Saturday, 26 January 2013

What is Christianity?

It’s Relationship

Christianity is not religion, its relationship.  Let me say it again; Christianity is not religion, its relationship!  Some things need to sink in somewhat.  For many people, even it seems many Christians, Christianity can be everything but what it is really meant to be, which is an intimate walk with God, mediated by Jesus.  What passes for Christianity in the world is often watered-down, religion that presses some of the buttons, seems good if not examined too closely, but which in the end always fails to fulfil and truly satisfy.  This is why I think some very religious people can be very judgemental, can mix up what is in the world with their faith, and get caught up in things which God does not want those He calls to get mixed up in.  Christianity summed up is simply a relationship, yes even an intimate friendship with Jesus, on a daily on-going basis.  In British vernacular Jesus is meant to be our best mate!  There is nothing I cannot do in the One who strengthens me.  (Philippians 4:13 NJB)

 It’s Reality

Christianity isn’t something that you put on or off as the mood takes you, it isn’t private faith, it isn’t something that kind of exists on Sunday, it isn’t a nice warm feeling, it isn’t feeling smug or superior, it is reality.  Some Christians, even those with important positions in the Church, have said before today that they don’t believe in the virgin birth, or they struggle with the Bible story, and so on.  When someone asks for proof of God, I suggest you tell them to look in the mirror!  We are an amazing creation; how could we have just evolved in some haphazard and uncontrolled way when most of us are physically perfect, a breath-taking creation, the crown of creation.   God is real, always present and has a role in the world right now.  He isn’t some far off bearded bloke in the clouds, absent-minded and forgetful, or a mere fantasy someone dreamed up to frighten us; He is a real being.  He is the one true God.  Never has anyone heard, no ear has heard, no eye has seen any god but you act like this for the sake of those who trust him.  You come to meet those who are happy to act uprightly; keeping your ways reminds them of you. Yes, you have been angry and we have been sinners; now we persist in your ways and we shall be saved.  (Isaiah 64:3-4 NJB)


It’s Truth

There are many beliefs in the world, many religious disciplines to follow, many religions seemingly to choose from.  Who do you believe, after all?  Are they all right, and if so how can they be?  Whose truth is the truth?  Some people claim that all religions are correct, they all lead to the same truth; sort of.  Some people say that most religions have something in them that is good.  Others dismiss it all as cosmic hogwash!  Yes, there are and have been many holy men and women, some forgotten now and others the prophets of diverse religions.  Only Jesus ever said He was the door to God, only He proclaimed to be truth, only He said He was life.  Jesus said: I am the Way; I am Truth and Life. No one can come to the Father except through me.  (John 14:6 NJB)


It’s, Above All, Love

Though I command languages both human and angelic -- if I speak without love, I am no more than a gong booming or a cymbal clashing.  And though I have the power of prophecy, to penetrate all mysteries and knowledge, and though I have all the faith necessary to move mountains -- if I am without love, I am nothing.  (1 Corinthians 13:1-2 NJB)  We sometimes see those who are powerful in the established churches and denominations, or important people who claim to be believers, doing and saying things that do not emanate from a position or standpoint of love.  Often religion, yet again, seems to be much more about powerful, important and even wealthy people, than it does about those who simply practise their faith everyday.  Religion can be impersonal at best, but what else could an intimate relationship be based on other than love?  So love is the answer.  Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles, but then we shall be seeing face to face. Now I can know only imperfectly; but then I shall know just as fully as I am myself known.  As it is, these remain: faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of them is love.  (1 Corinthians 13:12-13 NJB)

 It’s Not Religion

Religion might mean people involving themselves in things, rituals, performances, and doing things that they think God might want us to do.  A faith initiated by God on the other hand couldn’t be more different.  In the first place, He approaches us, He loved us before we even existed.  Instead of being religious, perhaps we need to understand what Christianity is all about.  Religion constricts, whereas faith in Jesus frees us.  We were always meant to live in peace, in abundance, in happiness and with joy unending.  God is our Father, who wants only the best for us, regardless of who we are, where we come from, whatever social status we might have and irrespective of any difference from any other person whatsoever.  I have let myself be approached by those who did not consult me, I have let myself be found by those who did not seek me. I said, 'Here I am, here I am!' to a nation that did not invoke my name.  (Isaiah 65:1 NJB)


