I have been told by several people that Jesus spoke more about Hell than He did about Heaven. Usually, in the context of the conversation, it was stated in order supposedly to support their idea that Jesus thought Hell more important, or at least to state that Jesus thought it a really important point. This would then mean that Jesus’s ‘stern warnings’ (their phrase, not mine) about Hell would carry more weight. I think.
So I thought I’d do a simple experiment. I took my book concordance (remember books? 😉 ) for my Bible – the 1978 New International Version (NIV) – and just looked up the two words ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’.
I have some news for you. The ‘Hell-supporters’ ‘ claim is woefully incorrect. Heaven is mentioned by Jesus far, far more often than is Hell; in fact I was actually amazed to see how infrequently Jesus mentioned the word ‘Hell’. Ok, I know He didn’t actually use the word ‘Hell’; it would have been either ‘Gehenna’ or ‘Hades/Sheol’. But I’m presenting the ‘worst-case’ scenario to give the idea a fair chance 🙂
So, why did my Hell-believing friends tell me something different? I can only surmise that they were told this ‘fact’ by someone else, and that person heard it from someone else and so on. Nobody had actually taken the time to go and research their claim – an idea which would not surprise me in the least. Clichés get passed around the Church all the time, and very few people actually take the time simply to verify what they’ve been told.
Added to that, there’s the ‘Chinese Whispers’ effect. If you look in the Old Testament (OT), ‘Hell’ is indeed mentioned a lot, at least in the King James Version (KJV). I wonder if maybe someone once said that the Bible (meaning, the Bible as a whole) mentions Hell more than it does Heaven, then that got changed to ‘the New Testament (NT) mentions Hell more than it does Heaven’, and finally that Jesus mentioned Hell more than He did Heaven. It would not surprise me in the least. That’s what ‘Chinese Whispers’ does.
But I’m not sure that even the OT mentions ‘Hell’ more than it does ‘Heaven’; the OT does in fact also mention Heaven one heck of a lot, although, to be fair, probably not in the sense that we understand it today in these post-NT times. And, in the OT, the word translated as ‘Hell’ in the KJV is always ‘Sheol’ which means ‘the grave’, the ‘state of the dead after death’, or the ‘pit’. In many cases, especially when reading the KJV against a more modern and slightly more honest translation – like the NIV 1978 that I use – it is obvious in many cases that the translators got it hopelessly wrong in the KJV because, in those cases, the use of the word ‘Hell’ does not fit the context. The NIV uses instead the terms ‘grave’, ‘depths’ or the ‘Pit’, and usually clarifies in the footnotes that the word is actually ‘Sheol’. I mention this because the OT mentions Sheol a lot, but it does not mean ‘Hell’ in the sense of eternal conscious torment that most Evangelicals understand today.
So, where does that leave us?
Firstly, we need to learn to question any dubious claims we hear about what the Bible ‘clearly’ says. We especially need to question Christian clichés and catch-phrases that roll easily off the tongue and are easy to remember, because often these are simply wrong and their only appeal is that they are easy to remember and don’t require any thought; in short, they are the lazy option.
Secondly, it reminds me of a principle that I discovered some months ago: “If, like the issue of Hell, a doctrine bears damaging fruit, then the very least thing we should due is to research the crap out of it in order to find out if it is correct. Anything less is disrespectful both to the Scripture and to those who are affected by it.”
And finally, it leaves us in no doubt that Jesus did indeed mention Heaven more than He did Hell.
How many times have you been in a (shall we call it a) ‘discussion’ with a Fundamentalist Christian, and they play their ‘trump card’: ‘Ah, but God’s ways are higher than our ways!’ This is usually because they have not thought things through properly, or perhaps they think that (as is so often the case in such circles) a quick, trite answer is required (which they don’t have), or maybe they just feel that they have ‘lost the argument’ and therefore this is their fall-back position; essentially, it’s saying, ‘I’m right, but I can’t prove it and I don’t want you to argue with me any more’. And then this Scripture backs them up by them essentially saying (and enforcing) ‘Who are you to argue with God?’. Maybe they just don’t know. Or, sometimes, it may be exactly what is needed – God’s ways are indeed higher than ours…but maybe not in the way that Fundies generally mean.
