Tag Archive: love


The stars have dimmed

The stars have dimmed.

 

The keepers of the house,

formerly formidable in dexterity

and deft in independence,

now tremble.

Bested by silver spoons and forks.

 

The stonemasons and grinders

are troubled by spelt bread and marmalade;

The watchmen at the windows

find the familiar now foreign and indiscernible.

The maids eavesdropping at the door

are frustrated, forced to lip-read instead.

 

The stars have dimmed.

But they still twinkle.

Twinkling with the knowledge

of that which is to come.

Of he who is to come.

 

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3.11

We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 1 Corinthians 15.51-52

If I can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. Love never fails. But where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 1 Corinthians 13.2

Physics

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

(12th Chapter of the Gospel according to the apostle John)

I did physics for a while. I quite enjoyed it, truth be told. I wasn’t very good, though. Why? Well. I sat next to the smartest guys in the class at the back of the room. You would think that would be conducive to effective learning/leeching. Unfortunately, these guys were the UBER nerd type, who could afford to not be focused the whole time. They were also pretty much the funniest guys in the world. The result was that I spent most of my physics classes laughing hysterically at the jokes the boys would mutter back and forth. A brilliant time. Unfortunately, it meant that I didn’t take class that seriously. I also rarely did my homework. Not deliberately. I just never seemed to get around to it.

In any case, the point of this diatribe is to say that the only thing of use I’ve extracted from that time (apart from a lot of fun, laughter, and the foundation for enduring friendships), was a vague memory of Newton’s Laws of Physics.

Namely, the third one: That every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

I have tutoring in 4 minutes, so to cut straight to the chase:

It makes no sense to be lukewarm about the gracious expression of love and mercy God has shown us through Jesus Christ.

If grace enters a heart, surely it can’t help but cause a reaction that is proportionate to the weight of the grace that has entered the heart and displaced what once resided there? How does it make sense to be calculating and measured about how much grace or love or mercy I show others?

Mary’s actions were not financially sensible. They were, however, an extravagant reaction to an extravagant action. I think that if someone raised my brother from the dead, I wouldn’t be cautious or calculating in expressing my thanks and joy and delight. The reality is that we ourselves have been raised from death; we who were dead in sin, unresponsive to God, and far away, have been given new hearts, regenerated hearts that are responsive to God, and a new life, characterised by the living hope secured by Jesus’ resurrection.

When we have been shown extravagant love, the grace of that experience enters our hearts, brings us to life, transforms us, and overflows into a desire to love back. And not just to love back with a sense of duty or sensible, measured frugality. To love back with extravagance.

 

 

 

[Subsequent Edit/Qualifications/Elaborations]

It’s not a matter of ‘should’; it’s not that grace obliges you to act proportionately. Because that’s not grace, right? That’s still you working to earn what was already freely given to you. No. It is the natural effect of grace. It’s the fruit of grace. Just as the healthy function of an apple tree is to produce apples (it’s not obliged to; it just DOES), so too the healthy and natural function of a heart regenerated by grace to follow Jesus is to produce the fruit of grace.

Those who follow Jesus do things that look like Jesus. It’s not that followers of Jesus ought to. It’s more that, if they don’t, then aren’t they detouring from the path that Jesus took? Like Dallas Willard said, it’s the things you DO that reveal what you actually believe, not the things you say you believe.

To qualify: for sure – EVERY follower of Jesus is inconsistent. Unequivocally. We will bear fruit that looks nothing like Him, sometimes. But that is evidence of an unhealthy tree.

Furthermore, the fuel for bearing fruit isn’t your own effort. You don’t look more like Jesus by trying harder to live like Him. It’s impossible, and will only leave you frustrated, and in bitter self-condemnation. You become more like Jesus when His Spirit reclaims more and more of your heart, and grace takes hold. That is not passive. You have to lean into what He is doing, you have to yoke yourself to Him, you have to abide in Jesus. But He is the one who grows the fruit.

So when I talk about how God’s action of grace towards us “needs” to produce an “equally” extravagant reaction, let me make two clarifications. Firstly, it’s not so much a mandate or a prescription, as a description. God’s action of grace WILL produce a reaction in us. It’s not about you trying harder to manufacture an appropriate reaction. It’s about His Spirit working the reaction in you, and you leaning into that work. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. Secondly, our reaction can never be “equally” proportionate to what He has done for us. But’s that OK. It’s not like grace is a debt we’ve incurred and need to pay back through our reaction. Maybe what I mean to say is that it’s not about quantity, as it is about quality. A reaction to extravagant grace ought to be stamped with the character of extravagance; extravagance derived not from obligation or our own resources, but extravagance which is derived from the GRACE which gave birth to it. It is stamped with the DNA of radical love, it has a quality of recklessness and self-disregard. This will look different in different people’s lives; different people have different capacities. I need to be careful when comparing my reaction to Jesus with other people’s. Yes, there needs to be a degree of commonality; the Scriptures say what the fruit of the Spirit look like. Jesus tells us what following Him will look like, in part;  loving God, loving people, denying self, suffering for His sake, not chasing after the things of this world… But there’s a difference between “fruit inspecting” and being condescending.

