“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.
So often, especially when we are distressed, we cry out to God, ‘Why is this happening?’ So often we ask the big questions: why does suffering happen; why is there pain if God is so good; why did my wife die so young?
And the silence is deafening. You listen for the Voice to explain things, like He does so often, and yet on these questions, when it seems so really important, He doesn’t say anything. You can almost feel Him looking at you with His huge compassion…
And I think that the reason is that the answer is so deep, so embedded in God’s purposes, so much unable to be put into words, that there’s no way He’d do it justice with a short answer. Such an answer wouldn’t, in fact, answer the question, because the answer is too immense. In some ways it’s almost as if the answer is ‘Wait and see!’ (although there’s a little more to it than that, as we shall see).
Because, only now, after my entire adult lifetime of following Him and learning to hear His voice; learning to hear His heartbeat; learning to feel the gentle breeze of His Spirit’s guidance; living through the very worst thing that could happen to me (Job 3:25); do I begin to get the slightest inkling of understanding, what it’s all about; the answer to ‘Why?’; the reason for the silence that denies me the quick, easy answer.
And I still can’t tell you ‘why’.
But I am beginning to discern the slightest shadow of an inkling of an answer – but I can’t put it into words. This kind of answer is only discerned, not learned, and even then only by actually living through the answer itself. I can’t teach this. But I do trust Him. And that in itself is part of the answer; learning to trust Him and hearing the answers are both part of the same plan.
The answer does not, cannot, come straight away, nor in one minute or ten. It doesn’t come in a week or even a year. No, these answers take a lifetime for us to even begin to understand, to do more than simply scratch the surface. When, eventually, we have trusted God so much, so often, and for so long, that trust does indeed form part of the answers. And each experience we have with God, the joy, the suffering, the standing with others in need, the worship; each of these events generates for us another tiny sliver of understanding; another tiny piece of the big picture of both our elusive answer and God’s purpose.
In a very real sense, God is honouring us by not simply fobbing us off with a short, trite answer to our questions, because there simply isn’t such an answer that would carry any meaning. Therefore, we have to be patient and learn through life itself; this is the only way in which the answers would carry any meaning, because we would have learned them through actual experience and lived the answers for ourselves.
Big questions deserve big answers, and these take a lifetime to hear and to learn. So when you ask the Big Questions, just imagine Jesus holding out His hand to you, silently saying. “Walk with me. I’ll show you as we go”. And He will.
“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” – Rom 8:28
I have touched on the idea of seeing God’s plans worked out in their fulness in a previous post – Leaning and Laughing – about two years ago. The key passage in that post, which dovetails nicely with today’s ideas, is this:
“And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are your works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are your ways, O King of the Saints”.
Although in some ways (because Heaven is not bound by time), this song is being sung right now; as far as we perceive it, it is being sung in the future when all the outworkings of God’s plans for our earthly lives will have come to their conclusion.
And those saints (that is, believers) have a Heavenly perspective. They can look at the whole sweep of time and history in its entirety, and when they see that, they sing that song. And notice how they *still* say that God’s ways are just – they are full of justice – and true – they are full of truth. Those people can see that actually despite what they thought during their earthly lives, God was actually in charge all along and was working His purpose out. Through good things and bad; through happiness and also through suffering. They can see the whole story; they have read the ending and it is a happy one, and they praise God for being the ultra-clever dude who has worked it all out for them.
If you have been a Christian for any length of time, and even if you’re not what you would call a Christian, you will have had doubts and questions about what you believe, what about God, Jesus, the Bible, suffering, why do wasps even exist, and so on.
In many churches, though, doubt is frowned upon and is seen as the enemy of faith, and so doubt is ‘not allowed’. “We don’t talk about that here, son”. And yet, the man who was most famous for his doubt – the apostle Thomas – had one of the most profound encounters with the risen Christ on record.
In this article, my friend Tim, in his blog ‘Jesus Without Baggage’, begins his series which goes into the subject of doubt and how to face into the honest questions you may have to do with the Bible and the faith, and how leaders and other authority figures fit into that matrix.
This really is a good piece and is well worth reading, as well as being the start of a bigger series that will also be well worth reading…
I did say, when I began this series, that despite it being called ‘Beautiful Destroyers’, not all the aircraft featured would be military aircraft.
And today’s aircraft is the first civilian aircraft I am featuring in the series. The Cessna 152, first manufactured in 1977 and produced until 1985. The ‘152 is probably the most popular basic training aircraft in the world. Multitudes of pilots have learned to fly in this aircraft; it is steady and reliable, easy to fly, and a real delight. It’s a bit cramped with two people on board, but it does have a better load-carrying capacity than the Piper PA-38 Tomahawk, another popular training aeroplane (and the type I fly at present).
