doubt, faith, Falibility, Fear, Holy Saturday, Pain, Suffering.

Holy Saturday.

Good Friday is an easy blog to write about, the fallen-ness of human nature (after-all “all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God” and the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord”).

It would be easy too, to write about our need of a Saviour and the amazing action of God who left the glories of heaven to step down to the earth he created to suffer and die, in our place, for our sins.

In fact I’m sure many Christians blogged this sort of stuff yesterday.

Tomorrow, I’m sure the internet will be awash with blogs talking about Jesus’ resurrection shows that death has been defeated, sin has been conquered and relationship with the Father restored for those who choose to put their faith in Christ.

But I want to blog about today, Holy Saturday, the day after Good Friday, with the body of God incarnate dead and sealed in a stone cold tomb. The day before the resurrection, when tragedy was turned to victory.

Today is a day of doubts, we see the disciples run and hide in upper-rooms, or quit it all together and return to the fishing trade, or walk off from Jerusalem to Emmaus (remember Jesus had instructed them to stay in Jerusalem). A day when dreams died, an disappointment reigned, questions hung unanswered in the air.

The first Holy Saturday was a pessimistic day, the  only people who had any faith for a resurrection were the Chief Priests, the scribes and the Pharisees -those who feared it the most, I wonder if their doubts were rising? “Perhaps Jesus really was who he said he was?”  Maybe in the depth of their hearts they might have been asking whether they had just made a terrible, terrible mistake?” -I wonder?

I wonder if our lives sometimes feel a bit like a Holy Saturday?

where we look back at our own surrendering of our lives to Christ, and look forward to his return, but now sometimes we get plagued with doubts? Perhaps we are disappointed about how things have worked out? Maybe deep down we worry we have got it all wrong?

And maybe our Holy Saturday hasn’t just been 24 hours, perhaps it has been a long time, perhaps even years?

In my life, I have had some wonderful mountain top experiences, but I have had some valley times too.  I believe Holy Saturday feels like a day of a spiritual desert, and deserts are tough places, but places in which God often does his deepest and most profound work within us, but most of us want to escape the desert, just as most Christians want to either rewind to Good Friday or fast forward to Easter Day, but to do this misses out on what we can learn in the from Holy Saturday.

If we rush past Holy Saturday, often our Easter Message often sounds glib and insincere.

If we have just an Easter Sunday Morning faith, we have a great theology of victory and power -which is great- but we also (I believe) need to have a faith that can cope with the pain, suffering, complex questions and difficulties of following Jesus in a world that is broken.

I have heard people talk about the “already and not yet” of the Kingdom of God, meaning that the Kingdom of God can -and does- break into real peoples lives but the fullness of this in its entirety has still yet to be seen.

Recently I read Pete Greig’s books “Red Moon Rising” and “Dirty Glory” and was struck by how he started an international prayer ministry whilst it looked like his wife might die of a brain tumour.

I remember reading about David watson and John wimber both taught the Church to expect God’s miraculous healing miracles in the here and now -and have seen many, many people pray and receive miraculous healing- and yet both of these great men died of cancer.

I struggle with Holy Saturday.

I struggle with waiting.

I wonder why it took 7 years after first meeting Allana to end up marrying her, why the wait and the pain?

Mike Pilivachi talked  about waiting around 17 years to leave his job and become a Pastor, why the wait and the frustration?

why didn’t Jesus rise a day earlier on Holy Saturday? why the wait?

Actually I don’t know why God waited 24 hours, nor do I know about any other waits, but I do wonder if one day I’ll understand? The resurrection, like all waits, we have to trust God’s goodness, even when sometimes that takes what can feel like ore faith than we have at the time.

I wonder, the disciples must have remembered Jesus talking about rising from the dead, I wonder if deep within them there was a small flickering light of hope burning away in the depth of a disciples heart?

Perhaps there is something you are faithfully clinging onto God for, and you can identify with this picture of Holy Saturday when you are believing for something even though the wait might be tough.

Perhaps as we wait for Easter Day, Holy Saturday can teach us that one day every doubt will be resolved, every question answered, problem solved as the King of Glory will return with his rule and reign.

