Saturday, 5 March 2016

Anniversary

I recall a meeting last January in a quaint diner called Twin Rocks in the North East Pennsylvania mountains.  It was a clear but blindingly bright day because the sunlight reflected off the snow on the ground although it was bitterly cold. I was there with Fran, she was wrapped up nice and warm, still suffering from her last bout of chemotherapy, struggling to move around and stay conscious. This restaurant had particular significance because it was there, some 13 years before, that we went on our first date as a married couple. The smell of freshly brewed coffee hung strong in the air.

We were there to meet up with our Pastor, Eric Gustafson, and have conversations about theology and the afterlife. Pastor Gustafson arrived with his usual optimistic whirlwind of positive energy. He encompasses the quintessential model of American independent Baptist theology. He lives and works by the Bible and by the most fundamental doctrine based on that. And he brought all that enthusiasm and encouragement with him that day. It was quite the opposite of the shipwrecked wife I had in front of me. While she too had very similar doctrinal beliefs, she had been through constant suffering for months. Her soul was shaken. Her strength was gone, and her coherence wasn’t always there either. I felt a sense of loss already by that point. This was no longer the strong woman that I'd known for many years as my wife, with the strength to support me and love me, and be there for me.

She was an empty shell of what she was. She needed help just moving about. She was full of anger and bitterness, but her faith remained steadfast.

I realised that while there were two very different characters in front of me, they were both packed with American idiosyncrasies, their personalities felt so alien to me I suddenly felt a wave of xenophobia and felt so entirely lost in a foreign country and I wondered what I was doing there at all.

The conversation turned to the afterlife. Pastor Gustafson talked of his encouragement and excitement about what she was going through, because his thought process is always based on divine intervention. His thoughts were always “What’s in it for God?” And he explained how this would be a great opportunity to express her faith, and to me, and how encouraging it was to him that I was able to remain so calm through such a crisis. Her response wasn’t quite as positive. He asked Fran what her concerns were, and she addressed two of them. The first, and the most important to her, understanding her pending demise was her sense of how very limited her time was. She expressed a desire for more time, to live here on earth, to, and this was of course her primary concern, be an active evangelist and being able to do work for God. It had taken me many years to understand why her first love was for God, and by that time I was completely on board with that. I think we both tried to reassure her that God would be able to carry on with His work despite her not being able to do it. I think the performance based theology that she was used to motivated her to have these concerns.

Her second concern was that she was leaving me alone. I wouldn’t be able to defend for myself. It was quite a reasonable concern given my confidence and personality at the time. And it was definitely quite a struggle to adjust to life without her, especially with her family.  Essentially her prayer was that I would not be alone. Looking back on that I realise that her prayers were heard, and it’s as much her prayers for me and my life without her that puts me where I am today, in a relationship with Gill, on the verge of getting married, as it was prayers for Gill to find someone for her to be married to.

So I thank God for His answer to prayer.

Today I go and perform my final task as a husband to Fran. I’m traveling to the sea to scatter her ashes. Those that I have at least. The other half I left in America per her request to be scattered on that both sides of the Atlantic. I have no idea what’s happened to them. But that isn't my responsibility. As they are only bodily remains it isn't as important as knowing where she is spiritually now.

With Jesus.

Gill will be going with me, as her good friend too it's only right for her to go. And I'll be the patriarch of a family again. A position I need to be in. Even if it is a family of two, a dog, a cat and a hamster.

I look forward to this new adventure in my life. I realise I'm a very different person than I was a year ago, and I'm all the better for it. I wonder what I have in store for me over the next few years, but whatever happens I know I'm blessed abundantly to have had the life I've had and the life I do today.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

God's Arms

I was posed a question recently in conversation on how somebody can determine if someone is truly inspired by God and it isn't just an a desire of one's own heart. It's a difficult thing to quantify for a few reasons. The first being it isn't on a metaphysical level that easy to determine what you as an individual actually is. The emotive complexity of a human spirit and holy spirit in the unity of a born again soul means it isn't entirely clear where you as an individual ends and God begins. Indeed the way this complexity manifests itself is entirely psychological which brings a certain lack of credibility to the entire theology, but at the same time it makes it entirely wonderful in its simplicity. I sometimes wonder if God designed it that way to drive those that spend their time obsessing over the validity of those that claim to know Christ insane, simply to reinforce that isn't really our job.

