of camels and needles

You’d almost think I have some sort of plan for this blog (only ‘almost’). Yesterday I wrote bloggerel about grace, based on Jesus saying to a rich young man, “You lack one thing…”

I wrote that I would come back to the passage itself and today that’s my intention. You can find the passage in Luke 18:18-30.

In the context of Luke’s gospel this passage comes as part of a series of encounters Jesus had with different people where he confronted contemporary concepts of ‘greatness’ and how God views us differently to the way that humans look at each other. It seems to me that the rich young man who approached Jesus wanted him to validate his ticket into heaven. He reckoned he was good enough to get into God’s good books and, to the outside observer, he would have been a prime candidate. He was a good man (notice that he called Jesus ‘good’ and perhaps wanted him to reciprocate). He was rich, which was (and is?) seen as a sign of God’s blessing on him.

But what he lacked was the ability to put God first in his life. He was religiously righteous, but it was a skin deep religiosity that was not bearing fruit in his life. He knew about God but he did not know God. He was living for himself – keeping the law – but failed to sense God’s heart. Why did Jesus tell him to give all his money to the poor? It was not just to see if he would let go of his money and the hold it had on him – if that was the case Jesus could have told him to give the money to anyone. It was to see if he shared God’s love and compassion for the poor and needy and if he was willing to do something about it.

DESCRIPTION: Man lying trampled on the ground, camel walking off CAPTION: AND THEN HE HAD A MUCH BETTER IDEA OF EXACTLY HOW HARD IT WAS FOR RICH FOLK TO GET INTO HEAVENThe narrative moves on from this point to a consideration of how to get a camel through the eye of a needle. Creative ideas have been offered in response to this including that it referred to a small gate into Jerusalem through which camels would only fit if they had been unloaded first (no archaeological or historical evidence of this) or perhaps a contemporary suggestion of using a liquidiser (apologies to the squeamish) but they did not exist in Jesus’ day. It is quite likely that he was using a contemporary idiom or joke about things that were difficult to make the point that it is incredibly difficult for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God.

Why? Because we are tempted to rely on our own resources much more readily than we are to rely on God. Because we can easily get distracted from God by ‘stuff’. Because we can become self-absorbed and fail to see things how God sees them (ignoring the poor, for example).

You will have noticed that I said ‘we’ in the last paragraph. Judging wealth purely on average income I am including in the ‘we’ anyone whose monthly wage is greater than £1000. That is the average wage of the world based on averaging all of the average wages. However only a quarter of the world’s population earn this amount. The average monthly wage of the poorest in the world is about £21. So you are part of the ‘we’ if you earn more than that a month.

How’s it looking for your camel? How’s your relationship with God? How’s your relationship with your wealth? 

Be blessed, be a blessing.


creative tension

Yesterday I was in a meeting with some incredibly creative and talented people gathered at Baptist House… writers, artists, designers, innovators, bloggers, photographers, film-makers, journalists, presenters, programmers and much more beyond. We had each been asked to share briefly something creative that introduced us to the group. When I first got that email I thought about what I could do: I could do a magic trick, I could tell some jokes, I could stick a rubber glove on my head…

And then, if I am honest, I forgot about it. Indeed I forgot about it until I arrived in the meeting and looked at the agenda. Aaaaargh! I was thrilled that I was not going first, and did some quick brain-wracking. What did I have with me?

No playing cards or props: magic tricks not likely to go well then.

No rubber gloves: that little display will be a bit flat without one.

Couldn’t think of any jokes: not going to go down well.

What to do? The time was getting closer and so far others had shared a story they had written, a radio interview with themselves, a ‘wordle’ they had created from tweets in response to ‘how would you describe me?’… Pressure was building. And I think that was what led me to my eventual solution.

And then I remembered my bloggerel, which may have been what had got me into the meeting in the first place. I had my tablet with me (Motorola Xoom) and thankfully had previously been at Baptist House with it and had logged into the open network. I switched it on, desperately hoping for a signal, and ‘hallelujah!’ there it was.

I thought about reading out a bloggage, but that seemed a bit sad. So in the end I read my ‘symbiosis’ poem (see ‘pomes’ page above). It’s autobiographical and is about the pressure I feel when I can’t find something and how my wife, Sally, is always able to find them.

I think it went okay. But if you were in that meeting and are now reading this, I am very sorry for being unprepared. I have often wondered whether I ought to start a new blog / ministry called SOTP. It stands for ‘seat of the pants’ and would relate cautionary tales about just about getting away with things or preparing at the last minute. I would intend it as a warning and encouragement to be prepared, however I have a feeling that it might turn into a celebration of all things last-minute and be counter-productive!

I want to say ‘thank you’ to the BUGB Communications Department for hosting the meeting, which I found very insightful, inspiring and encouraging. I hope it met the purpose for which they called the meeting – to help look creatively at how we communicate as a denomination. I drove home with lots of ideas buzzing around my head. Some of them may emerge one day. You’ll probably read about it here first.

