A God who hides?

I wrote this post around May last year, but for some reason didn’t post it – so am rectifying this now – I think the references to then current events still resonate (sadly).

“Truly you are a God who hides yourself…” – Isaiah 45:15.  I read those words yesterday morning, and at so many levels they seemed to speak.

A God who hides himself, and who seems to be hiding the next steps pretty tightly right now.

A God who hides himself – in a world of mass murder, a world of violence, a world of hateful rhetoric from politicians who use pictures of refugees fleeing war torn scenes we cannot imagine to frighten us into choosing their way.  A world where one serious contender for the most powerful position on the planet thinks he can make a country safe by building a wall and stirring up hate.

A God who hides himself rings true in our experience and in the experience of a world that can seem utterly out of control.

But it is important too to get the context of these words right.  They come at a key point in Exodus 40-55. The soaring rhetoric of these verses holds out the promise of a new Exodus for Israel, a new deliverance for God’s people.

But in chapter 45 things take a surprising turn.  God’s deliverance will not be like the first Exodus. It will not happen through an appointed deliverer confronting a pagan ruler.  It will not happen by a miraculous series of signs of judgement on Israel’s oppressor.  Instead Isaiah 45 begins:

1Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
that gates may not be closed:
2 “I will go before you
and level the exalted places,[a]
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
3 I will give you the treasures of darkness
and the hoards in secret places,
that you may know that it is I, the LORD,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
4 For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I name you, though you do not know me.
5 I am the LORD, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
7 I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the LORD, who does all these things.

This time the LORD’s deliverance of Israel will be achieved through the action of Cyrus.  Cyrus is the King of Persia who defeats Babylon.  It Cyrus who will issue the decree to Judah to return to the land (see Ezra).  When we look at the passage we see that it is God who gives him the strength to do this, God who equips him for the task – with the ultimate aim that, like Pharaoh, or like Israel, Cyrus will know that “I am the LORD”.

The surprise is that Cyrus does not know the LORD.  He is equipped, called and strengthened by name, by the LORD, but he does not know the LORD’s name.  Verse 4 is striking.  For Israel’s sake the LORD calls Cyrus by name – and yet Cyrus does not know the LORD.  Cyrus freely chooses, for reasons of imperial policy to let Judah resettle Jerusalem – and yet this free choice is at the same time the deliberate act of the LORD to rescue his people.

God works out his purpose and plans in the mixed up world of human politics and empire. That is the message of Daniel too – especially the visions of chapter 2 and 7, and the humbling of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4.  God is the true King.  He works his purposes out in the rise and fall of empire.  Sometimes that is comfortable.  Sometimes less so.  45:7 is stark.  Sometimes God’s purposes involve calamity.

I don’t like that.  I want to say that God always does nice things.  The Bible however is consistent.  God works with and in the mess of this world to work out his plans of deliverance.

Isaiah 45:15 does not end with God hiding.  It says: “Surely you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, who delivers.” The verse marks a transition point in the chapter.  Up to 45:15 the focus has been on God’s use of Cyrus to bring about his rescue.  To the end of the chapter the focus is increasingly on God’s rescue of Israel and even on a hope beyond Israel.

What struck me as I read that was that God is a God who simultaneously hides himself and delivers.  His salvation occurs in the unlikeliest of ways and through the strangest of people.  His salvation does not occur in the same way twice.  He hides while delivering.

I’ve been reading the Narnia stories to the boys at bedtime over the last few weeks.  We began with the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, moved on to Prince Caspian, Voyage of the Dawn Treader and now are moving into the Silver Chair.  It has struck me that these stories are marked by the gradual withdrawal of Aslan from seeming active involvement in the story.  This is especially marked by the Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Eustace’s encounter with Aslan is told through Eustace’s eyes, and the only direct encounter in the story is with Lucy in the magician’s house.  (Aslan does, of course, appear at odd moments as a warning, and as an albatross to provide encouragement, and to rebuke Caspian towards the end, and there is then the final encounter with Aslan.)

