Wednesday, 30 December 2009

I need a litt... a lot of help in this stuff!

We Brits are great at having resolutions, but cynical about our ability in following them through.

The following list is one I wrote back in the early noughties after reading Jonathan Edwards' long list of the same.

To those of you who are wondering, this is not a post trying to show off. In truth, I'm cringing and squirming as I read some of these again as I often feel like I'm going backwards rather than forwards, (and you may well have observed it). In others I am static. In others still, there are reasons to rejoice. Overall, I feel nervous and not a little hypocritical posting this, but it's all in the spirit of no.28, (never to give up the fight, no matter how unsuccessful I may be!).

You have my permission, the next time you see me breaking one of these or being sluggish in them, to give me a good kick up the pants! Sometimes, it's the only thing that makes me listen.

I'd rather look a fool in front of you with opportunity to change than a fool in front of Christ with no such opportunity...
  1. Resolved. To make the God who is Father, Son and Spirit my treasure and to do all for their glory, such that their name is supremely exalted in my life and they are my ultimate joy.
  2. Resolved. Daily to meditate on the Scriptures in such a way as to plainly perceive myself to grow in the kind of knowledge and understanding that leads to love for and obedience to Jesus.
  3. Resolved. To set aside time (daily) to pray so that no.1 might be truer and no.2 more effective.
  4. Resolved. To fast regularly such that all my appetites might be in joyful submission to the will of God rather than causing my self-destruction.
  5. Resolved. In the power of the Holy Spirit, to root out, confess and turn away from all sin that I know of in my heart and seek that God would show me all the sin in there, to which, I am still so blind.
  6. Resolved. To know all my weaknesses that lead to my sin and learn how I function, that I might grow n reverent fear and avoid repetitions of those sins, believing by faith the promises of Scripture.
  7. Resolved. Never to be found thinking, saying or doing anything of which I would be ashamed, were it the last thing I thought, said or did before I stood before the judgment seat of Christ.
  8. Resolved. With all the energy God has given me, to live in the enjoyment of Himself, to rest in him and by his grace, to purify myself so that enjoyment might be even more intense, and that I might be more ready for my Heavenly home.
  9. Resolved. To subject all my cravings to the will of God, especially those connected with food, sleep, sex, money, power and ambition and adulation from others.
  10. Resolved. To live my life in such a way that at no point would I look back and wish I had done things any differently or have any regrets.
  11. Resolved. To fear the displeasure of God more than that of any human.
  12. Resolved. To live my life the way Jesus would have lived had he walked the earth in my lifetime.
  13. Resolved. To eat only as much as I need and no more.
  14. Resolved. To acquire only as many possessions as I need for maximum joy in God and for the fulfilment of the Great Commission.
  15. Resolved. To use as much of the money God has given me as I can in the relief of the poor, the relief of the suffering church and the finishing of the Great Commission.
  16. Resolved. To joyfully receive my share of suffering (with thanksgiving!!) so that the Great Commission might be completed earlier and therefore bring forward the day of the return of my LORD.
  17. Resolved. Never to treat anyone differently on the basis of what I might get out of them for my own ends, be those ends material, spiritual, or just the massaging of my own ego.
  18. Resolved. No longer to think of anyone or anything from a worldly point of view.
  19. Resolved. To live before to the world in such a way that the blood of its judgment is not on my hands.
  20. Resolved. To love with all my might the Bride of Christ, his church, as Christ Himself does, and to strive to see the fullness of the glory of her Christ displayed in her, for our joy and the joy of the nations.
  21. Resolved. Never to make light of a subject that should be taken seriously, or by my example give the impression that I live only to entertain and be entertained.
  22. Resolved. To spend more time contemplating the brevity of this life and the eternity of the afterlife, than I do seeking out entertainment.
  23. Resolved. That the truth I speak would never be undermined by the emotions with which I speak it, that I would truly & fully feel what I know to be true.
  24. Resolved. To speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in love and never to be found gossiping or entertaining gossip.
  25. Resolved. To be the servant of all, under God.
  26. Resolved. To be a blessing to the Bride of Christ by keeping myself pure and living and leading in a way that makes Her excited about God and His Kingdom Purpose.
  27. Resolved. Where possible to live at peace with all men.
  28. Resolved. Never to give up my fight with my corruption no matter how unsuccessful I may be.
  29. Resolved. To weed out all cynicism and self-pity in me and to replace it with glorious love for and hope in God.
  30. Resolved. To keep a tight rein on my tongue, saying only what is good and praiseworthy, for the building up of people and the praise of God, not tearing people down and blaspheming his name.
  31. Resolved. To give all praise and thanks to God for the talents, abilities and opportunities he has given me, to thank him alone and direct all the praise of men I get straight back to God, that my pride might have no opportunity to boast.
  32. Resolved. To cling with all my might to the Death and Resurrection of my LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ, alone in whom all these resolutions are possible, and without whom, I would have no forgiveness, no righteousness, no cleansing power, no resources for the daily struggle to live by faith in him, no joy, no hope and no future. To him be glory, honour, power, majesty, might and authority for ever and ever, for he ALONE, the wisdom and power of God is worthy of it all! Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Carols

For me, one of the benefits of going to a boarding school like the one I did, was the many activities that went on outside the classroom to help fill up the time.