Of course one can say that the nature of the desire can be a good indicator, but that isn't necessarily the case. A missions trip to a spiritually barren destination may sound divinely inspired, or it may be just a desire to enjoy a holiday at a tropical destination.

From what I can tell the only way to be sure of the nature of one's desires is in hindsight. When one's only explanation is that God’s hand must have been in it, and that it was incredible, and miraculous that these events took place that. It must be divine intervention. It is His providence that is the proof of His calling.

A lot of the time when discussing these complex events we say God’s hands are in it. While I understand it as metaphorical I do often think it's the wrong metaphor. By the nature of the Holy Spirit being within us as born again Christians WE - the church - are God’s hands. We have to grip onto His callings with our will. The real miracles come not from metaphorical hands, but from metaphorical arms. We may grip onto His will but He does the heavy lifting. And when He flexes those divine biceps it really is wonderful to see.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Relationships

We don't half get worked up about life and death as if we really understand the concepts. We run about like little children obsessed with keeping our frail little bodies going at whatever the cost. Desperately seeking medical science to extend the biological mechanisms of the cursed world we live in. Even the most devout followers of Christ pray repeatedly for healing miracles when our bodies start to fail, determined to cling on the flickering flame of our brief existence in this reality. After all our bodies are our only connection to the temporal aspect of God’s beautiful creation.

While I was in America my Pastor there was constantly preaching to us that we should look at the eternal, not at the temporal. He clearly practiced what he preached. The harsh fact is, no matter what we do our bodies will fail eventually, it is part of the truth of our existence. Furthermore, our relationships, all of them here on earth are finite. They will all end. Of course that is not to say that they are not worth pursuing, and that they are not wonderful in the time that they exist, but they are all temporary. There is only one eternal relationship that any human spirit can have, and that is with God. He showed me in the harshest way possible that my biggest fear, that is the end of my marriage was something that was inevitable, indeed the vows made in marriage are just that, until death.

God in His infinite grace has taken her to be with Him. If my concern is making sure that she is cared for He is doing a much better job than I ever could. If my concern is making sure that her concern for me is invalid then I realistically have to pursue my own happiness without her.

God has granted me the miracle of another wonderful woman in my life. Gill has many similar qualities that my Fran had, but is also very different. She is kind hearted and loving. She is gentle and humble. She is quiet yet confident. She is funny and talented. Her love of animals exemplifies the state of her heart. I have never been more comfortable to be around anyone in my life. In the short time that we have been courting I have described her as my gem, not just because they are her initials but because she reminds me so much of Proverbs 31. Proverbs 31, written as a Hebrew acrostic poem, describes the character of the most desirable wife as being more precious than rubies. The fellowship that we share has made the time we share together all the more precious and seem significantly longer than it actually is. It feels like we have been together for many years instead of a few short months. It is difficult to be apart, and always exciting and wonderful to be together. In all of this however I completely trust God in whatever happens. I know that whatever happens in my relationship with Gill I have an eternal relationship with God because of Christ’s victory over sin for us and therefore hope to live once again in the reflection of the Godhead in marriage.

I am so thankful for God’s blessings in my life.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

The man behind the preacher.

Church exploring is an interesting adventure. In all the churches I’ve ever been to however, there’s always been one individual there.

Have you seen him?

He’s in every single service. He’s almost all of the time happy and overjoyed and excited to be there. In fact he’s almost always making such a racket that you can’t hear anything else.