I feel that there is a danger in circles of Christians who are on fire for social justice to be condescending towards other Christians who aren’t on fire for social justice. To think that they aren’t being radical disciples. I know because, shamefully, I am often one of them. Maybe there is some truth in thinking that if they’re not on board with God’s purposes to bring restoration to all creation, then they’re missing something. But, hey; we’re all missing something when it comes to God, aren’t we? I know I’m missing several things. But if they’re not missing Jesus, they can still be faithfully, if inconsistently, following Jesus. “But they don’t get what He was on about!!”

Neither did the disciples, and they shared life with Jesus every day for three years. They didn’t get what the “Kingdom of God”/ “reign of God” was about, probably not until the Spirit illuminated their hearts.

What I’m trying to say, in a very longwinded manner, is that we cannot look down on our brothers and sisters who are not zealous for the same things we are. It is only by God’s grace that we have had this reaction stirred up in us to fight against injustice. There is no room for condescension. More than that, we are to in humility consider them BETTER than ourselves! (Phil 2:3)

This is massive for me. I struggle with it hardcore. But I trust that when I fall to my knees, lift my prideful heart to Him and cry for help, that He will move into action. And that his work of renovation in my heart will cause a reaction in my life that will not just enable me to be extravagant in the way I live, but it will enable me to be extravagant in the way I love, particularly those who don’t get the things that I am passionate about.

It’s a pretty big decision.

The classical numbers? Or modern? Pop rock? Will the grandparents be cool with that? ‘Hold Onto Hope Love’ by Amy Stroup? ‘The River’ by Anathallo? To cut or not to cut? Brooke’s ‘Love is Waiting‘? Or do the ‘baby’s kind of cheapen the vibe? Lyrics or instrumental? Slow or fast tempo?

Let’s be honest: the song choice for the wedding processional is a pretty big call.

I’ve been to my fair share of weddings; I was singing at one this morning for one of my dearest sisters from church, incidentally. I usen’t to think about weddings much at all, but the more weddings I witness, the more I find opinions forming in my subconscious.

And, you see, I’ve been listening to a friend’s EP a lot recently, and something my brother said a few months back came to mind:

“I want all of these songs played at my wedding!”

GC himself. Oozing introspective reflectiveness like a boss.

Granted, Andrew has a bit of a mancrush on Greg (Greg is really my brother’s friend; as my bro points out, I have a tendency to try to steal his friends), and he played on the EP, so has a bit of an attachment to the songs.

That said, I think he is totally right. And I’m going to tell anyone who will listen why I love the title track ‘Held back the sun’ by Greg Cooper. Talking about music is like dancing about architecture. But it’s worth a try, right?

Here are some of the lyrics:

Could I love you like the morning loves the sun?

Could I hold to you like a bullet in a gun?

Could I protect you like a banker and his fee?

Could I respect you like the surfer and the sea?


We have held back the sun for so long, for so long

Now its way will be done, will be done, will be done

Help me now

Help me now


Would I engage with you like a good film just begun?

Would I fight for you like a soldier at the Somme?

Would I race to you like to an amber traffic light?

Would I wait for you like a stockman’s horse by night?


You’re not yourself

You never were

I never saw your heart at all

I’m not myself

I never was

I never saw my heart at all

Help me now

Help me now


Part of what I love about it is that its simplicity gives each instrument such a clear voice. It feels familiar. You instantly feel at ease and comfortable with Greg’s voice, which, coupled with the sincerity of the lyrics, inclines you towards trusting him.

There’s a degree of humility to the whole song, in that he’s not gushing about painfully contrived ‘love’ or even lovesickness or unrequited love. The similes reframe these kinds of sentiments in a way that is remarkably refreshing, weaving grit and warmth, binding them together with an uncertainty (they are questions, not soppy assertions) that culminates in a cry for help in the whole thing.

And in the midst of all the unrealistic and vacuous songs about love that we wade through in the musical landscape, I am profoundly appreciative of a song that doesn’t baulk from that soppyness into a reactive cynicism, but reclaims the depth of sentiment whilst retaining one foot firmly in the wistfulness of reality, the stark solemness of reality.

