Friday, 6 December 2013

Light in the Darkness

First an apology to regular readers who have been waiting for this post for some time... Sorry - life happened and I didn't have chance to write it.  Please forgive me.

Second, please note that this will be the last new post for Exploretumn this year - we're now in Advent.  However, as sure as spring follows winter and summer follows spring, after the summer, Exploretumn will be back.

And so to this brief, closing post...

Last time, we looked at "The Way of Things."  Of course, there are plenty of positive aspects of the world we enjoy, but we don't have to look far to see sadness and shame.  It's a dark world.  The shortness of the daylight hours at this time of year acts as a reminder that the suffocating darkness of sin is all around us.  (And as we saw last time, even acting from within us.)

The prophet Isaiah sounded a clarion call of good news to the people of his day.  It's a call which sounds with as much power in our generation as it did in his:
"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned."  Isaiah 9:2
It's important to note here that the light doesn't come from the people, but from beyond them.  The light emanates from God and is their only hope.

It is no accident that churches all over the world use this reading in their Christmas celebrations. In the birth of Jesus, we see God's light shining into the darkness.  In Jesus, we see that God has not left us alone in our sin, but has come to rescue us and bring us home to himself.  His love for us is completely undeserved, and some people actually reject it (to their loss), but for those who accept it, there is new life - the darkness is dispelled, the just sentence of death is revoked, and heaven's dawn breaks with forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.

At this time of year, we get excited about perfume or chocolates or computer-games or turkey.  We rush around with decorations, cards, parties and gift-wrap.  Tragically, and so easily, in the busyness of the season we can overlook what God has given us - yet, for a people in a world dominated by sin, God's gift is the most precious of all.

For reflection:
  1. Have you seen the light of hope shining in Jesus?
  2. Will he be the one present you're talking about when the decorations have come down?

Friday, 18 October 2013

The Way of Things

"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." First letter of John 1:8

"The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.  All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt: there is no one who does good, not even one." Psalm 14:2-3

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23

The Bible presents Adam's choice to disobey God as typical of all of us.  This is particularly clear in the quotations above, but this theme runs through the Bible's story like an unbroken dark thread in a complex tapestry.  The Bible is equally clear that as Adam and Eve faced the consequences of their sin, so we face the consequences of ours.

A quick look at the next few chapters of Genesis drives this home.
  • Adam is cast out of the garden so he cannot eat from the tree of life.  Like cut flowers in a vase, he appears to live for a while, but is actually dead.  Eventually, however, his physical state catches up with his spiritual condition, and he dies.  All of mankind faces the same end (as is pictured in the repetitive phrase "and he died" in Genesis 5); we may like to think of ourselves as immortal, but (as Ecclesiastes 2:16 tells us) "like the fool, the wise man too must die."
  • Adam's task of tending the garden is frustrated by thorns; his work becomes labour - most of us can relate to this.  Similarly, no mother would deny they have experienced the pain of childbirth that is a result of God's judgment on Eve.
  • Relationships become strained - Adam and Eve are ashamed of their nakedness before each other and one of their sons kills his brother.  Today, because of human selfishness, marriages and family relationships are often characterised by jealousy and power struggles, friends betray friends and nations rise against nations.

This is our world - a world dominated by sin and its effects.  It is a far cry from the beauty and tranquillity of Eden.  We sometimes express a longing to return to the perfect world that God prepared for us, and we may even work to bring a little of heaven to earth, but if we examine our hearts honestly, we know that we are as much part of the problem as the solution.  This is the way of things.

For reflection:
  1. Consider the arrogance of Adam and Eve who decided God's word about the fruit could be rejected and ignored. When God speaks to your heart through the Bible, and particularly when he challenges your own attitudes and behaviour, how do you respond?  How much like Adam and Eve are you?
  2. If this is the way of things - that our sin has broken our world and broken our relationship with God - what hope is there?  If God has chosen to cut us off, how can we ever be reconciled to him?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Painful Truth

"When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it."  (Genesis 3:6)

The Bible’s story takes a terrible turn for the worse.  Adam, the one bearing God’s image who has benefited so magnificently from God’s kindness and generosity, decides that he knows better than the maker of all things.  Adam evidently managed to persuade himself that though God had promised a severe sanction were he to eat the forbidden fruit (“You will surely die” 2:17), God would not actually follow through on this.  This betrays his fundamental distrust of God’s word, and his complete misunderstanding of God’s person and character.

His wilful disobedience earns him a stiff rebuke, and his wonderful relationship with his creator is irrevocably damaged.  Not only that, his relationship with his wife is marred, and his authority over the rest of the created order is undermined; both of these act as permanent consequences and perpetual reminders of his selfishness and arrogance.

At one level it would be easy to look at Adam in shock and disbelief that he should selfishly and carelessly forfeit so much, yet as we read his story, do we not see our own story mirrored?  Can we really be so bold as to claim we have never wilfully chosen to do what we know is out of keeping with the character of the God whose image we bear?  Have we truly never doubted God’s willingness or ability to hold us to account?

For reflection:
  1. To what extent do you feel Adam's punishment fitted his crime?
  2. What does this answer reveal about your own understanding of the person and character of God?
  3. Adam is immediately banished from the Garden of Eden so he cannot eat from the tree of life, but he doesn't physically die until chapter 5.  What does this indicate about the Bible's understanding of life and death?  What might it teach us about God?

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Let's start at the beginning

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1)

This verse (and even more so the chapter that follows it) gives us a context for our lives.  We, as inhabitants of the earth, are part of the stuff that God created.  God chose to create us - he didn't have to, but he did - along with the stars and the "creatures that move along the ground".  This means that, in God's economy, we have a purpose - our lives and existence have meaning.  The Bible is quick to tell us what that purpose is...

"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over [the rest of the animal kingdom]."  (Genesis 1:28)

We are image-bearers.  Our purpose is to reflect what God is like to the rest of the created order.  Can there be a more honourable task?  Could there ever be a greater privilege?

For reflection:
  1. Read from Genesis 1:1 up to 2:3.  Does the passage raise any questions for you?  What does it tell you about God?
  2. What does the fact that you have been created by God tell you about your relationship with him?
  3. How are you doing with your God-appointed purpose?  What would help you with this?

Thursday, 19 September 2013


Movember has transformed the top lips of men all over the world and raised huge sums for prostate cancer research.  Decembeard promises to alleviate the suffering of bowel-cancer patients, whilst intensely irritating many a wife and girlfriend.  Stoptober has helped thousands quit the smoking habit.

Exploretumn is a new season for us all to enjoy.  And, as is the case with the "months" mentioned above, there's a serious purpose to it too.  As the year grows dark and cold and the trees and plants die back, so we human beings often retreat into our homes and our hearts begin longing for the new life of spring.  This time of year presents a great opportunity to us all to reflect on life; on relationships, on past regrets and on future hopes.  How do we make sense of it all?  What is it all about?

Christianity claims to be a framework which helps us make sense of life - through all the seasons and all the experiences.  Exploretumn is a chance to see where we fit with God, and what the implications of this might be for our lives (our relationships, our past regrets and future hopes amongst other things).

The official beginning of Exploretumn this year is 29th September 2013.  I hope you can join us!