Niamh Gold: Wordlessness

I love words. I am repeatedly amazed at how people can use them to express and explain. But I am becoming increasingly aware of the importance of wordlessness in my own relationship with God.

When you think about it, the most intense human emotions are often expressed wordlessly. There is a kind of grief and despair that can only be manifested in wordless, gut-wrenching tears and sobs. It makes me think of Good Friday, of Jesus’ loud cry on the cross in the moments before his death.

Imagine waking up on that Saturday morning. Your friend, your leader, your hope, is dead. Maybe you’ve known something of that feeling in your own life. There is an emptiness that no words can capture, a lifelessness that makes you wonder whether every moment from here on in will always be dimmer.

But there is another kind of wordless expression. The poet Patrick Kavanagh refers to the resurrection as a laugh freed forever and ever. What a beautiful way to imagine it! Those nonsensical, ridiculous noises, those moments where you laugh so hard it physically hurts, that joy and hilarity that cannot be contained. Just as there is wordless grief, just as there is wordless lifelessness, so too there is wordless joy. Here stands Jesus, the same Jesus who was crucified, in all his beauty and majesty. And we share in that side-splitting joy, that fullness of life! It doesn’t negate grief or depression or persecution or disease or any of these things that make us look at the world in wordless despair. It refuses to just see this brokenness and resign ourselves to the belief that this is all there is. In our deepest moments of personal pain it allows us to hold on to the promise that nothing is worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed.

We look to this beautiful, wonderful Jesus. Do we sing and shout our praises to him? Yes! Do we share this good news with those around us? Of course! Do we do theology, do we write and use this gift of language? Absolutely! But first we stand and gaze upon this God, and we are filled with wordless adoration.

Elisabeth Arnett: New

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me that she was having suicidal thoughts. I did my best to remain calm as she said this, and dispel it with the words but Jesus came to give life in all of its fullness! Life is a gift! but the words somehow didn’t stem the flow of despair taking hold of me. I asked if we could pray together, as God was the only one able to handle the situation. And praying would hopefully keep me from breaking down.

That time of prayer, in which I realised how totally dependent we were on the Lord’s mercy, led to a total transformation of perspective. Within a few minutes, hopelessness was expelled and hope reinstated, hand in hand with joy. Joy! It felt so out of place, and yet there it was! The situation had not changed at all, but suddenly it was no longer about Death, but allowing the Good Shepherd to lead us both through the valley of its shadow into the green pastures beyond.

The next morning, worshipping in church took on a whole new dimension. Singing words such as Jesus, light in the darkness, and you give life, you are love, were no longer abstract love songs to an elusive God. Every single line became a matter of life and death on which my faith was staked.

Every morning as my friend and I met up to pray, there was the temptation towards hopelessness, despair and death. We’re still here, they whisper, still taking people with us. But every morning, we came to the Lord with empty hearts and empty hands. Every day he spoke to my friend, through devotionals and sermons and even a jog. And every day, I received a new sense of faith, hope and love. Faith in a God who has overcome death and its power in this world. Hope in a God who will wipe away every tear. And love for every person in this world, made to reflect his goodness and glory.

And the One seated on the throne said: ‘Behold, I am making all things new!’

Revelation 21:5

Anna Snodgrass: Crucifixion

I just can’t get over the crucifixion.

Just imagine being one of the disciples. You’ve been with Jesus for three years, who’s fulfilled so many prophecies from Scripture that He must be God’s Messiah. The one who’s going to save people from their desperate situation. Being a Jew, you reckon that situation is the Roman occupation; Jesus will overthrow the Romans so that God’s chosen nation can live in peace.

So when Jesus is arrested and doesn’t even defend Himself against obviously false charges, I can only imagine crying out in desperation and frustration. No wonder all the disciples deserted Him. This guy who looked like the Messiah had turned out to be powerless, so the disciples’ belief in who Jesus was suddenly seemed wrong. I can’t imagine a worse feeling.

And this is why I just can’t get over it. Because what seems to be the worst situation ever possible is actually the best. The disciples had too narrow a view of Jesus’ purpose. He saved the disciples from far more than an oppressive occupation. He saved them from their own inclination to do harmful things to God, ourselves, and others, and paved the way to eternity with God.

But this goes far beyond just the first twelve disciples. Every single person – past, present, and future – can have their life transformed by this. Jesus’ death was a supernatural salvation which transcends place and time.

THIS IS INCREDIBLE. The point at which it looked as if Jesus were in a position of extreme weakness was actually a position of extreme power. He was saving the world.

As well as being mind-blown by the extremes to which Jesus went for us, the crucifixion gives me such hope. No situation can be as bad as Jesus – God Himself – dying. And yet, God brought the best possible outcome from that very happening. So when life is bad, I cling on to the crucifixion. From God’s track record, I know He can and will use a bad situation to bring about ultimate good.

Alice Rogers: Who does God say I am?

I have to admit, I’ve been having a lot of issues with identity this term. I find that at a place as crazy as Cambridge everyone has their particular niche, whether it’s a rower, musician or Union member. We all seem to be defined by what we do rather than who we are. Unfortunately, I am so easily caught up in this constant striving to achieve – not only do I want to leave Cambridge with a medicine degree, I want to have a long list of things that I’ve done that can prove my worth and validate me. Basically, I want a CV that says I am fabulous.

