Saturday, 22 December 2012

Happy Christmas & A Happy New Year!!!

So the world didn't end did it?  We're all still here, thank God!

This is just to wish everyone who visits my blog regularly or even now and again, a Very Happy Christmas and a Very Happy New Year!!!  I hope everyone has a lovely time during the festive season, and doesn't drink too much sherry!!!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Democracy? What Democracy?

Although like many people I am fortunate and live in a wealthy and industrialised, modern and technologically advanced society, I wonder whether for all that we take for granted, are modern societies all they are cracked up to be?  In other words, are we any better than some of the tyrannies and dictatorships dotted around the world?  Are the Western democracies really democracies, or democracies in name only?  I now tend to believe the latter.  Real democracy is compromise; it is not rule by the rich, of the rich, for the rich.  Real democracy is the majority of people living any way they choose and having a say in how the country is run.   Is getting a vote every four or five years really all we should expect from our system, or parliamentary democracy?  I don’t think it is to be honest.  And the extra question for Christians is, how far should we accept second-rate democracies and when, and how, do we begin to challenge and protest when governments are not really acting for the majority of people? 



Freedom is a much misused word, and the reality is that one person’s idea of freedom could be someone else’s idea of tyranny.  Real freedom is self-evident; in other words, where people have political, and other, freedoms they want more of it and in societies where there are limited or even no real freedoms, they want it!  Nobody it seems wants dictatorships or military juntas or rule by self-serving wealthy elites.  We often pride ourselves in the West of having the societies that are envied by less prosperous and seemingly less free societies in other parts of the world.  It is true that for the most part in British society, we can live any way we want, say and write anything we want, do anything we want provided we don’t harm anyone else, dress any way we want and for the most part pursue any goals and ambitions we want, and nobody really cares either way because they are doing the same.  Yes, all the above are definitions of freedoms that many of us take for granted in the West.  But, and there had to be a ‘but’ didn’t there, for all this we have a political class that rules in our name, that is often far too narrow, far too privileged, perhaps far too wealthy and is far too little challenged when they make decisions that usually benefit wealthy corporations and wealthy and powerful people like themselves, where usually the ordinary citizen is the last consideration.  There is far too much of this in Britain, and it seems many such democracies around the world; often we have a vote in everything, but a say in nothing.  While gas and electric bills rise, and the cost of transport especially train travel rocket up year after year, and food and essentials go up far faster than inflation, politicians and governments of whatever political hue or persuasion seem hamstrung and unable or unwilling to do anything about it.  Why do we vote these people in if they are going to be next to useless and do nothing or very little that they promised fervently they would?


Freedom is more than a word, freedom is what we as individuals, families, communities and nations should be pursuing for all humanity, and of course for ourselves too.  Christian freedom paradoxically comes from being obedient and being good servants of God; there is no freedom, no real freedom, without the Law.  My answer then to those who rule us and those who make the laws is that they should also learn how to be good servants of those who voted them in, and not just opportunists clinging to any convenient gravy train.



There must be a chance for people from ordinary backgrounds to get on in life and succeed and fulfil their ambitions, to share in the nation’s wealth and prosperity.  Why are the wages of those at the top so high and the wages of those at the bottom usually so low?  Isn’t there enough to go around?  It seems not.  The reality is that often people who are wealthy never seem to have enough, or are never satisfied, whilst the rest of us have no option but to live on a budget whether we like to or not.  There truly is more to life than having lots of money and acquiring lots of money.  There is a sadness in selfish and self-centred behaviour, when someone has millions or even billions of pounds, and the only thing that motivates them is to add more money to an already bulging bank account.  Just what is the purpose of being even richer when you have almost everything anyway?  He entered Jericho and was going through the town and suddenly a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man.  He kept trying to see which Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd; so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way.  When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I am to stay at your house today.'  And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully.  They all complained when they saw what was happening. 'He has gone to stay at a sinner's house,' they said.  But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, 'Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.'  And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.'  (Luke 19:1-10 NJB)


Equal Chances

Instead of moving into the 21st century, the class system and its nonsense and prejudice has kept Britain back in the 19th century, run by rather posh, rather otherworldly privately educated men, who seem to always get top jobs with high salaries in every sphere of British life.  Isn’t it time we started demanding that our so-called democracy was actually run like a democracy, for all its people and not a pampered and privileged minority at the top?

How posh you are or how common you are seems to matter far more in British society than how talented you are, how intelligent you are, even how much drive and ambition you have.  The consequences of this for British society is incalculable; a skewed society where often posh people, regardless of how little achievement or talent or intelligence they might have, are given preference over someone deemed not posh, or not the ‘right sort’.  Yes it sounds, and indeed is, absurd, but this is still British society to some degree and the way it operates.  It might seem that in some way or somehow, this is an ‘inevitable’ outcome of British society, that all the unfairness and injustice, all the double-standards and hypocrisy even are natural outcome of the way British people live.  Nothing could be further from the truth; injustices come from skewed human systems, and systems, governments and corporations are made up of individual people.  Evil and injustice are not natural outcomes, they are often the result of particular thinking and unjust political regimes.  Sometimes it even seems that religion or organised Christianity is just another part of the social system, another natural outcome of human society; in short, sometimes it seems that British Christianity is just another appendage of the class system we all live under.  Again, nothing could be further from the truth; it is not God that promotes unfairness and division, it is human society and individuals within societies that promote unfairness and division, often for very selfish ends.  God truly is about fairness, justice and equality.  There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female -- for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:28 NJB)  All that is wrong about the world is part of the world system, and the world system is doomed to disappear and end in dissipation and disappointment.  God’s Kingdom, a kingdom of peace, justice, righteousness, fairness and equality amongst many other good things, is what is coming and is what will last.  The Christian should be in the world but not be a part of it.  In other words, though we might live under a class system in Britain, or any other skewed system anywhere else, we should not be partakers in its injustice and we should not accept or add to the divisions and unfairness it creates.  If God graciously and mercifully accepts all kinds of people, then so should we.  If someone is racist or prejudiced in some way, perhaps they need to understand that this is not God’s plan for human beings.  He decided beforehand who were the ones destined to be moulded to the pattern of his Son, so that he should be the eldest of many brothers; it was those so destined that he called; those that he called, he justified, and those that he has justified he has brought into glory.  After saying this, what can we add? If God is for us, who can be against us?  (Romans 8:29-31 NJB)


