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Losing my Religion

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NightWieselWhile thinking about the Auschwitz memorial last week I read the moving story of one of the inmates, Elie Wiesel, who wrote about his experiences in his book “Night.”

Because of the terrible persecution and massacre, Elie found himself losing his cherished faith in God. At Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, he was unable to bless the Lord, finding only words of execration in his tragic inner conflict.

“Blessed be God’s name? Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fibre in me rebelled. Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? Because He kept six crematoria working day and night, including Sabbath and the Holy Days? Because in His great might, He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many other factories of death? How could I say to Him: Blessed be Thou, Almighty, Master of the Universe, who chose us among all nations to be tortured day and night, to watch as our fathers, our mothers, our brothers end up in the furnaces? …But now, I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong. I was the accuser, God the accused. My eyes had opened and I was alone, terribly alone in a world without God, without man. Without love or mercy.”

This isn’t the intellectual atheism that comes from science and psychology – inevitably relying on its own fiduciary framework, but the bitter cry of the believer trying to salvage a faith that is being shipwrecked on the rocks of incalculable suffering.

Perhaps Christ himself battled with the same agony when he cried out:

“My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”

This strident cry, owned by millions over the years, still questions the goodness of God in a world where there is both personal and universal suffering. Some noble fellows, like Elie, prefer to choose atheism – or agnosticism, in a brave effort to exonerate God from the responsibility of being a despot!

Every generation is confronted with the basic question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil – a question which the thinker Leibnitz framed in the term “Theodicy”. Is it possible to answer both of the following questions in the affirmative?

Is God good?
Is God all powerful?

For Wiesel, an affirmation of God’s power was in contradiction to an affirmation of his goodness. Why didn’t the all powerful God step in and change things if he really is good?

I remember hearing a young Rwandan lady testifying. She hid behind a large chair while Hutu rebels invaded her home and began to massacre her Tutsi family. She watched them raise the blade of a machete over her beloved father and brother. She said how hard she had prayed at that moment, asking God for help and divine intervention. In spite of her prayer, the deadly blade still drew blood and killed.

“It was at that moment that I lost my faith,” she continued.

Is it possible to still affirm God’s goodness in the face such apparent contradictions?

The Biblical Patriarch Job faced the same contradictions in his own life. Why had he, a just man, been so painfully afflicted and suffered such unbearable loss? In his struggle for understanding – and it always is a struggle, he refuses to compromise on God’s goodness.

“Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised. In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job 1:21-22

Never sin by compromising God’s essential character of love! Always begin your answer to the theodicy question with a relationship, with intimacy, with total affirmation of God’s goodness. Begin with the person before the power. This is the tragedy of Wiesel – having begun with affirmation God’s omnipotence he finds his faith overcome by the inability to equally affirm his goodness in the midst of such horror.

Convinced of God’s immutable love, we can now dare to consider the question of his power. Let God himself answer the question. The apostle Paul was faced with dreadful suffering from a satanic messenger. In spite of his earnest prayers and upright life he found no relief. In despair he cried to God and heard the Lord answer him.

“But he said to me. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…”  2 Corinthians 12:9

We need to reframe our idea of power. True omnipotence has vulnerability at its heart. The apostle John, weeping at the tragedy of world history, received a paradigm shift on power when he had a vision of the Sovereign throne of heaven.

“Then one of the elders said to me, Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals. Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” Revelation 5:5-6

Lions and thrones – the things of power, and yet at the heart of all that is a little, suffering lamb –“Slain from the foundation of the world.”lamb

We cannot simply affirm a pagan, totalitarian power to God. His power often seems totally defeated by evil, only to rise again in the perfect sevenfold strength of resurrection.

Paul, still painfully pierced by his thorn, also understood such a radical concept of God’s power which passes through a cross.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Many have asked the very legitimate questions of why it is necessary to “rejoice in weakness.” No easy answers here. Suffering is always shrouded in a certain mystery. However, here are some thoughts?

My first advice is to always resist suffering in all its forms. Paul prayed three times! Don’t seek it out. There are basically three approaches.

Resist – A huge amount of suffering is a direct result of Satan’s attack on the human race. God has sown good seed but evil seeds are also sown in the middle of the night.

“An enemy did this!” Matthew 13:28

Before having the knee jerk reaction of blaming God, it might be worthwhile considering that there may well be an evil adversary at the origin of such suffering.