I remember hearing Delirous play “every little thing is going to be all right” and at first I objected, Jesus said “in this life you will have trouble”, but then Martin Smith (the lead singer) said “It will be all-right in the end, and if its not all-right its  not the end”… A former vicar friend of mine used to say of the book of revelation “I’ve read the end of the book and we win”.

Yet today is Holy Saturday, we are not without hope, Jesus will rise, but at the moment the Sun has yet to rise, and sometimes the night is darkest before the dawn, but the dawn will come.

 

 

 

 

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hope, Pain, Spiritual Health, Spirituality

Glitter in the Ash.

I’m a bit of touch sometimes!

I saw on Facebook today about Churches in the US putting glitter in the Ash as a symbol of their support of LGBT Community.

As a bit of an aside, I’m not sure why sparkly and LGBT are put together, seems a bit of a stereotype or caricature which doesn’t feel helpful? -but as a straight bloke I’m not wanting to tell another culture what it should (or shouldn’t) use as its symbols.

I began to think a bit deeper about the whole idea of Glitter and Ash.

Ash Wednesday is a time when we focus is on our sinfulness, our brokenness and our mortality, maybe in an superficial, individualistic and materialistic culture this service is incredibly counter cultural.

The phrase “Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust” is very much part of our national conscientiousness as part of the funeral service of burial after the coffin is lowered down into the grave.

In this Ashing ritual we say “remember that you are but dust and to dust you will return”, something profound and shocking about the starkness of these words, the certainty that we will all someday die.

This subject is something of a taboo, in a world where we can talk about Religion, Politics and Sex as much as we like, we find that death is one of the few subjects which remains something as a society we struggle to deal with.

We live in a world obsessed by youth, beauty and vitality and reminder of death and decay is profoundly challenging.

Death makes us think about life.

What are we building in life?

What will remain when we have gone?

Have we in our lives built with Gold, Silver or Costly stones or have built with that which is perishable that will be burned up as dross… So much of what we think of as important -even in our Churches- has no lasting eternal value.

Sometimes we need to be confronted with tough and challenging truths, such as our own mortality, yet, I believe that this is only half the story, for the Christian death is not the final word.

Scripture reminds us that death does not have the final word “where O death is your sting?”

We do have the pain of death, we are in a world that is fallen, we are people who are broken, and yet we are not without Hope.

Hope glistens like diamonds in the dust (as described by Jonni Erekson Tada)

I don’t think glitter in the ash trivialises the ceremony but rather is a corrective, just as the ash is biodegradable the glitter isn’t, for the Christian the hope of Christ is steadfast and certain, stronger than the grave.

We are not defined by our fallen-ness, although we are fallen people, but the cross say we are also people made Holy and declared righteousness.

We may die, but we will also live forever.

Light cannot be put out by darkness.

Even in the darkest of situation, even in the bleakest moments, the glory of God is able to break in, often easily missed as we sadly too often focus the brokenness, rather than the glistening glimpses of the Kingdom.

Justin Welby talks movingly about the death of his daughter, and although clearly incredibly painful, he say that in the midst of his pain he sensed the love of Christ.

Corrie Ten Boom talks of her horrific time in a concentration camp and yet even in one of the most hellish places on earth she still saw with the eyes of faith signs of the Kingdom of God at work.

Too often we fail to talk seriously about the challenges of life, and pain, death and judgement, we don’t talk enough of fallen-ness or brokenness. Yet today I feel as we talk about such things we need to talk too about resurrection, healing, freedom, forgiveness, life, restoration, redemption and joy.

Today is not a day for despair.

That as we journey to the cross of Christ, and although we don’t want to rush to quickly past the cross, we know that this is not the end -but the beginning- of the story we are and remain people of the resurrection.

That said, our baptism speaks of dying to self, of our past being crucified with Christ, dead to our old ways of life in sin, but in Baptism we rise from the water symbolising both our death and our rebirth.