The Silver Chair is more striking even than this.  The only encounters with Aslan directly are at the start and very end.  Jill’s encounter with Aslan has some striking similarities to Isaiah 45 in its starkness and lack of apology for divine behaviour.  Jill is then given the signs to remember – and warned of how tempted she will be to forget, and of how easy it will be to go by mere appearances.  The remedy is simple: remember the signs.  Remember.  Aslan does not turn up to rescue in the book.  The children mess up at each point.  And yet the quest succeeds.  One of the key points in the book is Puddleglum’s determination to believe against all odds.  Following Jesus often looks like living the Silver Chair.  It often involves getting it wrong.  It often involves feeling like God is hiding.

Yet it is the hiding that God is saving.
God was saving a people through a Persian King who did not know him.
God was saving when He came as a helpless baby in a manger.
God was saving when the baby grew up to become a man.
When the man was nailed to a cross.  Rulers scoffed and mocked.
The sky went black.  The man cried out forsaken, and alone.
And yet at that moment God was accomplishing salvation for all who believe.
At that moment of utter hiddenness God was doing his greatest work.

It is the hiding that God is saving.
I don’t know what that means in my life.
I don’t know what the means for our next steps.
I don’t know what that means for your life.
It might mean disaster.  It might mean illness. Bereavement.
I don’t know what it means in the life of our nation and our world.
It might mean the collapse of our democratic tolerant comfortable society for something much more nightmarish.
But none of that means that God has stepped off the throne.

It is in the hiding that God is saving.

18 For thus says the Lord,
who created the heavens
(he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
(he established it;
he did not create it empty,
he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the Lord, and there is no other.
19 I did not speak in secret,
in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
‘Seek me in vain.’[c]
I the Lord speak the truth;
I declare what is right.
20 “Assemble yourselves and come;
draw near together,
you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledge
who carry about their wooden idols,
and keep on praying to a god
that cannot save.
21 Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the Lord?
And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Saviour;
there is none besides me.
22 “Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.

He is God.  He is not an idol.  He is not made by us.  Not created by us.  Not defined by us.  Not pinned down by us.  There is no other God besides our God.  He is God.  He is hidden – and yet he saves.  He does not say “seek me” in vain.  All who seek will find.

We all have a choice.  An idol – a god that cannot save, that we create and form and make.  Or God – the true God – the God who makes us uncomfortable, who unsettles and disturbs.  The God who saves, restores and heals.  There is no other.  Aslan says to Jill – who longs for a drink yet is frightened of this great lion – “There is no other stream”.  There is no other way to life than by casting ourselves on the God who hides and delivers.

 

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Where love and mercy meet.

It’s been a while since I have sat down and written here. I’ve missed writing, this evening though is one of those evenings when writing becomes necessary. It is the means by which I breathe fresh air once more.

God has been faithful these last 9 months since we moved mid January. He has led us, He has provided and sustained us. His mercy and grace have been faithfully new each day. They have been needed daily, hourly at times in those months. He has humbled us by placing us among His people to encourage and equip one another to be disciples of Christ in all of our lives. That means there is no hiding our own lives from God and holding back parts. If we are calling others to live their whole life rooted and set on Christ then we need to do the same. And that means life doesn’t always look the way we want it to look. It doesn’t feel the way we would like it to feel.

We were away this weekend thanks to friends opening their doors to our children, to celebrate our 10th anniversary. I was struck on the way home how perfectly those 48 hours had mirrored our marriage. Meals, walks, conversation, being, joy and a deep satisfied sense of purpose soaking in Les Mis, hard honest late conversation, money angst when our bank card refused to work when we tried to book our ticket home and God faithfully providing, my skewed health making sure it got a look in. It was not a weekend detached from reality but a celebration of all of life. All of life that we are called to live for Christ and which we call others to do too.

At church recently we had a sermon from 1 John and I was challenged on the question of what it meant for Christians to love in a way others didn’t. For me the challenge I needed to heed in my life is that God’s love requires justice and mercy. And I realised that I can ‘love’ others but when seeking justice my anger blinds me to the act of mercy but seeks out revenge, it spills out in anger.  It was unsettling to think that my ‘love’ I want to believe I am extending is God’s love but when the rubber hits the road there is only some desire for justice and an absence of mercy. That conviction has rocked me to my core this week. I don’t like to admit that anger is so readily to hand in me. I want to be (known as) generous, calm, unrocked, merciful. The reality is far from that. This is why I need the gospel, why I need the work of the Spirit in transforming me. I don’t have a framework for messing up and still being loved and accepted and of worth. Forgiveness is real for others but I so often forget it is for me too. No wonder my love is filled with anger because I so often forget the love given to me from God and so the ‘love’ I share is flawed and hollow too often. Too much I try to walk this road of faith on my own strengths and merit, too much I try to love from being a good person and getting it right and doing the right thing to justify my anger.

