courageous reasoning

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.

rubber hits road

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.

stained glass 3

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

a frame of thrones

Stonehenge 1It is Neolithic Britain. The tribe was proud of the new king because he had overseen the building of Stonehenge. They decided to build him a special house. They put up wooden pillars and then wove together the strong marsh grass into panels which formed the walls and roof. The king was very proud of his house and moved in immediately with his family. The problem he had was that when they had all moved in there was nowhere for him to put his special ceremonial throne. As he looked around his house he saw that there was a space between the wooden supports and the grass panels of the ceiling and managed to wedge his throne into the roof space.

That night there was a loud creaking and the king and his family fled the house just in time to see it collapse under the weight of his throne. The moral of the story is that people who live in grass houses should not stow thrones.

Sorry about that. I could not resist. I was thinking earlier about how we respond to those with whom we disagree and was reminded of the proverb that “people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” Today I am preparing a sermon on Luke 9:51 – 62 and have been considering the response James and John had to opposition. It was aggressive, vengeful, angry and rather over the top. It was definitely not the Jesus way of responding to people who do not agree with us or oppose us:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who will treat you.”

Please God may I respond in that way and not like James and John. May I recognise that I have received grace, mercy and forgiveness and be far more willing to show that to others, even when they oppose me, than to respond aggressively and vengefully… and heaven help me if I am ever tempted to call down fire from heaven on someone!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

pointing out the obvious

inoutarrow

I am fascinated by these arrows. I came across this image long ago, when I was in my first church, and it has remained with me ever since as a powerful image with a significant message for churches.

When you look at them, what do you see? Red arrows pointing outwards? Is that all that is there? Look at the gaps between the red arrows. There are also some white arrows pointing inwards. When you have seen them it is difficult to ignore them.

To me these arrows speak of God’s priorities for church. The last words Matthew records in his Gospel are from Jesus:

“Stay where you are, remain comfortable, enjoy worshipping together, listening to sermons and do lots of things together in my name and surely you will be too busy at church to do anything else.”

or was it:

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The white arrows only exist because the red arrows are pointing outwards. People will only come to faith if we go where Jesus sends us. That may be to the ends of the earth, or it may be in our home, our workplace, our local shops, or even the gym. And while we are there we are to make disciples, carrying on what Jesus was doing, being free samples of Jesus to the people we meet.

If church is God’s plan for achieving what Jesus started we can expect it to be growing (deeper and numerically). If it isn’t we need to look at what we are doing that is stopping it from growing, what we are doing that is preventing people from coming to faith, what we are doing that is stopping people from becoming disciples (or what we are not doing in all those cases). That’s not easy, but I believe that the arrows are a useful pointer.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

I never knew there was so much in it

bible genesisThere is a publication that tells us the times of TV programmes that had the title of this bloggage as its advertising strap-line.

I regularly find myself saying something similar about the Bible. Yes, statistics tell us that there are 66 books, containing over 770,000 words (depending on translation) divided into just over 31,000 verses (to help us navigate around). The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, the longest is Esther 8:9. The middle chapter (and also the shortest) is Psalm 117. The longest chapter is Psalm 119. There are hundreds of other statistics that I could quote to you about the Bible.

But that’s not my point. It’s not the number of words, verses, chapters or books that impress me. It’s how God can reveal new things through the Bible each time I come to it. He reveals new things through familiar passages. I had that experience on Sunday morning when my colleague Lynsey was preaching. I had that experience last night when I was preaching. There is so much more in the Bible than the 770,000 words. I had that experience this morning when I read a passage for my own reflection.

It doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the words are just words. The silence is deafening and the pages become flat and one-dimensional. Those are sometimes the occasions when I am in a hurry, when reading the Bible has been reduced to a habit (not a bad one). They can be moments when I feel that God is distant from me (usually because I have tuned him out). They are often when my reading or listening are not accompanied by praying.

But there are other times when the words assume a life of their own and truth leaps out at me from every syllable. Those are moments to stop, to ponder, to listen, to reflect, to take note, to respond and to pray.