The C152 has a maximum ‘never-exceed’ airspeed of 174kt (1kt = 1.14mph), a speed we’d never get near in practical flying, as at that speed the tail reportedly falls off. Maximum normal level speed 110kt; economical cruise speed 90kt or as near to 100mph as makes no difference. Ceiling (maximum altitude) is reportedly 14,500ft but all the Cessnas I have ever flown can make 10,000ft but will struggle to go any higher; there’s not a lot of oomph left by the time you get up there. Not that we can take them any higher than that anyway, as most Flying Clubs have rules routinely restricting pilots to 10,000ft due to lack of oxygen at altitudes any higher than that. Certainly at 10,000ft you can feel your heart beating faster, tingling in your fingers and toes, increased respiration rate and a slight dizziness; all signs of impending hypoxia (oxygen starvation).
I learned to fly on the C152, at Plymouth Airport in Devon. During that time, I discovered that different aircraft of the same type can have very diferent handling characteristics, and so the Pilot develops a preference for certain specific aeroplanes over others of the same type, based on the ‘feel’ of the aeroplane. My favourite aircraft at Plymouth was C152 G-BSTO, ‘Tango-Oscar’. She had such lovely clean, sharp, responsive handling characteristics, along with an engine of decent power and decisive power response, I couldn’t help but favour her over the other two Cessnas at Plymouth Flying School. She always felt like an extension of my body – well, actually, all aeroplanes that I fly do, but especially Tango-Oscar. And she was the aeroplane in which I flew my first solo, which is described here. Tango-Oscar now lives at Newquay airport (just 20 miles from Bodmin), with the flying school there, and it was always strange, when flying out of Bodmin, occasionally to hear Newquay Radar talking to ‘Golf-Tango-Oscar’ and have to resist the temptation to reply to them. It took some getting used to to remember that someone else was flying Tango-Oscar at the time, and Newquay Radar weren’t actually talking to me. Here’s Tango-Oscar taxying at Cardiff Airport, with an unknown Pilot in command:
(The header image of this post shows me taking off from Bodmin in Tango-Oscar, in May 2009. The full story can be found at the bottom of this post).
Here’s another picture of Sierra-Mike at Compton Abbas in July 2013, this time on the ground and taxying for departure with David in command:
Note the elevator is fully raised – stick right back – and this has the effect (which can be clearly seen) of raising the nose away from the ground, to minimise the chances of a prop-strike (that’s where the propeller chews into the ground). It doesn’t do either the prop or the ground much good if that happens.
Finally for Sierra-Mike, here is the original photo, taken by an unknown photographer, that I use in my blog’s header image. It shows me flying Sierra-Mike down short finals for Runway 26 at Compton Abbas, 14th July 2013:
What is it that I love about the Cessna 152? Well, she has clean lines, a simple, uncomplicated design, docile and gentle handling characteristics, she’s easy yet still fun to fly, stable and reliable, and I am so familiar with the type that when I fly one she, more than any other aircraft type, feels like a part of me, like an extension of my body and senses.
What’s it like to fly a Cessna 152? Well, for starters, here’s the instrument panel on Tango-Oscar, in flight over Teignmouth, Devon, en route to Exmouth at 2,250ft, looking from the passenger seat. It looks complicated at first, but believe me, you soon get used to all those switches and dials. It’s not so much, ‘What does that one do?’, but that you need some information, like ‘How fast are we going?’, and so you know to look at the airspeed indicator, which is the top left dial. Or you need to perform a task, like go into a climb, so it’s throttle to full power (the black knob next to the red Mixture control knob) and up you go. The picture is fully zoomable; click it once to download it to your browser, then click again to zoom, and scroll around as you like. many of the controls are actually labelled with a little caption saying what they do. You might find it interesting to take a closer look.
And another shot, this time a pilot’s eye view of the panel of Yankee-Hotel, again in flight, levelling out at 3,000ft and just finishing the turn on to heading:
And finally, here’s a little video shot by my friend Steve, where you get to see what it’s like to fly in one of these beauties (Yankee-Hotel) in short-field, grass-strip operations from Bodmin Airfield. Startup, taxying, takeoff, then rejoining the circuit (we’d probably been off to bomb Colliford Lake or something), final approach and landing. Points to look for: the building whine of the instrument gyros spinning up; the call of ‘Clear prop!’ before engine start; the bumpy ride on the takeoff roll (grass runway!) transitioning instantly to smoothness as she gets airborne; the final approach with the runway getting bigger; a little bit of sideslip at 5:50, where I dip the nose to lose a bit of excess height, and the extremely quick landing (not as rough as it looks) with hardly any hold-off at all. This was because it was a short-field landing: a landing flown with airspeeds ‘on the back of the drag curve’ at about 55kt or so. This means that as the nose is raised, the airspeed decays very rapidly and the aircraft comes down quite quickly. Which is what you need if you’re on a short runway. We were down, and slowed, and off the runway in 200 yards or less. That’s how it’s supposed to be done!
So, there she is. The Cessna 152, probably my all-time favourite aeroplane to fly, and for reasons that are probably obvious by now!