And what I don’t get in all of this is knowing friends who love deeply, who do desire justice and mercy and do not share my faith. For me the only answer comes back is that we are all made in the image of God and so all have the capacity to love as God would have us love and some seem able to do it without knowing Him in ways I understand. I am thankful for their example and humbled.

IMG_20170521_190551_1CS

In these past 9 months there have been more times than I want to admit to of asking God for a break. When we feel there is nothing left to be stretched yet further. At times to be left with less and less than we started in regards to physical and emotional resources. To know that deep deep peace that passes understanding that says ‘you are right where I want you to be’ and to feel right at home like we had not felt for some years. To have seen far too much of the hospital at MK and our local surgery and know there are more visits to come. To feel not on the fringes of community but be in the early days of belonging.   To have felt turned inside out more than was possible as God’s word has brought us to our knees, has asked more of our family than we might has said we were willing to offer. To have asked more questions and shed more tears. To be afraid of my body’s fragility and frustrated by how it seems to have decided to behave and according to the consultant at my last appointment its uniqueness. Being medically unique was never something I was aiming for!

To have realised that calling others to whole life discipleship only works when your own whole life is in Christ and discovering that is far from the reality in my own but grateful that the work of redemption is a life long journey this side of eternity and was not a one stop deal that I missed out on. So my desire is to being willing to be honest and vulnerable when desperately trying to hold it together or run for the hills; and to sit with the unfinished stories of our lives alongside others and their unfinished stories. And sometimes that is going to mean our threads get caught up with each other and in a tangle and need sorting and other times we have some to offer gladly. Some stories break us, some spur us on, some challenge us and call us on, others witness to ours and us back to them.

Having the courage to write this is far easier than having the courage to live it, but writing it and placing it where others see it is for me is placing a marker to say to myself this I was what I long for even if running away still feels a better idea. It’s going to mean rooting myself deeply into the gospel, allowing God’s word to shape me, convict me and encourage me. It’s going to hurt, its going to mean immense joy, its going to mean life as Jesus meant us to live; full.

Names of hope

Names in the Bible often have significance, and that is why I’ve found reaching the end of 2 Chronicles (and therefore the end of the Old Testament in the Hebrew order) fascinating.

The last King of Judah to achieve anything is Josiah (whose name sounds something like: May Yahweh give, or perhaps ‘may Yahweh heal’ according to a different dictionary), who reforms Judah’s worship, rebuilds the temple and rediscovers the book of the Law as he follows Yahweh wholeheartedly.  Yet even these reforms do not accomplish anything lasting, the kings after him do not follow his ways, and the people return to their idolatry.

2 Chronicles 36 lists these final kings, and it was their names that caught my attention as I read.  There is Jehoahaz – which sounds something like ‘Yahweh is strong’ or ‘Yahweh gives strength’, but he only lasts 3 months before the King of Egypt deposes him and takes him off to Egypt.  He is replaced by his brother: Jehoiakim, which sounds something like ‘Yahweh exalts’, but after 11 years of his reign Nebuchadnezzar invades and takes him into exile, replacing Jehoiakim with his son Jehoiachin.  Jehoiachin’s name sounds something like ‘Yahweh establishes’, but he only lasts 3 months, enough time to do evil in the eyes of Yahweh, and then be replaced by Zedekiah whose name sounds like ‘Yahweh is righteous’.  Despite the promising name Zedekiah too does evil and after 11 years of his reign Babylon invades once more, and the survivors of the population are taken off to Babylon in exile.

It is striking that as Judah goes on the downhill route to exile because of their continued rebellion against God their kings have names that should remind everyone of who is really in control.  It is possible to conceive that even while rebelling against Yahweh, and worshipping other gods, that the royal family is still determined to sound like it is doing the right thing.  Perhaps they are among those who say ‘this is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD’ in Jeremiah 7, and who follow the deceiving  prophets that Jeremiah has to contend with who say ‘peace, peace’ but there is no peace.  They can say the right things, and yet reject God in their hearts.

