As I prepare to go to Kenya, I find myself once more trying to get things arranged: rotas sorted, speakers arranged, assignments finished, and a whole list of personal preparations to complete. It seems that everytime I go away I leave myself a mountain to climb, meaning the start of any trip is usually a stressful affair, although the plane flight – hours sitting and doing very little – usually takes that out of me.
Just to be morbid for a moment, if I was preparing for life’s final journey what would I want to ensure was in place? Most of us would think about our families – ensuring everything and everyone was taken care of – and ensuring nobody had to bear the burden of sorting out our affairs.
A few years ago, a preacher said, ‘If you knew that you only had a few hours left on earth is there anyone that you would like to put things right with before you go?’ There was a pause while we all thought about people with whom we were not in the best of relationships. He continued, ‘then what is stopping you doing it now?’
None of us know how long we have left or when our final day will be. If there is anything we need to put right, or can do to make the world a better place between now and then, we should do it without delay. What is stopping you?
I have spent most of January wrestling with complex theological thought. Not everyone’s cup of tea I know and it is as frustrating as it is rewarding. I haven’t quite finished yet as I have another assignmnet to hand in next Friday.
The two areas that I have been focussing on are the socio-political and ethical implications of Paul’s theology and Feminist theology. Within both I have found much that I have agreed with, much that I have been challenged by and some that is easy to discount as plainly heretical.
Why am I sharing this? Because I have come to the conclusion that, no matter how much we think we know about our great faith, there is always more to learn. No matter how much we think we understand there is always somewhere deeper to go.
As evengelicals, we tend to think that our belief system has come to us as a fait accompli, passed down to us from Christ, via the Apostles and dumped in our lap in the form of the completed canon of scripture. But the reality is that, over the last two thousand years, people have argued, fought, died, separated and been persecuted over differences of interpretation of scripture. Today, the Christian church incorporates a wide spectrum of perspectives on what is the truth with many nuances in between.
What none who are really Christians disagree on, however, is that God revealed himself to us in the person of His son; Jesus came to make known to us the love of the Father and to bring us into relationship with Him; and that the Holy Spirit lives with us to make the presence of God real to us as he shapes us into the likeness of Jesus.
As I conclude, I pray that in this month, the reality of God’s presence may carry you through all you encounter.
One of the greatest privileges and biggest heartaches of being human is the opportunity to produce and nurture children. They fill our hearts with joy and cost us the most tears of any other experience in life.
Children are a sharing in the divine – an insight into the fatherhood and motherhood of God. He it is who loves us, nurtures us and weeps over us, and as parents we share in a minute manner the deep resonances of the heart of God.
As a father, there are times when I want to sweep my children up in my arms and just hold them to myself. At other times, the missed opportunity of not strangling them at birth seems a little closer to my heart. But, as a child of the King, this bittersweet experience remains one of the great privileges in life.
In this season, we remember the moment when God stepped into history and became a man. He never ceased to be God, but in clothing himself in human flesh, he became truly man – feeling our suffering, knowing our tragedy, experiencing our joy. He subjected himself to our constraints, wrapped himself in the mantle of our dust, so that he could lift us up into relationship with our heavenly father – the father who, despite the disappointment, pain and tears we cost him, loves us with a love so immense that he was willing to pay for relationship with us through the death of his own son.
‘How great the love the father has bestowed upon us that we should be called children of God!’ (1 John 3:1)
It’s been a funny old week in the news so far: a doctor is found guilty of causing the death of a celebrity, the Italian Prime Minister has resigned surprisingly not over scandal, the students are revolting (again) and a pilot dies in a seemingly freak accident. All this and it is only Wednesday. Added to this, the weather has turned decidedly dull and cold.
It would be easy to be bewildered and depressed when we consider the state of our world and the society in which we live. And yet, as Christians, God has made available to us boundless joy through His Holy Spirit: ‘All my springs of joy are in you’. So how can we use this joy to fend off depression?
Well our joy is rooted in hope. It is the hope of our salvation, it is the hope of our resurrection and it is the hope promised by Jesus that He will never leave us or forsake us. No matter what is going on around us, we can remind ourselves that we are safe within His hands from where nobody can pluck us out. We are safe, we are protected and we are loved.
Hope is not a vague, half-hearted emotion, but is rooted in the truth of God’s word. In order to be filled with joy we need to choose to believe the truth and let the hope expressed in it fill us to overwhelming so that our joy may be complete.
If you are feeling down or depressed today turn again to God’s word and remind yourself of all that He has done for you in Christ Jesus and let that knowledge fill you with joy.
For a lot of us, this time of year is the real New Year. It is not just because it is the start of the Academic new year, but also because it is the start of Autumn, the summer is over and we start to focus on the things ahead, whilst remembering the (mildly) warm days and relaxation that has gone before.
This has been an odd summer for many of us. The UK riots have brough us face to face with the reality of the state of our country. For those of us who went to India, the exposure to a different culture and to a rarefied spiritual atmosphere have reinvigorated our faith. For those of us who went to Grapevine, the challenge of fresh words from the Lord have reminded us of the vision and mission he has given to us.
The days ahead are filled with possibilities. I for one have been stirred by the need for God to come and revive our land. This is not a time to sit back and continue what we have been doing hoping that something will change. This is a time for action – militant prayer accompanied by unrestrained witness to the goodness of God in our lives.
As the memories of summer fade, let the vision and passion of God within you remain vivid and sharp.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet remarks ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark’. I think the actions that have taken place on our streets in the last few days tell us ‘something is rotten in the state of England’. I am sure many of us have watched in horror as the events of the last few days have unfolded. What started as a protest against the police (and I am certainly not justifying that action) has accelerated into wanton destuction, looting and violence.