It’s Not Controlling Other People

I urge you, brothers, be on your guard against the people who are out to stir up disagreements and bring up difficulties against the teaching which you learnt. Avoid them.  People of that sort are servants not of our Lord Christ, but of their own greed; and with talk that sounds smooth and reasonable they deceive the minds of the unwary.  (Romans 16:17-18 NJB)  Let’s be honest here; there are many in the churches who seem to gravitate to positions of power simply because they want to control or manipulate people in some way, those who use religion to gain control of other people, or to gain power and even wealth.  This is what we are warned about quite frankly.  I’m not saying that every Christian leader is like this, because they aren’t, but we should always be forewarned about such things.  Not all people are as they seem. 


It’s Not a Cult or Sect

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)  Some people think to pray they must be in a church, or even belong to a particular denomination to be a Christian.  It can sometimes appear that Christians, who are simply supposed to be brothers and sisters, are the most divided of people!  God does not necessarily want grand gestures, nor I think does He need us to build churches and cathedrals in His name, I believe that what He most wants from us is a humble spirit, a heart predisposed towards Him and other people and simply to be obedient.

 It’s Not Exclusive
I am coming to gather every nation and every language. They will come to witness my glory.  I shall give them a sign and send some of their survivors to the nations: to Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coasts and islands that have never heard of me or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory to the nations, and from all the nations they will bring all your brothers as an offering to Yahweh, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to my holy mountain, Jerusalem, Yahweh says, like Israelites bringing offerings in clean vessels to Yahweh's house.  (Isaiah 66:18-20 NJB)  Christianity, certainly in Britain, sometimes seems to be a social club for those who’ve got it all together, those with nice lives, good jobs, living in nice areas and sailing through life.  Many of us in Britain do not have perfect lives, we struggle, we endure hardships, and we fail to reach any kind of perfection.  God does not want an exclusive club for Christianity, He isn’t just about the terminally nice, He created every human being and calls every kind of person to be His and to serve Him with a whole heart.  Christianity is not the British class system!  Jesus came down to earth to save those who are lost, without faith, suffering, those who are deeply hurting and those who are often seen as unworthy and of no account.  The spirit of Lord Yahweh is on me for Yahweh has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the news to the afflicted, to soothe the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, release to those in prison, to proclaim a year of favour from Yahweh and a day of vengeance for our God, to comfort all who mourn (to give to Zion's mourners), to give them for ashes a garland, for mourning-dress, the oil of gladness, for despondency, festal attire; and they will be called 'terebinths of saving justice', planted by Yahweh to glorify him.  They will rebuild the ancient ruins, they will raise what has long lain waste, they will restore the ruined cities, all that has lain waste for ages past.  (Isaiah 61:1-4 NJB)

Saturday, 19 January 2013

No Reservations

I had a planned post for this week’s blog post, but I thought I’d write something off-the-cuff and spontaneously; so there!  I don’t always watch a great deal of TV, I tend to cherry-pick and tape things I really want to watch.  Recently I’ve been watching a programme on a channel called ‘Quest’, which is called ‘No Reservations’ about the travels of a sassy and mouthy but always funny chef from New York called Anthony Bourdain, who has gone all over the world in search of new experiences and especially to eat local food and meet local people.  I’ve watched him visit China, Japan, South Florida, Peru to name but four places but he’s visited many more.  He’s even visited Scotland and England too, and in a book of his I bought off Amazon called ‘A Cook’s Tour’ he said, and I quote, ‘I love England’, which I thought was nice, as we tend to expect people will say they hate England and especially that people will usually hate our food!  Anyway, I’ve really grown to like this guy and his often wry and always funny observations, but in between the glib remarks and witty one-liners, there comes across a guy who is genuinely thrilled by his travels around the world and who loves different cultures and different cuisines with a passion.  Now and then, even he is lost for words; he visited Machu Picchu and felt that whatever he said wouldn’t be enough – so he didn’t say anything much and just left me feeling that this guy realised how lucky he is going around the world meeting nice people and eating different food, and getting paid for it too!  Another thing; I’ve always felt an empathy and affinity with New Yorkers, their toughness, their directness, their sassiness, their world-weariness and that important sense of humour too.  Some of my heroes are New Yorkers like Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and John Garfield, to name but three.  I always felt that with New York especially, that people were direct and tell-it-like-it-is, not a characteristic generally noted about English people, or some English people anyway.