And that is matched by the humble simplicity of the music. It’s not pretentious, it’s not trying to hype itself up as a softly-whispered romantic song, and that’s what I’m really drawn to.

It has melancholic undertones that speak of the painful beauty that is relationship.

I don’t actually know what Greg means by this song, just to clarify [Disclaimer]. Part of the intimacy of the bond you feel with the song is born of an authenticity that can only come from very personal experiences, no doubt. And they should remain that way. But although those experiences will remain inaccessible to the listener, their artistic derivatives are still available to having meaning attached to them by the listener’s own experiences. Which I think is great; the communal aspect of music.

There are so many things I love about this song. But I’m going to write a few more down, because that’s what I do at 1am these days, it would seem.

The steady pulse of the chord progression has a momentum that lends the song an anchored and secure feel. The build has a clarity and definition to it; it is so controlled by that underlying pulse. It seems to embody this tension between the cry of the whole self as it wrestles with the mystery that is personhood and relationship (gosh that sounds highfalutin, but it really is what I mean!), and the defensive reflex to contain emotion out of fear of the vulnerability of being known. I just love that the bridge is such an intensely raw moment for the vocals, yet it is still reigned in, ever so slightly, by that same steady pulse.

I love that the bridge opens up a side to relationship that is not neat at all. And even more so that it isn’t resolved. There are no contrived answers. It’s just a song with deeply held desires, and a deeply fractured capacity to realise those desires on one’s own.

So much music these days is so stuffed full that it feels a bit cluttered and frenetic. So I appreciate the genius it is to create something beautiful with just a simple few hues of colour. It gives you the space to see each colour far more clearly, and it gives the colours the space to speak their part more fully. Whilst I love the vibrancy and explosion of energy that comes from bands with 5 guitars and are encumbered by expanding wind sections etc etc, I have found it an unexpectedly settling experience listening to this album.

In short, it’s not a glossy song. It’s pretty real. It has shades of the messyness we all know. But the acknowledgment of those shades makes them seem more tolerable. And it makes me feel more OK with them, to know that someone else gets it, too.

Pretty much, get the album. It costs less than one meal eating out. Which is scandalous. But exploit its cheapness!

You won’t regret it.

Holy Rage

Tonight, about 300 people came together to hear Shane Claiborne and a few others speak about ‘Prayer that changes the world’.

A few things that stuck:

When the disciples presented Jesus with the situation of thousands of hungry people, Jesus threw the implicit question back on the disciples. ‘You feed them!’ They bring what little resources they could muster (a few loaves of bread and a few fish), hand it over to Him, and then Jesus used that to do things that were disproportionate to their efforts. We need to put flesh on our prayers by being a people who not only ask for help, starting from a position of spiritual bankruptcy, and acknowledging that we can do nothing apart from Him – but a people who get up off our knees, and do something. Do something, muster whatever resources we can – and then present our efforts to Him, however meager, and ask Him to do something with them that is totally disproportionate to what we have done.

The best way to mobilise a community of believers to live lives of radical love is to live it out. It’s compelling, it’s fascinating – and it’s contagious. Rather than waiting for consensus to emerge in your church community about loving the marginalised and the needy, why not just start living that out with a small group?

I want to be fueled by grace, by His abounding and overflowing love, to live and love recklessly. Reckless to my own comfort and convenience and schedule and plans. I want to have an unceasing holy rage that is never OK with just sitting by and watching.

Just another word

Today I spent the morning with a friend who is no longer at uni. I have missed her dearly.

There was a stillness about her. A stability, a centredness, a quiet contentment that has a smile tucked in the corners of its frame.

“He has a commitment to my heart.”

Her boy has shown her what it is to be loved by someone who is not phased or impressed by her external attributes, by her erratic words, by her irrational behaviour, by her inconsistencies and irritating traits, by her abilities, by her weight, by her clothes. He loves her, not these external things. He is committed to her heart.

We thought that relationship is the most powerful way that God can communicate to us what He means when He says that He is love, and that He delights over us. That His love is an anchor that goes deep beneath the rough surface of the waves, deep down into our self, to a still place underwater, where our sense of self is firmly secured in the seabed. Unmovable, unchanged by our behaviour, our words, our inconsistencies. Constant.

There’s a freedom in that that I really want to know more than I do.

