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!