The Good Samaritan

Sometimes ordinary non-religious people can be kinder and have a genuine love for people, far more than some so-called Christians have, and opposed to the often rigid and intolerant views that some religious people can have.  I am brought to the story of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus was quizzed by a lawyer: ‘And now a lawyer stood up and, to test him, asked, 'Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'  He said to him, 'What is written in the Law? What is your reading of it?'  He replied, 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.'  Jesus said to him, 'You have answered right, do this and life is yours.'  But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbour?'  In answer Jesus said, 'A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of bandits; they stripped him, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead.  Now a priest happened to be travelling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan traveller who came on him was moved with compassion when he saw him.  He went up to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He then lifted him onto his own mount and took him to an inn and looked after him.  Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper and said, "Look after him, and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have."  Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the bandits' hands?'  He replied, 'The one who showed pity towards him.' Jesus said to him, 'Go, and do the same yourself.'  (Luke 10:25-37 NJB)  We see sometimes in life that people, not particularly religious, not particularly special, not particularly anything really, are more considerate, more caring and more compassionate than those who are supposed to have these qualities, the religious kind of person, who might talk about love and concern for others but when it comes down to it, is merely full of words.

 The Samaritans were a mixed race people, and because their views and practise of religion differed somewhat from the Jews, the Jews often held them in contempt.  But Jesus uses a Samaritan to make a point, a point that we should all heed.  Sometimes the outsider, the marginalised, those whom greater society often dismisses as of no account, can be the very people who have more love and compassion than those who pride themselves on being pure and religious.  The point also being, that what is the point of religious pride, or doing all kinds of ‘religious’ things, if you don’t have simple love for your fellow human?  I sometimes look at powerful people in the established churches and important people who just happen or claim to be religious , and wonder whether what they profess is genuine or heartfelt or whether such claims of religious piety are just a mask, a mark of respectability, or another marker of superiority to add to all the rest.  We have to be the people who don’t walk on by, but the people who are truly living as Christians every day.

Che, the Revolutionary

Like most people, I have a thing for rebels, for those hardy souls who challenge injustice or take on the establishment, or just blaze a trail in pop music or film making or some such thing.  Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was said to be so moved after travelling around South America on motorbike with a mate called Alberto Granado that he wanted to help the poor of the many countries of this large continent.  In some ways, he may have been right, and in some ways, he may have been wrong.  But sometimes things only move forwards when brave people, be they individuals or groups, challenge blatant injustice and unfair situations, usually targeted at the poor and disenfranchised.  British society itself, far from being staid and lacking revolutionary zeal, changed many times when ordinary people began to fight for their rights.  Sometimes the rebels were peasants and the poor, and sometimes the rebels were more Middle class; there is in fact a rich history of civil disobedience throughout the British Isles against governments and all kinds of injustice.

 Even at their best though, many revolutionaries could be said to be somewhat egocentric, not all, but to do something for others takes real courage.  The only revolutionary that completely succeeded was Jesus, a man who knew He would be executed by the powers-that-be, the military and religious authorities of His day, but who still went out into the world, to challenge some of us, to chastise some of us, to show up religious hypocrisy for what it was but ultimately to save us.

Many people today, even many Christians, feel lost, feel that the harsh economic times we live in, with the constant closure of businesses and consequent loss of jobs everywhere, means that they won’t have decent lives and that they might have to struggle just to exist.  I feel like this myself some times.  For the believer, there are better times ahead.  We must have faith in God and we must not fall into despair; despair is an opportune impostor.  Read this, and take comfort: ‘You will be a crown of splendour in Yahweh's hand, a princely diadem in the hand of your God.  No more will you be known as 'Forsaken' or your country be known as 'Desolation'; instead, you will be called 'My Delight is in her' and your country 'The Wedded'; for Yahweh will take delight in you and your country will have its wedding.  Like a young man marrying a virgin, your rebuilder will wed you, and as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice in you.  (Isaiah 62:3-5 NJB)