In the world at large, there is division, injustice and often barely concealed rampant unfairness; those who are already privileged and wealthy often go on to become more privileged and wealthy, and the rest of us not so wealthy and privileged are meant to grin and bear it, or accept that we will have second rate lives unless we win the lottery or become successful ourselves in some way.  And it is almost drummed into us that we should look up to those who are privileged in some way, even If the reality of such privilege and the truth behind it is often hidden from us.  The world rejects many people because they are the ‘wrong’ class, or the ‘wrong’ colour, or have the ‘wrong’ accent or in whatever way are not deemed the right sort of person.  We all know that this is unjust; what is Jesus’ answer?  Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me; I will certainly not reject anyone who comes to me(.)  (John 6:37 NJB)  It might be hard for someone who is prejudiced towards other humans to understand this, but God created us all with love and as unique creations.  Those who practise and promote division might one day find they are the ones left out.


People throughout the ages and everywhere on earth have been looking for paradise, a place where there are no troubles, enough to eat and everyone can do what their heart desires and live in peace with all.  Is paradise a myth, a utopia never to be reached?  In the West, they think it’s in the East, and in the East they think it’s in the West.  Where shall we go to find paradise?

Our job as Christians who live in a deeply divided world is to live in peace with all people and to treat everyone else as we ourselves would wish to be treated, and to serve God with a whole heart.  …as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.  (Joshua 24:15 KJV)

Saturday, 8 December 2012

A Confession

I have a confession to make, several confessions in fact.  I am a Christian, and have really tried to live as a Christian for about fifteen years even though God entered my life in my early teens.  We look around us and we think everyone else is doing better than us, has a better grip on life than us, are better Christians than us; and we feel less than perfect.


I am occasionally an angry person; I boil up with rage over the slightest and silliest things and I get stressed out because of it.  I don’t act on my anger but it still affects me; I expect many people are the same.  Yet at the same time, I am generally quite a happy-go-lucky hail-fellow-well-met kind of bloke.  In some ways I am what the Americans would call a ‘regular guy’, and in other ways I feel I am not particularly normal; I’m sort of unique; but then, aren’t we all?!  I find myself filled with all kinds of fears and all kinds of dread, and sometimes I don’t know why; at other times, it might be because of this or that, and usually, not always, it’s something trivial or not that important.  I often carry a sense of loss, a black cloud over me that makes my life less than it could be.  I have been told now and again that I’m not a bad looking sort of bloke and yet all I seem to recall is a long list of failures with women; I either didn’t speak up when I should have, or I said the wrong thing at the wrong time it seems.  I could write a hefty book on all my past failures with women.  If I’m honest, some of it was my fault and some of it was probably theirs.  I have been unemployed for large chunks of my life; I’m not proud of this and I often feel guilty because of it.  Much of it was to do with depression, serious depression that blighted my life for a long time.  For a long time, I have endured periods of inner emotional turmoil, a cheery face accompanied by emotional pain that would sometimes recede and then come back again.


I’m a Christian, a full-on believer, a dyed-in-the-wool Christian, and yet I’ve never been to church to worship, don’t really know other Christians in the flesh, as all of my friends are not really believers, and have no real desire to sing hymns on Sunday in some suburban church somewhere; it just doesn’t feel like me.  What’s the answer?  I wish I knew.  As for sharing the Gospel and talking about Jesus, well that happens occasionally, but average Working class blokes like me don’t seem or appear to be the sort of people to be Christians or to talk about Jesus to family, friends and strangers.  Inside, I am on fire with zeal for my faith, outside I look and dress just like most other blokes my age.  But no one said a Christian couldn’t dress smartly or dress ‘street style’ either did they?


All the Worries of the World

Often in my life, and certainly in the past, I seemed to carry all the worries of the world on my shoulders, broad as they are.  No one in this world needs to take on troubles as there’s enough trouble it seems to go round for everyone, whether they want to suffer or not.  It’s certain that all humans at some time will suffer for one reason or another.  And Christians I think will suffer in a world that is often hostile to them and a world that in virtually every way opposes Christian justice and mercy, fair play and a sense of equality.  The world is one thing, and living as a Christian is something else.  I don’t believe anyone should willingly take on all the worries of the world as a Christian, but that if we do find ourselves suffering in some way because we are simply living out our faith as best we can, we should pray to God for the strength to endure and persevere in our faith, whatever happens to us good or bad.


