the view from here is bleak but the future is bright

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: 
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” 
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’  ” ~ Luke 4:9-12

At 70 meters in height, Church of Saints Augustine and John (John’s Lane Church) on Thomas Street is the tallest church in Dublin. If this had been the peak that Jesus would have stood on when hungry and tired, what would he have seen? Street markets, Guinness, Mannings Bakery, St. Catherine’s Church, the Digital Hub, the flats, NCAD, the Liffey, Smithfield Square, the Four Courts … a city that stretches north, west, east and south from there. Who would he have seen? And the building dedicated to his name, would it feel like his home? Or would he feel like a stranger passing through with the impossible responsibility of restoring all of creation to God who wants to speak peace over it, speak love, speak life.

What did he see from the heights of the temple? Did it already make him sick that people were using that very building for their own gain instead of to come near to God, who planned for all people to find worth and wholeness in him? He knew he was there to die and defeat death. Wouldn’t a practice run be good? Jump just to make sure that his Father would catch him. Then the next few years wouldn’t be so bad. He wouldn’t end up in excruciating inner turmoil right before he would be arrested and crucified. He could go boldly and confidently into the plans for his life. Test God, test his identity and then decide to continue or not.

The more I speak with God, the more I see how incredibly full of grace and mercy he is – loving all people equally and filled with nothing but good intentions for them. When he shows me this city and world from the top, there are people and places that stand out to me and I see how far they are from the experience of heaven. When we follow him through the wilderness we see how different we are from who he is. We see how different our communities are from an ideal that can’t be bought. “Give me proof!” we might challenge God, “That a life lived for you will be worth it in the end.”

Walking with Jesus through the wilderness means learning to have an almost irrational faith in God that he will come through in the end and that he is who he says he is in spite of all we see and experience, even in the buildings and structures that are dedicated to him. Today, talk to God about the faith or lack of faith you have in him and his goodness that lasts and lasts and lasts.

This week we will be looking at all that God dreams for our world and the promises of heaven, both now and for eternity.

Consider The Lenten Way

40 days expand out from here. Everything that is known stands behind and waves an enthusiastic “Bon Voyage!” In front is a canyon worn down into the barren earth from pilgrim feet following in the footsteps of the first one who walked this wilderness path. Prayer was his food. Repentance would become his message … heaven his promise. But first, hunger, thirst, temptation.

Only fools take up this journey imitating him, remembering him. We strap on our boots and bring plasters for the inevitable blisters it will cost us, all for the promise of a spirit that is full. The only sustenance we can carry on our backs are truthful words, silence and a personalized invitation addressed to the Holy Spirit. He is the original guide through this desert and only costs us our pride. The road doesn’t need to be walked alone. The valleys are littered with bones of people who got lost in their prideful wanderings. Don’t go near them, they are full of disease.

But, if you are tired of the stomach aches gluttony has given you. If you need to slow down and learn how to breathe again, taking in the world around you and seeing it as if for the first time. If you need an outlet for your grief and new vision for the future. Consider the Lenten Way. If you can’t get out of bed, can’t leave your job for a month, can’t pass the kids off to someone else while you travel over over the path of a real mountain pilgrimage – consider the Lenten Way. It is a pilgrimage of the heart that will take you through suffering to joy. Not all who wander this road are lost.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God ~ Psalm 42:2

There is always a reason to go on a 40 day journey. Tell God what you want to get out of it. Take half a minute and be silent when you are done.

Sign up for daily conversation starters with God for The Lenten Way.

freedom stories – Donal

Some thoughts on Freedom

‘In my anguish I cried to the Lord and he set me free.’ Psalm 118:5.

“Freedom”, few words resonate as vividly as that word. Everyone loves freedom. Here in Ireland a popular Irish-language girls’ name, Saoirse, literally means freedom. In 2016 we will celebrate – and argue passionately about – the centenary of the revolutionary event in 1916 that ultimately led to Irish “freedom”. People right across the political spectrum support freedom, they promise it and they claim ownership over it. Freedom from foreign domination, freedom from the state, and then freedom from others, freedom to do what you want, freedom to stop others doing what they want; ultimately freedom to make the word itself mean whatever you want.