Thankfully, this is not something that gets ignored by the Church. I’ve lost count of the number of services where the take-home message has been that we are children of God, and this is where our worth is found. I always knew this, but it was head-knowledge and not heart-knowledge.

Last week I had an exam that completely shook me. I’d revised well and felt completely comfortable, but in the exam I had a massive panic for no real reason, and I left the exam hall in a complete sobbing mess. After much (much, much) comfort food and TV in bed, I realised that perhaps God was trying to teach me something. Perhaps I had focused too much on striving to do well and not enough time striving to seek Him. Perhaps He was showing me that despite knowing that I am His daughter, I had placed too much importance on earthly achievements and earthly perfectionism.

I unashamedly googled Who does God say I am? the other day. Google came up with some great responses, but my favourite is this:

So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God

Galatians 4:7

I’ve been a slave to my own desire to achieve for too long. I need God to help mould my heart, so that I know from within me that I am His daughter. My prayer is that this will transcend head-knowledge and become a real truth that I can live by, not just a sermon that I nod along to.  My prayer is that my heart will know that my identity is in Him and who He says I am. And He thinks I’m pretty fabulous.

Joe Grimwood: Praying God’s Promises

All these were living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.

Hebrews 11:13

Have you stopped to think about how crazy some of the Old Testament people were? Take Moses: having been adopted as a prince of Egypt, he left it all behind to be a leader for some insignificant, enslaved people. And why? Because he trusted God, taking him at his word.

And haven’t we got so many more reasons to trust God than Moses – we’ve seen Jesus. And we can see so many more promises! And so it’s a massive challenge, having seen this kind of faith, to come to God’s promises in a new way – actually believing them and living them out.

And so something that is really precious is praying through God’s promises.  That might be just taking one – e.g. The Lord is my rock (Psalm 18:2). Then think it through – a rock is strong, immobile, unchanging: so is God to us. So we can turn that into praise. But also into our lives – maybe with exams coming, we can pray to God, remembering this aspect of who God is – no matter how scary exams are, there’ll never move that rock! That’s just one example – there are countless other situations, countless other promises, to pray to God as he’s shown who he actually is, in response to what’s he said to us.

Beth Rowell: Zero and Hero

The grass withers, the flower fades,
    when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
    but the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah 40:7-8

I’m a big sci-fi nerd. I was raised on Star Trek, Stargate, Marvel, Heroes, Doctor Who – the whole gang (ask me about it sometime!). And as such, I love the ‘something more’ that sci-fi offers. Growing up I wished I had super-powers, so that I could be special, powerful and valuable and I yearned for a life more adventurous. I’m a fallen nerd. I got angry at God for making me boring in comparison, resenting my unheroic life.

I have calmed down since, but I recently read these verses and something clicked. I am like withering grass – I have no glory of my own, absolutely none. I have no special powers, no heroic plotline. My desire to be wonderful beyond my abilities is grasping for a glory not my own. Sin is often defined as aspiring to God-ness and I was coveting a greatness not mine. In fact, God has been teaching me that there is only one story, greater than any in sci-fi. It’s all pointing to Him, it’s all about Him.

He, who from creation’s blueprints chose me, felt the pain of my rejection and planned the greatest rescue mission the world would ever know. The Mighty One sought us, spoke to us and chose to die in our place. Me, not just an flat, unnamed plot device, but known, loved, understood. Three-dimensional, with personality and so many flaws. Us, not just me or you, where like a human story we could only fathom a few full characters, but all of us – loved not just in name or number but with sincerity and rejoicing.

So no, we don’t have any glory of our own, we are withering grass. But, in love, God invites us in. Your adoption means partaking in His glory, value beyond measure and the only real happy ever after. There is a story – you’re in it and it’s all about Jesus.

Nathan Kellner: God Out There

Sometimes God gives me these wonderful moments where he opens my eyes to something I’d been completely missing. The other day it struck me that too often I think of Christian life in a really self-centred way, as if the only real value in living for God is that it somehow makes me a better person, or enables me as an individual to be closer to God. A line in a worship song suddenly stood out to me, echoing this verse:

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.

Isaiah 6:3

God’s glory is an actual, tangible presence; Isaiah is overwhelmed by his vision of this most holy, most powerful glory in chapter 6. But verse 3 tells us that this same glory that filled the temple also permeates the whole of our world. It’s not just that the world reflects God’s goodness and tells us about him – more than this, God’s glorious presence actually saturates every part of reality.

At the very point that Isaiah as an individual sees God’s glory, he sees it to be the glory that fills the whole earth. Yes, God’s Spirit lives within each of us, which is such an incredible truth. But there’s more to his presence than this. I’m beginning to realise that if I want to see God’s glory, his greatness, his goodness, I need to move away from seeing my life as just an external companion to the experience of God happening only within, and instead start meeting God in all the people, places, and events of my life, which are bursting with his glory. Yes, God is within me, but the God in here is also the God out there.