For more information on the Cessna 152, check out the Wikipedia entry on the type here.
Edit: You could in fact call the Cessna 152 a ‘Beautiful Destroyer’ in that we regularly used them to ‘attack’ the dams on local reservoirs. Tip in towards the target, a shallow dive to pick up airspeed, then race across the water at low level and high speed. Call ‘Bombs away!’ and then a sharp, high-g pull-up into the vertical and climb away. Most exhilarating, tremendous fun, and your grin is fixed for at least a week afterwards.
As I keep banging on about in my blog, I believe that the Christian is no longer subject to the Law – that is, the Law of God as described in the Old Testament. The Law brings death; the Spirit brings life. It couldn’t be clearer than that; St. Paul explains it clearly in Romans and in Galatians.
So what use, then, is the Law? Here’s a great article by Paul Ellis of Escape to Reality on the three main uses of the Law, and why they are ineffective in making a person righteous.
A well-known phrase, indeed. And, sadly, usually true.
But I have here a great piece by my friend John J. Withington, where the idea is challenged: Jesus invites us to the free lunch!
Here’s the piece in its entirety:
NO MERE RELIGION
Jesus Christ is NOT just another religious figure. He is not a cow-eyed weakling with a nice, but in the end unrealistic, idea about the power of human kindheartedness. Nor is he just another great moral teacher who stirred human hearts to rise to a higher level of social responsibility.
No, when we talk about Jesus Christ we are talking about the eternal source of ALL things (Hebrews 1:2-3), and more than that, he is also the redeemer, the purifier, the fixer of all things, who by dying and rising reconciled the whole out-of-kilter universe to God (Colossians 1:20). Jesus Christ is the one who made everything that is, who keeps it ALL in existence every moment, and who takes all its sin on himself to completely redeem it—INCLUDING you and me. He came to us as one of us to make us into what he created us to be.
Jesus is NOT just another religious figure, and the gospel is NOT just another religion. The gospel is NOT a new and improved set of rules, formulas and guidelines to get us in good with an otherwise bilious, ill-tempered Supreme Being; it is the end of religion.
Religion is bad news; it tells us that the gods (or God) are hopping mad and if we do this, that and the other thing just right, then they (or he) will change their minds and smile on us. But the gospel is not religion: it is God’s own good news to humanity.
It declares ALL sin forgiven and every man, woman and child God’s friend. It is a golden invitation on a silver platter to anybody and everybody who has sense enough to believe it and accept it (1 John 2:2).
“But there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” you say. Well, actually, there is, and this is it. It’s not only a free lunch, it’s a free banquet, and it lasts FOREVER . You don’t need anything to get in but trust in the One who is throwing the party.
In the cut-and-thrust of (what I call) ‘forum combat’, where all kinds of personal attacks come from other Christians (usually those who have ‘lost’ the argument) while trying to discuss matters of faith in a civil manner, sometimes one of the ‘accusations’ is that ‘you’re not a proper Christian’. So, what defines a Christian? Is there indeed a ‘definition’ as such, or does it depend on personal opinion?
However, I discovered a really helpful little blog post the other day, where a good, broad and inclusive ‘definition’ of ‘Christian’ is given. I’ll let you look for yourself; here it is. Click the text below to get to the article:
The writer’s conclusion is this:
“The word “Christian” refers to any individual, faith community, or movement for whom Jesus of Nazareth is the central figure in their spirituality; without regard to whether or not other Christian individuals, communities, or movements regard their beliefs and practices as being adequate”.
This is one of my favourite songs from my early years as a Christian – Jesus, Name Above All Names.
I sometimes think that many people, even in the Church, underestimate the importance of Jesus. He’s not only the ‘Author and Finisher of our faith’ (Heb 12:2 (KJV)), but also that ‘From Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things’ (Rom 11:36); “For by him all things were created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible…” (Col 1:16) and “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (Jn 1:3). Jesus is the Name before which every knee shall bow (Phil 2:10). His Name is the Name to which all authority has been given, in heaven and Earth (Mat 28:12) Jesus is absolutely central, in all of history, in the Church, in absloutely everything. “He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy”. (Col 1:18).
I could go on. I could go on declaring the majesty, the holiness, the power and the glory of Jesus…but I will instead pass you over to Terry MacAlmon, worship leader extraordinaire, to lead this lovely song declaring Jesus – Name Above All Names. Sing it in the light of what I have written here today about Jesus, the One Whose Name is indeed above every other name, and in the light of what you know in your heart to be true.
Let your praise be to Him as incense today. Lift up your hands and worship Him!
Jesus, Name above all names
Beautiful Saviour, glorious Lord
Emmanuel, God is with us
Blessed Redeemer, Living Word
If you’re wondering why Terry refers to God’s power moving all over the Netherlands, it’s because this video was taken at a worship conference in the Netherlands in 2010.