‘Jesus – it is only in your will that I am free’ sings Belfast singer-songwriter Robin Mark in ‘Jesus, All For Jesus’. This is, for me, one of the tantalizing paradoxes at the centre of Christian faith, one that that makes no sense and yet makes perfect sense. When I became a Christian on Easter Sunday almost two years ago – relatively late in life – one of my strongest intuitions was an aching desire to just relax into the will of God, finally. To know that delicate dance of free will and God’s will that can only be lived and is never perfect, but you keep on trying, in freedom.

‘I will walk in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.’ Psalm 119:45.

What is this endlessly fresh sort of freedom, this freedom in Christ? It is freedom from dull, arbitrary convention – freedom from the gnawing selfishness that says there is a higher power and you’re it – freedom from the mainstream myth of individual limitlessness when a mature sense of boundary is so often what shapes and strengthens a person’s character – freedom from a cultural mindset that so often loudly fetishes the word freedom and yet rejoices in dreary determinism: economic, biological, psychological: it’s not my fault, your honour, the genes made me do it.

Messy, awkward, beautiful, true and eternal – freedom.

“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5: 13-14

Donal Casey

freedom stories – Dublin

tozer quote

When real Freedom Comes.

I’m learning to walk in a freedom that the Bible talks about endlessly. I only really discovered this particular freedom myself several years ago. It took me a while to learn how to walk in it and I’ve a long way to go. What is this freedom that I’m talking about? I’m going to call it “Kingdom Freedom”. In the Lords Prayer there’s a mention of “God’s Kingdom coming and His will being carried out on earth just as it is in Heaven”. Can you picture that? Heaven on earth – now that’s freedom right there. Several years ago I began to grasp this reality and ever since I’ve tried to apply pulling the kingdom of heaven down on earth just as the Lord’s prayer mentions. When we live in this mindset a freedom is released to ourselves and others while ALL glory is given to God.

AW Tozer wrote “Let a man set his heart only on doing the will of God and he is instantly free.

There are many times when we set our hearts on doing something for someone else that in principal is a thoughtful idea and seems good to do but it may not necessarily be the will of God. We can know if it’s the will of God by testing our motive! When we set our hearts to do something for someone else do we want others to know we’re doing it and enjoy the praise we get for doing it? If this is the case this unfortunately isn’t the will of God because is doesn’t give him an ounce of glory and it doesn’t enable pulling the kingdom of heaven down on earth. It is in fact “good works based Christianity” and leaves no room for God to truly work. When we take on an act of love we should always check our motives. Is it God’s will? Will it glorify him? Will it impact the receivers life? Does it unleash heaven on earth? Unfortunately many times we can have the best of intentions to bless, give or walk with a kingdom mindset but the enemy will always come along and try to stop heaven coming to earth and he will do anything in his power to stop God from receiving glory.

Allow me to give you an example of this.

Matthew chapter 6 verse 3

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

I recently came across a man that was to have a minor medical procedure. This man loves to help others – He spends many weekends serving in his local church, giving to those who haven’t much and reaching the poor and needy. This man also works extremely hard to earn his keep. He cannot claim social welfare when he goes to have this procedure because he is self employed. So God put it on some hearts to anonymously bless this man. God made it clear it would need to be done in secret because this man would find it hard to be blessed if he knew who was blessing him. In other words this man needed God to bless him and not man! A typed envelope and a bankers draft so that the man couldn’t work out who it could be from became the vision. The idea was put to 3 groups of people that knew and loved this man. The response was very disheartening. You see the first group of people couldn’t apply the verse above. They had a need for praise. They felt if they gave in the secret they wouldn’t get any praise. So they came up with their own plan instead. They decided to present him openly with a donation. The man was overwhelmed and felt indebted to them. The second group of people was the church in which this man has faithfully served in for years. When the idea was put to the pastor the pastor interpreted the vision and idea as a financial request and burden for the church. A long explanation about all the unemployed this church provides for was given. Again this group missed the point and decided they would present this man with a small donation but the man would need to join them on a walk in order for this donation to be made. They too wanted to see his reaction and take the praise away from God.