For some reason, I do find myself worrying, even when I don’t appear to have anything particular to worry about.  It’s a pain, it really is, and I sometimes find myself wishing for the moment when I can just relax and basically stop worrying.  Sometimes I do indeed stop worrying.  Now I pray for peace, inner peace as well as peace with other people around me and a general sense of well-being.  I notice that as I draw closer to God, God puts everything in perspective and shines a light on what can be darkness, or what can seem inexplicable.  Why do we suffer?  What is suffering all about?  Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world without any kind of suffering, any kind of pain?  It would be wonderful wouldn’t it!  Sadly, we live in a fallen world, and it seems the whole of creation groans under the weight of sin and simply because so many humans abandon the ways of God and choose to ‘do their own thing’ regardless of the impact on other people; we’re all hurting in effect.  So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.'  (Matthew 6:34 NJB)


Carrying a Sense of Loss

I have carried a sense of loss with me for a long time; it is it seems just another part of me, a part of my personality that is like any other part of me.  I think it is true to say that many people carry a sense of loss, for whatever reason, or maybe a number of reasons, and they accept it.  It could be because a person has failed at a number of things or been unlucky with the opposite sex or been unemployed for a long time, and so on and on.  It is in many cases, and certainly in my life, an acceptance of a third-rate life and a life lived in the full knowledge that we are only existing rather than living a full and happy life.  When we have lived in sin for a long time, God will straighten us out eventually, and one of the ways God punishes us is by letting us understand what life is like without His blessing and guidance in our lives.  In short, He keeps us at arm’s length for a time, whilst filling us with a desire to serve Him again.  We are between Him and the deep blue sea.  I found that at these times, God spoke to my heart and taught me valuable lessons.  We desire a perfect relationship with God; and yet most of the time what we have is imperfect and full of holes, a half-cocked friendship that stops and starts, boils over occasionally and often seems to be going nowhere.  We are impatient, hoping for the next phase, and yet God seems in no particular hurry.  We live in a fast-paced want-it-yesterday sort of world, where we are bombarded everyday with all kinds of desires, desires for a bigger house, a new TV, the best holiday experiences, the newest most expensive gadgets, the wonderful life we all seem to be missing and we become dissatisfied or think we are unfulfilled if we don’t get what we think we want.  We are meant to be unsatisfied, it’s almost beaten into us, unless we get what we think is our heart’s desire; then we wonder why we feel unhappy.  Sometimes the best thing we can do is stand back from every situation and just be grateful for all the good things God has blessed us with, and stop worrying about what we haven’t got. 


Hope Springs Eternal

Hope is one of the messages of the Bible, it is one of the most important messages of the Gospel and hope is God’s gift to a world that often for many people seems lost and completely hopeless.  It isn’t just people living in shanty towns dressed in rags and lucky to eat one meal a day that seem without hope, even millions of people in wealthy countries seem to be without even a modicum of hope in their lives.  When we in the wealthier parts of the world begin to understand the great blessings God has already gifted us in so many ways, we might stop being so selfish and so ungrateful and might begin to thank God for the plenty we already have.  We might also begin to think about all those people in the world who aren’t so fortunate, who suffer malnutrition, who suffer great hardships as a normal part of their lives and who don’t have access to good food, healthcare and medicines and often can’t read or write so living with very limited chances to advance in life.  Even for these people, where there is life there is always hope.

Hope springs eternal, and a gift of hope from God, injected into hopeless lives is a gift that will revive us and renew all of us to go on to do better things with our lives.  I was completely surrounded, there was no one to help me; I looked for someone to help me, there was no one.  Then I remembered your mercy, Lord, and your deeds from earliest times, how you deliver those who wait for you patiently, and save them from the clutches of their enemies.  And I sent up my plea from the earth, I begged to be delivered from death.  I called on the Lord, the father of my Lord, 'Do not desert me in the days of ordeal, in the days of the proud, when we are helpless. I shall praise your name unceasingly and gratefully sing its praises.'  And my plea was heard, for you saved me from destruction, you delivered me from that time of evil.  And therefore I shall thank you and praise you, and bless the name of the Lord.  (Ecclesiasticus / Sirach 51:7-12 NJB)

Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Spiritual Man, The Carnal Man

It is almost that as we live as Christians, as we try to serve God each day with a whole heart, there is another story going on besides us.  We are very much aware that we are meant to be in the world but not a part of it.  There is then the spiritual man, the person who is fully aware of God and His laws and who wants to live in God’s ways, and there is the carnal man, the person who quite naturally leans towards vice and sin, the person who God is drawing out of the world to Him but who at the same time is enticed by one thing or other in the world.  Welcome to the Christian experience!


The Struggle

The struggle for Christian living could be explained in a number of ways.  I suppose a real crisis of faith happened in the mid-19th century when Charles Darwin refuted biblical beliefs completely and gave us a new story for our origins.  We were nothing more than glorified and smart apes, apes that evolved from mammals, mammals that crawled out of the sea as fish with limbs, and fish that I suppose evolved from amoebas; or so the story goes.  So, on one side were the creationists and on the other side were the evolutionists, both arguing often eloquently for their side of the story, the story of mankind in effect.  We are still in the midst of this argument, and the battle still rages on in some quarters.  Then we have Karl Marx.  I sense that with both Darwin and Marx, there was antipathy towards religion partially because of the power wielded by the religious authorities, the religious hierarchies, who just like other worldly powers had wealth and privilege and authority, with no one seemingly able to challenge them.  Is this what God wants for Christians; a few people at the top of a hierarchy telling everyone what to believe, or does God want intimacy with everyone calling him or herself a Christian, a relationship rather than religion?