One person during the meeting said, “I am not creative,” and in that context with so many talented people I felt like agreeing with them. Except that we are all creative. I believe it’s part of being created in the image of our Creator. Some people get creative with paint, with computers, with websites, with words, with images, with video and so on. Some people get creative in the way that they encourage others, look for ways to bless them, do their work diligently, suggest ways of doing administrative tasks better, in the intonation of their voice as they speak, even the way that they greet you. We are all creative in our own way: and that’s what makes the kaleidoscope of people around us. Look to see creativity in anyone and you will find it – appreciate it when you see it. Look for it in yourself and give thanks to your Creator. Then get creative!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

COPLEMTLEY – that’s completely out of order. (see yesterday’s bloggage for context, and yes, there may be a series!)

Counting our blessings again

Once again this year Christian Aid are releasing Count Your Blessings for Lent. Baptist Christians don’t tend to make as much of Lent as other churches, but I thoroughly recommend you take part in this if you can*.

The idea is that each day during Lent we are encouraged to consider our position of privilege in the wealthy West and make a small donation or pray a prayer that can be used to help alleviate poverty and suffering in the poorer parts of the world through Christian Aid. I have found it a very helpful balance in my life to do this.

It is all to easy for us to become relaxed and comfortable with our standard of living. We don’t consider ourselves to be wealthy. Well let me tell you that I KNOW you are wealthy. How? You are reading this blog. You have access to the internet. In Mali only 0.2% of the population have access to the internet.

How will that knowledge change the way you view yourself? How does it change the way you view the world? When you give thanks to God for your circumstances do you do so glibly or do you accept the responsibility that they bring with them?

Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. Count Your Blessings 2012 starts on 27th Feb. It’s not to late to get involved!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Leaflets will be available from our church on Sunday, or you can download it from here (an android phone app is also available).

Is this a ‘bah humbug’ moment for me?

The alert among you may have noticed the absence of any bloggerel from me yesterday. It was not intentional but simply a lack of time and space in which to reflect, write and post something. I hope that you, dearest bloggist, will forgive me.

All this week people are doing bizarre and silly things to raise funds for BBC’s Children in Need appeal. I saw a larger-than-life-sized Pudsey Bear walking through Colchester earlier today with acolytes sporting teddy bear ears and brandishing collecting buckets. Other people will have sat in baths of beans, kept silent, bungee jumped and done other silly things to raise money.

On the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2 they are auctioning off some incredible events this week. People are bidding vast sums of money to win these events: £140,000 was paid today for four people to have a round of golf (admittedly a luxury package you could not buy normally). The money goes to a very good cause and the aspects of the package have been donated by kind and generous individuals and companies. They are also holding a raffle disguised as a competition to enable ‘normal’ people to participate in one of these packages for just over £1. I am not critical of the generosity, the fundraising or the cause.

But there’s something about it that is grating with me. It is the amount of money that is being flaunted on national radio for these different events and packages. The amounts being bid are FAR beyond the reach of the vast majority of people in this country. Only a very rich minority of people are able to bid for them, yet the rest of us are obliged to listen (or change channel). And it is the extravagant luxury of the packages and events that are being offered when many people have to choose between heating and eating. People who are struggling to find the money to buy food this week are listening to this vast wealth being bid for frivolous pursuits. Those who have lost their jobs and are worried about whether they can meet the mortgage payments or rent are listening to people bidding the value of their house for a game of golf.

It has highlighted for me the inequality that is inherent in our society and in the world. Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us, when he was defending the extravagant act of worship of the woman (Mary) pouring expensive perfume on his feet and wiping them with her hair. Her extravagance was criticised under the pretext of being able to sell the perfume and give the money to the poor, but was (in my view) more motivated by the lack of comprehension and shallowness of devotion of the onlookers. Jesus was not endorsing extravagance per se, but acknowledging the depth of emotion and devotion that had motivated this act of adoration. And he was most certainly not suggesting that we flaunt wealth in the face of those who are poor.

Wealth is relative. So is poverty. Compared to some of the people who have bid successfully for these events I am relatively poor. But compared to many people in this country and most people in this world I am relatively rich. And because I am a relative (by adoption) of Jesus I need to make sure that I use that relative wealth in the way that he would, which is a big challenge! Jesus encouraged generosity in his people, but he also said we should do it in secret, not ostentatiously on national radio.

(And if I am honest I probably need to ask him to help me with the jealousy I feel of those who have been able to bid such large amounts of money to this charitable cause to buy experiences to give them pleasure and entertainment).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

The poorly paid local pastor grew watermelons to suppliment his meager income. He was doing pretty well, but he was disturbed by some local lads who would sneak into his watermelon patch at night and eat his watermelons. After some careful thought, he came up with a clever idea that he thought would scare the lads away for sure.

He made up a sign and posted it in the field. The next night, the lads showed up and they saw the sign which read, “Warning! One of the watermelons in this field has been injected with cyanide.”

When the pastor returned the next morning, he surveyed the field. He noticed that no watermelons were missing, but at the bottom of his sign were the words: “Now there are two!”