Humility, Listening, sin

Speaking for Me, Myself and I…

James the brother of Jesus urges us in his epistle: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak“, yet my experience is that sadly we are all to quick to speak and too slow to listen.

In Parliaments Politicians are so keen to talk but not so keen to listen that they have created a word “filibuster” where they “speak without pausing” to hijack a potential law they don’t want to see reach the statute book.

I was at a Churchy meeting recently and the phrases “I”, “me”, “we” and “us” were used a lot.

At New Wine one of the speakers said “when I hear these words spoken in Churches it cuts God out of the conversation entirely”.

Now I’m not saying it isn’t good to know what people think and feel, but primarily what we want actually doesn’t matter that much.

What actually matters is what Christ is saying to us and whether are being obedient to command?

Yet often we are so keen on sharing our opinion, rather than seeking God’s will on a situation.

We are so keen to have good ideas, but less keen sometimes to know if the idea is Gods idea. Although God’s ideas normally sound crazy, they also work better than ours!

A set of ladders would be a good idea for taking the city of Jericho, but Gods idea was marching around worshipping.

We often debate ideas in a way that assumes we have a silent God, yet scripture has never given us any reason to suppose that God does not speak, but human experiences shows us that we sadly are often less inclined to listen.

The Book of Hebrews says: “today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts”, and John the book of Revelation says “let him who has ears listen to what the spirit says to the Church”.

Yet I believe too often too much of our Church hears the opinions of the most opinionated, rather than necessarily hearing the ‘still small voice’ of God’s direction, often missed and over-looked in hubbub that is so many of our Churches meetings, meeting where people want to be heard, but not always want to listen.

Interestingly are the people who have the jobs within the Church people who are known for their worldly wisdom, or their deep prayerfulness.

Stephen Cottrell talks about “hitting the ground kneeling”, if we want God to speak deeply through us, then we need to walk deeply with him, learn to hear his voice -not to show off and look all prophetic- but to be attuned to God’s heart-beat and his ways.

Often the heart of hearing from God is humility, is that often we have to turn down our own internal, personal volume -our own need to be heard, our own egos, our view on the person speaking, our experiences (both good and bad) and seek God himself, listen for his voice.

Yet rather than “having all the answers” and coming before God with empty hands is both a worshipful display of sacrifice and in vulnerability is a statement of faith and expectation in the generosity of God.

We don’t like not knowing stuff, and would rather tell God what to do, than get on our knees and seek him.

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do” Anne Lamott.

-I’d suggest that if your faith causes you to hate anyone, then you’re not following the Christ who said “father forgive them” whilst hanging and dying on a cross- but the idea of God is thinking what we think on every issue is a dangerous one.

“If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself” Timothy Keller.

One of my college lecturers John Kelly used to talk about the danger of sharing our opinions with a deep booming “thus sayeth the Lord” type voice.

Yet someone is bound to say about the Bible about this point, and God’s written word is a wonderful gift to us. Yet sadly scripture is too often used a little too selectively, to try and back up our point of view rather than seeking God’s heart. I remember David White, Vicar of St. Michael Le Belfrey in York, once said “Think of the Bible as a lamp post, do you use it for illumination, or like a drunk for support?” Recently I read Harper Lee’s New(ish) book “To Set A Watchman” and was scary how many “sound protestant Christians” were playing fast and loose with scripture to justify their horrific racist views so prevalent in the deep south in the 1950’s. We need people not just cherry picking scripture, but prayerfully seeking God, wisely with our hearts and minds open to what his Spirit wants to say to us, tested, weighed and shared honourably with integrity.

Hearing God’s voice is at the heart of discipleship.

The little boy Samuel heard God’s voice call him in the temple, which started a life of fruitful obedience (the beginning of the chain reaction which brought about the birth of Christ many centuries later)…

May we be a Samuel generation, that hears the voice of God, and echoes his famous prayer “speak Lord for your servant(s) are listening”.

 

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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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Nehemiah 13, sin

Tobiah

Nehemiah 13. 4 “Before this, Eliashib the priest had been put in charge of the storerooms of the house of our God. He was closely associated with Tobiah, and he had provided him with a large room formerly used to store the grain offerings and incense and temple articles, and also the tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil prescribed for the Levites, musicians and gatekeepers, as well as the contributions for the priests.