Every time there is a sermon on trying harder he is laughing with glee.
Every time there is a sermon about showing your fruit as a Christian he is grinning from ear to ear.
Every time there is a sermon about tithing or being selfish with money he’s opening his wallet with excitement and waving it about.
Every time there is a sermon about feeling instead of living in righteousness he is getting drunk on the fumes of a watered down gospel.
Every time there is a sermon about making daily devotionals and getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning to read your Bible he’s winding up his alarm clock with a loud click.
Every time there is a sermon where the Bible isn’t even opened he’s scribbling down notes with enthusiasm.
Every time there is a sermon where sin is put to the side he’s licking his lips with anticipation.

He is there for every sigh, every mumbled verse of worship, every dutiful shirt and tie, every sacrificial offering, every tear, every breath of despair, every defeated and downtrodden soul.

I want to be in a church where he is the one sighing. He is the one mumbling to himself. He is the one tutting. He is the one crying. He is the one living in despair. Unlike most of the services I go to where that appears to be the case for the majority of the congregation.

If you want to know the effectiveness of the edification of the church look at the man standing behind the preacher. He’ll show you what the church is really like.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Birthday

Today would have been Frances’ 33rd birthday. It’s a shame she can’t be here to enjoy it. Some of us here are celebrating your birthday in her stead. I for one treasure the memories of the many birthdays we had together as a married couple. The other day I found the box of all the greeting cards we sent to each other that she kept for us. I’ll add it to all shrine I have set up for her here in her memory. Unfortunately I cannot afford a golden calf so the Mr and Mrs Potato head will have to do.

I feel I have think of her now as my sister-in-Christ, because that is what she is now. Our vows of marriage were never broken, but have now come an end with their natural conclusion. I thank God again for the 13 years I was blessed to be married to her but now God has allowed me a new relationship. Our family, what there was of it, is gone, but now I have been given the opportunity to start a new family again. God is calling me to be a patriarch again, and I cannot ignore His calling.

It really comes down to a choice. Do I chose to live in despair, and bitterness and resentment or do I chose to live in love? A grown man really has no place living with parents. I have to be that sort of man again. That godly man that you constantly referred to as a ‘good man’. “This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” Genesis 2:24 (NLT)

I recall the conversation we had with Pastor Gustafson about the selfishness I considered I’d have in my own personal grief, and while in his empathy he was adamant that it wasn’t selfish my stance hasn’t changed. Not the least of which is because I know full well that I will see her again. At the most I’m likely to be apart from her for no more than 40 years, which in the scheme of things is a very short space of time. And while her body is gone, and our marriage is over the most important aspect of our relationship will remain, that of being my best friend. Now that I have a new best friend, I am certain that I will always have a place for her in my heart.

There are those that have claimed that I am acting in an adulterous way of which of course I’m not, or that I am denial, but it seems to me that they, while they may claim to believe in Jesus Christ as their saviour are themselves denying the reality of everlasting life through His salvation. In that reality there is no need to live in despair, or fear, or hopelessness. I really should have heeded the warning established in Paul’s second letter to Corinth. "Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?" 2 Corinthians 6:14 (NLT)

I feel like I am Job establishing his life after going through terrible loss.“New honours are constantly bestowed on me, and my strength is continually renewed.” Job 29:20 (NLT)  I felt like I was like Jonah, being ordered to Nineveh, but I now I realise I was in Nineveh all along and now I’m back home.

Born again Christians have a very different perspective on death than the unsaved. There is no certainty in death without Christ as your saviour. The last day I left Paradise Valley Baptist Church my pastor there said to me, “Shalom” instead of “Goodbye”. He explained to me, that our Jewish cousins may use that word. It means a lot more than just “Hello” or “Goodbye”. It also means peace, harmony, completeness, prosperity, and welfare. He used that term, because even though He knew full well that there was a good possibility that we’d never see each other again in this life, we would definitely see each other in the Kingdom of Heaven. Having that certainty gives you real peace and joy that is beyond the understanding of the lost. It means that losing someone that is saved means you will only ever be temporarily apart. You’ll be reunited again. In my experience the sting of separation is significantly more short lived when you know it’s only ever temporary.  There is nothing quite like knowing His peace, and His security in His joy. Even in the worst of circumstances, knowing that He is there for you is always comforting.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Anger

I fail to understand why so many people are so angry at my wife's death. I'm not sure even capable of feeling anger since I've become born again. Paul tells us to rid ourselves of anger when he wrote to the early Colossi Christians. My point is it's not foreign theologically for born again believers to feel anger. I just don't. And I wonder why I don't. But then what is there to be angry about?