Saturday, 12 January 2013

God, The Creator of All

There’s a big difference between the God of the Bible, and all the other gods. All the other ‘gods’ are human inventions, created by the human mind; the God of the Bible, the one and only true God, is the God that rather than being created by humans, is actually the Creator of human beings. This is the only difference we need to know. Yes, the Greek gods are interesting, and the Norse gods are interesting, but after all’s said and done, they are only products of the human imagination. There’s about as much point as praying to one of these guys as there is to praying to a block of carved wood or stone or praying to the sun or the moon. There is only one God, one Supreme Being, that is above all and the Creator of all. Do you really want to put your faith or future in something that just isn’t real or that is in actual fact false? Likewise, there have been many supposed holy men (and even a few holy women too!) knocking around here and there at various times, and many people have put their faith in them. For a Christian, there’s only one man, one cool dude, that makes the grade; He leaves the rest behind in the starting blocks. Who is He? It’s Jesus! What did He say about Himself? ‘…I am the way, the truth, and the life…’ (John 14:6 KJV) No other person has ever claimed that, holy or not, and indeed no other person could because Jesus is the only way to God, He is the intercessor for us, the divine bridge between God and man. Jesus is the way to God, He is the truth of the world and the agent of creation, and He is true life, life that lasts and life that is abundant and overflowing.

Challenging the Status Quo

A yearning for things to stay the same, whilst living in societies where things keep changing, creates a dichotomy for many people. We yearn for good things to last, for all that is good to stay and all that is bad to stay away, but things are never static. We become nostalgia freaks, locked in the past and afraid of the future. The curious reality is that as things change they stay the same. What I mean is that society survives by changing; imagine a world without the Internet or mobile phones or supermarkets. We all change, get older, get more mature, get a little wiser (hopefully!) and we are not the same ten years down the line. In middle age, whenever that really is now, we take stock of our lives, we reflect on it all, the good and the bad, and we might feel that we could have done things, some things anyway, differently. Only a faith in God makes me feel that even the worst bits have something to teach me, that my life hasn’t been in vain and that the best is yet to come.

In many societies, even wealthy, progressive and democratic ones, there is a subtle notion, often heavily inferred, that those at the bottom should know their place, that only those who are already affluent or connected or powerful in some way should aspire to better things, should aspire to have better lives and money and nice things, the rest of us being merely grateful for the crumbs off the rich man’s table. In fact, the only way modern societies have genuinely progressed is when such notions are challenged by the mass of ‘ordinary’ people, whatever ordinary really means. Society progresses when we as groups of disenfranchised people challenge injustice, and when we as individuals don’t accept the limitations that greater society, and even other people, try to impose on us. In the past, only the wealthy Middle classes and Upper classes were supposed to prosper and have a future, and that is they key word: future. We all have the right to a future and we all have the right to better lives, better life chances and even to prosper. I don’t say we should plot revolutions or overthrow the government, but where we find injustice we should challenge it. ‘Yahweh says this: Act uprightly and justly; rescue from the hands of the oppressor anyone who has been wronged, do not exploit or ill-treat the stranger, the orphan, the widow; shed no innocent blood in this place.’ (Jeremiah 22:3 NJB) If we act uprightly, and refuse to prosper at someone else’s expense, God will guide our steps and He will see that no real harm comes to us. It seems to me that in many countries in the world, including many Western countries, people do indeed prosper at the expense of other people, even when such profiteering makes misery and creates rampant injustice. In this case, we should hope to be neither exploiter or exploited. ‘To absolve the guilty and condemn the upright, both alike are abhorrent to Yahweh.’ (Proverbs 17:15 NJB) We have to remember as Christians that though often societies, even the best of societies, can be skewed, corrupt, often unfair and partial to the rich and powerful, we must remain free of such things. I believe that we are all going to be judged one day; some of the people now prospering unjustly may very well find themselves on the wrong side of God, not a place anyone wants to be. Whatever we do, we should act justly and with a sense of fair play. ‘He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6:8 ESV)