But while all this was going on, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Some time later I asked his permission and came back to Jerusalem. Here I learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah a room in the courts of the house of God. I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. I gave orders to purify the rooms, and then I put back into them the equipment of the house of God, with the grain offerings and the incense”.

You might be thinking,  what has this got to do with anything!?

Bit of background Nehemiah has been trying to re-build the walls of Jerusalem, and Sambalat and Tobiah have been violently opposing him (and God too).

Yet when Nehemiah is out of the country, Eliashib the Priest, lets his mate Tobiah into the Temple (where God is worshiped) and gives him large and spacious rooms.

Nehemiah comes back, and throws this vile individual out of the temple and has the whole place re-consecrated to God.

The question is a simple one, is their a Tobiah lurking somewhere in YOUR temple?

By that I mean some area of your life where something sinful needs to be given its eviction notice..

If you end up watching things on the telly at night that cause your mind to sink to the gutter, perhaps you need to get rid of your telly?

Or maybe things you shouldn’t visit on the internet? Perhaps some new software on your computer? Perhaps an accountability partner?

If you have issues around money and generosity perhaps you need to set up a direct debit?

Don’t let the enemy get a food-hold in YOUR TEMPLE (our lives/bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit Paul reminds us)…

A Holy God does not want to co-exist with sin. Repent and throw it away.

I remember when I made a re-commitment to Christ I threw away a fair few of my CD’s and videos (shows how long ago it was) but root it out, throw it out, if it holds you back, perhaps it needs to be shown the door.

When I was doing a placement in rehab, I remember a client snapping his sim card, with all his mates, his whole life, on that phone because he knew if he was to stay sober and drug free (and alive) he needed to take tough and decisive action.

Are we brave enough to evict those things that have become settled in our lives, things that should not co-exist with a Holy God.

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Salvation, sin

A “Good” Person?

The Egyptians had an idea about salvation, where you had to meet the boat keeper and if your good deeds out weighed our bad deeds you were okay and could cross into paradise.
This thinking seems prevalent today, I can call myself good if my good deeds probably, on a good day out way my bad deeds. The scales sort of balance up (ish/kinda/most of the time…)
I can call myself good if I’ve not done anything  really bad, like murder or something.
I can call myself a good person, if I compare myself with a really bad person (-look their scales are really tipping the wrong way, mine are only out by a little bit!)
I remember chatting on Street Pastors with my friend Mark Rich to a guy on a night out, this guy said  “I’m not religious but I have been a good person”.
The ‘Good person’ thing seems so prevalent, a lady I have lots of facebook discussions keeps on telling me what a good person she is and what she does for other people, which is nice, but I was thinking, being nice is nice, but Christianity isn’t just another word for being a nice bloke.
I even heard the phrase used so and so is  “a true Christian”, which was basically just meaning someone who was nicer than the average Joe in the street.
I’m sure Ghandi was a nice bloke but if you said to him (a Hindu) “you’re a Christian man”, he’d set you straight.
Even Jesus, -the only truly GOOD PERSON- said: “why do you call me good, only God alone is good” (although I think the context of this passage was to point to Jesus Christology, i.e. Jesus is God!).
I think we have got confused, we know we are saved FOR good works NOT BY them.
Christianity is actually about those of us who are aware that we’re not always nice, we do mess us, we make mistakes, we are sinful.
The Christian’s are people who know that when we stand before Jesus (not a boat keeper, but the host on  the door of the party welcoming his guests to come and dwell in his home) we know that if it worked on scales, we know they could well go the wrong way.
The Bible puts it very uncomfortably when it says “even our good works are like filthy rags” -a  verse which always challenges me when I get a bit smug and up myself
I told someone at Church I thought their behaviour was sinful (because it was) he was pretty prickly about it and I thought although he’d  say he was saved by grace, he clearly thought he was a good person and sinners were other people.
I think the ‘older brother syndrome’ creeps back into Churches sometimes.
It made me wonder isn’t there a Pharisee in all of us… we might know hypothetically that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”… but I’m pretty good really and God must be impressed with me…
Yet as a more modern hymn says : “Lord if you marked our transgressions who could stand?”
John Wells (who used to play Dennis Thatcher) said “I had low standards which I failed to meet” -I know I fail my own standards and I’m pretty good at self justifying and not listening to my conscience, so if even I know I’m not all that I want to be, if I can’t keep my own standards how can I keep God’s standards, as if he is any God at all his standards must be pretty high!
He (God) is holy, and I know I’m not.
I know I can’t reach him by my on human efforts and trying to butter him up makes God appear a bit shallow, anyway, what can I barter with before God who has everything and doesn’t need anything…
It is interesting being religious (horrible word) is  about people reaching up to God and trying to reach God and impress him… whereas Christianity is good news because it is God reaching down to us.
Undeserved.
Unearned.
Yet done out of love.
I know I’m a sinner, but I also know I am a beloved son.
I don’t have to earn my heavenly Fathers love, just as Hope my daughter doesn’t have to earn mine.
The prayer book nails it for me, when it talks about “not weighing our merits but pardoning our offences”…
God loves me, despite my sin, he knows the worst of me, and yet he still loves me.
It was whilst we were still sinners that Christ died for us.
A God who loves us, and GAVE himself for us.
A God who died for us.
When I first held Hope in my arms, I knew that I would willingly give this little bundle, any organ anything, because I loved her, would I rather die than her, of course.
If this is the reaction of a sinful human being towards a little bundle of flesh that had just come from the womb, how much greater is this from Almighty God who knows us even before we were born and knows every hair on ourr head.
Going back to the boat analogy is we can’t pay, we fail the test, and are stuck… but God in his great mercy paid the price, by dying for us on the cross, “he who had no sin  (Jesus) became sin for us so we might have the righteousness of God”.
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Cross, love, Salvation, sin

