The God Puzzle

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Are there clues to God’s existence hidden in plain sight? What picture emerges when we begin to pick them up and piece them together? I took some time recently to look at myself and the world around me and jot down a few thoughts in the form of a new website. I don’t expect everyone to see what I see as its very subjective but here is the thing: there is a shared subjectivity so solidly unassailable that I would be surprised if you didn’t at least catch a fleeting glimpse of God.

 

 

Could I stop being a Christian?

cross_in_sunset_my2I have been thinking about why I am a Christian recently, and whether I might one day be persuaded or compelled to stop being one. There are lots of reasons that come together to give me confidence in the person of Jesus such that I identify myself as one of his followers. They include the evidence for the existence of God (as a personal, good, eternal creator etc see my thoughts here), the reliability of the Bible, the evidence for the resurrection and so on. I guess that might be enough, but there is a deeper root of conviction and certainty in my heart, and it’s this: “grace”. Not just the idea of grace, but its perfection, origin and embodiment in the person of Jesus Christ.

Grace is “giving someone something good that they do not deserve”. Some distinguish mercy from grace, defining it is as “not giving someone what they do deserve”, but for me, when I use the word grace, I usually include this too. Grace is person A blessing person B and showing them favour in a way that is not determined by person B’s actions. Rather, grace finds its origin and source in the one being gracious. Here is Packer’s classic expression of this:

“What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it — the fact that He knows me. I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him, because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me, and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted from me, and no moment therefore, when His care falters.

This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort — the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates — in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love, and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me. There is, certainly , great cause for humility in the thought that He sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow-men do not see (and am I glad!), and that He sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself (which in all conscience, is enough).

There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, He wants me as His friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given His Son to die for me in order to realize this purpose.”

– JI Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, 1973), pages 41-42.

Grace is anchored and has its source, its motivation, in the one being gracious. Their grace is grounded in them being “gracious”, not me being worthy of grace. Being worthy of grace is an oxymoron if ever there was one.

I can’t hope to get close to Packer’s eloquence with words, but I’ll try to give a short explanation of God’s grace. The gospel is the good news about Jesus. It is a gospel of grace. Though we have sinned (done evil), forfeiting God’s love and goodness and earning his wrath and rejection, God has freely given us his Son, Jesus. Jesus lived as we should have lived, died the death we deserved and is now risen and ruling at his Father’s side. Simply by trusting in him as our Lord and Saviour, we get his good life credited to us in exchange for our bad life. Our sin having been punished in Christ on the cross, and us being now in possession of Jesus’ life of obedience, we have an eternal, unhindered, unbreakable relationship with God as our Father – just like Jesus does. I was destined to a deserved hell of separation from God, the source of love and joy and life, yet I find myself, without there being any minuscule of merit in myself, as an adopted and dearly loved child of God. It’s simply stunning. Simply stunning.

If I, in any way, earn my way into some good situation, I might have cause to congratulate myself and even begin to revere and worship ‘yours truly’. But I find the thought of worshipping me, wearisome. My petty achievements, such as they are, do not particularly impress me. Nor could I see that they ever would. In fact, daily my deeds pile up in disappointment. But I have something far better. I have Jesus!

If the gospel of grace is a fabrication, an imagining, and Jesus is not its personal, knowable epicentre, then we live in a dull, shabby universe. Reality is a depressing disappointment. There is an idea, a possible glorious reality, that could have been but wasn’t, and we are left in the darkness to make the best of it. If there is some sort of other god in this sad, second-rate world then he, or she, or it, is also, to be frank, going to be a bit of a disappointment. How could one summon up the enthusiasm to worship such a god when all the time the idea of this other (all be it unrealised) one blinds us with his dazzling glory?

I can, I guess see, that if a person has not had such a life changing view of grace as I see in the gospel, that they could perhaps be content casting their eye about this world without knowing the God of the Bible. The God of Jesus Christ. They may well entertain and serve other gods and ideas, with deep commitment and sincerity. But for me, having caught a glimpse of his glory, I cannot entertain a lesser reality.

If you are going to live, live and give your life for the best conceivable reality. To do anything else is to live with a sense of “Oh well, that’s a shame”. Like going to your favourite restaurant and finding it shut for the night. I cannot do that. I will not do that. I want, and will give myself to, a God of infinite grace and goodness.

I guess this line of reasoning, if you can call it that, is akin to the Ontological argument. The grace of God revealed in the person of Jesus, his sacrificial death in our place, and our subsequent forgiveness and adoption through faith alone, seems so glorious that it must be true. Necessarily true. It is so perfect in every respect that to not exist would be a lone lack sticking out like a sore thumb. I know you could pick holes in that argument, but that’s the way it seems to me. Let the gospel be true and everything else a lie. I take my stand on the most glorious truth and judge all else by it. I am sure you would not pretend to me that you do not also stand upon a pile of presuppositions. Forgive me if I just happen to choose the grandest pile upon which to build my life and view the world.