In our world, we see much darkness all around us, and I worry that sometimes Ash Wednesday Services reinforce our brokenness and our mortality in a crushing way, yet perhaps without trivialising the deep and profound truth of sin, death and judgement we also hint at freedom and forgiveness, resurrection, rescue and redemption.

So, I’d say put the glitter into the pile of ash, remind the world that not only do we embrace the painful truths of the human condition, we also have something that is not biodegradable but eternal, something wonderful that gleams even when everything looks bleak.

That ultimately the last word and the eternal word is not a word of despair but one of goodness and hope.

The first and the last word is Jesus.

And although the truth of Jesus can be deeply challenging to our world view and painful to our pride, he remains eternally and incorruptibly good news for all.

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brokenness, Depression, Falibility, love, Pain

Valentines’ Dilemma.

Today is a day when we remember St. Valentine, who was an early Church Bishop, who conducted many marriages to allow young men to avoid conscription (the Emperor at the time believed single men made better soldiers).

Whilst in Prison, he prayed for the jailers daughter who was blind, she was healed and her sight restored. He was brutally Murdered/Martyred, but his last letter was signed “your Valentine”, and so the tradition of sending love notes on valentines day has continued.

Ironic, that we celebrate romantic love from a man who kept a vow of celibacy.

Today can be a day of great joy, and that’s great, but just because we are in a good season, we realise this isn’t necessarily true for everyone.

Today is a day which brings up lots of pastoral issues, What about those who were married but are no longer through divorce or bereavement, today can be a tough day?

What about those who maybe wanted to be married and yet never has been, again today could be a challenging day.

What about those who are married but their marriage has become a really tough challenge?

Some people too in our Churches maybe in complicated relationships.

(A great book and blog about Singleness comes from my friend Kate Wharton -single minded https://www.amazon.co.uk/Single-Minded-Being-Single-Whole-Living/dp/0857214306 , http://katewharton.blogspot.co.uk/  ).

Sometimes we turn love and life into something unreal and unattainable, those of us who are married don’t live “happily ever after” marriage is something wonderful, but not always easy, and even the best marriages aren’t always sweetness and light all the time.

Single people might have freedoms and opportunities that we might envy when just getting a babysitter and getting out the house feels like a rare achievement, but when I was single I certainly didn’t feel lucky, in fact sometimes I felt lonely and sad about being single.

The truth is that we, especially in a facebook age, present one thing to the world and another thing is the reality in our hearts behind closed doors.

Sometimes Churches are good at joy, but less good with complexity and mess.

Sadly our Churches don’t always feel safe places.

Sadly our Churches don’t always feel safe places for messy lives.

Sadly our Churches don’t always feel safe for people with marriage problems.

Sadly single people often say our Churches don’t feel safe places where they are welcome and valued.

How can we be safe sharing both joys and sorrows.

I long to see Church become a place that can laugh with those who laugh and cries with those who cries, sharing the reality of joys and sorrows.

It is human nature to run comparisons, -normally unfavourable- yet the truth is the grass is not always greener.

Whatever our circumstances life always presents challenges.

God’s Church is made up of people who are married, and people who are not, people whose relationships are in a good place, and those whose relationships are tough.

How do we as Church, become a community of grace that supports and loves one another in our variety of different life stages and relationship status’? Where joys and sorrows are freely expressed.

Where we are loved and accepted for who we are now, rather than an idealised version of ourselves, or who we might be in the future.

The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus meets us where we are now, encounters us in our present, and as we really are, not how we’d like to be, or an idealised ‘facebook-esk’ version of ourselves.

The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus meets us where we are at, celebrating the joys and blessings, as well as the sorrows and challenges.

The good news of the Gospel is that as a Church family, people around you with a different story can really be a blessing to you, and you to them, together you can carry one anothers burdens and enable the local expression of Church to be more loving and authentic.

Our world is sex obsessed and tells us we are incomplete without the perfect life (and perfect partner)…  Jesus doesn’t agree!

Yet the truth is we are not perfect, nor will any partner we have  be perfect either.

We live in a world maybe obsessed by sex, and we are called to be holy, the world may tell us we are incomplete but the gospel tells us we are made whole in Christ, beloved and valued.

