Saturday, 16 September 2017

An introduction to God's plans

Now He had planted a garden in the east; and there he put his treasured child. He made all kinds of trees to grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and trees that were good for food. In the middle of the garden there was a tree which held great danger for those who were easily deceived. On it grew a fruit that seemed to promise everything but in truth its only fruit was death and pain and anguish.

A river watering the garden flowed from the centre of the garden; then separated into four headwaters.
The name of the first river is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there’s gold of the highest quality and also precious stones that can be made into rings and other jewels. 
The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

He put his treasure child in the Garden, not simply to be close to his father but to admire His creation and to see that he was like his father in so many ways. The treasured child would be creative, have purpose and know freedom. He said to his treasured child, enjoy everything around you, explore everything around you, I’m giving it to you to look after – you can eat anything you want and drink from the streams that flow. But I need to warn you not to eat from the tree I’ve told you about, it is dangerous and although it may look tempting and although you will be tempted to eat from it, Don’t!
Don’t because it is poisonous and you will die if you eat it.

Then he said, ‘It isn’t good for my treasured child to be alone. He needs to have someone he can share his life with, someone perfectly designed to be like him but different – to ‘complement’ him.’

After he had made another treasured child, he put them together and when they saw each other, the first child sang for joy;

‘This is now bone of my bones

    and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called “woman”,

    for she was taken out of man.’

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The church that isn't

At what point does the gospel become worthless? It's an important question, but not one that requires debate because Jesus answered it very clearly. In Matthew 5:13 he says:

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot."

It's incredibly painful to watch the Church of England slowly destroying itself, while many of us sit silently on the side lines.
But, it's that very act of sitting silently that has put us in the situation we're now in. Jesus follows his warning about being salt by saying that we are also a light, and as lights we would be crazy to be stuck under a bowl so that no one receives the benefit.
I want to thank those who have courageously spoken out over the last few days at General Synod, for those who were mocked and sneered at and made to feel stupid.
You are none of those things, you are truly being salt and light and we, who are behind the lines, need to encourage, support and uphold you in our prayers.

It seems to me that 'inclusion' is the zeitgeist, and as Christians we need to recognise this as a thoroughly good thing. It is, in fact, the very reason for our being; that people will recognise their universal need to repent and accept Jesus Christ's atoning sacrifice. This is the ultimate inclusion, not Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor male and female, but all one in Christ Jesus.

The world has always turned God's goodness on its head and the church has done just that with inclusion - instead of offering the freedom of gospel inclusion, we are touting the lies of cultural inclusion which say come along to the party just as you are, because God has forgotten about sin. In fact, he loves sin, he must do because that's how he made us and we must be true to that identity.
Later in Matthew, there is another stern warning about the tragedy of this behaviour:

"Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’"

It seems to me, there are two people responsible for this tragic outcome, first the man who didn't recognise that being included in the party meant being ready for it. But second there is responsibility on the one who invited this guest.

The least I can do is make sure the gospel is being preached clearly and without compromise in my churches, but that's not the most I can do. I pray that God will give us all a clear vision of how to be honouring to him in our lives of service to him and that we honour him by working for the living gospel of inclusion.

Lord keep us compassionate and true to your Word.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Not all Muslims are bad.

 But all Islam is...

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

We're not just waiting around

In Paul's letter to Titus, his message is very simple: Godliness isn’t measured by how much we know, it’s measured by how we live out our service to God.
The church in Crete had several problems, it was immature, struggling with false teaching and it was working against a culture in conflict with the bible - so not a world away from being in the Church of England!

Titus’ instructions were to establish a firm foundation so the church could flourish. Pauls instructions to do this were to seek out and remove false teaching, appoint sound teachers who practise what they preach and mobilise the church family in their role of training, mentoring and living out the gospel.

Paul wanted the church to function as a family, encouraging, training, rebuking and exhorting each other to grow in godliness through the teaching of God’s word.
At the start of this letter, we see how Paul considered Titus to be like a son, and just as he longed for him to grow in his faith and service, so he longed for the church in Crete to grow too. For that to happen Titus needed to show courage and trust. Trust that the truth would change people and courage that the Holy Spirit would then establish fruit.

Those of us who know the privilege of parenthood, in any form, know that it comes with equal measures of pain, laughter, tears and celebration. But, there’s nothing more wonderful than watching children grow into adults especially if we can see them flourishing in their faith.

Christian growth, often isn’t about chronological growth, it’s also about spiritual growth. That's something all churches long to see happening in their midst.
But, we also need to recognise that with growth we can also expect pain and tears along the way. However, we need always to be reminded that we know the end-game; we know the gospel will ultimately and certainly lead to real joy and a final celebration like this world has never seen!

Friday, 27 January 2017

A new president in the White House

The USA now has a new president, ‘President Trump.’ No one would have thought it possible even this time last year and there can be no doubt that his presidency comes with equal measures of revulsion and delight.
Even within the American half of my family, there is fierce disagreement about him. As an outsider, I just can’t comprehend why, with of a population of 318 million people, they could possibly end up with such questionable characters to choose from!

But, what I find particularly troubling are the many people who think they are taking some moral stand by rallying to the cry of, “Trump, not my president!”
This is a dangerous position to take as it presumes a moral high ground that doesn't stand-up to scrutiny. From a Christian perspective, Paul reminds us in Romans 13:1 that we’re to be, 
“Subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God established.”
He also makes it clear from his other letters like Ephesians that he doesn’t only mean ‘good’ examples of people in authority. Paul’s point is that it’s primarily a matter of recognising Gods sovereignty over our world!
Should that then mean we must sit back when we see injustice, corruption or just poor leadership? 