And yet even if these kings are named out of a false show of piety they testify to the reality of what is going on behind the scenes.  Behind the scenes God is still the one who gives strength.  God is the one who lifts up and brings low, God is the one who establishes and God is the one who is ultimately righteous.  The Babylonians were the instrument of his judgment – yet behind them he was already raising up the Persians who would allow the Judeans to return, as the end of 2 Chronicles testifies.

The book of Daniel points to the rise and fall of many empires on the world stage, but in the midst of these empires rising and falling there is rock not built with human hands.  There is one like a son of man in the midst of beastly empires.  His reign and rule will be established by God.  And he will reign in righteousness for ever.

The encouragement for the believer in a 2 Chronicles 36 type world where God’s people seem under pressure, and in decline, is that God’s character remains the same.   He continues to make strong and to build up.  He is righteous, and his righteous kingdom will know no end.  In such a world he simply calls for faithfulness.

Josiah’s reforms didn’t achieve very much.  Within 3 decades Jerusalem was overturned and had fallen – his reforms did not last beyond his lifetime.  And yet he was faithful, and was commended for his faithfulness. Sometimes our faithfulness will be like that.  Sometimes we won’t achieve very much.  But the call is the same.  Keep on seeking to do God’s will God’s way, and trust him with the results.

Doing God’s work his way does go into a bigger picture.  Josiah’s reforms at least meant the book of the Law was rediscovered, and when the people went back to the land they could build on God’s Word rather than making it up.  The reforms were too late to save the kingdom, but they sowed the seeds for the next stage of God’s plan.  We don’t always get to see that plan.  Josiah didn’t see that plan.  We simply have to act, as Josiah did, in obedience, one step at a time, to our faithful God and leave the outcome in his hands.

As we do that we know that the outcome is secure, that Christ’s kingdom will come in all its fullness, that we may not see reasons right now, or understand why obedience is necessary – but it will one day be worth it when the righteous King takes his throne for ever and he establishes and lifts up, when he puts right what is wrong.  That gives us strength not to listen to the false prophets of peace, and not to follow the paths of idolatry away from our God.  On that final day we will see and know the one we hope and trust in now, and we will see and know that the difficulty of following now was worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

Missing

Tomorrow, 22nd March, would be Mum’s 80th birthday. For her 70th my friend Cate and I bought my wedding dress. For her 60th I was in my final year of my undergraduate degree. Days I never got to mark with her because she had died December 1994. Time does heal but time also brings a new ache. Becoming a mum myself has given new shape to my memories of her, of our relationship, of what might have been. While there is sadness that she has not been around to meet Mark or the boys, it is in having a daughter of my own that the ache has deepened. In so many ways I see my younger self in our determined independent daughter and in mothering her I am given new insights to mum and my own relationship with her.  I long to say sorry, to ask forgiveness, to forgive, to hopefully laugh as we recall moments from my own childhood that are being played out again with me as the mother this time. Over the past few days I have had little reminders of my mum’s sacrifices she made for us, her volunteering; as a children’s play assistant at the local hospital, and with meals on wheels to name two that stand out in my mind. The meals we had every day, clean clothes, a home. I long to be gathering with all the family tomorrow to sing her happy birthday and to celebrate her. For her to be celebrated not because of what she did,  but because she was her.  As with me she was not perfect, but she was and is my mum and tomorrow there will be something missing in my day.

With mother’s day this coming Sunday as well, there is a rawness to my edges this week, a frailty to my desire to have it altogether, to not be swayed by things so easily. Today has been a day when the tears have spilt easily and awkwardly at different times. And as happens so often it is never just one thing that tears are spilt in an ache that is runs 22 years deep. But however deep it is, it is the channel into which other past journeys find their way and spill out.  God led me to the passage today in John’s gospel where Mary Magdalen encounters the resurrected Jesus in the garden. I was preparing it for an Easter reflection I am doing in a couple of weeks with the ladies fellowship and realising that mum might have been part of such a group. I thought I was on safe ground getting on with preparing this for others. For some reason I forgot that it was God’s word and that is not how He works. This was a passage He was and is going to first use in my life. Twice Mary is asked why she is weeping. It is not as an accusation but as a concern, a recognition of where she is at. It is Jesus who asks her the second time  and he follows it with the question ‘who are you looking for?’ And through my own tears I sensed God asking me that question, in my tears and rawness ‘who are you, Roz, looking for?’ I am looking for someone who is not brought to tears as easily as I am, who does not feel vulnerable and fear like I do. I am looking for the good parts of my life to have been woven into a different past. I am looking for a way to make the truths stand out louder than the lies.  I am looking to not doubt and wobble. And in looking for a different me I miss God and His ways. I miss Him calling my by my name. I miss that in my weakness He is made strong. I miss Him.