Claire Hemingway: Expectations

I find it’s easy in Cambridge to try and structure everything in my life; time for work, God, church, other commitments, even attempting to plan rest. It becomes routine; I expect to have a 9-5 day followed by dinner then supervision, then bed – and it happens. I’m never ready for the unexpected – there’s no outside the box moments. Say if I went for my usual Caffè Nero – I order a latte, get the latte, drink the latte… I expected a latte and I got one. If the barista started playing the macarena, presented me with a huge chocolate celebration cake then gave me my latte, I’d be totally shocked, surprised and probably overwhelmed with joy (/ freaked out…) All because I wasn’t expecting it.

It’s exactly the same with God. Christians love the phase expecting the unexpected, referring to Jesus as an unexpected arrival when he was born in a lowly stable, as the Son of God. Yes, his birth was totally unexpected, but why should it stop there? In the last week of term, God really challenged me on this. The same verses cropped up in unrelated circumstances and he spoke to me in prayer more clearly than he has before… all totally unexpected. I thought, This cannot be happening, I didn’t plan this. Actually the truth is that we have a great, powerful and mighty God who is capable of all things, even surprising and astounding us every single day now… We just need to let him.

Romans 12:12 says, Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant (MSG). Not only is God saying be expectant but he’s saying be cheerfully expectant. Perhaps in the familiarity of routine, home life or even the events of the Easter story, we miss the unexpected moments.

So I’d challenge you: be expectant this week, expectant of God revealing more of his incredible character. Psalm 5:3 says, In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. How often do we pray that ourselves? How high are our expectations of God anyway? Are we ready for the unexpected?

Clayton Gillespie: Breath

Here and there in the Bible I’ve noticed breath pop up in some really interesting places and I thought I’d take this chance to share the bits of the pattern I’ve seen.

From the start in Genesis 2:7 God forms man and breathes into his nostrils the breath of life and with breath he can think and communicate and have a relationship with God.

I noticed God creating through breath again in Psalm 33:6, where the universe is created by the breath of his mouth. And on the flip side, at the flood, Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. (Genesis 7:22). But breath returns when God promises He will rescue and give new life to his people. In Ezekiel 37 God builds a vast army from a valley of dry bones, but sends breath to actually bring them to life. He explains the army as a metaphor for his people: promising to gather them together, bring them back from dead, return to their land and ultimately dwell with them Himself.

Indeed, breath is always about relationship. God’s ‘relational’ name “Yahweh” is just letters put to the sound you make when you breathe- as Paul says in Acts 17:25, He himself gives life and breath and everything else. And so when the ultimate relationship, between God the Father and Christ the Son, is marred by the wrath of God poured out on Jesus as he dies as our representative, we see Jesus cry out and breathe his last (Mark 15:37). He dies that we might live. He gives up his breath that we might breathe again. But when he is brought back to life and appears to his disciples, he says “peace be with [them]” and breathes on them (John 20:22). Just as God breathed on man to give them life so Christ breathes on people to give them new life in him.

Finally, in 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul uses a really interesting phrase to describe the Bible – he says All Scripture is breathed-out by God, as if it’s God’s very breath, his very power to recreate and the way we can enjoy life and a relationship with him.

So, pick up what He has breathed out and read it for yourself. Breathe again because He gave up his breath, and let everything that has breath praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6)

Andrew Burrell: Loving Liberally

When I think about the rise of the populist right, the looming EU referendum and Donald Trump’s ascendency in the USA, a huge knot fills my stomach. I instinctively want to baulk at an ideology of ‘organised intolerance’ towards the ‘other’ that wants to exclude from society those people it regards as less valuable. Yet populism often attracts some of the most vulnerable and economically insecure people within our society. As Justin Welby argued in a recent interview with PoliticsHome, the fear that migration is a threat to jobs, housing and access to healthcare is very real in many fragile communities, and more needs to be done to address it.

How then, as Christians, should we respond? We’ll inevitably disagree about policy, but I hope the following would be central to whatever approach we take:

Firstly, let’s keep Genesis 1:27 in mind: God created mankind in his own image. Just pause for a second to recognise the significance of this. Into every human, God reflects something of his beauty, giving each of us immeasurable value and dignity that only he can take away. This needs to be respected.

Next, our God-given free will was never meant to be an unfettered ‘will to power’. Rather, freedom allows us to flourish in relationships. God’s own freedom acts within the relationships of the Trinity, and he extends an invitation to join this perfect communion to you and me. He then calls on us to relate to one another in the same way.

Finally, we can see Christ’s face in the most vulnerable in our society:

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 

Matthew 25:40

This gives us a duty of care towards them, one which, as the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) shows, has no racial or cultural bounds. As former MP Sarah Teather has argued, we must be prepared “to speak against the heaping of abuse onto those at the bottom of the hierarchy of public opinion, be they asylum seekers or benefit claimants, not just to safeguard their dignity, but also because such dehumanising behaviour ultimately affects us all”.

God loves us liberally, in two senses of the word: he trusts us with freedom and cares about our opinions, but he also loves us freely, generously, abundantly. Our responsibility is to love others the same.