Bonjour and other bits and pieces

Greetings from a cafe in France. Supper – if not in the slow cooker – is slow cooking in the oven where I am staying and here I am on my own with a lovely coffee and a delicious spread of scrappy notes to peruse at my leisure and if they still make any sense to me – to share with you.

I’m sure you’re not – but just in case any of you are worried that this is breaching the ‘just being’ plan [- see previous post] please don’t be. Simply driving up here in our borrowed* automatic car and leaving behind my slightly guilty feelings for ‘needing’ to nourish myself this way has been a brave exercise in self-awareness and self-acceptance – dare I even say celebration of who God has made me to be? – and I am certainly intending to be in this moment and to enjoy it without any strings attached. I could almost hear the strings snap as I (or rather the automatic car) drove away.

*The borrowed car not only keeps going very reliably – a novelty for us recently – but is also a wonderful prompt to praise the Lord Jesus for his provision through his church. Our dear friends have lent us their car for our whole holiday to save us from our own very trying and sometimes giving up set of wheels. We thank God for you!

So to bits and pieces…or (if I can rely on google to get the translation correct given the context) les petits bouts or les petits morceaux….

The Missing Piece:

As I have mentioned before I am slowly working my way through The Heidelberg Catechism. Early on there is a question about the three things necessary to know “that in comfort you may live and die happily”.

I was struck that we are quite clear and ‘good’ with the first two.

  1. To know the greatness of my sin and misery.
  2. To know how I am redeemed from all my sin and misery.

Generally speaking, the first two truths are covered well in our various courses, within our teaching programmes and service structures….but what of the third?

What would you put next?

I’ll give you a clue:

3. How I am to be ___________________________ to God for such redemption.

I would argue that this third vital bit of knowledge – this precious knowledge necessary to “living and dying happily; in comfort”- gets rather short-changed in our prayers, conversations, contemplations and courses.

But why? Well – perhaps because it is not something that we can simply teach or cover as such. “How I am to be thankful to God for such redemption” isn’t exactly something you can instruct people in is it?

BUT, by the work of God’s Holy Spirit, by his transforming grace it is something we can live out and exemplify and it is something we can ask our gracious, redeeming God to reveal to the hard hearts of those we teach and witness to. It is something we can see the lack of and pray for God to cause to spring up in people’s lives.

Lord please help me to be daily and breathlessly thankful to you for “such a redemption”. Please kindle and fan into flame such thankfulness in my children. I long for them to “in comfort, live and die happily”. Please provide them with excellent, engaging, faithful teaching from your word about their great sin and misery, about redemption in Christ AND teach them please Lord, in your mercy, how to be thankful for such a redemption.

How to stir without shaking

Do you ever feel that by opening up tricky doctrines, by covering parts of scripture that have previously been left undisturbed, you are making life more difficult for those you are ministering to? Do you ever hesitate before stirring up everything that seems so still and calm, muddying the waters that on the surface appear so clear?

Our basic aim in instructing and correcting is to give clarity. Perhaps we can develop a vague idea into something more concrete, pointing out the clarity that scripture offers. If we need to reveal error it is often in the context of offering crystal clear truth in its place. But when it comes to challenging wrong thinking about free will and predestination or opening up what the bible has to say about the origin of evil, or casting doubts on cherished ideas about what heaven is like – it can feel less like instruction and more like pickpocketing. In a cunning sleight of hand we pilfer their serviceable clarity and replace it with an unfathomable mystery!

In trying to undo the knots are we in danger of unravelling the whole thing? Are we making things harder for those we are seeking to help?

Well to a certain extent yes – but just because it may be hard, frustrating and even painful doesn’t mean it is harmful or wrong. It is possible to stir without shaking!

Until relatively recently a regular part of my life was taking The Court Jester to speech therapy. Due to hearing problems as a baby and tonsils that were not only ridiculously large, but too far forward in his mouth he had to go through the difficult process of ‘un-learning’ certain speech sounds and then retraining his brain to make the sounds correctly. Was it hard work – yes! What comes naturally to almost everyone else is still a process of conscious correction for him. But were we simply over complicating things for him? Were we muddying the waters? No – the waters were already muddy – the problem was that his brain didn’t realise it. And so he had to overrule his natural instincts and submit to the clumsy process of rebuilding each sound from a set of rather awkward building blocks. We went right into the technicalities of each sound not to over intellectualise speech, but to enable its healthy development. And the result? Well, for a long time (and in some cases to this day) the corrected sound was less confident, less immediate and less smooth than the wrong sound – but it was correct and gradually the real clarity is coming.

In the same way, as we teach and learn alongside our fellow believers we shouldn’t fear lovingly and humbly stirring things up as we delve into the whole counsel of God. We shouldn’t avoid what is tricky or unfathomable. While it will be hard to abandon what has always come naturally to us, what has rolled off our tongues without us having to think about it – it will be worth it because we will know God better. While we may feel certain of less, we will be led deeper into his truth and therefore into a closer relationship with him. A correct lack of clarity within God’s revealed truth is far better than crystal clear error outside of it.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not talking about using big, obscure words where simple, clear ones will do just as well. I am not talking about taking the focus off the saving work of the Lord Jesus in order to pour over obscure questions that the text was never intended to raise (see Paul’s command to Timothy in chapter 1 of his first letter to him!).

But let’s not cower under false accusations of over intellectualising faith and making things more complicated for the sake of it. The idea of a simple faith sounds so spiritual, but what if it is being used as an excuse for error and laziness? Yes, Jesus tells us to enter the Kingdom of God like little children, but beware of immaturity impersonating child likeness. Look out for a lack of appetite for spiritual meat, a tendency to spit out anything that requires chewing over!

The amazing truth is that God has revealed himself so clearly to us in his word and in his Son. Thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit in us and through his word the gospel is crystal clear! God’s goodness is crystal clear, as is his might, his love, his justice, his purposes and his right to all the glory and praise and obedience and adoration. With this clarity as our anchor and air supply we can dive into the depths of God’s revealed truth with a sense of excitement and delight. We can be stirred up without being shaken. And the more we dive, and the deeper we go the clearer the character and purposes of God become.

Well, hardly the multiple bits and pieces I was aiming at! More like a couple of crumbs – rather like the pieces the NTV and I are offered when the children ‘share’ their treats with us! Not only that, but it is over 2 weeks since I started this post and I am far away from my cafe in France, term has started and I am back in one of my regular spots running late for lunch and desperately needing the loo. And so I will have to leave you with just one bit and a tiny piece and hopefully an appetite for a crumb or two more next week.    

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