Sunday, 15 November 2009

Recurring fault lines

If anyone does read this sorry for the typos, and this was written late at night. I may refresh it later.

I was sitting in a pub joking with a friend of mine around a year ago about recurrent themes in our lives. I was joking with him about some patterns in his life, and he was joking about patterns in mine. He asked me, if I had been banned yet from preaching at my current church. Not yet, I stated honestly.

Well, that conversation was about a year ago, and I was banned again from preaching and being a house group leader in my current church about six months ago. Of course I should not really publish this, because though this is not really created to be read it is out there (I could make it private but I do not in case God can use it.)

In the Importance of Being Earnest, Jack is told by Lady Bracknell "To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune to lose both seems like carelessness" I kind of feel to be banned once may be considered a misfortune, but twice seems like carelessness.

There are various explanations for this, one is the idea that there is no smoke without a fire. I told my current church leader my previous church experience, he almost certainly also got it on the grapevine, and well there is no smoke without a fire.

Secondly, I do believe it is right to challenge that which is wrong, the phrase that "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (attributed probably incorrectly to Edmund Burke) calls us to act. While the New Testament presents God as a God of grace and love, Jesus fell out with the religious leaders of his day and ended up getting crucified. He was quite merciless in his criticism of them. Admittedly it is John the Baptist, not Jesus, who refers to the Pharisees as a brood of vipers in Matt 3v7. However Jesus calls them this in Matt 12, and in Matt 23, indeed in Matt 23 Jesus says of the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law.

33"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

and also pronounces woes on them and calls them hypocrites.

You could say from this, and I mean it with no disrespect, that we all have repeating patterns in our lives, even Jesus.

Joseph got thrown in a hole by his brothers and then into slavery, because of his multicoloured dream coat, and their jealousy of his success. But good old Joseph, works himself up, and again becomes Potiphar's favourite slave. But Joseph, ever the golden boy, behaves himself. However, Potiphar's wife does not, and he runs away from her, and leaves his cloak.

Just as in the first story the coat was part of the lie, look at his blooded coat, he must have been eaten by wild animals (no you sold him to slaves), so now the cloak starts another lie. He tried to force himself on me (you wish).

So great one Joseph goes straight to jail.

There is a pattern.

We see David and his issues with women, that are never resolved (when he was old despite the fact that he had many wives they had to find a young virgin to keep him warm). Saying that the way that David got on with his wives that is hardly surprising, Michal he stole from a happy marriage and he never loved, Bathsheba, he murdered her husband, etc... Hardly a recipe for wedded bliss.

Jacob lived with trickery in the family, tricking his brother out of his birthright, getting tricked into marrying Leah rather than Rachel, tricks over the sheep, and tricked over Joseph (see above).

Moses never made it to the promised land, he always tried to do things his way rather than learning to trust in God.

Bonnie Tyler wrote in the song Holding out for a Hero,

Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where's the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?
Isn't there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and turn and dream of what I need

We live in a flawed world with flawed people in it. We live in a world where there is only one perfect hero, and he did not come as a white knight upon a fiery steed.

One of my returning themes is the feeling of being cheated, that my Sunday School heroes all turned out to be so flawed. Particularly David the giant killer who turned out to be a lady killer.

We want heroes. One of the biggest issues that we face today is that need for heroes in the church. The problem is we do not have heroes on this earth who we can follow unquestioningly instead we have fallen people. There is only one who is perfect, Jesus.

It seems to me that there are basically two main options of how we can respond to this. The first is that we can just pretend that human beings are all okay really, that are leaders are heroes and close our eyes to their weaknesses. The problem with this is that meanwhile since they are not perfect they make a mess, some more than others. Very often this becomes unsustainable until we hit a sudden point of realisation of what has been true all along, and not only that we have given them a license and therefore opportunity to sin, and where there is an opportunity you will find sin.

The other choice is that we can actually face up to the fact that we are not perfect and try to develop a theology that can live with it. A theology that does not pretend, but does forgive. That seems to me to be the only valid option if we are to walk truly with God and man.

At the heart of this we need to acknowledge that we are not perfect either, that we have recurring fault lines.