I got roped into the school choir. The Head of Music "asked" me, as he did all the new pupils, to audition for it.

The audition wasn't a very democratic experience. Basically, if you could sing, you had to be part of it - especially if you were a boy, as tenors and basses were in short supply. Some of my friends deliberately sung flat, as they saw what was coming. I didn't have the presence of mind or even the boldness to deceive my teachers like that. Moreover, I do love music and I love singing in harmony with others. It's one of the things I miss now as the demands of real life crowd into view.

Here are three non-congregational (i.e. only sung by the choir) carols that we used to sing. The first is one of my all time favourites:

In looking, I came across this version of the Angel Gabriel. I don't prefer it to the original, but it is cool especially when they mix it in with Joy to the World.

I murdered the third verse of In the Bleak Midwinter one year in a solo when nerves got the better of me at the school carol service. People were very kind, but they were trying to rescue my ego! I was upset because of the perceived humiliation and because I had butchered a carol I love! Here it is - unharmed. :-)

In this last carol, I remember thinking what a weirdo the composer must have been to liken Jesus to an apple tree. He must have composed it after drinking a particularly potent vintage of his medieval home brew! I realise now how ignorant I was. His poetic allusions were, back then, way beyond my small mind, but I see it now.

I wonder if he wanted to use pomegranates, but couldn't get them to fit the tune...

Happy Jesus-mas everyone! :-)

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Mr Splashy Pants is Better

So... In the week when everybody is celebrating the victory of the ordinary Joe in the street over the bulldozing might of big business; there is another less well known story, that of Mr Splashy Pants, which I personally find more amusing.

By the way, is it me or does the guy in the video remind you of the actor, Martin Freeman?

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Christmas 101

Three reasons why Christmas is not just good news; it's best news.

1. God Goes Public.

Jesus, the eternal God-Man from Heaven, who since the dawn of time had revealed himself and the will of his Father to the prophets only, swaps his glorious and indestructible Heavenly body for a frail, mortal one like ours and is seen, heard, touched and known by the masses.

Jesus did what we could never do, that is to live the perfect life. The kind of life that would get the Heavenly Father's 100% approval with no caveats, no ifs, no buts, no spin and no exaggeration. He lived the life that we could never live, despite all its inherent pressures and stresses, temptations and sufferings. He proved faithful to the will of his Father to the end of his earthly life - to an excruciating, abandoned and accursed death. A death which soaked up all of the Father, Son and Spirit's righteous anger against all human wickedness and treachery and the subsequent curse that this wickedness had brought on the whole cosmos.

Jesus was never sent, only to be a good moral example for the world, our need and his mission was so much greater than that (as things like the Copenhagen summit illustrate so well). He is the first of a new humanity. Not the human equivalent of a software patch or upgrade, but a whole new kind of human - he was and is the true human. One that we could never create, whether artificially or naturally. Since that first rebellion, we have all been and all are frauds and counterfeits, all living on borrowed time.

Christmas, that is Jesus Christ, is the ultimate sneak peak, the spoiler, as to what the new humanity will be like.

Through this true human - Jesus, the God-man - the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in staggering kindness, offers love and the hope of reconciliation to the whole world.

Jesus came to share in our frail humanity, so that all those who humble themselves before him, need not eternally feel the full force of his righteous anger, but rather, might one day fully inherit his true, pure and eternal humanity, and know friendship with the Father like he does, and freedom from pain, sorrow, disorder and death.

Moreover, not only true Christians, but the whole universe now lives in the hope born from that appearing 2000 years ago.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A Petit Peu de Kareoke French!

Come on tout le monde! C'est time for a jolly bon chante-along with some legends from the world of musique francaise.

Yes, our amis across the Channel have taken this favourite de famille and put some of their own cool paroles to it!

So why not gather round the ordinateur and get ready for quelques minutes de fun fun fun?!!

Don't worry if it's been a while since you cleared out that grenouille from your gorge, cliquez "play" for a morceau of folie festive!

(For those among nous who are un petit peu more avancée in your comprehension de francais; can you spot the erreur de printing in les lyrics?)

Joyeux Noel everyone! :-)

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Walking Through the Bible in a Year

In 2010 a number of us at RFC will be walking through the Bible in the same way you would walk through any other book: from front cover to rear cover. Going slowly enough, to take in as many of the sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes as we can without getting bogged down in the detail, and getting to know the true and living God better along the way.

The plan is to meet up monthly, bringing along the questions, frustrations, revelations, thoughts and testimonies we have (had) as a result of all we've been reading and then talking it all through.

Of course, if I get my way, we'll involve food! Why not? It's biblical. :-)

Steve Levy, a pastor from Mount Pleasant Church, Swansea, expresses wonderfully much of what I'd love this forum to achieve.

(Buy his short and cheap-yet-excellent bible overview here)

Personally, I'm looking forward to knowing and loving God more, but I'm also looking forward to doing that with others. I naturally make things over complicated, and I know there are going to be those times when the penny will drop because of what someone else asks or says that I had never seen before.

Wisdom is not the preserve of the intelligent, but of the humble.