Somewhere within the mindset of many in the next generation there is a disconnect that has led to wholesale destruction and theft of other people’s property without thought for the victims. Many argue that it is down to bad parenting or it is just ‘wanton bums’ carrying out these actions. Last night we had the spectre of vigilante groups out on the streets protecting neighbourhoods where the police have been powerless to stop the youths. Whatever we think about such groups, the impact of warfare on the streets couold have lasting and destructive effects in our communities.
Brothers and sisters, it is time to pray! Whatever the causes are deemed to be by the ‘experts’, the real cause is a society that has laid aside God so that ‘each man is doing what is right in his own eyes’. What this country needs is revival – revival that will not stop within the four walls of our churches but will sweep out into our streets, schools, families and institutions. This is not a time for putting on our tin hats and waiting for the trouble to stop so that we can all go back to our normal lives. This is a time to be militant, not on the streets, but in our prayers, that God would intervene and heal our society by His Spirit.
‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.
Having just returned from a few days in Rome, I have landed with a bit of a bump. Having wound down and relaxed, suddenly there are things crying out for my attention on my desk, there are people to see, and plans to make for the September term. Nothing quite prepares you for a return to work and almost makes you think it would be better not to take a break.
However, I only have to close my eyes and imagine myself back in the forum or at the Colosseum, feeling the warmth of the sun on my arms and face, and enjoying the flavour of a beautifully prepared pasta. Even in the midst of work, this can become a place of sanctuary, at least until the memories fade.
God has provided for each one of us just such a place – somewhere we can withdraw to when the going gets tough or when all around us seems to be clamouring for our attention. We all have access into that special place of recovery and restoration. We just have to close our eyes and talk to our father who is in heaven. We may not go there physically but we can go there in spirit and our father who loves us and cares for us will wrap us in his arms and bring us peace and comfort. But so often we neglect that precious place that the father has set aside especially for us (for me).
Take five minutes out of your day to close your eyes. Imagine yourself in that special place and talk with your father and see if it will not, just for a few moments, lift the pressures of the day and bring light to your soul: ‘he leads me beside quite waters; he restores my soul’
Today, walking down Toll Gavel in Beverley, I saw a couple of well-meaning Christians singing ‘Shall We Gather At The River’. Later when I passed they were reading scripture and preaching to an audience of nil. I am sure they think they are doing their best to fulfil the great commission.
At other times during the week, a man stands in a similar spot accosting passers by with his words, telling the people that they are all sinners, and that Jesus is the Way.
These people are all trying to preach the gospel in their own way but nobody is listening. Why? because they have failed to bridge the gap and make the connection with people’s lives. They are answering questions that nobody is asking. All they do is make themselves appear the nutty Christians that nobody listens to anymore. Worse than that, they queer the pitch for those of us who want the gospel to be a lifechanging experience in the lives of the people of this town. I am starting to get cross with this approach.
When are we going to realise that the Christian gospel is not just words, a philosophy or a set of imosed values. It is the lifechanging power of God which flows out of his love for the world he created. The gospel is not at its best when it is preached in a vacuum but when it is incarnated in the lives of the people of God. Jesus did not just preach the gospel, he lived it, getting inside the head of his listeners and reaching them at the point of their need.
Modern preaching should not start with sin as the western world has not concept of sin. It should start with love – love in action. Only when people encounter the love of God can they have a real understanding of the damage their sin has done to their relationship with him.
Oh God. Please will you awaken your church to the folly of words without love and action and help us realise that without them, the gospel is an empty philosophy.
I took a trip to Scarborough this week to meet with Dave Nellist who leads both the Scarborough and Whitby fellowships. He related to me how they are having a time of visitation in Whitby.
It does not have the dramatic elements of people coming under the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the streets, as per the Hebridean revival of the 1950s (yet). But there is a strong and tangible sense of the presence of God in the meetings which has intensified as they have gone on. They have also seen some healings such as a woman who has worn glasses for 40 years going to the opticians and being told that she no longer needs to wear them.
This is no hyped up revival but an outbreak of the Holy Spirit who is slowly increasing the temperature of the spiritual atmosphere there. Where this will lead only God knows but in the meantime we have the knowledge that God is active in our region.
I believe that such a time is coming for Beverley. Perhaps it is time to seek His face with greater urgency. That does not mean that we do not continue to reach out in every way possible, but there is still a longing in my heart to see an outpouring of the Spirit here that will change lives and glorify the king.
A couple of major issues have been splashed throughout the media in the last week: the Royal wedding and the death of Osama Bin Laden. It seems fitting to make some comment on both.
Regarding the Royal wedding, I have been involved in a number of discussion forums where people have advocated a republican viewpoint. Whatever our view on how we should be governed, the reality is that no human government will be fully fair or just. What is appropriate is that we pray for those in authority as we are instructed to do in scripture. William and Kate will have an influence in our country whether we like it or not in the days and years to come. Let us pray that they use that influence wisely and that their marriage is an example for good in our our nation.
Regarding the death of Osama Bin Laden, I do not share the same self-congratulating sense of euphoria concerning this event exhibited in the media. Killing a man does not result in the killing of a mindset or a philosphy and it is the mindset of justifiable terror that needs to be killed rather than those associated with it. Any who know me know I have never been an advocate of the so-called war on terror, particularly as it has not resulted in justice for the people of sovereign nations (see for example the extreme persecution of Christians in Iraq who were protected under the previous regime).
I fear that all the west has done has created a martyr and a rallying point for extremism.
At this time let us pray for our leaders not to make similar mistakes where they are interfering in countries like Libya.