So tomorrow I will invite the children to join me in the garden, a place that mum loved and where many of happy memories of being with her are rooted, along with sitting Sunday by Sunday in church holding hands as we joined with those around us to say the Lord’s prayer. To be in God’s creation, to get my hands dirty, to root myself where He has placed us, to tell them stories of Granny, talk with and about God to them. To remember Mum and know that God is present and while sometimes we can miss Him He never loses sight of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peniel

A couple of Facebook posts, combined with lack of sleep due to the sickness bug sweeping through our family have put me in rather nostalgic mode.  One thing people have often noted about talking to us is how alive we come when we are describing our years at Regent in Vancouver.  The two sets of images in this post are one way of answering why we loved it so much.  The first comes from Regent Library.

The post invited us to describe our memories of Regent Library – this is what I put:

From the hours in my first summer term, doing ‘suicide’ Greek homework in the afternoon in the comparative cool of the library before emerging into the hot sunshine. The progression over the three years from at first Roz wheeling our eldest in the stroller to dig Daddy out of the library, and then his enjoyment at going into the library to get Daddy to come home, or come up for a hot chocolate at the well.

Speed reading CTC readings and writing summaries into some strange format for Moodle – actually very good training for the complex and frustrating hermeneutics summaries (which in turn were vital groundwork for further study).

The moment of realisation as I translated the story of Elijah and the widow’s son from 1 Kings for 2nd year Hebrew – this Yahweh who provides in such strange ways is the same Yahweh I trust today, and still provides in strange ways for our family.

The chance conversations outside the library on the way in or out that were all part of learning in community. The piles of books as I went slowly mad getting a seminar paper written in my final year – fortunately I managed to get it written before our second son arrived!

Sitting on the sofas rocking our second son in his stroller while trying to read some more Childs, Brueggemann or other OT scholar for the comprehensive exam and willing him to sleep for another hour or so… The beautiful calligraphy in those pictures reminding me each day that learning more stuff is useless if it isn’t part of the reality of a daily living relationship with the LORD from whom all wisdom and knowledge comes. A great place. Haven’t found a library to match it…

The second image is these words:

lord-of-all-the-nations

This was the unofficial Regent hymn, sung at our welcome and at our leaving, and it encapsulates what I have occasionally tried to put into words and failed – the way in which our times at Regent had the effect of unmaking and remaking us.

The second verse speaks of purification, loosening, of God entering and untangling.  What they can’t say, until you experience it is the struggle this involves, the bewilderment and dislocation.  Sometimes an academic and intellectual dislocation, sometimes a very personal unmaking.

For us, for me it involved both – in my first year I remember the dis-orientation and bewilderment of trying to make sense of how Christianity and culture and philosophy have interacted and whether these different ways have been good and bad.  I remember the relief of realising I didn’t have to solve all these issues to still trust the good God who gives us all we need for our journeys with him.

The personal unmaking came later.  The pain of our second miscarriage in 2010, and the trauma of the aftermath followed me into the grey Vancouver November – and yet I remember too how that November was a time of deepening community ties, at church and  at Regent.  Of soup lunches after chapel, and soup evenings with our church small group.  Of a chapel service and evening lecture where the words spoken could have been written directly to me.  The assurance of God’s keeping and guiding.

Those unmakings may only be hinted at in the song – but when the song is sung at the end of the journey, then their reality comes to be a part of the song.  The final verse is the key – alluding as it does to the mysterious wrestling match between God and Jacob on the journey back to his brother.  In the story God is sending Jacob back – but it is not the Jacob who left.  The story in Genesis tells of a God who transforms Jacob into Israel.  Jacob comes away from the encounter knowing he is not in charge, and knowing that he has seen God face to face.  Jacob demands a blessing – and he gets one, but not what he expects.  God’s blessing is not to give us our way, on our terms.