I read a fabulous Facebook post (yes, there are such things) the other day by Lee O’Hare, a man who has some brilliant insights which are well worth sharing, and it really spoke to me – and I learned something new that I hadn’t noticed before. And so I thought I’d share it here.
Over to Lee:
“MY WAYS ARE NOT YOUR WAYS”
“If something is universally condemned by all civilized human society as being cruel, barbaric and unconscionable, is it OK if God does it? Does being God give Him the right to violate the very moral laws by which we ourselves are held accountable and judged, or is He exempt simply because He is God – and who are we to question His mysterious ways?”
I actually thought, and still do, that this was a very good and legitimate question. What I am addressing here is the problem I see of a dual morality, i.e., believing that something which is obviously repugnant and completely unacceptable because of its blatant inherent evil – such as torture, genocide, sexual slavery, infanticide, etc. is actually OK and acceptable if God is the one doing it or commanding that it be done. In response to posing such a “scandalous” question I was told things such as that I was “walking on dangerous ground” for daring to question God’s ways. And, as one person asked, “Who are you to question God who is so much more holy and just than you will ever be?”
The thing that I heard most often was a reference to, or quote of, the very famous passage from Isaiah 55:8-9, which I believe has become the #1 cop-out verse for fundamentalists whenever pressed to actually think for themselves. This is what it says:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (NIV)
As a matter of fact, I have heard this particular passage used so often in response to any attempt to ask hard questions about things we have traditionally been taught about God, that I felt it necessary to take a serious closer look at this famous passage and specifically to look at the actual context in which it is found, in hopes of maybe ascertaining what the true and original intent of the prophet Isaiah was in writing this.
If you actually read the entire chapter in which those two verses are lifted out of context you will find that the entire chapter is all about the overwhelming love, grace, mercy and kindness of God that is freely flowing out to all people. The chapter begins with the invitation, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat.” He goes on to talk about the “everlasting covenant” of “lovingkindness” that He will make with David, which we know is a direct reference to Jesus who is the ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. In verses 4 and 5 God speaks of the expansiveness of His mercy and kindness and how David (Jesus) will be a witness to “all the people” and will “summon nations you do not know” and “nations that do not know you will hasten to you (Jesus)”.
In these verses the Lord is chastising His people for their small minded myopic understanding of His mercy and the extent and reach of His covenant faithfulness (lovingkindness). They were convinced that Yahweh belonged only to them – He was their national God and those outside of the bloodline of Israel were foreigners and aliens to the God of covenant and were hopelessly separated and cut off from the promises of God. In these verses the Lord is correcting and rebuking them for their narrow and exclusive understanding of His mercy and compassion. He is challenging their thinking by declaring His intent and desire to pour our His love upon all people and all people groups. This entire chapter goes on and on extravagantly describing the outlandish lovingkindness that Yahweh has for all. Verse 7 really sums it up, “Let them turn to the Lord that He might have compassion on them, for He will forgive them generously.”
THAT is the verse that immediately precedes the passage in question: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways.”
Rather than this being some kind of statement about how we must never question God’s ways or try to understand His mysterious thoughts because they are so high above our ability to grasp and understand, this statement is actually a reproof to them for their small minded and narrow understanding of His mercy, compassion and love for His people. When He says “My ways are not your ways” He is not telling them that He lives and operates in a separate moral universe that we could never understand and therefore have no business questioning.
So how exactly are God’s ways higher than ours? In the context of all the above the obvious and only reasonable answer is that He has outrageous love and mercy and that He freely pardons and forgives. Isaiah 55:8-9 is NOT about us not daring to ask legitimate questions regarding things that trouble us that have been passed down to us from a fundamentalist religious interpretation of the Bible. It has absolutely nothing to do with that and those who throw these verses up to defend from asking important questions about the character and nature of God are completely missing the point. This passage is ALL ABOUT the amazing, uncomprehendable and limitless love and mercy of Abba God who is fully and finally revealed to us in Jesus Christ – who is the image of the invisible God and the exact representation of His being.