The struggle we have as Christians trying to make sense of the world and trying to make sense of the suffering we endure just simply living as Christians often reflects the struggles of vast numbers of people around the world.  How fortunate we are, those born into wealthy Western democracies; even the poor often live well in the West, and we can honestly say that the majority of us live any way we choose, dress any way we like, think and say anything we want and pursue any course of action we want to; we have freedoms that many other people scattered around the world simply do not have.  For us as Western Christians then, the struggle is more spiritual, more emotional even, a battle between our godly nature and our earthly nature, a battle between what we know is right and true and what we know is wrong and ultimately illusory.  Even though we know the world is full of vice, sin and disordered desires of every kind, we struggle with our sinful nature, our sinful feelings, and because of this we are far less than we know we could be.  At the same time, all humans err and make mistakes, even the best of us, and we are all drawn now and again to what is wrong and sinful.  Even Christians can have problems with each other sadly.  Brothers, I urge you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, not to have factions among yourselves but all to be in agreement in what you profess; so that you are perfectly united in your beliefs and judgements.  (1 Corinthians 1:10 NJB)


The carnal man, the worldly person, has enough excuses not to believe in God even though all around us there is marvellous evidence of a benign Creator at work.  It really does take more faith to believe that all life and all that we see is just a glorious accident, rather than a purposeful creation!  And this is the false argument they use, 'Our life is short and dreary, there is no remedy when our end comes, no one is known to have come back from Hades.  We came into being by chance and afterwards shall be as though we had never been. The breath in our nostrils is a puff of smoke, reason a spark from the beating of our hearts; extinguish this and the body turns to ashes, and the spirit melts away like the yielding air.  (Wisdom 2:1-3 NJB)  Even way back when, there were people who didn’t really believe in anything, and in so doing sometimes used it as an excuse to do what they liked when they liked, to follow their own desires and whims wherever it took them, even regardless of the detriment to themselves and others.


Looking For Peace

When a Christian looks for peace, they should pray for it and also read the Bible too; we should also have an attitude of peace about us, an attitude that means that mostly whatever happens we look for a peaceful solution to all things.  It isn’t putting up the white flag and surrendering for an easy life, it is living each day with inner peace so that we can have peace with other people around us and peace in general.  Peace then isn’t just a word, it is a lifestyle that Christians should cultivate.  In peace, we might find what we have been looking for all our lives, and peace is a reward and a treasure in itself.  Of course, the problem with some human beings  is that in peace they become bored, and they start looking for things that will excite them or stimulate them in some way, often by doing something questionable or sinful.  In time, our name will be forgotten, nobody will remember what we have done; our life will pass away like wisps of cloud, dissolving like the mist that the sun's rays drive away and that its heat dispels.  For our days are the passing of a shadow, our end is without return, the seal is affixed and nobody comes back.  'Come then, let us enjoy the good things of today, let us use created things with the zest of youth: take our fill of the dearest wines and perfumes, on no account forgo the flowers of spring but crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither, no meadow excluded from our orgy; let us leave the signs of our revelry everywhere, since this is our portion, this our lot!  (Wisdom 2:4-9 NJB)  Sometimes those who don’t believe in God make their own desires sacred, and instead of living a purposeful life, choose to waste what latent talent they might have by riotous living and doing what they want when they want; we’ve all been there I suppose though!  The refusal to believe in a divine Creator can be an excuse for someone to be as selfish and as self-centred as they can be, with the belief that nothing really matters and nothing really means anything in the end.  I am not saying every atheist or unbeliever is like that, not at all as there are good, bad and indifferent in every group of people, just that if you don’t believe there is a God and laws created by God, the sky can be the limit.  I notice a tendency amongst some unbelievers that they want to eradicate Christian belief completely or marginalise it so that it has no bearing on society or culture anymore.  This seems a shame, as we all have so much to learn from each other.  'As for the upright man who is poor, let us oppress him; let us not spare the widow, nor respect old age, white-haired with many years.  Let our might be the yardstick of right, since weakness argues its own futility.  Let us lay traps for the upright man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our sins against the Law, and accuses us of sins against our upbringing.  He claims to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord.  (Wisdom 2:10-13 NJB)  Many ordinary atheists no doubt live quiet normal lives and leave people to themselves.  But when powerful people don’t believe in a loving God, nor in any rules or divine retribution, they can act cruelly towards other people.  Let us be honest here, the way capitalism often operates in the world is of powerful people oppressing those without power in some way and often for commercial gain of one kind or another.  People in high places often profess a belief in God, but the way they act in regard to other people and the way they behave in public and in private tells you another story.  The Pharisees proclaimed themselves godly men, but Jesus usually condemned them as hypocrites.  Where do we see this tendency today?


It could be said that some Christians condemn those who don’t believe; it could also be said that some unbelievers condemn Christians too.  In his opinion we are counterfeit; he avoids our ways as he would filth; he proclaims the final end of the upright as blessed and boasts of having God for his father.  Let us see if what he says is true, and test him to see what sort of end he will have.  For if the upright man is God's son, God will help him and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies.  (Wisdom 2:16-18 NJB)  It seems that the carnal man is implacably opposed to the spiritual man, that our carnal nature is completely at odds with our growing spiritual nature.  At the same time, it appears that some atheists and unbelievers and some Christians and believers are more and more at each other’s throats and seem not able to live side by side and live and let live.