This is not an academic forum. It's not for people who want to get a spiritual bicycle pump and puff up their brains! Rather, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we simply want to become wise, so that we can love God and love like God loves.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Eating My Words Again?

Not long ago, in this post I wrote about how it's only human beings - those made in the image and likeness of God, who can sing, everything else in creation only speaks.

So when I was sitting in our church meeting this morning and we read Rev. 5:6-12, I found myself feeling uncomfortable and somewhat exposed when it said that all the angels and that lot sang and a nervous undertone of: Am I going to need to do a screeching public u-turn here? sat with me as I listened in.

This afternoon, I thought I better double check. Now I am no Greek geek, but looking at the Greek word lego that the NIV translates sang in v12-13 and you'll see no hint of it meaning "sing".

So why is it rendered sung in the NIV? I don't know. Maybe if someone in the NIV Translation Committee were to pass by this blog, they could soon shut me up. But for now I feel relieved and vindicated.

By the way, Sean's sermon was a cracker. Pick it up here when it's uploaded later this week.

On another note, if you have ever wondered what God was up to before they actually created everything, here's a clue. Be in awe. :-D

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Christmas is coming still!

I love my brother. Not only is he a technogeek. He has good social skills too! Here is an ad he put together for his school's Christian Union Christmas Meeting:

Homepage for the event here.

At my school, we are preparing for the annual carol service, which has a big input from us in the Christian Union and, whilst voluntary, is surprisingly well attended.

If you know Jesus and can spare a prayer for these events we would be most grateful. All we want is to bring honour to Jesus and open the eyes of many to the true meaning of Christmas.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Do Not Fear

Do not fear being different.
Do not fear looking inferior.
Do not fear inconvenience.
Do not fear missed opportunities.
Do not fear wrong decisions.
Do not fear reaching a plateau or falling from the top of your game.
Do not fear time and chance.
Do not fear growing old.
Do not fear helplessness.
Do not fear weakness.
Do not fear past failures casting a shadow over your future.
Do not fear the (lack of) change in your marital status.
Do not fear Christmas stress.
Do not fear traffic jams and rail delays.
Do not fear dementia.
Do not fear disease.
Do not fear your genetic time bombs.
Do not fear disability.
Do not fear other road users.
Do not fear the birds that aren't of your feather.
Do not fear how your children will or won't turn out.
Do not fear the unknown and unknowable.
Do not fear yob culture.
Do not fear what the News tells you to fear.
Do not fear the brinkmanship of politicians and businessmen.
Do not fear redundancy.
Do not fear global market fluctuations.
Do not fear Islamic Fundamentalism.
Do not fear Communism.
Do not fear nuclear annihilation.
Do not fear energy shortages.
Do not fear water shortages.
Do not fear food shortages.
Do not fear wars and rumours of wars.
Do not fear those who can kill the body but then can do no more.
Do not even fear climate change.
And do not fear the accusations of the devil

In short, do not fear loosing everything to gain the one who truly matters.

Rather, today as in everyday, whilst the world continues to speculate, pontificate and bluster its way along the broad road to ruin and destruction; you Christian fear God, love them and at their leading, subvert this mad and rebellious world order with love; compassionate, self-sacrificial, Jesus shaped love.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Christmas is coming!

One of my favourite songs is below!!

If you love Jesus, you can sing along by opening this cheezy link to some organ playing in a new window and running it in the background! (I couldn't find a video that wasn't cheezy in one or other way). Alternatively, just read and meditate.

I cannot tell why He Whom angels worship,
Should set His love upon the sons of men,
Or why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wanderers,
To bring them back, they know not how or when.
But this I know, that He was born of Mary
When Bethlehem’s manger was His only home,
And that He lived at Nazareth and laboured,
And so the Saviour, Saviour of the world is come.

I cannot tell how silently He suffered,
As with His peace He graced this place of tears,
Or how His heart upon the cross was broken,
The crown of pain to three and thirty years.
But this I know, He heals the brokenhearted,
And stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
And lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
For yet the Saviour, Saviour of the world is here.

I cannot tell how He will win the nations,
How He will claim His earthly heritage,
How satisfy the needs and aspirations
Of East and West, of sinner and of sage.
But this I know, all flesh shall see His glory,
And He shall reap the harvest He has sown,
And some glad day His sun shall shine in splendour
When He the Saviour, Saviour of the world is known.

I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship,
When, at His bidding, every storm is stilled,
Or who can say how great the jubilation
When all the hearts of men with love are filled.
But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture,
And myriad, myriad human voices sing,
And earth to Heaven, and Heaven to earth, will answer:
At last the Saviour, Saviour of the world is King

Now enjoy getting ready for Christmas! :-D

Sunday, 29 November 2009

32 & on the Edge

Yesterday saw me attending the wedding of my cousin Jonathan in Nottingham. Finally at the age of 46, he has met a woman who has been able to reel him in, (in a good way!). Roxana is lovely. Boy done good.

Jonathan has always been one with a dry sense of humour, able to say the most outrageous things and keep a straight face. So it should not have taken me by surprise at all, but it did, when at the beginning of the reception meal, in front of the hundred or so guests, he asked me to stand up. I obeyed nervously, wondering why I had been singled out for such a "privilege." Was he going to introduce me as the last remaining bachelor in the Walker family and that interested parties should see me after the meal? If he had said this, then publicly I would have been mortified, but if the truth be known, deep down, I would have relished the attention. Any publicity is good publicity - I think... I hope...