Linked to this, is the notion of suffering as a consequence of our own wrong decisions, sins and errors. The Apostle Peter speaks about this.

“But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” 1 Peter 2:20

“If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” 1 Peter 4:15-16

Don’t blame God for the consequences of your own bad choices. Resist the enemy and he will flee from you. Turn away from your sins so that times of refreshing may come upon you.Hiding Place

Grow – St Irenaeus saw suffering as a necessary part of “soul making.” The simple, sin stained clay of Adam is destined to sit with Christ on a throne alongside God. When suffering comes it can purge us of human dross and transform us to Christ’s image.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6-7

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5

Purpose – Corrie Ten Boon, The famous Dutch author of “The Hiding Place” – which recounts her ordeal in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, saw suffering in life as two sides of a tapestry. Sometimes we only see the ragged, incomprehensible, disordered strands from our side. However, on the other side there is a beautiful tapestry woven in heaven. This is her famous poem which brough her comfort in the horrors of the camp.

“Life is but a Weaving” (the Tapestry Poem)
My life is but a weaving
Between the Lord and me;
I may not choose the colours–
He knows what they should be.
For He can view the pattern
Upon the upper side
While I can see it only
On this, the under side.
Sometimes He weaves in sorrow,
Which seems so strange to me;
But I will trust His judgment
And work on faithfully.
‘Tis He who fills the shuttle,
And He knows what is best;
So I shall weave in earnest,
And leave to Him the rest.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needed
In the Weaver’s skilful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.

TenBoomTapersteryThere is a sense of some divine plan, some redemptive suffering, some purpose behind it all.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Suffering will always cause various emotions to rise up in our hearts. Let’s call them the tree “R’s”

Rebellion – This is the most natural emotion. It is important to give it space to come out, but do not let it take root.

Resignation – When you realise that you can’t actually change some things a certain stoic fatalism can set in. This is better than rebellion but must never be our final destination.

Resurrection Hope – This is the place of glorious victory – the place where the dry bones live again (Ezekiel 37:1-10), where a devastated Marie Magdalene hears her name (John 20:16) and where the world finds hope.

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:19-20

God was not entirely lost to Elie Wiesel. During the hanging of a child, which the camp was forced to watch, he heard someone, outraged by the cruel spectacle, ask:

“Where is God? Where is he?”

Not heavy enough for the weight of his body to break his neck, the boy died slowly. Wiesel filed past him, seeing his tongue still pink and his eyes clear.

“Behind me, I heard the same man asking: Where is God now?
And I heard a voice within me answer him:
Here He is – He is hanging here on this gallows.”

We end with a paradox. Is God hanging dead in the Nietzschean sense – overcome, vanquished by horror? Or is he hanging with us in our deepest sufferings, identifying fully with our pain as the little slain lamb and leading us to the hope of resurrection?

Embrace, Create, Destroy – The Three Powers of the Kingdom

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Big Cover EmbraceEmbrace – Create – Destroy

“Panga Wenam”
The Three Powers of the Kingdom
One Song,
Three words,
Three prayers and
Three actions!

Panga Wenam!

The sun was beating down mercilessly on the rusting corrugated roof of the small church as folk gathered in Ouagadougou for their Sunday worship. Gleaming black faces shone with expectancy as the drums began to beat out a Holy rhythm. Hips began to sway; hands began to clap and, amid the twirling colour and noise, a bit of heaven began to invade this African earth.

“Panga Wenam, Panga Wenam, Panga Wenam, Panga! Panga!! Panga!!! Wenam Hallélujah”  

Caught up in the crescendo of faith filled words, which ran on and on in delightful repetitions, I found a deep inner strengthening as I sang. It was as if the heat had melted some liquid love which was now pulsating deeply into my inner man, healing hurts and implanting fresh hope.

“But what were they singing? What does Panga Wenam mean?”

Through the dust, sweat and dancing I managed to glean a translation from my African friend who was part of the Mossi tribe who had so willingly and generously embraced Christ into their culture.

“Panga means “Power” and Wenam is our name for God. It is more than just a song. It is also our heart cry in prayer…”Send us your power God!”

Today is the launching of my e-book, “Embrace, Create, Destroy” and I leave this devotional as a brief introduction. You’ll have to obtain the book from the HeSed  website if you want to discover more.