No-man’s land

My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal.  Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes.  Cling to him and do not leave him, so that you may be honoured at the end of your days.  Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient, since gold is tested in the fire, and the chosen in the furnace of humiliation.  (Ecclesiasticus / Sirach 2:1-5 NJB)  Serving God is an honour, but sometimes when we look at the small print, or the more obscure scripture, we might find that at times just serving Him isn’t so easy.  Or we might find that for some reason serving Him becomes difficult for one reason or another.  Whatever happens to us, we should be prepared to hold fast to God, to have complete faith in Him and to live in His ways and be law-abiding.  It is as if in these moments of trial and tribulation that we are between sinning and between God, we are in No-man’s land in effect.  We are neither here nor there.  We yearn to be with God, but God has other plans.  We are being drawn out of our sinful lives and towards a better relationship with God.  I found that when I decided to totally and wholeheartedly serve God with all my heart, soul, mind strength and being, God was in no hurry!  Why should this be?  Surely God wants all sinners to repent and come back to Him.  He is offering us a choice:  to worship God, or worship the world.  Many of us are disillusioned with the way the world is run and operates and we find refuge in God.  When we finally decide to come back to God, it is as if He puts us on trial, to test us, to search us out and to see what we are made of.  He is in no hurry and neither should we be; indeed, one of God’s ways of testing us is to see if we have patience, patience to endure, patience to persevere and patience to remain good people even when things do not go exactly as we would have hoped.  In this No-man’s land then, this furnace of humiliation, we should hold our heads up high, do the things we know are right and have complete faith in the Lord.  Such by God's mercy is our ministry, and therefore we do not waver but have renounced all shameful secrecy. It is not our way to be devious, or to falsify the word of God; instead, in God's sight we commend ourselves to every human being with a conscience by showing the truth openly.  (2 Corinthians 4:1-2 NJB)



The prize of obedience is reconciliation with our Creator, peace restored perhaps after many years of suffering and struggling and living in sin, reconciliation with Him who has called us out of all the earth, and also reconciliation with family and friends and even enemies.  The word is reconciliation.  As much as possible, and to the utmost of your ability, be at peace with everyone.  (Romans 12:18 NJB)  We are not meant to go out of our way to be at odds with other people, even though what we believe and have faith in is irrelevant or even abhorrent to some people.  We are meant to be in the business of serving the Lord; what other people do, or don’t do, is entirely up to them.  Even if we meet devout atheists or devout evolutionists, it doesn’t necessarily mean we should pick a fight with them!  Look at the scripture above, listen and learn something.


Some Christians are devout law-abiding citizens, which can be a good thing; but sometimes even those who devoutly uphold the letter of the law can become swollen with pride and a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude.  I expect we’ve all known people like that; perhaps we’ve even been like that ourselves.  The law in effect was really made for law-breakers and sinners, people who’d gone off the rails and lived in sin; it does nothing but show us where we’ve gone wrong and where we might go wrong.  Moses was a great man who was given the Law, to hand to a backsliding and sinful Israel.  Jesus however fulfils the Law; we are meant to live through the Spirit of Grace and not by a provisional set of commandments, however good they seem.  He has given us the competence to be ministers of a new covenant, a covenant which is not of written letters, but of the Spirit; for the written letters kill, but the Spirit gives life.  (2 Corinthians 3:6 NJB)  We live under a new covenant, new terms and in the New Testament age then, not bound by all kinds of rules but to live under grace through a relationship with God.  It doesn’t mean of course we can then live in sin, Heaven forbid, but that what was Law becomes love, and what were written rules becomes relationship.

We’re all often waiting for something to change; for situations to get better, for more money, a new job, a new life and perhaps even a better relationship with God.  Maybe before we change everything and everyone else, we need to change ourselves first.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

All Those Years Ago

How time moves on; it moves on whether we want it to, or not.  One minute we’re innocent children and then we’re uncertain and awkward teenagers.  Then we’re young adults, trying to find a place and a role in the world to fit into and something to be a part of.  Then somehow, we’re just another adult, trying to make sense of it all, trying to get educated, trying to find a job, trying to be someone different amongst those other many millions and millions of people that inhabit the world at large.


I remember snippets of things from my past; I remember some holidays we had, or little bits of them, or snapshots of certain holidays, memories frozen in time, and sometimes I wonder what is the purpose of memory, remembering things, people and places long gone in our past.  It evokes nostalgia, it can evoke happiness, it can evoke sadness and it can even evoke a ‘bittersweetness’ remembering happy times that are far off in the distant past and perhaps remembering people that have gone from our lives, one way or the other.  It maybe also that in the past we had a kind of innocence to our lives, and there was an innocence to who we were; we might mourn for our lost selves and the innocence we once had.


The human race seems to progress in many ways; technologically, educationally, financially and we can accrue wisdom, become sophisticated and become just more polished in many different ways.  But sometimes for all of this, we lack something; we don’t know what it is we lack, but we know or feel something is amiss.  Human progress and advancement, making money and becoming sophisticated are something that many humans aspire to, but at the end of it all, even when we get what we think is our heart’s desire it can all appear empty and without value.


