An Extended Quotation from Colin Gunton writing on Martin Luther

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

– Martin Luther, The Freedom of the Christian

img_0004“Luther’s famous paradox can form our starting point, if only because it is in such manifest contradiction of the wisdom of our age, which in truly dialectical fashion prefers to accept the first without the second, and, indeed, that without its basis in the gospel. We prefer to find freedom grounded in ourselves rather than lying in the gift of the creator. Beneath the surface of Luther’s formulation, however, there lies far more than an appealing paradox: there is a theology of human life under God. It has at least two dimensions. The first is to be found in another much quoted dictum, that we are not born for freedom,: we must be slaves either of God or of the devil. Freedom, that is to say, is not an innate possession – quite the reverse – but has to be given. The gospel is a gospel because it is a setting free, from the slavery that is indeed slavery to the slavery which is the freedom of the Christian. There is for Luther no freedom without redemption through grace from the law, sin, death and the devil.

The second dimension is that in which the liberation is spelled out…Christian liberty is, so to speak, completed by its orientation to the neighbour.”

Colin Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, p118.

Theology gold, eh?

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Celebrating Rest

There has been a running theme to how I have answered the question ‘How are you?’ in recent weeks. ‘Tired’ usually features within the first few sentences. Perhaps you can identify with that.

There is so much to be done – work, seeing friends, church, volunteering, household chores, planning ahead, catching up with family, having time to read, cook, try new things and visit new places. Some of these things feel like hard work, some of them feel refreshing and energising. I’m not going to dwell too much at the moment on what counts as work and what counts as rest – my bigger concern is this: in the midst of all the busyness (whether technically ‘work’ or not) why do I not rest?

Two things have brought this to my attention: first, a simple tweet that said something along the lines of ‘It’s hard to imagine Jesus answering the question ‘How are you?’ with ‘Busy’.’

Secondly, reading this article – Let’s Celebrate Those Who Rest.

God rested as a sign of completeness in his creation, while we get no such thing. We rest with many incomplete tasks all around us. We create, we study, we build, we write, we parent, we cook, we clean, and we do all sorts of work all throughout our days, and so often we get to the end of a long day only to be met with the disappointing reality that it’s not finished. It never truly is. All of this drives us to him, the one who doesn’t need rest and who always gets his to-do list done. When I put the to-do list down, or walk away from the project, or shut down my computer, I am declaring with my rest not only that I am not God, but that I need him to strengthen the work of my weary hands (Ps. 90:17).

I am rushing about frantically trying to get my list of jobs done – seeing people, doing good work, serving others (all good things) but with a stubborn and an alarming reluctance to admit this simple point: I cannot do everything.

There are a host of reasons as to why I find that so tough. But the reasons, though important, are not the solution. I am not going to find a way to rest by looking at all the reasons I have to keep going. I need to listen to the God who has made me to need rest.

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We shall be more loved when…?

​From an article called ‘Grace: What does God give us?‘ by Mike Reeves & Tim Chester, in Union theology resources.

Yet deep in our psyche is the assumption that we shall be more loved when (and only when) we make ourselves more attractive – both to God and others. Into that, Luther speaks words that cut through the gloom like a glorious and utterly un- expected sunbeam:

The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it . . . Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.[6]

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What’s Best Next

I’ve had a few conversations with people at church, at work and amongst friends recently about how many things there are to do in life, and how little time we have. If you’re feeling like that – swamped by deadlines, reading, catching up with friends, getting involved at church, trying to budget well, thinking about your future, remembering to eat, doing housework, getting your next Netflix fix, going food shopping, brushing your teeth…. then let me recommend this resource to you:

What’s Best Next – Be more effective in doing good work

It’s not an app, it won’t organise your life for you, it can’t halve the time it takes to do each of the above tasks. No gimicky, bold claims like that! But there’s wisdom to be found here. Invest 30 minutes in reading ‘Plan Noble Things’ or browse the articles for a topic that best suits your time pressures and be en-wisdomed (what is the word for that?!)

P.S. I’ve found it to be especially good for those of us who do any kind of administration – if you don’t think of your work as planning noble things, you really should visit the website!