The Waste of it All

In a report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers recently, it was said that almost half, yes almost half, of all the world’s food, about 2 billion tons worth, is binned before it reaches the dinner table. What an insane world we live in! Whilst it seems half the world is eating itself to death, the other half is slowly starving to death. What we now see on a global scale, real inequality and skewed redistribution of wealth and resources, is what many European countries were like in the 19th century; the rich had an overabundance of wealth, land, power and resources, the Middle class had some wealth and resources, and the Working class and poor often didn’t have enough even for basic needs to be met, whilst often living in wretched rural and urban poverty in awful unsanitary housing. What is the answer to such overwhelming waste and unequal redistribution? The first answer is for those who have enough to stop carping on about what they haven’t got and learn to be grateful for what they have! We have all done it, we have all coveted what we haven’t got, we all seem never to be satisfied with what we have; perhaps we need to learn simply to be content with what we have. Saint Paul said this about contentment: ‘I know how to live modestly, and I know how to live luxuriously too: in every way now I have mastered the secret of all conditions: full stomach and empty stomach, plenty and poverty. There is nothing I cannot do in the One who strengthens me.’ (Philippians 4:12-13 NJB) It may be that you are wealthy; then be grateful. It may be that you are poor; then be content with what good things you have and then pray earnestly about your needs being met. I’m not suggesting that someone poor shouldn’t aspire to a better life, of course not, don’t we all want to get on after all? I am suggesting that whilst we plan for better things, we should simply be grateful for any good thing we already have, whether we are rich or poor.

Why Did God Create Life?

All is competition; we compete with others in everything without even being aware of doing it half the time, competing in every way and often for no good reason. Competition seems to create nothing but aggressive people, and some win and many others lose. This creates societies that can be filled either way with aggressive people that are not really happy unless they are competing with other people in some way and winning in whatever way they can. In my eyes, this often results in societies that are not working to their full potential. What’s more, I firmly believe that God wants us to win, but at the same time He wants us to be the best we can be, not minding anyone else’s business but being concerned with our own business.

So, why did God create life? Just what purpose were human beings created for? ‘I look up at your heavens, shaped by your fingers, at the moon and the stars you set firm-what are human beings that you spare a thought for them, or the child of Adam that you care for him?’ (Psalm 8:3-4 NJB) We know that God created everything, and He created us or I wouldn’t be typing this blog and you wouldn’t be reading it, but can we understand God’s motives? When we look at the mess the world is in, and human society in general, we might genuinely wonder what the purpose of life is when life for many is often nasty, short and brutal. I believe that God created mankind to share in His glory, to share in His love, to love and so be loved, by God and by other people. There is a purpose to life, and sometimes when we go to the supermarket or are doing a hundred other mundane things, we forget that we are extraordinary and magnificent, the crown of creation, the reason for all creation. Try and remember that on a cold, wet, rainy Monday afternoon.

Finally, do we have to hate each other? No, I’ll never be a Muslim, I’ll never be an Orthodox Jew, I’m a Christian after all, but why can’t we live in peace? We all have so much to learn from each other.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Wishing the Years Away

When I was a kid, life seemed to pass by slowly, years seemed to roll by slowly, and the summer holidays we had each year seemed to go on forever.  Now, as an adult, life seems to pass by faster at some times and very fast at others.  I seem often to be wishing my life away, instead of enjoying the abundant living that Jesus has promised me.  What I mean basically is that, for one reason and several, I am often hoping for some day in the future to come; sometimes a specific day because that’s when I have spare time, or a day, a non-specific date sometime vaguely in the future, when everything, yes everything, is going to be just fine.  In the first case, the wishing away of a day or a week doesn’t necessarily make me happier, and in the latter case, wishing away life in general is possibly making me more miserable.  When we buy a lottery ticket, we hope upon hope that this time we will win, ending all financial worries and troubles, meaning we can escape to the cottage in the country or the beach-house in the sun and live the life we have always dreamed of.  Does God want us to live forever in some unrealised future?  Perhaps part of Christian living is just that: looking forward to a time when all problems are resolved and we have a perfect, unsullied and intimate relationship with our Creator.  But the fact is that many of us who are Christians do not have perfect lives, we struggle financially, we struggle with emotional issues, we struggle in our personal lives and with other people, we struggle to make sense of everything, we might struggle with illness or depression; in fact we are almost defined by the fact that we seem to be continually struggling against so many things; life just seems to be one annoying thing after another.  Life is not perfect; the American or Brit, the Western European, even the poorer ones, have a standard of living that is the real envy of many other parts of the world.  We complain because we haven’t got the latest plasma TV or the latest must-have gadget; we complain because we are earning thousands and want millions; we complain because we haven’t got three houses and two cars.  In some parts of the world, you are lucky just to have a meal in your belly and a place in a tin shack to call your own.  Yet, often, the very poorer person has a level of personal happiness and satisfaction that the Westerner, however rich or poor they may appear to be, just does not have.  Isn’t it time we all learned to count our blessings?  