Now with the help of the Holy Spirit we can pray that we will learn to overcome them. However, some of these run deep into our character. With Joseph some of his problems were about a lot more than his spirit, but involved his dress sense and the fact that he was physically attractive. That does not mean that he did not have faults, he was perhaps a little vain and conceited, but to note that this was mixed in together with the whole of who he was. Such things are not just going to change over night, and I do not believe that God wants to destroy our character (and just make us perfect) but instead God wants to change us.

Therefore how do we move on, in a world of recurrent fault lines.

Firstly, we acknowledge that we are all human and all flawed. That includes admitting our own faults.

This is not about a passive acceptance, but being real.

Jesus died on the cross for our sins, surely we can forgive those who sin against us - even if they are Christian leaders.

So why did Jesus call the Pharisees a brood of vipers?

Part of the problem is that God does not call us to passive niceness. We do not just say, well that Adolf Hitler, appears to be doing some not very nice stuff, but heh I forgive him. No, sometimes we have to stand up and be counted, both in the world and in the church.

There was an article this week about a boy who raped again. One of the reasons the judge gave in not giving the boy a firmer sentence was that the Christian family of the victim had forgiven him. The BBC article comments that the views of the victim's family should not influence the sentence.

It is right to forgive, it is right to show mercy in who we treat people, but we should as the article states have a view for the victim, and to extend that to others who may be victims. I uphold the Christian perspective (there are other Christian perspectives) that prison is not there is to punish people for sin, but to prevent sin, ultimately God is judge and punishment belongs to Him. Prison works as a deterrent so people will not commit crimes, and locks up people who otherwise would commit crimes. Forgiveness therefore is not the issue (there does become an issue of forgiveness when obviously someone is no longer a threat and there is no deterrent value in holding them in prison and yet they have in the past done something awful, however that is a different issue).

Forgiveness does not mean passivity. Forgiveness though does mean love.

So back to the topic, how does that impact on how we should behave towards one another, particularly those who have hurt us?

I think the first thing to note is that God does care for the victims (which is why he opposed the Pharisees) what is interesting though is that nowhere does God oppose the Romans, who arguably were far worse. I believe there is a simple reason for this. The Romans were outside of God's people.

Therefore there is a simple rule, to those outside of the Kingdom we bring God's light. Since they do not know God's law, and do not acknowledge God as the lawgiver and saviour then there is no point about pointing out their poor behaviour. They may be being true to what they believe. They may need warning of the consequence and certainly need to be told that there is a saviour. Again that does not mean that we do not stand for the victims, it is just more complex. A pragmatic approach is necessary for those outside the Kingdom, if we can do good by calling them to good lives then there is a case for doing so. However, if like the 1st Century Romans who did not acknowledge God then, it was hardly going to do any good. Jesus of course made the ultimate point about the injustices of the Roman system. His death on the cross demonstrated the ultimate injustice of the Roman justice system.

However for those within the Kingdom, who bear the name, a certain amount is expected, and those who claim to represent God as His leaders have a particular responsibility.

However, that does not remove our responsibility to forgive and to love. Holding both the call to forgiveness and the call to repentance together is difficult, but more than anything we need the humility to remember that just as the Pharisees and fault lines so do we, and we need God's mercy as well.

It would be great to be able to end with some great conclusion that solves the problems, however that is not possible, we live in a world of recurring fault lines in ourselves as well as others and will do for as long as we live on this earth.

Therefore we are called to forgive and love, even as we struggle and protest.

However, one thing we can do and must do is pray both for ourselves that we will have the love and forgiveness and also for others. Prayer is not an opt out, but an opt in, it is not pray and do nothing, but pray and bring God's love to a hurting world, both in loving the hurt and standing up against those who hurt in a loving redemptive way.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Why believe?

Life as a Christian can get interesting and challenging. Paul describes his troubles in 2 Corinthians Ch11. "24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked."

A tough time, but when we pan out to see the context, the real problem he was noting was not all of these difficulties, but he was having problems with "super-apostles". There were real issues in the church in New Testament times, and it is that rather than the lashes and the beatings that Paul is complaining about in this passage.

The Christian race can be a tough race, but the hits that really hurt are the ones that come from those who are supposed to be on the same side.

It is easy to stop there, and not to go on any further, but that is only the introduction to what I want to say, because despite all that Paul says both about the "super-apostles" and the rest of it. Paul is not proposing giving in.

He writes in 2 Cor 12 about the great things that go on, but then continues in verse 7.