Paul tells the Church to not to let the world squeeze them into its mould (Romans 12 -the message) and yet sometime the Church as an institution moulds us as an institution where we either feel pressured to conform to the ridiculous stereotype, but the gospel actually should allow us the freedom to be ourselves, to be loved as us, single or married, in good times or hard times.

Perhaps as Church we lack the empathy to see how other peoples lives can be fully and wonderfully Christian but look very different from our own, and how we may be a blessing to them, and they to us.

Where we feel truly loved we can be truly ourselves, the problem too often with our Churches is that we all put up our guard and show the world a respectable veneer, rather than being real about what life is really like for us.

So, a challenge for us all, especially on valentines day, we are called to love, and be a community of authenticity and grace, where all who encounter it are blessed.

Jesus says of his Church “by this all people will know you are my disciples that you love one another”…

This is a call for real love in a real (but broken) world.

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Holocaust, Pain, Remembering, sin, Suffering.

Holocaust Memorial Day.

Today is holocaust Memorial Day, more than 70 years since the liberation by the soviets of Auschwitz extermination camp.

Today we remember those murdered in the Nazi Genocide, Jews, Gypsies, the disabled, gays and anyone not fitting the Aryan ideal.

for me this is something I feel something of a connection with as my Grandfather, George Mason, guarded the prisoners at the Nuremburg trials, and must have heard and seen evidence that must have been truly horrific.

Often, we think of this type of evil as very distant from ourselves, we are civilised and educated, we think “it could never happen here”, but the holocaust reminds us that Germany a ‘civilised’ nation of ‘educated’ people right on our doorstep, people just like you and me, did horrific things. Evil on our doorstep. Evil with a face like ours.

The truth is, that it could happen here, it could happen again.

Although many have said: “never again” many of us, especially those of us with kids, fear that “history could repeat itself”.

President John F. Kennedy said “those who forget the past are deemed to relive it”.

There is a famous picture and quote that says “it didn’t start with the gas chambers”, gradually unchallenged hate and vile lies slowly took hold of a nation inch by inch causing unimaginable human suffering and pain.

Scripture calls us to be aware of the times, that’s not talking about simply ‘end of the world’ stuff but rather understanding the what is happening in the world and how to respond in a Christ-like way, seeking his Kingdoms advance.

 “For evil to triumph it takes good people to do nothing” Edmund Berk reminded us, watching question-time last night I was scared by the rhetoric which kept saying that Teresa May should not mention Trumps desire to “ban all Muslims from coming into the USA” or “continuing the torture of waterboarding” so as not to jeopardise the trade deal.

I have heard people saying they don’t vote because “it doesn’t change anything”, however, today reminds us that for the marginalised and disenfranchised it matters very much. A chilling poster has a picture of SS officers standing in front of Extermination Camp victims with the words “just because you are not interested in politics does not mean that politics might be interested in you”.

I have been reading the book of Esther recently, realising that anti-Semitism tragically is not a new phenomenon, Mordecai was aware of the times and went to Esther who in turn went to the King. A picture of engaging with the people of peace who can speak and be heard by the people of power.

Listening to the immigration debate the unsaid message that must come across to minority groups is that they must feel as though the nation is saying “there are too many of you here” -frightening rhetoric when we think of today.

Although many know my political persuasions are somewhat left wing, my challenge is to think what a Kingdom world view looks like, listen to the call for justice and compassion, listen to the marginalised and disenfranchised and say “Lord what would you have me do”. It may lead you to a different place to me, but my question is “is it spirit led?” as sadly I fear that too many of us keep our faith and our politics separate and I believe Christ is asking us to make him Lord of both.

I’ll end with a poem which has massively challenged me over the years:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” Martin Niemoller.

 

Today, on Holocaust Memorial Day, it is a reminder to be people of the light, walking in the light, people who drive back darkness, “salty people” who combat the decay in the world.

People who “Do justice, Love Mercy and Walk humbly before our God”.

People who pray “Lord, let your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” and live in line with that awesome prayer.

