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Two Becomes One Does Not Make Anyone a Half…

For a longish while I was a single Christian guy (yes, we do exist!) and I used to find the opening chapters of Genesis a bit tough.

In my guts I really resonated with the phrase “it’s not good for a person to be alone” (as someone involved in Church leadership I felt that horrible loneliness of feeling alone in a crowded room, feeling sad behind a smiley face). To have someone “really understand you” was what I craved most in Churches full of candy floss banter and polite conversation.
Alone-ness is not actually just about being single or married, although I remember hating going home to an empty house after and eventful day, but actually about the quality of all our relationships -including your spouse and kids if you have them.
Shane Claiborne, himself celibate for much of his ministry until he married comparatively recently said: “you can live without sex, but you cannot live without love”. Sadly, many people end up having lots of sex whilst craving love and as lothario Russell Brand said recently on a vlog “it is empty and unfulfilling”.
I read in Phillip Yancey’s “What’s so amazing about grace” of a young man struggling with his sexuality who said “it is easier to get sex on the streets than a hug in a Christian Church!”… Something is badly wrong.

Which is why it is so important that are Churches are real, deep and authentic communities that love and care for each of us beyond shallow superficial niceties, through-out scripture we see Godly friendships enabling individuals to be able to step out beyond our comfort zone to all that God has for us; Abraham and Lot, Naomi and Ruth, David and Jonathan, Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest, Peter and John, Barnabas and Saul and Paul and Silas. It is so important to have friends to share our joys and sorrows, to spur us on in all we are in Christ.
I would suggest we all need these friendships, perhaps our need is more obvious when unmarried, but still I would argue needed.

Also, as a young guy in my 20s full of hormones it was an ongoing challenge to wait and seek Miss Right rather than succumb to “Miss Right Now”, and I am forever grateful to Godly mates who on a couple of occasions stopped me making some stupid mistakes -the importance of Godly and accountable friends who love you enough not to remain silent and say what you want to hear! We all need to cultivate these kinds of friends, and -despite the discomfort- attempt to be this kind of friend too.
Someone once said to me “Only dead Salmon swim with the tide” but as a single Christian guy it felt at times like a tough swim up stream against the competing tides of a sex obsessed world and a marriage obsessed Church (I remember at theological college the -not so subtle- comments about marriage and match-making every time I spoke to anyone female above 18 and bellow 81!) I felt at times very ‘out of place’ in the Christian Community with people wanting to marry me off so I could be ‘normal’!
This sense of ‘abnormality’ came in part for a misunderstanding from the understanding of “one flesh” where people refer to their spouse as ‘their other half’ as though some-how marriage completes us -certainly in some senses a good marriage we bring out the best in the other person and together our gifts complement each other to become more than just two individuals together- but this in no way makes us ‘half a person’, Jesus single and a virgin and yet was the most fulfilled and whole human-being ever to exist in the history of humanity.
Too often we can become so preoccupied with trying to meet the right person that we can over-look all that God has for us. When I was younger there was a large Church locally which to be honest was not that great, but I had friends who went there purely to do “sanctified sharking” -basically going to Church on the pull- yet, it felt wrong to compromise your discipleship simply to meet someone.
For me too, I fell for the lie (which many of us fall for) that the grass is greener in a different life-stage or set of circumstances -and although I thank God every day for my wonderful wife and family- marriage and kids (though great) can also be challenging. We all at times look at other peoples lives with envy, we all think everyone else has a better life than us. We forget that fulfilment and wholeness is not about new things, new relationships or change in circumstances (I’ll be happy if….) but it is only in our relationship with God through Christ that we find true happiness and satisfaction. Indeed, we may have the most idyllic ‘perfect’ looking life but if we do not have Jesus then we have missed the point of our life on this planet.
As we think of relationships we need to remember our value does not come from other people’s opinions of us, our attractiveness/skills/giftedness or whatever but from who we are in Christ.
Yet, I would challenge us all -married and single- to let’s help build Church communities of love and depth where we value people and welcome them into our lives, homes and families rather than just weak smiles over weaker coffee after Church services in our Sunday masks.