As it was, all he asked me to do was thank God for the food, which I joyfully did, not only cos it's good to thank God for all his tender mercies, but also because that was all I was standing up for.

It's good to be put on the spot. We can all prepare when we know what's coming. However, what you do when caught off guard is the measure of who you really are. Reactions to the unexpected or unwanted things of life are a great thermometer for gauging the relational temperature of our heart towards Jesus.

My brother and I once toyed with the idea of "dropping each other in it for Jesus" on the tube where unexpectedly one of us would stand up and say. Ladies and gentlemen, lend me your ears as Richard here, tells you about Jesus! We never did do that. But I'd hope that were my brother, or anyone else for that matter, to do that to me, I would always have something fresh in my walk with Jesus, worth hearing; not just from the head, but from the heart.

Being ready to give an answer for the hope that you have, is not first and foremost about being stoked up on apologetics as many Christians seem to interpret this verse. Rather, it's about being ready to say how awesome and trustworthy Jesus is, even when you are suffering intensely and unjustly, when life throws things at you that you had neither seen nor prepared for.

It's at times like that, when you really know what the soil of your heart is like.

I want to be caught off guard lots, not because I've been negligent, but because I want to be able to truly and not just theoretically cast myself onto the real care of my heavenly father.

As I turn 32, the temptation to manage my life more and more so that I can predict its outcomes and buffet myself from the unexpected, as well as discomfort, distress and disappointment, gets stronger and stronger. I have to put myself constantly and consciously in a place where I don't just dress my own selfish agenda up in the kind of religious language that makes me look really good and holy, but rather put myself in a place where I can honestly say - God you told me to do this, and if you don't come through for me now, I am totally hosed.


By the way, CARE have asked Christians to write to their MPs regarding the Equality Bill, passing through Parliament this Wednesday. If you to know more or want tips on how to write to your MP on this issue, click here.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Cry Freedom - Processing Some Thoughts and Emotions

Recently, I watched Cry Freedom:

Did I enjoy the film? Well, to be honest, I felt more like I'd been hit by a fast moving freight train! It churned up a whole lot of responses in me, and I feel like I'm only just beginning to get a handle on them.

What follows, is not well thought out argument, just reactions and thoughts I'm trying to process/analyse. Please feel free to correct me, if some of my interpretations are wrong/unfair, it helps me hugely. I don't want to live in Cuckooland.

On a personal level, it hit me hard, because my parents were in South Africa for a large portion of the 70's. They spent nearly 6 years helping to pastor a church in Durban and my big sister was born out there.

We returned for a family holiday in the Dec of 1982 when I was 5yrs old. Whilst memories are hazy, I do recall, amongst other things, learning to swim and losing my first tooth. (I accidentally swallowed it whilst tucking into some corn on the cob, only noticing after it was all over. Those of you who know me, will not be surprised.)

It felt like (although I am probably romanticising it), the educated, white middle class Woods family of Cry Freedom, could so easily have been my family, with it's sun-bleached-blond-haired and blue-eyed kids, just like we three Walker sprogs were. Watching it gave me butterflies in my stomach as I felt I was connecting with something of my past (as it could have been) even though I wasn't even born then!!

Suddenly, I wanted to know what my parents experienced and how they view it in hindsight.

Dad said that there was a huge amount of passive acceptance of the status quo of Apartheid, including in the church. The most he ever got involved in challenging the injustice was when Albert, one of their church cleaners, had his residence raided at 4 in the morning by the police, for no apparent reason, other than the usual excuse - looking for drugs/alcohol/women.

When Albert went to see him the next morning, dad said he had never seen a black man look so ashen and frightened. He promptly went to complain to the police. It took him a while to locate exactly which branch of the SA Police was responsible. When he did, sharp words were exchanged on both sides, much heat and not a lot of light. In essence, Dad was told to keep his little do-gooder pastor's nose out of it!

So given that my dad had now been exposed to the true and ugly face of Apartheid, how had they managed to live with it peaceably up to that point?

Back in the late 60's, early 70's, the Cold War was still at its height. People were still recovering from the experience of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when, only a few years earlier, the human race almost brought about its own nuclear annihilation in that great stand off between the USA and the USSR, as the Soviets threw a hedgehog at Uncle Sam's pants.

No national consciousness recovers from traumas like that quickly. So it only added to Western alarm when in post colonial Africa, many of the new Black African leaders and "Freedom Fighters" were happy to embrace Communist ideology along with the Soviet made guns and bombs with which they could obtain/maintain power.

With the spectre of Communism still looming large in many parts of the world and indeed looking to spread in sub-Saharan Africa, dad took the view (before he got to SA) that it was OK not to raise too many questions with the South African government about Apartheid if it meant keeping South Africa as an ally in the fight against Communism. To coin the proverb: "My enemy's enemy is my friend."

Dad has since unreservedly renounced that point of view.

