The heart of God

In our family we have a book about a well known little blue steam train, that comes with a mirror that slides out from the back cover. It’s designed (I think) to help teach emotional intelligence to young children, by encouraging them to identify the emotions on the faces of the characters and then copy them in the mirror.

Over the Christmas period we were discussing the book, and what our favourite “faces” were; surprised, happy…”and sad!” piped up Anya.

“Why sad?” her mother asked.

“Because, then you can make them feel better,” she replied, glowing with the excitement of the truth that she had discovered.

At the age of 5 she has begun to explore the part of her soul that holds onto the suffering of others and yearns to make the world a better place, one person at a time. Maybe I knew that at the age of five, but it’s taken me at least a quarter of a century to rediscover the heart of God within His image that resides in me. My task, now, is to nurture it in both myself and Anya.

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Jesus Curses a Tree and Clears the Town

The next day Jesus saw in the distance a Christmas tree all lit up, he went to find out if it had any meaning. When he reached it, he found nothing but meaningless trinkets, because it was not the season for righteousness and justice. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever enjoy you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
Jesus entered the town and began driving out those who were buying and selling Christmas presents there. He overturned the counters in the banks and the window displays of those selling Christmas cards, and would not allow anyone to carry wrapped presents through the church. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of greed.’”
The vicars and shopkeepers heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the town.
 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the Christmas tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The Christmas tree you cursed has withered!”
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this materialism, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Love languages between us

Words of Affirmation
Quietly spoken
As still small voice
Or just my imagination?
Does He need me
To tell Him 
I can’t describe
How big He he is?
But I guess
That’s worship
Quality Time
Easy to do
For Him
As He operates
Outside time
So has an eternity 
Of attention
For each of us
Whilst I struggle
To carve out
Sabbath time
Down time
Time
Receiving Gifts
Simply put
His Son
The Spirit
His Spirit
And the gifts
He brings
And in return…
A fraction of a tithe
And a desire
To give my life
But never quite managing
Acts of Service
He died for me.
In pale imitation
I try to help others
As a surrogate
For serving a Mighty God
Who has no need of my help
That is
When I’m not too busy
Serving myself
Physical Touch
Limited to those
Who lived 2000 years ago
And those 
Who understand
What it feels like
To be in the presence of God
I don’t
I struggle to know
what it feels like
To be near God
And only imagine
Hugging Him

Life in abundance

It seems to me
That abundant life
Is being offered
To parts of the church
That already have
So much
Too much
A Californian philosophy
For Middle England

I suspect
That life
In it’s fullness
Doesn’t entail
More of the same
More of the same
But a giving up
Of the status quo

Whoever loses his life
For His sake…
Greater love has no man
Than to give up his life…

The consequence
Of a more abundant life
Is less
Of yourself
Where death is gain
And living
Is Christ

Is that
The abundance
We’re buying into?
Or believe is on offer?
For all who are thirsty…

Caring and the community

Two of my heroes are Shane Claiborne and Anthony Watt. The first is famous in a Christian celebrity kind of way, the second probably only known by a few thousand Christians outside of his native New Zealand. The thing they have in common is the formation of intentional communities. That is, clusters of open households that share a daily and weekly rhythm of prayer and worship, as well as involvement is social projects.

They have both extended their families by allowing both needy strangers and friends to come live with them, share their houses, their space, their meals and their lives. They speak and write of the love that is fostered between people as they struggle to love God, each other, the world and themselves. They move me with accounts of the suffering that they can’t help but hold close to their heart as they give up more of their lives to express their love as God tangibly as love for those around them.

But where does that leave me as a father and husband who has re-discovered God in the last 3 years? Once my family and household had already been established.

Much as I would love to be able to be part of such a community, perhaps start a community like the ones that Shane and Ants are part of, I have a strong suspicion that this will not happen for a variety of reasons. Some of these are under my control, others are not. Simple inertia, comfortable living, possessiveness, children issues and the perhaps less need in a country where there is still social welfare to sustain the most needy at least at a financial level.

So I am slowly and reluctantly accepting that I won’t be a part of an intentional community in the next 20 years at least. I’ve almost gone through the frustration stage; every now and then it flares. And I’m working through the childish strops of “well if I can’t do this, then I just won’t bother at all and live my life like everyone else I know…” But that doesn’t quite sit right with me either.

I want so much more and so much less than how everyone at my workplace, on my street at my church lives with. I want so much more of God, his love and his suffering and I want so much less attachment to my worldly possessions and ambitions. I want to take seriously the commandment to love my neighbour and in that learn to love myself, through the experience of loving God and knowing I’m loved.

So, I’ve reached the point of resigning myself to “normal” family living, but carefully seeking and searching the principles of intentional living to see what aspects of it are helpful applications of the expression of God’s love that can be put in to practice in my family. After all, my family is an intentional community of sorts. I have chosen to share my life with a woman and two small people who daily expose my capacity to love, my inability to have patience, my weaknesses and strengths. And I grow closer to God as  I share their joys, wonders and sufferings. It’s just intentional living in a slightly smaller package.

I’m left asking myself if my family community is simply a place where I unwind after a day’s work or a place that I seek to love others, love the world and love God and through that learn to appreciate that I am needed and loved. Although we don’t have the space (at the moment) to invite anyone to share in that, I have the hope that wherever we are a small bit of what we grow here rubs off onto those we meet and those who enter our house.

Perhaps I need to accept that this is not a “watered down” intentional community, just one that looks and feels slightly different to the ones that my heroes so eloquently communicate. Not lesser, simply different. Not lesser, simply different. Repeat as required until my mind understands this and my heart believes.