And what we do for the least of these, especially the persecuted minorities, we do for Christ the Jewish rabbi, the political prisoner, the child refugee, the homeless preacher without anywhere to lay his head.

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brokenness, Christmas, incarnation, Pain, Servanthood., Suffering.

In the Poo.

At our nativity service I got everyone to come up and put newspaper headlines into the manager with baby Jesus as a prayer activity but also as a sign and symbol of Jesus coming down amid and amongst the brokenness of this world.

to illustrate this I really wanted to bring into Church a bucket of manure, a really stinky bucket, to show the smell that the Creator of the universe was born into, Jesus was literally born surrounded by crap.  Jesus was born how he lived, surrounded by the world at is vilest, messiness and most broken, and yet amid all that he wasn’t tainted by it, rather he overcame it, he brought beauty out of his brokenness, bringing hope to the hopeless, bringing salvation, restoration, tranformation from gutter right accross every stratosphere of human divide, with even the Roman Emperor, the most powerful man on earth came to bow the knee to the babe of Bethlehem.

As we think about the image of crap, I was struck by two images:

Firstly, from my time working in a nursing home, whereby if a patient soiled themselves we came in with rubber gloves, plastic aprons and air freshener… Arms length and trying not to gag.

Secondly, of seeing many babies and their mums at our parent and toddler group, dealing with horrific smells from down bellow, with crying babies held close, comforted and loved despite the stench.

Love does not hold back at arms length, but embraces amid the filth and stench and sees beyond it all the person who is loved more than anything.

Jesus is the latter, the second image, drawing close and loving even when the world was at its most vile and disgusting.

All the way through his life Jesus “touched untouchables with love and washed the guilty clean”… A women with “an issue of blood” ritually unclean, defiled, banned from the temple touched the hem of his garment and rather then her defilement tainting Christ as she touched him but she was both healed andcleansed no longer unclean, untouchable and defiled, instead purified, his holiness was bigger and greater than her condition.

We don’t need a lecture here to know the world is not as it should be, the newspaper headlines scream it out to us all the time.

Nor do we need a rant here talking about how people are screwed up and broken, we probably know this too loud and clear.

We know the problem.

We know the world is defiled and full of crap, our lives are at time much the same, the good news is that there is a solution and rescue amid the mess, the baby Jesus who grew up to take all the vilest depravity humanity could throw at him, and carried them on his shoulders as he was crucified for you and for me.

He took the crap for you and for me.

All my sin, the junk and the skeletons in the closet, brought into the light and washed away by his death and resurrection.

Jesus once spoke to a guy with leaprocy and asked him “What do you want me to do for you?” And the guy replied “I want to be clean” and with that Jesus reached out and touched him, again like the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus was defiled but rather his touch made the leaper clean.

In many ways we are like that leaper before Christ, he asks us “What do you want us to do for you?” Will we echo the leapers statement of faith and say to Jesus, I want to be clean?

In the book of Isaiah it talks of our sins being like scarlet but becoming as white as snow, let’s come to him afresh for cleansing, we can’t pretend there isn’t a problem anymore like the stinking teenager trying to mask a ton of BO by spraying their clothes with Lynx deoderant, instead it is saying “I know my need of cleansing for God, I know you are a God who meets me in the gutter at my lowest point”.

As I type this I am reminded of a old hymn which says “Foul I to the fountain fly wash me saviour lest I die”… Knowing that the stench of our sin is more than just a bit unpleasant, but is actually fatal, and our cleansing and purification is not just life saving but life giving and life transforming.

Yet Jesus’ decent from heaven to the gutter is I believe actual a model and a picture we as Christians are supposed the emulate.

Jesus called us to be people of salt and light, light that drives away darkness and most most needed in the darkest placesm and salt that combats decay. In fact the Romans used to put salt on their poo to combat the smell and the germs, so when Jesus is talks of being the salt of the earth, it is a call to the darkest, smelliest, vilest places that need the transforming good news the most.

So, Jesus descended into the worst of the world’s crap, we are called to do like wise.