The third group of people were used to practicing walking in Kingdom freedom. They grasped the concept and understood the impact. They had spent many times randomly and anonymously blessing others. Honouring, blessing, providing and reaching others in the secret brought glory to God and allowed the kingdom of heaven to touch the receivers life so much more than a public and open act such as the ones that took place above. A public and open act rarely brings glory to God but will always give man short lived praise. Sadly there is no real freedom in this. Real freedom comes when motives are right. Real freedom comes when God is glorified. Real freedom comes when heaven gets pulled down onto earth. Real freedom comes when it’s done in the secret place.

Anonymous, Dublin

freedom stories – D & D

prison

Him – There are different types of freedom. When you are locked up freedom is doing what you want to do. When you are younger you think life is forever. The older you get you realise how short life is. The last time I was locked up was before my first child.

At that time you were getting into trouble because you were trying to fit in with people. Freedom was a matter of “fuck you” about the consequences. You don’t need to fit anymore. The only time you feel free when you are locked up is for recreation. Then you are locked up again. If you wanted to go to the toilet you had to ring a bell and it might be an hour before you might go. At that time you had no telly.

I remember when I was locked up I couldn’t read or write. When I was in I learned how to read and write. The very first book I read was A Sense of Freedom by Jimmy Boyle. Now he is a TD. You find that words that you don’t know at the start of it, they come into place by the end of it. That’s how I learned to read. All the years I was in school I couldn’t read a thing. When I learned to read I could do couriering and could get a job out of that. I couldn’t go for a job because I couldn’t read and write. When I learned I got my first a job.

Freedom is to get up in morning. To do what you want. To go to the shop when you want. When you are locked up you realise what your freedom really means to you. You take it for granted until your freedom is taken. Then you realise what you had and what you haven’t got. Jump on the bus. Walk in the park. Make a phone call. To look at the telly when you want.

Her – Freedom is also peace of mind. Not constantly worrying about someone. You know where they are and know when they are safe. I know where they are so my worry is over with them. The way I felt about my sister was always worry, worry, worry, worry. When she passed away she went into God’s arms. I couldn’t get over that we were there with her. When she was back on the street I never had that peace. Freedom is knowing she is back in the Lord’s hands. It is a weight lifted off. There is a great freedom to know she is safe. (His) ma was free when he was locked up because she knew he was safe at night.

Him – I would rather peace in my mind than not be locked up. When you are out you are done. If you have problems in your head that will last a life time. You never know when you will get put into a mental prison again. If you walk away in freedom you might be back in again in 6 months.

D & D

freedom stories – Emma

emmaFree For…

For a while I stopped believing that freedom existed. As soon as you attain the thing that you might call freedom, you immediately become entrapped by something new. I longed to be an independent adult when I was a child. I did not imagine that the price I would pay was the unutterable tedium of pricing broadband providers. I’ve had bosses who have made me long for freedom due to their ineptitude and unfairness. On the other hand, I’ve learned that the grass can be greener when I’ve found myself in charge of a project and felt responsibility weighing on me. Suddenly being someone’s under-appreciated minion becomes attractive again. At least I got to sleep at night.

I began to believe there was no such thing as freedom and that we are perpetually doomed to be out of control of our own lives. In physics class I learned that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only moves from state to state. I wondered if the same was true of entrapment. We feel oppressed and crushed by a set of expectations or circumstances and then a molecular shift happens and we find ourselves subject to a different set of expectations and circumstances. Instead of freedom we simply have a more favourable entrapment.

The freedom I believed in could not be. I thought freedom was a state of limitlessness. It meant nothing and nobody had the power to influence or affect you without your permission. We learned to think this way during the Enlightenment when we officially took God out of the centre of the universe and put ourselves there instead. It’s all about me, don’t tell me what to think. At university I felt this influence a lot as we congratulated ourselves on our liberal dialogue about self and “other”. We laughed at our ancestors who had “othered” blacks, women, gays and the poor and we patted each other on the back for our enlightened view of the equality and independence of humanity (conveniently forgetting that our being at university made us simultaneously the demographic most empowered to work for justice and at the same time the least likely to ever do anything about it). The point is, in most classes I was being taught to understand that the “self” had no right to tell the “other” who or what they were. We are free beings, and we determine our own lives as we float unconnected in a meaningless universe. Once you understand that, you may choose to have relationships with others in order to pass your meaningless life more pleasantly.

