relocate meaning to be within ourselves. We examine ourselves deeply. We assign ourselves four letter Myers-Briggs code, we identify our Strengths and Weaknesses and so on. My humanity classified and understood. And there’s real value in self-awareness! But, I’m struck that it’s a function of the age in which we live… a sad consequence of putting the world on mute, that we’re left to look within to find out who we are.

We adopt a “buffered self” instead of a “porous” view of ourselves. We define ourselves within ourselves, rather than by our interaction and service of those around us. See Peter Leithart’s recent Traces of the Trinity for a wonderful portrait porous life, things go in and out of us all the time. Extrovert or Introvert or whatever, I am a human being and “…living in the enchanted, porous world of our ancestors was inherently living socially.”

I can’t help but think the search within can also be a manifestation of Luther’s 500 year old definition of sin “man curved in on himself”. As a man in a meaning-drenched world Luther – a youth who had been overwhelmed by the weight of significance in the world – knew real life, restoration of his humanity, not in identifying the hero within himself but looking outside himself to a Saviour and a community.

The Universe is singing if we can learn again to hear it. And it invites us to a social life –  with people and in the persons of the self-giving God. What it means to be human, most deeply, is not reasoned out by surveys or soul-searching but revealed to us, as bearers of his image, in his world. For “no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Dan Hames: What is Grace?

Daniel HamesDan Hames is a curate at St Aldates, Oxford, as well as a PhD student at VU Amsterdam.  He also helps look after articles, talks, and a podcast at UnionTheology.org.  If you haven’t spent some time on the Union Theology site, you are missing a treat.  I am thankful to Dan for this guest post on the subject of God’s grace.

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Grace. It’s what your grandma says before dinner. It’s the way a ballet dancer floats across the stage. It’s a polite person reacting coolly to criticism. It’s also one of those theology words that we don’t often explain.

When I was naughty as a boy, I used to think that God could show me mercy, which simply meant he wouldn’t strike me with a bolt of lightning. Or he could show me grace, which was that, on top of sparing me, he would actually be nice to me. As I grew as a Christian, I began to see that grace was something more fundamental in God. God loves to give his grace. His undeserved kindness to us is the whole shape and flavour of the gospel. I was encouraged to ‘trust grace’, ‘love grace’, and ‘preach grace’. God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. Unmerited favour. A gift we don’t deserve.

So is that grace? I’ve come to believe it’s even better than that. In John 14:23, Jesus says something quite remarkable, ‘My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’ In the gospel, God isn’t kind to us by just giving us forgiveness, a sense of purpose in life, a family in the Church, and the hope of heaven. He gives us himself through Jesus.

Grace isn’t a thing God ladles out like a dinner lady with custard; it’s not even the generous frame of mind he’s in when he hands out blessings to us like a supermarket Santa. God’s grace is that he loves you and has made his home with you by the presence of the Holy Spirit. It’s not God’s riches, but God. From the moment of your salvation, the living God moved in with you and will stay with you through your whole life, and beyond your death into eternal glory.

Let’s encourage our hearts by thinking less about the word ‘grace’ in the abstract and more about the gracious God who shows mercy, blesses, and loves the undeserving – but who most of all gives them himself.

Foundations in Paper-Flesh

IMG_1196September is here, and so are the first copies of Foundations! It has taken two years to move from initial idea to seeing this book in print. Christian Focus have done a great job. Now we are rapidly approaching the official release date in the UK, followed by the official release date in the USA.

Foundations is a little book that asks four big questions. If you’d like to order some copies (one for you, and some to give away – friends at church, contacts interested in finding out more about what you believe, etc.), then click here if you are in the UK or Europe, and here if you are in the USA or Canada.

John Hindley: What Does It Mean to Be Human?

John HindleyJohn is pastor of BroadGrace Church in rural Norfolk (England).  John authored Serving Without Sinking and You Can Really Grow  (Good Book Company), as well as Suffering and Singing (10ofThose).  John is married to Flick and has three little ones. In his own words, “John Hindley is a wicked and filthy wretch made beautiful by Christ alone.”  I am thankful to John for offering this guest post as we head into the release month for Foundations.

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To be human is to dig. At least, that is what it is after the fall. To be human outside the garden, East of Eden, is to heft your shovel and dig again. It is to hope (if there can be a hope beyond hope) that this time the guy who sold you the map was honest, despite the way his parrot kept laughing at you.

To be human, for some, is to sail against the storm, hack your way through the undergrowth and then force your spade into the earth. For other the dig comes after a lie-in and pleasure cruise. But we are all digging, where X marks the spot, because there must be treasure somewhere. One of the maps has to be right, and there has to be a chest filled with pieces of eight. Or with peace, with hope, with love, with joy, with meaning, with forgiveness, with a future, with life.

Maybe we know what we are searching for, or maybe we dig with the desperation of not even remembering what we are digging for. We dig the sands of career, health, family, hobbies, holidays, wealth, stories. We dig and dig until one day we hear the sound of a spade against a chest. Carefully the chest is unearthed, and then gently prised open.

When we look back on that day, it still makes us smile to realise how wrong we had got it. We thought we had to dig. It never occurred to us that we were the treasure.

To be human, truly human, is to be the treasure that Christ paid the highest price to win. It is to be the delight of his eyes despite our running, our striving to find treasure far from him. It is to be the blood-bought forgiven who will always be treasured by their Captain until he comes back for us. We are safe, hidden in Christ.

And now, when we dig, we find treasure everywhere.