God’s blessing is that we come away with identities built not on our achievement, background or gifts, but on his calling and design. God’s blessing is not that we are successful heroes, but limping servants, who, by walking with the limp show the power of Christ in us, the one whose power is shown in weakness.  God’s blessing to the world comes, not by political power, or charismatic magnetism, but by a crucified carpenter whose weak and foolish death overcomes the power and wisdom of the world.

And so we ask that he would indeed wrestle with our spirits until we are his alone.  Knowing that in this world that wrestling is ongoing.  There is always more of us to give to the more of him we are always discovering as we walk with him, and there is always more struggle from us when we recoil from the hardship, fail to understand the wisdom and refuse to trust his promise.  And yet, still we can turn and hold on to him.  Sometimes that is all we can do.  Sometimes there are no answers – and yet he is still at work.  In the darkness. In the pain. His holding of us means we can hold to the promise that the light will shine out the clearer for the darkness having been so dark.  That one day we will taste his glory, and the glimpses of his face will become sight.  One day he will touch us and make us fully whole again – for healing then will be total, real, and irreversible.  That day is to come.

And until that day we limp on, strengthened by times and places where God becomes more real and more vivid to us.  Regent was such a place for us – and that song, intertwined with our lives in that place, reminds me of the place of encounter it was for us.   That came flooding back a few weeks ago when our friends and neighbours from Vancouver days were able to be at our induction service in our new role.  When they walked into the building I could scarcely hold back the tears – and while doing my introduction to us up front knew I couldn’t look at them for fear of giving way to tears completely.  Their being there tied at least three aspects of my life together, and reinforced the sense that here, now, is the right place and the right calling, that will somehow use the experiences thus far for our good as a family and the good of the church, and for his glory.  I could go on but I need to sleep, praying that our family would sleep too.

 

Hopefully that gives a taster of the time Regent & Vancouver were, and the lessons learnt – lessons that help us keep on keeping on here and now – until the day when will indeed see clearly Peniel – the face of God.

Best Books of 2016

I’ve seen a couple of these posts go up by other people, and it seemed like a good idea for a blog post.  Look backing on 2016 I’ve realised that  I actually managed to read quite a range of books (rather than lots of academic monographs and journal articles).  So, in chronological order rather than any order of merit, here are my top reads – covering an eclectic range of books.

