Day 27 - Issue 22

August 8, 2017

Genesis 1:26 NLT

…in our image...

I am wonderfully made in the image of God. Yet, what of me is in the image of God? We reach out to God, yet we grasp only fragments of God’s character and nature. However, while we cannot approach God, for God is holy, God can approach humanity, God’s creation. And God made that move in the incarnation of Jesus.

Each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made and has kingdom reality implanted in our divine DNA. One provocation that led me to God was my work with young Oxfam through my teenage years. I planned on becoming a field worker with Oxfam, except that my thought processes became distracted by the reality that for every famine response we successfully mounted, a few years later famine returned with the same devastating consequences. We were dealing with a symptom and not a cause. So I began to engage politically – but also rather too emotionally.
I had to battle with disillusionment as I lived in a world of plenty but where only a small minority of the global population benefited. On becoming a Christian I simply entered a world in which the same problem was reinforced. Faith appeared no more able to address inequality than faithlessness, and this after a number of years working with significant Christian organisations who espoused justice as a Christian theme. Yet, my cynical mind saw the Church was often as compromised as any other mediating agency.

It is to our shame that we have proven ineffective as stewards in this world. I have grown more silent in recent years, embarrassed at the litany of well-intentioned justice rhetoric that so easily flows from my mouth. I sincerely mean it, but don’t always live it. So now I pray, the most potent weapon in the Christian’s armoury, reaching out to involve myself in the few lives around me where I can practically support and encourage.

QUESTION: Where does God’s kingdom run counter to this world’s in your personal life choices?

PRAYER: Almighty creator, help us steward this world with justice and generosity; to act in your image.

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Day 26 - Issue 22

August 7, 2017

Genesis 1:26 NLT

Then God said, “Let us make human beings…

I often wonder what my parents imagined for me as they watched me grow up. I assume I was wanted and certainly they loved me as best they knew how as I grew. Dad, a survivor from fierce action throughout World War Two, was a brilliant father when I was a kid. However, the emergence of youth culture with its impact on social dynamics and interpersonal interaction seemed to leave him at a loss in knowing how to handle a teenager. It was, if truth be told, something of a phoney war between us. There was love, yet also distance and a measure of reaction between us.

Dad died a few years back now, and we never were able to have a conversation that settled the unsettled years and strained relationship we experienced. I did care for him alongside Mum over his last six months, and don’t feel any lasting regrets while aware of unresolved awkwardness between us.

God also had a plan in crafting then creating humanity. Each one of us was individually designed and known before our conception. God can also be described as parent with a conviction about how we might develop and flourish. God’s desire is always for our success, yet we are often slow to learn God’s ways. I only found God as a 19-year-old and I spent my first 16 years tailoring Christianity to my own design. It took a while and some big knocks before I realised God knew the best route to my flourishing.

Now as a parent myself, I recognise this is an art not a science. For me it is in retaining and deepening the relationship, while recognising however deeply I think I know my child, they will and they must discover life in all its forms for themselves. If I intervene too often or too much, it will result in my framework being saddled upon my child. There’s perhaps a lesson for Church in all that too. Please let go of legacy thinking and rather gift to each generation the freedom to discover God in their social context their own way in response to God’s voice and call.

QUESTION: How well were you parented?

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for adopting me into your family. Teach me your ways.

 

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Day 25 - Issue 22

August 4, 2017

Genesis 32:31 NLT

'The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip.'

In his book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Bantam Doubleday Dell), Thomas Merton wrote these words, “Sunrise is an event that calls forth solemn music in the very depths of man’s nature, as if one’s whole being had to attune itself to the cosmos and praise God for the new day…”

I, like Merton, and in some ways inspired by him, seek to rise early enough to observe the dawn. I love sitting surrounded by the last darkness of the night and slowly experience the sky filling with light as the sun rises above the horizon. It is for me a sacramental moment, a Eucharist of sight and sound, as I celebrate with all of nature the return of light and the dissipation of darkness that cannot withstand its arrival, much as an incoming tide slowly consumes the beach before it.