Here’s a beautiful and fascinating article on the simplicity of the Commandments of Jesus. It gently confronts the anti-Grace movement’s idea that ‘Grace is a licence to sin’ and explains why the precise opposite is actually true.
The article is beautiful because it is written so well, from such a point of grace, and with such a lovely flow about it. It’s easy to read and to understand. It’s fascinating because it draws on the tension between the earlier, ‘Synoptic’ Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and the later Gospel of John – and John’s letters (1 John, 2 John and 3 John). In particular, the later point of view of Grace as opposed to Law. I had never seen this tension before and it is most illuminating. Certainly in the early Church, the concept of free Grace took a while to become accepted; the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 illustrates this very well. It took a couple of decades for the Jewish believers to realise that they were set free from the old demands of the Law of Moses and liberated into a new way of relating to God; the way of Grace. For believers from outside the Jewish faith, it might have been a little easier as they were not generally bound by the Jewish Law system, although they may well have had their own religious ways to be weaned from. That’s what the book of Galatians is all about 🙂
I an honoured to be able to share here a post from my friend Dan Shaffer. While Jesus’s Resurrection does promise an eternal life after we die (“Because I live, you also will live” – John 14:19), there is so much more to the Gospel than that.
This is a glorious time in human history. The spirit of God is moving tremendously as a strong breeze, flowing in and through our hearts as he reveals the loving nature of God. Whether intentional or not, religion has long suppressed the life internally given by God and revealed through Jesus.
Contrary to what many have been taught, Jesus revealed more about the here and now, than the latter. He graciously offered encouragement and hope of how to handle life, starting with what the Heavenly Father thinks about us.
Eternal life was offered as life eternal for the here and now, not for some future event after we die. Of course there is an afterlife, but that is in “tomorrow’s” that we need not worry about. (Matt 6:25)
How can I emphatically state that eternal life is now? Listen to this from the lips of Jesus in John 17:2-3 : “For you granted him [Jesus] authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: That they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
Jesus is talking about himself in the third person saying God has granted him authority to give eternal life to All as created beings of God. Jesus then explicitly states what eternal life is: Knowing the true God, and Jesus himself.
“Knowing” is the Greek word “ginōskōsin” which is the same word used when Mary was conceived by God, meaning the utmost intimacy. This is not about the afterlife, but being impregnated by God in our present life with his life and eternal spirit.
Still have doubts about eternal life being now? Did Jesus wish to take us out of the world to join him? No! In the same chapter (John 17:15) Jesus says this: “My prayer is Not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from evil.”
Life that is eternal through the Spirit is offered to us right now, when we really need it. Jesus offered this eternal life to us as an awakening and awareness journey of that which we already are – sons and daughters given of God. Jesus embraced and blessed our humanity through the Incarnation of himself, and demonstration of our path in life of knowing the true Father.
Jesus did not come to give hope of an afterlife, but the promise of an abundant eternal life now: “I have come that they may have life, and Life more abundantly”.
God’s spirit within is eternal. When we seek the Kingdom of God within us, we tap into the spring of living water that continuously flows for eternity. We become immersed in the river of oneness, where our thirst is forever quenched.
The oneness with the Father and Jesus was offered to us as well: “…Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21)
Welcome to Eternal Life that is Life Eternally right now, We are in it, within it, to win it.
A few days ago someone asked me the question, “Are you religious?” And without thinking, I said. “Yes” – then immediately qualified it by saying, “Well, actually, no – I’m a man of faith. There is a difference”.
Now, call me pedantic if you like. And I know what the lady meant when she asked me the question. But to me there is indeed a difference.
Religion is simply humans trying to ‘do something’ – anything! in order to be acceptable to whatever god(s) they believe in. It seems to be the default setting for that part of humanity who seek after the higher purpose, deeper meaning, the Life Essence of the universe, or even the Creator Himself – whatever they call ‘god’, they feel the need to do something. (In this piece, I am not including those who don’t seek after things like this).
