With all the love, grace and encouragement I can muster I want to ask you to bear with me and read this bloggage to the end. It may be the most important one I have ever written.
One of the things that an imminent operation on your heart does for you is force you to face your own mortality. I have the utmost confidence in the surgeon and his team and have been assured that the risks of the surgery are minimal, but they are there nonetheless. I have had to think about and prepare for that very small possibility.
Christians believe in life after death (and life before death too). We don’t believe in reincarnation or hanging around as a ghost / spirit, but a full-blown life-as-God-intended no-holds-barred all-consuming experience of God for those who want it once we have curled up our tootsies and shuffled off this mortal coil. And when we come face to face with something that reminds us that we are not indestructible and that life is finite we have to consider whether we really believe what Jesus said.
That’s when the rubber hits the road as I have to consider whether I really believe what I proclaim.
I want to say a wholehearted, unequivocal “YES!” I believe it with all my heart, mind and soul. I have staked my life on it.
One of my favourite definitions of faith is: “Reason in a courageous mood.”* You take what you can deduce, what you can learn, what you can understand and then extrapolate from that to the next logical step, and that extrapolation leads you to take a step of faith – following the trajectory of your thinking and understanding and acting on it.
So, by way of example, if you had to cross a ravine and there was a bridge there you would need to exercise faith in the bridge in order to use it and cross the ravine. Before you did you might examine the bridge to see how strong it is, you might ask other people who have used the bridge and you might even research online how and when it was constructed. But once you had come to the conclusion that it is strong enough for you to use safely you then have to take the step of faith and put that reasoning into practice by crossing the bridge. And you are encouraged when that faith is vindicated and the bridge holds.
All that I have read, considered, discerned and understood about Jesus of Nazareth confirms to me that I believe him and I believe in him. What he said makes incredible sense. What the contemporary records say about him reveal an extraordinary person. And the evidence for his resurrection is (in my view) pretty conclusive. All that points me to the conclusion that he is who he claimed to be: God with us. He is worth following and trusting and through faith in him I am able to have a relationship with God that is life in all its fullness now and beyond death. My reason has become courageous and I have been blessed, inspired and encouraged to find that this faith has been vindicated.
I want to say a hearty “Amen, amen, amen!” to these words written by Paul to the early church in Rome (Romans 8):
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? [If you read the preceding verses you see that ‘these things’ are pain, suffering and death.] If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
‘For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’[j]
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
You have to make your own mind up about this, but please do so on an informed basis. Faith may be reason in a courageous mood but for many people lack of faith is not cowardly reason, it’s simply that they have never considered it. The difficult thing is that although you can investigate, research, discuss, listen and discern about the Christian faith, ultimately you’ll only experience it in its fullness by taking the step of faith. It’s like a stained-glass window. From the outside you can see lots of the shapes and images in a stained-glass window but you will only really experience it in all its glory once you go inside a church and look at the light shining through it – that’s the way they were designed.
If you would not say that you are a follower of Jesus and if you consider me to be someone you trust then I want to encourage you to consider his claims carefully and investigate them for yourself. Then you can decide whether to get courageous with the reason.
If you are a follower of Jesus, don’t privatise your faith – live it 24/7. If it’s good news for you it’s good news for everyone.
If maybe you are a follower of Jesus but you’ve not been actively following him you will know that he would love to welcome you back into a closer walk with him – you only have to take the first step and you’ll find that he’s already there with you.
If you have never considered these things I hope and pray that we could have a conversation about it once I have recovered from the operation, but don’t feel you have to wait for that moment – talk with another Christian.
The reason I believe all of this is not because I am a Baptist Minister. I am a Baptist Minister because I believe that this is the most important thing in life (and death) and it’s worth dedicating my life to.
Be blessed, be a blessing
*I believe this is attributed to LP Jacks from 1928, but I first heard it from one of my spiritual heroes, friends and Senior Minister in my first church: Revd David Richardson
Last week I watched some of the World Athletics Championships in London. I didn’t manage to get to the stadium so was restricted to watching on TV. There were some astonishing feats, some memorable races, jumps, throws and performances. But the moment that I remember more vividly than any other was when the TV camera zoomed in on two little girls who were eating popcorn. You really have to watch it. You can see it on YouTube here.
I laughed at that moment so much, and it still makes me chuckle every time I watch it again. The contrast between how the two are eating the popcorn is delightful and the little girl with curls is so determined to shovel as much in as possible it’s hilarious. Watch it again and add “Om, nom, nom, nom” every time the girl with curls eats and it seems to fit even better than the commentary, which was already funny.
The video also made me reflect on my relationship with God. The following thoughts are disparate and don’t work consecutively…
- Am I as hungry for God as the girl with curls?
- Do I devour the Bible or dip in politely?
- Is this a metaphor for how many of our churches operate – more focused on making sure we get what we want than about sharing it with anyone else?