We know that God chose Israel, although it’s often not clear at all why He did.  Did He pick Israel because they were the best of people?  Were they the most religious people?  Were they the most socially, politically and societally advanced people?  Did they have a sophisticated culture like the Egyptians?  It seems not.  I have believed that God’s choices are often foolish to the world, but to those who understand God’s mercy, God’s compassion and His social justice, these choices are ways of balancing out the often deep divisions that have always existed since tribe was pitted against tribe and latterly nation against nation.  There is a deep dichotomy in God choosing any particular nation or any particular person; it says plainly in scripture: ‘There is no favouritism with God.  (Romans 2:11 NJB)  If there is no favouritism, then why did He pick a specific people to be His people?  How does this work out?  Well, I can answer this by saying that though God did indeed pick a particular people, and though He chooses people like me, and many others, to be Christians today, that never means we can just do what we like and get all pompous about our supposed superiority!  I believe that God believes in equality, and so if we adhere to His laws and ways, He is pleased with us.  But, though we might be called, if we choose to disobey or think that being religious somehow means we can do what we like, God’s displeasure will be visited on us.  The whole of the Old Testament is a litany of God’s love for a people whose love for Him is often half-hearted and partial at best.  But let’s not get too smug about this; the OT story can be a metaphor for the way many modern Christians also treat God.  We all seem too busy to engage with Him at the best of the times, or we pay lip-service to being ‘good Christians’ and we fill our lives with ‘false gods’ like the worship of money or high social status or the bigger house, or we might think that being a ‘Sunday Christian’ is all there is to worship or indeed all there is to God or all there is to being a Christian.  Come to think of it, at least when the ancient Israelites were chastised they usually turned wholeheartedly to God; for a time anyway.  How many Christians never seem to learn?  God knew that all the time He chose Israel they would largely reject Jesus, yet He never made a different choice.  He also knows that even though He chooses Christians, many of those Christians are far less than they could be even when the truth stares us in the face.  God’s mercy is always bigger than His wrath. 


We are meant to be servants of His and preachers of God’s Kingdom, yet we listen to Rock and Roll, we play games all night, we have favourite alcoholic drinks, we cultivate non-Christian friendships; we’re often only half the people we really should be.  But we can’t live in a vacuum, and being a Christian doesn’t mean we have to lock ourselves away in some monastery in some remote place and then singing chants at four o’clock every morning.  So; where do we draw the line?  The 60’s means a lot to me, even though I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Christian.  I love Hendrix, I love the Doors and I love the whole atmosphere and excitement of that decade.  I suspect that many genuine Christians also enjoy many things that are not particularly Christian either.  A job for instance isn’t particularly Christian or non-Christian, it’s just your job.  A snack you buy on the street is similar.  So is a pair of shoes or a pair of pyjamas you might wear.  There has to be a line, a line of common-sense, between being a Christian and separate from the world and having ordinary interests that are part of the world.  We have to eat after all.  We have to laugh after all.  We have to be entertained after all, providing hopefully that what we like in no way affects our relationship with God or puts Christians in a bad light.  There is, I contend, a slight hypocrisy amongst some Christians about this issue; if they do something that might appear wrong, then it’s OK.  If some other Christian does something that appears wrong, then they condemn.  Perhaps we all need to lighten up a little.