This grace of God seems also to have about it something eternally sustaining. What’s the point of everlasting life, for it seems to me there must be such a thing, if it becomes an eternal tedium? I find it hard to describe God’s grace, but that’s not all down to my limited communication skills. Part of it is due to the fact that it’s so infinitely glorious. Take a million views and there will be a million more angles from which to appreciate it, a billion more perspectives to perceive it. The Bible itself is full of stories, and analogies, and metaphors, and poetry, and letters, and apocalyptic literature, all expressing various aspects of God’s grace. When we’ve had 10,000 years to appreciate and explore and enjoy the atonement, we will still need an infinite many more before we can even scratch the surface of it.

It’s not just that this grace benefits me so much, though it does more than I will ever know. That is not what captivates me most about it. It’s the very act of God in being gracious in such an astounding way, that captivates me. His grace to me is wonderfully beneficial, but since grace has its origin in the giver, it tells me less about me than it does about God. His grace draws me to gaze upon him and marvel at what it is in him that caused him to act in such a way towards me.

So if you ask me why I am a Christian, I might talk about various historical and philosophical arguments and I hope they would be helpful. But probe a bit deeper and I would begin to talk about the grace of God in the person of Jesus. This truth (I cannot call it anything else, for if this is false then all else is fiction), is everything to me. I have heard of something so wonderful, so glorious, that it has gripped my heart and my heart has gripped it in return in an unbreakable embrace.

Maybe I don’t know exactly how Genesis 1 is to be interpreted. Maybe I don’t know the best way of aligning the kings of Judah with the latest archaeological evidence. Maybe I don’t understand why there is so much seemingly unnecessary suffering in the world. But I’ll tell you what – nothing could persuade me now to give up the priceless treasure I have in Jesus. That would be like taking out my eyes in order to see better without them getting in the way.

 

 

Humility : an antidote to anxiety

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“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because,

‘God opposes the proud
but shows favour to the humble.’[a]

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter  5:5b-7

Humility can lance the boil of anxiety and draw out it’s poison. Continue reading

Chasing Rainbows

I had another go at rainbows this morning.

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The more I code a simple virtual universe the more I appreciate how amazing the real one is. When we try to create beautiful things we experience something of the delight God had in his creation. All our attempts are pale imitations of those first expressive acts when God spoke things into being. How gloriously amazing to come up with the idea of clouds and the way they light interacts with them; to create the laws behind quantum physics and fluid dynamics so that we see rainbows.

Beauty means something. It’s not just an experience. When God’s brush arched the first rainbow in the sky he was expressing something to us: the beautiful glory of his steadfast mercy and grace. World wide judgement would be held back and grace will rain down.

There is another judgement, a final one of fire, but before that God would open the floodgates of his mercy in giving us his son. The stars declare the glory of God and the sky his handy work but the cross put them all in the shade.

The rainbow points to and encircles (Rev 4:3) the glorious God who is both just and gracious. Beauty means something, and the experience of it and the act of creating should lead us into worship.

 

PS. That’s a crystal house you can see on the left. I think there will be a lot of gem stone architecture in heaven!

PPS.As I walked downstairs after posting this blog entry, guess what someone handed me:

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They found it behind an old cabinet as they were cleaning out a room. Coincidence?

 

Have you been humbled yet?

“Here’s how you know you have really met God”, says Tim Keller. “You limp”.

He is speaking, from the story of Jonah, about reaching a postmodern world. Towards the end he relates a story he remembers Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones once recounted.

The young Dr was with a number of older ministers in Whales and they were all getting excited about an up and coming minister who was preaching the gospel powerfully and taking Wales by storm. “Could this be the beginning of a revival?” they wondered. Then one of the older minsters said, “well, maybe, we must pray for him, but I just want you to know, I don’t think he has been humbled yet”. All the other ministers then suddenly became grave and started shaking their head as they realised the implications.

Someone with a massive gift may not actually realise how much they need God, and what his grace really is and how only God can ultimately advance his kingdom. Someone may powerfully preach the gospel of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, while in their heart they are sitting on a throne of their own abilities and accomplishments. They may say they are a sinner saved by grace but it’s just words. “Unless something comes into your life that breaks you of your self-righteousness and pride, you may think you are a sinner saved by grace but you’re not, you don’t really believe it … in the depths of your being, and you are not a sign of the gospel. You are not a ‘strength out of weakness’ person. And he will bring you down if he is going to use you. You will have to have the sign of Jonah in your life. Life out of death. Strength out of weakness.”