7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The reason that I am still in the church and trying to follow the Kingdom is not because it always feels good, it is not because I believe intellectually that it is the truth (though I do), it is not because I feel moved (though sometimes I do).

The reason which keeps on bringing me back is Jesus asking Peter will you too leave, and Peter saying, "Where can we go from you, you have the words of eternal life?"

But God does not abandon us either. I think my journey in the church has long been a difficult one, I have had times of amazing fellowship and friendship within the church, but I have also on more than one occasion had trouble. In fact I am beginning to wonder and worry that part of my calling is to cause trouble. Some people get missions to far flung places, or to serve in certain people groups, my calling is, as one person put it, to be a large piece of grit, the irritation that causes a pearl. At least I hope that is what they meant.

The reason though why I continue is that God is with me, and God is changing me. Now I would like to be able to say evermore from glory to glory. But I don't think that would be entirely true. I am more and more conscious of my lack of glory and my deep need for Him. For His light to shine in my darkness, to His truth to show me the way forwards, in a world of moral confusion.

I have been born again, and God is at work in my life. I would love to say that the Old has gone and the new has come, and some days it feels like that, but often if I am honest the old can be familiar. We can be too comfortable where we are, when Jesus calls us to follow Him.

I'm uncomfortable with the talk of leaving our comfort zone, because I fear that it is so badly abused as a phrase. We can seek to become some sort of spiritual Arnold Schwarzenegger. As if by our strength and spirituality we can conquer the world, "make me day." However we cannot make our days, we need God to make our days.

However, there is a sense in the Pilgrim's Progress sense that we do need to leave our comfort zone. We need to leave the safety of the City of Destruction, like Moses we need to respond to the call we hear from God, and be sent to difficult places. It was not because Moses was able, the man who had thought that he could do it all, finally realised that He could not. There is a sense of journey, a sense of being changed.

There needs to be a journey into reality. One of the great tragedies of the modern church is that we tend to see ourselves as people who are sorted out. We have the answer, the answers, unlike those people in the world who walk in darkness. Of course Jesus is the light, but the truth is we all need Jesus, both inside of the Church as well as outside. On a philosophical level the church is the body of Christ, and therefore Jesus is there very present. However, sometimes when we have another falling out, because we cannot accept someone else's way of doing things, it does not feel like Christ is there in the centre of us.

However, there is a deeper truth. Christ is there, in the mess, the question is not so much whether or not Christ is present, He is always present everywhere and in every situation. However, sometimes in the church it is the beaten bruised and crucified Christ that we see. Hurting with those who are not only hurting but being hurt.

The mystery of the incarnation is that God is with us, not just in the dark places, but perhaps particularly in the dark places. The light that shone at Calvary, the light that lights every man, is the same Christ.

There is a universalism about Christianity in that Jesus is the God of everyone in every situation, however there still is that call, the call that Jesus made, to follow me. The Jesus of the cross, is too often the Jesus of the church.

It is not that He is not present, He is always and ever present, it is that He chooses, as He chose at Calvary, not the route of power and conquest, but the still small voice of love. The refusal to overwhelm, to conquer, to deafen, to shout, but instead in weakness, in powerlessness to present His broken body as the salvation of the world, and particularly of His people. The broken body of Christ, in which He is ever present.

I'm convinced if Jesus came today He would not have His own chat show, indeed He would avoid the press, but he would be someone who we hear rumours of and would want to meet. In the time of Jesus people would hear stories of an amazing preacher who changed lives, and people would think who could this be. They would hear rumours.

Obviously we are many miles in place and many years in time from the historical Jesus who came to this earth in a particular place at a particular time. However, there is a similarity that we hear rumours of something, stories that we struggle to believe, but somehow ring a chord, hear an echo. There is someone who has walked this earth, who healed rather than hurt. Who called people to live the most amazing lives of love. Who changed the world, and still changes the world.

And it is like a rumour, it is a story which we struggle to understand. However, I do believe that the same Jesus who met with those who sought Him out, meets with people today, but like the people who went to find Him in first century Palestine, He may not be the one that we expect. In a world that worships power, wealth and comfort, a poor powerless itinerant is not who we expect to be the Saviour of the World. For He must have looked like such a nobody, Isaiah comments prophetically long before He came.