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Walking with God

I’m currently doing an MA in Mission and Leadership at Church Mission Society and I had zoned out a bit in a lecture. Someone said something about: “Three mile an hour God” and I didn’t know what they were talking about. It turns out that “Three Mile an hour God” is a book (a classic) by Kosuke Koyama a Asian theologian, and ‘Three Miles an hour’ refers to the average human walking speed, in other words a God who walks with us, alongside us, at our pace. This image blew my mind, yet it makes sense God chooses to partner with us in his mission of transforming his world, created and knows us and ‘knows of what we are made’.
When out walking I adjust my pace of walking when I am holding my little girls hand so that we can walk together, God does the same thing with me and you.
As I thought further about ‘walking with God’ I was reminded of this passage in Genesis where God walks in the Garden of Eden seeking out Adam and Eve to walk with.
I love walking, I like seeing beautiful things, but I prefer walking with someone so that you can share what you see.
As a Pastor I have long and deep conversations with people and so I often suggest “why don’t we go for a walk”, people open up and share when you walk with them rather than sat opposite them staring at them! Walking with suggests taking time, accompanying, listening to, journeying with and being in step with. Nor are we ashamed to be seen with the person we are travelling with, just as Christ is not ashamed to be seen with us.
As I thought about walking with God, I thought about the image of journey, normally from somewhere too somewhere. As I thought more about this metaphor I wondered when walking with God am I rushing to get to the destination and ignoring my trav-elling companion? Or am dawdling along never getting anywhere and God is urg-ing me to keep walking.
Recently I accompanied a school on a pilgrimage day, and as I am tall I was at the back of the class to make sure we didn’t loose any stragglers, most of the conversa-tion I had with young people on that journey went something like this “my feet hurt”, “its too hot” or “my bags heavy” -which felt sad as they were missing beautiful coun-try side, amazing sea views and a chance to enjoy hanging out with their mates. Yet is this all I talk to God about? Do I just whinge about how hard the journey is? My-self and their fab class teacher kept on trying to encourage them to keep on going and walk, and not stop, because when you stop it is harder to start again, and the gap between you and everyone else gets bigger and bigger.
As I thought about my walk, I thought about walking with my wife, and sometimes I hold her hand, because on occasions I just feel like I need to know she is there with me, and just her presence -often not even having to say anything- helps me on my journey, to know I am not alone, I am walking with someone who loves me and that they are there with me.
At our wedding we were given a toilet roll (I can’t remember the significance of it be-ing a toilet roll!) with another verse on it, from the end of Luke’s Gospel “Jesus him-self went with them but they did not recognise him” -A verse I have often thought of, Jesus is Immanuel -God with us- he does not forsake us or abandon us, he promis-es that he will never leave us, and he will be with us even to the end of the age. Yet so often I fail to recognise him walking with me and fail to hear his voice ask “where are you?”
In the story of the Road to Emmaus, the disciples welcomed Jesus to come and walk with them and share with them, even though they did not know it was him.
A challenge for us all to see if we can recognise God walking with us? To share with him like we would walking with our very best friend -sometimes we don’t even have to say a word -just touch of his hand.
And don’t stop walking with him, even when it feels tough, as you will miss out on all the wonders God has for you in your journey with him.

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Eve: The Source of Life.

I love kids prayers. I read one once that said: “Dear God, are boys better than girls, I know you are one but try to be fair!”

It is an interesting question, but based on the assumption that God is male, yet God is above gender, creation has birthing imagery and our first revelation of God as the spirit hovering over the water uses a feminine word to describe God. God created humanity “in his likeness male AND female he created them”.

We see God creating woman from Adams rib, the word woman literally means ‘out of man’ it is a symbol of equality making the statement that Eve is made of the same substance or stuff as Adam, and an almost sacramental image of them belonging together, and I would argue that to see and understand both who God is and what it means to be human we must look through both male and female lenses, as an entirely male or entirely female view of God and humanity would be deficient.
Later on in scripture we read a (mis)translation -kephalē- that talks of man being ‘head’ of the woman -which speaks of hierarchy- when a better translation should be source (stemming back to this image) “man is the source of woman as Christ is the source of the Church” -the one from whom it is born from in the beginning- a story of origin rather than power or control.
“Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living” (Gen.3.20). Eve means “Source of life”.
God brings Eve to Adam -a picture perhaps of our wedding ceremony where the girl arrives on the arm of her loving Father and brought to the man she loves? Anyway, Adam and Eve like one another, a reminder that attraction and sexual desire are God given gifts, and God tells them to “be fruitful and multiply”. Up until now God has said “it is good” but here he says “it is VERY good” a picture of wholeness, completion and satisfaction.
God brings Eve to Adam, and is described in some translations as a helper, yet the word is not a subservient word, EZER (verb and a noun) military world, protect, surround, defend and cherish and is frequently used of God.
The word ‘helper’ implies a lack within the man “someone who needs help and assistance” shows us that we are created not to be omnicompetent independent individuals but rather interdependent people with unique differences add to the beauty and function of a task.