  1. The Shepherds Life by James Rebanks:
    https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-shepherds-life/james-rebanks/9780141979366
    This sneaks in, although technically it is a 2015 read, because it is the book Roz bought me to celebrate my PhD viva.  It was great to switch gear completely, and the book is a fascinating read about a part of the world I live, but telling the story of the people who live and work the land rather than the tourists who trample it.
    After that I’m sure I did read some books between that and my 40th birthday, but they have escaped my memory.
  2. The Bees by Laline Paull:
    https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-bees/laline-paull/9780007557745
    This was one of my 40th birthday presents (as well as organising a surprise party, Roz also ensured I received lots of books by asking people to buy books they had liked over the last year).  This is a fascinating novel, set in a bee colony.  If you like science fiction type works, then this is a generally good read, and it was the first thing like this I’d read for a while.
  3. The Humans by Matt Haig:
    https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-humans/matt-haig/9780857868787
    I really didn’t like this one for the first few chapters, but persisted as it was another gift, and ended up quite liking it due to the thoughts about what it is to be human that it provoked – it is another sci-fi type book.
  4. All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
    https://www.waterstones.com/book/all-the-light-we-cannot-see/anthony-doerr/9780008138301
    Another gift, this one had both Roz and I completely hooked – set in the second world war it tells the intertwined tales of a young French girl, and German boy growing up and meeting.  It was utterly compelling.  The sections set in Germany reminded me once more of the horrors of Nazism, in particular the subtle seductions of giving up thinking for ourselves in exchange for being part of an “inner circle”, and the cruelty humans are capable of.  In a year when politics has become dominated by meaningless slogans of empty promises based around demonising the outsider reflecting on the way that ordinary people became part of extraordinary horror is vital so that we don’t make the same, or similar, mistakes again.
  5. Paul and The Gift by John Barclay
    https://www.waterstones.com/book/paul-and-the-gift/john-m-g-barclay/9780802868893
    The first ‘academic’ book to make it into the list.  I took advantage of having finished my PhD to actually read some current NT studies.  This is a really good book.  As well as being important and interesting it is also really well written.  Barclay analyses various ways in which the concept of gift was used in the world of the NT, and then the implications of this for understanding Paul’s theology – aiming to chart something of a middle way between ‘old’ and ‘new’ perspectives.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, although I’d probably need to reread and think further to fully evaluate it.
  6. Old Testament Theology (three vols) by John Goldingay
    https://www.waterstones.com/book/old-testament-theology/john-goldingay/9780830824946
    I’ve been working my way through these on and off for a while.  They contain lots of interesting exegesis and ideas, but you do need to read quickly as Goldingay is, rather like NT Wright, somewhat on the expansive side when it comes to writing.  He is always good for forcing the reader to go back to the text and see what it really says.
  7. A Praying Life – Paul Miller
    https://www.10ofthose.com/products/6022/a-praying-life
    This was another 40th present.  I had read it before – but am very glad that we now have a copy because it is the best book on prayer I have ever read.  It is easy to read, but never trivial.  It never pretends that life is anything other than very hard at times, but never lets go of the goodness of God in the midst of the pain.  Most importantly when I read the book I was motivated to actually pray.  Buy it now.
  8. Serving without Sinking – John Hindley
    https://www.10ofthose.com/products/14182/serving-without-sinking/
    This is also a very good book – for anyone who serves in any way in their local church or other christian organisation this is also a must read.  Helps us ground our identity in Christ so that we don’t take on too much.  Another book to read – once you’ve finished “A Praying Life”.
  9. Being Human in God’s World – Gordon McConville
    https://www.waterstones.com/book/being-human-in-gods-world/j-gordon-mcconville/9780801048968
    This was my present from Roz on graduating – my PhD supervisor’s latest book, completed about the same time as my PhD.  It is an overview of what the OT has to say about humanity.  I particularly liked the chapters on place and being made in God’s image.  Very useful overviews of the OT and scholarship on various different issues to do with what it means to live as humans in God’s world.
  10. Seriously Dangerous Religion – Iain Provan
    https://www.waterstones.com/book/seriously-dangerous-religion/iain-w-provan/9781481300223
    Only just sneaks in, because this was a Christmas present from Roz.  Between Roz and I we’ve probably taken most of Iain’s classes at Regent and for me his Introduction to the Old Testament was a wonderful start to my Regent experience – I was particularly struck by the affirmation of the goodness of God.  His course on Hermeneutics and Biblical Criticism gave me a map of how and why biblical scholars have thought and interpreted as they have over the last 150 years or so, and the seminar on OT Theology I took in my final year gave me the grounding and tools I needed for PhD studies, as well as 12 fascinating sets of readings and discussion in a great small group seminar.
    This book takes on those critics of the OT who think that it produces dangerous ideas of a nasty god, and by a careful reading of the OT (especially Genesis) shows that in fact God is both utterly good and at the same time far more dangerous than they have realised.  Dangerous that is to all those who want to live in comfort and security without regard for the fact that this world is the work of a good and loving God and who damage people made in God’s image and the world that is his good gift for people to take care of.  Well worth reading – with some really interesting sections comparing the biblical worldview with that of other religions and philosophies.  It always engages closely with the biblical text, and so even if you end up disagreeing with conclusions here and there you will have been forced to think carefully about what the text says and why you think it means what it does – never a bad thing!
  11. The Life you never Expected – Andrew & Rachel Wilson
    https://www.10ofthose.com/products/17758/the-life-you-never-expected/
    Technically this is a January 2017 book, but it is so good that I had to list it here.  This is the next book after “A Praying Life” that I would buy on this list. It tells Andrew & Rachel’s story of raising autistic children – but in the process gives a really good perspective on the whole of the Christian life, in particular on the reality that often really hard things happen that we will never (at least this side of eternity) understand – and we have to live with the unanswered questions.  This book is really useful in giving a perspective that will help to live in such times.