Daybreak is a symbol of Christ’s faithfulness. It breaks the hold of night and brings with it a fresh wave of hope. No longer constrained by night’s shadows, light brings both perspective and clarity. So here with Jacob, wrestling through the night, daybreak brings clarity and a remembrance from his fight with God in the shape of a limp.

Jacob dealt with his deepest fears through his fight with God. Finding revelation is often the toughest part of walking the way of faith. How am I to find my way forward when so much appears stacked against me? In whom or in what can I place my hope? It can only be God and the way forward may mean a season in the dark night terrors and little clarity. Yet the dawn will break, although I may emerge a very different person into the daylight. I walk forward aware that I now have a limp, I have wrestled with God, I have gazed upon and embraced my destiny, and discover again the warmth of God’s love and a fresh clarity of faith.

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Day 24 - Issue 22

August 3, 2017

Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.”

Like many, I long to see God face to face. But who can gaze upon the face of God and live? Jacob had encountered God, as we might through prayerful engagement in everyday life. God is real and takes a deep interest in our individual lives. The question is: how interested are we in the life of God? The fact that Jacob would not let go of God indicates how he answered that question. For me it took any number of years and then facing a tragedy before I chose to cling to God.

That clinging meant I first had to identify and remove the debris that stood between me and God. This only became obvious once I knew I needed God above all else. The struggle with childlessness and then MS merely opened my eyes to the fact that life was a battle. I might choose to press deeper into God, or to draw more heavily upon my natural human gifts.

Only as we walked with disease and disappointment did I question not just my faith but the context of the world in which I existed more than lived. I made discoveries about both myself and God. I chose to live with God as first cause and final end, and recognise I had a life well beyond this limited mortal experience. The battles that besieged me from my perspective invited me to choose between relying more upon my natural instincts or disengaging for a mere human response at a physical, emotional and intellectual level to seek to discover more of God in the traumatic episodes of life. This was part of a process preparing me for an eternity with Christ, and introducing me to be at peace with God, myself and context in the now.

QUESTION: The question you must face daily is, where are you with God today, and where is God with you?

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, lead me, teach me, draw me closer to you.

 

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Day 23 - Issue 22

August 2, 2017

Genesis 32:29 NL

“Please tell me your name,” Jacob said. “Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.

If names are indeed so important, why is it that God refuses to give his name? We know from Moses’ encounter with the burning bush that God gave his name as “I AM”, forever existent and alone the source of all of life throughout the universe. How can the one who is before and beyond all things capture that reality in a single name?

Yet for Jacob there was a need for clarity. Who was it he was fighting with? As we battled MS, it was possible to objectivise the disease and to pray against the disease, rather than continue to pray for the person within whose body the MS manifested. This was unhelpful, since it separated the disease from the person and vice versa, as if how Katey was in her MS was somehow distinct from Katey. This was entirely her journey and she inhabited the MS as much as the MS inhabited her.

It was also too simple to blame Satan for the disease, as if everything we class as evil is the devil’s fault. That’s too easy for we can blame global poverty, ethnic cleansing and anything we didn’t choose to relate to as the work of the devil.

Jacob in his struggles came to realise that God was central to all his anxieties about Laban on the one hand and Esau on the other. However carefully he orchestrated events, his destiny lay outside of his control and squarely in the hands of God. God blessed him with a new name – one who has fought with God.

I fought with God and found my new name having played fast and loose with God up to that point. Now I knew God was at the heart of both my perception of the good and the bad in my life. It was not my role to find more of one than the other. I was invited to find the God who is “...above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6b, HCSB).

QUESTION: How do you view the world generally and your world specifically? What do you blame on Satan?

PRAYER: Sovereign Lord, open my eyes to see more of how you are working in all the circumstances of my life.

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Day 22 - Issue 22

August 1, 2017

Genesis 32:27 NLT

“What is your name?” the man asked. He replied, “Jacob.”

Adam must have had a lot of fun naming all the animals. Names carry with them a measure of identity. I had the privilege of choosing my name after Katey died as one means to manage the grief process. Having taken forever to tie up all the administration, I found I could literally manage only one task a day before I felt exhausted. Finally I took a holiday to the west coast of America. Here I found space for God and myself and reflected upon my name-change. Jazz surfaced because, while it seemed unusual, it reflected how I perceived my role in life going forward. Jazz isn’t written down and requires every musician to be skilled at knowing when to shine solo and when to provide the depth behind another’s virtuosity. This was my ministry; enabling others and enhancing the rhythm of God’s sound throughout the earth.