When we come to the fall it appears to me as though both Adam and Eve are equally culpable for succumbing to temptation and suffer the consequences of the fall together, yet are equal inheritors of redemption and salvation, indeed the apostle Paul writes that before God: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

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The Breath of God.

Whenever I take a funeral I read these words: “Earth to earth ashes to ashes dust to dust in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” and my mind wanders back to this creation image where God breaths his life into dust and it becomes reanimated and fully alive as a person, a human being in God’s likeness, with God’s Spirit with in Adam.
I believe that the people reading this, either former slaves journeying through the desert or captives in exile would have seen the resurrection image within this creation story: from what is dead, lifeless and indeed nothing becomes something, alive and full of life -indeed the image of breath (or wind) is a constant theme of God’s gift of new life -resurrection life- through Christ Jesus.
A picture of hope for what has once been can be restored, that even death and all of its seemingly great power will one day bow the knee before Jesus Christ.
Indeed many would have lost loved ones in war or genocide and a reminder that God ‘breaths life into dust’ a symbol of decay and death, reminds us that God’s Spirit and life is more powerful than death and suffering, creation is greater than destruction, and as Christians we remember the words of Jesus when he said “I am the resurrection and the life, anyone who believes in me even though they die will live”.
God is a God who makes a way where before no way could be seen, from nothing to the pinnacle of the created order simply by breathing life into dust.
As I think of God breathing his life into humanity it feels like God is kissing the dust to becoming human, it is gifting humanity with life, but it is also a picture of God doing something different from how everything else was created, in breathing life into humanities lungs it feels like God was not just imparting oxygen into humanities lungs but his spirit, gifting humanity with God’s likeness, his love, a soul and filled with God’s Holy Spirit. The word breath and the Spirit are often interchangeable within the Hebrew scriptures using the word “Ruach” and “Pneuma” in the New Testament both which have the dual meaning of Spirit and breath.
In Ezekiel (possibly a book written at the same time as Genesis) we see dry bones rising up, joining together and becoming covered in flesh but still being dead until the Holy Spirit of God brought breath into them; an image that struck me that unless something has the resurrection breath of the Holy and life giving spirit then it is dead however ‘good’ it looks from the outside. God by his Spirit defines what is truly alive and dead, and God knows what is his that will be alive for all eternity.
Yet the images of breath, birth and resurrection are through-out scripture, in the opening verses of John we read of John the Baptist talking about the Holy Spirit’s Baptism coming through Jesus (the long-awaited Messiah/Christ) Baptism is about surrender and dying to an old life and coming up cleansed and resurrected, dead to an old way of living.
Nicodemus is told that “the Spirit blows where it will… and in order to see God you must be born again, born again of the Spirit of God” -being born again is filled with the image of new beginnings, fresh starts and being made new, cleansed and reinstated.
Jesus after his resurrection and before he ascended into heaven breathed on his disciples and said “receive the Holy Spirit” -a symbol of their new life, new beginning, new destiny and new call upon them, later, on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came like a violent wind and the disciples who had been full of fear and locked in an attic were transformed, something new of God was birthed -or resurrected- within them and they rushed out onto the streets proclaiming Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ was born.
What of us, do we need God’s Holy Spirit to breath his life in us afresh? Have we allowed bits of us to spiritually die and to whither? Do we need to be filled afresh with God’s resurrection life?
The Apostle Paul talked in Ephesians about “going on be being filled” with the Holy Spirit a picture of our continued need for re-filling and our continued dependence on Christ for our on-going spiritual journey, we need to come to God daily and be filled afresh, equipped again and empowered once more to live our lives for Christ his way.