- Would we act differently if we knew we were being watched by millions? So why don’t we act differently in God’s constant presence?
- It’s good to laugh and to be the cause of laughter.
Be blessed, be a blessing
It’s been said that “a tidy desk is a sign of a tidy mind”. Or how about, “A tidy desk is a sign of a full desk drawer.”
But Albert Einstein apparently said that, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
This week, among other things, I am going to tidy my desk (make of that what you will!). I have narrowed down my options to two viable alternatives based on the above (note ‘tidy’ not ’empty’!):
Alternative the first – scoop up all paperwork, stray documents, empty mugs and items that don’t currently have a home and deposit them in an empty drawer / cupboard.
Alternative the second – look through all of the papers on the desk and either respond, file or discard, take any empty mugs to the kitchen and clean them and find a home for any homeless items.
Both alternatives will result in me having a tidy desk.
Alternative the first is quicker and perhaps even in the short term more satisfying. But it will leave items still to be dealt with (and now more difficult to find / remember) and may result in the growth of new life forms if the mugs remain uncleaned for a long period of time, or at best the coffee dregs at the bottom of the mugs will have welded itself to the mug and be difficult to remove.
Alternative the second may take a bit more effort. It may take a bit more time. But at the end the tidy desk will not simply be a space free of clutter it will also be a reminder to me that I have dealt with everything.
How often in life do we deal with problems, difficulties, letting other people down, unforgiveness and other ‘clutter’ by scooping it up and lobbing it in an empty drawer or cupboard? We can give the impression that everything is fine and lovely but those things remain undealt with. They will not go away if we ignore them and indeed they can get worse so that we have a bigger issue to deal with when we finally have to deal with them.
It’s wise to try to sort out problems in our relationships with others and with God sooner rather than later. Occasional ‘spring cleans’ will take a lot longer and be harder work for us that regular ‘housekeeping’ and a relationship is always healthier and closer if there is not ‘stuff’ between you.
If you read Psalm 32 you will read about the difference it makes to us when we hide the stuff we really need to deal with and the contrast with how it feels when we have sought forgiveness.
Be blessed, be a blessing
As an Association of Baptist Churches we are engaging in a process of prayerful reflection about the future strategic direction of the Association. To this end we have sent out postcards to all of our churches and asked them to pray about this and, assuming that God will say things in response to the prayers, write anything down that he has been saying and send them back for us to consider.
To help facilitate this we also sent out an email with some suggestions for how the prayer postcards could be used and inviting churches to use a prayer that I wrote as part of this process. This is the prayer:
Lord Jesus, our Savour.
We have recently celebrated your birth in this world and rejoiced that you are Immanuel, God with us. You have shown us our Heavenly Father’s love – supremely in your death on the cross. Thank you that after your resurrection you gave your people, the Church, the task of being Immanuel among the people who do not yet know you. You call us to go into your world, to make disciples, to baptise them and teach about you. Thank you that by your Spirit you are with us to help us in this task.
Thank you too that our local church is part of a wider family of churches, particularly Baptist churches, and as part of that family we are seeking your guidance today.
Inspire us in our thinking. Encourage us our imagining. Help us to see with the eyes of faith what you would have us do and broaden our vision beyond our human limitations. Speak to us and through us so that we might discern what you are saying to us as a church and to our wider family in the Eastern Baptist Association.
Speak, Lord, your servants are listening.
Did you spot it? The deliberate mistake that was put in? Or, to be more honest, the typing error on my part.
“Lord Jesus, our Savour” – I missed out the ‘i’ in ‘Saviour’!
And when I noticed this morning I wondered whether it might not actually cause some unintentional theological reflection. Because ‘savour’ has interesting meanings, including:
- Taste (good food or drink) and enjoy it to the full
- Enjoy or appreciate (something pleasant) to the full, especially by lingering over it
- A characteristic taste, flavour, or smell, especially a pleasant one
So how does Jesus add savour to your life? How much do you savour being a follower of his and enjoying it to the full? How much do you linger over who Jesus is and what he has done for you?
I know that for some of you life is not easy, joyful, happy… but that does not mean that focusing your attention again on Jesus will not add savour to your life, it does not mean that you cannot appreciate who he is.
He certainly savours you.
Be blessed, be a blessing
If you are a dog owner you will probably know how dogs like to find the smelliest, muddiest, sludgiest places in which to wallow and roll. And they then come back to you wagging their tails, feeling very proud of themselves.
I have a feeling that they think that they are doing something nice for you, their human. They like how it feels / smells and assume that you will be equally happy with their new odour, texture and colour – especially if they can spread it all over your car, house or clothes.
It’s a bit like cats who bring into the house rodents and birds they have caught. I think they especially like it if they can bring these animals into the house while they are still alive. They bring them as a present for you – after all, cats enjoy playing with mice and birds, so why wouldn’t you, their human, be equally happy?
