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.
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)