So whatever it is, people try to ‘do’ stuff. This involves rituals, rules/laws, behaviour patterns, conformity to some formula told to people. This can happen with Christians, or indeed any ‘defined’ faith, or it can happen with people of no set belief system. I once found a Pagan altar in the local woods where people had performed certain ‘rituals’ and carved Runes (letters made of straight lines suitable for carving on stone or wood) on the altar. I can read Runes, and they said something like ‘we worship you earth mother’. And so, this is an example of Religion based on ‘doing’.
Faith, however, is different. Faith is described in Hebrews 11:1 as, “…confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”. For me, this means that I have confidence in Jesus alone, and an assurance in the complete and total efficacy of His finished work on the Cross (Jn 19:30). It’s not about me, what I ‘do’, but about what He has already ‘done’. I am already acceptable to God by Jesus’s finished work on the Cross, however that works. I say that ‘however it works’ because I am still plumbing the depths of just what Jesus did there, and it’s vaster and more thorough than I think anyone realises. God’s Grace is undeserved, unlimited, extravagant, and indeed completely unfair. In Grace, we really do get something for nothing. It’s free for the taking!
This is poles apart from the constant workload of Religion!
In Christ, we can ‘rest’ in His finished work, knowing there’s nothing more to do, indeed, nothing more we can do, to make our salvation more sure.
This is a different thing from St. Paul’s statement in Colossians 1:24 where he says, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” This, I believe, refers to the works and actions that proceed naturally, flowing from the life lived in the Spirit. What part of Christ’s afflictions were incomplete? Only that the death of Christ on the Cross does not cater for the ‘practical’ things that the Spirit-led person does; the ‘works’ that are the fruit of faith. So, things like feeding the poor, clothing the naked, that sort of thing. And this is what still needs to be done. And so, this Colossians passage does not mean that for some reason Christ’s work is not ‘finished’, or that it is lacking any efficacy for our acceptance before God. It doesn’t mean that at all.
Sadly, though, even Christians, for whom Jesus said ‘It is finished!’ and for whom St. Paul says that we have freedom from these Rules, can (and usually do) have Religious rule patterns and expectations of their adherents. This is tragic; every time I’ve seen someone propound the vast freedom and benefits of Grace-based faith, there’s been someone else come on and state his ‘cautionary’ case. ‘Be careful of Grace; you don’t know what you might be getting into’. ‘Don’t let Grace be a license to sin’, and things like that. This is all just the thin end of the wedge for legalism – going back to those Rules again. There’s always something like, ‘Ah, but we have to be careful that we don’t…’, there’s always some cautionary tale. ‘Ah, but…’ in fact has no place in Grace! The Spirit-led life means that we don’t have to worry about Law any more! So many people are sitting on riches they don’t know they have.
This is why St Paul said in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Slavery to Rules. Slavery to Religion.
I personally find that, because I have to get into the Legalism mindset in order to discuss these issues with those still trapped in legalistic systems, I find that I too begin to think in the same way as they do. In some ways, I need to do that, so that a) I can listen to what they are saying, and b) so that I can base my discussions on what Scriptures they are using. And it’s quite stifling, actually. I often feel the need to take time out and recharge my ‘Grace batteries’. Despite my freedom from Law being revealed to me personally by Father, the tendency to slide back into legalism in order to get alongside those still trapped in there is always insidious and present, because I have to think in the same way as they do in order to identify with them. It’s like trying to rescue a drowning man. Maybe I should wait until they cease struggling….