When you watch racism played out in glorious cinematic technicolour like in Cry Freedom, it's so obvious, how unjust it all was; so easy to think we knew what should have been going through their heads and to point the finger at our white forebears asking what were they doing?!!

But if, as my good friend Sitho pointed out, we were to turn that question back at ourselves and ask what systemic injustices and evils our children and grand children will look at us aghast over, wondering how on earth we slept at night knowing that ... was going on and we did nothing about it??!...

I wonder what those things that would shock them would be...

Friday, 20 November 2009

Jesus Means Salvation - Literally!

If you're like me, permeated with a Western philosophical mindset which likes to look at everything (including good and evil) in abstraction, that's to say, independent of the context in which those things are embedded, then you will be as surprised as I was to discover the following...

One of the Hebrew words we translate as "Salvation" is Yeshua. Yeshua is the Old Testament version of the name Jesus. (It's where we get Joshua from)

This word is used many times in the Old Testament. One of the best examples is Isaiah 12:3

We've translated it: With joy you shall draw water from the wells of salvation. Literally it would be from the wells of Yeshua - Jesus.

Jesus identifies himself directly to this when he calls all who are thirsty, to himself. It's not so much that Jesus offers us salvation, in the Western philosophical sense, something abstract and separate from himself to be received from him like an extravagant birthday present which is taken off and played with in another room, but rather to receive salvation is to receive him.

Salvation is not from Jesus, it is Jesus.

To get technical for a bit... when we're talking about the origin of salvation we can of course say it's from Jesus, but when we are talking about what salvation is, what it's like to experience, we can only say that it is Jesus, we cannot divorce the work from the person as we are so want to do!!

Have a look at those references and each time you come across the word salvation or deliverance, replace it with the name Jesus. It doesn't always work, but you'll be surprised at how many times it does. It also helps to show that those who, like Abraham, were of the true faith in the Old Testament, looked for exactly the same person (that is Christ) as we now do.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Big Traffic Problems et al.

In a week where Christians are being asked to write to their MPs regarding the potential closure of the MET's human trafficking investigation unit (cost cutting measure), I have also been made aware that sex is not the only reason people are trafficked.

Below are some of the refugees of the global credit crunch...

You may work in a sector that is not far from redundancy, but I am guessing, unlike these guys, you're a long way off death.

The comment thread on this video is also interesting. Particularly those about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This is not just a developing world (whatever that means) problem.

More harrowing news in this morning as Australian PM apologizes for abuse of children in state care homes. (Many of them sent over from the UK.)

Having watched Cry Freedom last night, I'm beginning to find the whole thing quite overwhelming!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Good ldol???

The rest of you are probably about to sit down and watch X-Factor or SCD. Personally, I'd rather read a book or talk. Tonight I am marking.

But I'm shocked...

As a luddite, I never would have believed that the genre of Idol TV might bring anything remotely desirable and uplifting to any culture, but if I can manage to put my prejudices aside for just a moment, I might, as the following clip claims, be proven wrong...

Friday, 13 November 2009

Sign of Salvation

I read Isaiah 11:10 recently where it talks of a banner being raised up for the whole earth to flock towards.

Looking up the Hebrew word translated "banner" is revealing! In short it means something lifted up, a standard, a rallying point. It's a prophetic reference to Jesus' own crucifixion (like the bronze serpent was). The God-Man lifted up so that all who flee and flock to him might take refuge in him when his wrath finally falls on the whole earth and the grave and the sea spew up their dead ready for the Judgment. What an awesome and awful moment that will be!

Those found taking refuge in Jesus, whilst all this incredible righteous justice is being executed on the wicked, will be found to be from all different places and walks of life.

I experienced a tiny slice of that huge diversity spectrum last night when I met with a bunch of people from my church for a couple of hours in my home. If it wasn’t for what Jesus has been up to in each of our lives, I can honestly say I would never have had the privilege of meeting any of them.

Among the seven of us were represented the male and the female, the single and the married, the parent and the non-parent(!?), the young and the old, the able and the disabled, the black and the white, the rich and the poor, the socially connected and the socially disenfranchised, the tall and the short etc…

Last night, (with tissues at the ready) we made ourselves vulnerable to each other as we shared something of our life stories; the pains and pleasures, the tears and laughter and the expected and unexpected turns that have shaped us for better or worse, into the people we are today.

It all came to a wonderful conclusion when we together at the end rose to worship the living, eternal God awesomely revealed through Jesus Christ.

The song we sang (How Great Thou Art) and the prayers we prayed are etched on my memory, not because I wrote them down (although I do try and keep a journal of these get-togethers) but because that night, new bonds were formed between us. It wasn’t plastic church, aka the hypocrisy of pretence. We didn’t pass like ships in the night, we weren’t present in body only, but in our mind and heart elsewhere. We were together on the Calvary road and going in the same direction.

One person prayed Lord if I had my life again, I wouldn't change a thing of it. Having heard something more of their life history that evening, what they uttered to God was nothing short of breathtaking! I was deeply humbled and in awe at the grace of God that they could pray that prayer with such sincerity of heart.

The rest of soul that God offers to all through Jesus, this root of Jesse, is truly glorious, and only he can give it.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Remembrance Day Reflection

We had an assembly this Monday where we paused, as we do at this time every year, to remember those who have paid the ultimate price, that of their own life, to protect our national sovereignty and unique cultural heritage as well as those of our allies. Below is a still from that video which arrested my attention.