The story of man’s creation is one of harmony, peace, happiness, contentment and a perfect spiritual relationship with our Creator; somehow inevitably, it all goes wrong and our first two ancestors lose that special relationship because of their disobedience, and they lose their original innocence too.  Somehow, this story seems to play out in every human being’s life; a start of great promise and happiness and joy, which gets overtaken by all our human faults like greed, selfishness, arrogance, self-importance and which always ends in people being unhappy in some way and not fulfilling the potential we had if only we’d listened to God.  Somehow inevitably, it all goes wrong.


Like most people, I remember things from past holidays and when I do they make me usually happy, and also as I said sometimes they fill me with bittersweet memories of times and people and places long past and even long gone.  Sometimes it even fills me with a sense of loss, for lost happy times that were as carefree as they were innocent; and how I look to repeat such simple experiences but try as I might I just can’t seem to.  We lose something as we get older; is it a sense of innocence, or a sense of wonder or a sense that something is bigger than our lives and we are merely a part of life and not the most important thing?


Do we remember things exactly, or do we even when we don’t mean to embellish memories, making them seem worse than they were, or better than they were, or just different to what actually happened?  I know if I visit a place again that I visited years ago, I always remember it slightly differently to how it really was; I think many people do that.


We remember who we once were; we might remember our childhoods fondly or even perhaps with sadness; we can even be angry about things that happened in the past when we were kids, all those yet again bittersweet memories from long ago.  Do we pine for our lost selves, the sweet simplicity we once had, before we became sophisticated, before we became ambitious, before the reality of money and earning a living came along?  Do we miss that simple, carefree and intimate relationship we had with our Creator when we were younger, when we had nothing to prove and no particular place to go and not desiring much more than being happy and at peace?  The story of humanity seems to be one of regret, unfulfilled promise, and a yearning, through all the madness and chaos of a busy and bustling world, to find something real, that lasts and that has value and a space where we can be truly fulfilled, both spiritually and materially.


We see then, but we only see through a glass darkly.  We are jaded as adults, and we know that we have lost that original innocence we had as kids, innocent kids born into a not-so-innocent world.  Was it all those years ago, that we danced and played in the rain, that we didn’t worry about any little thing, that school holidays seemed to go on forever and forever?  Is there any surprise about Jesus when we read that: ‘Then he said, 'In truth I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.  (Mathew 18:3 NJB)  In becoming worldly, ambitious and sophisticated as adults, and in trying to be important and successful, have we missed the very thing we have really been looking for all our lives, the very thing we pass by and ignore and see as of no importance?  We might have roamed the world trying to find it or read dozens and dozens of books or made all kinds of acquaintances and friendships, and all to no avail. 


In searching for peace of mind, have we missed the very thing we need to know, the very thing that would bring us peace?  Will having lots of money bring us peace?  Will having a busy social life bring us peace?  Will being the most important person bring us peace?  In many respects, no material acquisition or particular status will bring us anything but short-lived glory, a passing thrill, that doesn’t last, and makes us only search harder for the next thrill; but all to no avail.  How do we become like little children; and why? 

We become like a little child when we see the world through innocent eyes, when we ditch our worldliness and selfish ambition, and learn to live again and put our trust and faith in Jesus.  The only way to find rest and refreshment for our souls in this desert of a world is to simply have faith, and to ask Jesus to make us like little children again, innocent and carefree.  Relish life, dance in the rain, eat some sweets and see the world once again through the eyes of a child!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

It Doesn’t Get Better Than This

Many of us today find ourselves struggling in some way, whether it is financially, career-wise, with illness of one kind or another or depression, with our families and friends and just with the constant barrage of negativity that surrounds us day in and day out.  The bad news never seems to end, and rarely is there any real good news; prices of goods go up, gas and electric goes up, food prices go up, petrol for cars goes up, and wages and benefits stay the same; everything goes up and very rarely if ever comes down.  On top of this, we find ourselves at odds with God in some way; we pray, but He doesn’t seem to hear; we struggle against sin in our lives but always come off losing the battle; we know God wants something better for us but we don’t know what it is; we want so many things but find that we just can’t have them; we struggle to make better lives for ourselves but only seem to be making more work for ourselves while we struggle vainly to go nowhere.  On top of all this, God seems absent, seems He is busy doing other things and we just can’t seem to find Him or catch His attention anyway.


What started out as wonderful promise has become stale, has become ‘old-hat’, commonplace, tedious and even boring.  We know we want something, but we don’t know what it is that we do want.  Things just can’t seem to get any worse.  We do our duty, take the rubbish out, feed the cat, pay the bills, do all the things we are meant to and still after it all we feel an emptiness, a numbness, a raw stretch of pain across our hearts that never goes away no matter what we do.  Is life meant to be exciting, is it meant to be boring, just what is the purpose of life anyway?


Depression can steal all our happiness, can make us see the world in an extremely negative light and can make us moody, miserable and unreliable.  The mood swings a person can suffer with depression means that one day they can be deliriously high and the next day crushingly low; the deliriousness comes from the fact that for the time being the depressed person feels a lull in the worst moments of depression, and the worst moments come from the fact that the illness has a grip again.  The truth seems to be that both extremes, feeling extremely high one minute and extremely low the next, are emotions that should be experienced occasionally and not all the time.  Depression can steal everything good, and can make everything appear lost and without hope.