And this book too is my own heart cry in prayer for you.

As you read, may you find a wild but gentle power inspiring your own soul – much more than a power – a holy personality bringing life, friendship and illumination on all you do and are.

Three cries – “Panga, Panga, Panga”

Three appeals for “Power, Power, Power”

Three prophetic paradigms emerging – Embrace, Create, Destroy.

Of course we only have one magnificent Holy Spirit, dwelling beautifully in the ineffable dance of the three fold Godhead. And yet this one Spirit, this primal power and personality, like a diamond, has innumerable facets. This book will take us on a journey to discover three of these vital powers, three emerging paradigms, a dynamic trinity of “dunamis” that will empower your life and ministry…Enjoy the ride…it may well change your life!

Sing along with me in this “Panga” video.

Written to celebrate the virtual e book launch of “Embrace, Create, Destroy.”

The three faces of faith…

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In the south of France, as the sun gently rises to midday, many a boule playing man will cut short his game to indulge in the daily ritual of apéritif. A green glass bottle will appear pouring doses into glasses that are then filled with water according to the taste of each one. Everyone gets their daily dose of “pastis”.

Well, I’m sorry to tell you that pastis is not on the menu today. It has been replaced by an even more vital dose of “pistis”. Faith in Greek.

We live to get “pistis” ! (Be careful how you read that! It could mean the difference between getting drunk on wine or being filled with the Spirit!)

As there is only one God expressing himself in three persons, so there is only one faith expressing itself in three faces. Let’s take a look at these different expressions of faith.

  1. Confident Faith in the Father’s Provision – Faith for living and praying

This is an underlying trust that God will indeed provide and work things out for us. The verses in Matthew 6:25-34 seem to encapsulate this kind of faith – a faith which takes us beyond the worries and cares of this world and places us, as trusting children, into the loving arms of the Father.

“…your heavenly Father knows…”   Matthew 6:32 

 A greater revelation of the “Spirit of sonship” who causes us to cry out “Abba” will indeed strengthen us in this confident faith. (Romans 8:15-17)

Another strengthener of this confidence is a deeper grasp of the Old Testament concept of “hesed” – loyalty, unfailing love. This “hesed” alliance that God made with Israel is fulfilled in the new covenant of Christ’s atoning death on the cross. “Hesed” is released upon us in grace. David’s psalms are full of “hesed”. Psalm 13 laments the difficulties of being forgotten, abandoned, sorrowful, worried and vanquished, and yet finishes with the wonderful proclamation,

“But I trust in your unfailing love;”

 This perfectly captures the idea of confident faith in the midst of life’s storms. This is the confident, childlike faith which energises our prayer and gives us confidence to ask for our bread and fish.

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11

  1. Theological Faith- Faith for sharing

 As the Church is buffeted by all sorts of “new age” and post-modern teachings, it is important that we enter the debate with a strong theological faith. This is a growing faith in the fundamental facts of Christianity. The Apostles creed sums up this “theological faith.”

“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”

 A strong theological faith is a fundamental part of our armoury in the spiritual warfare that rages around us. It is as much that belt of truth, as the shield we brandish and the sword we wield.

This faith gives power to our “kerygma” – our proclaiming and preaching of the gospel.

  1. The Gift of Faith- Faith for ministry and miracles

 In the famous passage on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul mentions the gift of “faith” in verse 9. “…to another faith by the same Spirit.” Like all faith, it is a gift from God, but it seems to be a particular ability to “hang on in there” in believing for the impossible. It is the kind of pioneer faith that sees churches planted amongst resistant people, buildings and projects developed, and miracles of healing and redemption manifested. It is the kind of faith, small as a mustard seed perhaps, that moves mountains.

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, `Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. ”   Mark 11:22-25

 The opening phrase is in the genitive case in Greek and hints at the translation – “Have the faith of God.” Step into another dimension. The “unmovable” mountain of communism was thrown into the sea as Christians prayed and suffered over the years. Have “God’s faith” that other such seemingly unflinching strongholds such as Islam and Secularism, will also be thrown into the sea.

On a more personal level, have God’s faith in your own ability to overcome your own strongholds and mountains. Speak out the words of faith and live in the holiness and fullness of forgiveness.

One faith in three expressions

Well…you can go and get your “pastis” now!