Discipleship, justification, Spiritual Health, Theology


The Bible uses the phrase “justification” a lot, by faith in Christ’s one full sufficient, sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction we are justified thought Faith, justified means that we are put right with God, our relationship with him is restored, in fact some have commented that being justified by Faith in Christ we are before God “JUST-IF-I’D never sinned”.

I began to think of the whole concept of justification, when we mess up we try and justify ourselves, I was tired, it’s everyone else’s fault, I’m misunderstood or whatever… Yet self justification often is our way of not taking responsibility for our actions, not owning up to our share of blame or culpability.

Yet this is why “confession is good for the Soul” as when we confess our sin to God we can’t fob him off with excuses or bend the truth in our favour, he’s not fooled by us, nor can we pull the wool over the eyes of the all knowing God.

The Anglican liturgy say “we confession that we have sinned against you and against our neighbour in thought and word and deed, through negligence, through weakness and our own deliberate fault”… It is owning our sins, taking responsibility for our actions and behaviour and when it falls short of the standard we know the Father wants from us and coming before him with the bravery to say “I sinned, I did wrong”… scripture say “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves (self deluded) and the truth is not in is, but, if we confess our sin God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.

Honest confession to God is showing a self awareness of our life and our spiritual walk, it takes bravery to admit to ourselves and to God when we haven’t got it right and done all that we should have done, or done what we ought not to have done.

This isn’t a flippant thing, or at least it shouldn’t be…

Yet we are called not just to be honest with ourselves or with one another, but also requiring that level of honesty and authenticity with one another, we can’t confess and say sorry to God, we can’t just know our own faults in our own heads and not let that effect our relationship with one another. We need to be people brave enough to admit we are wrong, to say we are sorry, to acknowledge our imperfections, fallenness and our humanity, in a world where nothing is ever anyone’s faults this is radically different and counter cultural.

Yet people might be saying I’m not apologising for things that aren’t my fault, there are times when people hurl accusations at me which aren’t justified, sometimes the right and honourable thing is to justify yourself and argue your corner?

I think that is a broken and messed up world, people do sadly tell ties and embellish the truth and try and re-write history and point the blame elsewhere.

Yet when we are faced with criticism what do we do? Are we able from our place of security in God to wade through what might be a tough challenge but one we might need to heed and what is slander, even if someone is 90 per cent wrong there is still 10 per cent we could learn from.

At college when I was training to be a vicar we were urged to be reflective practitioners, stepping back and reviewing situations and often ourselves within the situation, a great question to ask is “what can I learn from this?” Or “what is could God teach me through this?”

We have a rational and logical reaction after we have had an emotional one, yet too often we speak from a place not of prayerful reflection and wise review but from the pain of raw emotion. Criticism too often hurts us deeply as often it is levied at something we have worked hard at or invested a lot in, and sadly all of us to some degree struggle too with the sin of pride which often blinds us to our own faults and failings but conversely helps us to see the flaws and failing of others far more vividly, pride distorts our vision and dulls the voice of Gods still small voice whispering in our ear.

Our justification of ourselves comes from our own identity and self worth, yet as someone once wrote “the person who kneels before God can stand before anyone”, we are justified by God, made righteous in his sight.

Our identity doesn’t rest on the shifting sands of what other people think of us, instead let us be secure in who were are in Christ.

That doesn’t mean we never apologise for getting it wrong, in fact quite the reverse, but it shows strength is showing the “weakness” of apology, but in admitting our faults is liberating, it reflects a beautiful integrity and authenticy to a world desperate to but fearful to experience such a thing. More over it frees us from the slavery of our value being dependent of what other people think of us.

Yet in the cases of slander and vilification, it’s trusting that one day God will justify us, knowing that ultimately what matters most is not what those around uaa think, but living for the audience of one. God is a God of vindication and justice, his spirit is the spirit of all truth, he sees and he knows what is true. He is a faithful God. When I felt hurt about something when I felt unfairly treated on one occasion I was given this “the Lord will fight your battle you only need to be still” -the problem with this was that everything within me wanted to justify my behaviour and fight back, yet this shows my heart that at times our reputation can matter more that Gods opinion of us, God who sees the heart.

So, let’s us come humbly and openly before the God  who justifies, let us know the power of his forgiveness spurring us on to live differently, not seeking our own justification from ever situation but rather letting even our critics teach us lessons.