P.P.S There’s also a book!

https://www.whatsbestnext.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Whats-Best-Next-How-the-Gospel-Transforms-the-Way-You-Get-Things-Done-0-203x300-200x300.jpg

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Primary Wonder

sdr

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

Denise Levertov (1923–1997)

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‘To this wisp of smoke…’

Commenting on 1 Peter 1:3-5, Paul Blackham writes the following:

Life in this passing age is so fragile and fleeting. As the Scriptures say, our life is like smoke that quickly disappears. Whatever we achieve is soon forgotten. Who remembers their great grandparents? Who knows what they did, how they felt, what they said? The years race by with ever increasing pace and we cannot pause this headlong flight for even one moment. Our looks decay away; our flimsy reputation is forgotten; the next generation replaces us and even scorns us; our achievements and possessions end up in their hands. All our attempts to grasp into immortality our permanence only make matters worse.

Yet, to this wisp of smoke, the Living God offered His own life- an eternal life, a life of the ages, a life that stretches away into an everlasting future. If this mercy and grace doesn’t make us praise with every fibre of our being, then nothing ever will!

You can read more by getting hold of the excellent Book by Book study guides – available from the Biblical Frameworks website.

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Forgiveness

This is magnificent.

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Saying Goodbye

LasIMG_7220t night at my church small group, we began talking about returning home and reverse culture shock. Many in the group will, in the next few months, uproot themselves from the lives they’ve built here in Norwich and move – either back home, or to somewhere else that’s new and full of challenges. We wanted to give time and space to reflect on what that experience may be like, and to thank God for the good things He’s given that will soon be left behind.

It has made me think about saying goodbye, and the impact that the end of things has on us. That might not be moving to a different country. Along with the more obvious finality of bereavement, ‘smaller’ events like changing jobs, starting a new relationship – all of these things entail an ending of sorts, a type of goodbye. How do we deal with that well? What framework do we set these experiences in?

Just this morning I came across the following thought:

“Every loss, every goodbye, every fright, every moment of shame, is, to a degree, a traumatic experience in contrast to what we were meant to experience in Eden.”

from ‘The Spectrum of Trauma‘ by Dan Allender

Something to think over in the coming weeks…

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And for my next musical plug…

…You really should listen to The Oh Hellos. No, really – I’m telling you, they’re brilliant!

Check out songs like this…

Hello My Old Heart
Like the Dawn
Exeunt

With lyrics like this…

No, I am not afraid to die
It’s every breath that comes before
Heartache, I’ve heard, is part of life
And I have broken more and more

But I can hope how this will end
With every line a comedy
That we could learn to love without demand
But unreserved honesty

This Will End – Dear Wormwood

They’re well worth investing some time in!

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Děkuji – Karel Kryl

Karel Kryl was born in German-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1944 and spent much of his life living under communism. He became a vocal critic of the state, using his songs to decry the oppression and violence of the regime – which led to his first album being banned and removed from sale within the first year of its release.

Kryl eventually left his home country for the West, but continued to produce Czech music which, despite being banned, still found it’s way into the hands of many behind the Iron Curtain.

The song above, titled ‘Thank You’ (Děkuji in Czech) is a poetic and beautiful piece which defiantly thanks God for the compassion and love that unjust pain and suffering can create. Kryl’s rich and smooth voice makes the song ask the more moving. Even if you don’t understand a word, it’s worth a listen.

Lyrics in Czech:

Stvořil Bůh, stvořil Bůh ratolest,
bych mohl věnce vázat,
děkuji, děkuji za bolest,
jež učí mne se tázat.
Děkuji, děkuji za nezdar,
jenž naučí mne píli,
bych mohl, bych mohl přinést dar,
byť nezbývalo síly.
Děkuji, děkuji, děkuji.

Děkuji, děkuji za slabost,
jež pokoře mne učí,
pokoře, pokoře pro radost,
pokoře bez područí.
Děkuji, za slzy děkuji,
ty naučí mne citu,
k živým, již, k živým, již žalují
a křičí po soucitu.
Děkuji, děkuji, děkuji.

Pro touhu, pro touhu po kráse
děkuji za ošklivost,
za to, že, za to, že utká se
láska a nevraživost.
Pro sladkost, pro sladkost usnutí
děkuji za únavu,
děkuji, za ohně vzplanutí
i za šumění splavu.
Děkuji, děkuji, děkuji,

Děkuji, děkuji za žízeň,
jež slabost prozradila,
děkuji, děkuji za trýzeň,
jež zdokonalí díla.
Za to, že, za to, že miluji,
byť strach mi srdce svíral,
beránku, děkuji,
marně jsi neumíral.
Děkuji, děkuji, děkuji, děkuji, děkuji.

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