God’s power is made perfect in weakness. The greatest display of his power was in Jesus on the cross where he defeated his enemies. Jesus humbled himself. We need to humble ourselves “under God’s mighty hand” 1 Peter 5:6 (there is a great link in the surrounding verses to anxiety which I should follow up at some stage…).

John Newton wrote a hymn about Jonah’s Gourd:

Spoken

Sung

 

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

 

PS.

I love the way Tim Keller links Jonah, asleep in the boat, with Jesus asleep in the boat. The cause of the storm is Jonah’s disobedience to God in not going to Nineveh and telling them to repent (Jonah knows that God is merciful and that if he does that they might actually repent and then God will forgive them and he doesn’t want that because they are so bad and he hates them so much). Jonah saves the lives of the sailors by getting them to throw him overboard, at which point he is eaten by a fish.

Jesus was cast out in to the ultimate storm of God’s wrath. He is innocent and we are guilty but never the less he willingly gives up his life to save us. Tim Keller points out that Jesus could truly say the words of Psalms 42:7 (A messianic psalm if ever there was one centuries before the cross but so vividly to describing the mocking that Jesus suffered as he hung there) “Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.”

 

Share the joy

I’ve not blogged much recently because I’m doing some programming. I have just uploaded a few videos of my mini universe to YouTube and pondered why I would do such a thing. It’s not that I think it is all that good – just compare to early versions of No Man’s Sky  and the amateur nature of my project becomes immediately apparent, embarrassing even. I think itpic1’s more that when you really enjoy doing something you want to share the experience. You want to shout out “hey I love doing this, this is great fun. I want you to enjoy it too”. Even if other people look at you in a slightly bemused way.

I keep wanting to mention my programming in my preaching but I’m trying not to as it’s not a very good source of illustration for most people. I keep thinking how this aspect of programming or that facet of procedural computer graphics is such a good analogy to some aspect of the gospel or what the bible says about something but Jesus used more everyday things that everyone could relate to. Not HLSL or C++. A love of football would be so much more helpful in communicating (and I did try recently when speaking on Hebrews 6) but hey, God gave me a love of vector mathematics and pretty pixels.

I guess it’s why people like telling others about Jesus. He is the best thing anyone would ever have and so it’s natural to share your joy in him with others. Forgiveness, love, eternal life, meaning, purpose, beauty, grace…The list goes on. And Jesus himself is even better than all these benefits.

God loves to share his joy too. He delights in himself, and wants to draw us into that. It’s basically a key aspect of his glory (I want to say the aspect but I haven’t got time to think about it to make sure right now…) – God revealing his inner joy and delight in his own excellence and perfection (there is a wonderful dynamic of glory between the Father, Son and Spirit) . And before we think how self-centred that is, consider for a moment that his glory is most wonderfully and clearly expressed in the cross of Jesus where he gave himself up for us. The most un-self-centred act in all history intended to make a way for us to share in the joy he has in is own self-sacrificing, unconditionally loving, burningly holy, just (infinite recursion on every good adjectival concept) excellence.

Enjoy the videos, but don’t miss out on Jesus!

 

 

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Wild solo camping

When things got really busy Jesus:

“would withdraw to desolate places and pray”. Luke 5:16 (ESV)

He also took his disciples away for the same reason:

“Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. Mark 6:31 (ESV)

When Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath the Pharisees are livid and plot to kill him:

Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all.  Matthew 12:15 (ESV)

So he also goes away to a lonely place to get away from danger.

When Jesus heard his cousin had been beheaded he tried to get some space:

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. Matt 14:13

No doubt about it, Jesus had a habit of getting time alone, away from the pressures of ministry:

And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. Luke 4:42 (ESV)

If we are to follow Jesus we will need to get away from it all from time to time. In fact, it could be argued that seeking out lonely places is even more important in our modern age of hyper connectivity. With that in mind, wild solo camping looks a really cool thing to do. You take a tent, go into the wild (well as far away from civilisation as possible) and pitch up for a day or two. Here is an article about it:

https://www.thebmc.co.uk/going-solo-the-call-of-wild-camping

And some vids of people doing it:

Looks like it’s only legal in Scotland and on certain bits of Dartmoor though.

Camp sites open all year:

clippesby hall (26 mins. £12:50, The Dell, Old Orchard,- Check) (facebook)

park farm (47 minutes)

? http://www.ukcampsite.co.uk/articles/view.asp?id=248

hollies    (£6, 49mins, under lowestoft, beach)

These ones might be open all year round but not sure. Look good though.

top farm (27 mins, near Aylsham, £6, – Check) (facebook)

wardleyhill  (33 mins, near Lodon, south, closed for winter, open 6th march)

spring farm (50 minsaway, £9, 1t)

spring farm

whitlingham broad  (£4, )

whitehall farm (North norfolk, 1 hour 23mins, £16)

Wildish ones:

beech estate

Kit

nice bits of kit