However, in one class in my final year I learned that I had simply gotten it wrong about freedom; it’s not that freedom doesn’t exist, I just didn’t know what it was. I had to write a paper about the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer for one class. While he is probably best known for his assassination attempt on Hitler, he really was quite a phenomenal theologian. On this subject, in Creation and Fall (1932) he wrote, “Because [Christ] does not retain his freedom for himself the concept of freedom only exists for us as ‘being free for’.” What this means is that freedom is not something to gain for ourselves, freedom exists to benefit others. Bonhoeffer also argued that the Self-Other relationship I had been learning about is a falsity. We are what he called “ethical boundaries” to each other. Instead of being unconnected to and independent of each other, we are the boundaries and limits to each other.   Freedom happens when you are free for God and for others. It’s when you try to be free by yourself that you become trapped; you are striving for the impossible.

For you were called to freedom brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Galatians 5:13

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honour everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God, honour the emperor. 1 Peter 2:16-17

A metaphor to finish. Imagine, if you will, a ballet dancer. Or Brian O’Driscoll. Someone with beautiful feet. If their feet were shackled together they would not be free. However, on being set free they will use their freedom to follow learned movements. Their steps are planned. Every footfall is the result and the reward of hours of disciplined training. When a dancer performs some choreographed piece or when a sportsman executes a rehearsed set-play we don’t think of them as trapped. Nor do we think of them as limitless and undirected. They use their freedom for something. They are beautifully free in conformity with a greater reality – a dance, a game that cannot be denied. The beauty is drawn out by the direction of a master. Who is yours?

Emma Rothwell

freedom stories – lent 2015

freedom stories
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. ~ Galatians 5:1

Freedom. When was the last time you thought about the freedom you have?

Last year I was really struck by the types of freedom that are celebrated in Ireland at Easter.

Firstly, it is about Jesus’ rising from the dead. His defeat of death and promise of freedom to all people who believe in him and accept their need for him. This is the first Easter story of freedom, which is why we have a national holiday dedicated to it. Everything else has tried to move with the momentum that Jesus’ resurrection had – laying down his life for the purest freedom that lasts forever.

The second Easter freedom story is that of Patrick when he lit a fire on the Hill of Slane, opposing the gods and goddesses of the Druids and High King of Ireland. The opportunity to experience personal freedom in Jesus throughout Ireland is a result of that event on Easter in 433 AD – a fire is still lit on the Hill of Slane every year at Easter in remembrance.

The third freedom is the Easter Rising. Carefully orchestrated on the freedom holiday 99 years ago, Ireland finally busted open the 800 years of oppression from the British. This happened on Easter with the purpose of obtaining freedom. Shortly after, the Republic of Ireland was born. As the 100 year anniversary is on our doorstep, I am becoming more and more aware of the mixed emotions people have about it.

There is something that triggers the spirit-heart of Ireland that cries out loudly for freedom – sometimes in whatever means possible for mere illusions of freedom, as was seen during the Celtic Tiger (hint: freedom is not found in wealth). Lent begins today and thousands of people around Ireland will be giving things up for 40 days. My neighbour in pilates class will be giving up everything (bad). She normally can’t give any of it up but for some reason is able to live free of those things over Lent every year. It is within this context that I plan on thinking about freedom this Lenten season – a lot! What does it mean to be free?

When we really think about it, freedom is deeply emotional. Freedom is sometimes taken away from us and returned to us. Often, someone has paid a price along the way so that we could be as free as we are, whether we agree with their methods or not. There are also some freedoms that we  find only when we are willing to lay down our own lives, be it physically, emotionally or spiritually. Sometimes freedom is uncomfortable.

So, I have asked friends from around the country to write a bit about what freedom means to them. I’ve left it wide open for response! There will be different voices, different backgrounds and different types of freedom represented. As citizens of Ireland, they all have lived in political freedom. They have also been exposed to and experienced measures of freedom because of Jesus.

Join me each Wednesday and Saturday during Lent for Freedom Stories and Thoughts on Freedom.