I doubt I'm about to say anything you haven't heard before, but this image brought home to me again not just the lunacy of war, but of this whole present age.

We are all used to seeing pictures of war victims with their heads half blown off or missing a limb. The thing about that kind of image is that it immediately draws me in on the level of personal suffering. When I see images like that, I rarely go beyond thinking Gosh how awful it would be to experience something like that.

But in this image, there is no suffering, no pain. Just work. Work is wholesome and good, gives a sense of purpose and satisfaction to life. To all intents and purposes, here we see a standard factory floor where everyone is diligently and admirably set about their work.

Yet they're making artillery shells that will blow up other people. What's more, these are women making the shells. These are those whose hands were given to them by God to nurse, to cherish, to nurture, to sustain, to give life. Here they are making shells that will maim, destroy and kill those who were unlucky enough to stand in their way and in so doing bring tears to mothers just like themselves, but in a far off distant land, where they are not heard.

I don't say this because I'm a pacifist. I'm not. The point is that this is a disordered, messed up world.

And whilst the closeness of war is at least 60 years in the past for most, if not all of us reading this, that lunacy continues - one of the many symptoms of our refusal to love the truth and be saved.

We need Jesus a lot more than we realise.

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Radical Counter Intuition of Compassion

Have just been for an evening down to Wellington College to hear Baroness Cox talk about the humungous ongoing needs in Sudan, (Spot the ironic juxtaposition of locations!) which a friend of mine is aiming to go some way to meeting by giving up a year of her life to go and live and work out there.

Talking with my friend Sitho on the way home, (always an animated conversation, whatever the topic) we were saying it is easy to get carried away with feeling the need to drop everything and go out there!

But it struck me, from one of the comments that the Baroness made during the evening that this kind of fervent self-flagellation and pledge to "surrender my body to the flames" and go out to these desperate parts of the world is not the point.

She said, I paraphrase:

Build a hospital and you save a few lives, educate a community and you save many more.

Off the back of that comment, I found my thoughts spinning off into asking, why stop there? Why not take it a step further and say: live radically here (caught up in the mad matrix of the west) by raising up and supporting people who will go and so by various means touch many more people still, with the love of Jesus? Why not embrace the call (put so powerfully to by Ronald Sider many years ago) to live simply that others may simply live?

The call to live radically here in Britain is no easier to the call in the Sudan. Going with the flow is easy in any setting. Perhaps the choices for going to the Sudan are more stark, but it is easier not to forget the suffering when your mud wall barely muffles their screaming from the shrapnel wounds. It's much harder (and therefore requires a different kind of radical) to keep the poor and needy in your focus when, (like in the West) they are invisible to you, and the few times you do see them, it's in the context of reactionary emotional voyerism as provided by the media.

A friend of mine once said that if God can't trust you as a cleaner, why do you think they should trust you as a missionary? If you ain't bustin a gut to live radically for Jesus now, what makes you think that a change of location and a few more emaciated children clinging to your feet will really stir your spirit. At best, you'll get grumpy and resentful at the little you can do, at worst, you'll go into emotional meltdown.

When it comes to fostering compassion in me, I think I need a change of location. Jesus disagrees and says I need a change of heart.

The faith that stirs to the kind of action that counts does not rest so much on location and worldly sympathy as it does on faith and Godly compassion.

Compassion, especially in this age, is not limited by circumstance but by desire.

Lord, let me plod on in this kind of radical daily living however it looks.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Fruitfulness of Christ

I preached at the weekend on John 15:1-17 (audio here, notes here). Afterwards, a friend pointed out that he had seen a picture of an apple tree in a magazine that had had nearly 200 different apple varieties grafted into it.

All the different apples below came from the one tree!

Here's that same tree in action. Peacefully bearing fruit in due season:

Reminds me of the church at the end of the age, with some of all the (6000 or so) different ethnic groups of the world, grafted into Jesus. And thriving in the life that he alone can give.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

So Where Did Satan Come from?

In one popular mythology, spiritual beings don't exist, in most others, Satan was involved with his dark angels in cosmic battles against God and his posse of light angels long before humans ever appeared on the scene, and continues to be so to this day.

Is that really the picture the bible paints? Huge spiritual warfare between the forces of good and evil before the creation of the heavens and the earth?

We know from Job that all the angels were created before the heavens and earth because they rejoiced as they watched Jesus and the Holy Spirit putting it all together. There is no mention of dark angels attacking the merry throng, or even a couple of mischievous angels impolitely hissing and booing! Nor even a twitter of mild dissension!

We also know that once Team Trinity had finished creating everything, it was good.

Now we must take that at face value. It was not a spin-doctor type of good that really meant: Everything is generally good but if the truth be known there's a pocket the cosmos that has erupted in angelic carnage as this redskined, pointy-tailed, pitchfork carrying lunatic has mounted a rebellion, but we are containing it and expect to have it under control within the eon!

NB Much as I think Ricky Gervais is irreverent (and funny at times), he does typify this point of view quite well! (See from 5:30 to end. DO NOT watch this if you are easily offended by coarse language.)