No, it means we exercise our responsibility to take part in elections, that we vote prayerfully, that we take an active part in our society while all the time we pray for our leaders, good, bad or indifferent; recognising that God will ultimately hold them accountable for their actions.
Trump is the US President because he was voted into power and we, like every American citizen, need to be praying that he will exercise his power wisely and carefully and that God will give him wisdom beyond our expectations. 
Because, whether we like it or not, we would be very foolish to just turn our faces away and pretend he simply doesn’t exist!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

What does 'Happy Holidays' even mean?

Not everyone has a mother or is a mother and yet we are willing to say, Happy Mother’s Day. Of course, the same is true for that made-up celebration, Father’s Day.
Not everyone has a birthday on the same day; or even celebrates birthdays and yet we’re only too pleased to offer a birthday greeting without recourse to a political correctness manual.
Are we so embarrassed about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ that we somehow want to soften the blow for those for whom Jesus is not their Lord?
I wonder what the angels think of this attitude, the same angels who knew what the birth of Jesus Christ truly meant. Angels who filled the skies over that little town of Bethlehem, as heaven itself was torn open at the crying of the infant Immanuel. There was no embarrassment when they brought fear to those poor shepherds, there was no holding back as they sang God’s praises and pronounced Peace, Goodwill to all mankind.
All mankind, not just those culturally aware of the one true God.

Of course, God himself has previous form in this regard, in fact, many centuries before when choosing a man to become the father of the Jewish nation he approached someone who had no previous relationship with him at all. Almost certainly Abraham had, up until the time God spoke to him, been a moon worshipper! How culturally awkward then to muscle-in and tell him he was going to have to worship Yahweh because he’d been chosen as the father of those from whom blessing would be given for all people.

Go forward a couple of thousand years and walk with me through Athens, that great multicultural city, a metropolis with a penchant for philosophy and listen to the man standing in the Areopagus. In a city, full of altars and idols, this man dares to suggest that he knows the one they should reject all others, to worship. The man was Paul and as he proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord he didn’t stop for one second to worry whether it was a politically correct action, in fact he didn’t stop to even consider if it placed in mortal danger. He did it because he knew the salvation of Christ was the most important news; the Good News of Great Joy, the city of Athens needed to hear.

When we stop believing the gospel is that good news, or start believing it's just something worthy of being added to the mix of religious tolerance, then we have stopped trusting the gospel and our words have no value.

If, as a Christian, you feel the best you can wish someone is ‘Happy Holiday’s’ at a time when we celebrate God’s salvation plan for all people, then stop sending cards at all and start praying instead for the courage to share with joy and passion the story and hope of Christ Immanuel.
Christ has come into this world – This is what makes us happy and bold and joyful and humble and amazed and makes us celebrate God’s Salvation work!

Happy Christmas.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Goodbye and thank you!

Death is always a tragedy because it’s a reminder that this world isn’t what it’s meant to be. I believe our sense of loss is rooted in that knowledge. Yesterday was the end of a generation for my Mum, a generation that included her own mum, but on this occasion, it was marked by the sad death of my Auntie Lil.

Auntie Lil was one of the silliest people I’ve ever met and I know she would agree with me. She found humour in everything. On my last visit, there was humour even in her state of confusion and ultimately there was humour when she knew her life was coming to an end. She joked even about dying piece-by-piece, as a result of her illnesses.

Auntie Lil was married to Jim, one of life’s true gentlemen. They lived a modest existence by modern standards and yet they always seemed to enjoy life. When I was growing up, they would always spend Christmas day with us. After church on Christmas morning, while Mum cooked the turkey, I’d go with Dad to Liverpool to pick them up. I never really wanted to go, but I was always glad I did, because the journey back was always full of laughter and silliness and arriving home to the smell of turkey always made those Christmas’s so memorable. Looking back, I can never remember a harsh word between Auntie Lil and Uncle Jim. That’s not to say they didn’t know trials and disappointments in life, but what they had was significant. They had each other. Love is something we take for granted, as though it were owed to us by the universe. But, it seems to me our culture has exchanged the responsibilities of true love; the deep friendship and the passion for being at one with each other, for the belief that love is only good when it serves our own needs.

Auntie Lil will be missed, and that’s one of the greatest things any of us can leave behind us. Death is the greatest reminder we have that we are not an insignificant cosmic accident, our lives matter even on the cosmic scale. What we discover in life goes beyond explanation, it’s not about our qualifications, intelligence or the things we fill our lives with. Actually, it’s about our relationships, about discovering that indescribable thing called love.

Last week, in church, we were considering the tragedy of mankind’s sinfulness in Genesis 3, how man’s desire to worship God was swapped for a desire to be like God. It is, without question, the greatest tragedy in history. And yet, in God’s awesome grace he was able turn a broken paradise into an opportunity for us to know him more fully even than Adam and Eve knew did before sin entered the world. The reason is, we don’t only know God as our generous creator, we know him as our gracious redeemer. We know the value of love, that reflection of God’s image in us, and we know it in our hearts because God has demonstrated it to us. In that while we were yet still sinners, Christ died for us.
That is the one true hope in a world where otherwise death reigns. Christ has conquered death!

There are many more things I could say about my Auntie Lil, but I don’t want to share them, there’s something that feels repugnantly narcissistic about doing so. But I will rejoice in the knowledge that the love she showed others and the love we had for her was a deep reflection of the love God created in us and so, for that alone, I am thankful even in sadness that there is a reminder that death has been conquered.