We see in the Old Testament the trials of Israel, the Israelites; the story of the OT is at best a story of skewed relationship, God’s perfect love and Israel’s usual half-hearted love.  God always knew the Israelites, and of course us too, would mess up from time to time.  In my own life, I struggle with frustration after frustration; I certainly am at this present time.  I can’t see the wood for the trees and I am in trackless wastes with no seeming end or way out.  I find myself struggling, struggling to remain calm even when I feel angry, struggling to see God’s purpose in my life when nothing seems to go right, struggling to make sense of it all when all I feel is unwell and out of sorts all the time.  Even when I try to do what is right minute by minute, hour after hour, day after day, month after month and year in year out, I still feel miserable.  In spite of God’s warnings to Israel, He knew that they, to put it politely, would mess up, would stop loving Him and start loving other things like money and power and sex and the accumulation of land and property and commodities; in the rush to make themselves prosperous, the Israelites forgot about the one person who had made it all possible; what an irony!  Are we any better than backsliding Israel?  One look around you at humans in general will probably tell you that answer.  But what about us Christians, us paragons of virtues, us latter day saints, the called and the chosen; what about us?  Well, sometimes I despair of Christianity and some Christians, or those calling themselves Christians; often organised Christianity seems just as worldly and just as much about power and wealth and social standing than it is about our relationship with Jesus.  If Christians, those supposed to serve God with a whole heart, are just as worldly and selfish as anyone else, what’s the point of being a Christian after all?  But in this chaotic world, this topsy-turvy planet we live on, through all the injustice and rampant unfairness that sometimes passes for society, God knows His own.  We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good.  (Romans 8:28 NJB)


The Best is Yet to Come

Even in despair, even in our most hopeless moments, even when everything seems irretrievably lost, there is a God who understands our pain, and understands our yearnings for a better life.  He isn’t a God of religion, He is an unfathomable God, uncontainable, uncontrollable, even dangerous and subversive, and certainly wrathful to those who challenge Him.  But here also is a gentle God, a God of summer breezes and a God of playful kittens and the softest of touches, a God who is big enough to know all about us, but intimate enough to want to get involved with who we are and what we are about.  He is a God of relationship, a God who will walk with us, laugh with us, cry with us and feel our pain when we are down and feel our joy when we are up.  This isn’t religion, it is reality, a God-centred reality, one that no one can steal from you and that is more priceless than all the gold and all the diamonds in the world.  All the money in the world might not make you happy, but God can transform your life and He can give you a second chance, even when the world has written you off.

The best is yet to come!  I wait fervently, even patiently sometimes, for a change in my circumstances; nothing much seems to happen; I pray, pray a bit more, read my Bible for inspiration and have hope and faith that God will begin to work in my life.  In the end, that’s all I can do; that’s all anyone can do after all.  Who can force God’s hand and who wants to tell God to get a move on?  Not me anyway!  But as we wait, things become clearer, and even though we suffer and we are impatient at best, things begin to make more sense; all the while God is working behind the scenes, preparing us better things and answering our prayers.  Yes, the best is yet to come.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.  (John 10:10 NJB)

Saturday, 10 November 2012

We Need a Christian Revival in Britain!

It’s not overstating the case to say that many ordinary people in Britain feel that Christianity is just not for them; why?  Well, I hope to answer that as we go along.  First, I will take myself as an example.  I am a Christian, a dyed-in-the-wool Christian, who has been a Christian since I was thirteen, but if I am being honest has really tried to live the faith since I was about thirty.  Being in some ways a very private and even shy person, with occasional moments of overtness, I tend not to like the look of churches that get all emotional, or in accepting group ideology when at heart much of what I believe is very deeply held and not up for grabs in any way.  Organised religion seems to me at best a watered-down version of what we hold in private.  But for me, this corporate version of what starts out a very personal and private faith, has many problems attached to it.  Firstly, it can get hierarchical when I feel most of us want an egalitarian faith; does God see high class status or white skin as more important than any other?  Secondly, organised religion is a business, and in the business of raising money and holding stocks and shares and the like; is this really what God wants from us, running religion as a business?  Thirdly, the individual, especially if they are deemed not important, plays a poor second to so-called group-ideology, where somehow the ideas of those who are deemed important trickle down to the rest of us; is Christianity just another branch of the class system?  Fourthly, and similarly, it seems that Christianity in Britain has become just a reflection of the often unfair social system we all live under; if people fervently promote such unfairness in ‘organised Christianity’, are we so certain that God also promotes such unfairness?  Isn’t this something humans can do all by themselves?!


A calling in Christianity, a calling from God, isn’t just to be a priest or vicar or even archbishop, it is to be a Christian and to serve God with a whole heart.  For many people like myself, believing and having faith in God but not particularly believing in a hierarchical structure that seems more about class and socially important people, there is a void opening.  In Britain, there are many Christians who just do not get organised religion or big denominations but who still have a deep and genuine hunger and thirst for God.  This void has widened over the last fifty years or so.  Let’s be honest here, much religion, much organised Christianity in Britain was about social control, was about getting people into pews and then telling them that the way things were, the deeply unfair social system, was somehow inexplicably ordained by God; the church was preaching falsehood so that the ruling class could control, manipulate and own millions of ordinary people.  This put many ordinary people off religion and so they stopped going to church.  In the last fifty years or so, when ordinary people’s options began to proliferate and people could live any way they wanted to, the church became far less relevant.  But has God become far less relevant?  I believe the answer is no.  But what do Christians like myself really want?  I don’t want hierarchy.  I don’t want the church run like a business, collecting vast sums of money; and for what exactly?  I don’t want top-down ideology, ideas from the elite trickling down to everyone else, using religion as a convenient way of controlling people.  So what do we want then? 