This morning I read the passage in John 5:1-15 where Jesus healed a man who had been paralysed for 38 years. He asked him a seemingly obvious question: “Do you want to get well?”

But the man’s response was not, “Yes please!” He concentrated on his problems and blamed others (there was nobody to help him) rather than focusing on the One who would be the answer.

Later, after he had been healed and was carrying his mat back home, the religious people told him off for carrying it on the Sabbath. He blamed Jesus for telling him to pick up the mat rather than getting them to focus on the miracle that had happened.

What’s God saying to you today?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

I used to think that the smallest person in the Bible was Bildad the Shuhite. But apparently it is the man who fell asleep on his watch!

Crucify Hymns

>at the foot of the crossWere you there when they crucified my Lord?

Not really. I mean, I knew it was happening and I did watch from a distance. But it wasn’t like I was wielding a hammer or holding the nails. What’s that? Well, yes I did join in with the crowd but then everybody does don’t they? You can’t blame me for that surely.

When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died

If you had seen a crucifixion you would recognise that crosses are not that wondrous. It might be all poetic and worshipful but crosses are cruel. They are designed to kill. And they are designed to kill slowly and painfully.

Man of Sorrows, wondrous name

He looks rather forlorn, alone, wretched. He doesn’t look like the King of the Jews. Was that a cruel joke? The crowd are calling him plenty of names but none of them are wondrous. Even one of the thieves crucified next to him has a mouthful of abuse to hurl. Yet Jesus has words of peace for his partner in crime.

Shine Jesus Shine

Where’s the sun gone? Why is it so dark, it’s the middle of the day? There was no solar eclipse forecast for today and it’s not that cloudy. What is going on at this godforsaken place? What does Jesus think is finished?

intermittence

Last week a second-hand game arrived for my son’s X-Box360. It did not seem to work. I tried running it on many occasions and only twice did it actually work. That was very frustrating. I think it would have been easier to accept if it had not worked at all, but for it to work twice suggests that it could work, but more often than not it won’t.

I am also having a problem with the speech recognition software that I used to use. When I changed to a new laptop I installed it along with the other programs I used to use on the old laptop (same manufacturer) and for some unknown reason it won’t work. All of the other programs are fine, but this won’t launch. It used to be brilliant, now it isn’t. I have to say that the tech support people at the company that produce this software have been trying extraordinarily hard to find out what is wrong and are still trying – can’t fault the customer service even if I can fault the program. But each time they suggest another fix my hopes rise and I try it with a sense of anticipation, only for those hopes to be dashed (at present).

Last week I watched a TV programme about drug addiction and recovery. One of the saddest things was to hear of someone who had gone into rehab and had given it up. The last thing on the documentary was a note saying that she had just gone back into rehab again. But we don’t know if she has completed it and come out ‘clean’.

It seems to me that one of the most frustrating things in life is intermittence. We love things that are reliable, that always work. We recommend them to our friends and family. We might even blog about them. We are disappointed if things never work properly. But we can cope with it either by returning them for one that does work or by getting a refund under our consumer rights. But when something works intermittently we never know if it is going to work or not. We can’t rely on it. We can’t be sure that it will be working when we need it.

I wonder if this is how Jesus felt about his disciples? When you read the gospels (the four credible ones, not the fragments of something that was written centuries later) you find Jesus showing his disciples what to do, teaching them, encouraging them, and then letting them have a go. Sometimes they were awesome. Sometimes they were awful. Just when it looks like they have ‘got it’ they do or say something that demonstrates that they have lost ‘it’ again.

If you are anything like me this is one of the reasons that we can relate so well to the disciples in the gospels. We are like them. Sometimes we are awesome followers of Jesus and sometimes we are awful.

But do not despair. Jesus did not give up on them, and he does not give up on us. Even after they had abandoned him, run for their lives, denied knowing him and even failed to believe that he had been resurrected when others were telling them about it he still forgave, gave fresh starts and gave new roles. That’s grace.

