what the dickens?

Another ‘ian’ today. Tomorrow I plan to reflect more on yesterday’s awesomeness.

Being a Christian is like being Dickensian. Someone or something that is reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ Victorian novels or the characters portrayed within them is described as being Dickensian.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)

If you look at the narrative accounts of Jesus’ life you will see those characteristics in him in abundance. Look at the way he treated those who were on the fringes of society. Look at the way he treated those who were regarded as unlovable by the self-righteous elite of his day. Look at the way he gently and patiently taught people what God really wanted and offered in him. Look at the way he kept to his mission and refused to be distracted from it. In fact, as a challenge for you, why not commit yourself to do just that and read one of the gospel narratives through in this term. Read a chapter a day and you will be done within a month. I did just that this summer – I read through Luke’s gospel a day at a time and was reminded of aspects of Jesus’ character that I had forgotten and neglected. I found myself drawn more closely to want to emulate him.

To be a Christian is to be reminiscent of Jesus Christ, to show these characteristics more and more. One of the aspirations of followers of Jesus is that we would be more like him. It is not something we can do on our own. It is not something we can do through any sort of religious self-help groups or therapy. This is something that God does within us as we ask and allow him to. It is one of the things that the Holy Spirit does with us. We start to show the family likeness.

As we allow God’s Spirit to work within us, followers of Jesus find that we are more able to forgive. We find that we can respond to hostility with grace. We find that we can be patient in testing circumstances. We find that we are more naturally generous with our time and resources. We find that we actually are keeping in step with the Spirit: not so much marching in time as dancing to his beat.


Citius, Altius, Fortius

Groucho Marx once said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” That is almost profound!

This ‘ian’ is where being a Christian is like being Olympians. I am not like an Olympian because I am going to be running, jumping, throwing or doing anything else in the London 2012 Olympics (although some of you might). I am like an Olympian because being a Christian shows what I am part of. It describes where I belong. It refers to my allegiance. For the non-latin scholars, the title of this blog entry is the Olympic motto: “swifter, higher, stronger.”

Emo Phillips has told the joke that has been voted the funniest God joke ever, which is about allegiance. I have used it before but it bears re-telling in this context. You can scroll down beyond it if you want (and remember this is set in USA):

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” 

He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” 

He said, “A Christian.”

I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” 

He said, “Protestant.” 

I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” 

He said, “Baptist.” 

I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” 

He said, “Northern Baptist.” 

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” 

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” 

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” 

I said, “Me, too!”

Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” 

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” 

I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

Being a Christian is not first and foremost about which church you attend. It is about belonging to God. I often describe myself as a follower of Jesus because that shows my allegiance to him.

For the early Christians during the persecutions that began under Emperor Nero, being known as a Christian was a dangerous thing. It could quite easily cost you your life. The same is still true today in some countries. The amazing thing is that when these people were found and tortured, so many of them refused to say that they were not Christians. They knew that they belonged to God because of Jesus and nothing could change that.

A few years ago I had the privilege of meeting an old Chinese lady in an underground church in mainland China. She told me, through an interpreter, how she had been a nurse in a Christian hospital at the time of the Communist revolution and how soldiers had come and taken away most of the staff. Just a few nurses were left to care for all the patients and each week the soldiers came back and beat the nurses. They told them that if they said they did not believe in Jesus they would stop beating them, but the nurses refused to deny their faith. Then, with tears in her eyes, this wonderful old lady told me that on one occasion when the soldiers were beating her she had enough. She told them that she no longer believed and they left her alone.

As soon as they had gone she regretted what she had said and asked Jesus to forgive her. Then next week when the soldiers came back she went up to them and told them that she had only said she did not believe to stop them beating her. She still believed, she was still a follower of Jesus, and that would never change. So she told them they had better start beating her again. The soldiers did not know what to do so they left.

That old lady knew that part of what it means to be a Christian is to be someone who is known as a follower of Jesus. Our allegiance is with him. Nothing can change that. We are like Olympians because we are part of his movement.

if music be the food of love…

Another ‘ian’ for you today from the talk I did on ‘What is a Christian?’.

Donald MacDonald from the Isle of Skye was admitted to Essex University, and was now living in his first year of residence there. His clan was very excited that one of their own had made it into the upper class of education, but were concerned how he’d do in “that strange land.” After the first month, his mother came to visit, with reinforcements of whiskey and oatmeal.

“And how do you find the English students, Donald?” she asked.

“Oh, Mother,” he replied, shaking his head sadly, “they’re such terrible, noisy people: The one on that side keeps banging his head against the wall, and won’t stop; and the one on the other side screams and screams and screams away into the night.”

“But Donald! How do you manage with those dreadful noisy English neighbours?”

“Well, mother, I just ignore ’em. I just stay here quietly, playing my bagpipes…”


Being a Christian is like being a musician. The ‘-ian’ suffix here shows what (or to whom) we relate. A musician is called a musician because their activities relate to music. We are called Christians because what we do relates to Jesus Christ. Being a Christian is not simply an affirmation of a set of beliefs. It is about a relationship with God.

There is an advert that used to be shown on German Television that a German friend sent me a while ago. You can see it by clicking on the link hereClear communication is vital for us. And at the heart of any good relationship is clear communication. We know that friendships and relationships only work because we talk openly and honestly with each other and we listen to each other. I used to be a lawyer and in every divorce case I dealt with you can trace many of the problems in the relationship to a failure to communicate – to speak openly and honestly and to listen to each other.

So it is for us as Christians in a relationship with God. We need to communicate clearly with him. That is why praying and reading the Bible are so important – they are the primary means by which we speak with God and can listen to him. Praying and reading the Bible are not meant to be chores, something to be done because we have to, or something to be done quickly before we get on with the rest of our life. If we rush these things, if we give them the worst part of the day we can be sure that our relationship with God will suffer and we should not be surprised if it starts to feel that we are out of touch with God.

Praying is something we can do at any time. Do you chat with God? Do you offer prayers to him when you see someone in need? I am sure that he would like us to consider praying as natural as sending text messages to our friends or keeping in touch with them on social networking websites.

Christians are like musicians – it is about relating to God.

we are martian in the light of God

I recently was asked to do a talk on ‘What is a Christian?’ I decided that, among other things, a Christian is like a  martian.

[pause for effect]

[pause longer for the penny to drop]

For those who have not quite got the message, it’s not because people think we are weird, have green skin or will suck people’s brains out. It’s about origins. Martians are called Martians because their origins are in Mars. We are Christians because our spiritual origins are in Christ.

What does that mean? It means we are adopted into his family. It means he is the source of our faith and salvation. It means that we owe him everything. 

How does that affect me? It should lead me to live with an attitude of gratitude. ‘Thank you’ ought to be near the top of my list of words in my praying. 

More ‘ian’s to follow…

Some Martians were cruising through space when they suddenly got the urge to try some Earth food. They had no local currency so they decided to steal some Mars Bars from the local shop. They slipped into the shop, while the shopkeeper wasn’t looking and slipped out again unnoticed.
“Stop! You never paid for those!” shouted the shopkeeper.

The Martians dropped the bars and ran. They hopped on their bike, and zoomed back to the mothership. Their mother was furious with them: “You should be ashamed of yourselves. You couldn’t even take a few Mars Bars from an Earthshop without getting caught. What happened?”

“I don’t know how the shopkeeper saw us,” said one of the young Martians, “She must have eyes in the front of her head!”