When Rock and Roll first exploded on the scene in America in the 50’s, it opened the doors for many young men and women, often those marginalised and poor Black and White men and women, who otherwise might be doing some crummy dead end job in a factory or being a waitress or short-order cook in some diner in small town America somewhere.  Rock and Roll fundamentally changed American, British and Western culture; nothing would ever be the same again.  Before Rock and Roll in Britain, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones might have at best ended up in dead end jobs somewhere or middle-management in some business, doing some boring and routine job that paid ok but wasn’t very exciting.  In a way, Rock and Roll in the mid-twentieth century had the same impact on Western culture as Christianity eventually did many centuries before.  They both liberated people and opened up opportunities that weren’t really present before.  Rock and Roll changed the social fabric of both America and Britain almost overnight, and instead of poor people deferring to their so-called elders and betters, they could stick a record on and be blown away; there was no turning back.  Early Rock and Roll could be said to be simplistic, perhaps pop music at its best, but by the end of the 60’s this music was beginning to be seen as a viable and credible part of Western culture, and some of the ‘pop music’ that was eventually being created was akin to the best of any Classical or avant-garde Jazz that was around.  All things then that humans create,  whether ‘secular’ or not (whatever that means) shows the Hand of a Creator that blesses us with the ability to enjoy many things and even in some cases to create wonderful things for others to enjoy.  By the end of the 60’s some people even thought Eric Clapton was God!  Then along came Jimi…


If You Don’t Stand For Something

The recent ‘end of the world’ scenario, the supposed end of the old Mayan calendar has proved yet again that even the best of us can be taken in, or as W. C. Fields once said (I think) ‘there’s one born every minute.’  Or was it ‘never give a sucker an even break!’?  Maybe he said both, and as the gentleman in question has since long gone to the big saloon in the sky, he’s unlikely to be getting in touch anytime soon to let me know either way.  But it seems to be true that ‘if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything’!  People seem to have been saying the world is going to end since the world began.  And probably every society has had some doom-monger prophesying that the world would end, and he or she just knew when it was; sound familiar?  I guess it does.  What does the Bible say about people supposedly having such foreknowledge?  'But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.  'Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come.  (Mark 13:32-33 NJB)  If God Himself won’t even let His only begotten Son Jesus know the specific time and hour, it’s highly unlikely that some self-appointed prophet from the Ozarks, or anywhere else for that matter, is going to know.  As for Nostradamus, maybe he’d just had too much of the sauce hey?!  


You are Who You Pretend to Be

It’s certain that for most of us, we all play a part, we all play a role, we all act the way we want others to see us and we all want to be accepted in that role.  It could be true to say for many people that you are who you pretend to be.  In one sense, when we start to live a Christian life, we are pretending somewhat; we might normally have a bitter temper, or a quitting side to our nature, we might just be a right moaning old bugger in fact, but being a Christian means we have to put aside our old nature and put on the new.  Yes, we are then pretending to some degree until the new nature becomes second nature to us.  At the same time, and I hope I don’t confuse anyone here, I have found that as I have got closer to God, I have become the person I have always wanted to be.  It’s taken me a long time, and although I am at the moment going through some trials, I am becoming the person I and God have always wanted me to be.  Only God can answer our deepest needs like no other, and one of the deepest needs for human beings is to be loved and accepted for who we are.  Since you have been raised up to be with Christ, you must look for the things that are above, where Christ is, sitting at God's right hand.  Let your thoughts be on things above, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God.  But when Christ is revealed -- and he is your life-you, too, will be revealed with him in glory.  That is why you must kill everything in you that is earthly: sexual vice, impurity, uncontrolled passion, evil desires and especially greed, which is the same thing as worshipping a false god; it is precisely these things which draw God's retribution upon those who resist.  And these things made up your way of life when you were living among such people, but now you also must give up all these things: human anger, hot temper, malice, abusive language and dirty talk; and do not lie to each other. You have stripped off your old behaviour with your old self, and you have put on a new self which will progress towards true knowledge the more it is renewed in the image of its Creator; and in that image there is no room for distinction between Greek and Jew, between the circumcised and uncircumcised, or between barbarian and Scythian, slave and free. There is only Christ: he is everything and he is in everything.  (Colossians 3:1-11 NJB)