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Walking with God.

I’m currently doing an MA in Mission and Leadership at Church Mission Society and I had zoned out a bit in a lecture. Someone said something about: “Three mile an hour God” and I didn’t know what they were talking about. It turns out that “Three Mile an hour God” is a book (a classic) by Kosuke Koyama a Asian theologian, and ‘Three Miles an hour’ refers to the average human walking speed, in other words a God who walks with us, alongside us, at our pace. This image blew my mind, yet it makes sense God chooses to partner with us in his mission of transforming his world, created and knows us and ‘knows of what we are made’.
When out walking I adjust my pace of walking when I am holding my little girls hand so that we can walk together, God does the same thing with me and you.

As I thought further about ‘walking with God’ I was reminded of this passage in Genesis where God walks in the Garden of Eden seeking out Adam and Eve to walk with.

I love walking, I like seeing beautiful things, but I prefer walking with someone so that you can share what you see.

As a Pastor I have long and deep conversations with people and so I often suggest “why don’t we go for a walk”, people open up and share when you walk with them rather than sat opposite them staring at them! Walking with suggests taking time, accompanying, listening to, journeying with and being in step with. Nor are we ashamed to be seen with the person we are travelling with, just as Christ is not ashamed to be seen with us.

As I thought about walking with God, I thought about the image of journey, normally from somewhere too somewhere. As I thought more about this metaphor I wondered when walking with God am I rushing to get to the destination and ignoring my trav-elling companion? Or am dawdling along never getting anywhere and God is urg-ing me to keep walking.

Recently I accompanied a school on a pilgrimage day, and as I am tall I was at the back of the class to make sure we didn’t loose any stragglers, most of the conversa-tion I had with young people on that journey went something like this “my feet hurt”, “its too hot” or “my bags heavy” -which felt sad as they were missing beautiful coun-try side, amazing sea views and a chance to enjoy hanging out with their mates. Yet is this all I talk to God about? Do I just whinge about how hard the journey is? My-self and their fab class teacher kept on trying to encourage them to keep on going and walk, and not stop, because when you stop it is harder to start again, and the gap between you and everyone else gets bigger and bigger.

As I thought about my walk, I thought about walking with my wife, and sometimes I hold her hand, because on occasions I just feel like I need to know she is there with me, and just her presence -often not even having to say anything- helps me on my journey, to know I am not alone, I am walking with someone who loves me and that they are there with me.

At our wedding we were given a toilet roll (I can’t remember the significance of it be-ing a toilet roll!) with another verse on it, from the end of Luke’s Gospel “Jesus him-self went with them but they did not recognise him” -A verse I have often thought of, Jesus is Immanuel -God with us- he does not forsake us or abandon us, he promis-es that he will never leave us, and he will be with us even to the end of the age. Yet so often I fail to recognise him walking with me and fail to hear his voice ask “where are you?”

In the story of the Road to Emmaus, the disciples welcomed Jesus to come and walk with them and share with them, even though they did not know it was him.

A challenge for us all to see if we can recognise God walking with us? To share with him like we would walking with our very best friend -sometimes we don’t even have to say a word -just touch of his hand.

And don’t stop walking with him, even when it feels tough, as you will miss out on all the wonders God has for you in your journey with him.

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A Theological Rainbow of Ideas

The story of Noah shows us a God whose mercy triumphs over judgement, in many ways that is what the rainbow symbolises, a sign of hope in the character of God who is faithful and good.

It is a sign of peace, justice has been satisfied by the flood. God has put an end to the sin and violence on the earth and wants to begin again with Noah and his family.

It is a sign of the covenant and promise of God not to flood the earth again. A picture of hope, that although God has judged the people, his mercies are new every morning, we can hope in God. Our hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth, and keeps his promises forever.

A God who washed away sin and rescues people.

A God who saves.

A God that gives fresh starts.

Rainbows are beautiful, it is when light is split through a prism and all the its component colours are revealed, yet this can only be glimpsed when sunshine and rain collide.

Recently the rainbow has become a symbol of diversity and unity: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”, very different people united in Christ, one body made up of people’s of every age, tribe, nation and tongue.