Grace is one of the most powerful forces in the Universe because it sees what we can be rather than what we have been. It does not dwell on the past but anticipates the future in our present.Me walking again sunset

And the grace of God is consistent. It is not intermittent. Motivated by his love he is always gracious, always forgiving, always generous.

May I be more like that.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

There are three engineers in a car; an electrical engineer, a chemical engineer and a Microsoft engineer.

Suddenly the car just stops by the side of the road, and the three engineers look at each other wondering what could be wrong.

The electrical engineer suggests the electronics of the car be removed down to its parts and then try to trace where a fault might have occurred.

The chemical engineer, not knowing much about cars, suggests that may be the fuel is becoming emulsified and getting blocked somewhere.

Then, the Microsoft engineer, not knowing much about anything, comes up with a suggestion, “Why don’t we close all the windows, get out, get back in, open the windows again? Maybe it’ll work!?”

grinding away the grot

Today a very nice man is sorting out some rust on Sally’s car and some damaged paintwork (already there when I bought the car) on my car. I am confident that he will do a good job, but it is a little unnerving having someone take a sanding disc to your car and start making loud grinding noises on the paintwork. I am sure that at the moment there is more of a mess than there was before he started (he’s only about an hour in) but it’s like the old adage: if you want to make omelettes you have to break some eggs. If you want lovely paintwork on your car you have to get rid of the grot first.

And if you want a healthy relationship with God, you have to be prepared to grind away the grot in your life. It may not be easy, it may not be comfortable but it is worth doing. And God gives us his Spirit to help us:

Paul puts it in drastic language in Colossians 3:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

But there’s a counterbalance. Paul did not just tell us to put to death what belongs to our earthly nature, he has a range of positive things to replace them and the desire to do them:

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I love the practicality of this. Addicts know that stopping addictive behaviour is very difficult. But it is easier to do if you replace that negative addition with a positive attribute, activity or attitude.

Listen to some worship songs (and sing along?) if you are tempted to think or act in a way that is spiritually unhealthy.

Ask for God’s peace instead of angst, perhaps taking time out to go and relax rather than blowing your top.

Remember that you are forgiven if you are tempted to hold a grudge.

Try and do what is loving in any given circumstance.

Whatever you do, do it with an attitude of gratitude to God, and do it all as an act of worship to him.

All of these have the effect of drawing us closer to God, and that has the effect of making us want to get closer still and sin less.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Dear Insurance Company,

I am writing in response to your request for additional information. In block number three of the accident reporting form, I put “poor planning” as the cause of my accident. You said in your letter that I should explain more and I trust that the following details are sufficient:

I am a bricklayer by trade. On the day of the accident, I was working alone on the roof of a new six-storey building. When I completed my work, I discovered that I had a large pile of bricks left over. Rather than carry the bricks down by hand I decided to lower them in a barrel by using a pulley, which fortunately was attached to the side of the building at the sixth floor.

Securing the rope at the ground level, I went up to the roof, swung the barrel out and loaded the bricks into it. Then I went back to the ground and untied the rope, holding it tightly to insure a slow descent of the 500 pounds of bricks. You will note in block number 11 of the accident reporting form that I weigh 135 pounds. Due to my surprise at being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded at a rather rapid rate up the side of the building.

In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming down. This explains the fractured skull and broken collarbone. Slowed only slightly, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were two knuckles deep into the pulley. Fortunately, by this time I had regained my presence of mind and was able to hold tightly to the rope in spite of my pain.

At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground – and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel now weighed approximately 50 pounds. I refer you again to my weight in block number 11. As you might imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the building.

In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming up. This accounts for the two fractured ankles and lacerations of my legs and lower body. The encounter with the barrel, slowed me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell onto the pile of bricks and fortunately, only three vertebrae were cracked. I am sorry to report, however, that as I lay there on the bricks in pain, unable to move, and watching the barrel six stories above – I again lost my presence of mind.

I let go of the rope!