In the Wee Small Hours

When I can’t sleep sometimes, in the wee small hours, I’m given to imagining whether my life could be any different; if I suddenly became wealthy would my life change?  If my relationship with Jesus became more intimate, would I be a better person?  If I met someone I fell in love with, would it fundamentally change my life, and hopefully for the better?  Who can say after all?  Part of the human experience it seems is to ruminate on such things, to imagine what our life would be like if this happened or what it would be like if that happened.  I’m a Brit, but what if one of my ancestors had emigrated, like so many millions and millions of British people have before today, to America or Canada, to Australia or New Zealand and many other places besides; would I be a New Yorker eating at some downtown deli somewhere, or an Aussie living out in the Outback somewhere; who can say?  What makes me me, and what makes you you after all?  We’re all often very different people, we’re all unique, and yet we are all the same, we are all after all’s said and done only too human.


Sometimes when I am in a certain mood, only music will make me feel better.  I have a long list of all types of music I like; a lot of 60’s stuff, quite a lot of Classical music, some jazz and some off-the-wall stuff that would take too long to write down.  Suffice to say, I like a lot of music.  I’m in good company it seems: ‘And whenever the spirit from God came over Saul, David would take a harp and play; Saul would then be soothed; it would do him good, and the evil spirit would leave him.  (1 Samuel 16:23 NJB)  Before that famous bromance between David and Saul turned somewhat sour, David was Saul’s best mate, his best buddy and they loved each other like brothers.  They were like Yin and Yang, like fish and chips, like Laurel and Hardy; you didn’t see one without the other; for a time anyway.  Saul was deposed and David becomes king, the king all Israel seemed to want.


To Play Like Jimi

When Jimi Hendrix burst onto the British pop scene in the mid-1960’s, he blew everyone’s mind; where did this guy come from?  America?  Mars?  The outer rings of Saturn?  Well, he had his very humble beginnings in Seattle, a west coast city in America; he only returned there a few times in his life.  His playing was infused with the deepest Blues, the most amazing showmanship and a desire to keep improving and making his playing fresh and inspiring.  When I see Hendrix play, even though of course it’s all recorded and on DVD or CD or now on youtube, I can see the creativity that God gifts all kinds of people; maybe few will ever play with the sheer brio and excellence of Jimi, but every human being has gifts and skills, likes and wholesome desires that some other person just might not have.  Jimi flourished at the right time; the 60’s seemed, for a moment anyway, to be our modern renaissance, and Jimi was like a guitar Leonardo da Vinci, a man who could play the guitar like no one before him and even perhaps no one after him.  For a moment back there, it seemed that the excitement and vision born in the 60’s would change everything and we would all live happily ever after.  Of course, grim reality seeped in to the dream and we all got real and back to so-called reality again.  I’m a child of the 70’s, the decade they say that taste forgot, I don’t remember the 60’s I only experience it through CD’s, DVD’s and TV programs and books.  I may never play like Jimi, but I serve a God who can take this raw and unpromising material and make something even I never dreamed of.  God is telling us that we are the love of His life, we are the supreme creation of creation and that we matter to Him, no matter what we have done, whatever humble background we come from and however alike or different we are to other people. 


Born Again?

What does Jesus mean by saying we need to be born again?  There was one of the Pharisees called Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, who came to Jesus by night and said, 'Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him.'  Jesus answered: In all truth I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.  Nicodemus said, 'How can anyone who is already old be born? Is it possible to go back into the womb again and be born?'  (John 3:1-4 NJB)  What exactly does this mean, being ‘born again’?  Perhaps in one sense we are reborn when the Holy Spirit makes its home in us, and perhaps also when we begin to see the world through the eyes of a child again.  We all grow up too soon, far too soon, and we think that being grown-up and sophisticated is the way to be; remember what it was like to be a kid, no real worries, laughing all the time, crying some of the time and going where the mood took us.  As adults, we seem to have all the cares and worries of the world heaped on our shoulders, everything is wearisome, everything is waiting, and nothing much makes any real difference.  Did God bring us into this world just to suffer, just to struggle, with no real end in sight?  For God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.  (John 3:17 NJB)