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

I think one of our problems that we want to remove the mystery and see God face to face. Yet the burning bushes do not litter every highway, indeed Moses was probably around 80 before He saw one, and the people of Israel had been crying in Egypt since before He was born.

Therefore I think there is a danger, and I need to be careful with my words here, and I mean no one any offence, but phrases such as intimacy with God, can I think give, if we are not careful, the wrong impression. Yes, God created us to walk in the garden with Him, yes one day we shall see Him face to face. Yet, here, in this fallen world we see through a glass darkly. In this fallen world there is disfigurement and dysfunctionality. Therefore, and it may be very much our fault, we do not see God clearly. We look for a City with firm foundations, and we long for it, because He has set eternity in the hearts of men, and yet we struggle in a fallen world, spiritually partially sighted.

The divine mystery is that Jesus came and Jesus died for us, but perhaps that is indeed the point, that He had to come and He had to die, because otherwise we would never see Him. He has sent His Spirit, who reveals Jesus too us, but all too often we do not spend the time and therefore we do not see.

For some people this would be woolly doubt, but for me this is real faith, for it is the only faith that I feel I can really have. The only way that I can square my experience of what I live, with what I read and see and try to understand.

That does not mean God is far away. I see His smile in a child's face, I see His joy in the leaves blowing in the wind, I hear His whisper in nature and in my relationship with others. God is here, this is hallowed ground, every bit of it, for He made it. It is the glimpses through the trees that we see.

If I could answer the question of why that is, then so much of philosophy and theology would be answered, but I do not know. Yet somehow I still hear the call, and still seek to follow, in weakness, hopefully in humility and also in love. And sometimes I feel I lose sight of Him in the trees, but still somehow, I do not understand it I still when I turn again to Him find Him, or perhaps it is that He finds me.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Be a friend

The story of the Good Samaritan seems particularly vivid at the moment. Jesus gets questioned by a religious guy, what the man must do to get eternal life?

Jesus throws the question back, what do you think?

That whole response is worthy of a whole series of sermons, how much hot air do Christians create in understanding the culture of the unchurched, I have a really radical solution. Perhaps rather than creating courses on it, we ought to ask them what they think.... Now that is perhaps rather simplistic, the real point is how do we get to that stage where we can get rid of the baggage and have an open and real conversation, because that is not always as simple as it sounds.

The man says, love God and love your neighbour as yourself.

"Great," says Jesus, "Do this and you will live."

Now the story could have ended there, but the teacher of the law has just had a conversation where he set out to test Jesus, but at the end of the day, Jesus turned the situation on its head and turned it into a test for the man. One that he passed, which left him embarrassingly congratulated and associated with Jesus, which he obviously did not want him to be. So in a search for some clear blue water he asks another question, "And who is my neighbour?"

Jesus could have thrown it back to him, "What do you think?" But he doesn't. Why? Well for one thing if he had not then we would not have had this story, and the truth is that Jesus did not live by rules that say if x then y, but by the Spirit of God and we follow that leading.

So instead of giving a straight answer or asking a straight question Jesus tells a story. A very disarming story.

The story is incredibly dramatic a man beaten up and half dead, naked at the side of the road. There is something about this attack that seeks to dehumanise the man.

A priest sees the man and walks by on the other side.

So too a Levite, again a religious person.

So what will happen to the broken man...

A Samaritan walks past, not the favourite for the Jews, the hated foreigner, someone who would be perceived to be far from God. This man though does not cross over the road and try to avoid the situation. The man does good, the man rescues the man, he becomes for him a secular saviour while the religious just walk on by.

We can focus on the question, and who is my neighbour, but I think it goes deeper than that. The man has just stated that what matters is loving God and loving your neighbour, but what does that mean.

The Teacher of the Law could probably find sound theological reasons for walking by on the other side. The man may have been dead or died on him, therefore defiling him, and meaning that He would be unable to serve God by doing His priestly duties. The man may have attacked him, or someone else may have attacked him, and it is dishonouring to God to treat our lives as of no importance.

The Levite similarly was called to live a clean and pure life, but this theology led to him walking by on the other side. and in reality breaking the law of love.

The Samaritan though did not have the complexity of theology, he same a man in need and had compassion upon him. It was as simple as that.

The problem we have is that often we use our religion as an excuse for poor behaviour. Though we know on a simple level that the King of Love should make us more loving to our fellow man. There is a very real danger it can actually make us worse.