Mother Teresa once famously challenged of us as CHristians to “find their Calcutta” -I believe there will be somewhere we are called to serve, to wash off the dirt -the crap- of the feet of that place, and rather than letting it change and taint us, instead lets be the ones bringing the change and the transformation, for the glory of God which is unstoppable despite the unmentionable things this world throws in our path and I’m our way.

 

 

 

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Depression, Pain, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering.

Splatted by a Pooing Seagull

It was the of the holiday, and something went wrong and Allana (my wife) and I were feeling a bit upset about something, and somewhat confused at God.
I took a couple of minutes to walk along the seafront just to clear my head…
I was hoping for one of those moments where suddenly you get enveloped with a sense of peace, or a fresh revelation of God’s love, or maybe a sign, wonder or blessing,
but no…
instead a large seagull singled me out to poo on my head!
It felt a bit like that scene from Bruce Almighty, and I felt like Jim Carrey shaking my puny fist at God… Or Jonah after the plant died… Now I knew an know in the grand scheme of things a couple of disappointments and some seagull poo aren’t the end of the world, but at times they can feel like it!
I guess I was asking God can I/we really go on?
Do I/we have the oomph for another set of challenges or mountains to climb?
…At that moment the answer felt like a pretty clear “no”.
Talking to Allana afterwards, all the biblical truths came out about trusting God for the future, he has a plan, he is faithful and blar blar blar, all the things we are supposed to know and ought to say and think, but sometimes even though it is true, there are occasions when it simply doesn’t FEEL true.
Sometimes all that is left is to say to God, I understand that I don’t understand, I know I ought to trust you, but today it feels a bit harder than usual, but I’m still here and you are still here and ultimately that’s what matters the most. There is a verse, which says “after you have endured remain standing” and sometimes to remain standing (even with Seagull poo in your hair) is not just an achievement but in a weird kind of way is also an act of worship!
Maybe one day I’ll understand, maybe one day I’ll praise you for what was a disappointment today, and maybe even we will smile about the pooing seagull? Who knows?
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Authenticity, Pain, Spirituality, Suffering., Youth and Children's Work

Sugar Coated Christianity…

Today I had a whole load of preschoolers in Church to hear the Easter story, which was great, yet I was faced with the challenge, how to speak truthfully about Jesus dying for us on the cross in a way that wasn’t too heavy or upsetting for 3 and 4 year olds.
Of course we need to be wise and careful how we teach our kids, but I wondered too do we try and shield them from the real world?
Do we try and sugar coat the gospel for kids and new converts?
Yet we need a world view big enough and robust enough to cope with the reality of the complexities of life where good and evil, joy and suffering exist, the already and not yet of Kingdom.
Sometimes simple answers about real and difficult questions about suffering are needed for us all, and too often we don’t talk about suffering, brokenness and struggle enough in our Churches and in our families, and allow Christ into those situations.
There is nothing (i believe) Godly in simply putting on a brave face and pretending everything is fine, pseudo happiness isn’t something Jesus ever asks of us, rather he urges us to carry each others burdens, and to cast our anxieties onto him because he cares for us… He even says “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world!”
I remember a spoof kids song written by my friend Marc Catley (from theological college) it went something like this:
This is the day,
this is the day,
After yesterday after yesterday,
We will be happy, we will be happy.
We will be happy all the way.
 
This is the day, 
this is the day,
When my rabbit died,
when my rabbit died,
we will be happy….
 
This is the day,
when dad lost his job etc etc.
 
This is the day,
when the bailiffs came etc etc.
 
Perhaps, we need to be real more as Church about our pains, struggles and difficulties, I feel that even if we can’t understand or articulate everything, lets love one another, let us walk alongside each other, and lets be constantly inviting Christ into the midst of the difficult circumstances, knowing he loves and he is powerful and can overcome difficulty and adversity as well as giving us the strength to walk through the valley of death.
Let us as Church seek afresh to not to sugar coat everything with a fake smile, but instead be a real and authentic community sharing brokenness but also partaking is resurrection strength and power and the presence of Christ.
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