Knowing we are justified by God gives  us the bravery to let the walls down with others, be vulnerable and willing to say the word “sorry” the hardest word to say to others and the hardest word to say to God, the reason it is so hard is because it means we have looked at ourselves and have had the bravery to see ourselves not as we want to be but actually as we are, removing the rose tinted glasses.

Let us with Gods help take this brave look at ourselves as we come to the God who brings his forgiving, restoring grace, in whose redemptive work upon the cross we are justified.




Suffering., The Book of Job., Theology


Read any commentary on Job and there is lots of discussion about whether Job is historical or pictorial.

Actually I think this misses the point, the story of Job is at times our story, an is the story of those all around us.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Or why do good things happen to bad people?

Most of us have asked that question, or at least felt it, the psalms are full of this ‘God, why do you permit this?’ –God, why don’t you smite evil people? Asking if God is really a God of love, why do we see unloving actions getting the upper hand

Is God really a God of power, when bad things happen?

Is God really a God of justice when bad people appear to get away with?

When I take a funeral I often tell the story of the footprints poem;

“At the end of his life a man walking on the beach looked back, and he saw his life flash before him, and he saw his footprints, and there next to him where the foot prints of Christ. Then he noticed at the hardest and darkest times there was only one set of footprints and this worried the man, he turned to Jesus and said “Lord, why when I needed you the most, did you leave me on my own…” Jesus replied, ‘my son, I would never leave you or forsake you, those times when you see only one set of footprints that is when I carried you”…

I believe this is true, and ties in with the promises of God from scripture, “I will never leave you or abandon you”, Jesus said “I will be with you always”, “Can a mother abandon her baby at her breast, even though she may, I will not abandon you… see I have engraved your name in the palm of my hands”… yet despite being true, it doesn’t always feel true in the midst of a tough situation.

Jennifer Rees Larcombe wrote a best seller called “where have you gone God?” Philip Yancey wrote another book which asked “where is God when it hurts?” the fact that these two books flew off the shelves prove that this is a live issue for many of us at some stage in our Christian life.

So, here we have Job, probably the first book to be written (and also featuring a monster that sounds like it could be a dinosaur, ask Sam about this!) asking and wrestling with the biggest question of the universe, which isn’t is God real, (the Bible doesn’t even bother to put up an argument for his existence) but rather if God is good (which he is), if he loves us (which he does) and if he is a God of justice (which he is) and if he is powerful (which he is) how come suffering exists…

Actually I’m not sure if Job every actually fully answers these questions, it is too profounder book to pass us off with trite answers or simplistic platitudes…

Yet I think it does give us a really uncomfortable challenge about our pastoral care, sometimes our badly judged words that are meant to bring comfort don’t bring healing but cause hurt…  No wonder the epistle of James and the book of proverbs talk so much about being wise with our words.

It is interesting how false teaching such as Karma is still prevalent in our culture where the victim is blamed for their suffering; karma an grace cannot sit together as it is like mixing oil and water together.

Yet even though we can’t understand suffering fully we do learn that God is not absent from us, that God is powerful –Job shows clearly that the devil is not God’s equal, but significantly less powerful than God, and is answerable to God and is limited by him. Our end picture of God is vast and powerful, and our attempts to put him in a box fail.

A God I can understand, probably won’t be God.

The big picture of Job is someone who lost everything, and yet it is fully restored to him (although that can never make up for the pain of the initial loss and suffering)… Yet something God understands a picture of the resurrected and glorified Christ shows us with the marks on his hands remaining.

The remarkable truth of Christianity is a God who understands suffering from personal experience, as Graham Kendrick once wrote “Hands that flung stars into space to cruel nails surrendered”, which Job doesn’t cover (because it hadn’t happened then) but Job  is a book we have to take to the cross to fully understand it.

As we read Job in the shadow of the cross we see a God who loves and never leaves, a God where justice and mercy kiss, a God who is powerful and beyond our understanding and yet draws close to us as Christ, the suffering servant and glorified King.

Paradox, Salvation, Theology

You wouldn’t take a cockroach to the vets.

I was reading a Blog today which called this week, traditionally known as Holy Week as UNholy week.