Rather than looking with simple compassion on the hurting, we seek out some thing or some one to blame. Rather than doing the right thing, we do the religious thing. We theologise it and blame the bad on theology. Not only do we not follow Jesus, effectively we are using him as a justification for wrong.

At the end of course Jesus does again ask a question of the man, "Which of the three acted like a neighbour to the man?"

In other words Jesus is going to make the man answer his own question again.

The answer is blatantly obvious, the one who had mercy on him.

Jesus tells him to go and do the same.

What is most profound to me at the moment is the universality of this. The man stripped of his clothes, his wealth and his identity, is quite literally naked humanity in need of help. The creed and the colour and the name really do not matter. It is just someone in need of our help.

The reason why this means so much to me at the moment is that we have been left feeling beaten up and bruised by the way that we have been treated at church. By any simple view of humanity what has happened is wrong, but religion can be used as a justification for what is clearly wrong.

What really hurts though is not the beating up, we know that the people who are causing us trouble, are messed up human beings in desperate need to truly know of God's love and healing in their lives. What hurts is the fact that some people who we would have thought to be our friends have walked by on the other side, embarrassed at our predicament.

To be fair on the priest and the levite the sight of the bruised naked man at the side of the road was hardly respectable. The Samaritan though saw the man through eyes of grace as still a man.

Jesus states that whatever is done for the least of these is done for me. So in a sense the man broken at the roadside is, as is every one broken at the roadside, Jesus.

Religion can be a very great force for good, but it can also be and has also been a very great force for harm, and all too often a cause for someone to act respectably but not lovingly.

At the end of the day the man had said what matters is to love God and love people, yet as Christians we can get so caught up in religious meetings and what we do that we forget that it is love that matters. I suspect part of the motivation in some people who have been rather distant from us is that, they have ministries to serve, and they do do good. Therefore, they would not want to sacrifice fruitful ministry. I wonder if that is exactly what the priest was thinking, he had an important ministry, people were dependent on him, what would they do if he was not there. He was an important man.

Yet the man who is remembered as doing the right thing, the one the poor trapped teacher of the law had to admit was doing the right thing, was the Samaritan.

When in times of trouble I have found at times that sometimes Christians do walk by, when people who are not stop and help you out.

Bad theology gets in the way, and it was to address this poor theology that Jesus told the story.

In other words the simple message of the story is behave like a friend of God, and behave like a friend of everyone. Note I state behave like a friend of God, what I mean by that is that we treat God better than we would treat our best friend, and we treat everyone else in the same way.

We need a world where we behave like friends to all, and do not walk by on the other side.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

In three months

I've been looking at learn Spanish books, I have a good collection of books on other languages, but not Spanish. There's Spanish in three months, Spanish in 15 minutes and Instant Spanish. What next learning Spanish yesterday?

However my attempts at foreign languages might be more termed not learning German after several years. It takes time.

Growing in faith is like that. There is no route to instant holiness. The Kingdom of God does not come at the click of our fingers. It takes time, it takes perseverance and it takes effort.

But surely, some people will say, we have instant holiness. Jesus died on the cross to take away my sins, and therefore by the grace of God I have been made holy. Well, by the grace of God we are made Holy. God may look at us and see us as holy because of what Jesus has done, but on this earth we have to try and realise that in our relationship with other people and it is then that we realise that though God may have forgiven our sins and made us holy - we still have to change

God does make us holy, God does make us clean, but I still sin, I'm still not perfect. I still make mistakes, and I am becoming like Jesus, but it is not instant, it is not in three months, not in 15 minutes, it is not instant.

How do we reconcile those problems, both with ourselves and with the people who we live with and "do church" with?

Paul writes in Ephesians Ch4v2 "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love"

We are humble - we are not perfect.
We are gentle - other people are not perfect, just like we are not.
We are patient - we understand that there is a process, that it is not instant.
We bear with one another in love - we are committed to love, and so we keep going together.

It is not just humble and gentle, on some sort of relative scale, but be completely humble, completely gentle.

We know we are people in the process, and God may have made us Holy, but we have been made holy, we are being made holy and we will be made holy.

As we face Easter, and remember what Jesus did for us on the cross, the call that He makes to us, is not to some instant solution, but to pick up our cross and follow Him.