Sadly, many religious people, those dependent on their own works, however disguised or unrealised, tend to view ‘freedom from Law’ with some suspicion. Just like they did in Jesus’s day. The people who were most often on his back about His ‘behaviour’ and that of His disciples (they were feasting and partying instead of fasting like ‘proper’ religious people do) were the religious authorities. And so, people like Rob Bell, Joseph Prince, Jeff Turner, Paul Ellis; Grace preachers like these are constantly denigrated by the religious authorities of this day. Believers are always warned off from their messages of freedom, hope and joy, precisely because the religious authorities want to maintain control*. We can’t have believers realising their freedom, because we will lose control. Ok, so let’s ‘warn’ them about the ‘dangers’ of the ‘Grace Movement’ and use scare tactics like telling them that ‘Grace is a licence to sin’ and stuff like that. Actually it’s nothing of the sort; this is just used as a means of keeping people in their cages. Personally, as far as I am concerned they are wasting their time, such is the revelation of Grace I received nineteen years ago. For me, there is no going back into the cage. For others just learning the ways of Grace, my advice would be to trust the Holy Spirit within you. What He says, do (Jn 2:5). Ignore the Gatekeepers of heaven; they are actually nothing of the sort! Your freedom is yours; hold on to it!
Anyway, to sum up: Religion is always ‘do, do, do’ in order to be acceptable to God. Faith, for me, is ‘done, done, done’ and because of this I’m already acceptable to God. Wow!
“It is finished”, says the Lord!
*Actually, I am perhaps tarring some leaders with the same brush here – in the UK at least, most church leaders who have this kind of input into their members’ lives do so from a genuine desire to ensure that their members stay pure/clean/’sin-free’ or whatever. I understand that. But firstly, this is putting the cart before the horse; purity is more of a spiritual fruit than a spiritual task. It flows naturally from a life lived in the Spirit, and does not need to be either forced or policed. Secondly, this actually isn’t anyone’s job to do. It is not the job of Church leadership – or indeed any other person – to point out others’ ‘sins’. There are passages in the New Testament which might suggest that, and indeed St. Paul does give some ideas on how to deal with ‘bady-behaved’ church members, for the purpose of maintaining order in the church. But in our day this has been taken entirely out of context and also out of proportion; many people think that these Scriptures give them a licence to criticise and judge others. And this is simply not the case, from any of those Scriptures. Firstly, Jesus’s exhortation to ‘take the plank out of your own eye’ (Mt 7:1-5; Lk 6:41-42) is actually an exhortation to not point out others’ sin at all; secondly, the response of the person being criticised, if indeed any is required, is entirely between them and God. You might well point out someone else’s ‘sin’, but the response is up to them. You are not responsible to point out others’ ‘sins’; you are certainly not responsible for their actions or lack thereof in response to your criticism. Let’s not make any bones about it; you are actually judging and criticising others. Very rarely is it done ‘in love’!
Now this really is a song from my youth. Ok, I was 20, but still…
In the early 80’s, there was a Christian singer called Dave Pope, who did a cover of a song, in 1981, called ‘Praise the Lord’, by Michael Hudson and Brown Bannister. We loved it (although I never could work out the chords so that we could perform it ourselves! Worked them out last week, though, being much more experienced musician). Then we heard the song again at Festival 84 (a bit like the Dales Bible Week) at Staffordshire County Showground, this time performed by the Mohabir Sisters.
For years, I have tried to find a recording of that song. Have you ever tried to find a song called ‘Praise the Lord’? Can you imagine how many hits you get for that phrase on Google?
And then, only this week, one of my friends shared a YouTube link on Facebook, of a Christian artist (bearing the unlikely and possibly made-up name of ‘Chris Christian’*), singing the very song I have been looking for all these years. Somehow I had never thought to look on YouTube… and I found several renditions of it, two of which I have included below, including the Chris Christian version.
But I also went and looked for the Dave Pope version too, and, like I did for ‘Emmanuel‘, I found a vinyl record of Dave’s album from right back there in 1981, and I have made an mp3 copy of the song.
And here it is:
When you’re up against a struggle, that shatters all your dreams When your hopes have been cruelly crushed by Satan’s manifested schemes When you feel the urge within you to submit to earthly fear Don’t let the faith you’re standing on seem to disappear.
Praise the Lord, He can work through those who praise Him Praise the Lord, for our God inhabits praise Praise the Lord, for the chains that seek to bind you Serve only to remind you, that they fall powerless behind you When you praise Him.