Is that really true though? Did God place Adam and Eve in the garden, knowing that there was a serpent in there who would get them to rebel? Was God so careless? If a mum put her newborn in a pen with a hungry lion and expect the lion not to gobble it up for lunch, you would say the mum is nuts... evil even! If you believe the first paragraph of this post then you have to also say that God is that brand of nuts or evil, or both, when he knowingly put Adam and Eve in the pen of Eden.

Unless of course there is a better way...

The Bible tells us that Adam, Eve and the Lucifer all rebelled against God together.

Satan, (or Lucifer as was his pre-rebellion name) was the guardian angel in the garden of Eden. But he rebelled, by inciting Adam and Eve to rebel against God.

And so we have lived under this curse ever since.

Thank God for Jesus!

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Scrambling to get to 10!

I know I'm scrambling and chucking random things out there in order to reach my target of ten posts a month, but I saw this on Glen Scrivener's blog and (as I fancy myself as a bit of a closet muso), thought it was worthy of sharing...

What's amusing is that many try to imitate.

These guys at least keep the backing track...

These guys don't even try!

Warning, there now follows a cheesy spiritual link!

Isn't it a relief that when it comes to the imitation of Jesus the Christian is not left to figure it out for himself.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Sermon Spoiler

Short of divine intervention, this...

... (with the help of this mindmapping software) is where the semon is going on Sunday morning.

The Key is Symmetry

The universe turns on symmetry, you say?


Where have I heard that before?

Symmetry is an echo of the divine nature of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Monday, 26 October 2009

What I would have said... given a greater presence of mind.

Yesterday, at the church I have the privilege of helping to lead, we publicly thanked and released one of our fellow elders from the responsibilities of that office.

Craig Mackay has been on the eldership (Christian-speak for leadership team) of Reading Family Church ever since its inception back in Feb 2000. However, since the beginning of the year, he has been on long term sabbatical, caring for his wife who, to all our surprise, back in December 08, was diagnosed with an advanced form of ovarian cancer.

Mercifully, thanks to God, and advances in medical technology, we are optimistic about the possibility of remission, for which we are very grateful. But the road to recovery that they want to travel down is still at best long and at worst not secured yet. So with this in mind we felt it fairest and best to release them as a couple from any future leadership expectation and allow Craig to continue to give himself to caring for his wife and family.

I was one of the people who publicly thanked them. Whilst heart-felt and genuine, the truth is, after a busy week with a trip to France amongst other things, I hadn't given what I was going to say much thought and thus didn't feel I did them justice.

So if I had a second chance it might have gone something like this, (though probably a little shorter)...

Craig and Karena have been models of great kindness to me. I first properly met them when they invited me round to Sunday lunch, not long after I arrived in the Summer of 2004. In a desperate (British) attempt to reciprocate the hospitality, about six months later, I invited them (and their three kids) to lunch.

However, back then I was an even more ignorant bachelor than I am now and didn't think that, whilst ok for adults, maybe a wicked strength barbecue chicken (It had a huge amount of vinegar in. I'm sure it was a misprint!) would not be the best thing to serve up to kids.

Craig happily lapped it up, seemingly oblivious to the comic levels of British politeness being displayed by Karena who, at the opposite end of the table, was trying to persuade the children that this was not worse than the thought of eating their own vomit.

If I am not mistaken, Karena enjoyed it. Whether her enjoyment came from the flavour of the food, the fact that she was grateful for not having had to cook for her tribe that day or from a charitable desire to affirm me in my fledgling attempts at hospitality, I have never dared to ask. The kids, (bless 'em) were left with rice and peas, but at least their delicate stomach linings remained intact and all was forgiven when the banoffee pie appeared with more than enough calories in it to make up for the shortfall in the first course.

This "Kindness-to-the-idiot-bachelor" theme has continued sporadically down the years of our friendship as Craig once offered to burn one of my less flattering and very over-worn t-shirts, (he was serious!)

...I still have the said t-shirt.

But joking apart, once the enjoyment that comes from the memory of shared experiences has been had; (memories like meals, crazily early triathlon races and training, Irish holiday pop-ins, tool borrowing, babysitting, prayer meetings, crying with laughter over our toe-curling mistakes in giving sermons and the like), Craig and Karena remain an outstanding and godly couple whom it is my privilege and joy to know. Their incredible generosity to me and others has been and is such a blessing. I thank God for them not least nearly every time I drive the car that they gave me.

(She may not look like much and the only think she may have in common with a Ferrari is colour, but that little Nissan Micra hasn't let me down yet! Nor does she give any sign of doing so in the near future!)

Their simple love of Jesus, confidence in him and faithful obedience to him, which is on display in their every day lives and even more so since this cancer chapter began; has been and will continue to be a great inspiration to me and many others, I know.

And so I continue to pray for Karena to be healed, but more than this, I pray that just as Jesus has been glorified in them, and continues to be so, that he would also vindicate their trust of him, both now and in the age to come when he is revealed from Heaven.

PS The Sermon from that morning "Rested 4" was excellent. Find it here when it goes up on the website at some point this week.

Odds and Sods: From the Ridiculous to Sublime

Some odds and sods from the world of internet video.