What Does the Cross Say?

I as thinking about how we use and see crosses in our culture… Here are a few  thoughts.

Voting seems very much on the agenda at the moment with whether you voted for (or against) Brexit, whether America Votes Trump or Hilary?

Whether Teresa May has a mandate to govern or not?
Will anyone vote for Jeremy Corbyn, is he electable?
Voting is about our choice of who is in power over us? -Where do we place our cross?
The cross in electorial terms is asking who do we want to be in charge, where are we choosing to let power and authority rest?
For the Christian the cross says of our choice to allow the risen Christ to not be our Saviour, but our Lord too.
The Cross says that Jesus is in charge and we are no longer the leader of our lives.
Yet the cross, is not just a symbol of where we choose to place power, it also has become a symbol of love, we end our messages to loved ones with the cross, as a kiss.
Christians aren’t just called to be subjects of Christ, but “I know longer call you slaves, for a slave does not know his Masters business, instead I call you friends”.
Many people are obedient for so many reason, fear or duty perhaps, but our obedience to Christ isn’t for either of these reasons but rather out of our love for him flows our obedience to him. We obey him because we love him, living as Andy Hawthrone described it “living in such a way that makes Jesus smile” -living in a way that pleases and brings joy to God’s heart.
Yet the Cross in our world also speaks  of  things that are wrong, I used to make the old joke that my Maths teacher loved me because she put kisses all over my work!
The cross says that something has gone wrong, it’s not right, in fact there is a big cross over our world, we all know that the world is not how it should, and we ourselves are not as we should be, where things are wrong in both the big picture and the smaller detail too. It’s not how it should be. For me, the Christian world view makes sense of the world, it is a wonderful and beautiful world, but people have turned form God, causing us to fall out of relationship with God, the world and each other… sin has entered in a caused a barrier between us and God, something we have all done, and the cost of that sin is fatal, resulting in death…
Yet the Cross speakers more than just to point out wrong doing and fallen-ness in our world, for the Cross is primarily both for Christians and even with organisations like the red cross, a symbol of rescue and of hope.
The Cross on which Jesus died, rescued us from sin and death, setting us free from all that imprisons us and keeps us from the arms of our loving heavenly father. The Cross speaks of victory and liberation for the world, where Satan does not get the world, nor does sin, pain, injust but rather the God who made it all has spoken the word of forgiveness and redemption, restoration and transformation into his world through the death and resurrection.
The Cross to is an Algebraic formula for the unknown, X is the problem that needs solving, X is where the treasure is on a pirates map. Yet the cross speaks of the unknown God being known in the person and face of Jesus Christ. The treasure of the world, that pearl of great price.
The world knows that there must be an answer to the big questions, yet the don’t know, or at least haven’t been able to work out that the unknown factor is God himself, Jesus Christ.
The world is searching for treasure of what is of real value, looking for this treasure in all sorts of places, and yet again the cross marks the spot, the treasure of this world is, as John says in the book of revelation, The Lamb who was slain -Jesus Christ himself.
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Repentance, Salvation, sin

The “S” Word.