Now Satan is a liar, and he wants to make us think That we are paupers when he knows himself we are children of the King So lift that mighty shield of faith for the battle must be won We know that Jesus Christ is risen so the work’s already done.
Praise the Lord, He can work through those who praise Him Praise the Lord, for our God inhabits praise Praise the Lord, for the chains that seek to bind you Serve only to remind you, that they fall powerless behind you When you praise Him.
Praise the Lord, God can work through those who praise Him Praise the Lord, for our God inhabits praise Praise the Lord, for the chains that seek to bind you Serve only to remind you, they fall powerless behind you When you praise Him, praise Him, praise Him, praise Him….
When you praise Him. When you praise…….. the Lord.
Wonderful! As I have said in other posts, worship and praise really put a believer’s life and circumstances into their proper perspective. Praising God in the midst of any circumstances, good or bad, brings His power and presence into the situation in a way that nothing else does. Yes, I know it sounds like some sort of talisman or magic spell. But its not; what is happening is that you are bringing a consciousness, or awareness, of God’s Presence into your circumstances. You remind yourself (not God; He already knows!) that He is with you and He will never leave or forsake you (Dt 31:6; Heb 13:5). And that puts an entirely different slant on things – entirely different.
Praise the Lord!
Here are two of the YouTube videos of this song that I found. Nice arrangements with sight changes to the lyrics.
First up, the Chris Christian version, posted by someone who can’t spell ‘Christian’:
And finally, a version by the ‘Imperials’. Possibly pre-Star Wars; not certain 😉
*Chris, If by some chance you come to read this, I’m only joking 😉
This is my Amazon review of an excellent book by Jeff Turner, whose work I quote a lot on my blog.
The book is called ‘The Atheistic Theist: Why There is No God and You Should Follow Him’
You perhaps think it sounds like a daft title for a Christian book? Read on for clarification!
Jeff Turner is at the same time both extremely perceptive and also very good at expressing his ideas. I’d go so far as to say that he’s one of the clearest Christian thinkers of our generation; I’d even go so far as to say that he is a modern-day C.S. Lewis.
Jeff writes here with refreshing transparency, drawing on his own personal experiences; those of others; others’ ideas; the Scriptures; great Christian thinkers throughout the ages, from Augustine through Calvin, Luther, Edwards and into the modern era. He also quotes from several atheists including (among others) Richard Dawkins, Gene Roddenberry (one of my personal heroes!) and Christopher Hitchens, whom he feels have meaningful things to say in today’s theological dialogues. Indeed, I agree; if the Church only listens to herself, the result is a vicious cycle of inbred thinking with no clear critique or accountability. Jeff uses the atheists’ points of view to hold up a mirror to modern Evangelical theology, and the picture we see is most disturbing.
The idea of the title is that Jesus and the early believers were seen as atheists because they didn’t worship the ‘gods’ of their time, and could therefore be seen as ‘atheists’. In the same way, Jeff argues, we today have lost sight of the God of Jesus and replaced Him with gods of our own; gods created in our own image.
If you are a Christian who has questions about his faith, and about the logical inconsistencies you can’t ignore, if you’re honest, then this is the book for you. Alternatively, if you are an atheist, you might like to take a look too and see how Jeff Turner has addressed some of the points made by other atheists. You may be pleasantly surprised.
I love this book. So many times I have found myself exclaiming aloud, ‘Yes!!’ while reading it. Your thinking is challenged, your assumptions are challenged, but your faith will emerge all the more strengthened for reading this book; your vision of Father God will also take on new hues of grace truth and beauty, instead of those of vengeance and terrible judgement.
If you’ve never read a theology book before, then this one would be a good place to start. Definitely recommended!
“God creates, because the endless joy and peace and shared life at the heart of the God
knows no other way.
“Jesus invites us into that relationship, the one at the center of the universe. He insists that he’s one with God, that we can be one with him, and that life is a generous, abundant reality. This God whom Jesus spoke of has always been looking for partners, people who are passionate about participating in the ongoing creation of the world.