A good friend of mine brought this one to my attention. The fun Sunderland pokes at our perception of value is both insightful and thought provoking and the Shreddies anecdote is hillarious!

The frog of personhood continues to be slowly and unwittingly boiled alive in the technological age...

This is clever...

And the best til last. This is awesome...

Sunday, 25 October 2009

An Outstanding Song

More than just a few Christian catchphrases bolted onto some cool sounding power chords; the following song comes from a maturity and experience that, these days, does not often gain the limelight in the Christian media merry-go-round.

Buy it here.

Lyrics in full:

I have placed all my hope in a crucified man
In the wounds in his side, his feet and his hands
I have traded my pride for a share in his shame
And the glory that one-day will burst from his pain

I’ve abandoned my trust in the wise and the proud
For this fragile, mysterious weakness of God
And I dare to believe in his scandalous claim
That his blood cleanses sin for whoever
Will call on his name

Live or die here I stand
I’ve placed my hope in a crucified man

I believe as they beat on his beautiful face
He turned a torturer’s chair to an altar of grace
Where the worst we can do met the best that God does
Where unspeakable hate met the gaze
Of unstoppable love

At the crux of it all there he hangs
I’ve placed my hope in a crucified….

Man of sorrows man of grief
Will he stay beyond belief?

When the purest and best took the force of our curse
Death’s victory armada juddered into reverse…
And either we bow or we stumble and fall
For the wisdom of a suffering God
Has made fools of us all
I gladly admit that I am
But I’ve placed my hope in a crucified …

Man of sorrows man of grief
Will he stay beyond belief?

I have buried my life in the cold earth with him
Like a seed in the winter, I wait for the spring
From that garden of tombs Eden rises again
And Paradise blooms from his body
And never will end

He’ll finish all he began
Creation hopes in a crucified man

When I stand at the judgement
I have no other plan
I’ve placed my hope in a crucified man

Like the thief nailed beside him
I have no other plan
I’ve placed my hope in a crucified man

Graham Kendrick
Copyright © 2006 Make Way Music,
All rights reserved.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Bible for the Digital Age?

Am I just being a nervous luddite, or is anyone else uneasy about this?

The key to victorious Christian living (a.k.a fruitfulness) has never been an overload of information, but obedience.

I pity those who will buy this thinking that (like that new year's resolution gym membership card sitting in the draw untouched since mid-January), it will sort out their perceived/actual spiritual deficiencies.

The problem is deeper than we realise, but the grace available to us through Jesus Christ in our dire need is beyond our wildest imagination.

The solution is simple. If only we (I) would believe it.

In the Digital age, just like every other age, the answer isn't information, it's revelation - of Jesus Christ.

Monday, 12 October 2009

God's Own Take on What God Is & Isn't

The journalist Christopher Hitchins has written a book called God is Not Great. I have it in audio and hope to listen to it some time before 2020!

Here is God's own record of what "God is not"

Numbers 23:19

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

1 Corinthians 14:33

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

Hebrews 6:10

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

Hebrews 11:16

Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

It's only on negatives like these that I'm willing to bank my hope.

And now for something a little more affirmative... God's own record on what God is:

Deuteronomy 4:7

What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?

Deuteronomy 4:24

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Deuteronomy 4:31

For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.

Deuteronomy 7:9

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

Deuteronomy 10:17

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.

Deuteronomy 33:27

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemy before you, saying, 'Destroy him!'

Joshua 2:11

When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

2 Samuel 22:3

my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior— from violent men you save me.

2 Chronicles 2:5

The temple I am going to build will be great, because our God is greater than all other gods.

2 Chronicles 13:12

God is with us; he is our leader. His priests with their trumpets will sound the battle cry against you. Men of Israel, do not fight against the LORD, the God of your fathers, for you will not succeed.

2 Chronicles 30:9
If you return to the LORD, then your brothers and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will come back to this land, for the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.

Ezra 8:22

I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, "The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him."

Job 33:12

But I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than man.

Job 36:5

God is mighty, but does not despise men; he is mighty, and firm in his purpose.

Job 36:22

God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him?

Psalm 7:11

God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day.

Psalm 14:5

There they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous.

Psalm 47:7

For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise.

Psalm 47:8

God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne.

Psalm 48:14

For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.

Psalm 54:4

Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Psalm 62:8

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.

Psalm 68:20

Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death.

Psalm 73:1
Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.

Psalm 73:26

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 76:1
In Judah God is known; his name is great in Israel.

Psalm 84:11

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

Psalm 89:7

In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him.

Psalm 99:9

Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy.

Psalm 115:3

Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.

Psalm 116:5

The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.

Proverbs 30:5

Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

Ecclesiastes 5:2

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

Isaiah 8:10

Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, for God is with us.

Isaiah 12:2

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.

Daniel 5:21

He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes.

Daniel 9:9

The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him;

Daniel 9:14

The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.

John 4:24

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.

Romans 8:31
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?

1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

2 Corinthians 1:18

But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not "Yes" and "No."

2 Corinthians 9:8

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

1 Thessalonians 2:5

You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness.

2 Thessalonians 1:6

God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you

1 John 1:5
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

1 John 4:8

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.