I see all these news reports of Christians being beheaded in the middle east and I think, why am I not angry? Because I look on the eternal perspective. These executions from a worldly perspective are horrific, loved ones lives are being prematurely ended at the hands of sinful false religion.

But from an eternal perspective it's the opposite. These martyrs that are persecuted for proclaiming Christ are attending a  graduation ceremony. They are ascending to heaven to be with the Father in eternal glory. From the eternal perspective our compassion should be just as much for the executioners as the families that they are destroying. Their souls will suffer the consequences of living a life with hatred for Christ. It is them we should concentrate our prayers on. They are the lost sheep that have been given false hope in their murderous sinful lives.

And it is no different for their atheists.

I remember being angry at Christianity. I remember believing that these crazy delusional idiots were really offensive in their stance on death. Believing that people don't die, that they aren't really gone when they really are. That their lives, their influence, their memories, their potential to love everything they are ends at the point when their heart stops. I remember the despair and helpless futility of death even at the age of 12. But in Christ the exact opposite is true. There is hope in death because Jesus Christ has overwhelmingly secured victory over it.

My wife attended her graduation ceremony in March.

I was there with all her siblings. I felt despair. I felt loss. I felt guilt.

But I certainly didn't feel anger.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Be Like Christ

While I have been pondering the realm of God, the nature of sin and trying to wrap my head around Calvisnism, which I don’t fully understand, I do understand what God’s personality is. Jesus Christ is the personification of God, that it is to say we can understand God’s character by the way in which Jesus acted in His time here on earth. As Born Again Christians we are called to follow that character. Through the influence of the Holy Spirit when we are born again we are motivated to being a likeness to that character. When I first understood this, I thought how ridiculous this notion was. How can I be like Jesus? I can’t turn water to wine. I can’t walk on water. I can’t control the weather. I can’t heal the sick. I can’t bring the dead back to life. I can’t atone for all of humanity's sin by being sacrificed on a cross. And while I’m not entirely against the idea that the Holy Spirit can give us some supernatural abilities at times it seemed entirely ridiculous that I should follow Him like that. But I was merely describing His actions. His greatest commandment is based on His character. Jesus told us that the greatest commandment was to show love. To Him, To God, To Ourselves, and in the same measure to each other. He was very clear when He said He came to serve, not to be served, we are to follow that character too. In following Him we are called to serve others, no matter what their views. In fact, He was also clear that the service of the most needy, in need of food, and clothing, and shelter, we are serving God directly. He also told us He came to the world, not to judge the world, but to save the world. We too, must inherently not judge, that is definitely not our job as believers. Jesus never condemned anyone for their sin. His great commission was to spread the good news of the gospel. He told people to sin no more and turn to Him. The methodology of that is entirely up for debate of course, but that is the message we need to spread. In fact, the only time Jesus ever condemns anyone, apart from a fig tree, is when the religious elite are acting exactly the opposite in the way He tells us to. When they live by the piousness of their own actions and the proclaim constant condemnation of Him and His disciples for not following the right religious rules. We should rebuke those that judge and condemn others for not following their own religious rules. If we are not spreading the Good News with love then we are entirely working against the message of the gospel. We should weep for the lack of faith in Him like He did. And the only time He ever got angry was when they turned their places of worship into market places. We should, in the same vein turn over tables and chase out the corruption of commercialised religiosity. Those multi millionaire profit making charlatans not only give Christianity a bad name, but they are a direct abuse of the ordination of church. And the fact that they use His name for their corruption will make no difference when they come to Him. He will say to get away from Him, because He never knew them.