If we really want to have a faith worth living for, first of all we need to open up a debate, a debate that encompasses all Christians, not just vicars and priests and bishops and archbishops and those deemed socially important, I mean all Christians that want to get involved should get involved.  I also think we need to think about ‘church’ as being the body of believers, not some vast impersonal organisation or a particular denomination or a building in need of repairs; why can’t we get together in each other’s houses or hotels or even pubs and bars?  Who says it has to be a dusty suburban church anyway?  Thus says Yahweh: With heaven my throne and earth my footstool, what house could you build me, what place for me to rest, when all these things were made by me and all belong to me? - declares Yahweh. But my eyes are drawn to the person of humbled and contrite spirit, who trembles at my word.  (Isaiah 66:1-2 NJB)


What we all need is a dose of reality, and perhaps we also need to know just what God wants from us, and for us, as well.  I believe God is life-affirming, life-enhancing and life-transforming but little of this wonder, this magnificent nature of God seems to be disseminated through traditional worship and Sunday service churches; is it any wonder people find Christianity irrelevant and even boring? 



I have asked myself many times, ‘just what sort of worship does God want from us?’  I find all that ‘happy-clappy’ stuff, when usually, and supposedly, reserved English people gush and emote at some church services, to be rather embarrassing, both to watch and probably to take part in as well.  Unfortunately, I find the traditional variety of worship, going to church on Sunday at 9am, singing a few hymns and listening to a sermon, and saying hello to the priest or vicar, also not that appealing.  If we could make the inner and private faith we all hold into a genuine public faith, we could all probably move mountains.  How do we in fact square our very private and deeply held beliefs with a corporate and public faith?  How do we worship a God who in fact really needs nothing from us?  But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham my friend, whom I have taken to myself, from the remotest parts of the earth and summoned from countries far away, to whom I have said, 'You are my servant, I have chosen you, I have not rejected you,' do not be afraid, for I am with you; do not be alarmed, for I am your God. I give you strength, truly I help you, truly I hold you firm with my saving right hand.  (Isaiah 41:8-10 NJB)  Perhaps worship can be many things; we worship God by being aware He has called us to be His own; we worship God by staying true to our calling even when we live in a deeply sinful and enticing world; we worship God by treating other people with the same respect we hope others will treat us with; we worship God by being in tune with Him and by being in tune with other people’s needs, and many more things besides.



I have learnt, usually the hard way, that God demands obedience from us; not partial or half-hearted obedience, but full and whole hearted obedience; we cannot live in any kind of sin and then proclaim that we are good Christians; in the end, we may fool other people, we may even fool ourselves, but we will not fool God.  When Israel remained obedient, God blessed them and rewarded them and showered on them both material and spiritual blessings.  However, when Israel only partially remained obedient, God warned them through prophet after prophet to amend their sinful ways and if they didn’t change their ways sooner or later God punished them.  ‘…Is Yahweh pleased by burnt offerings and sacrifices or by obedience to Yahweh's voice? Truly, obedience is better than sacrifice, submissiveness than the fat of rams.  (1 Samuel 15:22 NJB)  The Old Testament and the story of Israel’s often extremely shaky relationship with God is a timely warning for us today, that God means what He says and that He is a God who demands our full attention and our full obedience too.  If we get right with God first, before worrying about other things, we might find that our lives and our view of God are totally transformed.  Who am I to challenge the way things are, who am I to suggest changes to age-old problems and age-old ways of doing things anyway?  I’m just an ordinary sort of guy really, a Christian who wants to see my faith taken seriously but also honestly.  ' Now, please forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I can worship Yahweh.'  (1 Samuel 15:25 NJB)


Inner Reality
Paul talks about the ‘inner reality’, the reality that though buried by a thousand and one other concerns, is the only reality we need.  Nothing is to be done out of jealousy or vanity; instead, out of humility of mind everyone should give preference to others, everyone pursuing not selfish interests but those of others.  (Philippians 2:3-4 NJB)  Paul, as Saul the Pharisee, was in some ways an accomplished man, a man who had things to be proud of, but he dismissed it all in order to be a Christian.  But what were once my assets I now through Christ Jesus count as losses. Yes, I will go further: because of the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, I count everything else as loss. For him I have accepted the loss of all other things, and look on them all as filth if only I can gain Christ and be given a place in him, with the uprightness I have gained not from the Law, but through faith in Christ, an uprightness from God, based on faith, that I may come to know him and the power of his resurrection, and partake of his sufferings by being moulded to the pattern of his death, striving towards the goal of resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:7-11 NJB)  Always, Paul gets to the nub of the argument, and though an educated and eloquent man, he writes with clarity and simplicity, putting across things that could be difficult in a simple and direct way.  For at the judgement seat of Christ we are all to be seen for what we are, so that each of us may receive what he has deserved in the body, matched to whatever he has done, good or bad.  And so it is with the fear of the Lord always in mind that we try to win people over. But God sees us for what we are, and I hope your consciences do too.  Again we are saying this not to commend ourselves to you, but simply to give you the opportunity to take pride in us, so that you may have an answer for those who take pride in appearances and not inner reality.  (2 Corinthians 5:10-12 NJB)  Perhaps we need to get back to this ‘inner reality’, or if we don’t know it to find out what this inner reality really means for Christians; certainly it is that we live in the truth of a situation rather than hiding behind cosy but ultimately empty falsehoods.  We need to get back to the simple truth of the Gospel in everything we do and everything we believe.