It is not to pretend that we are something that we are not, but to know that we are loved as we are. And it is not to pretend that others are something they are not, but to love them as they are.

Happy Easter.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

From words to wallpaper

From words to wallpaper
From the Word to babble
From meaning to meaninglessness
From peace to strife
From joy to a constant searching for the next kick
From love to emptiness
From hope to distress

When Jesus is Lord, everything fits together, not just in the church, but everything, art, culture, music. When Jesus is Lord music has sound, and sound has a depth that resonates within the soul.

When Jesus is Lord there is something to paint.

When Jesus is Lord there is something to believe in, something to live for.

When Jesus is Lord, it matters and everything matters.

One of the reasons why people attack Christianity is because they have nothing else to do. Bereft of anything to believe in themselves, they fill their emptiness by attacking those who do believe. I say this not because of paranoia but because I read the front page of the Coventry Times which was attacking the failures of a church. Full front page, without Jesus there is no news, without Jesus nothing matters.

Everything is empty, and why bother to produce great music, or great art, or great anything - it does not matter, we do not matter, nothing matters.

We are just large ants in a big ants nest, with no more meaning. Working hard to build a bigger little nest for ourselves. What for? For nothing, because when perish whoever has the most toys still dies. What does it matter to the Medici's now in their wonderful chapel that they sponsored Michel Angelo who produced fantastic art? Can they enjoy the satisfaction when they are dead? Does it really matter?

The further we get from God, the more we die, at first we live on no longer connected to the power of the universe, yet it takes a while for the lights to go out. It takes a while for the glory to fade.

So we move from words and great sentiment, from great art and great music to wallpaper. Songs like And Can it Be or Love Divine are songs you cannot just ignore. They grab your attention, they get into your head, they speak of a truth, that is The Truth, that cannot be ignored. So much today just fades naturally into the background, it does not interrupt, it is not interesting enough to, but it provides some background noise, like the hum of the fan on our IT equipment if whirs reminding us that we are alive, in case we forget.

Life without God is in fact a bit of a contradiction in terms, life with God and death without.

Life without God has an allure, it is tempting, but in the end though it may promise us greater love, deeper truths, greater experiences. At the end of the day, in the land where nothing matters, nothing is interesting, because it does not matter. I may go for my fix, but that is all that it is, a fix.

Jesus conquered the grave, He rose to life, death could not hold Him even when it drove nails into his hands and feet, whipped him until His skin was peeling off, and thrust a spear into His side. The problem is that though death could not hold Jesus even when it threw everything it had at Him, death still holds so many others captive. Fit, young and healthy, but their vital signs are fading, and the heart though it throws itself into everything loses the will to live.

At Easter Jesus rose from the dead, and we need to challenge the people around us, when are they going to rise from the dead! People are fit, and young and healthy and yet they need resurrecting. They need to be born again.

We have moved from words to wall paper, but before you fall asleep for the last time the Word is still alive and well, and the Word wants to speak to you today.

Happy Easter.

Friday, 14 March 2008

The flow of grace

I'm currently reading a book Lean Thinking, which is about helpfully enough Lean thinking. This is a philosophy that says cut out waste, achieve flow (i.e. don't just do it all in bulk but actually work in flowing processes) and achieve pull (that is let the customer determine what a company wants and be driven by that.

It goes against the logic of economies of scale and producing big batches and instead has an understanding of business and humanity that at times is totally surprising. While the conventional wisdom of the factory floor is line up the machines, make the workers work as fast and as hard as possible, and let it all operate like robots. Lean says forget producing batches, actually people want differentiated goods, so produce what people want. Don't produce 100 blue cars and then switch over and produce 100 red, and then be left with 50 blue cars which no one wants. Instead when someone orders a red car produce a red car.

What you end up with is a more skilled workforce who do not just produce a 100 red cars, and a 100 red cars, but produce one at a time products that people want. It seems like the system works.

So what on earth has this got to do with grace?

How much of what we do is really what God wants? How much of our lives are pulled by what God desires. We end up doing lots of things that "are right" but no one wants, not even the Almighty.

We need instead to be directed by the flow of God and the pull of His Holy Spirit. As Christians we need to stop producing lots of what God does not really want and start dynamically listening to Him and doing His will.