“So when the gospel is diminished to a question of whether or not a person will ‘get into heaven,’ that reduces the good news to a ticket, a way to get past the bouncer and into the club.
“The good news is better than that.”
“This is why Christians who talk the most about going to heaven while everybody else goes to hell don’t throw very good parties.
“When the Gospel is understood primarily in terms of entrance rather than joyous participation, it can actually serve to cut people off from the explosive, liberating experience of the God who is an endless giving circle of joy and creativity.
“Life has never been about just “getting in.” It’s about thriving in God’s good world. It’s stillness, peace, and that feeling of your soul being at rest, while at the same time it’s about asking things, learning things, creating things, and sharing it all with others who are finding the same kind of joy in the same good world.”
It’s four months today since my precious wife Fiona died, and I wanted to share another post about her and the grieving process, again from a different slant.
While looking for a picture of our first home, I came across the picture above. It shows Fiona with our dogs, Jasper and Katie, and our son David, in July 1987. David was about seven weeks old in this picture – he’d been born six weeks prematurely – and he’s now a big strapping lad who will be 30 in June. How time flies…and so does David; he’s a Pilot too 🙂
But the reason I was wanting pictures of our first home is because I remember God’s provision for us – in those days, and ever after – and I wanted to testify to that provision. He set up everything for us in order for us to get married, He set up everything for our house, my job, everything. Soon after David was born, as I said, six weeks prematurely, he caught a deadly illness from another child in the Baby Unit. This illness had a 50% fatality rate, and for the majority of survivors, they would have to have a colostomy. But David made a full recovery. Our next house purchase was also a series of one Divine Intervention after another. And that has been our testimony for our whole married lives together.
So how can I doubt that, even with losing Fiona, God will continue to provide for my family and I? All along, He’s been right there, provided what we needed, healed us and lifted us up.
Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
“Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s”. ( – Psalm 103:1-5)
And this has been true for us for our entire married lives together. The healing? Fiona died of cancer; how can that be a healing? Well, as I said in another post, I have never known an illness so resistant to healing prayer. And I have seen people healed by prayer; I have been healed myself – actually without prayer; God intervened sovereignly and decisively – so what happened? What went wrong? Well, I can only conclude that it was simply Fiona’s time. She always believed that each person has a time to ‘go’; her favourite Psalm was the 139th, and in Ps 139:16 it says that, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book, before one of them came to be”. Fiona believed that. And a couple of years before she died, I had a definite vision of her healed – but on the other side of the ‘veil’, although I only realised the significance of that after she died. (Sometimes the abstract nature of visions makes them unclear as to their full meaning). So in a very real sense, although she died, I believe that she is indeed healed, and whole, and walking with Jesus in paradise (Lk 23:43). And remembering these times, looking at these photos, are a lovely reminder of the amazing times and adventures we had together: the places we went; the things we did; the dangers we shared; the joys and the horrors. This is a healthy thing to do, to remember the life we had together, and it helps the grieving process. It helps here to remember the Dr. Seuss quote: “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened”. Although of course it’s a bit of both, to be sure!
Most of you will know that Fiona and I had a strong ministry in leading worship. And it is no coincidence that we considered our entire lives to be built on the foundation of worship. What’s that got to do with our first home? Well, as we were preparing our house to move into it, in late 1983 and just before we were married, we did the whole thing to the backdrop of worship. We had my ghetto-blaster playing worship tapes all the time, and we worshipped along with the music. One of the primary worship tapes we had at that time was one called ‘Call to War’ by David and Dale Garratt of ‘Scripture in Song’, and the songs on that tape always reminded us, and still remind me, of those days when we were getting our house ready. Like, for example, our first meal in the house together, when we ate Pot Noodles sitting on a pile of ripped-up carpet in the bathroom of our new house. So, here’s the song that gives this blog post its title: Song of Incense. This is a lovely worship song that epitomised that tape and those days. Here it is:
Let our praise to You be as incense
Let our praise to You be as pillars of Your throne
Let our praise to You be as incense
As we come before You and worship You alone
As we see You in Your splendour
As we gaze upon Your Majesty
As we join the hosts of angels
And proclaim together Your holiness
Holy, Holy Holy, Holy is the Lord*
What I’m saying is that you can’t do better than to build your life on an appreciation of God – which is what worship is – and to involve Him in everything. Even though Fiona died, still I know that a) she’s healed and whole, and b) I’ll see her again. God has revealed this to me personally and there is no way I can lose that vision. Doctrines and theologies will come and go, but once Father God has revealed something to a believer, they don’t forget His words. And all this is because we lived together a life of worship: closeness to God and declaring His merits. I can recommend no better way of living.