I’ve noticed that I am hearing less and less in our Churches about sin and repentance, although the cross maybe lit up behind us in Neon lights, how often does Christ’s death, sacrifice or the atonement actually get mentioned.

I praise God that as Church we are grasping what it means to live ethically and sustainably, I love the renewed passion for justice that liberation theology has brought us, I want to “be Mission Shaped”, “Grow Leaders” and “make authentic indigenous disciples” -all the Church is rightly talking about, yet I wonder if we inadvertently think we have moved on from talking about the cross of our redemption.

I have talked a lot about ‘keeping the most important thing the most important thing’, for Paul the most important thing was “proclaim Christ, and him Crucified”.

The Cross is at the heart of Paul’s writings, at the heart of the Gospels (Mark spends the majority of his gospel on the crucifixion) and I believe at the heart of the whole of scripture, the Old Testament hinting and giving glimpses towards Good Friday.

The Cross ought to be at the centre of our lives, our hearts and our minds.

Yet for me, I think I need to think about the cross daily, because I know I sin daily, I know my need of a Saviour, my need of forgiveness, I know that sin still hovers at my door and can so easily entangle, I need to encounter the cross and the blood daily. I thought that by now, 21 years of following Christ, I’d have this Holiness thing sorted, and I do praise God that he has changed, moulded and shaped me, but I do now that I am not by a long way a finished product… more over I think it is scary how easily I could, can and sometimes do slip back into sin and old habits.

The problem is we become more secretive about our failings which causes shame that destroys us internally and the charge of hypocrisy that destroys us externally.

That is why James writes “Confess your sins to one another so you maybe healed” -all of us remember those occasions when we have shared something with someone else, brought it into the light, and felt God set us free.

To be honest with God and ourselves is the best thing we can do instead too often we get better at justifying ourselves and appeasing our consciences.

I’m not saying this to ‘air my dirty laundry’ but rather that I think we need to have the honesty, vulnerability, integrity and self awareness to admit that although we are beloved children of God, we are also sinners in need of a Saviour.

To often we make repentance something we did when we come to faith, rather than something we need to do all the time.

In my home Church growing up sin, the cross was mentioned all the time and sometimes it didn’t always feel like it was good news, and it is good news… but to understand the extent of the good news of redemptive love, we need to know that bad news of our inability to save ourselves, when we realise our inability to pay, that the cost was beyond us, that enables us to grasp a little of something of the enormity of what Christ has done.

People have accused me of being very condemning, and saying this idea will make us constantly feel bad about ourselves. I don’t agree, I believe that having a right understanding of sin, and a cruciform theology, actually keeps us perpetually being reminded of God’s love for us, his grace and his mercy, as well as his power to live our lives his way.

When we encounter the crucified one, we cannot escape encountering the risen one too.

It’s real to be aware of our sin, it’s counter cultural to apologise, even the boy band blue told us that “Sorry is the hardest word”.

In our world nobody admits they are wrong, nobody takes the blame and so often apologies come with a whole lengthy speech on why they were right and you were wrong it little speech, lets be people that are prepared to hold our hands up and be honest as to our failings. It will shock people, they wont get it, they may take advantage and it might annoy your boss, but I believe it will be something deeply challenging that I doubt they will forget in a hurry.

The less we confess our sins and make restitution the more it eats us up inside (as does unforgiveness which is another blog for another day), the more we are Christians try and make everything okay and go with the flow of the culture the less and less we talk about the need for forgiveness.

I remember at college a friend of mine had quite a liberal theological upbringing, but was a Christian, at a talk by Graham Cray on the cross (one which didnt pull its punches) he was in tears at the front of the crowd on his knees… and afterwards he said “that was the first time I felt forgiven”…

My challenge is does our Christian life and our Christian thinking drift away from the cross?

Lets be people who share the fullness of the message so the extent of the good news can be grasped.

 

 

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