The new name reflected much of my struggle, for the way I had been invited to walk with God lay outside textbooks. There was no narrative that might guide me through the valley of the shadow of death. It was a solo performance I had to find for myself.

Anyone who has been in close proximity to someone learning a musical instrument will know that there are many false dawns. And so with my own wrestling match with God. Learning who I was truly created to be, growing comfortable with that instrument and then learning to master it ahead of public performance took time and effort. On more than one occasion I threw it down believing I’d never master it.

Yet slowly I have. Jazz is not to everyone’s taste. It expresses itself far from the classical concert halls of much-loved symphonies. It occupies the corner of a bar, a late-night club, anywhere, in fact, where people go both to lose and hopefully to find themselves. Its rhythms reflect the angst of living, sometimes with a lyric, more often than not, without. Jazz gives a sense and offers a direction, yet it is the listener who must find the beat and cadence.

QUESTION: What does your name mean? Is it a reflection of who you are?

PRAYER: Lord, may the words you speak over me give me purpose and direction in this life.

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Day 21 - Issue 22

July 31, 2017

Genesis 32:26 NLT

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

I end my emails, “every blessing”. It sounds Christian and uplifting but what does it mean other than ‘the end’? Blessing is important. It offers God’s favour and protection going forward, expressing my desire that whatever my email recipient’s experience, they might discover God’s favour and protection.

As Katey and I entered the tunnel of despair, we assumed God’s favour had left us. We didn’t think we enjoyed God’s protection. As the years passed, we slowly realised God was, in fact, answering our prayers of ignorance when we’d genuinely asked for more of God in our life.

What at first felt like his punishment was part of his deeper self-revelation. I had often preached that God is in everything. So how had I lost sight of God so easily and so fast? Here I was blinded to the presence of God while all the time he was hidden in plain sight.

I chose to let go of God in my desperation over Katey’s MS diagnosis. Although I didn’t realise it, God never let go of me. As I wrestled with my circumstances in the bleakest, darkest night I’d ever known, I came to realise that I was only wrestling air and nothingness. At first I took the fight to be about God’s faithfulness. Only because I believed God must prove his faithfulness through the tangible intervention of healing. Yet, everyone healed of one thing must most certainly die of something else. I also had a fixed term across which mortality must extend, so any earlier departure was somehow a failure.

As I discovered this was about a deeper understanding of God, and I opened my eyes to the reality of eternity, only then did I encounter God’s blessing in the heat of the battle. Katey died knowing God’s favour and protection; I was able to let her go and bless her on her way. God walked with me in my grief and loneliness. We both knew God, and ourselves, better for the fight.

QUESTION: What does the blessing of God mean to you?

PRAYER: Lord, your ways are not my ways. Help me be content with your ways.

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Day 20 - Issue 22

July 28, 2017

Genesis 32:26 NLT

Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

Wrestling with God leaves its mark. Jacob walked with a limp. For me that limp is not visible externally but I carry it within. This limp is neither debilitating like a resentment nor cautionary reminding me to steer clear of God. However, I have talked with those who have fought with God and come out of the conflict angry, distrusting and suspicious of God. In such cases the wrestling is incomplete, for Jacob battled until the day was dawning. And it was God who identified that dawn was on the horizon. So the fight is always one with God at his own initiative for the benefit of my own self-awareness and understanding.

As I entered my darkness with Katey, I discovered this operated at many levels. The presenting issue was Katey’s MS and God’s apparent unwillingness to bring physical healing. Then, I realised my response to become her primary carer was as much about being seen to do the right thing as having anything to do with my abilities. My frustration and reaction to that role at times meant I reacted and made Katey’s experience worse rather than better. Who wants a carer who is more consumed with their own confusion than available to accompany me in mine? Saintly as ever, Katey didn’t complain. I also resented leaving my chosen career and had to make peace with my own selfish desire to find identity in my role within a public space. Caring is hidden from view, and very few want to hang around those handicapped with sickness and increased sadness. Isolated and incompetent, I was not a pretty sight.