Leah

As I brushed my teeth this evening, I began to turn over some of the thoughts that had made their way into my head this week. Including something that Tim Keller had said about Leah, Jacob’s first wife, in a sermon I listened to whilst I was at the gym. It was very early, and I didn’t take note of it (kind of hard to on the cross-trainer), so don’t quote me, but it was generally about how just as Jacob had fixed his hopes for happiness and validation on Rachel, so had Leah pinned hers on the requited love of Jacob. The author paints this painfully tragic marriage in which Jacob only has eyes, only has ears, and only has a heart for Rachel. Leah bears child after child after child, desperately clinging to the hope that the next child will secure the love and attention of her husband. It never does. It’s a devastating set of circumstances.

But when God saw that Leah was not loved, to paraphrase Genesis 29:31, God loved her. He gave her children, and one of those children would go on to have their own children, who would have their own children, and so the line of Abraham would continue until a baby name Yeshu was born to a teenage girl under dubious circumstances.

It isn’t Leah immediate reaction, but by the time she has her fourth child, she has moved away from the misery and self-pity of her desperate longing for the love of Jacob, and says, with something like resignation, ‘This time I will praise the Lord’. I don’t know that it’s true, but when I read this story, I imagine a wave of freedom flooding Leah’s heart. No longer is her heart aching with the cavernous emptiness of Jacob’s indifference to her; she has eyes to dwell in the approval and affection of the One her heart was made to delight in foremost.

The second thing that I was thinking about, this time as I tidied my room a bit, was about this phrase Keller used in speaking about how Jacob went to bed with who he thought was the beautiful object of his heart, Rachel, only to wake up and find it was Leah. First of all, WOW would that have been an awkward morning; I can’t even imagine how crippling the anxiety would have been for Leah. She participated in this deceit; but, indeed, it was in a similar fashion that Jacob had deceived his own father to procure the deathbed blessing intended for the firstborn.

“We always wake up with Leah.”

No matter how much we pin our expectations on a new relationship, degree, job, country, diet or outfit to make us feel better, we always ‘go to bed with them’, esteeming them as the Rachels of our life, held on a glossy pedestal; only to wake up the next morning to find that what we thought was the Rachel who would make everything better, is in fact the painfully ordinary Leah.

Let me be clear: I am terribly prone to idealising men romantically. On the way to the beach last night we were talking about how strangers can seem so perfectly RIGHT for you, until you hang out with them and realise that they are just normal people, with flaws and irritating mannerisms or ways of thinking that jar with your own. As Sufjan says,

Or so I’ve come to realize life is not about
Love with someone (ordinary people are everywhere)
Extraordinary people are, ordinary people are, ordinary people are
Everywhere you look, everywhere you turn’.

(‘I want to be well’, Sufjan Stevens)

Expectations, ill-placed, can embitter a heart and cripple your capacity to love with abandon. Partly, I think, because you feel let down by the object of your expectations or affections when they don’t deliver. People are beautiful. Goodness, yes, they are! But when you place on another person, or a job, or anything, the weight of an expectation that they will deliver what your heart was designed to receive from God, I think you can crush the relationship itself with an intolerable burden. Maybe you’ll disagree.

A few of my friends have been getting married, and one of my closer friends recently got engaged. Another friend from the same group at school couldn’t get his head around this. “Are they crazy?! How can they seriously think that they KNOW they can do life with one another for the rest of their lives? They haven’t even lived together!”

I get that fear. Heck, I am the biggest relationship-phobe of them all!

But I don’t think that attitude works. Because it’s based on the premise that there is such a thing as a person with whom you’re going to be, if not perfectly, then very compatible with.

I don’t think marriage is about that. Not that I am an expert on marriage in the least, but I think that if you go into the whole marriage thing expecting that your spouse is going to be a Rachel, a stunningly beautiful and perfectly compatible partner, then your world is going to be shaken when you wake up with Leah. Ordinary, inconsistent, frustrating Leah.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally realise and definitely acknowledge that some people get along way better than others. I’m not talking about that kind of compatibility. I doubt you’d be dating someone in the first place unless you were compatible! But the whole living together before you get married, try before you buy, thing doesn’t seem wholly convincing to me. “They might have intolerably frustrating habits!”

If they are a human, then they DEFINITELY will.

I’m not going to labour this point any more, because to be honest, I haven’t really thought it through more than 2 minutes whilst changing my bed. But I think that there is no such thing as a person with whom you will be perfectly compatible. I think part of the point of marriage IS that there are disputes and disappointments and frustrations, and that you stick it out throughout all that. And that that is what refines you; that is what refines your relationship. It will take work, totally. It will be scary, and maybe even lonely sometimes, not feeling known by your own spouse. But when your identity isn’t wholly tied up in your spouse, or the expectations of their affection for and affirmation of you, you can endure the buffets of those uncertainties. Because you can be confident that the steadfast love of the One who made you, and delights in you, holds you securely.

That is freedom.