They just don’t understand.
There’s an occasion in the gospels when Jesus’ followers come to him with a similar approach – look what we’ve done for you, aren’t you proud of us – when in fact I think Jesus would have responded with a face-plant that is hidden behind the text.
“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
They just didn’t understand.
They thought there were doing something he would approve of, but they got it wrong. They didn’t understand just how wide God’s grace is. They were judging other people who were not ‘in’ and excluding them, whereas Jesus’ approach seems to have been more about including people who were ‘out’.
I am fairly confident that there are plenty of other occasions in the gospels where there is a sub-textual face plant by Jesus when his followers get it wrong.
And I am fairly confident that I have been the cause of quite a few divine face-plants.
And I suspect, when Christians are being judgemental, critical, unpleasant, rude, exclusive, and condemnatory there are plenty of divine face-plants. Have a look at what some Christians are posting every day on social media and tell me I’m wrong because they show that the ‘he is not one of us’ attitude is sadly alive and well.
It may be well-meaning, with the intention of pleasing Jesus, but we might as well roll in some stinky, slimy mud or bring him some rodents or birds we have caught if we think that attitude pleases him.
Be blessed, be a blessing.
About 15 years ago, when I moved on my first church, the church very kindly gave me some money as a leaving gift. I decided that I wanted to spend it on something that would last so I bought myself a watch (my previous one was a cheap and cheerful purchase, probably from a garage forecourt shop).
The watch that I bought was a kinetic watch that took the energy of my everyday arm movements and stored it to make the hands and movements of the watch turn. So long as I moved my arm normally the watch was kept fully charged. Slowly, over the years, the watch’s ability to hold a charge diminished until it got to the point where if I took the watch off at night it would have run down by the morning. As I did not want to wear my watch during the night (too much risk of scratching myself with it and it tends to get a bit sweaty under the watch) I looked into the possibility of replacing the capacitor in the watch. When I discovered how expensive these things are I decided that now might be the time to buy myself a new watch.
When I moved on from my last church they were kind enough to give me some money as a leaving gift as well and as I had not spent this I decided that it would be rather a nice thing to buy a watch again. I looked into the possibility of buying another kinetic watch but they are rather expensive. Then I looked at other forms of self winding watches and found one that I like the look of on a well-known Internet auction site. It was being sold by a company that resold items which had been returned to a well-known high street catalogue-based retailer and was significantly cheaper than the normal retail price.
I bought it and have been very happy with it. But there is one difference between this and my kinetic watch. Whilst this watch uses my arm movements to wind the spring in the watch this only extends the length of time between winds to a couple of days, it does not keep the watch wound in perpetuity. It took me a while to realise this and then get used to it. Because I can see the spring through the face of the watch I can tell when it needs winding.
But I sometimes forget and only realise that the watch needed winding overnight when I check the time later in the day and realise that it is a couple of hours out. Thankfully because timepieces are relatively ubiquitous (on my computer, phone, tablet as well as on my desk, on the wall, in the car…) I’m usually able to find the correct time and reset the watch.
It seems to me that Christians are sometimes like kinetic watches. We make a commitment to follow Jesus Christ and then imagine that through our regular attendance at church our relationship with him is maintained. And to an extent it will be, but it will slowly run down and you may well find yourself frustrated and feeling spiritually worn out after a while. What Jesus was demonstrating to his followers (and that includes us) was that a relationship with “Our Father in heaven” is more like my ‘self-winding’ watch that benefits from regular attention.
Prayer can be as much a part of our daily living as breathing is (it is like oxygen for our soul). Reading the Bible need not be something special but can be routine (like regular meals for our soul). All that we say and do can be dedicated as an act of worship if we consciously decide that it will be – giving our best to honour God.
And if that sounds like I am making my Christian faith seem quite mundane and every day then hallelujah! I am not diminishing the honour and privilege and grace of a relationship with God through Jesus, don’t get me wrong. That God is even interested in me is incredible, never mind that he loves me as much as he does! But he wants to be part of our everyday ordinary working walking eating sleeping watching telly sending emails talking with people texting driving drinking internetting laughing crying surprising mundane lives. I think he longs to be a natural part of everyone’s life – so much so that we don’t consciously have to remember him because he is involved in everything.
Does that sound idealistic? Does it sound impossible? It is on our own, which is why Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to us in order to help us in our relationship with God. He is with us always. He’s constantly nudging, speaking, encouraging, suggesting, reminding, provoking, praying, listening, hoping, blessing and seeking a response from us so that in partnership with him our awareness of God (Father, Son, Spirit) grows and our relationship deepens. All you need to do is ask for it to start. And then like my self-winding watch give him your regular attention. It doesn’t happen overnight but the more we involve God in everything the more we find he is involved in everything already and has simply been waiting for us to realise that.
Be blessed, be a blessing.