How to do this? Well, you might have heard people in churches speaking of a ‘lifestyle of worship’. In other words, it’s not just something you ‘do’ on a Sunday; it’s something that pervades your entire life every day of the week. As St. Paul says in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship”. It’s easy to start this. Just begin to praise and thank God for everything, in every situation, no matter what happens, and before you know it, it will become a habit that will sustain you for your whole life. Worship can be singing, just chatting with God, whispering to Him, dance, even basket-making or whatever your hobby is. And in this way you build up a consciousness of the presence of God in your life that you simply can’t get rid of; not that you’d try of course. This is why so many Christians appear to go around bubbling with an inexpressible, and inexplicable, joy and radiance. These are the worshippers; these are those close to God, hearing His heart, and you will find them in all denominations and also in places of no denomination. And aside from the habit-forming worship lifestyle, worship is also tremendous fun.
So, this day, determine to offer up your own personal ‘Song of Incense’ to God. Start with this song if you like, then look in my ‘Worship’ category here in my blog for more songs to get you started.
This is my secret for how I have kept so upbeat during this time of terrible tragedy. It’s all based on a closeness to God through the habit of worship. In some ways, ‘The thing I feared the most has happened to me’ (Job 3:25); the very worst thing that could happen has happened – I have lost my lovely, irreplaceable, precious wife. But still you see me ‘filled with an inexpressible joy’ (1Pet1:8), and let me tell you it’s not a ‘front’ as someone once suggested it might be! I am a Yorkshireman and, with me, what you see is what you get! Worship forms the centre of my life; I would not be ‘me’ without it. I know it might sound all airy-fairy and up in the air, but worship brings the reality of God into everyday life like nothing else. I heartily recommend it.
*For musical nerds, this song requires some explanation. Its exotic-sounding ‘unorthodox’ chord structure sounds the way it does because it is played mainly on the dominant chord instead of the tonic, that is, the song is written in the key of A♭, but it begins with, and is generally played, using the chord E♭. It’s a similar principle to the chord structure used in Kari Jobe’s ‘Revelation Song‘. This is all fine except when some dork who doesn’t understand how that works comes along and transposes it into ‘D’ for guitars, then they have to put in lots of ‘accidentals’ like C major and whatever. I once saw that in a Christian songbook, much to my chagrin. For starters, you should leave a song in the key in which it is written, unless there’s a potential problem with the congregation’s vocal range, which there isn’t in this case. Most instances of changing the original key are done because it makes it easier for lazy musicians to play in a key they can manage, rather than learning how to play in any key (some keys are more difficult than others). A song is written in the key it’s in because it sounds right in that key, and that shouldn’t be changed without a really good reason! A simple capo-1 ‘G’ notation would have worked…
I’ve said before that I think that Hell was invented by the Church in order to keep people in line. Or, at least, the idea of ‘eternal conscious torment’, as espoused by most Evangelical Christians who maybe haven’t really thought about it all that deeply. To be fair, I think that latter statement is true; so many Evangelical Christians simply believe what they’re told – I was like that once upon a time, to my embarrassment 😉
While finding one instance of a supporting article on the Internet is not really ‘conclusive evidence’ as such, still I wanted to share this one as it looks as if I’m not the only person who thinks that about the control tactics. Here’s an excellent interview with a retired priest who thinks that too. Click the picture below to go to the article:
You could also visit my Hell Resource Page for more on why I don’t believe that Hell is what many Christians think it is.