The rainbow is good news for all people just as later the cross and empty tomb was global good news.

The rain in the rainbow, the greyness of the storm, and the story of Noah reminds me that I have sin in my life -wrong things I think and say and do (and the good things I fail to do). We have all sinned, we’ve all fallen short of God’s perfect and holy standard. That’s pretty rainy news.

Yet the sunshine news is a God who loves and rescues. The rainbow points towards God’s great redemption plan to cleanse us from our sin and all unrighteousness, when Jesus died on the cross (rain)and rose again (sunshine). A rescue for all people, sin being dealt with not by the water of a flood of judgement, but liberated by the shed blood of Christ and his love for us.

As I think of the wide variety of my faults, flaws and failures -technicolour sin- yet amazingly my iniquity and wrongdoing is more than covered by God’s excessive multi technicolour grace that can forgive all and every trespass.

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The Divine and the Dirt…

We live in a world more and more disconnected with nature, the ‘sacredness’ of human relationship with God, the land and themselves is broken.

We see vegetables wrapped in plastic and clingfilm from the superstore that has not just put the local independent green grocer (and the butcher, baker and candlestick maker) out of business but has caused our shopping to now have a vast carbon footprint, and some of which was traded where the conditions for the workers were not just unethical but dehumanising.

Our lives our sanitised from the effects of nature, we can get fruit all year around irrespective of season, we can just turn up and get what we want, pre-cut, and looking lovely.

I remember walking through the meat aisle and explaining to my daughter about meat coming from animals, she was upset as she likes animals, I began to feel less and less comfortable eating meat (as I write this I am dipping my toe in the water of being a vegetarian -my first day!) As I looked at the meat it felt detached from its source. (I used to work with a lovely vegetarian called Sam, but my daughter couldn’t say “Sam” and called him “Ham”.

As I write this, I’ve just been told off by my wife, for forgetting to split the recycling up properly and throwing away things that could be recycled. I feel a fraud writing about being a good steward of God’s creation.

In Genesis 1, we have words that make me feel really uncomfortable such as “subdue the earth” and “rule over it” as are used to seeing protests ‘subdued with violence’ and ‘rule’ being almost synonymous with oppression, yet subdue in this context is about ‘bring peace and order to creation’ the rule of God is one that enables flourishing and goodness to prevail, these words have been misused to justify exploitation of our creation, but theologically are bankrupt and flawed. As we continue through the creation narratives we read Genesis 2, our responsibility to care for the earth and steward it well is inescapable, in fact we originate from the earth and will return from it “remember you are but dust and to dust you will return”. We were meant to be at one with nature rather than trying to live separated from it, and in living separately we are not only abdicating our responsibilities but damaging and destroying what we were meant to be caring for. In fact, we are kill God’s creation.

As I see the multiple films and protests around the world I feel very small and very powerless. Then I remembered when we started our work with Street Pastors in Kingswood, at first we rushed around chatting to one another and unsurprisingly we had very few conversations about Jesus, but as we slowed down, talked less, looked around more, caught peoples eyes more and more opportunities were presented to us. I believe the same thing is true for ecology, the environment, Green issues and issues of justice, the slower we go, the more aware we are, the more we think, look and are intentionally seeking moments where can make a difference we will be astounded at the opportunities that are presented to us.

I believe that we live in a world where people want to make a difference, are yearn-ing to make the world a better place, to pass on a creation to our children and grandchildren a clean world, healthy and flourishing. The Church of Jesus Christ should have been leading the way on this critical issue and yet we have been slow and sluggish to step up and speak out on our responsibilities to be obedient to the call of God to look after his creation

Yet too we live in a world where the call of money and business is appealing and we the Church have a message that another way is possible, and there is another Kingdom to serve that is not Mamon -the Roman insatiable Pig God of wealth that was never satisfied-. Jesus says “You cannot serve both God and Mamon”. As the Native Americans remind us: “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money”.

Instead, lets gather around the truth of the story of the God who threw stars into the heavens above and allowed his creation to piece his hands, feet and side -and yet death could not contain, nor the rules of nature bind or imprison, and calls us to partner with him to build another world, the Kingdom of God, the groans of creations itself echoing our prayers and our heartbeat, living out a life that is good new too all creation.

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