Jesus calls us to Follow Him, that is both pull and flow. Instead we get stuck in a religion of business, of doing stuff. Like the car company stock piling cars that no one really want, we produce stuff that no one really wants.

If we as churches threw off the waste that we spend so much of our lives on, then not only would we achieve so much more for the Kingdom, that is Kingdom value, we would have so much better relationship with God, because we would not blame Him for us spending our time and efforts doing stuff that He never asked us to do in the first place.

We need to learn to be followers, and followers do when Jesus does, but they also rest when Jesus would rest.

One of the biggest questions is do we really know what Jesus wants, and the probable answer for many of us, is that we do not. Isaiah (Is 55v2) commented,
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

Many of us are fixated with doing, but that is not the point. There is no innate value in being busy, sometimes what we need to do is to take a break and work on our spiritual life. Jesus never said that we needed to get out of your comfort zone, instead He actually said, Matt 11v29 "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

We spend so much of our lives trying to please other people, or in reaction to that.

We can become so competitive that we stop competing because we believe that we cannot win. We choose to opt out of the race because we do not believe that we can win it. We get left on the side of the losers.

In the end with God His love is not based on whether we win or lose.

The point about getting out of the boat is not about discomfort, it actually was not that comfortable in the boat. I'd be far more comfortable standing on the water than I would rocking up and down on the boat. The boat was being tossed about, Jesus was walking on the water.

The issue of getting out of the boat is the choice to follow the logic of the Kingdom and not the logic of the world. It is about putting our faith in the God who made the world, not in a man made boat. The issue in the story is about faith, not about comfort.

It is about seeing the world differently and obeying Jesus. Most of the time getting out of a boat and onto the water is only worth it if you want to go for a swim. The point about miracles is that they are special occasions. The point was that Peter did what Jesus called him to do, and put his trust in Jesus, thereby acknowledging who Jesus was.

Jesus loved Peter and He did this for a reason. Peter needed to know who Jesus was, and Peter learned to put His trust in Jesus, even when it looked stupid. He found the path of calm through the storm, the place of comfort in the pain of life. He found peace, he found the place of rest.

How much of our lives is wasted on the unecessary, and how much is given, really given to God.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Know what I mean, Harry (Potter)?

Many Christians felt a bit concerned with Harry Potter when it first appeared. All the witches and wizards surely cannot be good for the souls of our children, despite the fact that some decidely Christian authors such as C S Lewis have not been scared of having a little magic in their works.

As the series has progressed the mood has changed, I must confess that I have warmed to it. The tale has a certain morality to it, it talks about the importance of love, it talks about sacrifice, and has the challenge that living out love and friendship brings sacrifices. It warns of the dangers of giving yourself over to evil. It at times it communicates effectively a message that perhaps we as a church should be communicating. At times it has a certain Sunday School feel, an old fashioned conservatism, that we did not expect to come from an author who does not appear to have Christian tendencies, and perhaps with the treatment she has had from some in the church who can blame her.

However, a lot of our problems with Harry Potter come from the fact that J K Rowling was once one of Britain's most famous single mothers. The image of a woman pushing around a baby and writing stories on benefit is not (however accurate or inaccurate), to our mind, going to equal something Christian and edifying.

However, take a second look (well a Wikipedia look) and you realise that that really is a lot of hocus pocus. J K Rowling states "I believe in God, not magic." (American Prospect). She was educated at a Church of England primary whose Headmaster inspired Dumbledore. She did not want to discuss her Christian faith because if people knew that it might give too much away. In reality, though J K Rowling may be a different character from C S Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien, she broadly shares the same worldview.

In terms of sources and influences the story of Harry Potter is deeply influenced by the Christian story.

The problem is not with J K Rowling but ourselves and our worldview. Magic in fiction can help us to see the world in a different way, a way that is more real not less. It is a literacy device, and though the occult holds many dangers, there is a difference between something that uses magic as a device and something that is occultic.

We live in a world where there is a battle between good and evil. Evil does stalk the land and our battle as Paul reminds us is not with flesh and blood but with powers and principalities.

In all of this could it actually be that Harry Potter is on the side of the angels? Paul reminds us that the battle for our earth is not one of flesh and blood, but of rulers and powers and authority and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. That battle is fought out in culture, and I have to say that I do think that the values that Harry Potter emphasises are good, and that I therefore would put it on the right side.

Praise God for Harry Potter?!