I hung on in and eventually, having deconstructed much of my superficial faith, I was able to reconstruct it upon the substance of God experienced as much as God learned. As my faith came into focus once more and I recognised the reality of the surroundings as well as the purpose of my life on earth, God let me go. However, now more than ever I had a hunger and thirst for God and it was me who wanted to cling on tight. The night was over, but how might I live through the day?

QUESTION: Has fighting with God left you angry or hungry?

PRAYER: Lord, show me the light and the way.

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Day 19 - Issue 22

July 27, 2017

Genesis 32:25 NLT

'When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket.'

Walking with God leaves clear marks upon us. I was born into a faith that proclaimed that the fruit of following Jesus was love, joy and perpetual inner peace. However, while there is truth in such concepts, and indeed scripture repeatedly promises as much, the fruit is hard won by pursuing God earnestly. Certainly I imagined my life was forever sorted because I made my commitment to Christ. I wasn’t anticipating hardships, and what hardships I encountered I assumed God would take care of. Somewhat like a parent sorting out their child’s wayward behaviour out of love.

This was not to be. Entering the great battle with Katey’s MS, I initially thought God would sort it out in response to prayer and then we would travel the globe with a wonderful testimony of healing. People would respond positively to God and the kingdom would expand. This was both naïve and egocentric. Even in the beginning of the fight, here I was dreaming of promoting my own profile and ministry. I alone was the centre of my own reality; I’d have done well to recall Jacob’s battle to realise his dream.

Like Jacob I discovered after some time that I was wrestling with God and I wanted to know who God was in the context of our own disappointment and fear. My father fought throughout World War Two. From 1939 until demob in 1946 he endured the rigours of war. Three invasions, North Africa, Italy and then D-Day, he fought across Europe to Berlin. In all that time he only had seven days leave. From age 25 to 32 he was engaged in the fight of his and his nation’s life. Years he never got back, and years that left an indelible mark upon him. This is the walk of the disciple. We face challenges in our external circumstances and our character formation. We wrestle with God for fear of losing who we are and what we hold dear, only to discover that only through such a wrestling match are we able to discern who God is and appreciate our true humanity. This was Jacob’s fight and remains our fight.

QUESTION: What are you wrestling with God over?

PRAYER: Lord, give me the wisdom to yield to you.

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Day 21 - Issue 22

July 26, 2017

Genesis 32:26 NLT

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

I end my emails, “every blessing”. It sounds Christian and uplifting but what does it mean other than ‘the end’? Blessing is important. It offers God’s favour and protection going forward, expressing my desire that whatever my email recipient’s experience, they might discover God’s favour and protection.

As Katey and I entered the tunnel of despair, we assumed God’s favour had left us. We didn’t think we enjoyed God’s protection. As the years passed, we slowly realised God was, in fact, answering our prayers of ignorance when we’d genuinely asked for more of God in our life.

What at first felt like his punishment was part of his deeper self-revelation. I had often preached that God is in everything. So how had I lost sight of God so easily and so fast? Here I was blinded to the presence of God while all the time he was hidden in plain sight.

I chose to let go of God in my desperation over Katey’s MS diagnosis. Although I didn’t realise it, God never let go of me. As I wrestled with my circumstances in the bleakest, darkest night I’d ever known, I came to realise that I was only wrestling air and nothingness. At first I took the fight to be about God’s faithfulness. Only because I believed God must prove his faithfulness through the tangible intervention of healing. Yet, everyone healed of one thing must most certainly die of something else. I also had a fixed term across which mortality must extend, so any earlier departure was somehow a failure.

As I discovered this was about a deeper understanding of God, and I opened my eyes to the reality of eternity, only then did I encounter God’s blessing in the heat of the battle. Katey died knowing God’s favour and protection; I was able to let her go and bless her on her way. God walked with me in my grief and loneliness. We both knew God, and ourselves, better for the fight.

QUESTION: What does the blessing of God mean to you?

PRAYER: Lord, your ways are not my ways. Help me be content with your ways.

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