 

Learning to plough

I have not written weekly home ed updates this season. It’s been a very different season to the one I neatly time tabled and planned in colour code back in August. Our children are people with their own minds and for this season writing that incorporated their actions has felt an intrusion on who they are. It has been a session where I have named and started to own my anxiety. To recognise past actions that have fed into that, balanced with hormonal impacts and a lack of nightly solid sleep. The difference speaking them out loud to another makes sense. In scripture we are called to confess our sins to one another. Anxiety works the same way. We are freed from the hold of them when they are out there. We still have to address them, to face the consequences, to work through them but they no longer enslave us. Just this past Tuesday having spent the day going round in circles with anxiety and finally getting time late at night to share with Mark and laugh over them together was I able to drift off to sleep peacefully and enjoy Wednesday. Issues were still present but I was able to put logical thinking into action and address those that needed action.

It has been a term when we have journeyed through the application and interview process for a new job with a church which we will be starting in the New Year. That has taken far more out of me than I anticipated. It has meant facing up to many fears and events in my past. It has meant acknowledging pains and wrongs afresh as I look to head back into church ministry. In some ways it has meant a new journey with God. I want to say it has meant I have spent more time with Him, praised Him more. In reality it has more often than not meant leaning on the truths I know of Him of old and putting one foot in front of the other as laundry, meals and lessons have gone on, hoping that it is true that He has gone ahead and prepared a place. That He has promised to be with us to the end of the age as we go and make disciples.

There is a passage in scripture that speaks of some being sowers and others watering and others harvesting. I have never felt any of those have been true of me. But one Saturday morning following The Well God showed me His calling for me and in a moment; that moment after my heart had sunk and gone ‘not again Lord’ as I saw the realisation of dreams I had held for a place come to fruition but once more not on my watch; so much of my journey behind and I suspect of what lies ahead is that I am called to plough. To simply go up and down the field turning the soil and preparing it so someone else can sow, someone else can water, someone else can harvest. A friend reminded me that without soil no seeds can take root and grow. It is a hard road, the ground has often been left and there is much that needs turning over, breaking up, softening and the plough and plough horses are too heavy to go on the ground once the seeds come and so that often means I have not been around to see any harvest. I had grown weary and frustrated wondering what it was God had called me to, but in that moment I was reminded He has called me to co work with Him and this is what He has called me to. Gardening and care of creation requires preparation, so does discipleship. So does evangelism, so does worship. Our hearts and minds need to be ready to receive so they can give.  God can and chooses to use me. Another friend when I shared this with her encouraged me with the thought of how long had God been ploughing and preparing this earth for us. We may not often talk about it but ploughing is part of God’s creative work if we think of what is needed to have what we have now.

Right now we have a new job starting in January but no home to move to till sometime in February. This is hard. I like to be in control. I like to be able to plan, to write detailed to do lists, to steadily work my way through them. To have a plan of action. I have none right now. For how much can you pack away now incase you don’t move till February? The thought of doing it all quickly straight after Christmas though throws me into a spin especially as it will be for a temporary move at that point if that plan works out.

So mixing the uncertainty of the move with the fears of my past record with churches and the thought right now of stepping into this new adventure has spiked my anxiety. Realising that the last time I was in a team ministry setting as the only woman was deeply wounding at so many levels. Spiritual abuse is so often misunderstood and disregarded and damaging to the person. That twice I have been asked to leave church, the very first at my infant baptism. It may not seem much to many but realising 40 years on that at a significant event in your faith journey the minister rearranges the service to baptise you right at the start and then ask your parents to leave the service with you because you are not quiet actually spoke massively over your life. To be told you might as well leave as there is nothing for you at the church you have grown up in and served and given everything you had for it because your understanding of loving God and youth weren’t on the same page let alone same book. Yet it was where God found you. To be in a church where you thought might be safe and shared your story of spiritual abuse only to discover that the same was happening there too. To balance that another church was the very opposite where I saw clearly God providing me with a save haven thanks to the actions of the church leaders actions in the months before going without them knowing I would be coming but because of my story. God has shown me the blessings of church but church overall for me is not the safe place many say it is or should be. But it is God’s place and He is safe, He can be trusted and so I trust Him, I trust that if this is His way that He wants the world to know His love than I will stick with it. I will follow Him. I will follow His way. I will plough where He asks me. I will do my part to be a light to the world of a God who loves us, who is mercifully and compassionate beyond measure. And I will plough the ground where He asks and let Him guide someone else to sow the seeds He has for those fields trusting that in the final redemption His light will shine bright in the lines that I have ploughed and others tended.