After-all the first Holy Week, was far from Holy, with its central event was a massive miscarriage of justice, politician maneuvering, dodging responsibilities, a really unhealthy alliance between State and religious extremism… We see state sponsored torture and barbarism, voyeurism, officials dodging responsibility, a friend betraying a friend for money, cowardice in the face of adversity, lies and denial for self preservation…

And we see the mob, this fickle group of people who turned from shouting ‘hosanna’ to ‘crucify’, showing blood-lust and hunger for violence and death.

Yet n the midst of all this truly ugly, horrible behavior we see the most beautiful self giving love.
Here Jesus saw humanity at its very worst.
Jesus must have looked around at this degenerate people, in a depraved society and a dysfunctional religious/political system… and it is amazing that he did walk away and say “they are not worth saving”.
God knows each of us better than we know ourselves, all our mixed motives and sinful behaviors, he sees us at our worst, and yet amazingly he still loves us.

This is at the heart of what I find most amazing about the gospel, it was when we far from God, his enemies, that Christ died for us.

Just take a moment to think of “dying for your enemy”.
I heard someone say on the radio once that ‘you wouldn’t take a cockroach to the vets’… why would you show love to something that has done nothing to earn it, in fact has only caused pain by its rebellion from God.
The amazing thing is that we are all worst sinners than we all realize… and yet at our worst and least lovable, Christ still died for us…
There is a famous song which talks about the cross and it says “it was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished” but that’s not quite true, Jesus wasn’t compelled to die by my sin, he chose to die for me.
It was HIS LOVE that held him there.
He loved me, and he took my sin, upon his shoulders.
He died in my place.
We forget sometimes that we did nothing to earn this.
When we take communion we kneel before God, empty handed, because we bring no bargaining chips to the table.
Bible, justice, Mission, Theology, Worship

Some lessons from Ernie Wise’s hair.


I don’t know if you remember Morecambe and Wise, but one of the jokes about Ernie Wise was with his hairstyle you couldn’t see the join, in other words it was ‘a comb-over’.

It made think though, the idea of not seeing the join, of something seamlessly linking up appealed to me…

I’m passionate about Worship, Mission and Justice and the more I thought about it, the more I thought this was like Ernie’s hair, the more we worship God we realize how awesome he is and how much the world needs him, which causes us to want other people to know him and to love him -our worship drives our mission-. Although not a great fan of the theologian John Piper, I do like his quote which says “Mission Exists because worship doesn’t”. Yet when we meet people and want them to know the love of Jesus, we also come to love them, and want justice for their cause, food for their bodies, clothing and shelter for them too; it is all part of praying that ‘Gods Kingdom will come on earth as it is in Heaven’ where mission and justice literally kiss each other our words and actions speaking beautifully in entwined harmony.  As we seek God’s Kingdom in mission and justice, we see God at work and we see his heart for his creation, which is beautiful and brings afresh to the place of worship. Worship, Mission, Justice seamlessly blended together in the life of Christs followers.

Yet as I thought more about this so many things that we separate I realized God wants to draw together, to repair as he never intended them to be separated.

Prayer and Action were never meant to be two alternative options, but rather the dual response of the people of God (especially evident in the story of Nehemiah).

Or the theological old chestnut of Paul’s Epistles and the letter of James, faith and works were not meant to be ‘either/or’ but rather again were both meant to be held together in perfect tension.

Jesus calls us to work in Spirit  and in truth, and yet so often his Church is either passionate about his Spirit but neglects his word and scripture, or they are passionate about truth and yet the Spirit is largely ignored. Yet Jesus says that “TRUE WORSHIPERS worship in Spirit AND Truth”.

We are called to speak to one another in truth and love, and yet I have seen people claiming to be Christians and claiming to be truthful ripping into someone in a way which can’t be called loving, I have also seen people being so nicey, nicey to people avoiding all conflict but never bringing the healing, transformation and blessing that speaking the truth could have brought… Speaking the truth in love is really, really hard, but really, really worth doing.

Even in creation we see the fall separating what should have been together, the most obvious example is sex, which always intended by God to be in context of loving, secure, committed relationship (which is God’s desire for our marriages) and yet when these are taken out of context often we see hearts broken and people getting emotional hurt.

Theologically too, at the heart of our faith are truths which cannot be split:

Jesus being fully Man, fully God.
Human Free Will and God’s Sovereignty.
The Cross where Wrath and Mercy meet kissing a guilty world with love.
The Cross where God’s Holiness and his love dance together in redemption of the world